Things Are Changing!
In the time I’ve been involved in marketing I’ve seen quite an evolution in the style of best practice marketing. Clearly, the Web has influenced best practice in marketing, and now social media are exerting their own influences. In this Newsletter, I outline the stages that I’ve seen as marketing has evolved. Different commentators may characterize the evolution with different stages, but all the accounts that I’ve seen portray the same trends. Where is your company in this evolution?
In the first days of advertising, there was a focus on features. For example, this slow cooker has two different temperature settings, “low” and “high”. There’s a presumption that the prospect knows that the high setting will cook faster than the slow setting.
Feature selling works best if prospects are already experts in the use of the product. For example, a commercial laundry doesn’t need to be told that bleach will make fabrics whiter. They might like to know that this bleach doesn’t emit gases that are harmful to equipment operators, though.
Features and Benefits
The next refinement in marketing was to point out not only the features, but the benefits associated with them. A feature would be described in enough detail that the prospect could understand how that feature would produce the associated benefit, so the claim for the benefit would be credible.
For our slow cooker example, a feature-benefit discussion might be that it has a non-stick coating on the cooking insert, making it easy to clean.
Feature-benefit selling might take the form of a table of features and associated benefits, or advertising copy could spell out features and benefits. Either way, for feature-benefit advertising to be effective, it’s important to focus on benefits that are important to the prospect. If you simply present long lists of irrelevant benefits you risk losing the prospect’s interest.
For particularly complex products, where features and benefits selling might be difficult, such as complex IT products, suppliers began offering “solutions” to “problems”. The technical person who accompanied the sales person made the elegant transformation from “sales support” to “solutions architect.”
Related to solution selling is system selling, where a product is promoted as a “system”. For example, the Rainbow Vacuum Cleaner is now the Rainbow System, thanks to “the Rainbow’s cutting edge technology and nature’s own cleaning solution: water.”
Solution selling does involve a refinement in selling beyond just changing the name of the approach. Selling a solution requires the seller to have some understanding of the problem; that starts with a focus on what’s important to the customer, what problem the customer wants to solve.
The Web allows us to view a prospect not just as someone with a problem to solve but as an information seeker. We offer information that allows the prospect to solve a problem. We provide content that establishes ourselves as an authority on the subject. To help establish that authority, we show testimonials on our site, showing that others endorse our authority in the area. And we offer a newsletter, that lets a prospect subscribe to more of this useful, authoritative content to help solving the prospect’s problems.
Of course, the content we provide supports the use of our particular solutions to the problem. However, the approach taken is different from a traditional sales pitch, which is why the prospect should choose this particular approach; rather, the approach is to provide more comprehensive information that allows the prospect to decide on their own that the offered solution is the best one.
Today there’s great buzz around social networking. Sites such as Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ appear to offer the opportunity to reach prospects and engage them in conversation-like dialogues. There is evidence that some companies have achieved a certain amount of selling success directly through social networks, although there are different views about the effectiveness of social networks for selling.
A way to use social networks in our marketing today is to consider them as support for the content approach. That is, use contact in social networks to bring prospects to our Web site, so that they can use the content that we provide there to learn how our products and services are appropriate for them. Used in this fashion, social networks can provide high-ranking incoming links to our Web site, which improves its position in search engine results. And, of course, the mention of our site in a social network can also directly bring visitors to our Web site.
The Bottom Line
Think about your approach to the use of your Web site and social networks. If you’re using your site to deliver an obsolete sales pitch, consider an upgrade. And while it’s too early to bet the farm on social networks, it’s time now start using social networks to strengthen your Web marketing.