April 10, 2019
The rapidity with which marketing is changing is staggering. Personally, after over 40 years in the business, my approach has been turned on its head. And, in fact, far too many professional service firms are pushing their heads underground hoping the trend might not be noticed by their bosses during their tenure (None of our clients, of course!). But the noise of marketing measurement is getting hard to ignore. For those of you who wish to bring yourself up to speed quickly, read this article from Bain & Company, The Measurement Advantage. This new world involves terms like “measurement technologies,” “customer journeys” and “marketing automation.” For those who are not “digital natives” and have some bark on their skin, this can sound scary and distinctly unfun. In fact, as one who has made the transition, I can tell you that it is intriguing, meticulous in its detail, massive in its requirements and distinctly fun. I feel like a kid again.
When I speak with clients and prospective clients in the professional services arena, I’ve had several challenges getting their ear. The first is they don’t believe this next wave of marketing (and marketing automation) is relevant to them. It reminds me of Sam Ervin of Watergate fame when he would repeatedly say, “I’m just a country lawyer, etc.” Of course, he was sharp as a tack and so are those on the other side of the table but there’s a kind of dismissive attitude that seems to say, “You know, Burkey, my firm just isn’t ready for that. Come to our open house on Thursday night, how ‘bout it.” But somewhere between the end of that party and the time PWC shows up on your client’s doorstep lies relevance. Because the world has changed. Buyers aren’t only buying the way they used to—via referrals, the handshake and the pat on the back. They are also making a shopping list and, ultimately, decisions by knocking on the door of the Internet before they knock on yours. Don’t believe it? Fine. But when you’ve been booted onto the street because you failed to see the train coming, just remember this post.
A few things have proved to be difficult for both me and our clients to understand and get right in this new world. One is a completely wrongheaded idea that automation means “impersonal” or “mechanical” or “cold.” Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Marketing automation, practiced well, is about personalization, engagement, and relevance; i.e., listening to what clients want and delivering it to them in a manner they prefer. When you achieve this, your communications (emails, mailings, etc.) “tailor messages and campaigns that are welcomed rather than intrusive.” (Bain) In other words, marketing automation is about knowing your clients very, very well—just not exactly in the same way you think of knowing an individual. Marketing automation wants to know who your client is in the Platonic sense, the client’s shadow in the cave. It is the ideal of that particular client we seek. These are called personae. Add up all the characteristics of a particular category of client—their demographics and psychographics—then abstract them into an avatar. That avatar is a persona. Now, when you “speak” to them with your marketing, you imagine that idealized individual as your interlocutor. Pretty simple really. You’ll do better when you speak in a normal, conversational tone of voice and have interesting things to say that are relevant to that persona. Typically, from three to seven personae are idealized so you can direct your relevant, interesting thoughts specifically to them.
Okay, check. Personae. Avatars. Idealized buyers. Easy enough. Why doesn’t everyone do that? Good question. It takes research and research costs both money and time. You think you know your clients so very well, but, guess what? There’s a ton you do not know because you can’t possibly be good friends with all of them. That takes too much time. You just can’t. You don’t really know their buying habits, I suspect. Do you know what shows they watch or how they get their news? Do you know if they are active on social media, go to baseball games or read thrillers? Yet all of these behaviors are those of a complete person. And the more we individualize our personae, the more likely we are to speak to them in an engaging way. Unfortunately, more personal, more money and time, thus we balance our efforts against the budget.
After a while, all this began to sink into me. A little research is necessary. I was too proud to admit I didn’t really know my clients as well I thought I did. Or maybe, I just don’t know all of them as well as I know a few.
There’s much more to this type of marketing, of course. Both teams and technologies need to be aligned and on board. It is certainly a discipline and there are, in fact, many moving parts, but in the end, it’s not all that frightening after all. I’m coming to believe that doing anything less is almost guaranteed to waste your marketing dollars.
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