Last week I posed a question: Could we stop looking at our marketing audience and personas through the framework of a funnel and look at it through a framework of building blocks?
To be fair, the idea of using a framework of building blocks did not occur to me all of sudden, but was born out of a necessity to start looking at communication and marketing a different way. You see for most business, transactions are all that matters. That is, the more people that take the positive action that helps us the most the better.
For most organizations that transitioned from pre-internet marketing to post internet marketing, the pattern remained the same: we need to generate as many leads as possible for our sales force. The more leads we create, the more people we can sell to, the more transactions we will close. Simple, logical, and for the time, a great strategy.
Unfortunately things have changed.
I first noticed the shift, in earnest, while working for a large Christian software company in Washington State. We had the lionshare of our market and were looking to grow. We had our typical funnel framework, we built our personas around the different stages of the funnel, and we did marketing to grow the funnel.
We offered sales, specials, and discounts, all to get people into our funnel and get them to make the first transaction (because we knew that once we had their credit card, the rest was easy…ish). But as we focused more and more on digital marketing (because it is cheaper after all) I kept hearing a question from our more faithful customers: “What about me?”
Have you heard that one before? Your loyal customers asking why new people get better pricing, or the better perks and not them. Afterall, the loyal have been there all along and should be rewarded. By going digital, we opened our self up for discovery–our customers became free to discover the discounts we were giving other people. This is not uncommon, there are corners of the internet whose sole function is to catalog and inform how to get the best discounts almost anywhere.
We became stuck. So to get unstuck (and to not abuse our loyal customer base) we had to figure something else out. But rather than fixing marketing, we fixed pricing. But the seed was planted.
Flash forward a half a decade and it occurred to me as I was helping a client: the funnel does not work because it assumes that people at the bottom (or through) no longer need or want the communication above. This, as I discovered, is not true. Far from it.
The Effective Audience
The cornerstone to this methodology is, however, still rooted in the personas and audience identification that is at the bedrock of modern marketing. But before you can start to arrange your building blocks, you have to create those blocks. The first block that you need to identify is what we call the Effective Audience.
Answer this question: If you needed to make 25% of your revenue goal this month, who are the people in your database that you would ask first? Who would you call today? Who do you know will respond to an offer or ask? Or at least consider it.
That is your effective audience.
The effective audience is not necessarily the cream of the crop of your customers, but those who you can rely on today.
This is an important concept to grasp, and one that many companies gloss over and ignore (usually because they focus on the top and the bottom of the funnel). This concept differs from the ideal customer insomuch as your ideal customer is not based in what you have, it is what you want.
The focal point of your marketing should not be to move individuals into being ideal customers, but to grow your effective audience to support long-term sustainable growth.
Forming Your Blocks
The key to Marketing by Building Blocks is simplicity. You do not need to segment your audience into a multitude of divisions, but to focus on four (you could have more, but why?).
The first, and most important building block is the Effective Audience. The reason is threefold:
- it creates a natural delineation between your audiences;
- it is the most easily identifiable group;
- it provides a broad enough target for growth, but narrow enough to define succinctly.
Once you understand who is in your Effective Audience, the other three blocks are simple.
The Loyal Audience: This is a subset of the Effective Audience and answers the question- Who are my most loyal customers? Most companies know this already, if you don’t chose parameters that fit your business and carve them out. Don’t worry if it is small or close to the same size as the Effective Audience (it may be the same size for some).
The Identifiable Audience: This one is easy, super easy, put everyone who you can identify as an individual into a bucket. That is your identifiable audience.
The Total Audience: This one is the easiest. Count how many people are in each of your channels; add them together. This is your Total Audience. Yes there is overlap, yes it is not a “real” number. That is okay, unlike the funnel, Marketing by Building Blocks work best when there is overlap.
True story: Thousands of organizations spend billions of dollars to figure out how to individualize their messages to their Total Audience as if it makes a huge difference. Does it work, probably or people would not pay it, but does it really hurt to send someone the same message a bunch of times? If they are also part of your Identifiable Audience you will figure it out; if they are part of your Effective Audience they already have brand affiliation; and if they are also part of the Loyal Audience then they will enjoy seeing your brand more.
Stacking the Blocks
This is the fun part.
As you stack the blocks on top of each other and across you build a structure that allows you to build a marketing strategy in multiple directions, not just down a funnel. The bottom layer of the structure is Total Audience, the next layer is the Identifiable Audience, then Effective Audience, and finally the Loyal Audience. The result is a pyramidal structure on a grid that allows for a multitude of strategies.
The big difference (and what makes this more than just an upside down funnel) is that inclusion of each of the smaller audiences in the larger ones. That is your most loyal audience, part of your effective audience,part of your identifiable audience, and also part of your whole audience.
Another way to look at these blocks, is how you approach those audiences. Your largest audience is also your least engaged, that is the audience you want to talk to (building rapor and trust); the identifiable audience is the audience that you will most often ask to do something; the effective audience is the audience you can rely on; and your most loyal audience, is well your most loyal.
The Key Differences
As mentioned above, each of your smaller audiences are included in the larger audiences. This is a key point that differentiates this framework for others. In the funnel metaphor you build your messaging to specific audiences to get them to progress further down the funnel. In this framework you do not isolate your messaging to each audience.
For example, if you build messaging around an offer, or an type of ask, targeting to your identifiable audience, you can assume that your effective, and loyal audiences would be interested too.
A simple rule of thumb in this framework is that if you want a bigger effective audience, you need a much bigger total audience.