One simple framework to use before talking about marketing channels7 min time well spent

7 min time well spent

Let me be honest with you. What I’m going to tell you, it’s not rocket science. However, if you use it as a first-order principle, a factor to base your decision on and always hold in mind when talking about customer acquisition channels and content, it will do you great.

When people want to acquire customers, they often start looking at marketing channels. A channel is a means to an end – the end is reaching and converting your target audience. 

To know what channel to use, you need to know how solution and problem aware people are. Try to take a step back before you start spending money on testing new channels for your customer acquisition.

And I get it, it seems logical to think: ‘My audience is on LinkedIn, so we should advertise on LinkedIn!’. However, do you know how aware people are about your solution or even the problem your product is tackling?

Let me introduce you to one of my favourite frameworks. It’s so simple, it’s so clear, it’s so intuitive, it’s so genius, that everybody forgets to think about it and apply it to the real world.

Calling it a framework could even be an overstatement. It simply visualizes: ‘How problem/solution aware is my customer?’

What can we do with this framework? Glad you asked. There are 3 purposes.

1. Begin where your conversions are the easiest to get

The first purpose of this framework is to start in the middle. Why start in the middle? Let’s take 3D Hubs as an example. 

On one hand, we have John, an engineer that never used a digital solution to source his parts. He’s been doing it for 20 years and doesn’t know anything else than his traditional supplier with which he often calls and has a lot of back-and-forth dealmaking. This is an engineer in category B of the circle above. 

Then there’s Mara, she ordered parts before at a digital platform and knows how great it is to receive a price for her price in 1 minute and order at the click of a button. She knows the pain of waiting 2 weeks for a quote (traditional supplier) and knows that there are digital solutions out there. She’s in category E.

If we want John (B) to become our customer (F), we need to do the following:

  • B -> C: Convince John that he overpays for his supplier and the quality is not that good. John becomes problem aware, but not actively looking for a solution.
  • C -> D: Convince John how easy it is to try out a new supplier and that he can get his money back if there’s a dispute. John is now actively searching for a solution, but not ours.
  • D -> E: Convince John about the advantages of a digital platform & distributed manufacturing (like 3D Hubs) vs. a traditional supplier. John is now open to our solution.
  • E -> F: Convince John you’re a trusted party that is suited for the job. John becomes a customer.

Now, if we want Mara (E) to become a customer (F), we need to do the following:

  • E -> F: Convince Mara you’re a trusted party that is suited for the job. Mara becomes a customer.

That was easy. Fewer objections to tackle, fewer things that could go wrong and a shorter time to conversion.

Now, we can shift the question from ‘What marketing channel is best for us?’ to ‘Where can we find people that are open to our solution and searching for it?’, the latter being a lot easier.

If you can’t find any people that are actively searching for your solution (E), go to the next ring (D), people that are searching for a solution, but not yours. If there’s nobody in ring D, go to ring C, etc.

2. Different ring, different messaging

Every ring has different objections to tackle. Every ring has potential customers in a different state of mind. Using the same messaging through all rings would probably be a bad idea.

The same accounts for your ad copy. To convince someone to click, you want to know whether someone knows of their problem, solution or already your product.

Important questions to be answered are:

  • How problem/solution aware are your visitors before they land on your homepage?
  • How problem/solution aware are people on social media?
  • How problem/solution aware are people before they book a sales call and how problem/solution aware should they be?
  • Is my landing page tackling all the objections to get people from the outer rings to the inner rings?

When you know this information, it’s a lot easier to create the right messaging and you ensure your message actually comes across.  

3. The rings don’t look the same for everyone

The size of the rings are not linear, the same size or consistent between companies (even in the same industry).

A client of mine, BLACKBEAR® (a company linking a talent pool of 3.000 young talents to innovation issues of businesses) has a very tough nut to crack. 

We’re first-movers with an innovative product that nobody has seen before, we have to spend a lot of time educating the market. Most of our time is spent on the outer rings, making people aware of their problems and what a solution like ours entails.

How the market can look like from the start for a first-mover.

What if you sell car insurance? Everybody is required to have car insurance. Everybody with a car automatically is aware of their problem (which eliminates ring B). On top of this, car insurance is also mostly a commodity, with no big differences (this eliminates ring D).

Isn’t it exciting? Selling car insurance…

With car insurance most of your audience is in C: people aware of their problem, but not actively looking for a solution or E: aware of their problem, actively looking for a solution and open to your solution.

Visualizing the size of the rings is great as a basis for your content strategy.

Using this framework to get the first inbound order

Now, let’s take another example of a friend of mine. My friend wanted to sell more pasta straws. ‘Niels, what to do?’. You’re probably thinking ‘Start in the middle by looking if there are already people actively looking for pasta straws.’ Great thinking you.

I got my favourite SEO tool and checked how many people are searching for ‘pasta rietjes’ (Dutch). The result: 0-10 per month. Almost no people in the (E) ring.

How could we find our target audience that’s looking for another solution that solves the same problem?

The main problem pasta straws are solving is fighting the ecological waste of plastic straws while offering a cool alternative. People who buy paper straws have the same goals.

How many people are looking for ‘Papieren rietjes’ (Dutch)? 400 a month. Bingo. 

So we made a Google ad that phrased Pasta straws as a more hip and ecological solution. This got them their first inbound orders.

The wrap-up

Knowing how problem/solution aware your audience is, greatly helps to formulate a content strategy. You also know what hurdles your copy should overcome as we read in the John/Mara example. Finally, I hope you’ll be able to find these places where customers are desperately waiting to buy your product.

If you’re in a startup or have one, I’d love to get in touch and lend a hand out for free in these difficult times. You can reach me at Niels [at]

Disclaimer: Ferdinand Goetzen, our Director of Growth at 3D Hubs, came up with this framework when creating 3D Hubs strategy. I highly recommend to check out his content too:


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