Brand, Product, Customer Alignment
Everything you do in marketing must start by answering two questions: who are we selling to? And how does your product help them? The more detailed you can answer those questions, the better.
42% of startups that fail, fail because of a lack of product-market fit. Company founders develop what they believe are breakthrough ideas. But when they get the product out into the market, they don’t generate enough sales because the product doesn’t actually solve a problem. These companies don’t understand their buyers well enough to develop a product that they actually need.
A solid understanding of who you are selling to is not only critical to a successful business, but it’s also critical to a marketing strategy for many reasons:
Determines how you should talk about your product (in a way that shows how it helps people)
Provides direction for visual design choices in your marketing (shows photos of people like your buyers)
Focuses the strategies you use for marketing (helps you decide which channels to focus on)
For B2B companies, aligns sales and marketing (for a more efficient sales cycle when they’re on the same page)
Indicates marketing performance (marketing is only successful if it’s bringing in people who will buy)
A description of who you are selling to needs to be documented, repeatedly, throughout your marketing planning. The reminders are a way of making sure your marketing recommendations are indeed relating to potential customers. It also helps align marketing teammates, vendors, and stakeholders outside of marketing.
Every marketing plan and creative or media brief needs to have a target audience at the minimum. This is a one or two sentence description of who you are selling to.
For example, let’s say you are an edtech company with an AI-powered technology that helps high school students choose a college.
Your target audience might be:
Parents of high school sophomores and juniors in the United States who will be applying for four-year colleges.
Ideal Customer Profile
An ideal customer profile explains a bit further who you are targeting, usually more focused on the organization than an individual. This is especially relevant for B2B companies to help identify what accounts to target. You might have multiple ideal customer profiles (ICPs). Put them into a consistent template with fields that are relevant for your business.
For example, let’s say the edtech company mentioned above wants to sell their product to college and career counselors at private schools. Their ICP might look like:
Industry: Private High Schools
Student Size: 500+ students
Job Title(s): Counselors, Dean, Headmaster
Attributes: School has a career resource center, 99%+ graduation rate
This data can be collected by looking at your CRM and identifying what type of customer spends the most with you.
The buyer persona focuses on the individuals you will be targeting in your ideal customer profile. They bring to life who you are selling to by highlighting themes, expressed in a consistent visual template. It is very common to have multiple buyer personas. The personas might not always be the people who will be handing over the money. In many sales situations, especially in B2B, there are many people who contribute to a buying decision.
For example, the edtech company we’ve been talking about might start with four personas:
High School Student of a Private High School
Parent of a High School Student at a Private School
Counselor at a Private School
Headmaster at a Private School
In the buyer persona, you are explaining what these people are like. This entails commonalities in their backgrounds and interests, what they need in their role that relates to your company, what their motivations are, what their pain points are that your product can help address, and what resources or brands they trust.
The data to inform this could come from multiple sources, including 1-on-1 interviews with customers or prospects plus industry surveys or research reports.
Buyer Persona with Buying Insights
Buyer personas are stronger with the addition of their buying insights. The buying insights outline what prompts people to move along through the buying journey. There are five steps to the buying journey:
Trigger - What prompts people to look for a solution?
Success Factors - What are they looking to get out of a solution?
Barriers - What might hold them back from purchasing?
Decision Factors - What criteria are they using to decide between providers?
Journey - How do they find a solution? What marketing channels do they access?
This data needs to be collected through 1-on-1 interviews with customers, ideally new customers who remember the process they went through to find the product. For more on this process, we recommend the book Buyer Personas, from the Buyer Persona Institute.
Ok, now you have a solid understanding of who you are selling to. You’re ready to get out there with your website and ads! But wait...what do you write in your marketing materials to attract their attention?
This leads you to the next step, which is to document how you should be talking to your potential buyers. Consistency is one of the most important elements to marketing, sales, and branding. So you first need to come up with how you should talk about your company at a high-level. From there, you evaluate each of your personas and determine what tweaks to your company messages you might need to make to attract these specific customers.
How you talk to your personas should be outlined in a marketing messaging document that is included in your marketing planning materials. The messages are internally facing and not the exact words you will see in your marketing communications. However, they are phrases that your marketing materials should instill. There are three primary components to a marketing messaging strategy: positioning, value proposition, and proof points.
This is one sentence that outlines what your company offers, why it’s different and how it benefits people. It follows a framework:
For students applying to colleges, XYZ company is an edtech company that has the only AI-enabled technology that provides personalized college recommendations so that students can streamline their search and feel confident that they are applying to colleges that are the best fit.
This is one sentence that focuses more on the customer than the positioning statement. The value proposition highlights the benefit to your customer. For example:
For high school sophomores and juniors looking into colleges, XYZ company makes the college search less stressful by recommending the best colleges for your goals.
To back-up your value proposition, outline 3-5 examples that prove why you can say what you’re saying. For example:
80% of users attend a college that the technology recommended
Each of these statements (your positioning, value proposition, and proof points) need to be unique to your company and appeal to your personas. Developing each of these is a process and not something that you will settle on in one meeting. They should take into account multiple viewpoints - the founder of the company, employees from different departments, customers, and competitors.
The buyer personas and marketing messaging are items that will be improved upon over time. It’s best to get a first round together as a foundation, working with the data you have. As you get access to talk to your customers and collect more data, you can add more detail to your personas and messaging, which will make your marketing more impactful.
As your marketing efforts grow, more people are going to be involved. You’ll add employees to the team and hire more vendors to help. And there are two questions any good marketer will ask - who are you selling to and why do they buy from you? Your buyer persona with buying insights and marketing messaging will answer those questions for them.
When your website, advertising, and email communications all relate to people in a consistent way, your customers and prospects will understand what you stand for and how you can help them. They will be able to determine if you are the right solution for them and know how to communicate what you offer to their friends for referrals.
Lesson #1 Why Your Company Needs Education Marketing Strategies
Lesson #2 Attracting the Right Customers with Buyer Personas and Messaging
Lesson #3 Why Marketing Campaigns Fail
Lesson #4 What is a Marketing Stack?
Lesson #5 How to Structure a Marketing Team for Your Small Business