Strategic Discipline Will Never Go Out of Style, but Marketing Automation Can Give it a Whole New Look

Jeremy Heilpern
Jun 21, 2018 · 8 min read

Despite all of the news and noise about how complex the modern “customer journey” has become, we still meet Marketers frequently that are not using a very disciplined approach to mapping those journeys and adjusting their marketing programs accordingly. Even fewer are tapping into the power of Marketing Automation to help guide them toward what can ultimately become game-changing results for their business.

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Unfortunately, lots of these Marketers are still stuck in a rut that can be easily avoided with some hard work and deep thinking.

Some of the most common problems we see in this area are:

  1. Undisciplined targeting. This can manifest itself in a number of ways — superficial target descriptions, ignoring key influencer groups, an overly even “peanut butter spread” budget allocation, etc. — but the outcome is less efficiency and less effectiveness.
  2. Old thinking preventing growth. For Marketers who learned the craft before Marketing Automation, it can be easy to think incrementally — just bolting new solutions onto old. One of the biggest issues here is the “discipline trap”. These Marketers were long taught that you use a single big idea to bring to life a single benefit, hopefully against a single target. Particularly in the world of complex B2B buying decisions, this isn’t always possible and certainly isn’t always prudent. The good news is that there are modern marketing tools that enable very efficient personalization.
  3. No clearly-defined role for each Marketing program or tactic. These Marketers fail to build an ecosystem of activities that help take a prospect from Awareness to Conversion.

While we certainly cannot address these exhaustively here, we will touch on a few suggestions and frameworks for strengthening your thinking (and results) in these areas.

With all that said, lets dive in…

Increase Your Targeting Discipline

We advocate developing Buyer & Influencer Personas in conjunction with mapping the Buyer’s purchasing journey as a critical first step to any Marketing planning efforts.

Here are a few principles to consider that we feel are important:

  • Involve all functional groups that hold knowledge about the buyers and influencers of your products.
  • Spend time with the data and look for insights — whether it’s qualitative or quantitative — and debate as a team. Also understand what you don’t know and wish to better understand.
  • Conduct additional market research if you have the time and budget. This can be as simple as having conversations with current or past customers or as complex as quantitative surveys with potential prospect groups. Regardless of what you can afford, be honest with what the results are telling you. Resist the temptation to just use it reinforce what you’re already doing.
  • Understand that customers will not remember every step of their journey and certainly not in perfect sequence. When asking them questions, start with the beginning — ask them what problem were they trying to solve and where they started. Then just let them talk and ask follow up questions as necessary.
  • If you have a Marketing Automation platform, use it for analytics. You’ve got an incredibly powerful tool for understanding how prospects become buyers (or not).
  • Remember that you don’t need to develop personas and journeys for every single prospect or influencer. The complexity in that solution will overwhelm those that need to implement them. Distill these down to the most critical.
  • When mapping the journey, accept the fact that it will be representative of the “average” and that not everyone will go through the same. The important thing here is to add some discipline that sets up a more strategic approach to defining the roles of your Marketing tactics in the Marketing Funnel.

At the end of your work at this stage, you want three deliverables:

  1. Very clear personas that help everyone understand the key stakeholders in the buying process.
  2. A target priority weighting based on level of influence in making the decision. This will help you allocate your budgets in much more impactful ways.
  3. A customer journey map that’s representative of what an “average” buyer might experience, with important nuances noted as necessary.

Use Marketing Automation to Personalize for Multiple Targets

For the uninitiated or novices in the Marketing Automation space, we plan to detail this in depth across a number of pieces in the near future.

For our purposes here, we’ll offer up a fairly simple definition. Marketing Automation platforms enable “micro targeting” of your marketing messages based on how your prospects or customers have engaged with your messaging over time.

There’s a ton of power in that last sentence. Marketing Automation is not just about the automation piece, which itself is fantastic. It also transforms the level of personalization that can be applied. Each target can be served information that’s most relevant to their own product search. And that means that you don’t have to stop at some “lowest common denominator” benefit when creating your campaigns. Instead, you can pull an overarching brand idea down into virtually limitless, detailed communication pieces that may be deployed in the right place at the right time. You’re really only limited by your imagination and your resources.

Let’s use a hypothetical example here. Let’s say that Coolerco is a brand new company that makes commercial-grade refrigerators and freezers for clients ranging from schools to factories. Clearly, those prospects have very different needs, very different questions to address in the selling process, and they all have different influencers that could impact the ultimate choice.

