The old adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail” has never been truer than it is now in marketing. As purchasing decision-makers become more cynical and discerning and an avalanche of messages compete for their attention, the risks of “shoot from the hip” marketing have never been greater.
Marketing communications planning is an absolute must!
What are the shortcomings of ad-hoc marketing? Here are four common symptoms we see in B2B marketing, especially in small to medium-sized businesses.
The problem: Many companies still don’t segment their target audience. They send “one-size-fits-all” messages that annoy the very prospects they’re trying to attract.
Marketing experts have been warning about this “load the cannon and blast messaging everywhere” approach for years. But it seems to be falling on deaf ears. Many companies still do it, because it’s fast, easy and inexpensive.
They’ve checked the box.
Time to move on to the next project.
The solution: Use you’ve learned about your target audience’s buying process and their needs to map out a sequence and cadence of content and messaging that will nurture them through these four stages of the buying process:
- Awareness of your product, service or brand but not yet seeking a solution to their challenge,
- Consideration – they have identified a problem that needs to be solved and are researching potential solutions,
- Evaluation – they have narrowed their solution search to a few promising solution providers, and
- Purchase/supplier selection.
Remember, you need to create a process that’s customized to each segment of your audience. In order to build a trusted relationship with them, you must specifically and accurately speak to their deepest needs, challenges and aspirations, as well as where they’re at in their buyer’s journey.
Content as an end unto itself
The problem: As marketing departments increase the velocity of content they must produce to meet day-to-day business needs, the volume of it frequently becomes unmanageable. People in different parts of the business can’t find the assets they need. So, they create new ones. Duplication abounds. Soon, it becomes a major exercise to inventory all of the content that has sprouted up in the nooks and crannies of the business.
What’s missing is a plan for treating marketing and content materials as strategic assets to the business and managing them as such.
The solution: Because so many people are creating content in the various parts of your business (marketing, PR, training, customer support, corporate communications, etc.), it’s critical that you conduct a content inventory. You need to analyze and classify the assets you’ve already created, using criteria such as:
- Content format,
- Target audience,
- The segment of the buyer’s journey each asset addresses,
- Tags and other relevant metadata,
- The content creator and “owners,”
- Where the files for each asset are located.
- Date created,
- How the asset has been used (within a campaign, for example), and
- Topic category.
Once you’ve completed this analysis, you can make better use of what you’ve already created, eliminate duplication and identify content gaps that need to be filled.
The problem: Many companies are content to “guess” at the needs of their target audience. They think they “know” what motivates them and what their challenges and aspirations are. It’s called confirmation bias – they think we know the right answer and make marketing decisions based on that belief.
So, they create content that’s designed to meet these approximate “needs” – but end up missing the real ones by a mile.
Irrelevant content is everywhere and continues to grow at an exponential rate. You experience it whenever you’re researching a new purchase. You ignore what doesn’t meet your needs. Not surprisingly, so do your prospective customers, who have very limited time to research purchase decisions.
What does this mean? The cost of ignoring or taking wild guesses at your target audience’s real needs is getting higher and higher.
The solution: Don’t rely on gut feeling. Invest the time to do some deep research into the needs, challenges and aspirations of your target audience. Here are some ways to do this:
- Review your website, email and social media engagement data. What patterns do you see that may infer their needs?
- Interview your company’s customer-facing employees – the people who talk to your ideal customers every day. They are an excellent source for insights into customer needs.
- Interview customers to get firsthand insights into their beliefs, behavior, preferences and needs. Look for patterns in what they’re telling you. Don’t skip this step, thinking that your employee interviews gave you enough information. You MUST talk to your customers!
- Review the websites of close competitors. How are they addressing the needs of your audience that your website, social and campaigns are not?
Create buyer personas that represent detailed behavioral profiles of each type of person who contributes to the buying process – decision-makers and influencers. The insights you record here will help you develop value propositions targeted to the precise needs of each one. It should also yield a treasure trove of relevant content ideas.
The service bureau mentality
The problem: Many companies treat marketing as a service bureau. From sales and customer support to training and public relations, everyone wants content created to support their business goals. This approach is reactive and often consumes so much of marketing’s manpower and resources that it’s unable to address the strategic communication needs of the business.
Is it any wonder that marketing often isn’t considered to be a strategic part of most businesses?
The solution: Operationalize content development. Consider forming an editorial board or content strategy team to process the many requests for content from the many departments in your company. Look for opportunities to build portfolios of related assets that can be easily found, used and repurposed. This will help your marketing team to free up time to engage in strategic marketing communications planning.
The most successful companies have figured out how to balance ad-hoc requests with the need to focus on more strategic issues, like how those assets will collect audiences and impact their behavior.
Successfully growing your business today requires a focused, strategic approach to marketing communication. Anything else is simply wasting your time and money.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!