Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Challenges Facing Today's CMO

As was widely reported last year, Gartner's Laura McLellan predicted that by 2017, the CMO would spend more on IT than the CIO.

This has come up again in my thinking as a I have been doing some work recently for a client. I was struck by the complexity of the set of software tools available to the CMO. If we just look at content marketing, Curata recently published an interesting map of the associated tools available for that discipline:

Curata's Content Marketing Map (click here for a full size version)
Consider this complexity shown in the diagram for a moment. Granted, content marketing forms the foundation of most modern marketing campaigns, so this is a large part of the tool universe that the CMO has to worry about. However, this doesn't even address digital advertising, another major area of concern for the CMO. The map for the digital advertising toolset it equally as complex, including media firms, ad networks, targeting technologies, paid search and paid social management, etc.

Because of the movement toward everything being digital, the CMO is asked to manage incredible technical complexity. Even a smaller firm's chief marketer probably deals with at least a dozen different tools. At a larger firm, it can be far more.

So how is a CMO supposed to manage this technology complexity? The Gartner statement implies a comparison, or even a competition for resources, between a CIO and a CMO. But there is one major difference between the two: the CIO is a technologist, but that frequently is not true of the CMO. Although it is changing, the CMO's experience is built on branding, positioning, strategy, advertising, and many other tools, not necessarily on technology.

Purchase Risk

One of most challenging aspects of managing these large technology bases is reducing the risk associated with purchasing and integrating new technologies. The CIO and CMO both control very large technology budgets, and hence face significant risk when making the decision to purchase a new tool that may cost millions of dollars. How do they ensure that this new tool will work as advertised with the other tools they already own? How do they limit purchase risk?

The CIO has a couple of means to minimize risk:
  • Large tool providers with complete offerings, like IBM or Microsoft. These companies offer very broad product lines that are already integrated, so the CIO can confidently add new tools to her existing lineup.
  • Third-party VARs, integrators, and middleware providers. Because the IT software and services industry is fairly mature, there are thousands of third-party providers ready to step in to both help guide the purchase selection process and to ensure successful integration of the new tool.
Does the CMO have access to the same risk-reduction techniques? The marketing tools market is much younger than the IT market. Some tool categories are brand new (like content curation) and others are still rapidly evolving. There are few large providers that have complete solutions. Third-party providers are rare, and tend to take the form of marketing agencies that don't have much of a track record in technology integration.

Risk Abatement for CMOs

The marketing tools vendors are moving rapidly to address the risk issue. First, there has been a lot of consolidation activity as large enterprise software providers have made significant purchases in this area. Here are some examples:
  • Adobe acquired Omniture, Efficient Frontier Technology, Demdex, and Neolane
  • IBM acquired Unica, Xtify, DemandTec, and Coremetrics
  • Oracle acquired Compendium, Eloqua, Collective Intellect, and Virtrue
  • Salesforce acquired ExactTarget, Pardot, Buddy Media, and Radian6
Clearly, these companies are trying to become the same kind of full solution provider for marketing technology as they are for information technology.

Beyond acquiring companies for their portfolios, these companies are also establishing 'marketplaces' for third-party applications that work with and complement their solutions. These marketplaces include the Eloqua AppCloud and Salesforce AppExchange. While these marketplaces help reduce risk for the CMO by offering products that 'work with' the company's core offering, the products are not the same as a fully integrated tool developed by the company. (For an excellent article about third-party marketplaces for marketing automation, including a more complete list, see The emerging third-party era of marketing automation by Scott Brinker at Chief Marketing Technologist Blog.)

What's Next for the CMO?

While vendors are helping reduce the purchase risk associated with marketing technology, this is still just one aspect of the complexity facing the CMO. It's not likely going to be enough to make the 'traditional' CMO adequately prepared for the new technology environment.

A post on the Wall Street Journal blog speculated that this will mean the CIO may evolve into the Chief Digital Officer, responsible for not only a company's network, servers, computers, and productivity tools, but also for the digital marketing technologies. Maybe. But the CIO / CMO difference mentioned above has an important aspect: the CMO is a marketer, and that's not true of CIOs. So, can the CIO manage marketing automation tools for maximum marketing effectiveness? I'm doubtful. Another solution must be out there.

