Consumers Have Stated Their Needs. It’s Time for Marketers to Actually Listen

No more pushing an advertising-focused agenda on them

the outline of a humans head; a megaphone is pointed at the head
It's time for marketers to actually listen to consumer needs. Photo Illustration: Amber McAden, Sources: Getty Images
Headshot of Joe Hyland

As a marketer, it’s always tempting it is to fall for the next fad. A competitor implements a new marketing solution, and your team suddenly needs it, too. At industry conferences, every new product seems like it’d be a perfect fit for your organization. The temptation goes beyond just feeling FOMO. Marketers are always looking to best support their teams.

Entering into an arms race against your fellow marketers is a race to the bottom. Marketers have to be able to ignore the noise from fellow marketers and instead focus on what actually matters: potential buyers.

Let’s take a step back. The rise of the internet in the late 90s, as we all know, revolutionized marketing. Search engines like Yahoo! and exploded, providing marketers with an unprecedented concept: inbound prospects. This was one of the first times consumers could self-educate online (instead of through word-of-mouth) around products they were considering, compare prices and make a purchase online. Soon, the CRM platforms we all know so well came into existence and gained traction. These platforms helped marketers form processes that tracked customer interactions and shuffled consumers down the sales funnel. Marketers gathered more and more data about these interactions and used these measurements to compare against our peers. It was addicting to see how marketing campaigns stacked up against the industry averages.

The problem is not that we’re marketing a lot to consumers, it’s that we’re marketing to other marketers instead of our buyers.

But marketers forgot about what our buyers were actually telling us. We assumed they all wouldn’t mind automated marketing, even when the statistics told us 83 percent of consumers would prefer dealing with a human over digital channels during the customer journey. Marketers started navel gazing and only listening to each other.

When measuring a click-through rate, for example, marketers can benchmark it against industry averages. But do you actually know what the reaction to that click was? How did that click impact an organization’s NPS score? That click may have just resulted in an unsubscribe. The click may have helped a marketer beat the industry average, but that’s a short-sighted approach if it’s not a part of a larger campaign focused on holistic engagement with consumers and trying to actually read their digital body language.

Marketers became blinded by the funnel and processes we developed. It became the end-all, be-all. Marketers began assuming that all interactions with customers were the same, that all customers behaved the same way and that our approach to each should be the same. We created an assembly line marketing funnel, rather than truly engaging with prospects. We knew better: Nearly 60 percent of marketers say it’s difficult to recreate human interactions online. But it was convenient to create a one-size-fits-all marketing approach and ignore the fact that consumers wanted more personalized engagement.

Now marketers need to take action. How? Start by forgetting your industry benchmarks for data and prioritize gathering insights on your buyers. Doubling down on your NPS score isn’t always the sexiest approach, but it is effective. That’s because promoters of your brand forgive your mistakes, expand their purchases, renew their subscriptions and promote your brand to others. If this were a political campaign, you can think of promoters as your base. You need to cultivate that base and grow it.

Educating yourself is also vital: Demand Gen Report found that 92 percent of potential buyers say that vendors should approach them with personalized insights about what their organization needs. You may not be able to be that granular, but marketers should understand the different nuances of each industry they are marketing to. If an organization is selling to the healthcare industry, marketers should know their way around HIPAA requirements, healthcare language and key pain points facing administrators, like siloed departments and outdated IT infrastructure. They should poll prospects and understand their persona: how old they are, what their general sentiment is toward your offering, their location, etc. All this information helps build a digital profile and effectively engage with them.

We’ve treated people like they are all the same and that they all follow the rigid funnel we’ve created. And now they’ve actually all responded in the same way: They want to be anonymous and undiscoverable. The problem is not that we’re marketing a lot to consumers, it’s that we’re marketing to other marketers instead of our buyers.

If we keep automating marketing to the point of our current rate, the problem will get worse. Millennials and members of Gen Z have grown up on their smartphones, they’ve been exposed to native ads and are unbelievably adept at sniffing out when marketers are being inauthentic.

Ironically, while so many industries have been disrupted by direct to consumer brands, marketers have simultaneously gotten more caught up in ourselves instead of our buyers, creating a layer of disconnect between us and consumers. We should all take a look at how we can be more authentic, direct and personalized in our engagement with our buyers, or we should start looking for a new job.

@mojoehyland Joe Hyland is the chief marketing officer at ON24.