What’s wrong with my marketing?

What’s wrong with my marketing? It’s a good and objective question to ask yourself periodically. It could very well uncover issues that need addressing. Here’s an example.

Before starting Element-R Partners, I represented several large corporations on behalf of a national PR firm.

Pre-Internet, when trade shows were one of the best ways to reach new buyers, I walked into a client’s booth and got a shock: the product manager was angry. “Where’s my announcement?”

The company was developing a new division, along with a new name, new products, and new services.

“We weren’t ready to launch,” I calmly answered.

The marketing manager — my direct contact — was quite nervous (not that I wasn’t, but I stuck with my guns).

There was much that needed to be figured out before launch. Namely, the entire effort!

Once we did do the right preparation, the launch of their new division (at yes, another trade show) was a big success: it was creative, compelling, and attracted a lot of attention. The product manager did in fact come to appreciate why we waited to be truly ready to launch.

The moral: don’t just do ‘stuff.’  Preparation is key.

This is one example of the many ways I have seen companies go about their marketing in the wrong way.

As business owners, sales or product managers, we all want our marketing to get done fast — and of course, to work. But you can’t just pull the right marketing answers out of thin air. You must figure out the what’s, why’s and how’s. There is no silver bullet!

Preparation, perspective on strategy and decisions on exactly how to execute impact results.

Here are the key mistakes I’ve seen, and how you can avoid them.

  1. You’re talking about yourself instead of the customer

It’s a fact: 88% of companies talk mainly about their company, product or service (Forrester Research).

If you ever sit down and write: ‘(My company) is _________.’ ‘ We are _______.’

STOP! No one cares who you are. They only care about what you can do for them.

This is nothing new for experienced marketers, and for business owners who are likely also the primary salesperson. In sales we all know to ask questions, identify the buyer’s pain, then speak directly to it.

But what happens to a lot of us when we write anything about our business, whether it be a sales presentation, our website, an email, and so on? We stiffen up and get formal. We want to toot our own horn first, just to make sure they hear it ALL.

That’s guaranteed to suck all the air (and the potential interest) out of your effort.

Admittedly, it’s hard to take the what’s in it for me or outside-in perspective.

And harder still to define our real value to customers, then capture it in our marketing.

A good way to easily recognize this: Think about yourself and where you spend your time. What captures your attention?

 E.g.: Our company has been in business for 15 years and we supply X, Y, Z.  Vs: Find your competitive advantage here.

 We solve your biggest (and smallest) accounting problem.

You know this intuitively. When a company speaks to you in YOUR language — not theirs — you are more apt to listen.

Some questions to ponder:

  • What is your tie to their business problems?
  • Do you understand the target personas you’re selling to, and are you tailoring to that person? Can you name the biggest problems on the mind of each today?
  • Do you understand — in detail — WHY your customers chose you?
  • Is the value you talk about the same as the value your customers talk about?

Many companies don’t really know their customers deeply enough, so their marketing is all about themselves.

  1. You’re not showing that you understand the customer

Common marketing mistakes here:

  • Companies use complex industry speak
  • Their value is not stated simply
  • All buyers are treated the same

How do you turn this around? Specifically, what can you do tomorrow?

  • If you don’t have target personas, create them. This doesn’t have to be a super lengthy or formal exercise; you can just list everything you know about each customer type or group. You can easily find persona creation templates online.
  • Talk to your customers! Pick at least four or five (more if you can invest the time), and interview for qualitative input about:
  • Their pain points and need for a product or service like yours
  • Do they compare suppliers? If so, what purchase criteria do they use for the comparison?
  • What were their obstacles to making the purchase or decision?
  • What they care most about when it comes to a product or service like yours?
  • What they like most about your product or service?
  • What appealed to them the most when you first connected?
  • Given the chaos of the last several years, ask: What is their current definition of success? Are they facing any new obstacles? New needs?

And so on. You get the idea.

If you’re ambitious, you could also ask people who didn’t buy what the reasons were.

The answers to these may be surprising and often will tell you something new. Not just new, but REAL inputs on why they buy.

Next, capture your own thoughts and those of your team on the same questions. Then, take these inputs and use them to re-create your sales and content messages, from the customer’s perspective.

Here’s another useful exercise to brainstorm around:

  • Identify the buyer’s external (business) problem and goal
  • Identify the buyer’s internal (personal/career) problem and goal
  • Explore how your solution links to a larger, aspirational, cultural, societal issue or purpose
  1. You’re not giving strong reasons WHY to buy from you

The unique selling proposition, value proposition, dominant selling idea or whatever trendy name you want to give it: What makes your offering different, better?

