How to avoid mistaking what’s desirable for your business for what’s important for your users

Andrew Okhota, Head of Product, MacUpdate

We all know a group of people can achieve way more than one person. We get together to do something that we are not capable of doing on our own — whether it’s hanging around with friends, volunteering or creating business. However, teams are prone to biases that may lead to creating an echo chamber and shifting priorities of your business from what’s important for your users to what’s desirable for your business.

In this article we’re going to talk about crucial mistakes you should avoid when creating and executing your marketing strategy. Marketing strategy is the communication strategy of your product. While planning and executing this strategy keep in mind that you should tell a coherent story about your product and whatever you say right now will influence how users react to your product in the future. This implies certain limitations on how your product can be promoted. You are not simply running ads to get clicks.

Think about what are you trying to accomplish by running this marketing campaign. Who are the audience that you’re trying to reach? What will the users see? Will they understand the value of your product? Regardless the size of your business, you always want to create sustainable system that creates value for the users.

This article is a bit of a teaser for the next articles I’m going to write. And also it mostly relates to B2C products. Later we will talk about B2B products and look deeper into the issues mentioned in this article, so stay tuned.

1. People will respond immediately

Here’s the first, very common mistake. Sometimes businesses think that their message will cut through the buzz and will instantly get attention of their potential user. Businesses tend to rationalise this in a number of different ways, including: users will notice our message and switch to our product from whatever they’re using right now because our product is awesome, unique, efficient etc. And although they could be right, they will still fail to get attention from their target audience.

You need to build a brand that users will recognise and a product users will trust. Marketing efforts should continue the story of your brand.

Every day dozens of businesses battle for potential clients’ attention. They present their solutions to the potential users through different platforms via different media formats in circumstances of ever decreasing attention span and trust of a user. When AT&T placed their first banner on in 1994, they have got a stunning Click-Through Rate (or CTR) of 44%. Here’s what their banner looked like:

First AT&T banner ad

As you can see, AT&T were not trying that hard to deliver clear, thought-out message to the users. Most of the ads that advertisers use right now are way better than this one. However, the way people perceive advertising has changed. Back in 1994 there were less people on the internet and people perceived the internet as a safe place with tons of credible information available. Now things are way different and you can consider yourself lucky if your average CTR with display advertising campaign is 0.08%.

Always keep in mind that every person’s attention and trust gets constantly abused both online and offline. So no matter how valuable your idea is, you can shout it out, but you shouldn’t expect that everyone hears you. Some people will notice your message. And usually less than 0.1% of those who notice it will actually show interest in it.

The best way to improve your results is to build your brand based on trust, care and value. Yes, there is always someone who wants to abuse the attention of a user, and there’s always someone who puts their KPIs above the needs of the users. But if you’d like to stay long time on the market and build sustainable product, you should put value for the users above your financial interests and build you business on what users actually need.

Start your media strategy with learning about your users:

  • Who are they?
  • Where do they live?
  • What media do they read?
  • What do they do?
  • What pains to they have?
  • How do you help to ease these pains with your product?
  • Is there anything they are using right now instead of your product?

This is just a preliminary list of questions you may want to ask your users before defining what media channels you need and how exactly you want to market your product on these channels. Remember that it takes time to build trust with users, but as soon as you succeed, you’ll notice that much more users recognize your message and tend to show interest to what you have to offer.

2. Benchmarking and media planning

It’s wise to be careful when making forecasts and defining benchmarks. Let’s take a look into some of the most important factors that you should consider when making forecasts and the practices you may use to create benchmarks.

We live in the times of uncertainty, and our ability to forecast the outcomes of our actions impacts our results greatly. People tend to oversimplify things and forecasting is not an exemption. For example: our ad on website has 1.5% CTR, and even though we spend only 3% of our media budget on, we expect that the ads on other websites should have similar response (they won’t). It may be tempting to presume that the results we’ve seen once with certain media platform or an ad format will repeat on another platforms and/or ad formats, but the forecast built on this presumption will lead to unrealistic expectations from your marketing efforts.

As we have already discovered, marketing is about people. You may use numbers and KPIs to describe users’ behavior, however the numbers will most likely indicate correlation, rather than causation. Therefore the first thing you would like to start with when creating the marketing strategy is defining who you users are, how do they live and where you expect to find them.

Once you create the portrait (or portraits) of your core audience, you will have more clues to your marketing strategy, such as which geography you should target, when and where you should invest more in marketing. For example: you decide to target younger audience who are social, live in the New York metropolitan area, travel each day to their main job by public transport and prefer to hang out with their friends on weekend. Therefore maybe you shouldn’t invest much in advertising on Facebook, and look into Instagram instead. Maybe you should try offline advertising? Maybe guerrilla marketing? Maybe your audience reads Vice and you should try running ads on Vice. You get the point.

Media, ad formats, landing pages, your website and product will influence the results of your marketing efforts as well. Different users prefer different media, and different media provides different experience for its users. Make sure that the message you use in your marketing is coherent with what your product does. You should also follow the principle of continuity to create positive user experience (UX): every next step that user takes down your funnel continues the story that you told on the previous steps.

Before planning your media budgets and scheduling campaigns it will be a good idea to get benchmarks on how certain platforms and ad formats may work for what your product. You can  get a benchmark is by running an advertising campaign by yourselves. This way you will touch the water and get higher degree of confidence about the results you are likely to achieve. You may also find benchmarks by asking your fellow marketers from another businesses, or by looking up the benchmarks online. I would recommend using all the information available to you when defining benchmarks. Keep in mind that according to the Parkinson’s law any task can inflate until all of the available time is spent. Therefore I would also recommend to define the deadline when you should have the benchmarks forehand. It may take up to 3 weeks, but usually less than that.

Once you know the results you want to achieve and benchmarks, you’re ready to plan the budget for your media campaigns. Unless you are in a hurry, it will be best to start slow, running campaigns on low volumes for a month or so to make sure that everything works as it should  before scaling up.

Be cautious while planning and be brave when implementing. Remember, that the more optimistic your forecast is, the lesser is the probability of achieving it. From the risk management standpoint realistic forecasts make a lot of sense.

The second part of the article on the main mistakes businesses make in their marketing strategies will be published soon. Stay tuned!