Marketing Isn't An Industrial Process & Your Product Isn't For Everyone
by Matt, on 11 May 2021
How confidently can you predict the results of your marketing initiatives? What return on investment are you expecting?
If you ask your marketing manager, consultant, or agency the same question, what answer would they give? What answer would you expect?
If the answer is ‘very confident’, be afraid. If the word ‘guarantee’ gets used, be very afraid.
Marketing is not an industrial process, and you shouldn’t want it to be.
Industrial processes have highly predictable outcomes. They are effective precisely because they produce the same results (almost) every time.
The more widgets a process can produce, the greater the efficiency with which it turns raw materials and resources into product, and the lower the percentage of errors, defective products, or scrap, the better.
This is how McDonald’s and Coca-Cola can guarantee that a Big Mac and Coke will taste pretty much the same wherever in the world you order them.
But marketing mustn’t work that way.
If you are publishing the same predictable thing every time, no one will notice.
If you are mass-producing stuff that everyone wants, no one will care. It will be banal and generic, catering to some lowest-common-denominator of need or expectation.
Copying what has worked for someone else might be okay, until lots of people copy the same successful recipe. Then it’s just vanilla ice cream because everyone likes vanilla, but someone always dislikes a particular flavor.
That sort of marketing is an utter waste of creative effort.
We work in a world where being visible among the crowd and heard above the noise is increasingly difficult. Standing out is much more important than trying to fit it.
Your marketing machine should be geared toward experimentation, measurement, and optimization.
No two runs should be the same. The world is constantly changing so what worked well yesterday is almost certainly not optimized for today.
In our post on setting a marketing budget, we recommend 70% of your spend and effort be directed toward things that have worked in the past, 20% toward experimenting with incrementally different ideas, and 10% toward radically different approaches whose outcome is highly uncertain.
That last part is an important way of avoiding getting too comfortable and complacent, potentially missing out on high-potential ideas.
Learning by experimentation is one reason why marketing takes time – more time than most people realize and a lot more time than most company leaders are willing to accept and pay for.
Building brand awareness, attracting an audience, and engaging them until a few show intent and become leads can take 6-12 months.
And during the first few months, not much might seem to be happening, which makes it very easy to give up prematurely.
Even a well-funded, cleverly designed, and smartly run marketing campaign might take several weeks to deliver optimum results. They won’t all come rushing in on day one.
To be clear, marketing does need processes.
Following a creative process and having a quality control process are both important to putting out great work that is consistent with your brand and respects legal boundaries.
But the creative process better not deliver the same result every time (like an industrial process would) else you will have stagnated, and your business will not grow.
Be consistent with the process and the results will take care of themselves.
Who is Your Product For?
One thing’s for sure, it’s not for everyone.
Even McDonald’s and Coke only set their sights on providing food and beverages to a percentage of the population – and they produce exceptionally widely consumed products.
If you’re doing something with a purpose in the business-to-business world (which is where Strategic Piece focuses its efforts), odds are it provides a solution to the needs of only a modest sized community.
That community might still number hundreds of thousands of people at thousands of businesses, but it’s not the entire membership of LinkedIn (~740 million in March 2021).
You need to craft a message that speaks directly to that audience.
Yes, I said ‘craft’, which means making something with skill. And skill, as we all know, takes time and practice to develop.
To produce marketing content (messages and creative elements) that resonate with your audience, you must first understand the genre. What appeals to them?
Understanding your audience is one of the keys to effective marketing. It sounds obvious, but many companies rush this step and pay the price.
What if your content doesn’t appeal to a wider audience? Won’t that limit the number of pageviews and clicks and leads you generate?
It doesn’t matter what anyone outside that group thinks about your content – it’s not for them! And that’s okay.
Politely ignore any negative feedback from people who don’t get the point. You didn’t craft it for them.
Focus on providing helpful information and relevant offers to just that group of people for whom your solution was developed.
If your message doesn’t land with the intended audience, it’s not good enough – yet. Keep experimenting until you find the right combination of eye-catching creative, compelling content, and call to action.
As Rosie Sherry put it, “iteration is where the magic is”.
