“Marketing doesn’t work in our industry.” “Our customers don’t care about marketing.” “Our product is too complex to distill into a marketing message.” Sound familiar?
If you believe any of these are true, and that marketing won’t work in your industry, I hope you’ll give me a few minutes to try and change your mind.
Marketing isn’t about clever puns, slick graphics, and Facebook audience metrics. Your customer — their pain points, ambitions, anxieties, preferences, and personality — is the core of effective inbound marketing, and focusing on your customer works in every industry.
What is product-led marketing?
Product-led marketing leverages the product as the primary marketing channel. Originally coined to describe a SaaS marketing strategy, product-led marketing today covers any strategy in which the core approach to messaging arises from a data-driven understanding of how your product addresses users problems and provides them with working solutions. The primary process for developing a product-led marketing strategy is to analyze customer and market data to create detailed customer journey maps in order to form compelling narratives about your product and identify the right platforms to deliver those stories.
How does product-led marketing work?
- Gather data about your customers and community: A great product-led marketing strategy starts with excellent data about your customers. We highly recommend that you use a customer relationship management platform such as HubSpot to start gathering insights into your customer data.
- Tell a story about how your product meets customer needs: The best way to connect with an audience is through the power of storytelling. Rather than simply dwelling on the qualities of your product, image how your ideal customer uses your product to solve their problems, and then communicate that process via a narrative. Create one of these for each of your customer personas.
- Identify the right platforms for your stories: Once you know what you want to share with your audience, now you need to decide how to put those stories out into the world. Again, you want to lean heavily on your customer data and market research to align your message with the proper platform (i.e. email, social media, blogging and organic search, paid search, programmatic advertising, in-platform messaging, etc.).
- Refine and revise: Data-driven decision making is the backbone of a product-led strategy. Plan to continually revise your marketing approach based on the data you receive. If you’re working digitally, expect to perform conversion optimization on your pages and blogs. This involves gathering data and testing how users navigate your pages in order to arrive at a conversion event.
How can product-led marketing address pain points?
Product-led marketing is ideal for addressing common complaints about marketing that cause companies to want to shy away from it. Here are just a few:
Pain point 1: My product is too complex for marketing
From hydraulic machine components to reselling cloud-based human resources management software, lots of industries believe their products or services are too complicated to communicate in traditional marketing messaging.
How can product-led marketing help? Product-led marketing puts a focus on the value and on the problems your product solves. Forget the complexity and think about the problem your product solves for your customer. Focus on communicating how your product or service improves your customer’s workday or life.
Your product and your customer journey are stories
Your customer is on a journey. Your product is the magic wand, the lightsaber, the sword pulled from the stone, that ensures their story ends happily ever after. If you can craft a narrative around your customer and their relationship to your product or service, you can keep your audience’s interest long enough to educate them.
Video is one of the most effective ways to communicate complex topics. Create a demo video, feature videos, and even Frequently Asked Question videos. These types of content can live on your website, your landing pages, and should be included as part of your social media strategy.
This is especially true if you’re trying to reach a B2B audience. Video on LinkedIn is on the rise, with 51% of video marketers saying they’re using video on the platform.
“In a world of content overload, video is a welcome means of communication,” says Elizabeth Weddle, Marketing Director at GoZone WiFi. “Watching something is a much easier way to learn new technology. We’ve certainly found that to be true with the success of our video marketing and onboarding efforts. Video always plays a critical role throughout the user journey – from nurturing and informing to selling and onboarding.”
Pain point 2: Our buyers don’t care about marketing
“Our buyers don’t care about marketing; they just want to know the price.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this from a B2B brand, I’d have enough cash to keep the office snack closet stocked for a year.
What this comment usually means is either, “Our customers don’t like to be sold to,” which … duh, or “Our customers are too smart for marketing.” It’s true that very knowledgeable buyers disrupt the traditional buyer’s journey strategy. They may not need Awareness stage content, because they start their buyer’s journey aware of their problem and, quite possibly, a few possible options to resolve it.
Jenni Nix-McGerald, a Pursuit Specialist at global design and consultancy company Arcadis, experiences this with her buyers, “The project manager on the client side is often technical, an engineer for example, and they don’t want to talk to a business development person who isn’t going to touch their project.”
So, who is talking to the customers? “The actual, day-to-day marketing is from our ‘seller/doers,’ who are usually engineers or other technical roles,” says Jenni. The advantage of the seller-doer model is authenticity. It’s easier for two engineers to talk to each other than it would be for a marketer to try and sound like an engineer.
Market to the relationship
Those long-standing relationships between your seller-doers and their client contacts are an untapped resource for marketing insight. It starts by forming a strong alignment between the seller-doers and the marketing department. Show empathy and respect for the relationships they’ve created and help them meet their goals. Get to know their contact like they do, as a person.
- What are they into?
- What do you laugh about together?
- What are their pain points?
- What’s the next big project they’ll focus on?
When you work together, your marketing can be not just account-specific, but contact-specific.
Gather first-person data
As your marketing team reaches out and gathers data from your seller-doers, you can take it back and inform your buyer personas. Are there similar personality traits among your transportation client contacts? Do all healthcare clients share a common concern? Give your seller-doers the individual messaging they need and use the personas to craft effective marketing assets that can be used in your marketing strategy execution.
