Articles

Find Your Niche to Thrive

That you have market segments is one fundamental construct of marketing, that your business will thrive in a niche is another. Some businesses seem to have their niche come to them without much effort, while other businesses must actively seek and discover the segments that will work best for them. For those other businesses, we’d like to offer three ways to think about your market segments and how to discover the niche or niches in which your business can thrive.

Peel the Onion

The first approach is to understand the drivers of customer behavior, look for commonalities, and design your marketing programs back to hit all the relevant factors. We call this the peel-the-onion approach. In this analogy, removing the topmost layer reveals a subsequent layer, and removing that next layer reveals another sub-layer.

And so on, until you’ve completely peeled back the layers and have a full understanding of everything that motivates or drives the behaviors you desire. A completely objective exercise will also reveal those factors that de-motivate or obstruct the desired behaviors, as well as factors that have zero relevance. But you’ll emerge with a comprehensive understanding of your target segments. This approach calls for a deep, thorough, well-designed marketing research program – probably running perpetually to discern the factors that are flux.

In terms of thoroughness, peeling the onion can’t be beaten. In terms of practicality, however, do you really need to know everything about a target segment? You ultimately want to employ motivators, avoid de-motivators, and ignore that which can be ignored. Discovering every factor, relevant or not, about a target segment would not only be extremely complicated, but it will also be extremely expensive. So, while it is an attractive prospect – to know everything about a target segment – it likely does not make sense.

This leads us to our next approach.

Read the Tea Leaves

This approach presumes it is the behavior that matters the most, not the drivers of that behavior. If your targets respond to online ads with flashing yellow letters, who cares why? This frees the marketer from determining causation and relying on correlation, a far easier and less expensive proposition. Marketing campaigns begin with testing, lots of it, and refine over time solely based on how prospects behave.

The problem is that ‘over time’ bit.  It requires patience on the part of the business to allow the refinement process to work. “Patience” also translates into marketing spend that is not yielding much in the way of quantifiable results in the beginning. From our experience “easier and less expensive” obscures the need for patience until the actual need for patience presents itself.

The other issue with this approach is that businesses may start not caring ‘why’, but at some point they will care as they look to extend their marketing (or their product/service offerings) into adjacent categories. Without any understanding of the drivers, every extension restarts the testing process from the beginning.

With two approaches that have significant, if different, impracticalities, we come to the third, hybrid option.

Read the Onion / Peel the Tea Leaves

Naming conventions aside, it is easy to see that both of the prior approaches do have some redeeming value, and a combination or hybrid approach looks sensible.

The peel the onion approach, in its pure form, starts from a position of knowing nothing about the market. That’s rarely the case; most businesses will start from the perspective of educated guesses about the drivers motivating their targets, perhaps refined from some past sales experience.

Another strong starting point, particularly for smaller businesses, is to start by identifying the targets that are most likely to be responsive based on a match with the brand beliefs of the seller. We’d offer that those businesses whose niche seems to come to them are really good at expressing their brand beliefs, the personality of their culture, which draws in the targets who believe the same things in the same way.

Testing some of the assumptions about segment motivators and de-motivators is a much more manageable proposition from this perspective; a well-designed survey would fit well here.

With a basic understanding of the relevant drivers, the tea leaves approach can be much more efficacious. Less true guesswork will be necessary when starting from a position of some understanding. Marketing technology has progressed to the point where it is easy to set up campaigns that allow targets to self-select into the viable prospect pool, providing valuable feedback to validate or challenge those initial assumptions at the same time. In the parlance of the previous section, this approach will be a little harder, a little more expensive, but require shorter timeframes, and therefore less ‘patience’, to yield a meaningful result.

We are fans of the hybrid approach. The art comes in designing the balance between the drive for understanding and reliance on behavioral outcomes, but it can be done so the right amount of marketing discipline can be applied.

