Tough Times Call for Creativity and Reverse Targeting: Here’s How to Market in Real Time


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In his Origin of the Species, Charles Darwin made the famous observation that it is not the strongest species that survive or even the smartest but the most flexible. As we look at the carnage in the markets and a looming recession, the questions you should ask are these:

  • How do I survive this market?
  • If survival is not an issue, how do I take advantage of this situation?

The answers may surprise you. It is not that different from what Darwin found. This is a time that calls for nimbleness and agility. It may be a wonderful opportunity to change the very nature of your marketing.

The answer is not just spending more money (even if that is an option). You could be pushing on a string. It is about spending smarter. Be where your customers are when they need you. And here’s how you do it.

  1. Market in real time.

    One of our clients, a large bank, used to spend enormous amounts of money on direct marketing—mostly direct-mail campaigns with some email thrown in. With the turmoil in the markets, the company simply cannot afford to spend, anymore. Does that mean marketing comes to a halt? No. It just means you change how you market. You make sure you are ready for the customer when the customer is out looking for your service. This means being able to react in real time to customers who raise their hands and show some interest, perhaps by calling your call center or visiting your web site or, more likely, a web site that they trust when it comes to your category.

    This is “reverse targeting.” You want to make it easier for your customers to find you. Customers are becoming proactive. They are very informed and powerful. If they need you, they will find you. Once they do find you, you want to make it easy for them to make a decision and buy from you. To do this effectively, it’s important to understand:

    1. Where do they look?
    2. Whom do they listen to?
    3. What do they look for?
  2. Be where the right people are.

    Where customers and prospects often look is to the web. The housing and mortgage market, as we all know, has tanked. However, there are still millions of people looking for homes and mortgages. One of the most popular destinations is, where visitors can check on the value of a home. If you are a real estate agent or a mortgage broker, you can buy space on Zillow when someone looks up the price of a home in your specific market. It is affordable, smart, targeted advertising at the right time, right place.

    They often listen to their peers or other trusted source. Are you connected with these sources? If not, you should be. If you are selling a muscle-building supplement, you need to be on a site where body builders go and get advice from each other (e.g., not on a heavily trafficked generic site. Perhaps you can have a tie-in with the site that goes beyond advertising—one that makes you a trusted member of the community. Too many companies are lazy and take the easy way out by having a static presence on sites that have a lot of visitors who are not interested in their category.

  3. Be an opinion-maker.

    Or get well connected with the influencers in your market who will mention you in their communications. These sources could be analysts or reviewers: the kind you find in sites with feedback and customer generated content. Or they could be influential bloggers: people who have built a reputation for expertise and where people turn for advice. These influencers can help make or break your reputation. They can also help get the word out about new products and services.

    How do you go about doing this? Two ways:

    • Identify influencers in your business. You should already know who they are, but if you don’t, ask your customers whom they read or listen to when they need advice.
    • Reach out to those influencers and try to build a relationship. Ask them for their opinions about the industry and trends. Share your insight. Respond to their blogs. Have a conversation. Build credibility. Be authentic. If you make an actual product, ship samples to influential bloggers. If they think it is of value to their readers, they will write about it. For an example of this, see Winesmith, a blog on wine tasting started by a man who admits he wanted to learn more about wine, get free wine and get mentioned in the Washington Post. He met all three goals.

  4. Know what buyers want.

    A good way is through “text mining” blogs, web sites, email and even transcripts of sales and customer service calls. Text mining is a collective term for computer applications that discern meaning from conversations. Comcast, a company that typically has a terrible reputation for customer service, has won a great deal of kudos by having a SWAT team that reacts to complaints on Twitter, a site for blogging in real time. The number of actual customers who have been helped out by this team may be small, but it is a highly influential and vocal group that can help to turn the reputation of the entire company around.

  5. Take care of your best customers, particularly if they are going through rough times.

    And do it with the right offer at the right time. One of my colleagues had a luxury car whose lease was up. He was getting ready to turn it in and lease a new one at a promotional monthly rate, when his car company called him and offered to sell it to him for a substantial discount to the book value. He took it. The timing was perfect. The dealer saved him money and let him keep a car he knew and liked. The company avoided being saddled with unneeded inventory. Even though the company may have taken an immediate loss in its books, it avoided a bigger loss down the road.

So if your budget is being cut, think of it as a blessing in disguise. Or as a challenge. It may actually open the doors to new kinds of innovative marketing for your organization. There are plenty of smart things marketers can do in this environment to go to where the customers are and be there for them when they need your services. It does not take much money. It does take imagination, agility and speed.

Naras Eechambadi, Ph.D
Dr. Naras Eechambadi is the founder and CEO of Quaero, a world-class data management and analytics platform empowering enterprises to integrate, discover and democratize their customer data. He is a life-long technologist and entrepreneur with over three decades in the software products and services industry. He has been awarded numerous distinctions as both a marketing executive and entrepreneur. Naras is also the author of a critically acclaimed book, High Performance Marketing: Bringing Method to the Madness of Marketing.


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