I sometimes get asked why marketing is so complicated these days?
At one level, I agree with question’s premise. The world is noisier all the time and the distracted consumer is the norm. In virtually every category competition is intense and the number of ways to reach consumers is seemingly infinite. Acquisition costs are rising. ROI is often hard to measure. And on and on.
Then I reflect on the major mistakes I see most brands actually make.
In my experience, struggling marketers get lost in the data, the budgets, the media channel choices. They get overwhelmed by stuff, instead of focusing on the essence. Often, instead of diving into changing the logo or tagline, before blindly chasing Facebook ‘likes’ or pushing ‘send’ on a batch, blast and hope email campaign, their time would be far better spent nailing the answers to these two fundamental questions:
Who’s it for?
Whether you have a product or service, whether you run a corporation or a non-profit, you need a deep and nuanced understanding of your target audiences. You have to accept that it can’t be everyone, but is, instead, multiple clusters of someones, who will need to be treated differently. And if your segment descriptions sound something like “affluent baby boomers” you need to dig deeper. Demographic segmentation has the benefit of being straight-forward, but the shortcoming of being almost entirely useless.
Answering the “who’s it for?” question requires you to delve into customers’ desires, wants, attitudes, behaviors, how they wish to be seen by their friends or peers–and anything else that is helpful in precisely understanding why customers might choose you over all the other competition. It needs to paint a clear picture of their specific needs that you can address in a remarkable way.
How are they persuaded?
One of the key jobs of marketing (the good kind) is to persuade the people we care about to believe something relevant about our brand and take action on that belief. This requires us to get specific on two dimensions of how that mechanism of persuasion will work.
First, for each customer type we focus upon we need to understand how we might shift a set of beliefs they have about our organization and our brand proposition. It’s one thing to understand what a set of consumers might believe about brand and what we’d like to them to ultimately come to think and feel. It’s another to understand what story we need to tell to affect that change.
For some, it will be largely fact-based, for others a heart-felt story. Some need to have their fear of switching taken head on. Others need a discount to give us a try. In all cases, there will be some form of objection, some set of thoughts and/or feelings that poses a story-telling challenge. Our job is to understand the specific barriers to persuasion and customize ways to address them. And when in doubt, lead with emotion and follow with logic.
The second aspect of how persuasion works concerns the vehicles of persuasion. Here too we need to understand the nuances in detail and be committed to treating different customers differently. At one level. this is about media channel choice and the type of campaigns that get run. Yet,there are two core realities of persuasion. It rarely happens quickly and different people are influenced by different things depending on the type of purchase.
Inpatient marketers make the mistake of thinking one or two marketing interactions gets the job done. Well if you have a me-too product and are just pitching the lowest price, it just might. That’s not a winning long-term strategy. Persuasion–the kind that is powerful and enduring, builds over time, and is likely supported by multiple sources.
Lazy marketers don’t take the time or care to delve more deeply into the nuances of persuasion. They don’t invest in really understanding current and potential customers at a truly useful level. They don’t segment customers precisely enough. They aren’t willing to move beyond easy to execute one-size-fits-all campaigns to more customized marketing programs. They overuse certain vehicles because they are cheap, not realizing they are often highly ineffective.
At some level, the reality of the world we live in makes just about any marketing complex. But it becomes unmanageably complex if we don’t revert to first principles and drive all subsequent action from that principled understanding.
If you can’t answer the “who is it for and how are they persuaded?” questions, there is a good chance you are stuck in a lot of activity without much impact.