Saturday, July 23, 2005

Nothing Changes Overnight


I was challenged the other day by a CMO who was skeptical of contextual marketing. “It sounds great but it’s mostly smoke and mirrors,” he said.

As we dug into the conversation, it turns out he was looking for a magic bullet that would transform his business overnight. He was curious, but skeptical.

Because of this attitude, he was unable to make the first step away from traditional marketing toward a model with more promise.

He was like the guy who listened to the radio and heard about this new thing called a television. His family wanted a television, but he was convinced it would never work. So he stayed with his radio. Then when TV seemed like it was working, he kept hearing about newer models coming out with bigger screens. So he waited. Then he heard color TV was coming. So he waited. His friends were all enjoying their televisions and he was listening to the radio.

The CMO who saw contextual marketing as a gimmick had two things wrong.

First, he didn’t really have a strong fix on who his prospective customers were. From his point of view, they were all the same – they were department heads at Fortune 1000 companies. Well, yes, I admitted, that demographic does describe an important factor about them. It is the starting point of a journey; not the end. If all you know about me is my job title, you will not win my business. That’s the 2% Marketing Model that is doomed because it does not return enough value back to the company.

Second, almost nothing changes overnight. Speed to market is a powerful competitive weapon, but changing a market rapidly happens only rarely, and most of us cannot count on striking the rare gold mine. Marketing is hard work, and contextual marketing is a slow build-up process that requires vision and commitment. You cannot press a button and poof … out pops a database loaded with the behaviors that drive individual customers from discovery, to trust, to purchase.

You cannot boil the ocean all at once.

The ocean is to big to boil and the market is too big to attack at once. In fact, the key to starting a contextual marketing program is to narrowcast. Chop the broad masses into smaller chunks. Use outbound initiatives that are designed to whittle prospects into manageable clusters. Make them offers that reveal their attitudes and behaviors. And tighten the profiles further. Learn with each initiative. Over time, you will build the database that gives you unparalleled understanding of your prospective and current customers. You can then make offers that will catch their attention because you are tuned into their situation. It’s not rocket science; it is slow, steady work done consistently and with passion. And it will work.

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