Long until I started working for a startup, and until I had experience running my business ventures, I had a very different understanding of the sales and marketing cycle. Like everyone else, I believed that Sales was more valuable, more lucrative, and earned more money. I was going after Sales roles because that is where the commissions and customers were. And sales is easy to pick up.
I had a sequential diagram in my mind about the process, which went like this:
What is wrong with this perspective? Quite a few.
Once customers know about the product, they will queue up to buy the product. And from then onwards, the magic of Sales takes over.
2. Competition will be quiet, and whatever competition exists in the space we operate in, is meek.
3. Customers have long-lasting memories, and once built, brand loyalty is forever to stay like an Indian marriage, no matter how bad the product/service is.
Before writing further, I want to state that I have the greatest regard for Sales. It requires exceptional personal qualities — hustle, communication, energy, perseverance, taking things to closure, people skills, and a never quit attitude. I respect all of that, and it is hard.
But that stops there. In the world that we are in, an organization’s revenue is no longer dependent on the sales organization’s interpersonal skills. With due respect to Brian Tracy and others, the era that sold cars and insurance are out.
In today’s world, all of us are in technology sales. Be it a food product, or a fashion boutique, or a digital marketing agency, we are all in the business of selling technology. And the beautiful part about that is, technology sells itself. A beautiful website, a stellar e-commerce platform, extraordinary user design, excellent support desk — these are all tools that put the sales process on steroids. In fact, due to all this, I imagine a world where sales, solely dependent on people skills alone, will be dead, if not already.
Selling a product by selling a feature or its benefits is long gone. Customers have all the tiny handheld data in today’s world, which spews information in beast mode. Customers research without any assistance from the brand, and make purchase decisions before seeing the product physically. The handheld is now the sales team.
Then, how do we connect to customers beyond that threshold?
Follow the paradigm shift in selling a WHY and connecting with the customers at their core. Innovation, messaging, and Genius are required now in marketing. If a product fails at that, there is no future for that product.
The question then is, How to build that Genius into marketing?
Before we get there, let us recollect the following ads launched by big brands and spot the trend that we marketers should follow.
Nike — campaigning for women to dream crazier!
Gillette — No more boys will be boys!
L’oreal — ban bossy!
What has the product got to do anything with these ads? None. Did it get the brands more customers? Yes. Are they the ones growing exponentially? Yes.
The brands never tried to promote a single feature about the product. Featuring the product, they delivered a key message of principle, ideology, and value.
I stay at Airbnb, wear Nike, wear L’Oreal products, and never have a salesperson make any effort to sell those products. I am sold out on these products. Marketing had done its job. The online system and the seamless sales process that the brands built, followed by the distribution strategy, made it easy to buy. The quality of the product made me so proud to wear it and talk about it. And I came to know about these products through others/referrals and some brilliantly made viral product videos.
If the marketing effort had not convinced me, I would never have thought about buying the product in the first place.
What is marketing in the new normal, therefore?
Three kinds of marketing strategies, based on the product niche/customers, to spot where the brand fits and take it from there.
Value based marketing
Value-based marketing articulates the shared values and culture of the board room to the market. It is essential to have the brand speak up for that vision — A cause or a purpose that is also relevant. Microsoft pivoted towards social causes such as climate change, Nike for women in sports, L’oreal for equal importance to women. These are burning issues that a large portion of the population is concerned about today. These have a social impact.
A value-based marketing strategy requires exceptional communication and messaging skills. This approach’s benefit is that a cause that has picked up momentum can do wonders for the brand. However, the risk is that the brand should genuinely contribute to the cause, message it subtly, and win over customers’ hearts. Just great messaging and not working for the cause could dent the brand image forever. The data has to be convincing. So, in essence, the brand runs two businesses — a product & a value.
Start by articulating the value or cause to customers and champions that care the most for it.
Here is an excellent referral and detailed writing on how to create value and market it to customers from our very own medium blog:
Emotion based marketing
Not every product and brand needs to fit into value marketing. It is also a possible strategy to stoke emotions if your brand can. Usually, products that kindle emotions have to do with food, games, movies, entertainment, etc. They are all likely candidates to appeal to emotion.
For instance, Disney kindles happiness, and Apple stands for quality, RedBull stands for audacity. They blow your mind in different ways, but the idea is to stoke a strong emotion.
Emotions are universal. Even someone who is not brave and bold, when they see the actions performed by Redbullers, truly creates a sense of awe in them. But clearly, Redbull is not for everyone. Every customer may not buy them. But the brand likeability increases with a growing emotional connection with the brand. No one says No to Disney or to McDonald’s or Ben & Jerry.
Check out this ad from Redbull. Does it give you goosebumps?
For emotional marketing to work, it is essential to play to the customer mindset. Emotions vary with age groups. What thrills a teen might scare the old. Choose the feeling wisely, and promote the product subtly. In the above ad for Redbull, there was no display of the drink anywhere. Now, that is powerful. It calls for identity buying rather than compulsive selling.
Find the emotion, align the branding to that emotion and create compelling stories out of it. These stories have to challenge the status quo and shatter boredom.
Change based marketing
Change based marketing is for brands that stand for a change. Such as Tesla for lower carbon emissions, Dove for a makeup-free woman, AirBnB for local stays, amazon for online retail shopping. They introduce a new normal and disrupt the industry with innovation.
Bringing about a change by challenging the status quo and then building a loyal customer base is the most long-drawn, most challenging, yet the most rewarding business to be in, out of all.
Change is never easy. People meet change with resistance and disbelief. Unless the product reaches a mass adoption level, the marketing team needs to work overtime to sustain the small set of followers and grow the new.
In such cases, referral marketing and the brand spreading itself through brand ambassadors is the best route. We need the tribes and early adopters to be champions. The best marketing strategy is openly to ask for referrals and create evidence. But still, should you do marketing for the product, explicitly show the product or the experience in action and customers using it. Go for hands-on.
For example, “amazon go” ad is like:
Marketing requires far bigger thinking and proper alignment with customers in value, emotion, or call for change.
When marketing has done its job well, there is a healthy lead going into Sales. Sales then become being friendly, giving a human face to all the marketing effort that went in and in building a relationship.
Marketing is creativity, communication & connection - the three big C’s of profit. Marketing has stolen the magic from sales. Welcome to the digital era.
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