Marketing sometimes feels like lobbing a stack of pamphlets over a wall. Did they get read? Who read them? What did they think? Do they want to be a customer now? Hello...?
Because we’ve put so much effort into defining our audience and producing messaging for them, you won’t be stuck with that feeling for long.
When you know your audience inside-out, something magical happens. Instead of needing to scour analytics platforms for clues about what your audience might think of your content, you've got a pretty good idea. And because you already know what they’ll think, you’re in a great position to predict what they’ll do next.
This allows you to - not just be in contact with - but to enter a kind of conversation with all your audience at the same time. Each interaction shares brings your customers closer to signing up or starting a commercial conversation.
Because you know your audience inside-out, you can map this out.
1. Here’s an example: You know your audience is likely to read, let's say, Sifted magazine. So winning coverage there about how your software is shaking up their industry is likely to be read by a good portion of your audience.
Here's how that internal conversation goes:
- Your audience: "I want to stay on top of what’s happening in my industry, and I trust Sifted to tell me what that is."
- Your press coverage: "Look! Our software is shaking up your industry."
- Your audience: "Interesting, so you're one of the emerging players in [X] space."
2. Let's layer on another interaction: If you post a case study on Linkedin and your well-connected customer likes the post, there’s a good chance that you’ll reach their industry peers, who are also your target audience.
How the conversation goes:
- Your audience: "I need to make sure we’re able to close the gap on our competitors, and that means investigating the software they’re using to grow their business."
- Your case study: "We're helping businesses just like yours grow quickly."
- Your audience: "OK, our competitors are getting results we're falling short of. And they are doing it with your software."
3. Adding another interaction make them becoming a customer more likely. For example, you could Work up the case study results as a Linkedin ad that's served to everyone in your audience.
Here's how you'd continue the conversation:
- Your ad: "We've helped [X] business like yours solve [X] problem"
- Your audience: "Your software looks relevant to what we do, but what's the exact use case and what were the results?"
- Your case study: "Over here!"
4. Now let's imagine the audience opts in to continuing this conversation by coming to your site. They give their email and sign up for a webinar that promises to show them how to solve their problem.
- Your audience: "So exactly how is all this going to work in practice?"
- Your ad: "Like this."
5. Now you have their contact details, they understand how you solve their problem, and they are probably pretty close to buying. You're basically waiting for an internal event, some pain or need that causes them to take action and get in touch.
- Your content: "Here’s a resource that helps you understand the opportunity that comes with solving that big problem you’ve got."
- Your audience: "Thanks, this is relevant right now. Can I get a demo?"
- Your sales team: "Of course!"
None of this should make your jaw drop. I’ve just framed a standard marketing journey as a conversation that's similar to those your sales team has with prospects every day.
The opposite of this approach would be to send every prospect a message that tells them what your software offers and asks them if they’re interested in buying it now. That’s not a conversation, that’s a pitch. Sometimes this works, but not that often, and not for long.
But by having these exchanges with customers via your content, more of your audience will want to speak to your team. And when they do, they’re usually more motivated to buy. Think of the number of people within your audience who see your content but don’t get in touch because your content doesn’t align with their priorities. Or those that get in touch, despite being a poor fit for what you offer.
If you’ve run some decent customer interviews, you should be able to predict your audience’s situation and respond with a message that brings them closer to becoming a customer. Plus, If the 1,000 or so people in your target audience have enough in common, you may only need a couple of marketing journeys like this to convert most of your audience.
But keep in mind only 5% of buyers are in-market to buy your tool, so don’t expect to convert everyone immediately.
Some content marketers see what they do as an alternative to outbound sales. I don’t understand why because the two work together fantastically. Maybe it’s got something to do with the opposition suggested by ‘inbound’ and ‘outbound’ labels.
Whatever your reason, an aversion to outbound sales is unhelpful for any early-stage business. It’s a lovely thought that you can generate all the business you need with content that makes folk come to you (and that is a good situation to work towards), but it’s a really hard thing to achieve when you’re under nonstop pressure to deliver leads. You need to keep investors invested, put your product in front of new users, and meet payroll.
Outbound does more than quickly fill your pipeline with leads, too. By continuously talking to the market, you’ll quickly improve your understanding of your audience, from what’s most important to them, to the events they’re going to, to the fresh challenges they face in their role. Well-established, audience-wide findings can be used to update your messaging and content pillars.
Anyway, I’m no outbound expert, so let’s get back to my comfort zone.
How to start a conversation with your audience
Before you start trying to have conversations with anyone who will listen, you need to define your audience.
The good news is that the strategy we’ve already done means that you’re 90% of the way there. The bad news is that the final 10% involves some heavy-duty research where you’ll need to gather company names, job titles, employee names, and contact details.
The easiest way to do this is with a tool like. Linkedin Sales Navigator. First, build a list of target company accounts using their filters, or those in Apollo or ZoomInfo. Then build lists of people within those accounts who match your target job descriptions. This approach assumes you’re selling to a professional audience who care enough about Linkedin to keep their account up to date. If they don’t, is there anywhere else you can find an online, searchable record with this information?
Either way, doing this yourself takes forever and is very boring, so use automation tools or hire a virtual assistant to help with data collection and cleaning.
Once you’ve got a complete list of your target audience, you should rank contacts by how likely they are to buy your software. There’s usually one key publicly available data point which acts as a stand-in for their propensity to buy, but this is different for every business and not always obvious.
For example, the clearest signal that an ecommerce company is spending big on acquiring new customers is found in how quickly their Instagram follower count grows, rather than the size of their team, their funding history, or their tech stack. What would that signal be for your audience?
When you’ve sorted your big list by how likely they are to buy your software, you face the challenge of being in continuous contact with those that are most likely to buy without breaking the bank (or your brain). Depending on how much time and funding you have, you may need to chop off part of your list, starting at the bottom, and focus on high-priority targets instead.
Here are a few examples of campaigns you can run when you have a clear idea of who your audience is:
- Target your key accounts with Linkedin ads and email campaigns that show the work and results you’ve achieved with clients like them, along with milestones that show how your own business is gaining momentum
- Your subject matter expert should take every opportunity to speak at industry events, proactively build connections online and IRL, and post frequently to the social platforms and groups that your audience uses.
- Invite your target prospects to a private group to overcome shared problems: this can be a roundtable format, or it can be an online forum like Slack
All of this sounds like normal ol’ marketing because that’s exactly what it is. The only difference here is that you’re only committing to campaigns and channels that you know are directly reaching folk on your focused list, and you’re taking every opportunity to build a relationship with them.
Translated back into marketing buzzwords, this approach is often called account-based marketing, but there are also elements of demand generation and category creation here too.
Instead of trying to define all of this (there’s plenty online that does that instead), let’s look at an example of how content can help your business go from being semi-translucent plankton to the first thing that pops into your audience’s head when they think about solving their big problem.
I’ll also notify you when I publish more content like this, unsubscribe any time.