The need for a CMO grounded in marketing fundamentals is not going to change. Some CMOs may become comfortable with the new marketing technologies, but I don't know if that will be true of the majority. I also think that a Chief Digital Officer that combines information and marketing technology may work from a technical perspective, but someone still needs to ensure that marketing strategies are effectively implemented on those technologies.

I think we'll see a rise in a new set of executive titles, like VP Demand Generation, Chief Marketing Technology Officer, or, as Scott Brinker says, Chief Marketing Technologist. Marketing leaders in these new roles must be as much technologists as they are marketers.

(Image of digital marketing on chalkboard provided by KROMKRATHOG and traffic sign by mrpuen, both at freedigitalphotos.net.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Marketing Gold: How to Develop Brand Evangelists

How to develop brand evangelists and product evangelists
The concept of the brand evangelist has been around a long time. Guy Kawasaki wrote about it in the Art of the Start back in 2004. However, relatively few marketers actively recruit and engage evangelists, in part because it's not as easy to do as simply writing case studies or buying ads. But brand evangelists are the marketer's gold, and the smart marketer should include the development of brand evangelists as part of any complete marketing plan.

The Value of Evangelists

Why are brand evangelists so valuable? The evangelist:

  • Provides unpaid third party validation of your product or service. Because they're unpaid, they're perceived as especially trustworthy and credible.
  • Develops or extends word of mouth. Evangelists are the most energetic form of word-of-mouth referrers.
  • Allows prospects to see themselves with your product. They can see how your product or service improved users' lives, and hopefully will see themselves in that 'mirror.'
  • Continues indefinitely. Unlike marketing campaigns that have a limited lifetime, evangelists tend to continue for many months or even years with continued company engagement.
Evangelist-sourced content can be part of, and provide lift to, any marketing campaign.

Finding Your Evangelist

A brand evangelist can be one of the most valuable marketing assets a firm has. So how does the marketer go about identifying potential evangelists?
How to find brand evangelists and product evangelists for marketing

  • Recruit salespeople and post-sales support teams. Not only are they the ones who communicate most with customers, but they're going to be the biggest user of the evangelists' content, as well. They have a stake in the entire process.
  • Identify customers who are active bloggers. They have shown an interest in publishing their opinions.
  • Use influencer* identification tools, such as Klout for Business, Traackr, GroupHigh, or SpotRight. There are many others.
  • Monitor and review comments on user forums or product review sites.
  • Establish promotions that solicit user submissions at events for users or owners. If your company is large enough to have a user event, take advantage of that investment. 
  • Listen to visitors at your trade show booth. Evangelists are already fans of your product or service, and they'll make a point of visiting your booth.
By comparing candidates across all of the above sources, you should be able to identify a handful of promising candidates. Now, you have to recruit them.

Recruiting Evangelists

Why does someone evangelize about a product or brand? According to Kawasaki, simply because they want to make the world a better place. They want to help others who might be facing the same challenges, providing them with advice based on their own experiences. This is the key to recruiting someone to serve as an evangelist, and should serve as the theme of your outreach to them.
Recruiting brand evangelists for marketing purposes
A secondary motivation might be their own self-interest, whether that's to enhance their career options, to grow their blog traffic, or just to boost their own ego. Depending on the characteristics of the prospect, the appeal to his or her self-interest can be explicit or implicit. For instance, you could offer them early visibility into upcoming product features.

Leveraging Evangelists

Once identified and recruited, there are many different ways to channel their evangelistic fervor into corporate content:
  • Provide them with opportunities to submit guest articles
  • Encourage them to post ongoing videos, and promote those videos through your channels
  • Share infographics, or help them create their own
  • Enable them to become an active voice in user forums
That's the great thing about evangelists. They're already motivated, so the only limitation on how to leverage them is your own imagination.

*Influencers and evangelists are not synonymous. Evangelists are influencers that are true believers and have a much higher motivation to provide active support to, and endorsement of, the brand. Much of recent social media marketing has been focused on identifying and engaging influencers. While this is important, it is also important to go that one step further to identify and recruit evangelists.

(Image of woman with megaphone provided by imagerymajestic and group with magnifying glass by Naypong, both at freedigitalphotos.net. Army recruiting poster image is public domain.)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Digital Marketing IS DEAD

Long live marketing!

