Marketing for customers in all the wrong places (or not the right ones)

Posted by Ed Marsh on Mar 11, 2013 7:34:00 AM

Creatures of Habit...or convenience

inbound marketing personasEvery business knows who their customers are, right?  After all, that's about as basic as it gets. But how often is that knowledge of customers predicted on open minded, robust analysis? Not often. Rather it's typically an extrapolation based on gut feeling impressions of how it's always been.

Is that horrible? Not really - after all that's what most companies do. But compared to what "could be", it's analogous to the proverbial drunk looking for his car keys under the streetlight - not because he lost them there, but because that's where the light is.

Grab a flashlight!

So if we're going to peer into corners beyond the arc of our neighborhood streetlight looking for prospects, where should we start?
  1. Prospects you should know about...but don't
  2. Prospects you couldn't possibly know about
  3. Prospects that everyone else in the world knows about but you pretend don't exist


First, grab the sales team, CSRs, and anyone else who is customer facing during the sales process. Map out all the interactions from leads through delivery and subsequent support to identify what topics, roles, pains, decision points and themes emerge. Be careful about discounting outliers as aberrations - this may well be the data you seek!

With the perspective you generate you now have the data to map personas, value and buying process against actual experience rather than just lore. Additionally you'll identify key gaps. For instance, if financial benefits are a key part of your value (e.g. not just lower cost but a legitimate reduction in WiP inventory due to a process improvement - and resulting reduction in working capital and manufacturing floor space requirements), but nowhere in your personas, influencers or buying process are you helping the buyer extrapolate the corporate financial implications, you have a gap to fill and an opportunity.

Remember that most folks have a lens through which they see this topic:

  • The type of buyer personality with which they are comfortable
  • The type of industry where they have succeeded
  • The value that they find most compelling based on their personal biases, etc.  

And of course the inverse of each as well. Don't allow individual biases to limit the range (really hard in small companies where the owner is the primary sales driver, where the company is formed around his/her biases, and where the assumption is that every company has the same priorities and buys the same way as them).

Second, get your R&D and marketing folks together. (Note - don't try this at home.  Seriously. Get some sort of experienced corporate facilitator to help plan and execute this!)  If done clumsily this could be a colossal waste of time. However, managed artfully, this will let you continuously troll for opportunities by creating conceptual content that highlights core technology capabilities. This will allow buyers searching for component solutions to stumble across your company. This is precisely how GE intends to identify many of their new market opportunities.  

Put simply, you can't possibly anticipate the various serendipitous applications for your technology, and therefore can't market to the folks who might need it. Naturally you can't create content for every possible situation. But in parallel to your focused, persona based content you can create some that is more focused on the technology (NOT the old product crap of GB of RAM, RPMs, HP, mm, torque, ANSI, etc.) in general ways that will allow R&D folks in other businesses to identify core capability that they need to support their developments.

international inbound marketingThird, accept that customers are defined by their needs and budget NOT BY THEIR PASSPORT (or time zone, primary currency, language or continent)!  From a simple perspective, your distance from Toronto, Mexico City or London is likely less than between many pairs of American cities between which trade is reflexive. But more importantly many buyers in many corners of the globe fit your ideal prospect criteria. With shrinking incomes, low to negative GDP and policy uncertainty that constrains investment here in the US, why not take the easy route? If you can shift your mindset you'll find you have a global market with areas that you can enter relatively easily where "Made in America" is craved.

If you're already inbound marketing, you already have a base of leads and data for initial market opportunity analysis. Eventually as you select focus markets you'll create parallel market specific personas, content and even locally hosted microsites with the relevant TLD - but those are refinements for later and not necessary for initial success.

And as a bonus?  What about paying 50% lower tax on the profits from those sales?

But what do personas really represent?

buyer personasIndulge me while I make an awkward segué into a related topic.  

I've become increasingly convinced that personas are the simplest way to evaluate potential clients and prospective inbound marketing practitioners for suitability.  What do I mean?

It's pretty simple. Real effectiveness at inbound marketing requires: 
  • Lateralized cognition - artistic and logical cognitive predilections must be balanced
  • Broad business understanding - empathy (and ideally experience) with different functions and priorities across business
  • System perspective - intuitively understanding how all the pieces must be interwoven because omitting even one damages the program
More than any other step of the program, the exploration and development of personas provides a handy crucible to assess these required attributes. Someone who approaches the persona step with a flat, check the box, simple mentality will never fully embrace the system of inbound marketing.

You can gauge quickly whether a potential client grasps the concept and engages with you in the persona process, or simply parrots back the routine and reflexive. If it's the latter, I would contend that you will always be justifying your program rather than collaborating.  

Similarly while you may focus on hiring "position players" such as an SEO expert, you can't afford to be the integrator between their silo efforts and the comprehensive program. An SEO expert that doesn't embrace the persona process, and push aggressively to be involved and demonstrate awareness and interest in the related aspects, will likely not be able to grow with the organization. Further, their work won't manifest the nuanced, systemic perspective that ultimately distinguishes average from exceptional. It's far more critical that role players and technical specialists understand how their piece fits into the larger context than for you to understand the detail of their specialty - beyond adequate knowledge to manage effectively.

