Aspirational Targeting for B2B Marketers

May 23, 2023

Image Credit: DALL-E, prompt: "a 1960s realistic art deco painting depicting a person who aspires for something more using primary colors FF5832 and DBFE31"

Aspirational targeting is a marketing strategy that has been used successfully by many consumer marketers. B2B marketers can also use these techniques to expand their reach and connect with the individuals within their target markets who are pre-wired to make a difference and become champions for their products and services.


What is Aspirational Marketing? Learning from Consumer Marketers.

Marketers learn to connect their product features to the needs and wants of the consumers in their target markets.  People need toothpaste to brush their teeth, but they want a winning smile. When you take this a step further, you realize that consumers dream and aspire for more than they have today.

One of the best examples of aspirational consumer marketing is the Nike “Just Do It” campaign. The youth athlete or weekend warrior dreams of playing at the level of Serena Williams or Michael Jordan, and buying the shoes or workout gear that their heroes use just might give them the edge to get there. The powerful emotional connection that the brand made with their consumers has driven billions in sales and created a legion of super fans for the brand.


Applying the Concepts to B2B

In the B2B context, the aspirational hero in the story isn’t a person, it’s a job. The finance manager wants to be a CFO some day, the VP of growth wants to be a CMO, and the Director of IT wants to be a CIO.

Just like the kid who dreams of playing in the World Cup like Cristiano Ronaldo and wears his kit and practices his moves, the sales director who wants the CRO job someday will attend the webinar about best practices in sales planning for the CRO and will be thrilled to join the CRO community to learn from her peers.

Instead of selling shoes, workout gear, and sports equipment, you are engaging your audience with content, experiences, and community designed to help them reach their career goals.


Balancing Inclusiveness and Approachability with Exclusivity and Quality

This strategy only works when you strike the right balance in the message and content of your offer.  If you are creating a webinar for finance professionals, you can indicate that the content is designed for CFOs, but also make it clear that “aspiring CFOs” are welcome to attend the session. Just remember that your audience will include both CFOs and non-CFOs.  If you don’t design the content to reach the CFO, you will potentially alienate your best audience. And if you advertise the session for anyone in finance, you may never attract that CFO in the first place.

We tried to achieve this balance with “The Next CMO” campaign that we created for my last company, Plannuh.  The goal was to create content that was appealing and appropriate for leading CMOs, but also open that content up to “aspiring CMOs” who were interested. The strategy worked quite well and we eventually expanded the campaign from a book, to a podcast, to a CMO community.


Many Marketers Fool Themselves With Their Target Audience Definition

I was first motivated to try this approach after realizing that most marketers were not really reaching the audiences that they identified in their ideal customer profile.  When I ask marketers (or sales professionals) about their target audience, the vast majority will mention someone in the C Suite as a primary target.  I’ve heard sales reps make statements like “I only call on CFOs,” only to find out that the majority of their interactions are with finance directors when you examine the CRM data.

Does that mean that selling to finance directors is a bad strategy? Absolutely not! It turns out that many organizations rely on their middle managers to get the real work done. Some middle managers have broad authority to make decisions, and many of them are influential enough to champion the implementation of your solution for their company.


Why Role Aspirers Are Good Targets

There are many advantages to targeting role aspirers with your message, from broadening your reach to developing key champions for your solution.  

1. There Are More of Them

A simple benefit is the fact that there are more people who aspire to the top role in the organization than currently inhabit the role. That expansion of the audience creates more opportunities to engage someone in the organization, and in some cases, you may be able to engage multiple stakeholders in the same company with your message.

The graphic below illustrates how this opportunity might present itself in a target customer organization. If you are targeting the CIO, the direct reports to the CIO may aspire to the role.  The key is to find those leaders who are interested in the role and have influence in the organization. In larger organizations, you may see multiple layers of role aspirers who can be targeted.

2. They are More Likely to Engage with Your Message

Along with the larger target audience, this audience is more likely to connect with your marketing. One reason for this is that the top role is targeted by most companies, while the supporting roles in the organization aren’t targeted as often. And when the supporting roles are targeted, they are less likely to be engaged with content that is designed for the C Suite executive.

If you receive an invitation for a CFO forum as a VP of Finance, you might just be flattered enough to make room in your busy schedule to accommodate the event to get a peek inside a CFO event.

3. They Tend to be Ambitious

Role aspirers are also, by definition, ambitious.  They are striving for something new and looking for ways to prove themselves. When you educate them with a new approach to solving a problem in their organization, they may be a little more open that the top executive to listen to a new idea so they can differentiate themselves.

4. They Can be Influential

While not all role aspirers are influential, many of them are.  If they have a realistic opportunity to advance their careers, then they are likely to have strong influence in the organization. That combination of influence and ambition can be very powerful when it comes to convincing a company to try something new.


Why does it work?

To be transparent, it doesn’t always work. This approach is more likely to work if you have a thought leadership strategy because you are creating compelling content and experiences for the target. But when you have high-quality, authentic content, you can actually help those role aspirers reach their career goals. And getting someone promoted is the best way to create a fan of your brand for life.

So go ahead, just do it.


Get my latest content before everyone else 😎


You know the drill. Sign up here and I will send you my latest info on content and events. 


Sign me up!


We won't send spam. Unsubscribe at any time.