A lot of companies don't find success with direct response channels like AdWords, Facebook, and Bing Ads because they don't spend enough time running small tests to see if the channel is right for their product and audience. People research and buy products in different ways, so different platforms work better in some industries than others.
Here are some principles that will help you decide whether direct response channels like AdWords and Facebook are the best place to get customers.
You are focused on selling your product — so you go into hunting mode. You find out where your customers live online and then try to gain access to them. But simply knowing the watering holes of your target customer isn't enough. You need to align your selling activity to how your prospect discovers and researches products like yours.
For example, LinkedIn might be an easy place to target lawyers and sell them your enterprise law firm management software. But is this how lawyers typically buy enterprise software?
Context always trumps best practices. Inbound marketing and direct response definitely works better in some industries than others simply because of the different ways buyers discover and research products.
It's all about purchase intent. How does your audience buy your product and how do they use the channel? The concept of the Zebra, by the way, is from an excellent book called Selling to Zebras, which is worth a read.
Lots of digital agencies and clients still have a tendency to view marketing as "campaigns." They plan and execute short bursts of marketing activity. It's a fail or succeed mentality.
Digital marketing, though, has really killed the campaign aspect of selling products. Audience reach is now continual and your selling activities can be iterative. You aren't going to hit a winner on the first swing. To succeed with direct response, you need to test and discover how to improve. Give yourself some time and relax if the sales don't flood in on the first day.
The companies that are killing it online (like AppSumo) give themselves permission to try different tactics. They don't just spend six months planning a big social media ad spend, watch the money float away, and then fire the team.
I began my career in the affiliate space as an account director for Commission Junction, the world's largest affiliate network. I worked for big brands like Adobe, RealNetworks, BlockBuster, and Verizon. The way it worked was this: a big brand gave you $100,000 to spend on media, and by the end of the month, they expected $150,000 back.
Your advertising had to make money.
This experience shaped me. It is the single principle I believe: marketing must be measured in revenue. Agencies that don't do this typically struggle as clients see their services as a cost, not investment.
I learned something very quickly after I left Commission Junction and started One Net Marketing. The tactics that work with big household brands often don't work with small to medium-sized companies and startups. I had less-than-stellar results with customer acquisition at first. I lost my first clients a lot of money. After a while, I discovered a simple formula.
Don't use direct benefits
Most SaaS companies will copy a lot from their larger competitors. So, if QuickBooks has ads that say "easy billing software" a smaller competitor will create an ad that says "simple invoicing software." This is a big mistake. By copying the big brand ad, you are forgetting that unlike your company, the big brand has things you don't. They have established trust and authority — you do not.
... instead, try the indirect approach
If your prospect has never heard of your company, then you need to slow down. Often an indirect approach — such as using curiosity, emotion, or an unexpected headline — is the best way to go.
As markets mature, basic features become expectations by customers. Everyone starts saying and offering the same thing. Once this happens, branding and emotional positioning become the biggest differentiators, even in SaaS and tech.
What the indirect approach looks like
An example of a software company doing it right is YNAB.com, a budgeting software product. They know that the market for budgeting software is crowded and mature. What new feature could you possibly offer when there are hundreds of solutions offering "simple budgeting software," "mobile access," and "easy notifications"?
Instead of chasing a new gimmick or feature that isn't connected to the core value that budgeting software offers, their positioning focuses on emotional support.
The headline plastered on their website is: "gain total control of your money." Their founder says that they haven't been able to beat this headline.
Are you using a direct approach or an indirect approach? I recommend A/B testing these two approaches against each other.
Bonus tip: follow the weight-loss market
As one of the most competitive industries in the world, when a new competitor breaks into the market and builds sales, study their method.
The Insanity product by BeachBody, one of the rising stars, focuses on emotion in their positioning. They don't sell easy weight loss or simple secrets. Instead, they preach hard work and extreme self-mastery. As their success shows, product positioning needs to do two things:
Take your brand and consider your unique positioning. Learn not only how to approach your customers, but how to appeal to them too.
I hope you enjoyed this read.