According to scientists, humans have been fishing for over 40,000 years – and they do not appear to be letting up anytime soon. When speaking of the lure (pun intended) of fishing, whether it takes the form of commercial, sporting, or recreational – fishing enthusiasts the world over describe the thrill of the “hunt,” and the euphoria of the “catch.”
Interestingly, I have heard nearly the same terminology used in the business world to describe the ever constant cycle of finding and acquiring new customers. If truth be told, I calculate that there is more “fishing” occurring in global business than in all other forms of fishing combined. Moreover, if we can compare business to the sport of fishing, then commercial marketing is the discipline of fishing, and marketing collateral becomes the gear.
While not intended to be an exhaustive treatise on the subject, this article will focus on six of the fundamental questions a company should ask before creating new pieces of collateral or creating a new marketing campaign. It will also look at some of the common marketing mistakes companies make as they attempt to land the “big” one.
Choosing the Right Gear
1. Who is Your Audience?
The most important thing to know when buying your fishing gear is what type of fish you want to catch. Are you going after salt water, lake, or river fish? The equipment you will need is dependent upon the answer to that question.
One of the largest mistakes I see companies make in their marketing collateral is that they often seem confused as to who their audience is. Your message should be clear and compelling. That is hard to do when you don’t know to whom you are marketing. Are they an end user, a business, a reseller, or perhaps a specifier? The type of collateral and the message it contains should always be a clear reflection of that answer.
Some may state that it doesn’t really matter all that much – the product or service remains the same, right? Well, some may also say that a fishing pole is a fishing pole and it doesn’t really matter which type you use. Any professional fisher will tell you that this just isn’t the case. The actual story (your product or service) may remain the same, but how you tell that story and what form that story takes should depend completely on whom you are telling.
I spent years working with and making presentations to both architects and engineers. While my central message remained the same, I had to tailor that message to my listener because both groups were interested in different things. The architects were interested in the aesthetics and more of the big picture features. The engineers were much more interested in the details and the mechanics of the product.
While some types of collateral may cross over multiple groups, such as a brochure or video, you should try and create multiple versions of the same collateral piece to target the particular type of recipient to whom you are reaching out. If this is too expensive, then you should always tailor the message to your largest, most valuable audience.
Learning How to Use Your Gear
2. What is your Call-to-Action?
There are a lot of different pieces of equipment used in fishing. Before going out to the stream or lake, you should have a clear understanding that every component has a different purpose and not mistake the use of one device for that of another. Individuals often make this type of error. For example, job hunters often mistake the purpose of a resume as a tool to get a job. This is a complete fallacy. The purpose of a resume is to get an interview.
Companies often make the same sort of blunders with their collateral. Just as a lure has a different use and objective than a hook, you should develop different kinds of collateral for all the various stages of the sale. Every brochure, ad, or campaign should have a clear and distinct purpose. Is the piece designed to get someone’s attention, build company credibility, provide product or service information, or perhaps a sales call Leave Behind? Sales personnel should also be trained on the various distinctions between the material and know when and where to use what.
After you know what the objective of your marketing piece is, it becomes much easier to decide what your Call-to-Action should be. Once you have an individual’s attention, what do you want them to do after they have read, heard, or viewed your material? Do you ask for an appointment? Do you ask for an order? Don’t make them guess – tell them. Don’t get them all excited and then walk away. Every campaign or article should leave them with clear instructions on what they should do next. Perhaps you can’t compel a horse to drink once you’ve led it to water, but you would be remiss if you didn’t at least ask it to drink.
Casting Your Line
3. How Are You Delivering Your Message?
Some novice fishers may wonder how far out they should cast their line; will the larger fish be further out or hidden in a hole closer to shore? In business, it is important to know how and where to deliver your message. The answer to this question largely depends on what your product or service is, and how large your business is.
If your product or service is widely used, you may choose to cast your line way out there using global or national press releases, email blasts, and expansive social media campaigns. If your product or service is more of a niche market or industry vertical, you may have more success using a combination of internet, radio, television, email, or direct mailer campaigns that target a particular fishing hole such as specific geographical locations, companies, or individuals. For a standalone retailer, the hole may be as small as a particular town or even distinct neighborhoods. Market research goes a long way to identifying the holes that you should be fishing in.
