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

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 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