In the marketing industry, there is a tried-and-true formula: An effective marketing campaign is all about delivering the right message to the right people at the right time. That seems simple enough. But should any part of this formula slip out of balance, an entire campaign can fall flat. I’ve designed and executed thousands of campaigns, and if we ever stray from this mantra, our results leave something to be desired.
To build a solid marketing plan, you must know your buyer, present a clear and differentiated message, and determine the right channel and timing for that message. If your marketing team draws a blank when you pose any of these three points as a question, it may explain why your last campaign bit the dust.
1. Know your buyer.
The single most important question you can ask yourself when beginning a marketing campaign is, “Who is my audience?” Some people call an “audience” the “economic buyer.” Others call it the “persona” or “customer.” Regardless of who this audience is, you will need to become intimately acquainted with them.
To understand your audience, I’d recommend building what is called “buyer personas.” This is professional jargon for a one-sheet that tells you who your audience is and what they care about. The buyer’s persona will often include pain points, buying behavior, metrics that their personas are measured against, hobbies and usually other typical demographics. Don’t forget that in today’s B2B marketplace, there are usually multiple buyers for a single product.
2. Differentiate your message.
There’s more to an effective message than merely saying everything you hope a customer wants to hear. Instead, your message must be consistent with your company’s brand and goals. Remember, you’ve developed your buyer persona(s), so you know your target. Your next task is to highlight your market differentiator. If you don’t know, here are some things you can do to explore what that differentiator is:
• Immerse yourself in the industry and research competitors’ offerings and claims. One way to do this is to register for competitor newsletters. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to demonstrate that you understand how to position yourself in the larger discussion. Knowledge is like a river. You have to think of yourself as a drop in that body of water.
• Ask potential buyers if they will talk with you about the pain points they are experiencing. This is possibly the best thing you can do to understand how to position yourself and differentiate against competitors.
• Talk with industry experts. What do they see lacking in existing products? Gartner, IDC and other similar firms have technology solutions and industry experts who do nothing but survey people to try to get a feel for the state of the industry. Leverage that knowledge. If you cannot afford a paid account, I recommend scheduling an analyst briefing once a year to maintain your relevance.
3. Deliver your message at the right time.
Delivering your message at the right time depends on what your particular message is. The buyer’s behavior follows a reliable design, skillfully illustrated by the Sellers’ Compass, which our team uses as an overall framework to help us understand the buyer’s journey and when to deliver the right messages. It consists of three parts: buyer enablement, purchase and buyer engagement.
Buyers follow a typical path as they make a decision about whether to purchase your product or service. First, they have to decide whether they want to solve their problem or pain point. Here’s a typical example that we see at our company:
Sam, the VP of Sales, wonders why his team’s win rate is so low. In this stage, often called “define” or “discover,” Sam is going to industry conferences, reading up on the issue in blogs and articles and talking to his friends about what their win rates are. Once he decides to solve this problem, Sam enters the “search” stage, where he looks at all of the available alternatives. For example, is his win rate so low because his sales team is terrible? Does the company have enough industry expertise? Are the quotes taking too long to generate? Let’s say that Sam feels quotes are taking too long because the sales team is generating them all manually, and they have to sort through thousands of SKUs. He decides that he is going to look for software that can automate his quoting process. Sam next enters the “evaluation” stage, where he decides between several options.
Often, by the time a potential customer enters the evaluation stages, he or she is already well into the buying journey. Whereas previously Sam relied on downloadable content, blogs and industry trade shows to educate himself, he will now reach out to a sales team to help him understand which option is best. The sales team should then use marketing collateral like data sheets, comparison guides, features lists and customer stories to help him evaluate his options carefully. Finally, Sam moves into the “validate” stage, where he has made a decision and is going back to verify that he made the right choice.
As marketers, we can take advantage of this knowledge of the buyer’s journey to help customers like Sam make buying decisions. If we know that they’re in the beginning stages of the journey, we can keep our messaging high level and focus on general pain points. Messages like, “Is your win rate low? It might not be your sales team’s fault” might be relevant at that stage. However, if we know that they’re going to make a purchase and are just trying to decide which one, the message changes to one that differentiates your company from others.
Designing a campaign with a clear, differentiated message that caters to your target customer isn’t complicated. But it does require understanding the three rules of buyer behavior. By delivering the right marketing message to the right audience at the right time, your next marketing campaign will take off instead of landing in the dirt.