A Call to Return to Marketing Basics—for the Good of the Consumer and Lead Gen
When I’m interviewing a talented applicant for a marketing position, I’m not only interested in their qualifications and experience, but the value they can add to my company, how creative they are in generating solutions and new ideas and -- just as important -- their knowledge of, or at least their desire to, understand my company’s customers.
On the flipside, one of my personal red flags is a specific question, often within the first 10 minutes of the interview: “Exactly how big is your marketing budget?”
When he or she asks about our marketing budget up front, this is what I hear instead: “How can I spend my way to achieving your marketing objectives?”
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against spending money on marketing or advertising. I also understand that a candidate for a marketing job is also interviewing me, and naturally wants insight into the company’s financial boundaries.
However, this question, especially when asked so quickly within the course of an interview, is symptomatic of a larger problem: Marketing today has become more about tools and data, and less about knowing the customer.
In a benchmark report on marketing automation, Gleanster, a business technology consultancy, says that CMOs feel compelled to utilize such tools to increase revenue and receive higher quality leads. Indeed, these are two very quite noble goals for marketers. But to think that marketing automation alone – digital tea leaves, as it were – will achieve these goals on their own is foolhardy.
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve reached the point where it’s time for a culture shift in marketing. Just what are we shifting, you ask? We’re rapidly shifting from an outbound-focused model to an inbound one – at such a pace that one expert called the shift “tectonic.” You see, today’s marketing is about listening to and understanding the consumer; and providing today’s consumer with information they did not already have, or information that helps them improve their lives and/or meet their needs.
Loading those channels with information – lots of it – can have a similarly plate-shifting impact on your bottom line. A Hubspot report found that companies that doubled down on inbound strategies noticed a 37 percent greater ROI from its marketing efforts than in the year prior. At the same time, outbound marketing, also known as push marketing, is almost considered too pushy indeed for today’s savvy customer. The emphasis is much greater on their need to truly understand your brand and become a part of its mission. This is the essence of inbound marketing, and crucial elements of marketing that we have almost forgotten.
How to Make the Cultural Shift
So, how do you make the cultural shift? First, stop your marketing team from launching any pay-per-click or social media ads. Second -- and I mean it, put a halt to your content marketing program.
If you think I sound completely crazy, wait one moment and try to hear me out. We’ve become too obsessed with tools! Over the past 20 years, as digital marketing tools have exploded on the scene, marketers have found many ways to ‘make noise,’ to replicate what others are doing, and to scale their marketing campaigns easily. It’s become second nature to rely on content generation, scheduling, and customer platforms (think the aforementioned HubSpot). And honestly, it’s made us marketers a little lazy, because we’re used to the shortcuts. We’ve become focused on trying to do a lot of little things at once, instead of doing one thing really well.
There’s too much emphasis on gaming the system and hacking one’s way to growth through digital marketing. Consider search-engine optimization (SEO), for example. The fact that we even have a discipline called SEO is itself indicative of the problem.
For too long, marketers have focused on what Google searchers are typing into the query box. They’re determined to make sure their company or client shows up at the top of search results for relevant queries. They studied link building until the sun came up, and pushed out questionable content in hopes of attracting more traffic.
Noticing the shift in consumer behavior, Google started significantly updating its algorithm and began pushing the dubious SEO stuff way down in search results. Google has also become extremely good at recognizing who has the most relevant answer to the question being asked.
While we’re busy spinning the SEO wheels for fleeting benefits (and perhaps subsequent penalties), we’ve lost sight of the fundamental concerns marketers should address, namely: Who are the people we’re trying to reach, exactly? What are their pain points, needs, and interests? What are they searching for? Why are they searching for it? And what do they hope to find?
SEO isn’t the entire problem, of course. There’s an urgent rush to get out the marketing message right this minute, using whatever means necessary to crush the competition: pay-per-click (PPC) ads, Facebook ads, social media campaigns, and so on.
Granted, each of these marketing tactics can be extremely helpful—that is, if you have a great product that solves a real problem experienced by your customers, and if you’ve done the research and the hard work to create that product or service. Then, and only then, does it make sense to spend money on marketing. If you don’t take the time to really carve out the fundamentals, and find the voice that your customers need to hear, unfortunately, all the advertising is for naught.
Getting Back to Marketing Basics
I’m not talking about a return of the Madison Avenue of the 1960s and 1970s, where marketing and advertising were all about ‘spray and pray’—trying to reach as many eyeballs as possible.
Instead, I’m talking about doing your market research, knowing who your target customers are, and taking the time to develop customer personas. Know what your customers want, test the assumptions you may have, and once you build out your product or service, ask target buyers to try it and give you feedback. Revise if needed. This is important. Once you’ve proved the value in your idea—then, and only then, is it time to build your marketing plan.
A Final Note to PPC Fans
Crusaders of PPC, if you haven’t stopped reading yet, I implore you to pause the campaigns, and to hit the brakes on organic SEO efforts. The only way to turn the ship around is to stop what your marketing team is doing right now. Heck, jump right off the content marketing bandwagon!
Don’t let your team spend another moment, or another dollar, until each and every member thoroughly understands everything they can about your customers. This includes who they are, what they need, why they need it, and yes -- even what they don’t need.
Trust that once you build this foundation, your marketing efforts going forward will be much more effective. With knowledge about what is important to your customer, your relevant content marketing efforts will attract links. These links will help your organic SEO rankings. The content in your PPC ads will hit a nerve with your target customers. When you address your customer’s needs, you will finally reach the desired effect: better leads, more conversions, and higher revenues.
And if nothing else, at least now you’ll know which questions to ask—and not ask—when you’re on your next marketing interview!