What Not to Do

There is a fourth approach that we need to mention – reacting to a new offering of a marketing services provider. This is the approach where the business relies upon the service provider to have done all the research, discerned all the relevant factors, observed and applied the outcomes, and bundled all that into a new, whiz-bang offering. Not exactly tailored to the business, but “plenty of others in your space are seeing great results.”

There’s no real understanding on the part of the business, and the ROI is likely to be a disappointment. But the temptation is real. A tip-off is the requirement to commit for a year or more. Not to say that marketing programs don’t require a commitment, but a lack of flexibility in this area might just indicate a lot of client turnover.

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Brand Before Content

Marketing’s job is to communicate to prospective customers and clients. Information about products and service to communicate how, or the extent to which, their needs will be satisfied is important. But it is not enough. You also must communicate ‘why they should buy from you’, which is different than ‘what they should buy’. The vehicle a business uses to communicate the ‘why’ is commonly called “Brand.”

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We are primarily content marketers, and we partner with specialists in the neuro-psychology of Branding as needed. Our focus is on content creation and delivery, based on the firm belief that precise language, used well, has the power to persuade, convince, generate interest & desire, and sell. In the course of working with clients, we often find businesses that don’t have a firm grasp on their brand, and therefore struggle to articulate with any precision ‘why a customer should buy from them’. That’s when their branding problem becomes our content problem. We are the kind of people that find the best way to do things, and we have developed an internal process to help draw out some of the basics of the customer’s brand. The process isn’t important in this forum, but the elements are.

Elements of Brand Connection

One of the things a brand needs to do is help create a connection with the prospective customer. That connection has to be rooted in a core premise of the business, a fundamental principle. Think Patagonia and sustainability, or Ikea – affordable furniture and inspiration for a better life at home. Those are relatable beliefs that can create a connection with like-minded believers.

Next comes a bit of a riddle. People make purchase decisions. But a lot of seller communication comes from a company, particularly in e-commerce environments. Nonetheless, a company needs to project a ‘personality’ that the buyer will ‘like’. As we all know, personalities are complex things. Personalities in people are expressed in many ways, and not always sequentially complete. It takes a while for the full picture of a person’s personality to be constructed from bits of behavior. The important point for companies is that people expect to discover personalities over time, so a company’s personality can be “built” bit-by-bit as well.

Now that we have some beliefs and a personality it comes down to how these things are articulated: the voice of the company. Here’s where the benefit of using ‘personality’ in this discussion becomes evident. A person’s voice is a complicated and variable thing; rising and falling as it reflects thoughts and emotions. In other words, it has a richness that people expect to hear. Think about the literal voices used by the most charismatic entertainers or leaders, and you’ll recognize it is not just the message but the delivery, too. Companies need to have a ‘charismatic’ voice, to the extent that makes sense. But a flat, ‘just the facts, ma’am’ voice won’t convince anyone.

Executing on the Brand

Armed with core beliefs, a well-developed idea of the company’s ‘personality’, and a plan for how the beliefs and personalities will be articulated, all a business needs to do is identify who is most likely to ‘like’ or resonate with the beliefs, personality, and voice and connect with them.

Unfortunately, those last 26 words tend to be the core of what companies think about when they think of marketing, which is a mistake.

Spend a little more time with your brand before beginning any content marketing program. You’ll find your messaging will be more authentic, your targeting more precise, and your results much, much better.


Four Strategic Measures for Digital Marketing Success

To say digital and online marketing have a lot of moving parts is an understatement. More and more business owners and managers are deciding whatever the level of complexity, they need to be in the digital marketing game. Beyond the uneasy feeling that opportunity is being left on the table, there is a well-justified and palpable sense that the competition might be finding success online and pulling permanently ahead. Fortunately, technology in the form of integrated marketing automation, CRM, and sales tracking & reporting removes the complexity.

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Prior to testing, publishing, and spending we suggest establishing some key performance indicators (KPIs) or success measures. While the perfect plan and program will come with a couple of iterations, it is important to design-to-perform from the beginning and adjust from there.

