I was 16 when I created my first marketing campaign. It was for a French perfume brand called “Un Monde Nouveau” targeting teenagers. The ad agency decided to run a competition amongst high school students to create a half page print ad and a 30 second radio spot (don’t judge…the internet hadn’t been born yet!) My team and I won and the four of us were flown to Paris to pitch our idea to the brand for an hour and then spend the rest of the week enjoying the city, all expenses paid.

Like most people who go to Paris, I fell in love. With marketing. But 20 years later, I now realize that marketing is not for me.

It hit me when I read a blog by Seth Adam Smith which incidentally has nothing to do with marketing but is about love.

“No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love–their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?” while Love asks, “What can I give?”…and, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive. And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.”

If you think about the classic funnel marketing that many of us were schooled in (Awareness, Interest, Desire and Purchase), it is intrinsically selfish. The relationship between the B2B marketer and their target audience goes something like this:

I want to make you aware of me because I’m awesome and it is good for you to get to know me.

Clearly you must be interested in me because I can see that you spent your time on my website and downloaded an e-book. You must be super keen since you even came to my event.

I know you want me because you gave me your email address and phone number on the feedback form. And because you also indicated that you are a decision maker with budget, I classified you as a “hot” lead and gave your details to my sales team so that they can help you spend it.

I know you are ready to purchase but I cannot accept your online order because I only get marketing credit when a field sales person books the sale. So you should wait until someone emails you a purchase order.

See the problem here? The whole funnel is about what’s in it for me, the marketer, and not what is in it for the audience. No wonder most B2B brands are referred to as “vendors” and not brands. I hope you can see why I say that marketing is not for me. Marketing is for my prospects and clients. I know that if I take the time to understand my audience, not just their business needs, but their motivations, ambitions, apprehensions, how they spend their day, who they talk to, what they read, where they go, and I make it easy for them to find the information they need to make them successful (regardless of whether I mention my products or not), I have confidence that they will buy from me. Not only that, they will be more willing to market on my behalf to their friends, family and colleagues. They are more likely to keep coming back to me for more because they trust that I am motivated by their success more than my own. The more I love them, the more they love me back.

Being a marketing technologist, I have spent a decade advocating the need for marketers to leverage technologies like marketing automation and analytics to do our jobs more effectively. But technology enabling the self centric funnel is not just ineffective, it is damaging to your brand. You can’t irritate, nag and coax your audience into buying from you. Marketing technology that enables you to understand your audience personas and enables their entire buyer journey (both pre and post purchase) will result in better campaigns and response rates because you are enabling the right message to the right audience at the right time through the right channel.

Going a step further, when your audience feels understood, supported and celebrated, they feel an emotional connection to your brand. You become more than a vendor. You become a trusted and loved partner.

Persona based marketing is a difficult transition in an environment where you are accustomed to and have seen past success with direct mail, email, tele and events marketing. The most frequently asked question is “So how do I pull a list of these “personas” so that I can send them an email?” There is immediate gratification in direct marketing. You pull a list, you blast them an email and you hope to get 1-2% response rates. Hopefully the list is big enough for you to make your marketing lead target for the quarter. If the list is not big enough, you purchase more lists or partner with a third party, all with the intention to get enough names, email addresses and phone numbers.

You can’t find personas. Personas find you. If you are good at persona based marketing, you will make it very, very easy for them to find you. You go where they go, you deliver content that is relevant to them in formats they are comfortable with on channels that they frequent. You can’t push them to what you want, where you want and how you want them to interact with you. In short, your marketing is for your personas. You optimize your content for search and if it is relevant, they will find you, click on you and improve your search rankings. If you are off, they will not only drop you, they will punish you. But you can’t give up on them even when they are unhappy with you. You have to keep at it. And you need to keep giving even after they buy from you because if you want them to become your advocates, the giving can’t stop.

Like most marketing leaders, I often think about why some campaigns are successful and others are not. The “Un Monde Nouveau” campaign I created 20 years ago was a hit because I was the persona I was targeting: the rebellious teenager who was looking for a new world filled with possibilities and unchained from the past. 3 years ago, I launched arguably the most successful campaign of my IBM career. It was targeting Indian CMOs like me. In both these rare cases, my marketing was indeed for me. I understood everything about my audience because I was my audience.

Good marketers don’t need to be the persona they are targeting. They continuously invest in primary research, field input and social listening to understand the personas they want to reach and infuse this intelligence and empathy into their campaigns. They are sincerely committed to enabling the buyer journey and resist pushing their brand along the way, instead focusing trying to answer their persona’s questions and address their needs. This softer approach may lead to the persona not buying from you, but that may have been the best thing for them and for you because selling the wrong product to the wrong persona will lead to dissatisfaction and churn. They may not buy from you, but they will love you for helping them make the right decision for them.

It took me 20 years to figure out that marketing is not for me. I hope it this post helps you figure it out faster than I did!

Published with permission.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.