#C2C16 in a (sassy) nutshell

This was my first time at Demand Gen Report’s annual B2B marketing conference – Content2Conversion – and it probably will not be my last. I’ve never written a post-event blog post because I’ve never felt I had enough good things to say. In true form, I naturally have a bit of sass to bestow upon them, but for the most part it’s good stuff. Here we go:

Interactive sessions are a great way to benchmark where you stand in the marketing evolution hierarchy (i.e. who sucks worse than you).

Day 1 of the conference consisted of workshops presented by DemandGen Report’s partners (vendors). Because Demand Gem Report makes a business out of publishing content of interest, they were well in-tune with their audience and succeeded in giving us a variety of sessions which all seemed topically relevant. In fact, I had trouble selecting a session, but in the end I settled for Televerde’s session on integrating digital, nurture and human touch. Nothing they said was earth-shattering or new. In fact, the most earth-shattering part of the session for me was that when the room was shown a slide of very basic and standard funnel benchmark metrics and asked who measures each stage of the funnel against those benchmarks today – I was the ONLY person who raised my hand! (#wtfmoment)

Though perhaps not intended, the speakers managed to incite enough interest and questions that the audience became actively engaged and we all were not only asking questions, but we were answering each others. This interaction made the session more rich and beneficial to all. It also reminded me that there are many many marketers still looking in the window or barely crossing the threshold of what I would consider to be the most fundamental of demand gen marketing practices, such as funnel definition, management & measurement; persona segmentation, integrated automated multi-touch campaigns, lead nurture, and lead scoring (so many blog topics!!) If you have a good handle on these things, well done! You may not be as behind as you think you are.

Marketers are both the puppets and puppeteers of buzz words (#ABM)

This is the part of my post where I say #ABM. Any presenter who didn’t at least mention ‘Account-Based Marketing’ missed the memo that this is a mysterious concept you must embrace (or pretend to). During my networking adventures I took every opportunity to throw out this buzz word and see how people responded and ask them what it means. Interestingly (and surprisingly) I found myself identifying most closely with the sales folks at this event. Why? Because to them our recent obsession with ABM is irritatingly laughable. ACCOUNT-BASED MARKETING IS NOT NEW. It’s what sales has been doing for years and what any marketer worth their salt and properly aligned to sales should have been doing, too.

Marketers, you’ve all been puppet-mastered into salivating at any vendor who uses this term. Don’t you know when you’re being marketed to? Whoever started this bandwagon in motion was brilliant because now any vendor willing to sacrifice a little dignity to exploit this buzz word  is making bank on essentially re-branding what all marketers should already be doing.

Killer keynotes make a conference – David Meerman Scott and Tim Riesterer KILLED it.

I won’t lie, one reason I was very much motivated to come to this conference was to hear David Meerman Scott speak. I was sure he’d be as dynamic a speaker as he is a writer, and he did not disappoint. He taught us:

  • Content is not its own thing that is created just because. It should be designed for both marketing and for sales, and more importantly, should be so timely and relevant that it is REAL TIME. In fact, he says companies that do this well hire journalists to create content (it was at this point in the program Donald Trump was mentioned – we can’t deny he does real-time marketing very very well).
  • Make your information free. There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not to gate content. Mr. Scott says no…or at least, not right away. He actually poses an interesting suggestion, which I’d like to see play out in practice: Don’t gate your content that you publish online – offer a link to something else within your content, and gate that. I like this idea, but to pull it off marketers will have to exercise some discipline and resist the temptation to post all their content online, which also has implications for SEO.
  • Be human. B2B does not equal boring. Every B2B company I have ever worked for would disagree. They put great effort into being boring. I 100% agree that B2B marketing is about marketing and selling to people, and more and more people are buying for business like they buy for themselves. The influencers may not be kids and the co-decider may not be a spouse, but the same rules apply. If you don’t think people’s personal preferences and emotions play a role in the B2B buying process you haven’t been a B2B buyer. It’s harder to choose a data vendor that makes everyone in your business family happy than it is to buy a family car. I think in our hearts we all know this, but somehow we still suck at wiping out the corporate bullshit speak and talking like a human.

Tim Riesterer, from Corporate Visions, applied scientific and academic structure to messaging concepts which really are common sense, and he did so in a most entertaining way. I am admittedly a psychology geek and according to Tim, so are 85% of marketers. But I think even the unenlightened 15% of marketers in the room would agree that Tim’s insights were on-point to both excite and incite. His main message: Your biggest competitor in a deal is not the other company, but the status quo – the choice to do nothing. This takes a little extra thought and creativity in your approach to messaging, but it’s nothing off-the-handle. Demand Gen report sums it up beautifully, so you can read more here.

This nutshell is getting long, so I’ll wrap up with this:

Almost everything we know about marketing is common sense. That’s why you frequently hear the joke ‘everyone is a marketer.’ What makes a marketer great is the ability to ACT on common sense in an effective and efficient way, MEASURE the results, and ADJUST. Sounds obvious and maybe a little boring, right? It a skill. And not an easy one.

Some marketing teams have it down, but following this conference I sense that many of you do not. That’s okay, it means you have a good reason to have a job. I hope you’re making a sincere effort to put into practice the things you’ve learned. The trick is to take one leg of the journey at a time. You know point A (where you are) and you know point B (where everyone says you should be going). If you can’t find your way without a map, there are plenty experts that can help get you from A to B, but my advise to you is don’t close your eyes and just let someone drive you there. To be a good marketer you have to learn how to navigate new routes, so let the experts guide and teach you, because point B will never stop changing. The good news is you will never stop learning, which means more conferences (hopefully with as much sun and booze as #C2c16).

 

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Has objectivity eclipsed creativity in marketing?

