This article was originally posted on The Drum on October 27, 2022.

As we head into 2023, brands are planning how to grow and engage their audiences. Matterkind’s Nancy Hall, CEO US, lays out four strategies for building connections not just effectively but ethically.

As someone who is frequently invited to attend and speak at industry events, I have a confession to make: networking doesn’t come entirely naturally to me. By which I mean I kind of hate it.

But this “networkophobia” actually helped me out recently. I was planning a talk about audience strategy for an upcoming event, while simultaneously psyching myself up for the networking portion of the day, and I had a mini eureka moment.

Building connections and establishing trust

It struck me that networking is actually a pretty good analogy for what marketers have to do every day when they’re trying to build and engage audiences. They need to make connections, establish trust, and build credibility with people.

The trouble is, they can’t just walk up and ask questions like an enthusiastic (or in my case slightly reluctant) networker. What do you do for a living? What do you do for fun? Do you like to keep fit? Getting away for a vacation any time soon?

These are exactly the kinds of insight some brands spend millions trying to gather and use at scale. The kinds that drive personalization and inform media and messaging.

So, whether it’s small talk or big data, the similarities between networking and audience building hit me. That same spirit of connection-making is fundamental to the whole business of building audiences.

And it helped me recognize how that same spirit of connection-building is at play in some of the most successful audience strategies I’ve seen brands adopt – strategies I believe every marketer could benefit from as we head into 2023.

Action Based Data

Data must inform every audience interaction – but there are a few must-haves that even now are still often overlooked. The data must be informative, useful, accurate, and different.

In the context of action-based data, that means it must tell us something about audience interest and intent. Whether they’ve made a purchase or if they’re in the market to do so. About where they work or shop.

It must be accurate, so that it can inform messaging with specific attributes. It must be unique, or we risk serving our audience repeatedly (because the perfect interaction can be the worst the second time round).

Without these must-have attributes, action-based data won’t lead to better outcomes for the audience or your business.

Digital Responsibility

Another must-have that’s completely non-negotiable is that the data, as well as the technology and media that brands invest in, must be used ethically.

In the context of data, this kind of digital responsibility is about making sure information is sourced and used only in ways that are fair and just — that everything is properly permissioned and compliant with all laws, including the relevant individual rights. And as we go into 2023, with all the privacy laws (existing and new) that will be in effect, brands have to take digital responsibility seriously as they build out their first-party databases.

Ethically sourced data must be compiled from publicly available data, self-reported data, or from companies that inform people about data use and disclosure. In fact, all brands must work harder to educate and demonstrate that data is being used to create value for the individual and society.

Conscious Marketing

Audience strategies shouldn’t stop at the ethical use of data. Instead, brands should strive to adopt conscious marketing strategies that represent deliberate and respectful approaches to audience engagement.

Yes, this is about treating people kindly and with empathy, but there’s nothing soft and fuzzy about it. It means marketing to people based on what matters most to them, like social responsibility and diversity, equity and inclusion – achieved through population-representative audiences and media. It means creating a positive experience for people, through frequency management and cross-channel storytelling. It means vetting partners thoroughly – in media, tech, and data. And perhaps most importantly, it means making addressable media relevant, with messaging focused on real people and their unique wants and needs.

Delivering and Defining Outcomes

Some people think performance marketing is about focusing on conversions and sales at all costs. If brands learn anything in 2023, I hope it’s the ability to look beyond lower-funnel tactics to the breadth of outcomes they’re now able to optimize for.

Yes, you can do performance marketing across the entire marketing funnel. Whether you’re looking for reach, connecting with an incremental audience at scale or leading indicators like store visits, video completion rates, and time spent in a store or on a website. You can even consider efficiency drivers like cost per action, cost savings, reinvestments, or more working media.

Finally, there are conversions like landing page visits, bookings, store visits and leads – and, of course, the increased sales you can measure now that you’re able to quantify and optimize so much more than just sales.

Focus on What Matters to People

These audience strategies, like any good in-person networking event, boil down to focusing on what matters to people. It’s timeless advice, but it feels like a critical time to act on it as 2023 approaches.

I’ve already mentioned the heightened pressure from privacy legislation that brands will face in 2023 and beyond. Not to mention the macroeconomic pressures that mean marketers have to prove the value of every dollar invested to their CFOs.

It also comes down to the people in those audiences we’re so determined to build and engage. They’re savvy. They expect you to give them a great experience, tailored to their previous interactions, or they will leave you for another brand who can. And they are demanding more transparency and greater education about how their data is being collected and used by brands.

This has to be the priority of any brand (read: every brand) looking to build its audience in 2023.