Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What do a boutique, a 5 & 10 store, and a enterprise technology company have in common?

Customer Experiences.

Every experience we have with every brand (B2B and B2C) sets a precedent. If I have a great experience with Amazon for example, I then expect that CaptialOne, HP, Whole Foods or any other brand will be able to match that experience within their own domain. The boutique, 5 & 10, and tech vendor all have the opportunity to provide experiences that set a new precedent in our expectations for every other brand we engage with. Our expectations of brand experiences are blending:

-If I buy something online and have a chat box pop up with a real human who has a great personality and delivers great customer service, I then expect that everywhere.
-If I shop and see highly relevant, personalized recommendations, I then expect that everywhere.
-If you offer me something free that I would gladly pay for (A Youtility), I then expect that level of service everywhere.

However customer experience goes beyond just expectation setting, as Scott Brinker says here in his slideshare:
“Within the blink of a click, a customer can jump from reading an ad or an email to interacting with us in a digital channel. And the experience they have – good or bad – may be instantly shared, resonating in search and social circles for all time. This makes customer experiences the definition of our brand.(bold font added in by me)
What do your experiences say about your brand? Are you boring, hard to navigate, or exciting and easy to use? Tweet This:

The Hyper Focused Marketer:
While consulting with many B2B technology marketers I have seen many focusing only on what their direct competition is doing. We mustn’t forget that B2B buyers are still people. The experiences these people have with any other company B2C or B2B will carry through into their B2B Technology buying expectations.

When you do a competitive analysis, do you review every engagement point your potential visitors/customers have?  
Do you compare the customer experiences you provide with leaders from all industries, or just your core competitors?

The digital world in all its good and bad has created the ultimate melting pot for user experiences. These experiences will live on forever. We must ask ourselves, are we providing digital and physical experiences that will live on forever in the hall of fame, or the hall of shame? Tweet This:

The simple truth is, in today’s digital environments we are competing with Every Single Brand. Tweet This:


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tell Your Marketing Team To Go Pound

Tell Your Marketing Team To Go Pound…

I was recently on a call where a marketer didn’t know which social community (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc.) their audience was most engaged on.  This called to my attention how important it is for us as marketers to take a step back from the tactical day to day, and get closer with our audiences,   
tell your marketing team to go pound, the phones.

Often times as marketers we get so caught up in our daily activities that we forget to take a step back see the forest through the trees, or maybe for marketers I should say we don’t see the audience through the people.

A great way to get to know our audiences is to pick up the phone and call customers and prospects. It’s my experience, that if you approach the call from the angle of doing research, not selling a product, people are much more willing to talk. Here are 5 reasons you should call into your audience:

1) Get more wins:
Talk to the sales wins your organization has seen. Ask them what they liked about the product, what pain points where the biggest, what part of your solution hit home with them? Does your product or messaging align with the primary goals of your customers?
A great example of listening to users comes from Instagram, as mentioned in the book “Growth Hacker Marketing” by Ryan Holiday –“Instagram started as a location-based social network called Burbn (which had an optional photo feature)”. When they let the user’s guide the messaging and the product, they realized that what users wanted most was a mobile app for posting photos with filters. When they re-aligned the product and messaging to fit what users wanted most they experienced explosive growth and became the brand everyone knows today.

2) Turn a loss into a win:
Sales wins are good, but a sales loss can be even more educational than the wins– talk to the respondents that didn’t buy from you! What did they feel you were missing? Do you offer what your prospects want, is that aspect or feature being downplayed in your product feature set? Identify what lead to the sales losses and help adjust messaging or even the product where possible.

3) Understand the buying team layout and personas:
Talk to your prospects and customers and work to identify how big your average buying team is. TechTarget media consumption shows that 2/3’s of organizations have buying  teams bigger than 5 people. Also use this opportunity to confirm or build buyer personas. This will ensure you can strategically work to influence all members of the buying team, while at the same time increasing the effectiveness of your content and messaging.

4) Map the Buyers Journey:
Find where your customers are most active as they navigate the buyer journey. Identify where your customers are starting their research process, where do they go when they are in the middle of the buy cycle, what information sources do they use to finalize the decision? Dig into what distribution methods their journey aligns with (IE search vs. social vs. publishers sites, etc.).
It doesn’t end there, go deeper and dig into the content preferences your customers have (keep in mind it may vary based on each buyer personas). 

