What I’ve learned about consumer marketing after years of B2B marketing
After more than two decades marketing IT products to large enterprises, I’ve become a novelist writing mystery novels about Silicon Valley. Writing was the easy part — marketing the book is the bigger challenge.
Having brought many tech products to market, I considered myself a pro. But it turns out I was clueless about marketing to consumers instead of big businesses. To get my novel in front of readers, I’ve had to forget everything I thought I knew and start over.
Compared with consumer marketing, introducing a new B2B product is straight-forward. There’s usually a small, defined set of customers and it’s not difficult to find them. They attend trade shows and conferences and read industry newsletters and reports. You can use their job titles to find them on LinkedIn and reach out to each person individually. Or you can hire sales people and resellers who already know everyone in the industry.
If you’re selling a $60,000 router, it’s worth spending time and money on individual outreach. Marketing a $6 ebook or an $18 paperback to consumers requires a completely different mindset.
When my novel was accepted for publication by a small press, I was ecstatic. But unlike a big press than can get reviews in the major newspapers and interviews on TV, with a small press I knew I’d have to do a lot of the marketing myself. Which I thought was fine since marketing was my life.
When the book was published, I made lists of people who I thought would be interested in the novel. I built a sales funnel and worked my leads. I sent a carefully crafted message to each person about why my novel would appeal to them.
The response was fantastic, with a 50% success rate, well above the typical 2% for a B2B product. Woohoo! I was proud of myself.
But when I stepped back to savor my success, I realized the obvious — I’d sold 100 copies. For a couple of weeks of effort, I’d made $100. The process worked, but it wasn’t scalable. And consumer marketing requires scale above all else.
To reach consumers, there’s really only two fundamental options: spend a lot of money on advertising, the majority of which hits the wrong people, or be scrappy and figure out affordable ways to get in front of customers.
If you have a product that you expect to generate $100M in sales, then get venture vending and crank up the advertising. I’ll look forward to seeing your ad during the next Super Bowl.
But if it’s a more specialized product, a book for example, or a protein bar, or any of the other millions of products that could bring a smile to someone’s day, save a bit of money, or help us get through life just a little easier, spending millions on advertising is hardly cost effective. How can we introduce our products to a wide audience without burning through pots of money?
Since every product and every audience is unique, there’s no one playbook that works for every product. But here are the 5 keys I’ve found to crafting an effective strategy.
You can’t market to your customers unless you know exactly who they are. And oftentimes, they aren’t who you expect.
For example, imagine you’ve created a better protein bar. The obvious customers are people at the supermarket. But the supermarket aisles are filled with protein bars. It’s nearly impossible to compete with big national brands that go through big national distributors. It’s hard to get your story across to busy shoppers who are only looking at brand name and price.
But perhaps your bar fills a special need for weightlifters. Or marathon runners. Or soccer players. Or dancers. Now that you have a specialized audience, you can figure out how to reach them, whether that’s at gyms or events, partnering with influencers in the category, or getting featured in specialized publications.
The usual route to promote a book is focused on book readers: reviews in the New York Times and interviews on NPR, getting the book on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. That works for Prince Harry and Meghan’s book and anything by Stephen King, but not for a mystery novel from a small press or self published.
The biggest readers of mystery novels are the mystery book clubs. But a mystery novel about a Silicon Valley startup is too techie for readers of Agatha Christie and Steig Larsson. So the usual playbook for promoting a mystery novel reaches the wrong audience.
Then who is the audience? — founders, coders, investors, and other people in the startup ecosystem. They read books like the Lean Startup rather than mystery novels, so I have to create a unique marketing strategy to reach them.
Every industry has influencers who can promote your product to their audience. While some expect payment, others simply want to build their reputation as thought leaders or promote their own products and services. Others simply enjoy spreading the word about things they’ve discovered and loved.
But consider whether the influencer is the right person for your audience. A book review from the New York Times would reach a wide audience, but probably not the right audience. A blurb from a Stephen King would sell some copies but to people who wouldn’t enjoy the book. I’d rather have a tweet from Elon Musk or Marc Andreessen even though they aren’t the usual thought leaders of mystery novels.
In other words, instead of looking for people specializing in our product category, look for people our unique audience listens to. We might even grab their attention with something a little different.
A Super Bowl ad runs $7 million for 30 seconds, plus the cost of actors and production. You need to sign up a lot of crypto traders to make that expense pay off. There’s a reason why we’re subjected to Budweiser commercials during the game instead of good craft beer.
But there are other advertising channels that can be cost effective, especially for specialized products. Google Adwords can be perfect if there are keywords your customers search for. The obvious keyworks like “mystery novel” or “protein bar” have a lot of competition, making them expensive, but there may be less common words that would identify someone who would be interested in the product. There aren’t many other people advertising the keyword “Theranos” but anyone searching for information on the Theranos scandal is likely to enjoy my novel about an evil startup.
For books, there are give-away campaigns on Goodreads, advertising on Amazon, and Facebook and Twitter ads that can be highly focused if you can identify a narrow target audience. I have to evaluate each to see if they can generate a positive return. Fortunately, it’s possible to test each out with a $50 spend and see which ones are effective.
Where do founders, programmers, and other people in the startup ecosystem hang out? Here on Medium. On Start It Up. So let’s join the community. But instead of writing articles about the novel, which nobody would want to read, I write articles that impart useful information from my own experience as a startup founder, investor, and maker.
Social media channels are critical to free promotion. Each has a different audience and a different way of interacting. We can’t simply post an announcement and expect it to get shared. We have to become a part of the community and build our networks. While this takes time, the scale can be huge.
But it’s important to find the community of customers rather than other makers. Other writers are quick to support each other on Twitter with follows, likes, and pins, but that only creates a giant echo chamber of writers promoting their own books. The challenge is to find the community of potential readers.
B2B marketing is easy because the playbook is straight-forward: find customers, pitch the product, work the leads. They need your product because it solves a problem, and it’s their job to look at alternatives.
Consumer marketing doesn’t work the same way. We have to be creative. We have to find ways to grab our customers’ attention and convince them to make a purchase.
That might mean selling books at the Consumer Electronics Show instead the LA Festival of Books, or posting the novel on Product Hunt. It might mean promoting a locally brewed beer at a startup fair instead of beer industry events. We have to boldly go where no man or woman in our product category would think of going.
There may not be a simple playbook to finding customers, but if we put as much creativity into figuring out ways to reach out customers as we did creating our products, there’s no doubt we can succeed.