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Marketing has changed. It’s no longer about bombarding people with outbound messages they don’t want. Today’s marketing is more about bringing willing and interested customers to a business. It’s more authentic and people-oriented, letting companies attract, engage, and delight customers in a way that provides value, builds trust, and creates long-term relationships.
That said, there is still no silver bullet; good marketing brings your company’s message in front of your audience in a consistent, yet unobtrusive, way – typically called a drumbeat. Of course, there is a myriad of ways you can create this drumbeat and spend your marketing dollars, which can make the discipline seem confusing at best, particularly to non-marketers.
Minimum viable marketing is a common-sense approach to marketing that focuses on the basic activities that deliver the best possible outcome with a minimum amount of effort.
In my many years in the automotive market I’ve discovered that there are certain foundational marketing strategies (and related tactics) that need be in place to improve your odds of success. I call this minimum viable marketing (MVM). There is no one authoritative definition of minimum viable marketing, because the concept is new and the right approach in one market doesn’t necessarily work in another. Third Law subscribes to the school of thought that defines MVM as a common-sense approach to marketing that focuses on the basic marketing activities that deliver the best possible outcome with a minimum amount of effort.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t include other activities in your marketing mix. But you should have these fundamentals in place before deciding to add in other activities. For instance, why fund an expensive C-suite campaign if your product messaging falls flat and your website is confusing?
Venture-capitalist firm Mercato believes a successful MVM approach for startups consists of three pillars – positioning and messaging, demand generation, and content creation. This coincides with our experience in automotive.
The most important thing you can do for your company
Properly positioning your product is critical. The key word here is “properly”. Positioning may seem like a simple concept, but few organizations have a firm grasp on what it is, why it’s important, and how to do it properly.
In Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore writes, “Positioning is the single largest influence on the buying decision.” Business intelligence and analytics leader Eckerson puts it this way: It is the most important aspect of B2B software marketing because it is the foundation for everything you do in marketing.
Effective positioning considers the strengths and weaknesses of your product, similar offerings from competitors, and the needs of your target customers. The goal is to “position” your product in a unique way that makes customers feel using it will give them a distinct advantage. Companies that get this wrong will struggle, no matter what else they get right. For example, if you’re positioning yourself as an alternative to a niche competitor but the real problem is Apple, then every marketing cycle and dollar you spend will be a waste of time and resources.
“Positioning is the single largest influence on the buying decision” — Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm.
An important component to positioning is gaining perspective. It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about your customers’ perception of your product; you need to verify it. Working with a knowledgeable industry consultant can be very helpful for unbiased input. Ideally your consultant will include outreach to your customers and other important stakeholders as part of their process to verify your perceived differentiators and value prop. I can guarantee that there will be some surprises.
Positioning is particularly critical for markets like autotech because many of the subfields are very crowded. (For example, CES 2020 was crammed with lidar competitors for the second year in a row – a new manufacturer would need a very strong position to cut through the noise.) Your audience needs to understand very quickly how you are different and why they should care.
Once your positioning work is done, you need to wrap up this exercise by ensuring you communicate your unique value and its benefits in a clear and compelling way. Developing key messages and then using them consistently across all marketing communication vehicles is critical to everything else you do in the name of marketing. (I’ll talk in detail about how to properly do positioning and messaging in a future blog.) Remember: it takes repetition for people to remember – and believe – in your product.
Commit to building and nurturing long-term relationships
The next important investment you can and should make is demand generation. In the autotech space you likely only have anywhere from 50 to 200 people whose attention you need to cultivate, so focusing on broadcast outbound marketing should not be a preliminary strategy. First focus on marketing activities that drive brand awareness and interest in your technology, and create demand for your product.
Before you start asking prospects for their contact info, people need to know who you are and have a positive opinion about your company.
People often ask how demand gen and other customer acquisition tactics such as lead gen are different. Demand gen is different in a number of ways. First of all, when demand gen and lead gen are in the marketing mix, demand gen sits at the top of the sales funnel. Before you start asking prospects for their contact info, people need to know who you are and have a positive opinion about your company. (Once you’ve built up demand, you can then start working on converting prospects into leads.)
Demand gen also differs from lead gen in that it is a commitment to building and nurturing long-term relationships, which is particularly important in markets such as auto-tech where the sales cycle is a long one. It’s not focused on directly outreaching to prospects but on drawing those same people into your business. Since people are increasingly fed up with tactics such as online advertising, demand gen is typically better received. A case in point: by August 2015, approximately 200 million people worldwide had installed ad-blocking software. That number has undoubtedly grown.
