Throughout my 10+ year career in marketing, I have been asked an interesting, yet perplexing, question on many occasions; and in different ways.
The question goes a little something like this: ‘What is the one channel/medium/tactic that will solve all of our marketing/sales/business development problems?’
Admittedly, it’s challenging not to be at least a little bit insulted when asked, as it’s an extreme over-simplification of the role of marketing; but more importantly, of the customers’ psychology. If the problem was that easy to solve, marketers wouldn’t have required a tertiary degree and years of experience to answer it. Furthermore, if it were that simple, perhaps the question should be directed at Google, Siri or Alexa instead.
However, as I have been asked this on numerous occasions, by some very clever and experienced people I might add, I’m going to take the time to explain why the question needs to be replaced or reconsidered. There are essentially three areas for consideration.
Firstly, there is no silver bullet in marketing.
I’m confused as to where this thought process emanates from. That is, that there should be ‘one simple fix’ that solves all commercial problems. I can’t think of any other scenario in business (or life) where this is the case. If anyone has any insights on the origins of this thinking, then I would love to hear them.
Think of it like this: we have all faced challenges that have multiple barriers to overcome - psychological, financial, social, perhaps even spiritual… and they all play a part. Sometimes, it may seem like there could be a ‘simple’ solution. For example, perhaps you have had a falling out with a friend and you want to repair the relationship. The ‘simple’ answer might be - just pick up the phone and call them. Seems simple enough, right? So, what stops people from doing that? Perhaps they have been hurt by the person and what they really want is an apology, but it seems silly to call and ask for an apology, so their expectation is the other person should call without being prompted. So, the barriers here are: communication (social), an emotional need (psychology), an existing expectation (psychology), potentially the person waiting needs to dig a bit deeper and understand why they feel they need the apology in the first place (self-awareness) and there are probably a few more.
Your business is no different. At first, problems may seem simple at surface level and some products might seem to be a simple exchange, from your perspective. But there are a range of barriers to overcome for your customers to buy your product or service which you may not be aware of.
So rather than asking, how can we shoot that silver bullet, the question I would suggest is:
What barriers do our potential customers need to overcome to buy our product/service?
I once had a colleague in the education space who wanted his sales team to sell more MBAs. He truly believed in the product and was passionate about it and wanted the sales team to succeed. However, in his view, they were failing. It was a fantastic course and we had great testimonials and career progression results from ex-students. The same colleague and I were talking about it one day and he couldn’t work out why more people weren’t signing up when we had so many outstanding results, we had a good brand behind us and it was far from being the most expensive MBA in the market. I asked him ‘Are you going to undertake the MBA?’, to which he replied, ‘I can’t do an MBA - I have an extremely demanding job and three kids!’
I then proceeded to explain that most, if not all, of the students who had enrolled in the course had virtually identical barriers: demanding jobs, children and/or high levels of commitments outside of their work. And then there is the significant financial commitment and the stress involved with study or any kind of personal development, that pushes people beyond their comfort zones. When phrased like that, suddenly it clicked, and he realised it was less about the sales team not performing and more about finding ways to help students overcome a range of barriers and utilising our marketing function to communicate the support available.
Secondly, there is no ‘magic’ channel that you ‘should’ utilise.
The simplest interpretation of this is: you need to be where your customers are. Ideally, you also have insight into where they are going, so that you can be there first to welcome them.
This may be in a shopping centre, it may be a particular suburb where your business needs to be represented, it may be on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or Google. It might be all of these.
To determine this, you need to gain a thorough understanding of who your current customers are (as well as who you would like them to be in future).
Some questions you might use to help understand this might be:
Thirdly, have a think about your own wants and needs when you are a customer / client.
Although you may not always be in the target market, this is a great exercise in starting to consider the customer journey.
I would suggest that most people don’t just see something they kind of like, then immediately buy it, unless it’s an extremely low investment product, like a coffee. There are different kinds of purchasers at every level, but I encourage you to think about your own habits. Does it take you a long time to decide on your purchase? Do you investigate a range of brands? What is that moment that tips you over the line to move you through to purchase?
If you’re in the services industry, then you need to think about services you have engaged and why they have or haven’t worked for you.
To consider the customer journey, asking yourself simple questions like the below can be helpful:
So, in essence, there is no silver bullet in marketing. There is no silver bullet ultimately because people are complex, they have a broad range of motivations driving them and a number of barriers to overcome. If you want your product or service to sell, then you need to understand what these are for your customers.
Definition of silver bullet, according to the Werriam-Webster dictionary:
something that acts as a magical weapon
especially: one that instantly solves a long-standing problem
Louise Donellan is Senior Marketing Executive at Two Crowns Marketing Communications. While the marketing magic wand has not been developed yet, Louise does believe in every day magic, celebrating successes, business evolutions and incremental advances and innovations in personal and professional development.