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Offline or Digital? Why you are asking the wrong questions! (Part 2)

Offline or Digital? Why you are asking the wrong questions! (Part 2)

By Conal McClure

Following on from part 1, I made a point that we can approach digital marketing either as a new medium, or a new paradigm. Failure to migrate our thinking to the new paradigm of digital means digital just looks like perhaps a new fancier and slightly more effective alternative to offline.

As a new medium, we don’t fundamentally change our marketing approach. Digital is seen as just another place to do the same things as before, just perhaps better, more efficiently or cheaper.

As a medium we ask questions like:

  • Can we save money by cutting back on offline advertising by using online instead?
  • Should we ditch Yellow Pages, and instead spend money on optimising our Google rank as a cheaper and more effective way of listing our business?
  • If we advertise on Facebook would that get our brand messages in front of a wider audience?

These are reasonable questions to ask, but there are much more fundamental questions that cut to the real opportunity of digital marketing.

Offline marketing suffers a serious constraint – it’s based on one-way broadcast. Consequently the window of opportunity to convert a potential client into action is small.

Marketing messages need to pack a punch. It needs to gain the attention of a prospective buyer of your services at just the right moment, give them a reason to consider your offer and motivate them into some kind of action.

This is why we see so much emphasis in marketing on building brand awareness, particularly in professional services firms. At that critical point in time you need your brand to be front of mind.

Unfortunately, this is the approach of your competitors too and because the ability to carry strong, differentiated and compelling value propositions in such a narrow window of opportunity is limited, it really comes down to who has the biggest budgets to enable their brand to stand out more.

Unless we break away from the concept that digital is just another medium, we’ll end up bringing the same constraints and baggage across and fail to harness the opportunity that a paradigm shift brings – the opportunity to question everything and reinvent.

What is The Paradigm Shift

So what does the shift look like?

In practical terms, digital brings a new dimension called “nurture”. Nurture changes everything!

Within the notion of nurture, are the concepts of engagement and education and with these comes the opportunity to offer and demonstrate value and solve problems well before your target audience makes a decision to work with you.

Effective nurturing results in building rapport, credibility and therefore influence. In this new paradigm, your brand doesn’t carry much weight, your big bold unsubstantiated claims have little credibility, and large marketing budgets won’t win you the game!

Nurture based marketing restores the core focus of marketing to generate leads and new business. And if you do it right, it will also force you to reassess what an ideal client looks like to your firm, the value you offer and even your market position.

Nurture based marketing must force a complete rethink, starting with who is your audience, their pain points, your message, your call to actions and what it means to measure.

Question Your Audience

The “ready to buy” audience is the narrow end of the funnel, yet this is where most marketing is directed. There is a good reason for this; the ready to buy are looking for you, engaged with your message and paying attention.

As attractive as it seems, this is also where most of your competition focus their efforts too. Getting cut through is extremely difficult!

There’s another source of new business, far greater than the “ready to buy”. This audience need you, but just haven’t realised it yet. They are not looking for you and are completely disengaged from your brand and messages. Traditionally, this is a hostile environment for marketers!

Digital with nurture-based marketing provides you with the tools to reach these people way back in the funnel and reframe their thinking to become “ready to buy” (over time).

Question Their Pain Points

A common motivator in marketing is speaking to pain points, but as the focus is on the “ready to buy”, they are inevitably closely aligned with the products and services you are selling (and probably similar to those of competitors).

The not “ready to buy” (i.e. the unaware) have pain points too but they are less likely to be closely connected to your business.

Their pain has likely been misdiagnosed, misinformed or other knowledge barriers have been built that prevents them from making the connection to the products and services you provide.

Nurture based marketing allows you to correct, re-educate, counter and reframe sometimes seemingly unrelated pain points so over time they see the solution in the products and services of your firm.

The pain points in this context are used to attract and capture, providing an incentive for someone to enter your nurturing programme.

Question the Message

It follows that the messages have to change if we are moving back up the funnel, and marketing to a whole new set of pain points.

It’s actually more fundamental than this though. The message isn’t one message. It’s lots of little ones each targeted to move the audience just one step along a journey.

Your messages become micro-messages. A micro message is highly targeted designed to achieve just one thing – to speak and provoke an action from someone with a very targeted and specific problem (hint: it’s probably not “Buy Now”).

In professional services, they are designed to move your audience progressively, over time through phases of showing empathy, providing value and helping solve the immediate need, then leading them to see value in the solution your firm provides.

The first message will be to get someone into your nurture programme not to become a client!

Question the Call-to-Actions

Like micro messages, call-to-actions are small and purposely designed to keep the audience moving through the funnel.

Unlike call-to-actions in offline marketing, digital call-to-actions are easy, low risk and low commitment.

The first call to action may be to provide an email address in exchange for access to information to help solve a problem. Subsequent call-to-actions, may be to move them to the next phase of content.

Question How to Measure

Measurement is rarely a strong consideration in offline marketing. It’s extremely difficult, potentially expensive and highly questionable in terms of accuracy and usefulness.

Digital marketing on the other hand is easily measurable. If you measure well, with intent and purpose, you’ll get a clear presentation in cold hard numbers what your audience thinks about your messages, content and call-to-actions all in mostly real time!

This ability to extract data takes us to one of digitals’ greatest strengths – the ability to generate bucket loads of marketing intelligence. This intelligence is going to become critical as you anchor your lead generation efforts in the unaware audience.

The unaware are fickle, and figuring out how to get the right audience in the first place, then ensuring the optimal messaging is in place at the right time is only going to be learned through experimentation.

I would go as far to say that unless you bake measuring and experimentation into everything you do, establish benchmarks and take a data driven approach to all decisions made you’ll be underwhelmed with the success.

Wrap Up

Offline marketing has some serious limitations and constraints that digital can overcome. If we frame our digital marketing in the same terms and constraints as our offline marketing, then we’ll miss the whole opportunity.

Digital is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities available for firms to tap into a whole new source of leads. Yes, the unaware is a tough market but digital equips you with the right tools to get the job done.

There’s no silver bullet. It takes work, intelligence and a willingness to step outside the box of what has typically defined marketing in an offline world.

For those who are prepared to venture in that direction, and turn marketing into something that looks more like a lead generation laboratory will find a source of new business that can be turned on and off, continuously improved and generate brand new high value clients.

Finally, should you ditch Yellow Pages for SEO?

Probably (insert disclaimer)! But don’t let your preconceived expectation of “Yellow Pages” frame your thinking. Your greatest opportunity in Google search is so much more than it being a glorified business directory designed to capture those who are “ready to buy”.

Your greatest opportunity is with those who are not looking for you? Yes, SEO is still your friend but you need to be a bit smarter – a topic for another day.


In part 3 (coming soon) I’ll take a look at the platforms and where they fit in the new paradigm.


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