A guide to verticalization: What it is, when to try it, and how to get started

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A business’s specialty areas can go deep.

I’m a business-to-business (B2B) software as a service (SaaS) writer. Sounds pretty niche, right? Well, it turns out that I narrow that specialty even further: within those areas, I focus on speaking to marketers (like you).

The same goes for almost every B2B business. You serve a specific market, and within that market, there are people in a variety of industries or roles. Targeting each of those industries or roles is called verticalization.

Do we need a six-syllable word for it? Maybe not. But the practice is growing in popularity, so I chatted with some marketing pros across multiple industries to learn why marketing verticalization is a solid strategy—and how to do it right.

What is verticalization?

Verticalization is the practice of targeting your marketing toward a certain industry or industry niche, also known as a vertical.

It works similarly to segmentation, in the sense that you’re targeting an audience, but there’s a difference:

  • Segmentation puts audience members into groups based on individual factors like demographics, location, or specific actions they’ve taken.

  • Verticalization goes a little broader by focusing on the audience’s professional specialization. Its industry- and role-based approach is what makes it a great tactic for B2B companies.

Verticalization can look wildly different depending on how a company serves other businesses.

Verticalization examples

Pathpoint helps insurance agents in the excess and surplus market—coverage that isn’t included in standard plans. “Within that market, we offer services to help agents with clients needing insurance coverage for cyber, contractors, vacant properties, lessor’s risk only, and restaurants. We verticalize our marketing campaigns to address the unique challenges within those coverage areas. For example, we send targeted emails to insurance agents seeking solar energy contractor’s liability quotes,” says Liz Deranja, their head of marketing.

Meanwhile, at Intergrowth, content marketing strategist Chris Zacher is working with the insurance industry using a different approach. Chris says: “In one of our current campaigns, we’re building content for an insurance company that targets freelance business owners. While our target buyers are all independent contractors, the clients’ existing customers work in all kinds of verticals. So for their webblog, we’ve created content that targets a bunch of different industries. We have content for freelance accountants, freelance chefs, personal trainers, etc.” As a content marketer, Chris uses a content-focused verticalization technique rather than an email strategy.

How to verticalize your marketing

When you do verticalization right, you’ll have stronger marketing. You’ll build authority in your vertical by becoming a reliable source of information. Plus, you’ll have more opportunities to execute tailored marketing campaigns that resonate with your audience.

But verticalization takes careful research, consideration, and strategy-building. Follow these tips to start a vertical marketing strategy.

  1. Find your high-value verticals

  2. Talk to current customers in your verticals

  3. Go as deep as you can

  4. Identify personas in your verticals—and their journeys

  5. Create a vertical content strategy

  6. Target your vertical’s favorite marketing channels

1. Find your high-value verticals

First things first: choose the verticals you want to target. Velocity points out some good questions to ask yourself in the process:

  • How important is this market or niche to my business? Make sure your vertical relates to your product and business mission—don’t verticalize for verticalization’s sake.

  • Will people in this market use my product? Ensure that you’re marketing to someone who will take interest in the product they click through to.

  • Do I have salespeople already dedicated to this niche? Sales are also important in vertical marketing, and having a specialized salesperson will give you a leg up.

  • Do I have any notable wins in this market? If you have any high-profile clients or big-money contracts in a certain niche, it could be the way to go.

When you’re reflecting on what markets to verticalize, your best bet is to look at what markets have succeeded for you in the past and focus on those. As you get experienced with verticalization, you can then try for brand new markets.

2. Talk to current customers in your verticals

Once you decide which vertical(s) you want to target, consult your current customers in that industry about their experience with your product. Ask them questions like:

  • How do you use our product? Keep an eye out for unconventional or market-specific use cases for your product.

  • What do you like best about our product? Look for benefits that help people in this vertical do their job.

  • What areas of your business do you need the most support with? Think about how you can give customers in your vertical the support they need.

  • Where do you consume most of your marketing content? Check for patterns in the types of marketing they consume most (e.g., email, social media, main blogs, etc.), especially if it’s different from customers in other verticals.

One important topic to ask about is industry-specific pain points—what parts of their job give them problems that your product can solve?

In a previous job, Compose.ly‘s Alexander Carter discovered how complaints about work can unveil these pain points:

“The biggest factor that helped with the success of vertical efforts in a previous role was really understanding the nuances and frustrations from that niche industry and talking to it from a helpful and knowledgeable stance. The things that people in certain industries complain about are the pieces of information that really help you resonate with that audience. There might be some broad appeal for the product or service, but unless you help illustrate how you are solving that very unique frustration, they’ll pass by it.”

Alexander uses the example of DVIR compliance in the fleet maintenance management industry. Most industries don’t even know what that term means, but it poses a lot of challenges for fleet maintenance managers that the software Alexander worked with could solve.

When you consult your customers, try to conduct one-on-one interviews instead of a generalized survey to get deeper insights. They give you the chance to ask for more details and get valuable off-the-cuff comments.

3. Go as deep as you can

Verticalization doesn’t just have to include a few changes in webblog copy and content strategy. You can build it into your sales and marketing from the ground up to connect to people in your vertical.

Stacey Danheiser from SHAKE Marketing Group explains that there are different tiers of verticalization with different degrees of commitment and success:

A table showing verticalization efforts for marketing and sales at 4 levels: veneer, surface, mid-range, and deep dive
Image credit: SHAKE Marketing Group

For Stacey, verticalization doesn’t stop at marketing—it also includes sales and product. As you can see in the chart above that she shared, a verticalization strategy’s depth depends on how you integrate it into your marketing and sales.

“Most of the time companies have a ‘veneer’ level approach—changing some webblog copy and images to give the impression that they are ‘dedicated’ to serving that vertical,” Stacey explains. But that surface-level commitment shows through to customers, who’ll catch on when you don’t truly know enough about your vertical.