Maybe the question is...can someone who has never owned and run a business, is uncomfortable with systems and strategy, nor achieved noteworthy sales mastery, really create personas much less drive an effective inbound marketing program? Answers? Debate? Skepticism? Incredulity? Vitriol?  (On second thought, hold the vitriol, but let's have some discussion.)

About the Author: Ed Marsh is co-founder of Consilium Global Business Advisors, an international marketing consulting agency focused on developing strategic global business development and channel programs.
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Topics: b2b marketing, industrial marketing, international inbound marketing, personas

Why Your Inbound Marketing Must Be Global—Even If Your Biz Isn't

Posted by Ed Marsh on Jan 12, 2013 7:37:00 AM

The threat from outside and the opportunity within

The beauty of inbound marketing is that it's simple. Sure, there are fine points and best practices. But its power as a market equalizer is that any company can do it - and do it well.  Not all do, of course, and conversely a few do it brilliantly.  

Although simple, it's not easy. It takes a firm senior executive strategic commitment because it demands a lot of work and patience. And often companies are hesitant to undertake too many simultaneous strategic initiatives. That's sensible. But if the "Devil is in the details," then the risk/reward is in selecting the one or two concurrent foci.

Globalization of your business and of your inbound marketing specifically, should be on that short list.

Two parallel trends provide compelling justification for that strategic focus.

First is the threat from outside. China is awakening to the compelling opportunity offered by inbound marketing.  

Second is the demographic reality of domestic US consumer evolution. One of every 2 babies born in the US now is Latino. Marketing to them requires nuanced approaches and content which will differ from your baseline.

The inbound threat

global business international inbound marketingThe Chinese are coming...will you be ready this time? Having lost much of the low-cost manufacturing advantage upon which they built their amazing decade of export growth, Chinese companies are awakening to the need and opportunity to market effectively to US consumers.  

Sure, like most innovation evolutions, the initial quality will be low and execution will be clumsy. But eventually they will learn to excel. And other developing markets will follow suit. Soon your prospects will be awash in content from global sources. Competition will intensify.

You've got the opportunity to solidify your "first mover" advantage, though, with the focused, immediate and ongoing application of inbound marketing best practices. The key is to stop dabbling and start executing! (Download PR Newswire's report in English or Chinese here.)

Can you even talk to 50% of your market?

latino inbound marketingThe statistics are clear. Half of the babies born in the US today are Latino. And while the future population distribution will reflect that trend, even today Latinos represent a substantial body of consumption clout. (We love for you to take our quick survey on your experience/thoughts regarding Latino content marketing.)  

Now the concept of Latino Marketing isn't novel. A few thought leaders (mostly consumer packaged goods) companies have developed marketing for Hispanic communities. But it is still quite early, and the efforts are lacking the nuance required for success.

The reality is, there is no monolithic "Latino" community. Consumers with different dialects (not to mention different languages - Spanish vs. Portuguese), vastly different cultures and traditions, biases and prejudices and consumption habits are often lumped into a single group.

But understanding how to market to the statistically important and distinct groups requires an intimacy and breadth of cultural knowledge that is absent in most American companies. And if the recent article in Portada is correct, "Hispanic Content Marketing (may be) set to explode." will the explosion damage or propel your efforts?

I would contend that the best, and perhaps only way you can develop the expertise imperative for successful domestic growth in the coming decades is actually to begin to market and sell throughout Latin America. At Consilium we believe that one of the most underappreciated benefits of exporting is the  opportunity to learn lessons to be applied to your domestic market. And this is a perfect example.

The global opportunity is even bigger

If you have any substantive inbound marketing today you are accustomed to receiving a large number of international leads. Experience tells me that while you covet domestic leads, scoring them, nurturing them and hopefully converting them, you probably simply ignore the international leads.

What a shame! In an environment of very slow domestic growth, opportunities in developing markets are particularly compelling. Even with your existing program you'll start to identify pockets of compelling opportunity.  Don't waste those leads! Find someone with real international sales and global business development expertise that can help you manage global growth while mitigating risks and maximizing the potential.

But while you're at it, maybe you should step up into full fledged international inbound marketing - elevate your domestic game to embrace global opportunities!

And inbound marketing agencies have an opportunity.  Work dilligently with your clients to position their inbound marketing and help them understand the competitive advantage, and defense bulwark that simultaneously creates.  And then work with them to develop the nuanced and localized multilingual & cultural content required to cement their success domestically - not just with some of their prospects, but with all.

 

About the Author: Ed Marsh is co-founder of Consilium Global Business Advisors, an international marketing consulting agency focused on developing strategic global business development and channel programs.

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Topics: multicultural marketing, latino marketing, inbound marketing, international inbound marketing

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