Specifically, consider these four measures:

What offers or promotions convert?

Before too long you will be creating and testing multiple offers and promotions, so it is best to plan for this from the beginning. They key is to measure all the way through to closed sales, not just leads, impressions, or clicks. While there is always the element of the funnel-formula, close-ratio numbers game, the digital marketing space gives you plenty of options to refine your targets and offers. It can get overwhelming and if you are tracking the wrong metric, you may be wasting marketing spend.

Which platforms and channels drive the most sales?

Another level to this digital marketing matrix is the platform – or digital marketing channel – that is the source of the most closed sales opportunities. Social media are platforms, while display, search, email, and text are all channels. Just like the strategy for measuring offers and promotions, you will want to track the performance by platform and channel.  

Who responds to offers and campaigns?

Customers are people, of course, but who are they? Your initial strategy will have targeted some pre-defined segments, and of course you want to track how the segments responded. But also layer in personal characteristics – what level in the customer organization, did gender have an impact, geography, etc.

Which sales people successfully close from these efforts?

Depending on how you structure all your digital and online marketing efforts, prospects can come into the rep’s funnel with different levels of preparation than the reps are used to, particularly if their prior success has come from farming the base. (One of the benefits of digital marketing is prospects can be more ready to buy when they are finally turned over to the rep). Do not presume these leads and prospects will close just like all the others. You will have invested in the acquisition of these leads through digital marketing – that makes it important to track the rep’s success in closing these opportunities.  

The goal is to further refine your targets to find precisely who responds to precisely what on precisely which platform, and which of your sales reps have the most success with these digitally sourced opportunities. Track, measure, and feed it all back into your next set of marketing campaigns and watch your sales and ROI improve.


The Digital Marketing Promised Land

The promise of digital marketing is the ability to connect buyer and seller at the precise moment the consumer is about to decide and take action. It is what marketers call the promised land of precise targeting and (almost) zero wasted marketing spend. It is what consumers call the ultimate convenience; being presented (almost magically) with the opportunity to obtain the very thing they need when they need it.

CEOs and business owners recognize the power of this working in practice, but should also be wary of over-reliance on the big platforms and the implication of under-development or squandering of their company’s data capabilities, resources, and customer-acquisition expertise.

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Marketing Automation is How Companies Leverage Platform Data with Proprietary Data

Are We There Yet?

This digital marketing promised land calls for a confluence of predictive technology and a large dataset of past behaviors. While it might appear magical to the consumer, from the marketer’s perspective it is achieved by raw computing power fed with a series behavioral correlations. Some can’t wait for this confluence to occur. Others are not so sure, noting privacy concerns and wondering if the next step is not just predicting behavior but creating behavior. Companies such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, internet service providers, and cellular carriers are collecting a lot of data on users, and working towards a new (utopian/dystopian – you pick) future, and maybe at some higher level that future is here, but for most smaller marketers it is a different picture.

The Current Marketing World    

Let’s leave the futures behind for the time being and talk about what this looks like to smaller marketers right now. Platforms such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft (LinkedIn) offer effective user targeting on their advertising platforms. The targeting is based on a combination of ‘static’ factors, age, geography, professed interests, to name a few, and the target’s web browsing history. With these targeting tools, smaller marketers can get their content to basically the right people at generally the right time – a vastly improved alternative to their advertising options in the past. Well-placed and well-constructed ad campaigns on these platforms can be an effective, sales-generating game-changer for many smaller marketers.

Marketers are, however, relying upon the data held and interpreted by others. You tell them what you want, the platforms deliver your ad and then tell you after-the-fact what it cost. Marketers are also relying upon the continued availability of those features from the big platforms. As can be seen by Google’s recent announcements, there are no guarantees anything not in their interest will continue.

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Big Ad Platforms Might Just Change Their Strategy – Source WSJ

We dare say these are propositions business owners and CEOs would not accept in most scenarios, and the fact that they do in this case is a testament to the power and effectiveness of these online advertising platforms.

