Show ‘Em You Care: Empathy as the Key to Avoiding Marketing Failures



Internet marketing, and especially social media marketing, understandably has given marketers a deep and abiding interest in finding and exploiting the right tools, tactics, and techniques for a technological and social environment that is constantly evolving new ways of doing business, new opportunities for consumers, and new attitudes. In times of rapid change—which we can reasonably expect to mean from now on—there are of course new ways for marketing campaigns to fail as well as new ways for them to succeed, and marketers understandably have to be careful on an unprecedented scale regarding how they read their situations.

But we can take comfort in one eternal truth of marketing: Failure to know and understand your audience is lethal. It’s surprising how many marketing campaigns fail because of inattentiveness to this basic verity, how many causes of defeat ultimately derive from that one factor.

Here are some key points to remember in assessing your audience and failure-proofing your campaign:

Craft the correct persona.

To whom, exactly, are you trying to sell the goods or services? If you are wrong about this, or simply don’t ask the question in a serious way, your chances of success are slim indeed. It doesn’t matter how good the product is if you don’t put it in front of the right people.

You’ll need to undertake extensive research to determine what sort of consumer your product appeals to, what needs they’re trying to meet or what problems they’re trying to solve, who your competition is, and what can differentiate you from that competition. From that point, you should concern yourself with storytelling, with a story or persona centered on your target consumer and that person’s interests, problems, and purchasing habits. Adhering to that persona will help you maintain your focus.

Consider age, gender, income level, what types of media they prefer, what types of devices they use, and, where applicable, geographic location. Then try to determine whether the information you’re providing will really help them meet their needs. It’s also wise to consider whether they can find that information elsewhere. On the one hand, you want to make your content readily searchable, but on the other hand you want to differentiate yourself from the competition by providing something they don’t. If you narrow down the persona better than the competition does, you stand a better chance of doing this.

Even in mass marketing, reach isn’t enough. You have to identify your audience with care and target people who are likely to produce leads and conversions.

Create appropriate content.

It should be obvious that the content should align with the persona, that the message and how it is conveyed should align with the values and sensibilities of the intended consumer. What is less obvious is the role of form. Some marketers get sloppy in this arena, assuming that social media allows them to throw any old thing out there and have people looking at it. A 2,000 word post isn’t likely to make much of an impact on an audience with a limited attention span. Slapdash writing will damage you with a highly educated audience, while excessive formality can torpedo you with young readers. What works well in a desktop environment might not be appropriate for mobile devices. Videos and graphics are usually helpful, but knowing your audience will help you decide how much is too much.

Choose channels with care.

If you have a strong presence somewhere other than in front of your intended audience, you are irrelevant. Channels are not all created equal. Facebook is a colossus, all right, but if you’re marketing nail polish to a young audience, you’re probably better off on Instagram, which is used by about 60 percent of people in the 18-29 age bracket. Facebook is in the 80 percent range with adults and is excellent for a cross-section audience and for generating “shares.” YouTube is especially popular with young males. Shapchat is all the rage with the 13-24 age group, one reason being that so few parents use it.

Back to that persona: Who are they and where are they? Don’t spend energy and money where they aren’t, and make sure you’re where they are.

Take timing seriously.

In the era of the connected consumer, with almost everyone experiencing a glut of information, timing is more important than before, not less. Your audience probably is being inundated with content from a dizzying variety of sources, and your message will be drowned if you post it at the wrong time. Consult that well-crafted persona to determine what time of day and what day of the week your intended audience is likely to be exposed to your message instead of letting it go lost and unloved in their feed. For example, afternoon rush hour is not a good time to post content for office workers, just as 11:00 a.m. on a Sunday is poor timing for priests and final exam week is bad for teachers.

Seasonal considerations are also important for obvious reasons. Where are your potential customers and what are they doing at a particular time of year? Remember, you are dealing with a story about your customer, which means imagining what kind of experience they’re having at any given time. It’s a question of relevance. Late summer probably is not a good time to go all out on a new and better swimsuit, but it’s crucial for school supplies and dorm decor. You have to put yourself in the other person’s place.

Choose influencers with care.

Influencer marketing is one of the marvels of the contemporary marketing landscape, but it requires intelligent application.

Yes, we’re being repetitive: Know who your ideal customer is. Put yourself in that person’s place. What are their aspirations? What problems do they want to solve? Find out who they follow, then step into their shoes and start following and engaging with the same people they do. Find out what kind of interactions they like to have, and with whom.

Then make sure the influencer’s brand personality matches yours. If you’re selling funeral prearrangement plans or disability insurance, a hip and funny influencer might not be right even though they have a horde of followers and they’re pleased with how your product helped them get their future squared away. An influencer who talks and writes like Winston Churchill might not be right for your pimple cream. Does your influencer attract the people you want to attract?

Decisions about these matters can be painful, because they revolve around not what you like but what attracts the people you want to reach.

In evaluating a potential influencer, consider how much sponsored content they’re producing. If they’re above 50 percent, you might want to look elsewhere. The connected consumer wants authenticity, and you will not achieve this if your influencer appears too inclined to behave like an old-fashioned product spokesperson.

Above all, avoid an influencer who will embarrass you or make you look ridiculous or out of touch.

On one level, it’s surprising that so many marketing campaigns fail because of infidelity to these basic principles. On the other hand, it’s understandable because marketing people are by nature creative, and what they perceive as desirable and admirable—and what indeed would be effective in marketing a product to them—doesn’t align with what the audience wants. A great idea may be just that, but it will die a quiet and lonely death if it simply doesn’t apply to a given consumer or if it is deployed in the wrong place.

Today’s connected consumer wants a sense of relationship, and good relationships depend largely on the ability to put ourselves in the other person’s place. Consistently doing that one thing is the key to eliminating a host of failures.


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