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Back in the day, pre obscenely accurate, borderline intrusive marketing analytics, there used to be this debate about sniper marketing vs shotgun marketing.  

Which is better? Which marketing strategy should your business follow? Should you use a combination of both? 

And believe it or not, it was quite a hot debate. It compared the up-and-coming, more precise method of doing things with the traditional format of marketing as we know it. 

But today, in the age of “holy crap I just thought of this product, how the hell is it suddenly in my face?”, the debate is barely relevant anymore.

Any marketer worth their salt engages in some form of sniper marketing tactics.

The only question now is, do they do it right? And also, is there a 2020 version of “shotgun” marketing that could be more impactful? 

In this article, we’re going to be exploring the evolution of “sniper marketing”, as well as the contemporary versions of competing marketing strategies, to find out whether there does exist a superior option to the “one shot, one kill” approach. 

But first, what is sniper marketing?

“Sniper marketing” is basically boomer speak for targeting. Crazy, we know. 

But back in the day, that’s the term marketers used to describe the concept of focusing marketing efforts on a particular demographic or segment of their audience. 

These days, it just means getting the right message to the right people at the right time and in the right way. Which is pretty much how every single marketing team on the face of this earth aims to operate. 

Why? Well because it would be ridiculous not to.

We’re living in an age where we’ve got such huge amounts of specific data about consumer behavior, that we barely even know what to do with it anymore.

We have influencers with tons of subscribers who offer a direct link to the new customers we hope to reach, and content marketing strategies that add real value to existing customers to keep retention rates high.

We know what type of blog posts our customers want to read, what type of advertisements they respond to, what type of video content they enjoy, and what kind of new product they hope to see us launch.

So why in the world wouldn’t we use this information to target people who are more likely to buy our stuff?

Why wouldn’t we focus our marketing activities on measurable initiatives that will use solid information to call our audience to action, increase our conversion rate, and help us reach our business goals?

We’d have to be crazy to choose to dedicate budgets, resources, and efforts to a shot in the dark marketing campaign that is difficult to track and may not even yield real conversions. 

Which brings us to… 

What is shotgun marketing?

Shotgun marketing is fancy talk for “I’m going to cast a wide net and see what, if anything, I catch”.

It involves little to no market research and is based on more of a let’s put a pretty girl next to a car, “wing it”, mentality – hence the name. 

You shoot a bunch of pellets and see what sticks. 

sniper marketing
Gif via giphy.com

Examples of this are old-school marketing methods, like print, TV, billboards, flyers, and the worst offender of all, telemarketing. 

This type of marketing isn’t quite dead in the water just yet, because there’s still a brand awareness value in these initiatives. But it’s certainly nothing to write home about when it comes to lead generation and producing positive ROIs.

(Except cold-calling and telemarketing. That literally has no branding value at all. In fact, please tell us how anyone still thinks this is a good B2C strategy to promote your product or service in 2020? People don’t even pick up calls from their grandmas anymore, let alone answer ones from seedy injury lawyers and toner sellers)

But we digress. Basically, this is one of the greatest culprits when it comes to wasting your marketing budget.  

So why the debate, then?

Well, back then, as the name might suggest, “sniper marketing” was sort of a loaded term. 

It implied sneaking up on your potential customers when they least expected it and hitting them with a shot (or ad) so perfectly molded to their interests that it was almost creepy. 

No one could have dreamed that they’d know this much about their audiences, or rather, that it would be the norm to have such in-depth insights.

Therefore, teams wanted to dedicate extra efforts to make the ads helpful and as minimally invasive as possible.

Understandable… Admirable, even. 

But certainly not a reason to go shotgun over sniper. 

Anyway, as we mentioned earlier, this new mentality challenged the status quo regarding the concept of marketing as we know it.

It traded broad, elaborate initiatives for more pointed, perhaps smaller campaigns that, although cost less, somehow brought in more. 

The question back then was: sure, we’re getting a better ROI, but fewer people are seeing our stuff. Is that not detrimental to our brand visibility? 

