7 min read

The Importance of Truly Understanding Your Target Market

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Marketing Fail #137: What the NCAA "Big Dance" Basketball Tournament taught us about excellent data that reflected poor results.

Are your marketing campaigns performing well by traditional metrics, but don't seem to impact your prospect relationships or revenue growth the way you expected?

Or, have you ever had to come up with a quickie campaign to promote a sudden event or a new product initiative without having the time to really do the the necessary pre-work of segmenting the target audience, defining the personas involved, and ensuring there's a good message-to-market fit?

Or, perhaps a company executive approached you with a request to run a one-off campaign to supplement a recently missed sales target? 

"Here's what we need this campaign to be about and here's the list of people I want you to send it to. It worked great at my last company" - Something your Sales VP might say

(I know it happens because I even did it to myself.)

How will you know if this campaign achieved what you thought it would?

What Does the Data Tell You?

A common response in the age of marketing automation and CRM systems is to ask - "what does the data tell you?"

Well, take a look at our recent email campaign metrics:

Email #1

  • Open Rate = 40%
  • Click-Through-Rate = 34%

Email #2

  • Open Rate = 50%
  • Click-Through-Rate = 25%

Email #3

  • Open Rate = 42%
  • Click-Through-Rate = 47%

Not bad huh? At first glance, you'd probably say these were pretty good statistics, and they are. That's part of the problem. Your data can be misleading if it's not used in the right context.

Our Great idea for a campaign

So, what was our campaign about?

I wanted to do something lighthearted and fun with our prospects, customers, partners and even friends and family. Building a community network has always been a big part of what we wanted Organic Endeavors to be about. What's more fun than playing a game?

The annual NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, aka the "Big Dance" or "March Madness" is an extremely popular sporting event that takes over the sporting world for 4 weeks every March and April.

For the first week, it's a complete overdose of basketball games going non-stop for 12 straight hours across 3 different TV channels. It's filled with dramatic games, incredible shots, and upsets to the point that it has become synonymous with a "Cinderella Story".

It's so popular that almost every company has some guy that runs the office pool which sparks inter-office debates and trash talking for weeks - if not years.

We'd often been a part of similar contests while working in corporate roles in the past and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Besides, if it was free to participate, what was there to lose?

And to be honest, I personally loved participating in a Big Dance contest every year. It makes the games so much more exciting when you are pulling for one team or another to earn more points for your contest entry. And if there was a way to combine something I loved with what our prospects and customers would enjoy, it would be a perfect match. Except...

Where we Went wrong

Here's where we missed the boat and you may have already figured it out.

It's been said: the only thing worse than aiming at the target and missing it is aiming at the wrong target and hitting it.

To put it simply, we weren't connecting with important segments of our target market.

We had focused on what we wanted more than what our target audience wanted (and succeeded).

If we take a step back and look at why we ran the campaign, who our target market was and what they wanted from their interactions with us, we began to see we weren't getting the engagement and resulting types of conversations that we wanted to have with our key target market - namely CMO's and Marketing Directors that used HubSpot or Salesforce.

In the initial work we did to formulate one of our key personas - CMO's/Marketing Directors - we observed that most of them were women, and most women simply aren't that in to the Men's NCAA basketball tournament. Curiously, we also found that even many of the men we invited didn't care to follow a college basketball tournament.

Furthermore, most of the women weren't as in to betting contests as a form of entertainment,  and many of the executives just didn't have the time to submit an entry - making it a miss on multiple counts.

So, our campaign ended up bending towards the wrong targets even though it appears we hit them pretty well. We had great numbers, but it doesn't matter how good your numbers are if you are capturing the wrong target audience.

For example, when we went back to look at our participation rates over the years, we noticed that even though we had a female winner in 2019, she was one of only three women participants (and she wasn't even a marketer - though she was an excellent sales person and her talented sister was in marketing giving us one valuable connection as a result.)

Also, it's important to note that the campaign offered nothing in the way of educational value. It was simply for entertainment and fun.

But if we are going to invest in fun, we'd prefer to be having fun with our target market.

So, after 9 years of sponsoring the Big Dance contest, we are discontinuing this as a formal marketing campaign (while continuing to informally pick NCAA brackets with friends and partners).

What Should you Measure?

This leads us to the eternal question for marketing: how do you know if your marketing programs are successful or not?

Too often, the trite answer is: collect data and measure!

But what kind of data are you collecting and what do you really want to measure?

Just knowing who your target market is by itself won't do much.

Measuring engagement or "vanity metrics" alone are also generally worthless.

Real marketing is doing the hard to work to combine them - valuable engagement with your target market.

Ultimately you want to gather insight into what resonates with your target market. What does your target audience want and then helping them determine what do they need?

And even this seemingly simple question can be broken down into 3 core components that can be measured differently:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What do they want?
  3. What do they need?
The Three Foundations of a SUCCESSFUL Go-To-Market Campaign

Target Audience

As we've hopefully shown here, if you aren't interacting with your Target Audience (your Ideal Client Profile and associated key Personas), you literally don't know what you are aiming at and you are probably wasting time and resources. It's sometimes derided as a waste of time to develop "Marketing Mary" persona templates, but if you do it right, it will help guide you toward finding new customers.

Persona Wants

You need to get into the head of your key personas and really wrestle with what it is they want -

  • What motivates them?
  • What do they struggle with?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What do they aspire to?
  • How do they make decisions?

In our case, it was almost even simpler than that - what was their gender? We neglected the fact that most Marketing Directors are women who don't want to follow men's basketball. It was neither a motivating event nor an entertaining event for them.

Persona Needs + Solutions

Going beyond a simple marketing promotion, you will want the resulting your interactions to lead to a meaningful conversation that goes beyond what they want and explore what they really need.

The mapping between a need and the possible solutions is critical because even though your target audience wants something, it may not actually be what they ultimately need. While they almost certainly understand there is a problem that needs to be fixed, they may not fully understand exactly how to fix it or the various options they have in fixing it.

That's why it's very important to take the time to understand as much about what your prospect "thinks" or "feels" they need because you may be able to help them discover something even better for them (hopefully your solution!). This is how you begin to build a tighter relationship with your prospects and position your solution as better than your competitor's solution and even better than what your persona thinks they want. 

For example, a prospect may think they need a new CRM to get better reporting, but in reality, they may just need to adjust the processes inside CRM they already have or integrate tighter with their Marketing Automation Platform.


Lessons Learned:

Begin with the End in Mind - Before you just run a random campaign, seek to understand what your ultimate prospect or customer experience goal should be and how you are going to measure to insure your progress toward this expectation.

Segment Your Data - It's really hard to see trends, make comparisons, and measure your progress without clearly delineated data and labels so you can measure the differences that matter. In our case, tracking the personas, job roles, and the genders of the contacts in our campaigns.

Know Your Target Personas - Really get to know your target market. Take the time stop and clearly document your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and your key personas. It really helps you begin to put yourself in their shoes and understand them better, which will drive better marketing and sales throughout your organization.

Create Valuable Engagement - It should be more about them and less about you. Use your knowledge of your target personas to make sure what you are providing them is valuable. Validate often. 

Know when to adjust and correct - If you steer off course, make the necessary course corrections. Use data whenever possible. Don't be afraid to invest in a different approach is your initial attempts don't work as well as you expected.


Need help setting up and measuring against your targets? We'll make sure the next time you run a campaign you can track the meaningful data instead of the fluff. Just drop us a line - we'd love to help!