A while back, I wrote a post about how digital marketing is just marketing. The same rules apply, like the three Cs and four Ps, positioning, communications fundamentals, all of that. These rules are just applied in some relatively new media, like search, display, and social.

Recently, Vanessa Colella, Citibank's North American head of consumer marketing, said something very similar but from almost the opposite perspective. In fact, she said it far better than I did.

According to Vanessa, her first order of business in her position was to "eliminate the digital marketing department."

Vanessa Colella
"Why? Because everyone in a company's marketing department needs to be fluent in digital strategy. "There's no path for you if you don't," she said."

This is music to my ears. Every marketer must now be a digital marketer. 

For example, if you're a PR specialist, and you're not well-versed in not only social media and online community-building, but influence tracking tools, SEO, campaign tagging, and analytics and conversion attribution techniques, then you won't be fully effective for your client or employer. You'll eventually be replaced by someone who is comfortable with all those technologies and techniques.

Similarly, marketing education needs to be synonymous with digital marketing education. I recently taught a university course on digital marketing, covering a broad range of topics: search, social, video, mobile, display, tracking and targeting, websites, analytics, conversation optimization, etc. For most of my students, my course was the first time they had explored many of these topics in detail.

But these topics need to be integrated into every class in the marketing curriculum. For instance, the marketing communications course that begins the path to a newly-minted PR specialist should include all the digital techniques I described above, in order to create a foundation for a successful communications career.

I have also been guilty of describing myself as a 'digital marketer,' thereby continuing this obsolete differentiation between digital marketing and traditional marketing. In reality, I was doing 'traditional' B2B technology marketing for a decade before I ever added digital techniques to my toolkit. So I have begun to change how I describe myself, instead focusing on my strength as a demand-generation strategist, as opposed to a branding specialist, for instance.

For the marketing profession, this transition is slow in coming, but inevitable. Ultimately, the modifier 'digital' should, and will, drop from the marketer's lexicon.

(Skull image provided renjith krishnan and graduate by David Castillo Dominici, both at freedigitalphotos.net.)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Understanding Virality: The Top 10 Factors for Achieving Viral Video Greatness

A while back I came across a Mashable article entitled "The Top 20 Most-Shared Ads of 2012" based on data from Unruly, a UK-based video marketing and monitoring firm.  It's an entertaining list of ads and it's worth a look. More recently, the world witnessed the phenomenon of the Harlem Shake, whose crazy virality was documented by YouTube.

This all has me thinking about the drivers for virality. What's required to achieve viral video success? Can virality be planned or, at least, can the chance of virality be maximized?

Many people think Gangnam Style was an overnight success because of a catchy pop hook and fun video. However, there was a lot of strategic groundwork laid before the video creation and launch, including establishing partnerships with American artists like Will.I.Am and organically growing their YouTube audience over a long period of time.

So, what are the top 10 factors in achieving viral video success?

Defining Viral Success

First, how should you define viral success? According to the Unruly 100 Viral Video chart, to get in the top 100, a video needs about 10,000 shares in the first day, 75,000 in the first week, and 300,000 in the first month. But that's for the top videos in the world. Does your viral success need to be judged against the world, so you need to achieve 10,000 shares a day? Would 10,000 shares in the first month be a viral success for you?

Let's say my blog gets about 1000 visits per month. Given that baseline, 10,000 visits in a month would be a huge success. Your own unique business situation and goals will determine what target viral success is for you.

Strategic Success Factors

There are two groups of success factors that I call strategic and tactical.

Kevin Allocca of YouTube Trends gave an entertaining TED talk in which he identifies three factors required for viral success. These are what I call strategic factors, and I broaden them a bit from Kevin's:
  1. Have an unexpected hook. With the Harlem Shake, it was a great song hook combined with the strangeness of the format, with a person in a helmet grooving a little while everyone looks bored, then the group goes wild at the song jump.
  2. Encourage the community to participate. Any video that can be easily imitated, spoofed, or  somehow responded to will drive its distribution.
  3. Drive strong emotion. It could be shock, awe, surprise, curiosity, joy, or some other emotion, but the emotional content has to be there.
  4. Promote through tastemakers or curation. Kevin identifies examples of Jimmy Kimmel and others promoting videos to get them started on their way to virality. You may not need a Jimmy Kimmel, however. Your industry likely has its own trend setters with healthy followings.
It's pretty easy to assemble the list of strategic success factors, but the art is in the execution. Creating content with an engaging hook, that drives strong emotions, and encourages participation takes some level of creative genius. Promoting your video is a success factor that may be more predictable or controllable. However, there are other things you should do to maximize the likelihood of success.

