Friday, June 30, 2017

Who’s Your Customer?

Anyone that has worked with me for any length of time or whom I have managed knows that, at some point, I will ask them, “Who’s your customer?” Anybody that does work has a customer, but few people really think about who their customer really is, or even think in terms of having customers.

Let me be clear: I’m not talking about your company’s customer, the business or individual to whom your company sells goods or services. I’m talking about your customer, as an individual employee, as a team member, or as a manager.

I’ll use myself as an example. At SolidFire, I ran the demand generation function. The role of demand gen is to develop leads for sales to pursue. As such, we had two primary customers: inside sales, who would receive and pursue our leads; and the campaigns team, for whom we managed several (mostly) digital channels through which to execute their campaigns. We had secondary customers, like field marketing, who would generate leads through field events that we would upload, process, and deliver to sales. As a manager, the members of my team were also my customers, and there are also other customer relationships that I maintained in that role.

What’s the value of considering those teams, campaigns and inside sales, as customers, rather than simple collaborative teams or stakeholders in our activities? Because the concept of a customer carries with it a set of expectations that are richer, deeper, and more meaningful than a mere collaborative relationship, and those expectations lead to better outcomes for everyone involved.

Here’s an example. At one point, we started hearing rumors that sales was dissatisfied with some types of leads we were providing, even though we believed these were quality leads. The tension between marketing and sales is a common situation, so it wasn’t surprising to hear this. But if we could break down this barrier, both teams could be much more successful in their efforts.

There are a lot of ways I could have handled this problem, but I decided to view the problem through the lens of a customer-supplier relationship. If we were a supplier to sales as a customer, a common role in that relationship is the customer success manager (CSM), whose job is to ensure that the customer is successful in using the supplier’s product or services. The CSM role is bilateral: she represents the supplier’s product to the customer, helping them use it properly and fully; and she is the voice of the customer to the supplier, helping guide product development to better serve the needs of the customer.

We needed the equivalent function between demand gen and inside sales, so we created a CSM type of role and, in fact, we hired an inside salesperson to staff it. In this role, our CSM (I think we called him a marketing sales coordinator) had a bilateral role: he represented marketing to the inside sales team, explaining different types of leads, why they received them, and how they should pursue them; and represented the sales environment to marketing, describing which types of leads were working best or worst, and why, enabling marketing to optimize their campaign efforts.

The result of this change was dramatic. Inside sales came to view demand gen, and the broader marketing team, as partners in their success. Sales acceptance rates of marketing leads increased, and sales qualification rates of accepted leads improved. Would we have achieved the same result by having a more traditional approach of trying to collaborate between these two teams? Maybe, but I doubt it. In the same way that customers and suppliers generally don’t achieve a truly collaborative relationship, marketing and sales frequently struggle to truly collaborate. By establishing a role whose entire job is to ensure sales’ success, that changes the relationship measurably.

So, have you started to ask yourself who your customers are in your job? Does it change how you think about your interworking relationships? Try it. It can be powerful.

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

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 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

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 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 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.