5) Bring sales and marketing together:
Though this action sales will see that marketing is "walking a mile in their shoes". This in turn can help strength the sales/marketing alignment. In a recent demand gen report it was found that“42% (of sales people) stated that their marketing department "rarely" or "never" includes them in the content development process”. This can help show sales that you are thinking from their point of view.

This info can be hugely valuable for crafting messages that resonate, and then understanding where to distribute those messages. Though these calls you can help build better stories to tell, and even increase your customer advocates.

What are you waiting for, tell marketing to go pound! Pound the phones!

Friday, November 22, 2013

A digital strategy isn't a commodity

A digital strategy isn't a commodity, yet in my 10 years’ experience working with many different agencies (B2B and B2C) so many agencies treat a digital strategy like a commodity looking at it from the most simplistic outcome and goal.

Why is this? As indicated by Digiday here, and with ClickZ in an interview with OMI here there is a significant shortage of digitally savvy people at agencies.  The result is people that view a digital strategy in the simplest way they know how, cost.

This is further compounded by marketers having limited faith in their own skills as highlighted in this MarketingProfs post. Because of this marketers are relying on agencies to help guide strategy, yet we know there is a skills gap there.

Marketing is amidst an evolution, marketers agree that in the past 2 years marketing has seen more changes than the past 50 years (Adobe Study). This mindset of being focused on cost will drive limited reach, engagement, brand impact and limit the scope of executing a smart strategy. A smart digital strategy is about understanding goals, tracking, testing, optimizing, all while understanding that marketing is a long game.

So what is a marketer to do?
  1. If you are working with an agency – have they proven themselves as a thought leader? Do they understand content marketing, agile marketing, data driven marketing and analytics, marketing automation/nurturing, mobile, social, etc. or are they just media buyers? Talk to them and understand the skill sets and where they bring value to the table.
  2. Take a step back and understand what your goals are. Are you tasked with X number of leads per quarter? Ask why that number, how was that number determined?  What other metrics are you aligned with? Engagement, reach, conversion, sharing, these are examples of other metrics you might be tasked with or should consider. If it’s simply leads, is that volume reached by backing out from sales conversion rate and sales goals? A better digital strategy (and not one based on CPLs) likely means more effective conversion rates which can change your goals if they are based on solely on lead volume. Take time to ask these questions and explore here.
  3. Find a trusted resource. Identify which of your trusted resources are the experts in digital tactics and learn from them. Who has done the research, who has proven experience in a smart integrated digital strategy? Use those proven partners to help guide and structure your digital strategy.
  4. Bring the passion back to marketing. This evolution and these changes are exciting and open a huge opportunity to learn and grow careers.  The CEO of my first job taught me something I still find true to this day, there are 3 things an employee needs to be happy in their career, first to be challenged and learn, second a good company culture, and third respectable compensation. As said in the ClickZ video “learning is happiness”.  Use this huge shift in marketing to learn, grown, and bring back the excitement to marketing. 

A digital strategy isn’t a commodity; it’s a commitment to smarter, more efficient marketing. It’s not about doing more with less; it’s about getting more out of what you are doing.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

What your #1 goal for November should be (aside from growing a mustache)

This weekend like many other marketers I was thinking about the upcoming holiday season. However I wasn't thinking of holiday specials, promotions, or even Black Friday. So what is left after all that for holiday marketing plans? Dinners and parties with friends and family.

It’s a small world – and often our work lives cross over into personal. For me, many of my closest friends are those that I have the most in common with (work and personal interests included alike). Many of my longtime close friends in the offline world also happen to cross paths with me professionally and online.  Those from only the online world that I am most intrigued by or follow closest have several traits in common with me. Most are marketing based, but those that are also into biking, skiing or other similar hobbies of mine capture further interest.  That interest builds and turns to trust quickly.  

As I was thinking through this, I realized that when I sit with my friends and family in the upcoming weeks (for me many of whom are fellow marketers). In the course of small talk we will undoubtly end up talking shop at some point.

Nice weather huh? How is work? Busy, oh yea, me too….Anything cool or new going on there? And there you have it, a HUGE opportunity for all marketers to get their advocates to talk about their product or service with likely minded people. People that are like minded to your current customers are likely a good fit to be future customers.

