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Have you had a bad experience with a marketer?
Engaging a marketing expert or agency for a small business or consulting practice for the first time can be tricky. This is especially true if the business founder isn't certain they have the foundations in place to make an informed decision about who they partner with to build and execute their growth strategy.
If they get this wrong, they're likely to have a bad experience. In the more extreme cases bad marketers can:
Over promise and under-deliver
Spend thousands of dollars generating poor, unqualified leads
Put market reputation at risk with spam and other unethical marketing practices
What is Marketing Science?
As Professor Byron Sharp puts it in How Brands Grow, Marketing Science is the body of knowledge that allows us to determine, 'the predictable patterns in how buyers buy, and how sales grow - things all marketers should know, not argue about'.
In less extreme cases, a bad experience with a marketer may be more subtle - and the founder may feel that in many ways engaging a marketing practitioner was useful because they somewhat put the business on a path to growth.
After all they had the opportunity to clarify the overall vision, develop powerful key messages and make the business website and other online channels look spectacular, right?
Despite this though, when it comes time to weigh up the results with the overall investment, many founders feel rather...
This can lead to false ideas about the business potential and the role of marketing within the growth strategy. I've heard a number of founders in the consulting space say things like "the onlyway I can grow my consulting business is through referrals" or "the only way I can grow my consulting business is through one-on-one sales calls".
In fact they could make significant gains in their business (whilst benefitting from greater work-life balance) by implementing better marketing practices.
Despite this they have resigned themselves to the "fact" that "marketing doesn't work for me because my niche is different".
But like Professor Byron Sharp says in How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don't Know - these opinions are unfounded - the benefits of marketing, when done correctly, isn't a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact.
If you've had a bad marketing experience then chances are the marketer or agency you worked with didn't address the core problem they must solve.
It's not that they didn't want to solve it but instead it's because many marketers aren't clear on the problem they must solve before they start doing stuff.
And don't get me wrong, it's not necessarily that they're not good at what they do. Some marketers are brilliant copywriters, others have the art and science of running a Facebook advertising campaign down pat. There's marketers who are great at SEO, and marketers who are magicians when it comes to integrating martech solutions.
(Prefer to watch? Check out my 2-part youtube series on this topic below)
In my time as a business podcaster and consultant I've talked to hundreds of experts and small business owners - particularly consultants and service-based business owners. What I've found time and time again, is that there wasn't an underlying strategy grounded in marketing science.
In fact, the work that many marketers do is based on assumption and hear-say, and not the marketing laws that must govern every successful brand growth strategy.
What these laws point to is a core problem that must be solved.
And it's this: lacking contextual relevance
Right Place, Right Time
Contextual relevance, or put more simply, being in the right place at the right time, goes far beyond what many business designers and marketers imagine.
Because being in the right place at the right time doesn't start at "when the customer wants to buy" and it doesn't end at "when the customer has completed their purchase".
We must be contextually relevant at each and every step of the customer journey as it relates to our particular niche.
Before they're ready to buy.
Before they're actively researching.
Before they even realise they have a problem we can solve.
And it continues long after their first purchase.
After their program of work is complete.
After they've referred a friend.
After they've made a second purchase.
And at each step of their journey we must understand the customer mindset and what they will be considering at that moment of time to inform their decisions through both an emotional and rational lens.
In doing this, your customers will feel like you were there when they needed you most, even if they didn't know it yet.
Instead of solving this route problem, a marketer who offers a piecemeal solution might say, "you need a better social media calendar" or "you need an SEO strategy" or "you need to fix your messaging".
Many of the marketers available for contract hire rarely look at the full picture of how to put your entire growth marketing strategy together using marketing science.
But if we don't look at the full picture and use evidence-based marketing practices then our campaign is doomed from the start. Kinda like this...
Byron Sharp's Laws of Marketing Explained
In How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don't Know, Prof Byron Sharp sets out 11 laws of marketing (pp. vii & viii). Below I've listed the 11 laws along with a brief explanation and a bottom line account of what to expect based on these marketing laws.