Tactical Success Factors

Paul "Bear" Vasquez was simply the lucky recipient of a tweet from Jimmy Kimmel that launched his wild viral success for his double rainbow video. If you are striving for that success and don't want to rely on luck, there are several more tactical steps you should take:
  1. Be concise. There are several data that show that shorter is better. For instance, according to the Jun Group, social video ads of 15 seconds or less are shared nearly 37% more than those between 30 seconds and 1 minute, and 18% more than videos longer than a minute. The Harlem Shake videos are only 30 seconds, which means several can be viewed in a brief session.
  2. Make it a progressive series. Get viewers involved or emotionally invested, then keep bringing them back for more. The Old Spice videos are an example of this. Progressive series allow initial modest sharing to build up over time.
  3. Be searchable. Use appropriate keywords and optimize the video for those keywords. This helps maximize the reach by allowing someone who has casually heard about your video to find it easily.
  4. Promote on all social sites. The Jun Group also said that people share videos on Facebook 218 percent more than through Twitter and e-mail combined. While that may be true, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and even LinkedIn all have different sharing dynamics. Don't minimize your reach by focusing on one channel. That goes for your website and email campaigns, as well.
  5. Use a great title. Great titles increase clickthrough rate. 
  6. Use a great thumbnail. Sex still sells.

So, if you carefully follow these ten important rules, you'll achieve viral greatness, right? Well, a little luck wouldn't hurt, either.

(Images provided by freedigitalphotos.net. Graph and network image by ddpavumba, dice by jscreationzs, and woman by artemisphoto.)

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Impact of Big Science Saturday

For long-time readers of this blog, you know that Big Science Saturday (BSS) was a part of our family for several years. Over those years, my sons and I probably performed 100 different experiments of varying complexity, but almost always fun.

As I said many times, my goal was never to steer the boys into science careers. I was really trying to do three things:
  1. Get them to wonder how things work and to ask probing questions.
  2. Teach them how to have a structured approach to solving problems.
  3. Show them that science can be fun.
Well, as life has marched on and the boys have grown older, BSS is no more, and I sometimes wonder if I achieved any of these goals.

As I now consider this question, I suppose I did have some success. For instance, those BSS times developed into our appreciation for robots, like those on the TV show BattleBots on Comedy Central. We're very intrigued by the upcoming SyFy show Robot Combat League, which will debut in a couple of weeks, which appears to have robot battles like those in the movie Real Steel.

But it's not just TV shows. We also seek out local robot events, like the FIRST Robotics competition coming up in April. And recently, Maddox even spent $130 of his own money on an Orbotix Sphero.

So, I suppose I have made some progress on goal number 3, associating science with fun.

Another effect of those many weekends of BSS can be seen in the boys' science fair projects over the years. Their science fair projects tend to be rooted in real-world things they have seen or heard about, rather than the standard old projects of studying how bread molds or using Coke as a cleaning agent.

For example, a while back I was telling the boys about an incident when a bird pooped on me when I was about eight or nine. That led to a conversation about how difficult it might be for a bird to poop on a specific target while it was flying. Maddox turned that into a clever science fair project that involved building a testing rig from erector set, complete with a long rail with a motorized traveler, a bucket on the traveler that dropped a marble at a specific position, and a little Lego guy as the target. 

It was a great project, although the principal of his school didn't think 'poop' was an appropriate topic, and suggested that the bird be a carrier pigeon dropping a message. Give me a break. Maddox went with an unspecified 'package,' and let people use their imaginations.

Their interest in basing science fair projects on real-world observations shows some success in achieving goal number one, wondering how things work. So, I suppose all of those BSS sessions have had some positive impact in terms of the original goals.

However, the most important impact of BSS was letting us spend some terrific family time together doing sciency things, and I see the results of that every day. That's really what made it worth the effort.

(Lab equipment image provided by renjith krishnan and bird provided by Dr Joseph Valks, both at freedigitalphotos.net. Sphero image provided by Orbotix.)

