Sometimes marketing is a relatively simple process. But what if the product or service you’re trying to promote and market is … well, to put it bluntly, boring?
Lisa Schwarz, senior director of global product marketing at Oracle NetSuite, knows quite a bit about this challenge. Her job is to market software that handles some of a business’s least-sexy tasks. NetSuite provides Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) through a bundled business management system for companies, from accounting to inventory management and beyond.
These are essential services for any business of any size, but they’re usually not the main reason your prospects are in business. And both companies and consumers share that kind of experience. We all have to do things we’re not excited about because there are things we’d much rather be doing. And with post-pandemic marketing becoming even more of a challenge, it can be difficult to think of new ways to reach your customers, whether you’re a B2B or B2C brand.
How do you market products and services related to those dreaded tasks? One way is by tying them to the sexy ones.
Find the hero of your marketing story
One way to generate more interest among customers or clients is by finding the hero of the story in your marketing. “It’s really how you tell the story,” Schwarz says. “So who’s going to be the hero for the story? We always look at it this way: Our customers are the hero, and we’re Alfred back in the bat cave.”
Think about your hero (your customer or prospect) and how you can serve as the sidekick to their hero’s journey. In what ways can your brand help the hero achieve the goal and defeat the enemy, whatever that might be? Framing your prospect as the hero of their own story helps them see themselves in your marketing message and gives them a boost of engagement with your brand.
Challenge old habits
When you’re working with unsexy tasks and boring processes, companies and individuals get stuck in a mindset of Well, this is the way we’ve always done it. As a business grows, it can quickly size out of its often cobbled-together systems. Yet at the same time, it’s challenging to even entertain the thought of trying something new.
For Netsuite, many typical customers still use spreadsheets and entry-level programs for their accounting processes. It can be difficult to get them to challenge these old systems. “Believe it or not, there are still $10 million, $15 million companies on spreadsheets — or Aunt May is doing the books once a month on smaller, more entry-level applications,” Schwarz says. “They’re just realizing their business is growing and there are too many manual processes that they’re having to spend time on. It’s taking their time away from fulfilling orders.”
To move a growing business (or an individual consumer) off the “old way” into something new, you’ll need to soften that resistance to change. Part of the marketing strategy in this case is helping them get excited about the new time they will free up to accomplish higher-level business tasks. Use the following steps to do that.
Focus on the customer’s mission
Marketers should tell their stories in a way that communicates the brand’s UVP and addresses pain points for specific users and prospects. Schwarz says effective B2B marketing helps corporate customers stay focused on their missions. What is it that they’re trying to achieve, outside the context of the problems your brand can solve? What’s their overarching goal, their reason for existing?
In the case of NetSuite, she says, “No one is waking up and really excited about [mundane accounting] tasks, so that’s where we focus our storytelling — on what they’ve been able to achieve, because they’ve been able to automate these manual processes, and that allows us to add in a bit more excitement.”
Define how you help them achieve that mission
Your product or service might have nothing to do with the customer’s mission in a direct sense. That’s where you need to think more strategically. What’s your role in supporting your customer in their quest to fulfill their mission or attain their most cherished objectives? What can you do better than anyone else to help them conquer frustrating obstacles and achieve their goals?
Removing a time-sucking, annoying, repetitive task definitely counts, but show how that frees them up to do more interesting and important work. “Some of what we provide is the automation of [critical] processes,” Schwarz says. “Again, it could be based on spreadsheets or even very manual processes. So what we’re trying to do is take some of that manual time out of a person’s day and automate some of those more tedious, mundane things. We’ve done it. So why focus on that?”
Present use cases to illustrate
Even with a service or product as necessary as business management tools and ERP software, it can be difficult for your prospects to envision how, exactly, that product or service makes life and work easier. In such cases, it helps to paint them a specific, detailed picture of how you can help, whether that’s by resolving a problem, removing an obstacle, getting them closer to a goal or even just freeing up time that they can devote to other, more mission-critical work.
This is the perfect circumstance in which to let your current customers do the heavy lifting for you. Go beyond testimonials to show, either with video or in text, how a current customer uses your brand to achieve goals or remove challenges. Effective content marketing strategies will help distribute these stories.
A lively community of happy customers will be more than amenable to providing a quick video, especially if you can make it as easy on them as possible. Provide someone to take the video, frame a simple script to follow and engage someone who knows how to interview people to draw out the right kind of information. Let your customers tell their own stories in their own words to humanize your brand and make it more relatable.
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“What does success look like for you?”
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