"Double jeopardy law"
This means the lower your market share, the fewer buyers you have. They will also be slightly less loyal.
Bottom line: Expect more buyers as your market share grows
"Retention double jeopardy"
I've seen a number of businesses set a target to achieve 100% retention. The fact of the matter is, this is impossible. You simply cannot keep all buyers. You will always lose some buyers. What we can predict however is that the amount of buyers lost will be proportionate to your market share - ie. More market share means slightly higher retention.
Bottom line: Don't expect to keep all your customers
"Pareto law: 60/20"
We've all heard about the "80/20" rule also known as the Pareto principle. However it's important to note that when it comes to sales, about 60% of a brand's sales come from the top 20% of customers. That leaves almost half of sales to the bottom 80% of customers.
Bottom line: Expect over 40% of sales to come from your bottom 80% of customers
"Law of buyer moderation"
Nothing is forever. When it comes to your biggest buyers or biggest accounts be aware that over time, the customers you previously identified and categorised as "heavy buyers" will buy less often. This is true even if their heavy buying behaviour more broadly speaking remains the same.
Bottom line: Expect your biggest buyers to spend less with you in future
"Natural monopoly law"
There's a reason "the riches are in the niches" has become cliche. The fact of the matter is, when you lead your market, lighter buyers are more likely to spend with you than they are to spend with those who have less market share.
Bottom line: As a market leader you will generate more income from smaller offers (eg. passive revenue streams)
"User bases seldom vary"
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the pain points that matter most to your competitors' customers are different to the ones that matter most to yours. When in actual fact, there isn't much difference between the customer bases for direct competitors.
Bottom line: Don't expect your customers needs or behaviours to be different from customers of your direct competitors
"Attitudes and brand beliefs reflect behavioural loyalty"
When a customer uses (or works with) a particular brand, they are likely to think about it more than those they don't. That means brands with more market share perform better in surveys that compare attitudes towards brands in competition with one another.
Bottom line: Expect your market to rank you better against competitors if you have more market share
"Usage drives attitude (or I love my Mum and you love yours)"
People want to believe they've made the right decision, so we tend to love the brands that we use (or work with) more than the ones we don't. That means we will think a brand is better purely for the fact that we chose it in the first place.
Bottom line: Your customers and your competitors customers will most likely think they made the better choice.
"Law of prototypicality"
Describing a product or offer in terms that are typical and more commonly associated with the product category, is more effective than describing a product or offer in terms that are atypical.
This one is a little bit tricky - I like to think about it with the following example:
If our customers are looking for a "gym" to join so they can "get fit", these words and associated images and phrases will be more salient and stand out to them more than if we tried differentiate ourselves by calling ourselves a "strengthening centre" for "muscle amplification".
Bottom line: Don't expect to benefit from adopting a strategy to "stand out" by making your brand sound atypical.
"Duplication of purchase law"
Customers buy from competitor brands, with more customers overlapping to purchase from larger brands and less overlapping with small brands.
Bottom line: Expect your customers to have made purchasing decisions about your competitors - especially those with greater market share.
In order to understand how often customers buy from a category and which brands they buy from marketing scientists use The Dirichlet mathematical model, a model Prof Byron Sharp describes as "one of marketing's few true scientific theories". It is able to predict purchasing patterns within a defined product category. You can find out more about The Dirichlet model here.
Bottom line: The Dirichlet model can reliably predict the number of purchases of each brand over a period of time within a product category.
It's all well and good to talk about theoretical marketing science and understand that the overall key objective all growth marketing strategies must take into account is as follows:
Grow Market Share.
However, when it comes to how we integrate best practices to achieve this goal, things get more complicated.
The Long and Short of It
"Long-term results cannot be achieved by piling short-term results on short term results" - Peter Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society, 1993.
