Updated: Jun 30, 2021
New projects are hard. Maybe you’re changing jobs, maybe you’ve landed a new client. No matter the circumstances, new projects always bring with them some unknowns. You might not be familiar with your product, with the target audience, or even the whole industry. But how do you market something you don’t know?
Well, the short answer is “you don’t”. You can try, but talking about something you don’t understand to an audience you don’t know is a surefire recipe to crash and burn.
Difference between good and bad marketers
Researching and understanding your customers is a key competency you need to practice and cultivate as a marketer. It’s in my opinion what separates good marketers from bad ones.
Good marketers treat every project as an opportunity to expand and refine their knowledge. They seek to understand the customer, their pains, and the value proposition of their product. Afterward, they design a strategy accordingly.
Bad marketers have a set of moves they tend to fall back on. They throw the same shit at different audiences, hoping some of it will stick. If it does, yaaay. If it doesn’t they move on (often involuntarily).
There’s nothing wrong with being a specialist in a certain industry (although it does carry a risk of being pigeon-holed into it). There’s a difference though, between an expert and someone who can only engage with people similar to themself. One is specialized, the other is limited.
Pretending you understand something is only going to alienate your audience and make them distrustful of your brand. It’s up to you to become a genuine expert on the topic if you want to authentically engage with them. So how do you go about that?
Step 1: Get to know your customer
If you want to market something successfully, you need to understand 3 key things:
The broader context of the industry you’re operating in
So let’s start with the first one. Do you already have some customers?
Yes: Great! Talk to them!
No: Well, we all have to start somewhere. Try talking to people you think might be good customers for you. Worst case you’ll discover they’re not a fit early, before burning a significant amount of resources on them.
Whether you’re talking to existing customers, or to a set of potential customers, your goal will be the same. Understand them:
Who are they?
What do they do?
What problems do they need solving?
What pain are these problems causing?
This process is never fully done, so don’t worry about finding out everything. Just find out as much as you can at the moment. The goal is to get enough information that you can link customers' pain to your product. Speaking of product…
Step 2: Dive deep into your product
There are two parts to a value proposition. Understanding the problem and providing a solution. The solution is your product. You need to know your product inside out. To do that, try some of the following:
Go through your entire website and try to soak in as much information as you can. PRO TIP: Make notes on “What you understand the product to be.” This “tabula rasa” point of view will help you evaluate how accurately is your web communicating what your product does later.
Read product documentation. Try to go through all available tutorials, guides, and manuals. You might discover a feature hidden in a manual that solves an important problem for your customer, despite not being mentioned anywhere on your website.
Read customer stories. You can often find use-cases for your product you’ve not thought of before. PRO TIP: When doing future customer stories, just ask your customers where they see the biggest added value. This will help you fine-tune your communication, as well as help your customers decide whether you are the solution for them.
Attend sales demos. The sales team is usually the next point of contact for customers and it’s helpful to see how they explain the product. Ideally, do that with a prospect present. This will allow you to see firsthand what sparks interest, what objections do they have, and what needs further clarification.
Try the product yourself. Duh.
Keep doing these until you can confidently say you know your product in and out. The main goal here is to be able to pair specific features to different pains faced by your customers. Doing this will allow you to complete your value proposition as well as focus your communication on what your customers care about.
Step 3: Learn about the topic/industry
It’s not enough to know just your product though. You need to understand how your product fits into the wider context of the entire industry. To get a clearer picture of what environment are you operating in, try the following:
Find the best blogs in your industry. Read their most popular posts, see what they’ve been covering recently, go through their content upgrades...All of this will broaden your understanding of the industry, as well as give you ideas on what your marketing activities might look like.
Identify experts. Follow them. Industry experts are often the first to identify a hot issue you might want to take a stand on.
Subscribe to newsletters. Oftentimes one or more of the experts will be compiling newsletters with content such as topics currently discussed, content recommendations, job postings, industry news, etc.
Read a “go-to” book. This might now always be the case, but often you’ll be able to get a lot of useful information from a recommended book on the industry. When I was starting in Nicereply in 2017, the first book I read was The Ultimate Question 2.0 by Fred Reichheld and Rob Markey. This helped me better understand NPS as a methodology, but also the wider landscape of satisfaction surveys and growth metrics.
The goal here is to understand the industry and be able to lead an informed discussion. I went from knowing nothing about customer support to being asked to speak at support conferences and attending webinars, without actually holding a support role...but pssshhh.
You may also start to see some relevant channels you might want to use when formulating your marketing strategy.
Step 4: Join communities
It’s time to engage with others from your field. Sure, desk research is great. But some insights can only be uncovered in the field, talking and engaging with others in your industry, whether it’s customers, prospects, competitors, or partners.
You might’ve already stumbled on to some communities during Step 3, but if not, try some of the following:
Search for industry dedicated subreddits. Reddit has a very active community already organized by their interests.
Look for Slack channels dedicated to your community. One of the first things I did when starting in Nicereply was to join the “Support Driven” slack channel - a channel that groups leaders of support teams from all over the world. This gave me a chance to listen to, engage with and directly market to just the people we were looking for.
Join Facebook and LinkedIn groups. Depending on your industry, either of those might work. Groups are a great place for people to share content and engage with each other.
There are of course many other ways depending on the specifics of your business. Gamers can be found on discord channels, while people interested in investing often have Telegram groups to share some tips on their latest moves.
No matter where you’ll find your community, spend as much time as possible listening to their conversations.
(Don’t) Fake it till you make it
Chances are you’ll go through these steps naturally over time without even trying. Why bother then?
If you make it a conscious effort, you will eventually turn this process into a transferable skill. A skill, you will be able to use again and again with different products in different roles.
It can be tempting to just jump into it, pretending to know everything, but you should learn to walk before you can run. Customers are getting savvier and savvier at smelling out marketers’ bullshit. If you’re not authentic, they WILL call you out on it.
If you’d like some help with the process, reach out to me at jakub.slamka [at] gmail.com. If you’d like to read more stuff by me in the future, I’d be happy if you joined my mailing list below.