How to Tell Whether Your Marketing is Working
Marketing performance can’t be measured in quite the same ways as the production or service side of your business.
As we’ve just discussed, it should be constantly changing – but in pursuit of clearly identified goals.
As part of an integrated, information-driven customer experience, marketing operates from end to end. It is responsible for:
- Attracting people who might become customers
- Helping convert some of them into opportunities and sales, and
- Helping ensure customer success and loyalty.
Where you focus your marketing efforts at any given point in time will be influenced by where you are on your business journey, where you see friction in the customer experience, and what’s bottlenecking revenue growth.
We recommend setting no more than 3-5 primary goals and selecting a handful of tactics to deploy in pursuit of them. This will involve leaving a lot of great ideas on the table, for now.
Far better to deliver a few tactics effectively than spread your resources too thinly across many, delivering none of them well.
It’s also vital to stick with your tactics long enough to give them a chance of working, especially if they require significant learning and optimization.
Avoid giving up too soon and skipping between them, a phenomenon we like to call “random acts of marketing”.
For example, your goals and tactics might include:
- Goal: Double the size of our engaged audience
- Tactic: Launch weekly podcast and promote on social media
- Tactic: Campaign to encourage email list sign-ups
- Goal: Generate 25 marketing qualified leads per month
- Tactic: LinkedIn campaign targeting specific customer demographic
- Tactic: Improve website conversion by adding relevant calls to action
- Goal: Increase MQL to SQL conversion rate to more than 50%
- Tactic: Implement lead scoring and automated lead nurturing
- Tactic: Upgrade CRM and train all customer-facing staff
- Goal: Generate 5 qualified referral leads per quarter
- Tactic: Email campaign to encourage customer advocacy and referrals
More specific and measurable targets can be set for each of these example tactics and used to monitor overall marketing performance.
But wait, where’s the revenue goal?
In this case, marketing is like an industrial process. The manufacturing line makes product, but it doesn’t sell anything.
Attributing revenue to marketing activities is always a contentious issue. Which of the myriad contact points with a new customer was responsible for generating the sale?
One approach to handling this is by building a revenue architecture.
This is a model of the business – usually a spreadsheet – showing how each source of business contributes to the overall revenue target.
For example, deals originating from renewals, referrals, account-based marketing, and inbound marketing will be captured separately.
Marketing’s contribution to each of those streams can then be explicitly measured and appropriate performance targets set.
Your marketing team might commit to generating 20 MQLs per month via inbound marketing, while the sales group aims to turn 10 MQLs into SQLs, convert 5 SQLs into opportunities, and close 1 sale.
Whether the sales folks hit those marks or not won’t affect whether marketing delivered on its MQL promise.
Nevertheless, the whole customer-facing team – marketing, sales, and service (a.k.a. success or support) – should review the revenue architecture on a regular basis and use internal service level agreements to adjust how best they support each other.
Key Points to Take Away
- Marketing is not an industrial process – the outcomes should not be predictable otherwise the content likely won’t be different enough to stand out.
- Your marketing machine should be geared toward experimentation, measurement, and optimization. This takes more time than most people realize, so be prepared to commit to the timeframe and budget.
- Craft a message that speaks directly to your target audience. Other people don’t matter because your solution isn’t for them. Focus on providing helpful information and relevant offers to just that group of people.
- If your message doesn’t land with the intended audience, it’s not good enough – yet. Keep experimenting until you find the right combination of eye-catching creative, compelling content, and call to action.
- Set no more than 3-5 primary marketing goals and selecting a handful of tactics to deploy in pursuit of them.
- Use a revenue architecture model to show how each source of business contributes to the overall revenue target. Marketing’s contribution to each of those streams can then be explicitly measured and appropriate targets set.
- Review the revenue architecture on a regular basis to adjust how marketing, sales, and service staff support each other effectively.
This blog post was inspired by recent Marketing Hall of Fame inductee, Seth Godin’s latest book The Practice: Shipping Creative Work (Bookshop | Amazon). I also highly recommend subscribing to his blog – it’s the most widely read marketing blog in the world for a reason.