Marketing: Globalize or Personalize?

marketThe best form of marketing ever invented is a face-to-face meeting. That’s because if one follows the American Marketing Association’s definition (the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large), marketing really comes down to influencing people to make certain decisions. And a personal conversation is often the best way to accomplish this.

Unfortunately, that’s not really scalable, especially for companies that want to reach broad audiences, so organizations have developed strategies to reach many people at once. That’s why folks paid $4.5 million dollars for a 30-second television ad during the last Super Bowl – they wanted to reach nearly 120 million people at the same time. Sure it’s expensive, but it’s also a lot more efficient than making 120 million phone calls extolling the virtues of Budweiser or Doritos.

The big question for marketers is how wide a net they need to cast. It may make sense to spend millions of dollars on an ad for a popular consumer product with a potentially massive audience, but it would be useless for a local pizza parlor to buy a national TV spot. Someone in Seattle who sees an ad for a restaurant in Orlando is not going to go there for dinner, regardless of the promise of ample parking.

That’s why the most important thing to do is define the audience. One of the critical mistakes that companies make is not clearly identifying who they are trying to reach. For example, a consumer products company that defines its audience as “women” is going to need a massive marketing campaign to reach its potential customer base. Adding some qualifiers is a good way to start – for example, “women in their thirties 30s living in the 10 largest American cities” – but in most cases even that is still too general. Instead, think of, “women who go to a yoga studio at least once a month…”

Limiting the audience might seem counterintuitive, but it actually strengthens the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. That’s because even a basic advertising campaign in the major women-focused publications and websites could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, whereas focusing on one or two publications that really hit the core audience may only run a few hundred dollars an issue. It’s a much better use of marketing dollars. If you want a cup of coffee, it’s a lot faster and cheaper to heat up a cup of water than it is to boil the ocean.

Once the audience is defined as narrowly as possible, it is important to come up with a compelling narrative to get people interested. A software company that has identified its core market as “vice presidents of engineering at companies with more than 2000 employees” is ahead of the game, but the next step is to figure out what value it can bring to those potential buyers. In most cases, simply explaining how a piece of technology works isn’t enough to influence buying decisions. Instead, companies need to identify a significant problem that their target markets are facing and build the marketing campaign around helping them solve that problem. Explaining that a product is “J2EE compliant and is built on a CORBA bus” may be accurate, but “We will save you 30% on your development costs” is a much more interesting story.

The next step in focusing a marketing campaign is figuring out the best mix of tactics to reach the desired audience. This really depends on the industry that a company is working in, which is why it helps to have as sharply defined a market as possible. A local grocery store may want to invest heavily in sponsoring small community events to raise goodwill and brand awareness in the immediate neighborhood, because research shows that most people in cities travel less than a mile to shop for food. This approach wouldn’t make any sense for a global insurance company that is trying to reach senior executives at Fortune 500 companies. Instead, a media-heavy campaign focused on getting coverage in the top business publications might be a better approach.

One size does not fit all. Many organizations (including some of the best-known companies in the world) overspend on marketing because they focus their efforts too broadly. By pinpointing the target audience, creating a story to resonate with those people, and using the right channels to reach them, companies can save money while improving their overall results.

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