You’ve just been asked to take over the marketing strategy for a new company that makes innovative, high end restaurant equipment. They need their brand and message to reach chefs and owners of independent restaurants. What’s your process?
If you’re a smart, responsible, thoughtful marketer, you’ll do something like this:
Step One: Figure out what chefs + restauranters pay attention to, who and what they listen to, what they watch, how they select new equipment, and who they trust. Spend time in all those places, with those people, at those events, listening to and learning about your audience’s behaviors.
Step Two: Determine the stories and messages that resonate with them — what are their primary complaints and problems? What would make them switch/upgrade their current equipment? When and how do they buy? This usually means talking to lots of customers, potential customers, and sources that influence these customer targets.
Step Three: Evaluate your marketing budget, your strengths, weaknesses, assets, etc. and select tactics (organic and paid) to reach your audience in the places they pay attention with the messages that resonate (FYI: usually that’s not just FB+Google ads).
Step Four: Experiment, learn, refine, repeat.
Here’s the weird part…
Almost no one does marketing this way. Almost no one hires agencies or consultants to do these core marketing tasks. Almost no one asks their CMO or their first marketing hire to take this approach. Almost no marketer I’ve ever met is given the freedom, the responsibility, or the direction to do this work.
Instead, marketing requests and “strategy” often looks like this:
- “Optimize our Facebook and Google ads”
- “Get us more traffic”
- “Improve our SEO”
- “Make our blog work”
- “Get us more sales qualified leads”
- “Increase our conversion rate”
- “Get us more email signups”
- “Set up our marketing channels”
None of these are terrible goals… Unless the core targeting sucks. And if you haven’t done the four steps above, it’s very often the case that the core targeting sucks.
“But, my customers are on Facebook, Google, and Instagram; why can’t I just buy ads there and call it good enough?”
- The ads you buy from FB/GG/IG are the most expensive ones you’ll find, especially if your audience doesn’t already know you, like you, and trust you. You’ll pay more than your better-known/better-loved competitors, get lower CTRs, and lower conversion rates.
- Those platforms are where your customers have their guards up the most. That’s why, despite years of efforts, ad CTRs on Facebook and Google barely reach 2-3% on average, maybe 4-5% of Instagram. Compare that to sponsoring a podcast or, better yet, being the guest on a podcast your audience listens to, being on stage at an event your audience attends, being the guest editorial on the website your audience is sharing on their social networks.
- Since everyone is buying ads on FB/GG/IG, it’s not a competitive advantage. And marketing should be a competitive advantage.
Maybe you’ve broadened out and targeted more opportunities than just the mainstream ad platforms. But even if your organization, at one point, did the audience intelligence work to be smart about targeting and messaging, over time, it changes. When, in 2007, I started marketing software to professional SEOs at Moz, the market was completely different than in 2010, and it changed massively again by 2013 and 2016.
In 2012, I guarantee restauranters and chefs paid attention to different media, different websites, different podcasts, different blogs, radio shows, events, news sources, trade journals, research studies, and individuals than they do in 2018. The messages that were new and resonant with them six years ago have almost certainly shifted massively, too.
The same is true in your market.
But, tragically, so many of us are failing to do (or regularly re-do) the core work that we lose sight of our audience. We overly focus on optimizing that one Instagram campaign, sponsoring the same event we’ve sponsored the last four years, tweaking the same Google keyword ads that worked for us last year…
The good news is:
- Your competitors are almost certainly failing at this right now, which means if you do it right, you’ll earn a competitive advantage
- If you have product/market fit, improving your marketing/market fit might be the highest ROI investment you can make
- Better targeting of more resonant messages will yield more customers at a lower cost of acquisition
- The only thing stopping you from fixing this is the will to do the work and the approval from your boss/team/leadership/client
If the marketing flywheel you’re building is finding friction, slowing down, or scaling more slowly than your competition despite a great product, consider investing in marketing/market fit. Just like P/M fit, it’s never done; it’s a cyclical process with constant opportunity for refinement and improvement.
p.s. I think two of the big reasons this practice gets short shrift is: A) unlike many of those other practices, it doesn’t have a name or a brand in the marketing world (there’s no way to efficiently describe those four steps above like there is with “email marketing,” “SEO,” “PPC,” or “content marketing”) and B) it’s a painful, manual process that’s more like product research and UX testing than any of the now standard web marketing fields. But I’m curious to hear your thoughts about this too.