Here’s why you need to change your thinking on how you market your business

How failure can lead to the most important secret in marketing.

Here’s why you need to change your thinking on how you market your business

James Wood
James Wood
Author, web designer, lover of future things.
James Wood
James Wood
Author, web designer, lover of future things.

Okay folks, story time. This is how I learned about the most important secret at the heart of all marketing.

Before I took my freelance business full time, I worked in the Marketing team of a moderately large company whose name I’ll skip over to spare its blushes. It was a very Sales heavy place where Marketing was a small bolt-on, largely concerned with designing brochures and flyers for salesfolk to take to client meetings. It was an old-school place, with a large and expensive Sales team and virtually no marketing -- no paid ads, no content, a couple of ad-hoc blogs here and there.

Each day would bring in more requests for more client-specific print material, while our ideas for trying new marketing campaigns fell on largely deaf ears. If you could just phone up potential customers, why would you waste money on web stuff? There was a definite view that online marketing was faddy.

The way we finally managed to transform things changed the way I looked at marketing for good.

Experimentation changed everything

As all good ideas seem when we look back at them through rose-tinted specs, the solution was very simple. We’d run small scale experiments of our marketing ideas, get results and customer feedback on them and use all of this precious data to put forward suggestions based on proven effectiveness, customer satisfaction and return on investment.

Great Scott! Learn from the best: experimenting gets results.

This was more than a change of presentation. This idea became the heart of everything I now do in marketing and web design.

Here are the big lessons we learned in those early days of experimentation.

1: Don’t always believe what you think you know

Everyone makes assumptions based on their past experience. It’s the only way we can get anything done. But in marketing and design, it’s a dangerous trap to fall into. You end up saying that you know more about what your customers want than your customers do.

This, to put it mildly, is cobblers.

By running experiments of your best ideas, you’ll get real-world feedback from the people whose business you’re trying to win. And you’ll be surprised. I certainly was when we first started doing it. Almost all of our existing marketing material was shown to be too detailed and complicated for users and this drove us back to the drawing board to build something that prioritised what our customers were actually looking for.

2: Actually listen to people engaging with your stuff

This is frequently done in web design these days, but it’s equally valuable for marketing, content and product design. Get your prototype advert / web page / blog post / product in front of some real customers and let them feed back to you as they’re engaging with it. These first reactions will tell you a huge amount about how people will react to it in the real world.

Here's a terrible meme, but its logic is flawless.

If you have to explain anything, that’s a fail. Go back and find a way to make it more approachable and easier to digest.

A lot of the advertising and web landing pages we tried to do in those early days was shown to be over-wordy and bloated with information people didn’t really want that early in their conversation with us. By the following year we’d reimagined every brochure and flyer the business used, and matched up our landing pages to carry on that streamlined, focused story for customers to follow.

3: Make dealing with you the easiest part of someone’s day

People are busy and stressed. Their days are full of deadlines and interruptions and various pains in various arses. Make sure that any interaction they have with you is effortless.

While you’re running your marketing experiments, make sure you pay special attention to anything described as ‘difficult’ or ‘complicated’. Your testers are telling you that they wouldn’t do it if they had a choice, and due to the magic of capitalism, there will always be another choice. Don’t obscure yourself out of business.

if people can’t be bothered to spend time interacting with you, it really doesn’t matter how good your product is

The feedback we got when we first started experimenting showed us that almost every one of our customer interactions could use improvement. From a UX redesign of the website’s booking function to a rethink of our printed material into tablet-based dynamic content, we learned that we could delight customers by being just a little more thoughtful about how they interacted with us.

Make sure that throughout your customer journeys that information is easy to find, that it's easy to talk to you and discover new things about your services. Because if people can’t be bothered to spend time interacting with you, it really doesn’t matter how good your product is; no one will see it.

A new world of better connections

This change of approach drastically changed the way my old company viewed the Marketing team. Suddenly we could prove the effectiveness of what we were suggesting: hard evidence of how well something worked, regardless of what people presumed.

Preaching at customers is a relic of the past

But the lesson was much more valuable than that. By including the customer in the design process, I learned about a better way to think about marketing. It went from being a way to broadcast to people to being the start of a conversation, which has proved time and time again to be hugely valuable to businesses I’ve dealt with.

Preaching at customers is a relic of the past. Conversation is the new way. So find out what they think of what you’re doing as often as you can. Your bottom line will thank you for it.