We’ve spent a great deal of time recently with more than one client revamping a large part of their outbound marketing efforts. For both clients, we’ve been asked to drive a greater share not only of voice (awareness) and consideration (endorsement), but also sales channel referral (trial/adoption). This is a significant challenge in itself, to be sure; however, one of the great obstacles in our path has been, in the case of both clients, a reluctance to “yield the reins” of their marketing efforts. I don’t have to tell you that this this is a scary proposition – as it is any time you’re asked to relinquish direct control of what was once your purview. Moving from a direct (owning strategy & programmatic implementation) to and indirect (relying on third parties) marketing model is not a triviality, to be sure. Nevertheless, the reality of today’s buyer, whether it be in the realm of B2C, B2C or SMB (a hybrid of the two), is that more than 50% and upward of 70% of the buyer’s research has already been completed prior to contacting a representative of the brand (whether it be a direct channel or sales partner). Grappling with this change in buyer behavior presents some new realities, many of them unfamiliar and most of them unwanted.
For one, it’s well documented that buyers don’t give much, if any, credence to advertising. At best, adverts help cement a brand in buyer’s minds – that’s about it. Have a look at this graphic from McKinsey:
And don’t get me started about press releases – they’re not exactly an exercise in critical thinking (or buying, for that matter). They’re just another form of owned media, which is designed and expected to persuade, absent any sort of critical, real-world objective view of how a “solution” resolves a real-world dilemma. Is it any wonder it captures increasingly less buyer attention?
What really counts is a reference from a trusted resource (again, not likely to be news to anyone reading this blog).
And yet, how to effect the necessary change within an existing marketing organization? One sure way to do this would be to replicate the current research by talking to customers to learn how their habits are — and aren’t — affected by your company’s marketing practices. But this would merely be proving an existing theorem. Instead, let the data speak for itself and test, then measure, a new hypothesis. Divert a smallish but significant (meaningful) portion of your existing paid marketing spend (say, from display or search adverts) toward earned media. And by that term, I don’t mean getting a blog post on a highly-trafficked site that’s not visited by your customer base. Instead, I mean do something original, different, and a bit daring. For the more timid, buy ads on a specialist site or blog (independent, of course) and measure the resulting traffic. You may find you get more qualified leads at a lower cost than via other means. And if not, review the data and learn where to more efficiently deploy those same resources.
For those who’re more serious about getting ground under their feet quickly, a more assertive approach would be in order. In essence, this means bringing the customer closer to your processes – from design and development, to sales and marketing, to service and support. Not all customers will want or allow themselves to be close to your product — but most assuredly, some will. Find out who those people are, learn their motivations, feed into those motivations, and earn their trust in the process. Then, earn what no survey, focus group or analyst can tell you: What do they need from your company? Or in other words, what unique advantage do only you provide? And how can you make, sell and service that advantage to people like them? That’s the challenge for which on only these people – your best customers—have the answer.
More on just how to go about that — and in so doing, how to measure it — in another post.