Localization: Talk To Your Target Customer


This is the story of Quokka. I started it when stories were the most valuable currency in Silicon Valley.

This cute quokka somehow demonstrates great content and product marketingBack in 1998, I was a cub reporter for the now-defunct San Francisco Independent newspaper. I was sometimes sent to cover events that showed up in our daily stack of press releases, including the frequent (and extravagant) launch parties of Internet companies.

One of these was thrown by Quokka, a company that promised to revolutionize sports media using the Web. I arrived to find scores of guests chatting in a colorful lobby, munching on a mountain of crudité and an ocean of shrimp. A band was playing somewhere.

The CEO took the press around the company’s new offices. He proudly showed off a 5,000 square-foot floor, full of new cubicles, which he promised would be full of employees within months. A constellation of satellite dishes graced the roof. Quokka, he said, would be the number-one site for all live streaming sports, providing a real-time experience that traditional networks could not match. The site would attract action junkies, loyal team fans, and statheads. It was the next ESPN, in short. And that’s roughly what I wrote.

Quokka ended up going public in 1999, and produced websites to broadcast sports events exclusives. They produced coverage of the 2000 America’s Cup race and the 2000 Olympics, a high-water mark for the company. Then the tide went out.

By the end of 2001, the company had shed two-thirds of its staff and pivoted to a model of providing network infrastructure to other content providers. Quokka limped along until 2007, when it finally sank under the waves.

Now, 17 years later, I can finish the story of Quokka Sports.

Everything To Everyone

Quokka presented itself as the sports destination for everyone. It was the source of action sports and mainstream sports, the place for live streaming and real-time statistics. Quokka would be the best at delivering the network technology and at creating the content. In other words, the site was going to be everything to everyone.

While the company may also have tried to do too much technically, it also made a serious marketing error in presenting itself this way. By attempting to speak to almost every consumer on the Internet, the company only succeeded in exhausting its voice. A man on the street who yells at everyone convinces no one.

Quokka failed at localization: specifying its message to a tightly defined audience of desired customers. If Quokka had localized its market, it would have tried to do fewer things, and may have been able to gain true traction with a customer base. The company could have succeeded as a network infrastructure play if it had focused from the start.

Unfortunately, Quokka was riding a bubble that demanded making the biggest splash possible. And the biggest splashes often sink the fastest.

Be Something To Somebody

A B2B company is likely to have a small prospective audience of potential buyers, particularly compared to a consumer business. Make sure you segment your market carefully and know who your customer is, then design your messaging to speak only to this niche. Several tips can keep you on the right path.

  • Make your target audience as small as possible. The more specific your audience, the more precise your message can be, and the more intensively you can try to reach this audience. People who will not buy your service are not prospects – they are a waste of your effort.
  • Feel free to specify your audience by naming it. If your target customer is an IT administrator for a hospital, for example, you might title your sell sheet with, “A message for hospital IT administrators”. This device can feel forced, however it is appropriate in many cases.
  • Speak your audience’s language. If your target customer uses specific acronyms or terminology, use them also so your prospects know you understand them and are talking to them.
  • While using specific language, avoid general weasel words such as “premiere” or “best-in-class”. These terms don’t help your reader understand if she is the right audience, and even suggest that you don’t know who is. No one believes these words. However, factually accurate terms (“#1 most popular”, “leading choice of hospital IT administrators”) can be fine if they contribute to your goals of excitement and differentiation.
  • One useful device for localizing your content is to tell a hero’s journey story, a case study of success form the point of view of your ideal customer – the hero. Your target reader will identify with the story, which will probably be more memorable than any benefit statement told from your own perspective.

Segment the Seven C’s

Effective localized content is only possible if you have accurately segmented your market, so you know who you are trying to speak to and why they will listen to you. There are many frameworks for segmentation, and any of them can be effective if the outcome is a specific addressable market that is small enough for you to reach with your available resources.

You will know your content is properly localized to your market if prospects are taking action and if every channel and group you target is responding.

Your business can’t roam the whole world and effectively win and retain customers. So cast your net in the very best place you can find, and you’ll be able to catch all the fish you can handle.

What is your most effective method of speaking to your specific, targeted audience? Tell us about it in the comments.

P.S. The image atop this post is of a quokka, an Australian marsupial that may be the most absurdly photogenic furball on the planet. Those links are so cute they are probably NSFW. You’ve been warned.


Always Have Something To Do: Make It Actionable

A call to action is a necessary part of product marketing

What would you call a marketing message without a call-to-action?

I would call it an essay. Or a menu. Possibly a think piece. It certainly would not be an example of effective content.

It’s one of the most basic rules of marketing, and one that’s been noted many times. And it should be central to any material you create.

Be An Action Hero

The necessity of a call-to-action is probably obvious. It’s easy to end a website with a button to “learn more”, or a white paper with a phone number to “schedule a demo”. It’s much harder to make the call-to-action central to your content.

