It’s 2013. Do you know where your customers are? I can tell you one thing: they’re more elusive than ever before. They don’t open your emails. They don’t answer your phone calls. They ignore your marketing. They’re in complete control and they’ll only engage with you when they’re ready. As a marketer, you simply come along for the ride. If you’re lucky.
Today’s Purchasing Decision Process
It’s a trend that began with the web, intensified with search engines and was compounded with the rise of blogs and social media. Buyers researching a product purchase have a wealth of tools at their disposal. Your web site, your product literature, your marketing? They’ll get to that last, if at all.
Let’s consider typical steps made during phases of the buying cycle.
Awareness (aka Research)
- Search engines
- Industry web sites
- Social media (e.g. follow industry thought leaders on Twitter)
- Outreach to peers and colleagues (email, social media, etc.)
- Industry conferences and trade shows
- Visit and register for online communities related to the industry
- Join relevant LinkedIn Groups and ask group members for input
- Research from analyst firms
- Vendor web sites, collateral and pricing information
- Vendor pitches, demos and sales meetings
- Hands-on interaction with assorted vendor product offerings (if applicable)
What This Means to Product Marketers
As you can see above, the buyer is saying, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you. When I’m ready.” In the past, marketers controlled the buying process: the messaging, the timing, the delivery. Today, control has been ceded to buyers.
Because they research on their schedule, the marketing model has inverted: the outbound world has shifted completely to inbound. Your job, as a marketer, is to leave breadcrumbs that forge a trail to your web site, landing pages or social channels.
Product Marketing in 2013: There’s More To It
Now don’t get me wrong: traditional elements of product marketing are still very important: messaging, positioning, content marketing, social media, product collateral, etc. But given how empowered today’s buyer has become, product marketers need to go beyond traditional product marketing to help facilitate the sale. Let’s consider ways to do this.
Product Marketing Without the “Marketing”
Build a Great Product.
I see iPad commercials on TV and I wonder whether Apple really needs to be advertise there. The iPad, like Girl Scout cookies, is a product that sells itself. You buy an iPad, you love it – and in fact, your use of the product becomes ingrained into your daily life.
You buy one for each child, then you buy one for your parents to share. Then, the iPad Mini comes out and you buy one of those, just because. Note: this is a hypothetical example and does not reflect my own household.
Great products market and sell themselves. So the more time you spend on building a great product, the less time you’ll need to market it.
Use Content Marketing to Build Thought Leadership.
Remember how I started this post asking if you knew where your customers are? If you produce great content, they’ll come finding you. The great content, however, should not be “marketing content.” Don’t market your product. Instead, market your knowledge and your industry. In addition, provide resources that enable your prospects and customers to do their job more effectively.
The best example I can give is the marketing automation space, in which Marketo, Eloqua and HubSpot (among others) provide a seemingly endless collection of valuable marketing resources. If I downloaded every content asset from these three vendors, I could read them (continuously) well past retirement.
Check them out – and note how they promote their “space” (marketing), rather than their products:
- Resources for the Modern Marketer from Marketo
- Resources from Eloqua
- Marketing Resources from HubSpot
As you can see by the depth and breadth of the content on these pages, content marketing can be a full-time job. And it also includes a heavy dose of blogging. If you ask Marketo, Eloqua or Hubspot, however, I’m sure they’ll tell you that the investment in content marketing (and thought leadership) is worth it. In fact, they’ll probably tell you they wouldn’t be where they are without it.
Host an Online Community for Customers and Prospects.
We’re seeing a Yelp-ification in B2B purchasing decisions. Let me explain. When I’m considering a meal at a new restaurant, the first thing I’ll do is visit it’s Yelp page to read what Yelpers had to say about the food and service. I’ll consider the number of reviews, the number of “stars” and skim through the comments from reviewers.
