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Marketing’s highest value is catalyzing change

Post by Ian Hameroff, Founder and CEO of Fulcrum Group

During my tenure as the product marketing manager for Microsoft OneNote, I delivered a sales enablement session in which I asked a simple question to a room of shrewd Microsoft Office sellers: Who do you think is our number one competitor?”

Unsurprisingly, I heard answers like Evernote, Microsoft Word, Notepad, and Excel. (Yes, someone out there is using Excel as a digital notetaking app!)

All of them were (sadly) wrong.

Turns out, our number one competitor was good ol’ pen and paper.

Traditional paper-based notepads, notebooks, and even bits of scrap dominated the notetaking marketplace.

We didn’t need to outshine other digital notetaking competitors to accelerate OneNote’s growth.

We needed to catalyze change within our target market and audience.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Disrupting our paper-based competition would require more than pontificating about how OneNote is easier or quicker to use than traditional notetaking methods.

Instead, we had to help our target audience acknowledge new unmet needs. We would need to credibly show where pen-and-paper notetaking fell short.

Most importantly, we needed to do all of this without making our target audience feel bad about their long-term habit of taking notes on paper.

Identifying New Unmet Needs

To accomplish this, we focused less on the taking of notes (of which pen and paper worked fine) and leaned into the challenges of finding, using, and collaborating with others on the notes that were captured.

By positioning OneNote as a “search engine of your thoughts” rather than just a digital replacement for your trusty notebook, we helped our target audience discover an unmet need: 

  • Existing met need: capture thoughts, quickly and easily. Works like a charm with paper!
  • New unmet need: find and share those thoughts with others as quickly and easily. Much easier said than done with paper.

As is often the case with the status quo, the only way to get someone to make a change is when the pains of a current solution far outweigh the pains of switching.

A critical part of your job as a marketing leader is to help your prospects not only acknowledge this fact but also help them see the value in it. To do that, you must lead your audience on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection.

Self-Discovery: Help your audience identify a new need or unrealized opportunity

Oftentimes, your target audience is completely unaware the traditional way of doing things is painful. Why? Because that’s all they know. As a marketer, you must help them identify these pains and show how these pains translate to new needs or opportunities.

For example, someone using pen and paper might not see how flipping back through pages to find an old thought is painful. It’s just the way they’ve always done it. By naming this pain for them (i.e., wasted time), you demonstrate a new need (i.e., find your thoughts in seconds). 

Self-Reflection: Teach your audience something new about themselves

Another way is by helping users identify new ways of seeing themselves.

In the context of OneNote, an approach we could have taken was “Be your most organized self ever” or “Your most collaborative team ever.” Rather than focusing on generating new needs, you’re instead reframing the way someone sees themselves, thereby creating a want that’s unmet by their current solution.

Catalyzing Change in Your Go-to-Market Strategy

Leading your customers on a journey of self-discovery and self-reflection requires a thoughtful go-to-market strategy.

Below are important considerations to catalyze change as you conduct customer research, craft compelling product narratives, and create connections along your buyer’s journey.  

Conduct Customer Research

The journey toward catalyzing change begins with a deep understanding of your prospects and the marketplace.

Conduct one-on-one interviews

Surveys will only get you so far. You need to get in front of your prospects.

One-on-one interviews with your target audience are crucial for identifying unmet needs. Ensure interviews delve into your prospect’s existing habits and practices to meet their needs, and not only on your product. Include questions about challenges faced, time invested, and satisfaction levels with any reasonable alternatives.

Analyze industry and market trends

In addition to understanding existing customer behavior, it’s important to analyze broader industry and market trends. By staying abreast of shifts in technology, consumer preferences, and competitive dynamics, you can identify emerging opportunities.

Don’t limit yourself to trends and industries that are directly related to your product space. Seek inspiration from adjacent domains.

Craft New Product Narratives

Armed with insights gleaned from your research, craft narratives that capture attention and inspire action. This involves striking a delicate balance between emphasizing the pain points of the status quo and presenting a compelling vision of a better alternative.

Highlight the pain

Demonstrating the shortcomings of existing solutions is essential to sparking change. By articulating your target audience’s unrealized frustrations and inefficiencies, you create a sense of urgency that compels them to seek out alternatives.

However, you must be cautious about how you do this. You don’t want to make your audience feel bad about their existing habits. Instead, lay the groundwork to open their eyes and minds to a better way.

Offer a better future

Highlighting pain points alone is not enough. You must offer a clear and achievable vision of how your product or service delivers a better way. This involves crafting messaging about your product’s tangible benefits and transformative potential. By painting a vivid picture of a better future, you can inspire confidence and enthusiasm in your target audience.

Create Connections Along the Buyer’s Journey

Catalyzing change requires more than just compelling messaging. It demands a holistic approach that guides customers through every stage of their journey, from initial awareness to eventual adoption.

Challenge the status quo

At each touchpoint along the buyer’s journey, you should strive to challenge the status quo and disrupt entrenched habits. This means creating content that asks thought-provoking questions, encourages introspection, and positions your offering as a catalyst for positive change.

Remember that people connect more with stories than lectures. So, avoid the temptation to hammer on your features and functionality.

Offer impact-rich case studies

Nothing speaks louder than real-world examples of success. By showcasing case studies that highlight the transformative impact of your product or service, you can provide tangible proof that change is worth it. Be sure to make these stories relevant, believable, and with clearly achievable outcomes.

Change is Hard, But Not Impossible

Old habits are difficult to break.

When faced with the decision to change or stay the same, most people choose the latter.

Your biggest challenge (but also your biggest opportunity) as a marketer will be to catalyze change with your target audience.

Help your audience realize the pains of their “traditional” ways and identify new needs or opportunities that lead to clear gains.

Identifying these pains through customer research, emphasizing the pains in your messaging, and challenging the pains along your buyer’s journey is critical for catalyzing change.

When customers understand how the pain of the current solution far outweighs the costs of changing, change will seem like a no-brainer. 

Need help catalyzing change with your customers? We are here to help you!

Fulcrum specializes in go-to-market strategy services designed for B2B tech companies.

To get started, schedule a no-obligation, 15-minute call with us today.