The Only Thing That Matters in Marketing

Photo courtesy of David Holt - CC

Photo courtesy of David Holt – CC

What’s the only thing that matters when you’re in business? The answer’s revenue. Certainly companies take great pride in building a better, faster, cheaper solution but to stay in business, companies have to make more money than they spend.

What’s the only thing that matters when you’re in Marketing? The answer is your audience. Generating revenue is how marketing efforts should be measured but it’s the audience that will determine success or failure.

What is an audience, or target market? Why are they the only thing that matters and how can any marketer make sure that they put their audiences’ needs even before the need to generate revenue?

What is a target market?

Businesses sometimes define their audience, or target markets as “everyone” because they believe that everyone could use or benefit from their product. Frankly, that’s rubbish and having an enormous target market hurts marketing efforts.

Target markets are the specific people or businesses that have the highest propensity to need and buy a product or solution.

Even when companies have a huge potential audience, it makes sense to break it into groups of prospective buyers that can be differentiated by their specific characteristics and needs. These are known as buyer personas and they help businesses start to understand the reasons people consider buying from them.

Why is the audience the only thing that matters?

Although companies might get lucky a few times and make some sales, without knowing what drives a target market to buy, marketers can’t use that knowledge to market intelligently.

When marketers know what matters to their audience they can provide relevant education that will help them make an informed decision. More often than not, they’ll buy from the business that shares freely and relevantly.

If they don’t, it’s probably because the solution wasn’t a fit and doesn’t mean they won’t be back to solve a different problem. After all, the business that educates becomes a trusted source.

The key to understanding target markets is to know this about them:

  • Their Goals – help them succeed
  • Their Characteristics – help them manage their environment
  • Their Pains – help them solve challenges
  • Their Hangouts – be easy to do business with and always accessible

The connection between each of these is that they are all about the target audience. They’re not about a product or a company. Audiences will let businesses know when they’re ready to hear about a solution but that won’t happen until the business is talking about what the prospective buyer really cares about.

Knowing the audience is an ongoing effort. Businesses have to consistently build a partnership with them because goals change, environments changes, and needs change. If a business is a trusted source because they focus on the success of the audience, the audience will share what’s changed and how the business can help.

How can marketers put the audience first?

Understanding what the customer needs at each stage of the customer lifecycle is critical to success. Not only does the customer need different information as the journey progresses, they need it in a variety of consumable formats and all of it needs to be relevant.

The customer lifecycle is the process that each decision maker goes through leading up to, during, and after a purchase. It consists of these stages:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Purchase
  • Retention
  • Advocacy

Many marketers are very good in the pre-purchase and purchase stages but fail to make that same connection with their audience (now customer) in the post-purchase stages. They forget that the customer has the ability to make more purchases if they continue to be educated.

Keeping the customer lifecycle at the top of the list isn’t easy but luckily it goes hand in hand with understanding what really matters to the target audience. When marketers know what matters thy can make sure they have the right information at the right time and deliver it.

When marketing caters to every stage of the customer lifecycle, the friction is removed between buyer and seller because both parties get what they want. Customers get solutions that exactly meet their needs at a price they think is fair and businesses develop valuable and longer lasting relationships because customers trust them to put their needs first. This results in sales.

Sales are the ultimate measure by which marketers should hold themselves accountable. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in designing stunning marketing materials, developing brilliant content, and making offers that benefit everyone but they must result in sales or its back to the drawing board.

To deliver and grow revenue, a business has to be able to predictably fill its sales pipeline with well qualified leads that sales teams can close. That means the transition from lead to opportunity must be seamless. And that means the potential customer must continue to feel that their best interests are the most important item on the agenda. Not a sales goal, or marketing ROI, or an award for the top seller. There’s nothing wrong with those things but they’re not relevant to the customer.

Understanding the target market is the only thing that should matter to marketers because that knowledge drives every decision, deployment and campaign. It enables marketers to avoid wasting time, money and resources marketing to an audience that isn’t going to buy from them and instead build a meaningful relationship with one that is.

