Intangible Targeting

The only thing worse than television shows about food are newspaper reviews about music.

Food and tunes are pleasant assaults on our senses, using hearing, smell and taste buds to entice us. Rob a customer of those essential inputs, and the experience is no longer complete. Yes, Food Network pot roasts on your 52″ screen look yummy, but the lack of aroma fails to launch you from your Lazy Boy and to the supermarket in search of dead cow. Likewise a printed review of the new CD from an alleged rising star does little to illuminate if you want him croaking from your dashboard during drive time.

Intangibles are the toughest thing to sell (as my mumble-mumble-mumble years in consulting have taught me). Selling things that lack substance — physical, worldly shapes and colors — requires associating the product with what people already know and have experienced. When Steve Jobs started slinging iPods, he associated them with dancing silhouettes to attach his hardware to our passion for music. Lawyers invest in well appointed offices to make you believe they are successful at their craft and thus worth retaining. Software companies — who sell nothing but very well organized electrons — use Flash animations and functional diagrams to relate understandable images to the defined outcomes to their products.

A constant conundrum for B2B software vendors is turning intangible software into desirable offerings. By the time most software vendors describe the features and benefits of their products, prospects have lapsed into coma from terminal boredom. These non-buyers were provided nothing to associate the product with — no emotion, no expected outcome, no burning passion. Human senses and emotive states must be connected to the product, but selecting senses that are meaningful to a CIO in search of an ERP system is tricky. Doing it on a landing page doubly so.

Software vendors have routinely relied on the “vitamin pill or pain reliever” truism (that software is designed either to make you better at what you do or relieve some significant burden). These are the crudest — though somewhat effective — association techniques for B2B software marketing. People aspire to success and everybody avoids pain (with the exception of BDSM aficionados). Thus these simple tactics work to a limited degree. Precise identification of buyer motivations, presented in visual form is the better strategy for it causes faster and more emotionally linked desire for the product.

The marketing lesson herein is that failure to connect your intangible product to your buyer’s set of experiences is a recipe for failure. We are humans, and rely on human functions to absorb our world. If your intangible product is in this world, then it has to attach to more than written words. It has to attach to humans.


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