Audience Development Strategies from Ferris Bueller


Everyone’s trying to connect with their audience.

Without that relationship, you’re just Ferris Bueller’s teacher, reciting economics to a disinterested few who can only wonder whether the Depression he’s talking about is world history or personal experience. With no connections to Ben Stein or his message, most of his audience has checked out (in fact, some don’t even bother showing up). Would Ferris have taken that day off had there been a more engaging explanation of the Smoot-Hawley tariff in store for him? Of course not!

On the opposite end of the John Hughes Audience Engagement Spectrum is Ferris Bueller himself, the most connected Matthew Broderick character this side of the Inspector Gadget franchise. Everyone knows him, (almost) everyone loves him, and (most importantly) everyone is able to recall their personal experience with him.


That’s the kind of connection that’s best fostered by email marketing. Far from just being an ROI machine, email is the undisputed champion of building audience relationships. If you’re ready for the adventure of a lifetime, let’s look at how email can connect you to your audience like the righteous dude you are.


1. Collecting an email address gives you a direct link to the individual. While the allure of a high follower count is tempting, audiences built on social media never really belong to you. Instead, you’re left at the mercy of the platform itself, forced to endure algorithm changes and fleeting eyeballs in a never-ending pursuit of that ever-shrinking reach. Why, you might as well hand over your friend’s father’s car keys to a shady parking attendant.

Instead, getting readers to hand over their email address gives you an immediate contact point, a lasting way to reach them at any time. Rather than being left to wonder whether they saw that last Facebook post, you can shoot them an email that’s relevant, personalized, and easily accessible whenever they want to read (or reread) it.


2. Email preference centers give your audience a say in the relationship. Providing a place to control what emails they receive ensures maximum satisfaction with your email program, but it also makes for an easy path to sign up for more newsletters or other communication; that’s increased potential for engagement, clicks, and conversions. Plus, leading subscribers to voluntarily hand over more information leads to an opportunity to use this information to further personalize their emails, leading to…more engagement, clicks, and conversions!

When just 16% of people believe that the majority of email they receive is relevant, using the preference center strategically is a great way to build relationships. At the very least, it may be a means of staving off an unsubscribe, allowing them to opt out of some emails, while buying you more time to build that relationship. After all, some readers might need some extra convincing to come along with you. Some readers are Camerons.

Ferris Bueller & co at the museum.

3. Consistent, purposeful email builds loyalty with your readers. The majority of people believe they receive too much email, which makes quality email all the more important. With the resurgence of email newsletters and a publishing climate that treats its newsletters as individual products, there’s a lot of good email out there acquiring devoted audiences that eagerly await its arrival. Basically, if your readers look forward to what you have to say, they’re more likely to keep hanging out with you, no matter where you take them.

This loyalty often leads to conversions, as the New York Times has found that newsletter readers are twice as likely to sign up for a paid subscription. That being said, email in and of itself won’t build relationships; to capture your audience, you have to think like your audience. Your goal is to send the kind of email that people want to stand before, observe, and contemplate while instrumental versions of Smiths songs play in the background.

Twist and Shout!

4. Each email solidifies the audience’s perception of your brand. As a direct line of communication with your audience, the email plays a unique role in conveying your identity. Even if those emails go unopened, audiences take notice of how often your name appears in their inbox, what kinds of emails you’re sending, and the subject lines that they delete without opening. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that people are more than willing to see a headline and accept it without any other information.

And when your audience does open your email, the experience should be in line with your identity. The content is important, but the audience’s lasting takeaway will be the kind of company that you are. Don’t squander the opportunity, and above all, don’t pretend to be someone that you’re not. Unless you’re trying to get your friend out of school.

Ferris Bueller, you're my email marketing hero.

Ferris Bueller rallied a whole town around him with an engaging personality, mischievous ingenuity, and a musical number. Lucky for you, you’ve got email, which makes implementing audience development strategies a whole lot easier. When digital audiences are restless and platforms are plentiful, email marketing is still the best way to build relationships, connect with readers, and turbocharge your ROI.

After all, your audience moves pretty fast. If you don’t get them to stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it. Revenue, that is.

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Editor, PostUp PlayBook