What About Your Data?

Smaller marketers can build an even more effective digital marketing program by adding their own data into the mix; in effect leveraging the data collected by Google, Facebook, and the others. What does that mean? Use their advertising platforms to drive online traffic to your own data collection platform. Once you start tracking visitors to your website and social, you’ll start to build a fuller understanding of who is interested in your offerings and what they respond to. In addition to having tighter control of your own acquisition process, another virtuous cycle begins; armed with the data you’ve collected, your next ad campaigns on the big platforms can have even tighter targeting – yielding better results and return on your advertising spend.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Smaller marketers could just sit back and rely on the capabilities and services offered by the big platforms. But business owners and CEOs, in their never-ending quest to find the best way to align their organizations, will immediately spot the risk in an over-reliance on this “sit back” strategy and the concurrent under-development/squandering of their own data capabilities and resources. A more balanced, hybrid strategy leveraging external resources while building internal capabilities that ultimately drives more efficient customer acquisition is clearly the superior approach.

We achieve this hybrid integration with the use of marketing automation. Applying marketing automation processes in the correct manner is very straightforward and the strategic implications are quite rich.

To learn more about leveraging platform data with your own, fill out the contact form below.


Four Tips for Better Email Marketing Content

There are many reasons why email marketing remains popular, not the least of which is if it is done correctly it is very effective and has a positive ROI. Creating an effective email marketing program and campaigns for your business is not overly complex, but there are some fundamentals that you need to keep in mind. This article addresses Content – what you actually put in your email marketing pieces.

4 Tips Better Email

These are the top content tips to remember:

Writing

Write for your audience. Sounds simple, but what you put in your email should be what the recipient expects to see, needs to see, or wants to see. To do that effectively, you have to understand your audience. Keep in mind that your business may have many audiences and sending slightly different versions of an email, with the content tweaked for each group or segment, will be more effective that one single email that ignores the nuances between segments.

Your email content will be more effective if it is tied to things that your readers are already thinking about. Marketers call this seasonality. Think about tying your content to the literal seasons or holidays as appropriate (e.g. President’s Day Sale!). You might also tie your content to events in the community or news items. Business-to-business marketing might correlate with annual conferences or trade shows (even the virtual ones). Including seasonality will make your audience more likely to read your emails.

Images & Videos

People love images. Humans are drawn to images, particularly if they are images of people where you can see the faces and the hands. There is a lot of research that ties these preferences back to cave-dwelling times, but you only need to know faces & hands. Think about the copy that will be in the email to determine if the people in the image should be looking at the reader, looking down or up, or at another person. All that makes a difference.

People love videos even more. While you cannot actually send a video in the context of an email marketing message, you can incorporate a clickable image that links to a You Tube, Vimeo, or other hosted video service. Email marketing templates in services like Constant Contact have a video content block that you can put into an email. Enter the web address of the video, and the system will display a preview image that will go directly to the video when clicked. Keep the videos short (15 – 30 seconds). The first eight seconds are critical; the viewer will decide within 8 seconds if they like the video and will continue watching.

Personalize

Personalization means inserting names or bits of data that are specific, or personal, to the reader. An obvious example is a Dear <First Name> salutation, where the <First Name> is filled in from the contact database built in to the email marketing platform. Each email that goes out is personalized with the first name associated with the email address that is being sent to. Any bit of information that is in the database can be inserted into the email, too. We’ve all received emails that remind us of our most recently purchased item from a retailer, or a membership renewal date for an organization. People pay much closer attention to an email when they recognize their own details. Putting the person’s first name in the subject line works well, too.

Using Email

Email marketing campaigns are the foundation of many online marketing programs, from responses to website form fills to drip campaigns to regular newsletters. Doing them right and helping clients create the copy and content that tells the story of their unique ability to help their customers is what we do best.

To learn more about the power of email marketing, fill out the contact form below.