Earlier this week, in a hot New York City, I was having some tea and lemonade with a dear friend who is a  senior publishing executive.  When our conversation turned to exploring the future of publishing she said, “our folks say our core value is to curate content”.  I suggested that the real challenge for any publisher today is not just to curate content, but to manage audiences for the authors.  She said, “in other words we need to curate audiences”.

As I thought about her brilliant turn of phrase, it occurred to me that all great authors and companies curate their audience.  For example, Seth Godin, whose work I greatly admire, curates his audience.  His very functional web site has daily blogs.  He has published the most popular business eBook ever; he created a Vook, which is a video book you can download to your iPhone.  In short, he keeps in touch, and he provides ongoing intellectual sustenance to his followers (in his terms his tribe).  In my opinion he does a superb job of curation.

Zappos curates their audience.  In each interaction, they treat you like someone precious to them.  They have crafted their interfaces and databases and call centers to create a seamless, painless, anytime, anywhere, anyway experience.  This is curation.

More broadly, all firms need to curate their audience.  This is more than networking and direct mail spamming or putting in a CRM system.  Curation is a process of overseeing the perservation and use of something precious.  Audience is the most precious thing in the world to any company.  Audience is a large concept than current customers.  Audience is anyone who knows about your firm, your brand, has bought something from you in the past or may do so in the future.  It is all the people who have an opinion about your organization.

When I taught marketing I used to say, your brand is nothing more than the sum total of the memory traces which everyone who has touched your company have in their heads — good and bad.  So a curator thinks about how precious those memory traces are and how important it is to be prepared to create new positive memories.  Tactically this means that a firm must at least do the following:

  1. Have full information about all the interactions your customer has had with your firm. for example, recently i have been fighting with my insurance company to pay a health claim.  Each time I call I have to educate them on the status of everything.  If they were museum curators they would have lost all the paintings already.
  2. Be ready to do business in anyway, anytime, and anyway. If your customers want to link to you over a mobile device, then you should do it that way.  We are in the middle of some work for a large insurance company and many of their customers don’t want to go to the web to check claim status so a simple mobile alert will improve service and lower costs in the call centers because people won’t have to call.
  3. Have an attitude that your audience is precious. Think of how carefully curators treat each and every artifact in a collection.  The heart of the curator is imbued with care.

So, do you think your organization is curating your audience, or only warehousing them?  I’d love to hear your stories.

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