You want your prospects to follow the journey you’ve laid out for them, learning all the way along the path. You need them not to get lost. How can this be done?

  • Make the next step on the journey flow naturally from the last. Is your prospect in a position to pick up a phone? If not, don’t make the next step a phone call. Is your prospect likely to read a white paper but not to sit through a presentation? If so, don’t offer a webinar. You may only learn these characteristics of your market through trial and error, so be sure to look at the data your funnel is generating. Being consistent will reduce noise in the data.
  • Have the next step be a specific follow-up from the current step. If your prospect is reading your message about how your customers have improved their processes, she is wondering if you can do the same for her. The next step should involve an offer to evaluate her process. Anything else – particularly something more generic such as an offer to “learn more” – will not be specific enough. Try to imagine what question your content has raised, and offer to answer it.
  • Above all, present a single call-to-action, not a menu. If your customer wants to step off the path you have created, she will have the resources to do so. Your materials have already provided a phone number to call. If your customer wants to buy right now, she can pick up the phone and contact your sales team immediately.
  • Contact information alone is not a call-to-action.

Choose Your Customer’s Adventure

Creating great calls to action requires defining your marketing journey in advance. Start with the journey, and lay out each step you want your customer to follow on a whiteboard. Each step should involve a distinct piece of learning, which drives your customer to take the next step.

Once you have defined the journey, then you are ready to decide what materials you need to support each step. And only then are you ready to create the materials. If you start by producing the content, it will be difficult to craft a journey that makes sense.

What is the most compelling call to action you’ve ever seen?


Call to Action by Maria Elena  CC BY 2.0

Consistency: A Characteristic to Count On

Cal Ripken is consistent. Marketing content must be consistent also

A few months ago, I was researching B2B software vendors in a niche market. One of these companies (which will remain nameless) caught my eye with its highly uneven language.

This company sells a range of solutions that depend on a similar technology backbone. Most of these solutions are described using standard B2B jargon: “high-tech companies rely on” this to manage functions “from collaboration to management” or from “net to gross”. Everything was written in blocky paragraphs in the third person. I could imagine Siri reading these sentences to me while I sat in a conference room at the airport Hilton. It’s a common approach to storytelling.

Then I clicked on the company’s newest solution and encountered a totally different voice. Suddenly, everything was “we believe in simplicity” and “you’ll feel the power of our user-friendly administration!” Gone was the voice of authority, in was a first-person pitch with short sentences, contractions, and exclamation points. The materials provided the same type of detail, yet I was left with a wholly different impression. I felt as if I were listening to a junior sales rep speaking over the hubbub of happy hour at SXSW.

I’m purposefully making both of these tones sound unattractive – but not because either one is necessarily wrong. The problem was their juxtaposition. Seeing these two completely different voices together, I was unsure who the company was. Perhaps their products were equally inconsistent. Perhaps one of their product lines was recently acquired, and neither the marketing nor the software was integrated yet. Two approaches, each perfectly valid on its own, yet when seen together causing confusion and doubt.

My reaction crystallized for me the importance of being consistent across all product marketing materials. Inconsistency can make a prospective customer uncomfortable. You would not set up a website where each page used different styles – and your language must follow the same discipline.

In short, you want your language to be as reliable and steady as “The Iron Man” Cal Ripken Jr.

Play Your Role

There are several steps you can take to ensure consistency in your writing, whether you are solely responsible for your corporate voice or are part of a large content-generating organization.

  • Come up in advance with a strategy for tone and voice. Will you be formal? Chatty? Upbeat? Will you use an intimate first- and second-person voice, or a more authoritative third-person? Will you write at a college level or at an easier reading level? To answer these questions, start by thinking about your customer, and describe the characteristics of a person your customer would best respond to. Now, write as that person – it doesn’t have to be you!
  • Follow a common style guide and use common designs and templates. In addition to aiding consistency, this tip also makes it easier to be informative.
  • Use tropes, catchphrases, and other catchy elements as appropriate to your voice. You can go beyond your trademarks and your formal messaging. For example, Salesforce.com uses a Hawaiian theme in some of its language, reflecting its corporate culture. This theme is outside the specific message for each product, and its use in various places ties together different product lines and becomes part of the personality of Salesforce’s communications.

The Same, Always Excellent

Ultimately, having consistent messaging is a mark of quality for your brand. Indeed this pillar of the MEDICAL method could just as easily be called “quality” (but then the acronym wouldn’t work!) Set a high standard for yourself, and then meet it every time.

You can tell you’ve done it if your readers are consistently engaged, and if you are finding it increasingly easy to produce good material as you internalize the persona you’ve created. Consistency will build loyalty. Your customers will know you by your voice, and be ready to hear what you have to tell them.

Have you encountered messaging that was inconsistent and left you confused? Leave a comment and tell us all about it.