Marketing is tough. Customers are busy.

Are you kidding me? We only got 26 sign-ups?

What do you mean ‘it only got a 3.6% click through rate’? I spent ages crafting that article.

Damn it. We only ranked 4th in the brand awareness survey. How on earth did that happen?

You may have heard something along those lines during your B2B marketing career. Or perhaps you will do. Maybe only once or twice, if you’re a triple-dan black-belted marketing ninja, but it happens. You busted a gut to come up with a killer email marketing campaign, or a highly persuasive direct mail, or a stunning brand awareness initiative and, for some reason, it just didn’t quite go into orbit. Almost, but not quite. Cue lots of muted looks around the table at the debrief meeting.

The problem for marketers

If I could sum up the pervasive challenge at the heart of marketing communications, it is that customers are busy. They’re occupied, maybe even swamped, doing stuff that is important to them. Stuff like:

  • Meetings, meetings, bloody meetings. With their boss, their peers, their team, their suppliers, etc.;
  • Emails. Lots & lots of emails;
  • Phone calls;
  • Budget updates;
  • Management reports;
  • Team objective setting or appraisals;
  • Risk & compliance obligations;
  • Hiring;
  • Firing;
  • Training;
  • Keeping up to date with market trends;
  • Keeping up to date with competitors;
  • Are you getting tired yet? We could go on ad infinitum;
  • Oh yes, I forgot to mention actually getting some work done.

Which leads to the obvious questions for us marketers – where do our respective products or services fit into all of that? How much of a priority to prospective customers is our blog post, white paper or event invitation? Often, alas, the answer is not very high. In the immortal words of Hollywood screenwriter, adman, copywriter and all-round-legend Steven Pressfield – ‘no-one wants to read your shit‘.

So what’s the marketing solution?

Well that’s the gazillion dollar question. You’ll no doubt have some tricks up your sleeves, or approaches that have served you well. (Please share!). Over the course of this blog series I’ll be sharing my thoughts on how to succeed. Content marketing, advertising, copywriting and lots of other tactics will feature. But for now, there’s one clear starting point in my humble opinion…

Develop some empathy with your customers.

What is their working week like? What are their objectives? What makes them tick? What keeps them awake at night? Etcetera, etcetera.

I’m convinced that empathy is one of the most basic currencies that all marketers (should) trade in. It’s one of the most precious insights we can bring to our companies. It’s one of only two things that really help us to answer the questions “where do we fit into our customers’ lives?” and “how we add some value to them?” (The other thing is to plain old ask them, of course).

Easy to say. Hard to do?

If I had one piece of advice that has always stood me in good stead, it is to spend as much time as you possibly can with as many of your customers as you possibly can. In each of my last four companies, I’ve made it a priority, after joining, to meet customers at their places of work. It has always helped me to visualise exactly where my marketing ends up.

If you can’t meet customers at their offices, listen to them at the industry events they attend. Say hello and ask them “How’s business?” And if that isn’t possible, print out the picture at the top of this post (or something like it), just to remind yourself how hectic your customers’ world is. Visualise what you’ll need to do to stand out from all of that clutter. Because that’s the job.

Good luck fellow marketers. Speak soon


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