In the “old days”, Coolerco might have built a single campaign based on “cutting edge technology that provides superior cooling performance”. That campaign could have run across a number of different media/tactics, speaking to a single idea and single benefit. But maybe only one prospect group really cared about “superior performance”. Maybe the other groups wanted “energy efficiency”, “lowest maintenance bills” or “the best quality service and repair”. All of these nuances would have been left up to individual sales teams to communicate after prospects entered into the Consideration portion of the funnel. But they could only do that if they had contact with the prospect. But top prospects with whom that overarching benefit didn’t resonate may have never taken an action beyond seeing the ad. Therefore, those prospects never even enter the funnel.

With Marketing Automation, Coolerco can now do what was previously unthinkable. They can build an overarching idea that still might be “cutting edge”, but they can apply it in an incredibly targeted fashion with unique benefits and attributes for each segment of prospects. And as prospects engage with different pieces of Coolerco’s content, they’ll be able to refine the most relevant messaging even further.

One important caveat here is that Marketing Automation shouldn’t excuse lazy Marketing. You cannot expect to activate lots of different positionings, high-level campaign ideas and benefits and still have a cohesive understanding of your brand. Resist the temptation to let A/B testing solve strategy problems. Everything has to tie together, and you should hold your agencies accountable for doing so.

Use Various Marketing Levers to Accomplish Discrete Roles in the Funnel

Thus far, you will have developed a deep understanding of your targets and their influencers, you will have prioritized them in a way that will focus your budget, and you’ve personalized your messaging strategy.

Now it’s time to develop your Marketing programs and tactics. Rather than using the checklist we see all too frequently, now we start aligning each tactic to its role in moving prospects through the funnel. We start with hypotheses grounded in past learning and our new maps and personas. And we’ll continuously refine by measuring results in real-time on our Marketing Automation platform.

Let’s go back to our Coolerco example and consider High-End Restaurants as our top prospect group. Coolerco has worked through personas, and they understand that the key decision-makers in these establishments can vary from the Chefs themselves to Business Managers. Regardless, they want the most durable coolers and freezers available — after all, their employees are in/out of them hundreds of times every day. They also need unparalleled service — if the cooler goes down, the Chef’s reputation is on the line. These drivers are likely very different from Schools where budget and long-term durability are more important.

So, how does Coolerco align campaign elements to move High-End Restaurants from Awareness to Conversion? Here’s one way:

  • Awareness: Since they’re brand new, Coolerco might use more traditional marketing elements like trade shows and ads in trade publications along with paid Social Media to create Awareness. These ads are little more than the high-level idea with a “one click down” level of personalization that applies to their needs. Coolerco can certainly add a mechanism to these tactics that would enable moving prospects into consideration.
  • Consideration: As a new company, Coolerco is battling against entrenched competitors and must break through to get into prospects’ consideration sets. Coolerco could use a comprehensive approach to SEO and SEM to ensure that they’re driving traffic to their website when a restaurant is searching for new equipment. When the prospect is directed to their website, they could offer a white paper that’s custom tailored to their needs. Coolerco can now retarget these website visitors with display ads that continue to speak directly to their unique needs. At some point in the Consideration stage, Coolerco will find a non-intrusive way to get prospects to opt in to email campaigns so that they can really begin to leverage the power of Marketing Automation. Through the combined efforts of the company’s sales team and MA, leads are nurtured here until prospects either convert or drop out of the funnel. Customized emails can be delivered periodically to keep top-of-mind and to continue to address key questions about the purchase.
  • Conversion: This stage is really about getting the prospect through their last hurdle(s) to purchase. Their online behavior will have helped Coolerco understand which information has been the most valuable to them. The MA platform will have delivered targeted messaging that’s worked in guiding similar prospects through to purchase. If the prospect still hasn’t initiated contact with Coolerco’s sales team, a sales rep can now reach out directly to answer questions. Having strong knowledge of what this prospect is most concerned about, the salesperson can have a pre-prepared offer or promotion, can offer to connect the prospect to satisfied customers for more info, or develop any other tactic that might remove any last obstacles.

In general, Marketing tactics are going to have similar roles across campaigns and targets. But the details truly matter. You should create role definition for each campaign and target to ensure you’re widening the funnel as much as possible.

In Conclusion

One thing that won’t change in the world of Marketing any time soon is the importance of strategic discipline. That said, how that strategic discipline gets applied to grow your business evolves constantly.

When building your campaigns, start with deep knowledge of your prospective buyers and their influencers. Create campaigns that ladder to an overarching idea but provide incredible flexibility to address their personalized needs. Then develop your tactics to methodically move prospects through the funnel, using your data to continuously optimize.

If you’re not familiar with Marketing Automation platforms, learn everything you can about them — today! There’s a great chance that they can take your Marketing ROI to the next level.

If you need help, we’re here for you.


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