Use Buyer Personas To Align Marketing With Business Growth Strategies

On the minds of many CEOs for this year and beyond is making business growth a top priority.  From the likes of surveys by IBM and Gartner to surveys by the multitude of research firms across the globe, the one consistent driver identified by CEOs is that of business growth.  Coming out of the doldrums of the near global economic meltdown beginning in 2008, businesses are bent on growing.

Alignment is a tricky word.  For marketers, it has meant gravitating towards the inevitable arguing on about tactical marketing and sales alignment.  Where their eyes should gaze is towards aligning with business growth strategies.  What organizations have to be wary of today are their marketing goals being out of alignment with business growth strategies.

Aligning Marketing With Business Growth

The digital economy continues to evolve and make the globe a smaller place. Communications are happening in an instant and connectivity is no longer the hurdle it once was.  With this evolution well underway and gaining speed, organizations are realigning their business growth strategies.

Marketing, however, in most organizations continues to function as it has over the past few decades.  Surely, what marketing is doing today in terms of tactics is much different than a decade ago.  However, reorganizing the function of marketing into a strategic role, aligned with business growth strategies, is still an arduous road ahead for many marketing departments.

Far too many marketing organizations today are more aligned with tactically supporting individual products or service lines, specializing in tactics such as content marketing, and supporting newly implemented marketing automation.

Why does this continue to be the state of marketing you may ask?   And, why is adapting proving to be so difficult?

Here is why:

Marketing is still doing the same thing it always has – pouring all its’ efforts at the end point of a target – namely the already identified target customer or buyer.  What does this mean you ask?   It means marketing is left out of the conversation on what business growth opportunities exists and what customers fit these opportunities.

Tactical Focus Is Good And Necessary

Marketing’s role in executing tactical approaches to gain the attention of customers and buyers is necessary for the success of any business.  But, we should not confuse the strategic with the tactical when it comes to how marketing can be a significant contributor to business growth and customer strategies.

One way to think of this is to look at the front end and back end of the market and customer development spectrum.  The front end is strategically identifying new growth opportunities.   At the back-end, you are tactically reaching the already identified customer or buyer.   Marketing is still clearly, in many cases, only at the tip of the arrow.  Playing a tactical supporting role in reaching customers.

Marketing Tip

If you reflect on the many types of new marketing services introduced in the last few years, you can see where most of them are.  At the tip of this continuum – attempting to help companies have a sharper end point of the arrow in reaching customers.

Using Buyer Personas For The Front End Of Business Growth Strategies

Being only at the tip of the arrow is certainly out of alignment with what confronts CEOs today.  They are under enormous pressure to identify new business growth strategies.  Most certainly, they will slap marketing leaders on the back for making a sharper tip of the arrow.  However, getting to the table for CMOs means identifying new growth and customer opportunities.

There is an irony in the state of buyer personas today.  When buyer personas were first originated, they were designed to be strategic in discovering as well as validating business growth strategies.  Unfortunately, organizations are being incorrectly guided today in their buyer persona initiatives.  What we see is such efforts are beginning and ending in the tip of the arrow to serve a very narrow tactical focus.

Some of the earliest usages of buyer persona development were exploring new market segments and customer opportunities.  For instance, one of the first companies to make use of buyer persona development invalidated a new market segment push expected to cost $3 million upfront.   However, it led to a previously undiscovered new market and customer opportunity as well as a new buyer persona, which allowed them to expand their market presence by $25 million in the first two years.

This is an example of how you connect buyer insights research as well as buyer personas to solving business growth problems.

You bet the CEO was happy for it achieved solving the problem of new business growth strategies.  Not some metric related to how many times a buyer persona downloaded a white paper!   I make this comment in jest as well as with a degree of seriousness.  I hear far too many times the echo of “our strategy is to increase content consumption.”  Getting a user, customer, or buyer to choose you or download content is a tactical plan.  Knowing the difference between marketing strategy and tactics is crucial in the use of buyer personas.

Failing Due To Tactical Errors

In the end, many buyer personas efforts fail due to the fact they are placed only at the tip of the arrow as opposed to an end-to-end investment beginning with identifying business growth strategies.  Instead, we see marketers hoping with fingers crossed they have produced just the right content with the right words and the download needle on the marketing automation dashboard moves up instead of down.

There is an interesting corollary here as well when it comes to content marketing.  According to Forrester, nearly two-thirds of B2B buyers find content useless.  Why?   One reason is content marketing lives at the tip of the arrow and is out of alignment with business growth strategies.  The tactical focus is on sharpening the messaging tip of the arrow.  Could it be B2B buyers are saying “enough” with the number of content arrows being shot at them?

Marketing executives today should take heed to aligning with business growth strategies. Devoting attentive time to using the periscope of buyer insights research and buyer persona development to spot new growth opportunities.   Reorganizing the purpose and function of marketing to be aligned with business growth is an important way for CMOs to not be left out of the conversation on the future direction of their organization.

What follows is a short talk from Rita Gunther McGrath, Columbia University Business School professor, who has done plenty of work in the area of growth strategy.  Her most recent book, The End of Competitive Advantage: How To Keep Your Strategy Moving As Fast As Your Business, hits home on the point of getting the right insights and data upfront to identify growth opportunities.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=871kIKzT7P0

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