She also cited an Edelman statistic that 71% of decision-makers think that under half of the thought leadership they read offers valuable insights. “In this case, ‘valuable insights’ only come when a company really understands their customer’s industry, trends and drivers impacting them, the main players and challengers in the industry, who is positioned to win and why, etc. This is a strategic, research-based approach, where firsthand experience is invaluable. This isn’t something that can be faked or easily outsourced to an ad agency without any knowledge of the industry.”

Of course, it’s no small commitment to spend so much money and time to dive into a niche. In Stacey’s experience, the process is usually gradual.

“I’ve personally worked in orgs who have been at all different levels of verticalization.

It will typically start with a segmentation and market sizing exercise—which verticals show the most promise and align with what we sell? Then, some experimentation with a marketing veneer (webblog copy and maybe some light segmentation for email campaigns). If that shows some promise, they will move on to having one person dedicated to creating content, understanding the vertical, attending trade shows, making connections with industry publications, etc. (This process can be sped up by hiring a marketer directly from the industry).

Typically, this is where it becomes obvious that the sales team needs industry training/expertise, and this is very hard to do with a team of generalists, so they may take the next step—hiring the first salesperson with industry experience.”

The takeaway: the deeper you can go with your verticalization, the better. But you don’t have to go all-in at first. Verticalize little by little, and keep going if you get good results.

As you integrate verticalization into your overall business strategy, consider how it’ll play into your sales and marketing funnel as well. You can verticalize your interactions with current customers as much as you can with potential ones.

“For us at Mason, verticalization starts at acquisition but continues full-funnel,” says Mason founder, Kausambi Manjita. “We’ve verticalized Mason based on customer segments who build their eCommerce business over a specific platform. This includes installation and activation, conversion, as well as help and support. The implication of this? Top-of-funnel marketing, customer marketing, and customer experience, all tied together vertically.”

4. Identify personas in your vertical—and their journey

You can combine verticalization with user personas to create marketing that resonates with your customers on multiple levels. Once you hash out those personas, you can then map out the customer journey they take when shopping for and using your product.

Pranoy Pauly, the digital marketing manager for Document360, integrates personas and customer journeys into the verticalization process for a holistic approach. Pranoy uses a four-step process for verticalization:

  1. Identify verticals

  2. Create personas within each vertical

  3. Establish each persona’s customer journey

  4. Start ideating content for different touchpoints in their journey

Pranoy described to me how personas and use cases can vary even within the same vertical, so it’s important to get granular.

5. Create a vertical content strategy

Now that you know who you’re marketing to in your verticals, a great place to start in vertical marketing is content. Content has a lower barrier to entry and reaches customers throughout your funnel.

As you integrate your vertical content strategy into your main content strategy, should you go all-in on verticalization or make it an offshoot of more generic content? Both strategies can work, depending on how far you want to niche down.

Bill Rice grew his agency, Kaleidico, by 60% year-over-year in the past two years through a fully verticalized content strategy aimed at mortgage lenders and law firms. Bill says:

“We lead our vertical strategies with content that positions us as the experts in the community (vertical). First, by publishing plans and strategies that highlight our approach/process. Then, we demonstrate and validate these strategies with case studies.

This brings prospects to us that are looking for immediate solutions and an expert to accelerate their success. These prospects often reference our eBooks and case studies during our discovery calls. They’re pre-sold on our approach and philosophies.

We’re now replicating this strategy by adding one vertical at a time with the same playbook.

I would recommend that any company that wants to use this strategy should commit to deeply engaging and learning about the community and becoming an expert. Then sell that expertise.”

Meanwhile, at Formstack, the content team verticalizes their biggest hits. Content marketing manager Lindsey McGuire says: “The best thing we’ve done is verticalize our largest piece of content we produce each year. For instance, we produce one stand-alone, large report that is crafted for a broader audience, then we will segment the data by industry and create shorter, condensed pieces that speak directly to that industry.” For example, they verticalized their The Rise of the No-Code Economy report for financial services with the guide Financial Process Automation: A Guide to No-Code Workflows.

If you don’t feel ready to dedicate all your content to a vertical just yet, try starting with Formstack’s strategy—verticalizing your best-performing content. Watch that verticalized content’s performance, then decide from there if you want to go all the way.

6. Target your vertical’s favorite marketing channels

The marketing channels you use right now may not match up with the channels your vertical uses. Use the info you got from interviewing your customers to choose where you’ll distribute your marketing materials and content.

Spendesk‘s head of content, Patrick Whatman, learned the importance of channels when verticalizing for more “traditional” industries than tech, like retail and construction. Whatman says:

“The biggest lesson—and we learned it right away—was that the *channels* can be quite different. Our main blog and LinkedIn are great for those plugged-in tech companies, but we want to reach construction, retail, and food. They’re not necessarily scrolling through LinkedIn feeds or Googling for answers all day.

We had to get a lot more serious about local events, sponsorships, and even looked into classic radio advertising. People really do listen to terrestrial radio here in France, especially when they drive from job blog to job blog.”

But just because your audience mainly consumes traditional marketing doesn’t mean you should avoid the digital side entirely. “Then, of course, we have some very specific, niche main blog and webblog content to support that. We still want to be there for the Googlers!” Patrick adds.

Analyze your hard work

How do you know if your vertical marketing strategy is working?

If you don’t have data collection and analytics set up for your marketing, go do it right now. Use tools like Google Analytics to track data like page visits, call-to-action clicks, and time spent on page.

Then, check if your verticalized marketing materials are bringing in customers and purchases with marketing attribution technology. This tech will show if your new customers are coming from your verticalized work. Keep tweaking your approach until you feel good about your verticalization strategy success.

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