Think about your elevator pitch or any basic company descriptor that you use a lot.

  • Does it speak directly to the customer pain you solve?
  • Does it express what makes you different?
  • Does it express the value buyers receive?
  • Does it convey your passion?
  • What is truly different about you? Would everyone on your staff say the same?

Your personal evangelism, philosophy and perspectives can also be of great value in shaping your differentiators. Think about soft values too: what are you selling that is not implicit to the product or service, but is a more human result, such as trust, knowledge, confidence, etc.?

Here’s where customer input comes directly into play. Use the work you did to understand the customer to strengthen or recast your differentiators.

Study your competitors for how they talk to customers to ensure you don’t sound the same. If you have any progressive competitors, you may just get some new ideas! But more likely you’ll find similarities and a lot of generic descriptions like ‘quality service’ ‘experienced’ etc. Avoid anything generic or that could be said by any company in your space. Be as specific as possible with your differentiators.

Create specific answers to different pain points that quickly and directly showcase your value and differentiation.

Yes, differentiating is hard if it’s not immediately obvious, especially in crowded fields. There’s certainly a science and art to teasing these out (having an agency partner or skilled communicator lead the effort can be a big help).

Then, use these differentiators to expand and develop campaign ideas, themes or topics for:

  • Sales presentations
  • Webinars
  • Blog posts
  • Website content
  • Email marketing
  • Social media articles and posts
  • Videos
  • Content marketing
  1. Your content isn’t compelling enough to gain attention

From your website Home page to your social media posts, your content MUST stop buyers from scrolling away.

So many mistakes can be seen here:

  • Not WIFM (what’s in it for me)
  • Too technical or too formal
  • Not interesting
  • Too much company-speak
  • Not educational (obviously commercial)
  • Not relatable
  • Not instantly appealing
  • Too generic
  • Too much!

How can you make your content interesting and valuable for the buyer?

Again, think about yourself. Why do you skip over content? It’s likely part subject matter and part writing style. This is where your buyer insights come in. If you write about buyer issues or from the buyer’s perspective, you have solved 90% of the challenge.

Some possible improvements you can make:

Your website

Re-evaluate how you present yourself, especially on your Home page (where attention is won or lost). Speak directly to buyer’s business and personal pains and aspirations. Show empathy — that you understand their problems. Position yourself as the right resource to solve their problems.

Your content isn’t planned, or is haphazard and intermittent

Like any other long-term commitment, you need a good content plan. It’s a matter of bringing together all the elements: target personas, their pain, what they care about when it comes to a service or product like yours, and finally your knowledge and how you can help. If you’ve done your preparation, you and your team should easily be able to brainstorm dozens of topics for new content.

Tie your content to the customer journey

On average, the B2B buyer journey involves consuming 17 pieces of content before making a choice of vendor. Once you have your personas, the next logical step is to break down the journey from the casual looker to the committed buyer. Your job with content is to inform every step of this process.

  1. You haven’t created a real strategy

Do you ever feel you have too much to be doing when it comes to marketing?

That’s the beauty of starting with a well-thought-out strategy before the time comes to do the actual work. Some suggestions here:

  • Pick one target group of buyers and go deep with your marketing effort, rather than trying to reach all buyers at one time.
  • Decide on your objective(s) for this single target group.
  • Decide on your strategies: What are my key messages? How can I make my offer compelling? Will my outreach include direct sales, in addition to marketing over different channels? And so on.
  • Next, decide on the how: your tactics, paid, earned, shared, owned. Decide which platforms you’ll use. How will you break through the clutter?  What support materials will you need? One time outreach will do no good. You need a multitouch, multiplatform approach.
  • Decide on the length and cadence of the effort, and measures of success.
  • What value can you immediately deliver as part of this program?

Even a short-term (3-6 month) strategy will give you a sense of direction and purpose with your marketing effort, instead of ‘just getting it done’ or ‘doing what we’ve always done’ without enough thought behind it. And having a strategy with metrics enables you to evaluate and modify to improve results on the next round.

Avoiding these errors will almost certainly put you a step ahead of your competitors in how you present your company. With all the preparation you’ve done, especially the customer intel behind it, you just may find yourself inspired and excited about the possibilities.

What are some of most common marketing mistakes you’ve seen? Please comment and share your experience.

Susan Duensing, CBC is Co-Founder of Element-R Partners, LLC. This article is based on a presentation given at a NAWBO Chicago chapter event.