The size of your business is also important when considering how far you should cast your line. It is important to ensure that you can support your product or service in every location you market. You also need to be confident that your company can handle the amount of business you may generate. While it may seem like the whole point of the game is to bring in as much business as possible, you may not have the inside structural support and manufacturing to handle all of the sales. More than one company has collapsed in on itself because they did not have the infrastructure to handle their incoming sales volume. Your business, marketing, and sales should all grow together at a planned, even rate.
Using the Right Lure
4. What Sort of Impression Do You Want to Make?
Different types of lures attract different types of fish. Using the wrong type of lure can make for a very long, fruitless fishing trip. Whether you like it or not, your marketing collateral can wordlessly make an impression that will either attract buyers or send them scurrying into the water’s depths.
What sort of impression do you want to make on potential customers? First impressions are important and you need to know beforehand whether you want your product or service to be seen as dependable, fun, exciting, expensive, inexpensive, or whatever. Keep in mind that the images, colors, layout, music, and quality of materials you use will all tell a story – you just need to ensure that it is telling the right story.
Besides the typical, “Hey, look at me over here” type of lures, another powerful lure your sales people should carry is the “credibility” lure. This sort of collateral can come in the form of case studies, images of past jobs, testimonials, etc. The use of these devices helps ensure the buyer that you can be trusted to deliver on what you are promising.
One last thing to keep in mind, when it comes to marketing, the truth is not always as important to a buyer as their perceived truth. In other words, if it is true in their mind, there isn’t much you can do to change that. The more your marketing materials reflect the truth as they see it, the more success you’ll have. Now, I am not advocating false advertising or unethical practices. I am merely stating that you should use situations and terminology where with they are most familiar. For example, a widget may be called an “ABC Device” in the engineering world, but if your targeted clientele all think of this particular widget as an “XYZ Component,” then you should probably market it as an “XYZ Component” – regardless of what the engineers say. Yes, it may be semantics, but this can make a big difference as to whether someone will be attracted to your product or not.
Using the Right Bait
5. What Problem Do You Solve?
Depending upon the type of fishing you’re doing, you may use cheese, worms, elaborate flies, or even smaller fish as bait. In marketing, it is important to make sure your intended clientele know which of their problems your product or service is going to solve.
Too often in marketing, companies are scrupulous about listing all of their product’s incredible features, but then they rely on the potential customer to build the bridge in their own mind as to which of their problems that feature is going to solve. Your marketing materials should build that bridge for them. In other words, Product, Feature, Benefit; “Our product is ‘A,’ therefore you should enjoy ‘B.'”
Along these same lines, it may not be enough to share with someone how your product has solved a similar problem in a different market – they want to know how your product is going to solve their problem in their market. This situation is where vertical specific marketing material is hugely beneficial.
Hooking Your Fish
6. Does It Evoke the Desired Emotion?
We have all heard the saying that “People buy emotionally and defend their decisions logically”. Well, it’s true, and if your marketing doesn’t stir any emotion, most of those large fish are going to get away.
If we are honest, we must admit that a portion of that excitement is generated by a sales person, but not every company is fishing with live bait; some rely almost entirely on their marketing materials. Even if you do employ sales people, why should they have to do all the work? They should have professional tools at their disposal to assist them in their efforts.
One of the pitfalls I see many companies fall into (especially those with technical products) is their marketing materials only show the product. There is a place for this in some pieces such as specification sheets, but people have to understand that most individuals are not moved to emotion by an image of an inanimate object. Your marketing materials should include people either a) Needing your product or service, or b) Enjoying the benefits of your product or service.
What if a potential buyer is unable to make a decision at the time of the sales presentation, or perhaps they are not the only decision maker? Your sales professional’s presentation may have generated all the needed emotion for the potential buyer to want to say “yes,” but if they are unable to move forward immediately, you cannot expect that emotion to remain indefinitely. They will settle back down and start thinking about all the reasons why they shouldn’t buy. Alternatively, they will talk to the other decision maker, and because they are not as skilled a presenter or as knowledgeable about the product as your sales person, they will not be able to generate the same level of emotion in their counterpart as they initially experienced themselves and they will decide to pass. This reaction is the reason it is so important to have a good Leave Behind, a video or brochure that can remind the potential buyer of all of the important highlights of the sales presentation. This material will allow them to get excited all over again while remembering all of the relevant facts when sharing the information with others.