For me I have been wildly excited about some of the data visualization tools like crazyegg lately and will likely end up talking about how cool the service is to my marketing buddies.

So there you have it. Your number 1 Marketing goal of November should be increasing the number of Advocates you have. Be the topic of conversation at the holiday parties.  

Why do you need Advocates?

Advocates as shown here – can drive huge impact to sharing your message and promoting your brand.

“90% of Advocates write something positive about their purchase experience.” If you can harness those comments and feedback, its valuable “earned” impact.

“Offers shared by trusted advocates convert at a 4x-10x higher rate”

 Need more? That trust I mentioned above, well we trust peers (IE Advocates) more than we trust communication from brands. As Jill Rowley said on twitter recently: “Why Employee Advocacy? Company-to-Buyer trust = 33% vs Peer-to-Peer trust = 92% Nielsen Research 2012  #SocialShakeUp”

How do we create more advocates?
As noted in the above slide share about Advocates – “50% of advocates recommend because of a good experience”. Focus on user experiences – from good content all the way through the buy “funnel” to the sale. Users are going to self-educate with content about 10+ times for complex purchases, if 1 in those 10 experiences isn’t absolutely great, they might not become an advocate. November should be about great mustaches, good content and better user experiences.

If you don’t understand the mustache reference, November is also Movember, (a good cause) so grow a mustache or donate! 

Friday, November 1, 2013

3 Lessons learned in building brand loyalty

As marketers we can’t always control our products, but we can influence the perception of them. So how do you build brand loyalty? Let’s learn from a couple of today’s strongest brands: 

Apple: Speak your users language

Like them or not, Apples brand power is un-deniable (see this article and this one for more about their brand power). Apple created a cult like brand loyalty by speaking their users language. Apple knew early on in the 80’s that their users were the creative types and “geeks”. They embodied that with their product marketing and aligned their brand with the same values of these buyers. At that time being a geek wasn’t trendy or cool, it was just different. Apple didn’t try to be everything to everyone, they spoke to their audience. 

Image Source:

                Take it further:  If your brand has multiple types of people you are looking to engage with, utilize buyer personas to foster and develop this high level of loyalty. For example in IT buying, most large companies (1,000+ employees in size) have buying teams of 10+ people.  Generally you will have 4-6 different personas involved in the decision. An example of this might be a IT staff member vs a C-level executive vs a procurement specialist. All have different pain points, product needs, outlooks and personas. Adapt content to speak to each persona this will increase the brand loyalty from multiple groups at the same time. 

Harley Davidson: Listen and Bond

In terms of product, Apple and Harley-Davidson are very different, but both have created Brands with unparalleled loyalty. Harley built their brand loyalty by listening to their audience, and by relying on humans need for brotherhood.  Harley was doing very poorly in the 60’s and made a huge comeback through listening to what riders wanted. Beyond that, they also tapped into humans need for social interaction. They develop a club for Harley Owners (Harley Owners Group, HOG). Through this they helped encourage fellow owners to ride together, and share brand experiences. This has strengthened the bond the brand has with its customers, and the bond customers have with each other. These two efforts have worked to magnifying brand loyalty.  

Both of these brands have such a strong loyalty built around them people are willing to display the logos and names on their bodies. Do you customers go that far? That’s loyal:

Image Sources:

How do you replicate this success?

1 - Identify who your audience is

2- Speak clearly to them, and their needs. Remember no body wants to hear how great you are, they want to hear how great you will make them

3 - Integrate social elements on every level of your brand engagement.

Leave a comment, tell me what are you brand challenges, how are you working to overcome them? 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Company size isn't relevant to technology needs.

It’s well known that cloud computing is a disruptive technology. Cloud has lowered the barrier to entry for many businesses, which has in turn made many small businesses or start-ups become formidable competitors to traditional big business. The worldwide business environment has forever changed.

Have you adjusted your B2B technology marketing efforts to align with this shift?

