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With account-based marketing, get the basics right

Marketers are often guilty of searching for reasons behind reasons, says Daniel Andrews, when they'd be better off focusing on the basics

Helen Edwards, director of Passionbrand, recently argued that marketers have a fetish for 'laddering up' – going beyond primary answers to consumer questions and searching endlessly for the reason behind the reason. No doubt the question, ‘Why does this matter?’ is an important one for any marketer to know. But that doesn’t always make it more important than the most basic demand of the consumer. As in any complex activity, whether it’s B2B marketing or golf, it’s worth keeping in mind an eternal principle: get the basics right.

Nowhere in the industry is this more relevant than in account-based marketing, the aim of which is to laser in on a specific set of decision-makers and stakeholders. Here, creativity and the ‘big-picture’ stuff have their place. But the name of the game is to figure out what these individuals need to know and want to know, and then to communicate that in an engaging and persuasive way.

ABM is not a silver bullet

ABM has been wholeheartedly embraced by many B2B marketers, who see it as a means to make their work stand out in a more crowded and noisy space. In a digital world in which everywhere you look something is competing for your awareness, attention and patience are naturally in short supply, and there’s something very appealing about honing in on a target or set of targets, rather than fighting to be heard.

This doesn’t make ABM a silver bullet for all the frustrations of the marketer. Nor is it simple or easy: the demands and pressures of account-based marketing are many, and it requires its own approach. It’s the difference between fishing with a spear and with a net. When you need to target a small group, abstract slogans or vague taglines won’t help you: you need to be precise and relevant to the target customer. You need your ideas to work at the level of the individual, with all her or his pressures and pain-points recognised and, ideally, accommodated.

In particular, ABM requires empathy. It remains the most underrated marketer’s skill, and yet it is one of the most fundamental. Without understanding people, without being able to get under the skin of those in your target audience, you can’t create the kind of content that appeals to them. This goes far beyond the understanding that different people need different information – someone in IT will want to know how a piece of technology can be implemented, for instance, and someone in a financial department will be interested in the money side of things. The very best account-based marketers – in fact, the very best marketers in general – can put themselves in the shoes of the target person or people and figure out just what piques their interest. Rudimentary interview work and developing personas are both enormously valuable here.

Empathy in action 

By way of an example, we at the tree recently undertook some ABM work with a major foreign exchange provider. We worked out that our target stakeholders had a common interest in the relationship between FX trading and broad-scale political upheaval, as well as the connection between FX trading and individual human psychology.

Using the root, a content, ecommerce and analytics cloud, we put together a timeline showing the main political movements on a global scale that had affected FX markets through recent history, as well as an interactive brain online. We concluded that these were the optimal means of communicating the ideas in which those we were targeting were interested. In the end, we were educating and informing a specific group about the effect of the small (individual thoughts and emotions) and the large (widespread political turbulence) on FX trading, and in a way that they found engaging.

Beyond content, we also used highly targeted digital advertising and SEO outreach to connect directly with prospects. We applied a similar strategy to our work with Kyocera and Pindrop, in both cases personalising what we created to help inform and educate the target stakeholders while supporting sales teams. It’s one of the main aims of ABM to minimise waste, and the best way to make sure of that is to strive for laser focus on the relevant prospects.

Revisiting the basics

The irony of ABM is that any marketer can benefit from taking this kind of approach. Though ABM and inbound marketing are sometimes seen as incompatible, or antithetical, the raw skills needed to do both effectively are similar. ABM might be more specialised by its nature, it may require deeper research and greater precision. But this doesn’t mean that other forms of marketing require a more vague, superficial or imprecise approach; all marketers can benefit from revisiting the basics. We should take the time to understand the target group intimately, and to find the messages and communication methods that appeal to them the most. We should cultivate our sense of empathy and consider context.

Helen Edwards was right when she said that marketers love to ladder up, to think big and to assume we’ve moved beyond fundamentals. But in ABM, we need to get the basics right. Everything follows from there – and it’ll benefit all the other forms of marketing we engage in as well.

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