As we potentially tip over the precipice of (another) economic downturn, the stakes for every buying decision are sky-high. Finance departments are scrutinizing every cent like a thrifty hawk.
That means the challenge for marketers has changed. You’re no longer competing with a crowd of viable alternatives. You’re competing with saving money by doing nothing. And that’s not a fight you’ll win by proving your brand is different, unique, or more buyable than the competition.
It’s not even a fight you’ll win by making people care — there’s not enough urgency behind that.
Caring + urgency
Against a huge backdrop of anxieties about job security and broad economic turmoil, the bar for taking action isn’t caring anymore. It’s giving a fuck.
Giving a fuck is instinctual. Right now, customers choose what to give a fuck about based on sheer pragmatism because not giving a fuck seems less prudent.
So how do you engender that feeling in your marketing — without just turning the Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt dial up to 11?
The simple answer is dialling up the fucks you give about your customers.
The less glamorous reality is small tweaks and nuanced moves that sharpen specific aspects of your story – about what you do and how you can help, right now.
Here are four of them.
1. Understand how your product keeps its relevance in tough times.
Your ideal customer will be struggling with the very thing you’re marketing.
And, ideally, your product will be one that (despite coming with an upfront cost) will help your customer save money (or make money) — fast. But all spend is hard to justify right now — unless you make the case for it unignorable.
To do that, you need to get into your audience’s mindset, at this exact moment. And that means stripping back to the beating heart of the issue. What are they struggling with? What specific KPIs are they laser-focused on? What’s the burning need to solve this right now? What’s the trigger point that will shift your ideal prospect from ‘this is just how things are’ to ‘let me get my card’?
Businesses don’t buy things they don’t need — especially now.
You need to pinpoint:
- a clear, urgent catalyst that leads to your product,
- a credible, compelling reason why it’s more important now than ever before, along with
- the type of person who will benefit from it.
And to do that, you need to:
2. Give a shit about the people your customers are.
In B2B marketing, the individual behind the second B often gets lost.
It’s easy to forget about the ‘them’ part of marketing, when you’re mired in the everyday ‘us’ of the company. You know what the company wants to tell people. But are you sure that’s what your audience wants to hear?
People, not businesses, make decisions in B2B. And when you lose sight of the actual human(s) you’re speaking to, you unnecessarily abstract the value your offering delivers from the individuals that benefit from it.
So, instead of leaning on your established product or tech story, reframe your thinking around an individual. Ask yourself: “What fundamental change does my solution bring to someone’s day?”
- Do you make it easier for Mike McMarketing to understand the people he markets to, so he can go into budget meetings with more confidence?
- Do you help Dani Dev avoid annoying conversations with data security teams?
- Do you help Salesman Steve build rapport with prospects faster?
- Do you help Contact Centre Charlie get that warm glow of fixing customer issues?
Focusing on specific, personal moments like this meets your customers where they are — by putting what you do in their context. It’s much easier to care about something if someone’s done the hard work of translating it into moments you care about already.
3. Show how you specifically make your audience’s Big Problems™ go away.
When every buying decision is under the microscope, you need to make it easy for your customers to go to bat for you.
And while the ‘Feature A leads to Capability B leads to Outcome C’ might be blindingly obvious to you. That’s because you live and breathe your product. (Know it inside-out, outside-in; heard it all before; said it all before; etc, etc.)
But your audience often hasn’t. The link from A to C may not be as intuitive as you think it is — especially across the different people involved in a complex B2B buying journey, who have different starting levels of knowledge.
Developers might know why you need certain features. Team Leads might know what outcomes they need. C-suite decision makers would know what the overall end goal is. But there are probably a whole bunch of new stakeholders you’ll need to think about now that you might not have had to consider before.
(If you’ve spent years refining your story for Developers, but now every purchase needs to be approved by the CFO, then you suddenly need to make them give a fuck too.)
The clearer you link your offering to concrete outcomes (for specific stakeholders), the easier it is for the end-users, economic buyers, and gatekeepers to actually care about it.
It’s your job, as a marketer, to bring that all together and draw explicit links between product features and expected outcomes — across the whole organization.
And while we’re on the subject of your job…
4. Stop shying away from your role as a marketer.
Imagine it now: You’re at a party. Your friend, the host, has disappeared to mingle. You’re left to fend for yourself in a room full of people. Someone, seeing you standing awkwardly alone with your drink in hand, smiles and invites you over to join their group. Introductions are made. Smiles are exchanged. And then the dreaded question comes: “So, what do you do?”
A lot of marketers are embarrassed about being marketers. Part of that is because lots of us fell into it. (Whoops, there we go making assumptions. But hey, there’s a reason why this tweet resonated with so many.)
The result? Frustrated artists, amateur anthropologists, and puzzle-geeks suddenly find themselves in a field that asks them to earnestly care about CRMs, or supply chains, or data warehouses. And it’s tough sometimes. But not doing it isn’t an option. Because that path is what leads to terrible marketing.
The truth is that there are deeply human stories about struggle, ambition, bravery, smarts, and so on everywhere you look. (Yes, even in the context of CRMs and supply chains.)
Your job is to cut through the weeds and find them.
This is especially important now, as buyers retreat into defensive mindsets in a bid to save money. Because customers can tell when you’re faking it.
When your audience is already numb to typical business marketing, going big on empathy and bringing intrinsically human stories to the forefront allows you to bypass those defences with an earnest desire to help.
In short: Really, truly, give a fuck about your audience.
The conventional wisdom still works: Treat your audience like you want businesses to treat you.
But there’s an addendum: You’ve got to do it right now.
Right now, your audience is looking for reasons not to buy. And “this isn’t important right now” is an easy conclusion for them to reach.
So your job right now is to prove you aren’t fat to be trimmed — that you’re worth investing in, even now.
To make your audience give a fuck about you in a time like this, you have to double down on giving a fuck about them.