Marketing sage Philip Kotler once said, “Marketing is not the art of finding clever ways to dispose of what you make. Marketing is the art of creating genuine customer value. It is the art of helping your customer become better off.”
While Kotler wrote this in 1967, it’s still a pretty revolutionary idea. Most marketers don’t see it this way. They’re all about the product or service they’re trying to sell. Who can blame them, with the neverending push to ring the cash register today? But a growing number of marketing thought leaders believe the traditional approach leaves money on the table. I realize this is heresy to many readers, but my hope, through this article, is to encourage a change of mindset — a reimagining of what marketing is, a rethinking of the role of the marketer and a re-evaluation of the place of content in the overall marketing mix.
Whatever your product or service, only a small fraction of your total audience is ready to buy at any given time. In fact, according to research, only 3% of your market is actively ready to buy at any given time. This doesn’t mean that the rest might not become valuable customers at some point. It’s just that in most cases, you’re not even on their radar today.
Accepting this leads to a radical change in your approach to marketing. The big shift is to realize that your product or service — at least in the B2B world — is usually relevant only at the end, not the beginning, of the buying journey. In the early stages of their journey, buyers are thinking about a problem, a pain point, a business issue that defies resolution. They’re looking for ideas and solutions. Your job is to show how you can help. Do this, and they are more likely to keep consuming your content and see, at the appropriate time, how your product or service is a logical last step. Fail to do this, and they’ll likely pass you right by.
The key is putting the customer first and focusing on their needs, not yours. This begins by understanding your audience and what they’re dealing with — what challenges they’re looking to overcome or what benefits to obtain. For example, in our business, we help enterprise marketers sell to small and midsize businesses. In this segment:
• Most businesses are owner-operated and managed with small staffs
• Managers have broad responsibilities
• There are few functional specialists (like procurement managers)
On any given day, your so-called “buyer” might also be dealing with sales, marketing, finance, operations or all of the above. Bottom line: They have no time for random sales calls, won’t open unsolicited emails and won’t respond to promotions for products they may not even realize they can use. What they need is for you to help them run their business better, by telling them things they don’t know and offering solutions to their problems.
Rethink Your Job
In their new book, Killing Marketing, marketing experts Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose ask, “What if we went from campaigns where we try to reach customers with frequency to persuade them to ‘buy now’ to an editorial strategy … that create(s) valuable experiences for audiences that actually want to hear from us?”
This has serious implications for the role of the marketing professional. First, as I mentioned above, Pulizzi and Rose realize that most potential customers are not immediately ready to buy. Strategies that highlight benefits and features with the sole intention of closing a sale often fall on deaf ears.
The authors suggest that brands should focus on developing their own high-value content platforms instead of pushing promotions and ads at them.
They go on to say, “The marketing skills of tomorrow are equal parts marketing and publishing. To survive, (you) need to understand both and the business model that is born from that mixture.” This means that the marketing department of the (very near) future will be more like a media company than an advertising agency and the CMO will be more like a publisher than a campaign manager.
Recalibrate Your Content
This brings us to content. Think of your content and your product as part of a continuum that parallels the buyer’s journey. Different content with differing objectives is required for each stage.
In the beginning (at the top of the funnel), most B2B prospects are focused on the day-to-day trials of running their business. Here’s where your content must provide real value and position your brand as a unique resource for ideas and solutions to their problems. Only once they see you as a source of useful information are they likely to identify themselves, sign up for your emails or events and open the door for you to reach them with additional content down the line.
As the prospect moves down the funnel, you have an opportunity to nurture their relationship with your brand and continue to add value as they move along their journey. Content can gradually become more product-aligned but should continue to focus on benefits, not features, until the very end. At each stage, strategic CTAs can encourage prospects to delve deeper and learn more, guiding them toward next steps and accelerating their journey toward the sale.
So, the question is: Who is going to kill marketing first — you or your competitors?