By Duncan Blair

Our job as marketers is to increase the probability of someone meaningfully, and profitably, engaging with our brands.

I don’t mean engaging in the abstract sense of likes, comments or shares. Rather, I’m talking about concrete business outcomes such as purchasing, subscribing, donating or volunteering; whatever it is that your organization exists to achieve. Actions that are best collectively described as “purchasing”.

People don’t purchase from you because of an e-mail, a banner ad, a direct mail piece or a TV commercial. Each of these marketing communications are vehicles that deliver messages that may or may not increase the probability of purchases.

In reality, people purchase from us for all kinds of reasons: some simple, some complex. Our role is to better understand our customers’ distinct needs in order to prescribe solutions that will increase the probability of purchases.

The outcome of this understanding of your customers’ needs might be an advertising campaign. But it might be a new distribution channel, a pricing adjustment or a change in the product or service.

Unfortunately, marketers too often think that the solution to any problem is an advertising campaign. Instead they should start thinking about people in order to reach their business objectives. Here’s how.

Break out of the silos
Marketing has been compartmentalized by channel, with smart channel experts working in myopic silos. They are given mandates to grow channel-specific key performance indicators (KPIs) with little to no thought as to how these meaningfully contribute to overall business performance.

We should measure things that matter, but too often we pick the things that are “easy” and discount or corrupt the items that are not by trying to make them “measurable”. Too many of us are wholly absorbed with a few trees, failing to notice that our forest is slowly dying.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Take word of mouth marketing, which is very difficult to measure reliably. As a result, you see brands running convoluted customer referral campaigns that significantly erode the value of recommendations in the hopes that they can capture and measure the effect. In doing so, they ignore that the measurements are meaningless. How many brands have you referred to friends that you didn’t have a great experience with? The way to get recommendations is to build great experiences: not to make the recommendations trackable or bribe the referrers.

Here’s another: e-mail signup programmes. I have yet to speak with a marketer that has run a robust incrementality test on an e-mail programme, but many brands have “sign up for e-mail and get a discount” offers. Often these include user experiences that could best be described as hostage taking. All of this is built on an assumption that capturing potential customers’ e-mails is good, usually supported, at best, by flimsy A/B tests.

The e-mail channel numbers look great, subscriber numbers are up and e-mail revenue is up, but there is no appreciation for the cost at which it is coming. How many of those people would have purchased regardless? How many took advantage of the discounts and never open a single e-mail? How many people were turned off enough by the aggressive e-mail capture and left to never return?

I’m not suggesting that capturing e-mails doesn’t work, only that most marketers don’t know for sure that it’s a worthwhile pursuit for their brands. That’s because most of us don’t do the hard work of measuring it in a meaningful way: one that recognizes e-mail as part of a much larger set of interactions with our brands.

Spend time with your (potential) customers
The way to avoid these traps is to spend time understanding how people actually interact with your category. When was the last time you spoke with a prospective customer? I am consistently surprised by the number of marketers who spend little or no time in the field. One of the marvelous things about human beings is that, in most cases, they don’t need much of an excuse to tell you what they think about something, particularly if it is bothering them.

To be effective in our roles, we need to understand the people that we are talking to and creating products and experiences for. Not as a persona on a sheet of paper, certainly not as homogenous groups with well-worn stereotypes, but as individuals. If you listen carefully you will learn just how little they care about your brand. But you might just learn something tremendously useful about your category and the role it does play in their lives.

Investing the time and developing the skills to understand people’s frustrations, motivations and ambitions will have much better return than figuring out a way to e-mail your list more frequently, develop a sequential remarketing campaign or build an augmented reality app.

My company sells furniture. I make a point of engaging with people shopping for it, both ours and others, whenever I can: whether online, on the phone or in person. I am actively trying to create more time for my team and I to do this in 2019 because I believe it is the single best investment in long term growth we can make.

I’m willing to bet it is for you too.

Duncan Blair is director of marketing, Article

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