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5 undeniable truths for audience growth

Insights from my convo w/Dave Gerhardt (Founder, Exit Five) and Alex Lieberman (Founder, Morning Brew & storyarb)


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I just got home from Golden Hour, a first-year event hosted by Audience Plus in NYC.

There were tons of highlights, and I met a lot of fans, friends, and peers.

But I gotta say that I learned the most during my session with Dave Gerhardt (Founder of Exit Five) and Alex Lieberman (Co-Founder of Morning Brew and storyarb).

And to make it even better, it was live streamed from Brooklyn at one of the coolest sets of my career.

Let’s agree they’re laughing because something I said

We talked about audience growth for 60 minutes. And it flew by. I definitely got caught in the moment, learning and laughing with legendary marketers that I look to for inspiration. I even modeled much of my career after DG.

In case you missed the full live stream, today I’m going to give you a slimmed down recap with my highlights from the conversation.

Quick preface:

What follows are aren’t tactical “tips” like you’re used to seeing. Consider them more like “truths” — principles that give context before tactics can even be applied.


IMO listicles are shared without the proper “thinking” required to make them useful. And I want these truths to shape your career and success, just like they did for me.

Last thing: It was a group discussion, so sometimes ideas build off of each other and it’s hard to keep track of who said what. But I respect Dave, Alex, our craft too much to just meld it all together and pretend like they’re all my ideas. So I my best to cite the idea owner throughout, and I rounded some edges to make it flow for easy reading.

Ready? Let’s ride.

Truth #1: There’s a different between having a BIG audience and a DEDICATED audience. (Devin)

I get it. Seeing someone with 100,000+ followers makes your eyebrows raise. It’s impressive because it’s hard to do.

It takes time, effort, and skill.

But size is not the same as quality. 

I often say I’m not just trying to grow my audience — I’m building a niche and eager audience. People that know me, believe what I believe, want to follow me on my journey, and are interested in the lessons and experiences that I share.

True story: I know B2B influencers with 150K+ LinkedIn followers that can’t get 10 people to register to their webinar. Yikes. 

Not very influential, eh?

That’s the difference between followers and a true audience. One is vanity the other is reality.

And it applies to all channels. Which leads us to…

Truth #2: It’s not just about building an audience, it’s about building an audience that trusts you and is actually going to take action on what you want. (Alex)

Just because you have a list, it doesn’t mean your list is super engaged or that they actually care about what you have to say. (Alex)

Dave built on this, using the event we were at as an example:

“How many attendees at Golden Hour came to the event because they saw Anthony (CEO, Audience Plus) post about it on LinkedIn?” 

They didn’t get 300+ paid registrants just because the venue was beautiful, the marketing was great, and the content looked promising.

All that is true, sure.

But the real reason people came was because they trusted Anthony.

As I like to say, build trust at scale.

Truth #3: You need to be intentional about building a “rented” and an “owned” audience (Alex)

“Firing from the hip may work for some people.

But I think for most actually having a thoughtful strategy on how you’re building a rented audience on social platforms, how are you building an owned audience — on things like email, podcast, and digital community — and ultimately how are you monetizing that audience if you choose to do so and to be thoughtful about it.” - Alex

Beefy sentence, I know. But read it again.

Rented and owned. It’s not one or the other. It’s both working together.

Rented is any channel where you rely on an algorithm to distribute your content.

Owned is where you have direct access to your audience, like this newsletter.

I use Linkedin as rented, and while it fuels many things, it’s the primary source of newsletter subscribers. And I use my newsletter as the hub of my content strategy, which fuels other parts of my business.

A healthy and profitable audience growth strategy needs both.

Truth #4: Most B2B companies never build an audience because they lack Conviction and Commitment (Devin)

“They” mostly refers to executives.

Conviction is that don’t believe in it all the way and they don’t really believe in the value of owning an audience.

They’re stuck thinking of marketings as a lead factory.

But the buyer journey doesn’t start at the lead level anymore — it starts at the audience level. And that’s one phase before leads are created.

The second one is commitment. I turned directly to Dave and asked:

Let’s be honest. How often are you able to put a quarterly marketing plan together and actually execute that plan? Rarely. You’re forced to change it a few weeks in because metrics aren’t where they should be, so let’s pivot, let’s change.

All your planning and strategy almost never gets a chance to take shape. There’s too little commitment to seeing it through.

That happens on your traditional quarterly plan constantly, and it’s an even bigger leap of faith for the CEO to take that stance and stay committed to a 12+ month audience growth plan.

So it rarely happens. Then the “old playbook” continues to get used — even though it isn’t working.

Truth #5: Executive buy-in is critical for long term success (Dave)

Makes sense given truth #4, right?

While at Drift a few years ago, Dave partnered with his CEO, David Cancel for the Seeking Wisdom podcast.

It was incredibly popular, and just one a year into the business, it was the number one source of new customers. All because they built brand affinity and trust with their audience over time.

But that never would have happened if the CEO wasn’t all in on content.

It also takes a lot of internal marketing (an annoying amount in my experience)— but Dave frame it as opportunity it to educate your exec team around what good marketing looks like.

And that’s a proven way to become a more valuable marketer.

TLDR (Too Long, Devin Reed)

Here are the 5 undeniable truths for audience growth:

  1. There’s a different between having a BIG audience and a DEDICATED audience.

  2. It’s not just about building an audience, it’s about building an audience that trusts you and is actually going to take action on what you want.

  3. You need to be intentional about building a “rented” and “owned” audience.

  4. Most B2B companies never build an audience because they lack Conviction and Commitment

  5. Executive buy-in is critical for long term success

Which of these is your favorite?

Holler at you next Saturday,

PS: Today’s post took me ~2 hours to write and edit. You can help me grow my newsletter by forwarding it to one person with a quick “You’ll love this newsletter. Definitely worth subscribing.”

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