The Silver Bullet Strategy is a myth, and marketers cannot afford to chase it any longer

The silver bullet, the ultimate solution found in books and movies, and although some like to pretend otherwise, it is very relevant in B2B marketing as well.

Marketing today is a very different world to marketing even a decade ago, the progress of digital technology and communications have changed everything, but it is not just the way we market that has changed, the way we even think about marketing is different too, and not necessarily in a good way. Go back 15 years, marketers knew that half of their ads worked, half didn’t, but they did not know which was which. That represents about half of a marketing budget being wasted, and we all knew it, but that was just how it was.

Today, everything is tracked, sometimes down to individual phrases being tested for effectiveness, we know absolutely everything about responses, and results are endlessly measured and quantified. Now we find people thinking that if something cannot be measured, it should not be done, and this is really a poor approach to marketing. The problem comes when the obsession with measurements turns into little more than a statistical operation, trying to increase each attribute, and before you know it, marketers are looking not just for results, but for that silver bullet that can be rolled out and get all the customers a business needs in one go. It can lead to some bad choices, such as putting the entire budget into search engine marketing, because that generated leads.

Yes, search engine marketing when done well will show good numbers, it is converting people who are actively looking for the service you provide, but that is the only people it reaches. What about those who haven’t searched? There may be people just not aware of the service at all who would use it if informed, a budget dedicated to search engine marketing will never reach them. That is why it is important to spread your marketing around, yes, one may be more effective in short term measurements, but marketing is not just about those who already want your service, its finding people who could use your service and giving them reasons to do so.

That holistic view of marketing is where success really lies, reaching potential customers at all stages of their journey towards buying, from learning of the service on offer to deciding which provider to use. No matter how good your search engine marketing is, if you fail to gain the interest of potential customers in the first place, it will never be as successful as it could be. If someone else educates them about the service, who is more likely to get the customer in the end? The one with the longer relationship, the one who already provided value. Interestingly, this is especially true for high value sales, where the consumer is likely to spend more time researching and making a final decision, the longer relationship subconsciously builds in value the longer the consumer deliberates.

Radio Jingles show the way

Next time you are in the car, driving any distance, turn on local radio and think about the commercials for local businesses that are played so much. You may not be looking for the products or services they are offering, you may even partly tune out the ads as you drive, so does that mean they are not effective? No, there is a reason small businesses spend money on those ads, and it is not habit.

What they do is get you used to the brand, and this is vital for those operating in a crowded market. The car dealer radio ad that you may even find annoying, it starts to be the brand you think of when you talk to anyone about car buying, then the next time you need a car, it’s the first place you find yourself at. Probably without really thinking about why very much. That is the value of being there early, even before someone knows that they want to use or buy whatever you are marketing. It builds brand preference, and the value of that in the long term simply cannot be underestimated.

Many in B2B marketing seem to think this does not apply in the digital world, focusing solely on those looking to buy right at that point in time, and skip the kind of brand marketing those radio ads represent altogether. It is misguided, and we can easily show why. How many times do you really need an electrician? Not many, for me, once a decade is about right. Last winter I did need one though, and so I did what most people do, I googled for local electricians to find one.

If we follow the thinking behind most B2B marketing, then that is the point where my interest has value, where the marketing begins with their search engine optimization. However, the electrician I actually contacted was not top of the search rankings, not even top 5, he was the guy I was familiar with, because I’d heard his radio ad almost every day for years. My purchasing journey started a long time before that google search, and all that search engine marketing did not help grab my business, it was lost before they even began to market to me.

That, of course, does not mean that everyone needs to run out and start running endless radio ads as part of their B2B marketing campaigns, rather it is a great illustration of the value of brand identity in your market, and why it is essential to incorporate some aspects of brand awareness promotion within any marketing campaign. It may not produce the measurable, instant results of a search engine initiative, but long term, it could be even more valuable. That it is not so readily quantifiable does not make it less important, and that is exactly why metrics are not everything, every time. A marketing approach that takes in both brand advertising and intent advertising is as essential in the digital world as it has always been everywhere else, that means digital display ads and search engine marketing.

A different approach

There has been significant research into the buying journey for B2B customers, and with results showing that over 60 percent of that journey is complete before they begin contacting vendors and asking for quotations. What that means is that brand familiarity is simply not being built, those potential customers and not being educated about your brand or steered towards your products as they perhaps would have been pre digital. That does not mean such education cannot be done though, far from it, it simply means B2B marketers must start making use of some of the great opportunities that are available in the digital world.

It is perhaps surprising, but just 30% or so of B2B marketers are confident in their effectiveness with content marketing, but simply starting a podcast or video channel and thinking that is the answer is not a solution either. That, again, is looking for that silver bullet solution, where in reality, a diverse approach will work better. Some markets see more engagement through a podcast, others work better with a blog. It is not just markets either, some customers will prefer a video, some a blog they can read, there is no single approach that is ‘the best’. Experimenting and finding what works best for you is one of the most valuable parts of the process, and it is well worth the effort.

It is also important to remember what content marketing is, and just as importantly, is not. This is not the medium to focus solely on the sale, this is adding value for potential customers, helping those people during their research, proving a path to the information they want and need, it should not be built around sales literature. In fact, it needs to keep sales material out completely. Instead, again it is the combination of digital tools and value added content that matters.

A great approach is using digital ads to promote content marketing material, that could be an eBook, podcast or video that offers discusses a major challenge that customers in your market face. This enables you to reach a wider range of potential customers who need information the most, and provide them with valuable educational material they will appreciate. Programmatic advertising is perfect in this scenario, as it targets those who have shown interest in your solutions through online research of related topics or even your competitors businesses.

Analyze this

Analytics tend to become more important the further down the buyers journey a customer proceeds. Lead conversions are, for many B2B marketers, everything, this is especially true of those who focus almost exclusively on search engine marketing solutions. The metrics here obviously help us understand the sales process at the end, but what we really need is a bigger picture, an understanding of each step of that seals journey from discovery to final purchase, and how well we do with each aspect. That is how we can truly judge our marketing.

There are some important questions that we need to ask ourselves when assessing any campaign:

  • Has your target audience of buyers/influencers seen an increase in awareness due to your marketing? Analytics that track ad impressions, website visits, social account views, search clicks etc. can provide the answer.
  • Who is visiting your website? Look at your target account list, how many of them are on that visitor list?
  • Are your team making the most of generated leads? You can review response times, contact rate percentages and so on for this
  • The volume of RFPs per month or quarter are you receiving? Is that an increase or decrease over the previous period?
  • Are your content assets like eBooks, videos and so on generating engagement with customers? Download numbers, likes, shares and generated inbound calls can provide the answer
  • What do customers think about you? If you search online reviews, are they positive or negative? Can you use those reviews to find ongoing issues with your product, or do they show potential for you to exploit larger market opportunities?

Analytics can tell you so much about the performance of your marketing, but if you focus on just one single metric, they can be a disaster. By taking a broader view and looking at analytics from a wider range of activities, such as those required to answer the above questions, you will have a much clearer picture of your marketing performance, but also be able to make highly informed, data-driven decisions about your marketing choices and resource allocations.

By understanding the relationships between those marketing activities and their effect on the buyer journey, you can create a truly effective marketing campaign, without spending time looking for that elusive, mythological silver bullet.


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