Narrowcasting versus Broadcasting

You can grow your business and community best when you know how to use technology. That’s why my brother and I started 9 Clouds.

When using technology, there are two ways to share ideas: as a broadcast or a narrowcast. A broadcast pleases the majority, but a narrowcast attracts a small number of passionate change makers.

Consider a narrowcast instead of a broadcast to attract your passionate army of supporters.

Broadcast Versus Narrowcast

A broadcast is sending a message that will please the most people. You may remember the days of three television channels (instead of 3,000). The programming had to be good enough to keep the attention of the most people possible. It was a mass media message built to please the masses.

A narrowcast is sending a message that stirs passion in a small number of people. It is the path of artists who take risks in hopes of creating something that speaks to specific audiences. A narrowcast is willing to ostracize the majority to please the minority.

Choosing a broadcast or narrowcast depends on your goal. A city planner will want to choose the broadcast method when determining what services to provide. It’s important afterall to provide the best services for the most people.

A business owner, however, may find more success building a small number of passionate customers willing to pay money and tell their friends about the business.

Recently, television producers have questioned whether to broadcast or narrowcast. Services like Amazon are winning Golden Globe awards for shows like Transparent that are immensely popular with a tiny number of viewers.

Andy Greenwald quoted studio head Roy Price as saying:

“…a (television) series passionately adored by 30 percent of viewers is far more valuable…than a series liked by 80 percent – because that 30 percent is not only going to watch every episode, it’s going to be sure to pay for the service that delivers them.”

If we try to speak to a large, diverse audience, we are forced to water down our message so it applies to everyone. This broad message is less risky but also less inspiring. What is often needed to grow businesses is a bold idea that is a perfect solution for a targeted audience.

3 Examples of Narrowcasting and Broadcasting in the Bay Area

There is no clean delineation between broadcasting and narrowcasting. Our message can always be more targeted or more generalized. Here is a look at the potential spectrum that can help you decide the best method for your business and community from my trip to the Bay Area.

1. Go Sugar Free

I spent time with my dear friend Jacqueline Smith who is the creator of Go Sugar Free. She runs courses to help members eliminate sugar from their diets, leading to amazing health results and lifestyle changes.

She is a perfect example of an extreme narrowcast. She is targeting her message to hundreds of members and potential members and talking one-on-one to members to help them cut sugar.

It is not a step most people want to take, but if someone is interested in eliminating sugar, she will be the most relevant and skilled person to speak with.

2. Blue Bottle

While in Oakland this week, I visited Blue Bottle. This coffee roaster focuses on the highest quality beans and brewing process. They even have a workshop at the store where they tweak and fix coffee makers.

Blue Bottle started as one guy at a farmer’s market. He was focused on a narrowcast to the pickiest, most nuanced coffee drinkers.

Once this audience was excited about Blue Bottle, others took note. The thinking was: if the pickiest coffee drinkers like Blue Bottle, it must be good!

This often happens with a narrowcast. Talking to the influential experts and winning them over means others will show interest. It’s the equivalent of trusting a skilled waiter to pick the wine to go with your meal.

Now, Blue Bottle is balancing a narrowcast and a broadcast. It still wants to appease its coffee connoisseur fans, but it needs to grow it’s market (especially with a $10 million investment from a VC firm). It will be interesting to watch how it keeps its quality and focus on a target consumer while also attempting to broaden its appeal.

3. NADA Conference

The conference I spoke at this week attracted tens of thousands of attendees from around the world. The event itself is a perfect example of a broadcast, attracting a diverse audience of automotive dealers, vendors, service providers and speakers. Sessions for the entire group were held with speakers like Jay Leno, who presumably is interesting enough for enough people to take the main stage.

Within this broadcast event, however, there were also narrowcasts. Small workshops like the one I hosted attracted specific audiences (mostly nerds in my case).

Additionally, the most value at large events, such as the NADA conference, are usually the moments in smaller groups. Whether talking before the session, having coffee in the hallway or meeting colleagues at a party, there are ways to marry a broad overarching messages with specific focus areas.

Why Narrowcasting

We live in a broadcast society. 

We grew up watching TV broadcasts, we idolize stars who are broadcast to the majority and we have technological tools that enable and encourage all of us to broadcast our thoughts, work and lives to the masses.

It is easier, however, to grow our business and community with a narrowcast (think Blue Bottle).

In fact, the tools built for broadcasting actually work better for narrowcasting. Instead of sharing a message that a lot of people “like,” communication tools connect us with other passionate individuals who will take action and help us with our work. If we have meaningful conversations with a few, instead of shallow conversations with the many, we see better results.

As a business, a narrowcast helps find the small number of people who need the exact product or service we offer. Our businesses typically grow faster when we first build a small but passionate army of customers and supporters. Our audience can later grow towards a broadcast audience when we have served the narrowcast audience.

There are times to broadcast and times to narrowcast. For most businesses, we should think more about how to focus our message to find the passionate few instead of worrying about reaching as many people as possible.


Posted on January 26th, 2015 in Community, Marketing