In today’s environment we have many small companies dealing with big data now.  For example when Instragram was sold, they had 13 employees and 9 investors. They would show up as a company of less than 50 employees on many lists, but they were acquired by Facebook for $1Billion. Many traditional technology marketers might have overlooked a company like this based on their company size.
So what about looking at revenue instead of number of employees? Same concept applies. Twitter for example had over 25 million users in 2010, yet operated at a loss for most of that year

Yes, we know not every start up or SMB will be acquired for $1B or have a planned $1B IPO, but the business environment has changed and our marketing tactics need to re-align.  The take away is: Company size isn’t relevant to technology needs. 2 other powerful data points from a great SAP Slide Share:

"40% of companies at the top of the Fortune 500 in 2000 were off the list in 2010"

“Only 7% of Gen Y works for a Fortune 500 company as startups dominate the workforce for this demographic” (also worth noting “Gen Y will form 75% of the workforce by 2025” – see the trend here?)

Growth is more rapid than ever before. Groupon, I know they are not what they use to be but consider this, reached a $1.3B evaluation in the first 17 months. That’s fast. How many times did you adjust the target list of accounts (or campaign filters) in the past 17 months, once, maybe? 

Are you missing your opportunity to get in with a smaller business that has big technology needs because you evaluate opportunity by the wrong metric?

How should B2B technology marketers re-align?

1) Marketers should rely on digital footprints, and marketing automation systems to help identify who is worthy of sales follow up, not an outdated company size filters or rules. Don’t filter out prospects by a pre-determined and potentially irrelevant filter sets.

2) Speak to your audience clearly, and directly. Produce content that addresses the pain points of users. In a noisy world people are not going to engage with content that doesn’t help them. Keep it clear, concise and helpful. Through this content, you will only attract relevant prospects.

*Disclaimer - of course there are very few absolutes in the world, so yes there are some exceptions here like end user focused technologies. However the general idea is that there are many small companies in need of big computing power. Don’t overlook them.

Friday, October 18, 2013

FAQ Series: What types of assets are users viewing at each stage of the buyer journey?

A frequently asked question that came up again at a recent client meeting was “what types of assets are users viewing at each stage of the buyer journey”

There are several reports available that provide deeper insight on this – TechTarget Media Consumption here. DemandGen also has a similar report here. Beyond that Annuitas Group also published a similar report about how to bridge the gap of getting users from the top of funnel to the end here.

However to simplify, my brief thoughts on this are:

With the ease of access to information that the web and mobile provides, users can enter the funnel at any time. It’s no longer linear. There are several published articles on this already but I like this one by Nichole Kelly as she uses the visual of a Neural Network rather than a funnel.

The buyer journey is complex and the path is subject to changing direction as they digest information. As users research, new questions come up and pain points or goals of the solution they are looking for can change. This changes the type of content they look for.

This becomes exceptionally clear when you look at a real user journey from start to finish. I have worked to produce visualizations of real users navigating through the buy cycle. These visualizations show where companies have a sales win and then look back through the content consumption of all users at that account from start to finish in the buy cycle.  What is obvious in these exercises is that users are engaging with content that would often be labeled typical “awareness stage” content even in the late stages of the buy cycle. 

Below is a simplified real account journey of an account that purchased from a client (client info removed for privacy concerns). You can see below their interactions cover everything from Editorial articles, to live chats, through to custom live events. Editorial articles are typically something that would be labeled awareness content yet this account still viewed almost 50 articles of this type in the month prior to purchasing. This content consumption pattern process isn't a linear process with users consuming only Awareness -> Consideration -> Decision Stage content. The better indicator of buy stage is overall volume of topically relevant content consumed, and other triggers like how many from a buying team are involved, buyer personas factors, etc. Yes content type can be considered but it’s not the primary or only indicator. Identifying the buy stage is a about looking at a blend of aspects rather than looking for one singular asset interaction.

So to get back to the question was “what types of assets are users viewing at each stage of the buyer journey”. I think it’s clear that users view all types of assets during the buy cycle. The better question would be to ask, do you have the right content, in the right place, at the right time?

Here are 3 steps you can take to help have the right content, in the right place, at the right time:

1 – Focus on producing content of value. As explained in the book Youtility content must help users with their problem. (Forget product sell sheets; focus on the users pain points)
2 – Identify the buyer personas that apply to your solutions buying teams. Tailor content to each personas unique needs
3 – Conduct a content analysis to find gaps, and then fill them.

So while yes generally speaking assets like eGuides tend to be early stage, and assets like vendor comparisons tend to be late stage, this isn’t an absolute. The better approach is to do the content audit, then fill gaps based on priorities. From there use analytics and other nurturing data to identify where the users/accounts are in the buy cycle based on overall consumption patterns.