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Finding a Target in the Open Sea—Battling the Six Dirty Words of Marketing

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BOOM!  The explosion was deafening and messy. We’d just been hit by the Six Dirty Words and it wasn’t pretty.

The Six Dirty Words are “We’ve always done it this way,” and they can blast apart a great marketing plan like a battleship gunning a balsa-wood building.

Remember playing the game Battleship?

You and your enemy placed little ships on a game board that represented the ocean. You knew where your ships were but you couldn’t see your enemy’s. The object of the game was to hit all your enemy’s ships before he hit yours. So you just started “shooting.” You had no idea where to fire but you shot anyway. If you were lucky you’d get a hit, but you never really knew. You were shooting in the dark.

I was reminded of Battleship at a meeting, not too long ago. We gathered to discuss the launch of something very important and unusual. Not just another product this; in fact, it wasn’t a product at all. It was a system made up of several products. All together: a unique-in-the-industry system that saved time, money and made installation safer and easier. The problems was: this system was the first of its kind, launched into a world of product selling.

We discussed launch objectives, and when we asked about audience segments and targeting—BOOM—it was Battleship. 

The assumption (BOOM) was we’d advertise the system to a broad audience on the basis of its benefits, since they applied to anyone. Another assumption (BOOM): We’d advertise it using the available media, which offered no audience targeting, no demographic versions. “These media reach everybody, and anyone can benefit from the system. Plus, we don’t have direct marketing lists.” (BOOM). The Six Dirty Words exploded in the room. They had always done it this way. And, they were shooting blindly.

We knew from our research on systems like this that targeting early adopters in a narrower category would be way more efficient and effective. But how to target? Here’s a workable approach that accounts for “invisible” targets and defuses the destructive power of those Six Dirty Words.

Of the whole audience, is there a segment that’s already adopted something very new or similar in concept? For example, has a group in the audience used a subsystem rigged from discrete parts, i.e., a “pre-system” of sorts? A little inexpensive field research can provide insight. Are others trying “new-fangled,” time-saving products on a pilot basis? Clearly, this customer type is more likely to try that new system.

What about media? Can you target when a publisher doesn’t offer any type of demographic selection?

Yes you can. One simple way: by “self-selection.”

For ads, banners and such write headlines and copy that call out to the early adopter. Simplistically: “If you’re saving time with pre-fabs on your projects, you’ll love the productivity boost of this system.”

Use digital served within articles on “new approaches”, “innovative time savers” and “productivity ideas”; these words will call out to the right group. Lastly, and with the help of channel partners, consider e- or direct mail targeted to early adopters. Not only might your field sales allies have great customer lists, but for tighter targeting they may also know who on those lists are trying innovations that promise big improvements.

This go-to-market could take a bit more time, but the strategy can be effective. You seed the “system” among a smaller but more vocal cluster of early adopters. The word spreads, and PR spreads even more words through “proof-of-concept” case histories. Slower-to-accept adopters can be influenced more gradually. In our case, this line of thinking provided the necessary traction to make the “system” an example for the industry.

Don’t get blown away by The Six Dirty Words, defuse them. Next time you hear, “INCOMING,” forget Battleship and consider “Early Adopter.”  Opt to find the right target, not be one.