The aim of marketing and sales is to take people on a journey from never having heard of you to being raving fans who buy loyally and tell all their friends. So if you want to understand what marketing excellence looks like then you need to understand how your customers make that journey. And the journey will be different depending on your business, your product and your market.
Some buying journeys are quite short and buyers make their decision quite quickly. Others are longer, involve more stages, and require more support from marketing and sales.
Marketing excellence supports buyers at every stage of their buying decision, all the while building trust and reducing the perceived risk of moving forward.
Is it better to heavily promote your business via one channel (e.g. do loads of digital advertising on one platform) or is it better to spread your budget across a number of different channels?
To answer this question, we need to understand the psychology behind how people buy things. Specifically, we need to understand how people become convinced that a company or product is a legitimate option and worthy of consideration.
We all have different mental strategies for deciding whether something is “OK”. Some people don’t need much evidence to be convinced of something. Other people need a lot of evidence before they believe something is true.
If you’re only promoting yourself in one place then you will only attract those who only need one source of evidence. Anyone who needs more than one source will probably not be convinced to take action and you’ll miss out on a big chunk of your market.
On average, people need three sources of evidence before they’re convinced something is true. We see this evidenced in academia when research has to be replicated three times before it is accepted as true.
How do we apply this to marketing?
In today’s crowded world of content, it can be difficult for small businesses to stand out.
We all know a powerful headline when we see it because it grabs our attention. Powerful headlines compel us to read more. Powerful messages will resonate with the kind of people who'll get most value from the product or service offered.
The best headlines are the ones that make me realise I have a problem I didn’t know about before. And this product or service will solve that problem for me – how can I go on living without that product in my life! These headlines stop me in my tracks and compel me to find out more about what is on offer.
And powerful headlines are not universal. A headline that makes one person take notice might not interest someone else, because the message isn't relevant to them.
So where do these powerful messages come from? Do advertising agencies have a magic elixir that gives them divine inspiration?
No. Powerful headlines are created using a systematic process that starts with deeply understanding what is important to your audience.
So many people in marketing talk about finding your "Unique Selling Point" or USP. That thing that makes your business different to everyone else out there. I understand the reason for this because if you look the same as everyone else then it's difficult for buyers to decide why they should pick you instead of your competitors.
The problem with USPs
The only way to find out what makes you "unique" is to look outward at your competitors and compare what you offer, and how you offer it, to them and what they offer. Then you end up changing your marketing to fit around what they're doing. And what do you do if someone else does something similar to you? Suddenly you're not "unique"!
I've seen businesses get into a real state about their USP, especially in industries where (on the surface) businesses can seem pretty similar such as professional services. I hear marketing that starts with, "We're different to other [professional service companies] because..."
If you have to tell people you're different, then the rest of your marketing is not working.
I used to think marketing was fluff. A “dark art”. Creative nonsense with no structure or logic behind it.
In fact, I believed this so strongly that, as a young Design Engineer, when my boss said “Ros I think you’d be good in marketing”, I wanted to say “no I don’t think so”.
As I started working in sales and marketing I began to realise that, yes, bad marketing is fluff. We’ve all seen it! But good marketing is structured and methodical. It’s based on solid research. It’s carefully planned, designed, executed and project managed. Good marketing has a lot in common with engineering, it turns out.
Here’s how you can apply an engineering design process to create a marketing machine that’ll power your business growth.
As a young Marketing Manager I used to hate setting marketing objectives. I felt like I was setting myself up to fail if I planned a marketing activity and explicitly stated "this needs to deliver X to be successful".
I lived in fear of failing to meet those objectives. I also didn't understand that the first time you run a marketing activity, you have to make a lot of assumptions, some of which may turn out to be incorrect. If you're not aware of the assumptions you're making then the only conclusion you can come to is that the activity didn't work and can never be made to work. If you know your assumptions then, afterwards, you can review them based on what happened and see which ones are incorrect.
Now I think about objectives (and assumptions and marketing!) differently.
Objectives are not a stick you use to beat yourself up with. They're a tool to make your marketing more effective. Here's how to use them.
Most people jump to this stage of the process first. This is the equivalent of placing a first order of 100,000 widgets based on a design on the back of a napkin. Yes, there's a chance they might do the job but you're risking losing a lot of money in the process. (Read 'Turning your marketing upside down' for a more detailed explanation)
First, you need a robust marketing function in your business that leads your customers comfortably through their buying process. You need to make sure you've designed your marketing to be effective and you've tested it out and are confident that it is converting customers with a good return on investment.
The process of doing this will almost always result in an upturn in sales, but if your sights are set higher and you want to grow your business more, you have two choices:
The order of these is important: it is far easier and more efficient to increase sales from existing, proven marketing activities. People often shy away from doing this because they're not confident their activities are delivering ROI. If that's the case, go back and put measures in place so you know whether they're working or not.
Last week I was talking to a fellow marketing consultant about the best way to present a marketing plan.
It’s a balance between including all the information and avoiding detail overload. There was also the question of how best to order the information.
The answer is that different people need to organise their information in different ways.
When people are making a difficult buying decision, they’ll naturally have questions and objections. This often means your sales team (or you, if you’re a small business) end up spending time answering the same questions over and over again.
If that’s happening in your business then you need a buyers guide.
A buyer’s guide is a piece of content that educates your buyer, answers their likely questions and overcomes some or all of their objections. A good buyers guide will be balanced and impartial. The aim is not to sell but to…
Your buyer's guide might take the form of a well laid out pdf, a printed booklet, a video (or series), a blog, an infographic, or any other media format. I find it's often easier to start with a written document while you play around with the structure and content, and then turn it into other formats afterwards. Whatever format you start with, consider recycling it by turning it into another media type to make it more accessible for different types of people.
Here's how to create one for your business...
Case studies are an essential part of any marketer’s toolkit. They provide evidence to back up the claims you make about your product or service. Since we can all be a bit sceptical at times, we need to give our buyers proof that we are as good as we say. A portfolio of case studies offers that much-needed reassurance.
If case studies are on your marketing to-do list, this template explains the elements I include to ensure the result is a compelling and persuasive piece of content.
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