Marketing is really messy because we, as agency or retailer marketers, work it from the inside out.

In my work with agencies and retailers, I see a near universal problem –  the marketer focuses on what is closest to them, rather than what their clients buy. For instance, retail clients buy products from brands. But the retailers tend to overweight their brand advertising, or their discounts, because they feel as if that is what makes them different and that will lead the consumer to them. Agencies often market their culture or their awards because that is what they feel makes them different. But clients (and I can so this with authority because I have been a C-level buyer on the client side and I have run multiple agency searches for clients) don’t buy culture. Agency clients buy result sets, strength of process and transparency of communication. In the same way that retailers oversell brands, agencies oversell their softer assets.

But if a client came to an agency, and said “Please promote my company culture…” the agency would say, “Sure, we can make that part of of the story, but we need to focus on your client results and experience. Your culture is a feature of working with you, not the reason.” Culture is the facilitator of results and process, not the cause. Agencies with great people culture create better results because more people in the agency can create great results, but it is the ability of the agency to create results in the first place that is amplified by culture, not created by culture.

If you dropped the average retailer VP of E-Commerce and asked them to evaluate another retailer’s marketing, I can almost guarantee that they would NOT hop onto the retailer’s website first, they’d look at the advertising. They would look for products in Google Shopping, or they’d look for locations first. Brand experience is a post-click seller. Getting the click is the first sale.

When you are learning to more effectively land business as an agency or retailer, you have to conquer the inside out conundrum. You are immersed in your culture or brand. That is the primary driver of YOUR experience as an employee, or an executive. It makes sense that you should want to promote those things. However, your clients BUY from the outside in. They have a different frame of reference.

Clients & retail customers buy because you solve some kind of problem or satisfy some desire. Your brand or culture facilitate that solution, but neither is the solution. Your job, as marketers is to be empathetic to and understand deeply the needs, desires and concerns of your ideal target client. Your structures and stories of brand, process, culture are places where you build authority and authenticity to allow your clients and customers to buy from you without fear. But remember that they aren’t buying those supports, they are buying the product or service that you offer, first and foremost. The rest is window dressing that helps them justify the purchase.

It doesn’t matter if you are selling services or products, what you are really selling is relief. You relieve the pain of marketing that isn’t performing well, or a website experience that doesn’t match what the client’s vision if you are an agency. You relieve the discomfort of “want” that a consumer has when their current “thing” no longer matches their needs or their vision of what their life will be post-purchase. Neither client nor consumer is buying brand or culture. They buy relief.

Remember that when you start your next campaign – market from the outside in – with empathy and respect for the client/consumer need. Understand their pain, provide their relief. Your brand is then psychologically part of that feeling of relief. By selling the end of discomfort, you create an emotional response in the client/consumer, and that endorphin release that they have becomes the emotional attachment to your brand or culture or process or whatever you feel facilitates the delivery of the relief.

Regardless of what you sell, your clients/consumers alway buy relief. Marketers – do for yourself what you would do for others. Sell what is bought, not the things that make it possible to buy it. It sounds simple, but it is hard to remember. Market from the outside in.

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