Friday, February 01, 2013

Are LinkedIn Endorsements Meaningless?

Recently, Todd Wasserman of Mashable wrote an article stating that LinkedIn's endorsements have become meaningless. Feel free to read the article, but he's basically saying that, because endorsements are so easy to give (friction-free, in his terms), they're widely abused, so they have become meaningless. He cites examples of random endorsements he's received for languages he doesn't speak, or requests for reciprocal endorsements, as examples of their misuse. He then goes on to make the argument that they would be more useful if more effort was required to give or receive them (i.e. add friction to the process). Almost all of the comments on his article agree with him.

I disagree with both the argument that they're worthless, as well as the suggestion that making them more difficult to give would improve their usefulness. Fundamentally, I think they're serving their purpose well, which is to implement almost a 'wisdom of crowds' assessment of a person's skills.

First, let's remember to differentiate between recommendations and endorsements, because, as I've researched this a little on various discussion forums, they tend to be confused. Recommendations are the items where someone took the time to write something nice about you. Here's an example from the profile of Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn CEO:

In the language of the article, they are a high-friction activity, so should be viewed as having some value.  But you can help someone to write your recommendation. To me, recommendations are similar to references used when you seek a job. They're somewhat illustrative, but must be viewed with some suspicion and not heavily weighted in the decision process.

Endorsements are the little check-boxes on skills on your LI profile. At first I thought they were of little value because, as the shared article states, they're just too easy to give. But then I watched how the endorsements on my profile evolved:

Over time, certain skills on my profile clearly rose to the top: marketing strategy, digital marketing, online marketing, and lead generation. Those are exactly the skills that I believe I do best, and that I want others to know that I do best.

UNSCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENT: Take a look at your own LinkedIn profile. If you have a solid number of connections, say a couple hundred, see if the skills identified as the most endorsed are an accurate representation of what you believe to be your actual skills, or if they at least reflect how you think the world may view your skills. I'd be curious to hear your conclusions in the comments below.

The Wisdom of Crowds?

So is this actually a small implementation of the 'wisdom of crowds?' In his book defining this concept, that the "many are smarter than the few," James Surowiecki points out that a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals is likely to make certain types of decisions and predictions better than individuals or even experts. Is that the case with LinkedIn endorsements?

Endorsements seem to fit the four criteria Surowiecki identifies as separating wise crowds from irrational ones:

  1. Diversity of opinion: Each person should have private information even if it's just an eccentric interpretation of the known facts.
  2. Independence: People's opinions aren't determined by the opinions of those around them.
  3. Decentralization: People are able to specialize and draw on local knowledge.
  4. Aggregation: Some mechanism exists for turning private judgments into a collective decision.
Yes, you get the noise of the occasional friend that endorses every skill, or endorsements from people that don't know you that well and endorse you for something that makes little sense. Aren't those just 'eccentric interpretations?' And the bar graph display of endorsed skills seems to provide the evidence of the collective opinion.

Endorsements are a Valuable Indicator

Over time and over a larger population of connections, a true profile of your skills, as acknowledged by your peers through endorsements, should show through. And that can only be accomplished by making it very easy, or frictionless, to provide endorsements. 

Here's how I think endorsements should be used:

  • For a hiring manager, use the top few endorsed skills as a quick indicator of how others view a job candidate. If there's a mismatch between the skills endorsed and those required for the position, ask the candidate to explain that mismatch.
  • As a job candidate, confirm that the skills endorsed accurately reflect your true skills and how you want to be portrayed to others. If they don't, you can delete individual skills, or you can delete the entire endorsements section from your profile.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The New Content Marketing: Mass Customization

In my last post, I stated that the standard B2B content marketing model is in need of improvement. This is because everybody is doing the same thing, creating the same kinds of content, and filling up prospects' email inboxes with it to the point where it's now just so much noise.

So, what's my idea for cutting through the noise? How would I suggest we change the game?

'Case Study': Marketing IBM's EMM Suite

First, let me lay the foundation with an illustration. Let's look at IBM, specifically their Enterprise Marketing Management (EMM) suite, and let's assume that their marketing efforts have attracted a web visitor from American Express.