Exactly what mix of programs and activities roll up into a demand gen program depends on the length and complexity of the sales process. In the autotech space where the competition is fierce for a design win that will likely lead to millions of shipped product, both the length and complexity of a sale can be quite dramatic. In my experience, there are a few basics you need in place to be successful.
Given the length and complexity of the typical autotech sales cycle, credibility is the most important job your website can do for you.
In this Internet-saturated age it’s almost ridiculous to mention this, but of course you need a really good website. If your website needs a bit of help, this is when your positioning work comes in handy. With clarity around your unique value as well as crisp and compelling messages, you’ll be able to refresh your web pages in no time. Knowing your objectives will matter immensely too in updating your site. There are three reasons for a business to have a website: making sales (using shopping carts and order placing), lead generation (collecting names and contact info), and building credibility (demonstrating your smarts). With the typical autotech sales cycle, credibility is the most important job your website can do for you so we often recommend our clients focus on the latter.
Once you have a solid website in place, the next important step in demand gen is building thought leadership. Developing this within your company is one of the best strategies for getting your audience to take note of your technology and consider you an authority. That said, discovering ways in which your company can be a unique and credible source of information is not easy. First, you’ll need to be intimately aware of the trends and challenges that matter most to OEMs and tier ones, and how your strengths dovetail into them. You’ll also need to take your strengths and your competitors’ weaknesses into account to find areas where you have credibility and they don’t.
Once you have a thought leadership strategy in place, you’ll need to use demand gen tactics to support it. Some of the basics for the autotech market include engaging with an effective PR company, developing kick-ass presentations, landing relevant speaking opportunities, nurturing ongoing analyst relationships, creating valuable content, and using social media to ensure its visibility.
Give customers something of value and build their trust
Creating quality content is so important to modern marketing it deserves to stand on its own. Just like demand generation itself, content marketing is a long-term investment. Success requires consistent effort and truly valuable content – something that many companies fail to do. There are several reasons why but let’s first consider why content is so important. (Read Why your SMEs can’t create marketing content for a deeper dive into several reasons why.)
Research shows that 78 percent of people prefer getting to know a company through articles rather than ads.
Content marketing started out as an alternative to the imposition of outbound communications – print ads, email spam, digital advertising, cold calling, and so on. And not surprisingly, people actually responded better to it. Consistently great content offers something of value – information, guidance, entertainment and/or human connection. This builds trust with people (everyone dislikes feeling stalked or sold to) and cultivates their loyalty. In 2019, research showed that 78 percent of people preferred getting to know a company through articles rather than ads.
Content marketing is largely responsible for creating the customer-centric world we now operate in. From well-researched white papers to highly anticipated podcasts, content has changed the way in which companies interact with their target audience. It is the new normal and there’s no going back.
Another reason content marketing is so important today – there’s a good chance your competitors are already using it. If your target audience is going to your competitors’ sites to find the information they need, you’re in trouble.
Content marketing is difficult for some – it takes time to make an impact because it takes time to establish a trusted presence.
And it’s effective. Even more so than lead gen. According to the Marketing Insider Group, content marketing generates three times as many leads as outbound marketing, drives six times higher conversion rates, and has the potential for a 7.8-fold boost in web traffic.
What makes content marketing so difficult, however, is its effects don’t happen overnight. It takes time to make an impact because it takes time to establish a trusted presence. This requires an organizational commitment from the top. Successful companies like Cisco have been doing it for years. It must be working as they have just let 100 people go at the time of writing to make room for over 200 new content creators.
When creating your own content, you need to continually challenge yourself as to whether your words are giving people new information or telling them what they already know. Ask yourself: What will people know after reading this piece that they did not know already. If you can’t answer that question, it’s time to dig a little deeper.
Why this approach to MVM appeals to autotech audiences
The three pillars of minimum viable marketing that work best in the autotech industry are positioning and messaging, demand generation, and content creation. Technical audiences within OEM companies and their tier-one suppliers dislike being sold to, prefer to do their own online research before connecting with a company, and operate within a long and complicated purchasing cycle. This approach to MVM directly appeals to this audience and their preferences.
Position yourself properly vis-à-vis your competitors and create messaging to reinforce it. Create a demand gen program that focuses on thought leadership and great content. Do it now, do it consistently, and you’ll be on your way to building strong relationships with the customers and stakeholders who matter most to you.