No one can argue with the logic. Know your customers and their preferences, fears, and goals, and you’ll be a more successful communicator.
Seeking this advantage, companies of all sizes have implemented audience-marketing initiatives. Some have bootstrapped the effort, scraping social media and Web sites or asking salespeople and other internal stakeholders to help them fill in a template. Others have invested in surveys or traditional qualitative research. Most have produced PowerPoint slides, posters, and, in at least a few instances, impressive portals filled with buyer profiles and customer journeys.
For the most part, marketers are feeling pretty good about all of this. But I’m going to take a tough stance on this topic and insist that audience marketing isn’t working until the audience says it is.
Every day my company asks business decision makers to tell us what worked for them and what didn’t as they complete a recent buying decision. Over the course of the past year, we’ve had lengthy conversations with 419 people, including C-level executives, middle managers, engineers, and physicians, asking them to take us back to the day when they realized the need to solve the problems our clients address. We don’t use scripts or discussions guides, so we’re free to ask people to tell us their true stories without any bias. Influencers of all types revealed extraordinary details as we probed on every aspect of their buying triggers, research strategies, vendor comparisons, and final decisions.
Disturbingly, the news about marketing influence isn’t good. We rarely heard a buyer describe a marketing interaction that affected vendor consideration or selection. Why not? Buyers told us that marketing content is too general or that it all conveys the same benefits, when they know in their hearts that some options are better-suited for them than others. During a recent interview, one CIO said that he could place each of three vendor’s brochures side by side on his desk, cover the logo, and they would be indistinguishable from one another.
The frustrating part is that our interviews validate the critical need for audience marketing. Buyers have diverse needs for information, and if we don’t give it to them, they’ll rely on their peers or prior experiences to consider only the most familiar options. Our companies may never hear about the opportunity, and if our salespeople manage to get a meeting with the buyer, we haven’t provided the tools, training, or messaging that will help them challenge the buyer’s thinking.
Part of the problem with audience marketing is the difficulty in seeing what’s not working. Most marketers have profiled their buyers and mapped their journeys. Marketing automation solutions and Web analytics tell us which buyers are engaged and what they’re doing.
Armed with all of this data, you might expect we have this handled. But stop and think about your own high-consideration buying decisions, and you’ll see that we’re not doing nearly enough to give our audiences what they need to make an educated decision.
Maybe you’re evaluating a new CRM solution, agency relationship, or destination for a big vacation. A relevant, clever benefits statement might capture your attention, but now you have questions that can only be satisfied with content built by someone who understands your decision. You may have concerns about whether the stated benefits are even achievable for someone like you. And you probably have ideas about the attributes of the products, services, and companies that would qualify providers for consideration.
We can’t retain your attention during this phase with sales and marketing interactions that belabor the merits of our benefits. If we can’t deliver the answers you want to hear, you’ll turn to your peers, consultants, and existing vendors for advice. At that point, anything can happen.
To make audience marketing even more challenging, our research demonstrates that the audience’s questions and decision mind-set generally have little to do with job title, industry, company size, or other demographic criteria.
The good news is that insight-based segmentation typically results in the need to serve fewer audiences, and these insights are available by carefully listening to the right buyers tell their true stories.
This is a big change for marketers. Now that buyers are navigating most of their journey before they interact with salespeople, we need to rethink our approaches to messaging and segmentation. We need to forget about fictitious or ideal buyer personas and discover what matters to real people as they navigate the buying decisions we want to influence.