What I learned about Content Marketing from My Son – 8 Keys to Success

My oldest son starts his third year of studying high school Marketing this year and it has become apparent that he has learned more than I realized about content marketing strategy. Join me on a ride along and experience how this young man nailed content marketing and see how you can too!

Photo courtesy of Shena Tschofen (CC)

Photo courtesy of Shena Tschofen (CC)

I believe that businesses of any size benefit from integrating a sound content marketing strategy into their marketing plans. A well-executed content marketing strategy does not have to be expensive and it will result in sales.

To that end I developed a straightforward but robust list of 8 Content Marketing Steps. This list is not an attempt to address content marketing strategy soup to nuts. It is designed to help businesses get started.

Apparently teenagers who have just received their driver’s license can also utilize these steps to market their desire to borrow your car to go to the school dance:

  1. Know your audience and understand what matters to them.

I applaud planning and value going to bed at a reasonable hour. My son took this into account and introduced the idea of the school dance several days in advance while acknowledging that it ended later than I typically go to bed.

At this time he did not market his solution. He recognized that this was the early engagement stage and that he was simply creating awareness for the dance and his desire to attend. Maybe he’s been listening to me after all!

  1. Identify your business goals to determine your content marketing goals.

My son’s goal was to drive my car to the dance and stay until the dance ended at 11pm. To achieve this he identified that his marketing needed to create an awareness of his maturity.

Suddenly the trash miraculously disappeared on cue every time it was full. I didn’t have to ask him to clean his dishes away after dinner. I was starting to like this!

In a coincidental moment of utter despair, the vehicle in question wouldn’t start when I needed to get one of his brothers to hockey practice. Calmly he said “Pop the hood Mom” and proceeded to diagnose and fix the problem while I switched to our second vehicle. Now I was being drawn in!

  1. Jot down topics that matter to your audience and create a variety of content about them.

It also happened to be the first week back to school. We talked about grades and expectations without any eye rolling. He shared every piece of paper I had to sign. That’s a first. He even mapped out the best route for back-to-school night. I was fast becoming a subscriber!

  1. Build a simple content calendar to help you decide where, how, and how frequently you are going to publish your knowledge.

Again understanding the target audience, my son tamed his tendency to keep asking me the same questions (Can I go and can I take your car?) over and over. Also knowing I don’t like to get bombarded with requests the minute he gets home from school, he started to ask me about my day.

He was very purposeful in deciding where, when and how to discuss the dance. In the natural way of things, after talking about my day, we started to talk about his day. Over the course of several afternoon chats and a couple of texts, I learned about the dance.

He continued to resist the temptation to ask for permission to go to the dance or for the car. He provided useful information at appropriate intervals when I asked and he didn’t rush the relationship-building.

  1. Consistently publish relevant content across the customer lifecycle.

About three days before the dance, he correctly gauged that awareness and engagement had been achieved and there was definitely interest. He chose this time to reinforce that if allowed to go he understood the expectations.

No-one else could be in the car with him, no phone activity in the car, and no leaving the dance unless it’s to come home.

This was incredibly relevant at this point in the buyer’s journey. It’s often the time at which companies start to push their product too hard. He chose to continue to focus on what mattered to me.

  1. Be purposeful in your engagement tactics.

A couple of days before the dance he waited for a good time and asked very politely if he could go? It was a call to action that tested the strength of his marketing. Had I been listening? Was the information he provided relevant? Had he naturally engaged me to this point?

Asking for an indication of intent was the next logical step. He closed the sale with a great offer. He had his own money saved and was planning to pay for himself…sold!

I smiled and said “Sounds great! Would you like to borrow the car?”

  1. Measure, monitor, and analyze everything. Your SEO, your channels, your offers, your social media metrics, etc.   Adjust accordingly.

The day of the dance he went back over the plan. Leave the house at this time. Pick up glow sticks for the dance from this store. Drive to the school to arrive at this time. Be home no later than this time.

He gave me everything I needed to measure success. I said I’d keep my phone handy so that we could make any adjustments if needed.

  1. Make it easy for your audience to move between learning from you and buying from you.

Not only did he make it easy for me to buy from him, he also integrated the last two stages of the customer lifecycle; retention and advocacy. He didn’t drop his target audience like a hot potato the minute he had what he wanted.

