Long before the term, “Ready, Aim, Fire,” was popularized by the song of that name in the movie “Iron Man 3,” it was used to describe the sequence of activities of troops arranged in opposing lines aiming their muskets at one another. The sequence was certainly appropriate in that setting since both sides clearly understood who the targets were and what they wanted to accomplish. However, in marketing activities, the targets and the goals may not be as obvious. Instead, perhaps a better sequence is to aim first, then get ready, and finally fire.
The convenient, but simplistic, marketing answer is that the goal is to aim at all potential prospects with one universal marketing approach in one large-scale announcement. Unfortunately, universal approaches often universally fail. Mass, but easily customizable, communications has made target marketing the new standard approach. We all experience it when we go online and browse. Unbeknownst to us, many sites install cookies and other tracking software to “help us.” With information gathered from our previous online activities as well as information captured from other sources, sites can determine what we have looked at on their site and others and then provide us with “guidance” the next time we access their sites. In the past, some sites have even adjusted the prices that they show to an individual user based on their past history and even their location. It is up to the reader to judge the appropriateness, ethics, and effectiveness of these techniques.
Unfortunately, many companies involve Marketing far too late in the product or service development efforts. The result is that the market “aiming” activity must be taken within a limited field of view. Using a military analogy: A rifle scope allows pinpoint accuracy, but only within a very restricted field of view. A scope is only useful after the entire battlefield has been scanned and an appropriate target is identified. A less abstract example of the value of aiming first involves determining the initial target market. A product may have a wide market appeal, but it may be difficult to gain initial traction due to the newness of the offering; in essence, having no external validation that can be referenced. Perhaps a better approach might be to initially aim at a smaller market, that is easier to access, that will provide external validation that can be leveraged with the much larger, slower-to-develop, long-term desired market.
Following the above strategy could have some significant impacts on the initial marketing approaches. For example, a local focus rather than a widespread focus may be more appropriate. Or, emphasizing different features or functions that have more appeal to the initial market, or offering the product at a different price point, may be more effective. This approach also has the advantage of retrenching more effectively if the initial assumptions are not correct.
Taking the time to aim first, even before the product is ready, may provide enough time to adjust what “ready” really means. If adjustments are made, it is obviously far better to make them earlier rather than later when the adjustments actually may be viewed as re-work. As a last, almost tongue-in-cheek comment, aim first so that you are not “fired” if the target goal is missed!