One of my favourite bodies of work that builds on much of Prof Byron Sharp's work is the collection of papers published by Les Binet and Peter Field, namely:
As you can see in the above, short-term sales activations have a big, immediate and direct impact on sales. You can also see that the impact is short-lived. In the short term they result in a larger sales response.
Brand building on the other hand is difficult to measure when applying the "results-driven" lens that many business owners and marketers subscribe to.
Together with the fact that measuring impact of an indirect relationship is much trickier means that many mistakenly assume that there is little-to-no ROI of brand building activities.
As such we can chalk this up to a waste of money because we believe we are seeing little-to-no returns. ln fact, brand building activities when measured over a longer time period become the primary driver of growth.
And the brands that understand that they cannot simply rely on sales activation to grow will be most effective at building market share if their growth marketing activities reflect this accordingly.
As a general rule of thumb, Les Binet and Peter Field explain that the split of attention, resource and money across these two activities should be 40% towards sales activation communications and 60% towards brand building communications.
But how about if you're a consultant with a high-ticket offer who relies primarily on referrals to generate income? Is the split the same or does it change?
As consultants, we're in the business of selling something that requires a lot of consideration and it's also primarily rational.
So you may be thinking as a result that the best way to deal with this is to focus on short-term persuasive messages that help potential clients come to the rational conclusion that purchasing your offer is a "no brainer".
That kind of feels like it would make sense. It's a high consideration offer. It's primarily rationally driven and therefore we need to rationally justify the need for our offer.
What I was surprised to discover in reading Les Binet and Peter Field's Media In Focus: Marketing Effectiveness in the Digital Era was that marketing science in fact suggests that consultants and other businesses who have a high consideration offer should in fact focus more resource and energy on brand building (!)
They also explain that a key area to focus on for brands with these types of offers is online research. Which goes back to my point earlier about contextual relevance, and understanding what's going on for your client very early on in the customer journey.
On that note - here's something to keep in mind: According to Google, over 70% of B2B research starts with a generic, unbranded search engine query. So if you're prospective clients aren't getting help from you online, they're getting help from someone else online.
And here's another: most of the time people visit a website multiple times before they take a single measurable action. So there's multiple touch points happening at an area of brand building that we can't really see because we don't see conversion activities yet.
As consultants and B2B brands we only need to spend about 30% of our efforts, energy and time on sales activation communication, because it's actually easier for us to persuade our audience to purchase.
What's more challenging for us is the brand building communications that will ensure that we grow efficiently and effectively.
The good news is, two-fold (1) when we get it right, emotional priming works harder for brands in a high consideration category, and (2) less of our competitors have cottoned on to how powerful it is.
So if you're a B2B consultant or SAAS provider, a health coach with a high-ticket offer, a consultant, a financial services practitioner or other service-based business providing an offer that requires higher consideration you have the opportunity to make great headway by creating emotional connection in order to influence future purchasing decisions.
In comparison with low consideration offers, this approach is more efficient and works harder for us.
Perhaps the best news of all is that as a new brand or a niche brand, we can grow organically without necessarily pouring thousands of dollars into advertising spend.
As you'll see in some of my case studies, we can in fact make great headway without spending anything on advertising. That's a huge benefit because it's quite hard otherwise to get share of voice, but within a well-defined niche, it's not.
So if you have solid audience insight and know your audience really well, you're able to actually make that connection quickly to drive sales and see results.
And again, this all comes back to the importance of contextual relevance. By understanding the customer journey we will see the opportunities to emotionally prime our audience for a future sale AND also the types of persuasive messages that will be the most impactful when a customer is ready to purchase.
And that's what I've found time and time again with the clients I work with also.
If you would like to understand more about how you can achieve this within your own business I suggest you start by getting your free market leader scorecard here. It will only take a few minutes to complete and give you stacks of insight on what you need to do next to grow your consulting business online.
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In the spirit of reconciliation I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. I pay my respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living and working on the land today - the land that always was and always will be, Aboriginal land.