Now, consider a B2B purchase. During the research or consideration phases, buyers are bound to search for the product (or company name) in a search engine. What are they likely to find on Page 1 of the search results? Forums and online communities (like Yelp) in which customers are “talking about” the product.
Facilitate the Conversation.
It’s unavoidable that users will write about your service (online). One measure of control (at your disposal) is for you to host and facilitate these conversations. Companies such as Jive, Lithium and Get Satisfaction provide solutions that enable you to create and host your own online community.
Be careful, however. Don’t think that you’re now “in control” or that you can use this community to deploy your marketing messages. Your role is the “steward.” You’re there to facilitate conversation and be a secondary participant in them (when needed).
Allow your biggest fans to market your product (on your behalf) and provide insights to prospective customers who are looking for solutions. Online communities are a great resource for the buyer – and at the same time, they provide you (the marketer) with a great listening tool into the hearts and minds of your end users. In other words, you can gain insights to improve your product.
Invite Customers to Market Your Product.
This post is all about doing product marketing without marketing your product. But that doesn’t mean your customers can’t market your product! Prospective customers may not believe a word you say (or write), but they will believe your customers. After all, your customers are quite often their industry peers.
Just a few ways you can facilitate this:
- Case studies (written)
- Case studies (video)
- Testimonials (quotes)
- Testimonials (videos)
- Media coverage (featuring your customers using your products)
- Connecting industry analysts with your customers (and their use cases)
- Highlighting “top contributors” (customers) in your online community
- Putting prospects in touch with customer references
- Guest posts (from customers) on your blog
Allow Prospects to Experience the Product.
Photo source: Robert Gaal on flickr.
I mentioned the iPad earlier and how great products sell themselves. Marketers can facilitate this “self selling” by putting the product directly in the hands of prospects. Apple does this via Apple Stores, in which 80+% of the store real estate is allocated towards hands-on use of Apple products.
If your product is delivered via the web, consider allowing prospects to register for a free trial. The free trial becomes a form of “experience-based lead generation,” in which your sales reps call on prospects who have already experienced the product.
Alternatively, consider a “freemium” based product strategy (a la Yammer or Yousendit), in which your base product is completely free, but users “pay up” for additional features or capabilities. These sort of “try it before you buy” arrangements are the purest form of “product marketing without the marketing.”
Product Marketing in 2013.
Some miscellaneous tips for product marketing in 2013.
Design for mobile first.
Before long, no one will consume your marketing content on desktop or laptops. They’ll consume instead on tablets, smartphones and whatever else is in store down the road. Have your web designers format your product content for mobile first, then work from there to support devices with more screen real estate. If I had to choose one over the other, I’d rather have a web site that looks great on mobile vs. one that looks great on a laptop.
Enable social sharing on all content.
How to do product marketing without the marketing? Let your customers and prospects do it for you. Web pages, videos, blog postings, etc. should all contain Tweet buttons, Like/Recommend buttons, “Pin it” buttons, you name it. And don’t forget your PDF-based product collateral – embed sharing links within the PDF, too.
Downsize product launch events.
Take the money you might spend on a glitzy product launch and re-invest it back into the product (e.g. R&D, additional developers, etc.). Product launch events can be done quite affordably online (or even in social media). Better yet, make your new product available to everyone (for free) and allow customer usage to help shape and define the launch itself.
Enable customers to talk about how you solved their challenges.
Related to “customers marketing your product,” stick to the thought leadership approach, rather than the “product endorsement” approach. Instead of having customers go into detail on how they used your product, let them tell a story. The story begins with their business challenge and ends with the wonderful solution (enabled by your product, of course).
In 2013, your product marketing must adapt to a fundamental shift that has taken place (and will continue to evolve): the power and control of the purchaser.
While you’ll need to continue traditional product marketing practices – more than ever, you now need to market your product without marketing your product. Today, your role is more facilitator and steward than it is marketer. You’ll no longer market your way to a product sale, you’ll now facilitate the process that leads to it.
Note: I invite you to connect with me on Google+.