Every new year we hear analysts and journalists touting the latest trends, predictions and evolutions in the world of marketing. They’re usually right, but rarely are they earth-shattering. These changes happen gradually, and we’re all experiencing them well before a Google search of “2016 marketing trends” yields pages of results.  In fact, typically by the time those reports come out, 2016 and the trends that come with it are old news (I mean, I started budgeting for 2016 in July 2015, and by January 2016 I’m nearly ready to start thinking about 2017).

This year I took a more active role in the observation of these trends by way of participating in a handful of interviews with various media publications. While my answers came easily and seemed obvious, as I reflect upon them I’ve had a realization:

The world of marketing really has changed. The plethora of technology; the expectation of budget-savviness; and the ability to measure every channel, tactic and touchpoint have created a marketing environment seemingly devoid of subjectivity. The Mad Men days are over. We don’t rely on gut instincts and feelings because we have tools and data. What will get people to click and take action can be boiled down to a formula – down to the color of the button (see my post on color psychology).

When asked during my interviews what skills matter most in marketing, I didn’t say “creativity, design skills, ability to understand people, and willingness to take risks based on gut instinct.” I said “technical competency, ability to make data-driven decisions, budget management, and adaptability.” These are skills which rely heavily on the ability to be objective. Sounds like an IT professional could do the job of a marketer. And in some organizations we’re even seeing IT departments take on greater responsibility for marketing technology (I shall address that at another time).

So, in 2016 and beyond will objectivity eclipse creativity in marketing?

Despite the ever-growing trends toward technology and data, I say no. Why? Because despite all this, I still believe there’s a heart, soul and skill to marketing. Whenever I’m looking to hire someone and I’m evaluating the skill sets of the candidates, I always say, “I’d rather hire a marketer and teach them the technology, than hire a technologist I have to teach to be a marketer.” Technology is a tool, but there’s still a layer of subjectivity, humanity and creativity – beyond the formulas – required to attract, engage, convert and delight customers.

I’m certainly not suggesting we give a free pass to the technology-ignorant marketers out there. Today, you need to be able to read tactical reports, measure the funnel, understand how to develop integrated campaigns, know how automation works, leverage lead scoring, and live in your CRM platform. But these things do not replace understanding your audience, appealing to their senses, and hitting them with the right message via the right channels at the right time.

Is your marketing automation system just an expensive stand mixer?

Is your marketing automation system just an expensive stand mixer?

Imagine that you’re a successful five-star restaurant owner (congratulations!), but you do not currently serve dessert (gasp!). You realize that in order to compete and continue to be successful you need to serve dessert, so you do a little research and find that every one of your competitors with great desserts has a stand mixer, so you go out and get the best stand mixer money can buy. You give it to your cooks and say ‘make me five-star desserts!’

What do you think would happen? Do you think you would get a five-star dessert? Probably not. You’ve got a skilled team, so you’d probably get something passable as a dessert, but it will probably be 2 stars ☆☆…maybe 3. ☆☆☆

But why not five? That stand mixer is the BEST. You paid a small fortune for it, so why can’t it produce amazing desserts?

Because that stand mixer, as great as it may be, is just a stand mixer – a tool. It’s a powerful tool, and a worthwhile investment to be sure, but just buying a tool is not enough. The same goes for a marketing automation system. It is not magic, it is a tool that can help you make many masterful desserts, but it requires a skilled pastry chef (or team of chefs) with great recipes, and it requires investment in ingredients, attachments, cleaning and maintenance to really add value to your kitchen.

So let’s break it down:

A skilled pastry chef
You can’t just plop your line cooks, or even your head chef in front of a stand mixer and expect them to make a masterpiece. And you can’t throw your demand, field, or product marketers in front of a complex automation tool and expect them to produce great results. A marketing operations or automation expert, like a pastry chef, has a specialized skill set that takes knowledge and experience to master.

Great recipes
This is the foundation of any chef’s skill set, and the best practices your ops expert brings to the table are foundational to the successful use of your automation system. These best practices define the processes that determine how your automation system functions – how it processes data, scores leads, passes them to sales, sends emails, reports on result, etc. And just as food tastes, trends, and techniques change, so do automation trends, so invest in ongoing training for your pasty chef so that existing recipes can be fine-tuned and new recipes can be learned.

Ingredients
There are many ingredients that go into a great dessert, and without them the stand mixer is a useless vessel mixing air to no end. Your automation system is useless without inputs like data, assets and workflows. And the supply of these must be never-ending because they’re use is limited – one set of ingredients can only produce so many desserts before you must put more ingredients into the mixer and start again to create another great delicacy.

Attachments
Stand mixers are one of the most robust and versatile tools in the kitchen, yet many people don’t use them to their full potential. Most people know how to use the mixer attachment, which comes standard, but did you know that with the right attachments you can roll and cut pasta, juice fruits and veggies, grind meat, knead bread dough, slice, dice, and more? Your automation system is a robust tool and with the right attachments you’d be amazed at what you can do, from lead scoring to third party integrations toclosed-loop reporting. Some of these great features come standard, and some cost extra, but you should explore your options to make the most of your investment.

Cleaning & Maintenance
I hope you will agree that cleanliness is absolutely necessary in a kitchen. You must keep your mixer clean to avoid contamination that could affect the quality and safety of the food, and if it gets too dirty it can even impact the functionality of the mixer itself (ew!). While not a safety issue, the cleanliness of your automation system certainly is critical for quality and functionality of your system. Cleaning needs to be performed regularly in order to ensure that the old ingredients, like bad data and expired workflows, are washed away.

And voila! You have the foundation for many five-star desserts…I mean, successful marketing programs to come. ☆☆☆☆☆

 

Originally posted on LinkedIn – November 11, 2014