There are many names for the people you’re trying to reach as a nutrition industry marketer. You might call them your audience, your customer or your target market. You think about this group often because without them, all of the objectives you set and plans you put in place cease to serve a purpose. As I talk to brands in our industry, both consumer facing and further up the supply chain, I find that everyone has broad ideas about their audience, but many miss the details that create deeper customer relationships and resulting sales.
Depending on the size of the brand and the budget available for marketing research, many companies have made the investment to identify their targets by age, gender, purchasing habits and usually a myriad of other factors. Others have broad stroke ideas of who they are trying to reach based on industry trade articles and the sales content published by competitors. All of these customer insights are important for developing products that fit marketplace needs.
Knowing the target audience from the start is great, but issues often arise when that original customer profile becomes a static description used to drive campaigns, social media and marketing content year after year without refreshing that picture or delving more deeply. At that point, marketing campaigns can become vanilla customer messages that are broadly targeted to customer stereotypes without providing real information to encourage audience engagement. Brands targeting messages to “busy working moms” could be selling anything from health food snacks to daycare services. Really knowing your audience means getting specific, which will ultimately help you identify more closely with the potential customers you are trying to reach.
Specificity has never been more important than in the current age of content-based marketing. In the old days when print ads and direct mail were just about all you had in your promotional toolbox to target a specific audience, timing and design were on equal terms with content. A prospective customer could flip through a magazine or read the stack of mail on her desk and had an equal chance of encountering your message compared to your competitor’s. Maybe your timing was perfect and they were looking for your message in the moment they encountered it or maybe the design of your piece caused them to pause and consider a new product. With the rise of search engine algorithms and social platforms that constantly prioritize specific content to reach the individual preferences and needs of users, the fact that you pay for access to an audience doesn’t give you an equal shot at reaching anyone who might engage with your brand content. In a Google search for CoQ10 suppliers in North America, the success of your content depends on whether or not Google determines your content to fit the request. It also depends on how many previous readers found your article to be helpful for that given year. The more specific the content, the greater the chance the audience you intend to reach will read it.
Creating content is hard work. Even bad content takes time and money to produce. A content piece promoted through trade media channels costs just the same to distribute no matter if it resonates with your target audience or not. So, whether it’s a paid promotional piece or content that you hope rises in search results based on a few targeted key word phrases, the more specifically you can speak to the individual needs of your target audience, the more successful the piece will be. Not only will a highly targeted piece perform better during the initial promotion, it will also perform better in the long run, as it lives on your website and appears in search results, leading prospective customers to your site.
When you consider the rate at which brands are producing content today, it becomes clear that being specific is the only way to truly break through the noise and gain an audience that engages with your efforts. One way to begin tailoring your content to reach a more targeted audience is to create from the audience’s perspective, which may seem obvious, but in practice, many brands do just the opposite. If you’ve walked the aisles of Expo West or SupplySide West as many of us have, you’ve experienced what it’s like to create content from a brand perspective vs. an audience perspective. Walk up to most booths and ask “What do you do?” and the sales rep in a polo shirt coordinated to the company’s logo color will give you a quick elevator pitch about the company’s products or services. You, the audience, could be a potential customer, a competitor or maybe a supplier hoping to form a partnership. The messages to each of these audiences should be significantly different. In the trade show scenario, the booth staff that keep things a little more conversational usually have a more valuable exchange with their audience as they ask questions and naturally tailor their pitch to the audience.
Similar to a genuine exchange at a trade show, creating content should involve taking the time necessary to connect with your audience in a meaningful way. This becomes even more important when it comes to creating content. If you flub a conversation with a sales prospect at a tradeshow, there will likely be dozens more that same day. A content piece lives a much longer life, as it’s often the first brand messaging potential customers come upon as they encounter your brand online. Prospective customers conducting online searches can encounter brand content online for months or years.
Audiences typically engage with brands in stages, especially in a research-heavy selling process like is typical in the nutrition industry. Whether potential buyers collect business cards at trade shows for later follow-up, contact the company they see quoted most often in trade magazine articles, or begin with a simple Google search, the process of finding the right product or partner tends to start generally and quickly move to more specifics. For example, buyers researching natural sweeteners may first encounter a brand through an online slideshow highlighting the top five “hottest” natural sweeteners in the nutrition industry. From there, they quickly narrow down to one or two based on formulation preference, price or other criteria. After that, they move to evaluating individual suppliers’ processing methods, pricing and quality controls. At this late stage in the game, potential customers are eager to absorb content to help them make a detailed decision. At this point, well-written whitepapers, e-books and other longer form content can be extremely helpful in making purchase decisions.
Content marketing is built on the premise of establishing a trusted customer relationship by becoming a truly helpful resource for them as they attempt to learn about a product category. Engaging potential customers early with resources that provide objective, accurate research establishes trust, which is a big step among all of the sales-centric, biased content typically provided by brands. Think of these content pieces as the first level of engagement, sent out into the world to make initial contact with prospective customers you are not yet aware are interested in your products. In this scenario, brands are selling their industry expertise and education resources. This should not be a hard product sell, because a potential customer or audience member is not ready to engage with a hard sales message this early in the product research process. The goal for this content creation is to demonstrate enough category expertise to successfully invite customers to opt-in for more information. Once opted-in, an audience’s appetite for more specifics about your particular product could happen very quickly depending on the status of the potential customer’s need to find a solution. At that point, if you’ve tailored your content to meet the audience’s needs instead of blindly publishing only the product benefits you wish to communicate, you’ll be seen as a valuable information resource, which is a huge advantage.
Lastly, in the interest of knowing and serving your target audience, strong customer relationships are the most valuable resource marketers can turn to. Once your marketing efforts pay off and a customer becomes an advocate for your products, the importance of listening to them becomes even greater. At this point in the sales cycle, B2B marketers such as ingredient suppliers or service providers often share the same goals as their customers. Successfully helping consumer-facing customers sell more products on shelf will ensure stronger sales throughout the supply chain. Content plays an important role in the process by supplying sales tools, branded ingredient information and other co-marketing materials to communicate the unique advantages of your proprietary product.
Beyond providing content to help sell your products, strong customer relationships also provide the insights needed to tailor marketing content and reach an audience in ways simple feedback surveys never will. Make the effort to spend time face-to-face with top customers and really get to know the details of how they purchase, how they market their solutions and what are the most important aspects of a customer-supplier relationship to them. I always feel the more genuine the effort, the more valuable the results when it comes to conversations with your customers (audience).
A conference call with a few members of a client’s marketing team may yield valuable insights, but my experience tells me that spending a couple of hours with the same group at a casual dinner leads to deeper connections and a real understanding of what they need to be successful. Trust is an inherent quality of a good friendship. Sure, you may not become great friends with all of your customers, but if you strive to know your audience on that level, it’s much easier to produce content and marketing materials that work. NIE
The Shelton Group is a boutique public relations and marketing agency working exclusively in the dietary supplements and natural products industry since 1990. Todd Pauli works with clients to develop comprehensive marketing strategies that integrate social media, advertising and content marketing. Prior to joining The Shelton Group, Pauli led marketing communications efforts for several well-known businesses, including NOW Foods, one of the largest supplement manufacturers in the natural channel. Contact him at email@example.com.