RFP-driven industries often have “capture plans,” which is their pre-positioning strategy focused on specific clients whose work they want to win. When you have solid first-person data from your seller-doers, you can leverage that when you’re speaking to someone in the same role at a prospective company. Personalize website and email content based on their role and industry. You know the pain points, the concerns, and roadblocks. Start building a relationship of empathy before they ever get on the phone with the engineer who will one day manage their project.
Empower seller-doers to be marketer-doers
Help out your seller-doer team with those tough conversations that move the needle, close the deal, or resolve an issue. Remember, we’re the “soft skills” department. You can create content that empowers them to tell better stories, communicate value more clearly, and even help them become better presenters. That’s what RS&H, a national engineering, architecture and consulting firm based in Jacksonville, FL, aims to do. “Our Creative Team Leader teaches a presentation skills class,” says Jennifer Stutts, VP of Communications, Marketing & Strategy at RS&H. “And he also works with individual pursuit teams on a project-by-project basis for some of our strategic pursuits.”
This level of marketing mentoring helps your sales team — engineers or not — reach their goals and educates them on the value of marketing beyond “prettying up” the RFP decks.
Pain point 3: The sales process is too long for traditional marketing
They won’t submit on a form. They research for months, have multiple calls, and only then make a decision. A long sales process may seem like it doesn’t need marketing at all, but the truth is you need marketing more than shorter, impulse-buy industries.
Marketing doesn’t stop when sales starts. But, unless you have a strong interlock between the two departments, it can certainly feel that way.
Be ever-present with an omnichannel strategy
If it takes 18 months for a prospect to become a client, you need to remind them you’re around in between. An omnichannel strategy that includes retargeted ad funnels for social and display, premium content offers, and personalized social selling, will keep you top of mind with the customer. And if you do it right you’ll be at the top of the list when they’re ready to commit!
Nurture the entire journey
A long sales journey is music to an email marketer’s ears. Every week is a new opportunity for a touchpoint. Share your most relevant content, invite them to deepen their engagement through video and premium content pieces. Gather more information to help your next sales call through quick surveys in the email.
“It can take a year or more for a prospect to turn into a deal, and it’s critical that we stay relevant with prospects during that process,” says Jim Brennan, Director of Sales at 360 Advanced. “Email marketing allows us to show value, generate engagement, and learn more about prospects during the journey toward a closed deal.”
Pain point 4: Nobody wants to need our product
There are certain products and services that you hope you never need. I once had a client tell me, “Companies only need our product when they’re being sued.”
If your company specializes in something most people would choose to ignore, you may think marketing is just screaming into the void. And it could be, if it’s not done right.
Define the goal of your marketing
If an external trigger, like the threat of a lawsuit, is what converts a prospect, then your marketing goal shouldn’t be incoming leads. Launch a content-focused marketing campaign to change public perception around your service and track visits to your blog, content downloads, and engagement with your social media.
You can’t force a lawsuit to happen — and who would want to? — but you can be the first company a prospect thinks of should the worst happen.
Lean in on difficult conversations
Even if it’s an uncomfortable subject, customers value honest, straightforward information. Be the resource they can turn to. Keyword research will tell you that people Google literally everything. Find the commonly asked questions, and the tough questions, and the embarrassing questions (especially these), and answer them in a frank, helpful way. And if you can, find the humor in the situation.
The real reason marketing isn’t working in your industry
When someone says, “Marketing doesn’t work in my industry,” here’s what my brain hears:
I have an outdated idea of what marketing is. Or, I’ve been burned by bad marketing tactics before and no longer believe in it.
Does that sound harsh? Sorry, not sorry.
Marketing is about relationships built on value, and that works in every industry. But ignorance of what marketing is and who it’s for, or fear of change and risk can cripple a marketing department’s ability to execute meaningful strategies.
Here’s what happens when your leadership doesn’t believe in marketing:
Lack of resources
If your leaders don’t believe in marketing, they’re more likely to under-fund those efforts. A multi-million dollar company with employees and clients all over the country should have more than two people in their internal marketing team — or an engagement with a marketing agency. Choking the resources available to your marketing is like putting a glass jar over a flame. It literally sucks the life out of it.
Stifle marketing innovation with a culture of fear
Just because you deal with serious topics doesn’t mean your customers don’t enjoy a little fun now and then. Too many B2B companies are so afraid of not being taken seriously that they won’t drop even one GIF in their social. This kind of risk aversion, typically accompanied by committee approval on even the most minute details of anything, makes it damn near impossible to establish an authentic brand personality that customers want to engage with.
When a company starves its marketing department of resources, creativity, and independence, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.
- You fail to give your marketing team the tools and environment it needs to succeed.
- Marketing struggles to show ROI.
- You sagely nod your head, your suspicions confirmed.
What marketing needs — in any industry — is a leader in the company brave enough to step up and learn what marketing is now, who it is for (and who it isn’t for), and how it connects sales and service teams to drive more new and repeat business.
Work with a team that gets product-led marketing
Are you the hero your company’s marketing has been searching for? Give us a call. We love to work with businesses in complex industries to dispel misinformation, create interlocked systems between marketing and sales, and elevate what’s possible from a marketing strategy.