Are You Fishing with a Net or Fishing with a Spear? Taking Apart the Fishing Analogy for B2B Industrial Marketers

Written by Kathy Kassera Mrozek
Taking Apart the Fishing Analogy for B2B Industrial Marketers

You’ve probably heard the analogy before. Wide-open, untargeted, “spray and pray” approaches to marketing are analogous to fishing with a net.

You can catch a lot of fish this way—some of which you want, many of which you don’t. Sometimes this analogy is applied to inbound marketing in general.

Fishing with a spear, on the other hand, is the analogy for highly targeted, often 1:1, ABM (account-based marketing) approaches that are laser-focused on exactly and only the clients you want to convert.

Usually, this analogy is used to promote ABM as the clear winner. However, the answer (like most answers in life) isn’t quite as black and white as that.

Where is this fish story going?

First of all, according to my research as a non-fisherman, it’s actually relatively difficult and time-consuming to spear an actual fish. Hence, the invention of the net by our early ancestors. Yes, you can get exactly the fish you want, if you wait around for it to swim right into your field of view, and if you move swiftly and accurately enough. But it can take a long, long time.

This is a lot like the ABM ideal of 1:1, high-touch, highly personalized campaigns. They take a lot of time and investment to pull off, and you’re putting a lot of attention and energy into each individual prospect. At the end of the day, they might or might not be ready to pull the trigger. You’ll often have nothing to show for your time and effort.

Spray-and-pray marketing to any and all humans for a B2B product or service is also a colossal waste of time and effort, both in marketing resources and in the sales resources required to sift through numerous poor-fit leads that will ultimately never convert into sales. Inbound marketing done without a clear strategy can also fall into this trap.

Big fish, small ponds

High-performing B2B industrial marketing, from the website through to any campaign activity, requires precision. Our audiences are niche audiences; even just marketing to “engineers” isn’t nearly specific enough for most of our clients.

Precision is key, but many marketing teams are small. The client marketing teams we serve at Windmill are often stretched thin and wearing multiple hats while also trying to catch up and keep pace with the moving target of current best practices in digital marketing. Often, it’s a marketing team of one. They rarely have the time to implement true, 1:1, high-touch ABM campaigns.

What’s an industrial marketer to do?

The solution is to use a net, but make it much, much more precise. Spend the effort setting up that net, getting it to the right place in the ocean, where your best fish are typically swimming, and making it highly attractive to exactly the types of fish that you want to bring in. Maintain and improve the net, measure and monitor the types of fish that you capture in the net, and look for ways to get more and more precise and successful over time.

To bring this back from fishing to marketing: there are many ways to make your net more precise by making your inbound marketing much more targeted and effective, while also implementing some targeted outbound marketing. We frequently write and post about these topics. Here’s a roundup of helpful resources:

Know who you’re trying to reach

It’s critical that you identify a clear picture of your ICP (Ideal Customer Profile, or the types of companies you’d want as clients) and personas (the individuals who buy from you).

When in doubt, focus on your ICP first, personas second. Get to know the key persona types within your niche by talking to your salespeople and, if possible, conducting some persona interviews.

Get the message just right on your homepage

Your homepage is the most visible part of your website, and your website is the most visible part of your entire B2B marketing engine. The homepage, particularly the first glimpse that people get at the top of the page, should state clearly what you do, who it’s for and how you can help. It should resonate with your target audience and politely repel those who fall outside of that category. We refer to this as positioning, and writing a breakthrough positioning statement is less about creative writing and more about being clear and concise.

Use the language that your target audience uses, and be highly specific

The words in your positioning statement (that clear, concise message on your homepage) should include some of your most important SEO terms, which will help those ideal fish find their way to your net. Many times, the words that your target audience might search with are very specific and might not show up as high-volume terms in tools like SEMRush, but here’s where that wide net vs. targeted approach comes into play again – if you’re using broad, higher-volume terms like “automation” or “air filters,” you’re probably competing with consumer-driven brands and big box stores, and your ideal prospects will be unable to find you in the clutter of the internet. If you optimize for more highly specific but lower-volume keywords (some of which won’t even register in SEO tools), like “industrial custom air filtration systems,” you’ll be found by the people who actually have a potential interest in buying from you.

Be generous with information—it’s what a technical audience craves the most

Technical audiences are skeptical of an emotional sales pitch, but they love to get their hands on technical data, specs, videos, and as much information online as possible. Only then, when they’ve made the decision in their minds that you are likely to be the company that can solve their problem, will they want to reach out to your salespeople. Build your website around a content strategy that makes information easy and intuitive to find, with paths such as products and services, industry/vertical content, case studies and useful resources, for both technical audiences and C-suite decision-makers. Create content that keeps engineers coming back, if they happen to find you before they have an immediate need, and improve content performance with quick wins that add up over time. Find opportunities to generate quality content that drives MQL conversions to build your marketing list and nurture people who aren’t quite ready to buy.

Introduce yourself to in-target prospects who aren’t looking yet, and stay top of mind

Experiment with lightweight ABM campaigns and strategies to reach out to individuals who match your key personas and ICP but might not yet have a need, so that they know about your brand when the need arises. Make your campaigns less labor-intensive by repurposing existing website content in your campaigns, and use these campaigns to drive targeted traffic to your website, entice conversions to MQLs through quality gated content and whitepapers, and start a retargeting campaign to remain visible to website visitors throughout a long sales cycle.

Advertise, judiciously, to boost performance and reach a wider audience

Supplement your SEO efforts (which can sometimes take a longer time to yield their full benefit) with narrowly targeted, highly specific ad campaigns. Use Google Ads to appear at the top of search results pages for very specific, highly relevant keywords that you don’t yet rank for organically. Experiment with a display ad campaign that shows your ads to those who visit specific URLs throughout the web that are associated with a high intent to buy and are a good match for your ideal target.

Measure, monitor and improve

In support of creating an ever-more-effective fishing net, decide which metrics to track, monitor and improve. Ultimately, the goal of most marketing is to drive closed sales, revenue and profit, so choose metrics that align with your goals, not vanity metrics, like a focus on clicks and likes alone, that encourages busywork. Implement closed-loop reporting and lead scoring, and tie closed deals back to marketing efforts in order to align future marketing activities with sales success.

All of these recommended activities and principles are intended to make the marketing engine (the net) ever more precise and bring the targeting mojo of ABM to your inbound marketing efforts. As a rule, marketing is only as effective as it is targeted. Even if your company will sell its products to anyone who’s willing to buy them, you can’t rely on serendipity to bring you high-value or ideal customers.

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