“No honey, we are not going to buy a new boat.” That’s what the fisherman’s wife said when her husband revealed his great idea.
“We already have a boat” she argued, “And we’ll be retiring in a few years. If we bought a vacation cabin now it would be a great investment in our future.”
Meanwhile, the two largest boat manufacturers were developing the marketing plans that would launch their new models. The economy was tough but the high end of the market was doing OK. Winning in that segment was essential to their revenue goals.
One company’s product marketers felt great about their strategy – the newest boats in their line-up were equipped with major advances in satellite-based navigational electronics. Fishermen would surely be impressed by their well-differentiated benefits – find the best fishing spots, catch the most fish, win every tournament with on-board access to graphically displayed weather, current and tidal conditions.
A second company’s strategy was built around an equally impressive differentiator -- speed in rough seas. Every fisherman has experienced ugly weather with no practical way to reach the spot where the fish are biting. Speed and stability represent conflicting challenges for hull designers, but this company’s engineers had a new design that really worked. Flash videos and other marketing tactics clearly communicated the benefit of catching more fish and winning the biggest prizes, supported by points about the boat’s speed and agility.
Want to guess which company dominated sales that year?
Neither. In fact both market leaders fell short of their goals when a scrappy little company identified the key insight for this persona – a fisherman isn't going to buy a boat in this price range unless his wife wants it too.
The company didn’t ignore the fisherman. The company’s marketing materials and sales people were well equipped with messaging that their boat was the best way to catch the biggest fish in any kind of weather. But the critical insight was that the fisherman’s wife was an uncontested, unaddressed influencer over the buying process.
So the company's marketers and sales people turned on the charm. In marketing materials and boat shows, the wife is invited to see a fully-equipped galley with lacquered teak finishes, Corian countertops and a microwave/convection oven. The table is set for a candlelight dinner. It’s impossible to miss the spacious sleeping berth, a large “head” with shower, a hanging closet, and a diesel heater that will keep her warm during those winter fishing expeditions.
And here comes the closer -- there's another sleeping berth for the grandchildren who will want to visit every weekend once they see this boat!
“When can we take delivery?” says the fisherman’s wife.
This is a B2C example, but B2B marketers make the same mistake. Competitors fight for the attention of the same buyer persona, promising virtually identical benefits that are reverse-engineered based on their unique product capabilities. It’s the rare marketer whose competitive strategies are grounded in deep insights about their buyers, and it’s surprisingly common that the underdog company with the smallest marketing budget is the one to pull it off.