On the EMM web page, they offer case studies for Citrix, Land's End, Seton Hall University, and Wehkamp. Well, American Express is not an enterprise software provider, a clothing retailer, a university, or a Dutch mail order company. By making these case studies available to an American Express lead, they're hoping that that person will be able to see a little of her own problems and challenges in one of those stories.

They also have some good video content within this section of their website, and repeated on their YouTube channel. For instance, here's a six minute overview of their Digital Marketing Optimization Solution. Again, in this video, they're using data from an activewear retailer, which is not American Express's business.

So, while IBM has published some solid content about their EMM suite, there is a potential communication or engagement disconnect with most visitors, since most visitors won't be in the small handful of verticals represented in the content.

(Another problem with this site is one of the most common that I see in B2B technology marketing. The entire language of the EMM home page, and much of the site, is in terms of solutions, not problems. This requires the web visitor to already have gone through the mental analysis of their problem to have arrived at a solution, but not all have progressed that far. If I have knee pain, I don't search out an arthroscopic surgeon because I don't yet know that I need surgery. I search out a doctor that will help me understand the cause of my knee pain and suggest possible solutions. This is a topic for a future post, however.)

One of their competitors is Adobe's Marketing Cloud, who have at least attempted to engage more directly with their visitors. For instance, they have a section of the page that speaks to specific job titles:

Adobe also has a series of pain-type statements on the top panel, like "social media is worthless," "half your ad spend is wasted," "marketers hate big data," and others. While these may not match any particular visitor's pain, at least they're attempting to move ahead of solutions and more into needs.

So what is IBM to do, given the following constraints?
  1. They don't know what company a given visitor is from, or what their particular needs or problems are.
  2. They can't publish content for every vertical.

Marketing Mass Customization

My vision for the next generation of content marketing is a system that delivers content customized for each individual visitor. The next wave of B2B content marketing should be marketing mass customization.

Mass customization is a manufacturing concept that was developed in the early 1990s that described the ability to manufacture products fully customized for individual consumers at near-mass-produced costs. The technique relied on advanced technologies, like computer-aided manufacturing, interactive configurators, and automated inventory control systems. Dell, for instance, enables something like this in their PC ordering process.

How would marketing mass customization work? How would IBM be able to provide customized content to each individual visitor? Remember, this is my vision for where content marketing should go, but while that capability may not exist currently, it's certainly not far off because the underlying technologies are already here.

Let's look at constraint number one, above. IBM doesn't have a crystal ball to determine who's visiting their site, but they really don't need one. With IP lookup techniques, supplemented with a few databases, a fairly rich profile of the visitor can be developed. Several companies like NetFactor provide such a service.

The IP identification can be used to quickly determine what vertical the visitor is in, which can then be used to customize the presentation of the home page. This customization can be as simple as highlighting one case study or video over others on the page. In the case of the American Express visitor, IBM could provide material relevant to financial services companies. For instance, they could presume a set of likely challenges that American Express faces, like customer churn, for which they have targeted content on.

In addition to not necessarily knowing a visitor's needs, even IBM can't publish content for every vertical, as I noted in the second constraint. Dealing with this requires some cleverness, but it is possible to address that. Here's an example. There's a bright young company, FlixMaster, that's enabling "creators to build dynamic, interactive videos with drag-and-drop ease." Be sure to watch the demo video to understand the implications of what they do.

What that means for IBM is that their video that I highlighted above could be restructured to be much more customized to each viewer. The video, at six minutes, is too long and contains too much information, anyway. What if, after a brief intro, the video offered the website visitor a couple of different options for aspects of EMM that she might be interested in? Not only does the visitor get to see just what she is interested in, but she also tells IBM, through analytics, what that is.

The Foundation of Marketing Mass Customization is Here

Clearly, full marketing mass customization is not here yet, but as I illustrated, the building blocks are. My vision for next-generation content marketing is that every visitor to a website, or every reader of email, gets a unique set of content that specifically addresses their needs and problems. That's how marketers can cut through the noise of all of the marketing messages our audience receives.

(Stadium chair provided by kongsky and crystal ball by digitalart, both at freedigitalphotos.net.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

Moving Beyond Content Marketing

I went to bed last night thinking about a question. I'll share the question in a moment, but first let me say why I went to bed thinking about a question.