Instead he arrived home ten minutes early. Now he has built trust and I am his advocate. We both know this will help him the next time he wants to borrow the car. I am far more likely to buy from him again. Of course it would be nice if he keeps taking out the trash too!

Content Marketing and the Customer Lifecycle: Don’t Leave Your Audience For Dead

So you’ve started developing content and the results are trending positively. You’ve got followers and subscribers that are benefitting from your expertise. Now you’re wondering about expanding your content and customizing it to be effective for each stage of the customer lifecycle.

First, let’s take a quick look at the customer lifecycle. Called by slightly different names depending on the source, the five stages of the customer lifecycle are Awareness, Interest, Purchase, Retention, and Advocacy:

Lifecycle diagram

Awareness and Interest are “before” stages. Purchase is the “during” stage and Retention and Advocacy are the “after” stages. Providing content that is relevant to your audience has everything to do with timing it with these stages. Are they in the before, during or after stages of purchasing.

Awareness   In the awareness stage, your target audience has identified a need or desire to learn more to resolve a problem or improve a situation. They are probably casting a pretty big net with their online searches.

The businesses that have the answers to the immediate questions will earn a deeper search of their company website and possibly return visits for more information.

Interest  In the interest stage, your target audience has moved beyond early research to seeking for a solution. They want to make a good decision based on their needs and budget and are more likely to go directly to the websites of the resources they have found helpful up to this point.

The businesses that provide substance and education about the needs of the target audience are more likely to find themselves in the short list of preferred resources.

Purchase   In the purchase stage, your target audience has narrowed down the list of candidates they want to buy from and they’re looking for very specific product information. They will use this information to sell your solution internally.

The businesses that present information in easily digestible but comprehensive forms will be able to quickly communicate the value of their product and earn themselves the sale.

Retention   In the retention stage, your customer has new needs. They want to ensure they are getting the value they expected from the solution they purchased. They are very receptive to associated education and any materials that help them become more knowledgeable.

The businesses that deliver useful information and provide opportunities for the customer to gain expertise are demonstrating to the customer that they value the relationship and want to retain it.

Advocacy   In the advocacy stage, your customer is open to other relevant products and solutions. It is important to remain useful so that customers continue to feel compelled to read, view, or listen to your materials.

The businesses that are consistent in the quality and consistency of their materials will be rewarded with brand advocates. Their advocates will continue to buy from them. They will also bring them new business.

What will this approach do for your business? Customizing your content to each stage of the customer lifecycle makes sense for two reasons. The first reason is that it prevents you from leaving your audience for dead. The second reason is that it shortens your sales cycles.

Does the first reason seem a little dramatic? Maybe and maybe not! If your content is not mapped to each and every one of the five stages of the customer lifecycle you abandon your customer mid-stream. As in, you left your audience for dead.

The most common way businesses do this is by wooing their audience with valuable content for the first three stages until the sale is made, and then disappearing.

The final two stages are post-purchase. Delivering relevant content to your target audience during these stages enhances the customer experience, builds brand loyalty, and enables repeat purchases.

And it allows your business to continue a relationship with a group of people that already trust you and love your product. To abandon them part way through the lifecycle is the same as saying,

“I’d rather continuously convince new customers to buy from me to replace the existing clients that already liked my products…”

The second reason customizing your content to each stage of the customer lifecycle makes sense is that it shortens your sales cycles. Here’s how.

Your audience learns to expect that your business will provide the information and education that matters most to them at the very moment it matters. You are there when they need you before, during and after the sale.

This advances the sales process by defining the next steps your audience will take. Consistently providing content that addresses what matters to the audience ensures that your audience won’t see a need to deviate from the path.

It is true that buyers are more likely to purchase from the business that builds a meaningful relationship with them. Worst case scenario and they don’t buy from you? They are still your brand advocates and have the power to influence others who will buy from you.

Content marketing doesn’t stop when your target audience first learns about you or you make the sale. It works hard for your business at every stage to nurture long, healthy, profitable relationships for you and your target audience.

Start cataloguing your existing content according to lifecycle stage today and you will be able to identify your gaps and start filling them in!