The evolution of the sniper

Obviously, as data collection and search engine analysis progressed, the more effective marketing strategy emerged pretty clearly. And we’re pretty sure no one would argue for the shotgun approach today. 

But that doesn’t mean that the “sniper” approach has been perfected all these years later. 

There is still much to be learned and much to improve upon. 

For example, while sniper marketing might have been “cheaper” back then due to the comparative cost of traditional marketing campaigns, these days, targeting doesn’t mean spending less. It just means running a more cost-effective campaign. 

And even with that caveat, online marketing teams all over the place are wasting millions on failed retargeting initiatives and badly researched campaigns. 

You see, as we said before, these days, we have more marketing analytics than we know what to do with. And brands around the world are getting overwhelmed just by Google Analytics alone because they’re not equipped enough to deal with it. 

Some are understaffed, others don’t have the software needed to automate data analysis and streamline the collection process. 

And most experience a sort of paralysis by analysis where they get stuck in a loop of data collection and data categorization, without dedicating the necessary efforts to actually respond to what the data tells them to do. 

See, the “sniper” approach isn’t really sniper at all when you’ve got all the bullets in the world, but no idea how to load the gun. 

It’s more of “gee I think I’m supposed to be shooting somewhere in that direction” marketing than sniper marketing, even all these years later. 

So, is it not the best type of marketing strategy, then?

Don’t be silly, of course, it is. But only if you do it right. 

The “sniper” approach is still the most lucrative, cost-effective, and reliable digital marketing strategy that currently exists. And all your competitors are using it. 

But if you want to get an edge on all of them, you have to dedicate a lot more resources to ensure you proactively optimize your efforts according to what the data tells you.

Successful marketing means nurturing your customers throughout the funnel, and across all marketing channels. 

Time and money need to be put into data curation and the subsequent implementation of the analytics-driven conclusions. 

We went over how to do all of that in a separate article, so head on over there if you want to snipe it up good. 

As for the 2020 alternative to the shotgun – well arguably, that’s viral marketing. 

What is viral marketing?

Hubspot defines viral marketing as content that catches the attention of a brand’s target audience and resonates with it to the point where it spreads like wildfire. 

And that’s accurate. But true viral marketing also catches the attention of people that aren’t necessarily included in a brand’s target market.  

In fact, if you ask us, it’s more like the least targeted, most effective type of campaign there is. 

And ironically, unlike its ancient predecessor the shotgun, it’s much cheaper and far higher yielding in terms of sales, branding, and engagement, all thanks to the beauty of the internet and meme culture. 

But let’s not kid ourselves here – a good viral campaign is like catching lightning in a bottle. And it’s certainly no valid, long-term marketing plan that provides an alternative to targeting. 

Sure, you can dedicate some resources to trying to establish a sound viral campaign that perfectly aligns with your niche. But by no means is it going to replace the tried and true, ROI- predictive approach of a highly targeted marketing strategy. 

And yet, it still beats the hell out of whatever a flyer, telemarketer, or newspaper ad would get you. 

So what approach should your business take?

A marketing campaign that combines it all would be ideal. 

We’ve been poking fun at the boomer-ness of the “sniper marketing” term, but in all seriousness, it might do us some good to adjust the messaging and go back to calling it that. 

It might help remind us that targeting is only effective if it’s actually precise. 

If our target moves, changes their behavior, or shifts into the territory of one of our competitors, we need to readjust our position and meet them where they are. 

So if you get anything out of this article, make it this: do some introspection. 

Go back to the drawing board and see if your marketing department is sufficiently equipped in all the crucial areas: data collection, data curation, data analysis, and most importantly, data implementation. 

Check if you’re making the most of every type of marketing:

  • social media marketing,
  • content marketing,
  • influencer marketing,
  • email marketing,

And all the other marketing tools available to you today.

And if not, move your sandbag to another spot before taking your aim again. 

One shot, one kill. That is, and always will be, the name of the game. 

sniper marketing
Gif via giphy.com
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