It's fairly common for me to go to sleep considering some particularly challenging problem. I find that the time before I'm fully awake can be a time of imaginative free-thinking that can lead to creative solutions. It's one of the ways that I solve problems. Other times that I find to be productive for problem-solving thought include when I'm in the shower, or when I'm out on a long, exhausting bike ride. When I empty my mind of other thought, either through exhaustion, or snoozing, or similar activities, I can typically achieve some clarity on thorny questions.

The question I was noodling last night was this. The standard B2B marketing success playbook looks something like this:

  1. Create various forms of content:
    • Thought leadership pieces on where your industry is going
    • White papers addressing particular challenges in your customers' environments
    • Case studies describing how your product or service improved your customers' business
  2. Make that content visible through a wide variety of channels, frequently behind registration walls:
    • Social media channels
    • On the company website
    • In email newsletters
  3. Use the gathered email addresses from registrations to feed a marketing automation process
  4. Track user activity and adapt content to drive users to a conversion point
There are various challenges and problems with this model:
  • Everybody wants to be the thought leader in their segment, but that clearly can't be the case.
  • All customers get lots of these marketing automation emails.
  • Recent data shows that while companies believe they're engaging customers, they may not actually be doing so.
  • All companies within every segment are pursuing exactly the same playbook, which, in the mind of their consumers, leads to a lot of noise.
It seems to me a new playbook is needed to break through this noise. 

Since it's Super Bowl week, let me provide a football analogy. In the mid-1980s, San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh introduced what came to be known as the West Coast offense, which emphasized short, horizontal passing routes in lieu of running plays in order to stretch defenses to open up long runs and passes. It was highly successful and changed the game for the next twenty years. Now, with the recent advent of quarterbacks capable of running as well as passing, like Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, and Colin Kaepernick, the read option offense may again be redefining the game.

So what is going to redefine the B2B marketing game? That's the problem I went to sleep considering. What did I come up with? I have an idea, which I'll share in my next post, so please check back here in the next week or two, or subscribe in the box to the right so you'll be notified when I publish. In the meantime, if you have thoughts on this, please leave a comment.

(Images provided by freedigitalphotos.net. The sleeping man image -- not me, by the way -- is from imagery majestic, and the football is from Idea go.)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Digital Marketing is ... Marketing

I am a digital marketer. By that I mean that I use digital marketing tools and channels to promote products and services. These tools and channels include: SEO, PPC, display or banners, advanced targeting techniques, social media communications, social media advertising, remarketing, affiliates, analytics, conversion optimization, A/B testing, email, and marketing automation. But the most important word in the phrase 'digital marketer' is marketer, not digital.

What's important to me about these tools is not that they utilize cool, advanced technologies, and they're steeped in data, and they help automate or optimize complex campaigns or processes. Don't get me wrong, I'm an engineer by training and I LOVE all that stuff. No, what's really important about those digital marketing tools is that they help me market to today's consumer.

It's common for practitioners of digital marketing to get caught up in the tools, the data, and the technology, and forget the marketing fundamentals. But digital marketing is just a subset of marketing, and based on the same fundamentals.

What fundamentals? Well, the real basics, like the three Cs and four Ps:

marketing fundamentals, 3 cs,4 ps

For instance, the four Ps* define the product marketing mix, of which digital channels are a component. Digital technologies have different characteristics than traditional technologies, like greater speed and immediacy, bidirectional communication between the consumer and the company, rich data, and tremendous reach. But for the digital marketing mix to succeed, a solid understanding of the 3 Cs is required, and the market segmentation and targeting and the product differentiation and positioning derived from the 3 Cs analysis must all be properly implemented for the digital marketing to be successful.

This is why, when I'm approaching a new digital marketing problem, I always start with very basic questions, like who is the audience, what's the message and positioning, or what do we want them to do? For example, I once wrote a blog piece about a taco stand vendor who ignored these fundamentals when implementing a QR code on his stand, presumably because he thought that, in tech-crazy Boulder, Colorado, a QR code would be cool.

So when I call myself a digital marketer, what I really mean is that I'm a marketer that has a particular affinity for, and skill set in, the digital portion of the marketing toolkit.

*This presentation format for the four Ps is based on that presented in the excellent marketing text by Perreault, Cannon (@learnthe4ps@teachthe4ps), and McCarthy, Essentials of Marketing

(Image courtesy of jscreationzs at freedigitalphotos.net)