Most of our marketing conversations begin with the target audience. Actually, that’s not true. Most marketing conversations begin with some casual pleasantries regarding the weather, airline beverage services or local hiking trails. And then we transition directly into how well you know your target audience.

Here’s how that conversation usually goes:

You know who you are trying to target (the people who are in need of your service). You know generally what position they are (CEO, CTO, CMO, Head of HR…). You probably have a good idea of how old they are and where they are in their career path. You may even know what challenges they face in their work.

If you already know all this stuff that’s wonderful. If your marketing reflects all of this knowledge that’s even better (Most marketing does not reflect this depth of knowledge. Most marketing involves various repetitions of value propositions.)

But here’s the thing: You have not even scratched the epidermis. These characteristics you’re using to define your audience are all well and good. But you haven’t even gotten into the good stuff.

What you really want to know is ‘what keeps your ideal clients up at night?’ What are their nightmares (In the work sense)? Because those are the reasons they need you.

STEP ONE: DEFINE YOUR IDEAL CLIENTS’ NIGHTMARES

Take a deep breath and make a commitment to utilize empathy to guide you through this process. That is the only way to get yourself into the metaphorical sneakers of the clients that you seek to understand. Also, disregard your product/service for this exercise. It doesn’t serve you here. Just think about one real client that you’ve worked with all the way through the buyer’s journey (you may need to bring some people from your sales team into this conversation).

Start with addressing what the fears are of this first target persona. Here are a couple examples of what these fears might look like:

  • A CEO fears being caught from behind by some leaner, swifter startup or having to lay off employees
  • Heads of HR fear not being able to hold onto top level talent.
  • Funded Founders fear never becoming profitable.

If you’re having trouble zeroing in on the fears then start the exercise by addressing these three things:

  • How is each persona measured in their role?
  • Who do they report to?
  • What are the goals for them in their specific position?

From those three questions the inherent challenges of their lives will rise to the surface. And from those challenges you’ll be able to diagnose the fears and worst nightmares.

STEP TWO: Decide How To Address Those Nightmares With Marketing

Let’s say that during step one you decided that your ideal client is the head of HR and her worst nightmare is losing high level talent. Your next step is to brew a keyword list from that nightmare (if a keyword list is a foreign concept let us know and we’ll provide best practices).

Here are a few keyword examples that should come to the surface:

  • Retaining Talent
  • How To Retain Top Talent
  • Attracting And Retaining Talent
  • A Guide For Retaining Talent

At this point you can begin to flesh out a series of content pieces that directly acknowledge the nightmare and offer thoughtful considerations and solutions. This is where you can begin to talk about your product or service but never talk about it in a sales-y way. People do not want to be sold to. They want to be engaged with.

Your primary intention is to offer useful, solution oriented information. Your product/service will most likely be one ingredient of a solution or one option on a list of possible solutions.

By addressing the Head of HR’s fear directly you have attracted their mouse click and their eyeballs. Because your content is empathetic and useful (not sales-y) you will earn trust. This potential client is now in the top of your funnel and can be nurtured accordingly.

STEP THREE: HOW TO EXECUTE YOUR NIGHTMARE BASED MARKETING STRATEGY

Set yourself (and your company) up for success with the execution of the strategy. How many content pieces will you do per month? (Less than 4 is not really worth the trouble. But more than 8 might crush morale.) Just be honest with the resources that you have in place and what you think your team is capable of.

Try to plan your content roll-out to fit the “Topic Cluster” logic. (Do not be intimidated by this jargon. You probably would have done this instinctually.) All it really means is that you roll out a series of content that all addresses a “Cornerstone” concept. Using our example from above the cornerstone is “Retaining Top Level Talent.” So you’ll create one robust cornerstone piece (a guide perhaps) and then create 8-10 supplementary content pieces that also relate to the cornerstone concept.  One of our cornerstone pieces is a guide to Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing.

Here’s a video that explains the strategy in more detail

It is important to have a repeatable process in place for the planning and execution of the content roll-out. Google will reward you for consistency and for utilizing SEO best practices. This means that your team has to be prepared to publish with regularity as soon as you begin. If you do not have a great process in place for planning and executing content let us know. We can chat you up over the phone or, if the demand is high, we can publish some juicy resources.


It has occurred to me multiple times, while writing this, that the whole ‘nightmare’ concept sounds sort of exploitative. It kind of sounds like I’m suggesting your target vulnerabilities. Which sounds pretty unsavory.

Allow me to clear the air: The intention of your inbound marketing is to reduce or extinguish fear. Content is the tylenol that brings down the fever. Content is the popsicle that makes your kid feel better. Content is the hot toddy that cures your sore throat.

Your clients have fears. Those fears are an opportunity for you to reach them and offer them helpful information. Establish your company as a reliable resource and place your solution under the nose of the clients who need you the most.

If any of our thoughts or suggestions have ignited some curiosities, frustrations, questions or desires please do not hesitate to reach out. We’re always happy to schedule a call, coffee, lunch, hike, or just eat some caramels.

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