2003, 2020

Canceled events?

By |March 20th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Turn lemons into (some) lemonade for fuel lead generation and thought leadership.

Author: Sean Hargrave. Reposted with permission by Digital Doughnut.

Canceled events are prompting mar-tech and ad-tech companies to redouble webinar efforts by creating compelling content they will subsequently use to fuel lead generation.

The list of events cancelled over coronavirus just keeps growing. Mobile World Congress was one of the first, soon to be followed by just about every sizeable gathering for martech and adtech executives in the calendar.

Many conferences, including Ad Week Europe, have been postponed. Others, such as Facebook’s F8 and Adobe Summit Europe are going to proceed online only. At the same time, many companies are extending foreign travel bans to encouraging home working.

Put bluntly, the chance to press the flesh at industry events is all but gone for the next few months and opportunities to grab a coffee with a prospect are going to be curtailed. This raises the question, how are companies going to keep their pipeline healthy? While eMarketer figures show that trade shows are rated third by US marketing for engagement, behind email and websites, they are actually top of the chart for conversions.

Difficulty in getting new customers signed up is one of the impacts which has seen McKinsey estimate GDP growth forecasts made for this year in Europe will need to be revised downwards by 9% to 59%. In a worst-case scenario, the forecast growth in global GDP this year will need to be reduced by 60%, meaning virtually no growth for the world’s economies for an entire year.

Event ROI not clear

Peter Simpson, Global Head of Partnerships at Trustpilot was recently on his way to fly to a conference in Dublin when he heard the company had asked employees to cancel all overseas work trips. Like many martech execs, in one call, a route to keeping the sales pipeline healthy was seriously diminished, although he’s not entirely sure how much of an impact it will have.

“Conferences are useful because they help add new people to the top of the sales funnel and push existing contacts towards converting at the bottom of the funnel,” he says.

“You meet people at a conference and then follow up later or you already have warm prospects who want to meet up and chat at an event before they sign up. It’s hard to work out the precise ROI, though, because with big events you may get a lot of leads but they’re not always high quality and with small events you talk to people you already know. They’re definitely a central part of keeping a healthy pipeline, though.”

Webinars need great content

Similar to many other execs, the route forwards for Simpson to add and win over prospect is looking likely to be ramping up webinars. It’s here that there could be a knock-on effect as crafted content design to earn and maintain attention during an online presentation could open up new avenues for content distribution.

“Webinars are a more efficient use of your time but they do take a lot of effort get together some compelling content,” he says.

“Ideally, you need to conduct research and before you put a webinar together which also means you then have some great additional content for reports and blogs. We do quite a lot of this already and I can see us doing more.

“It’s too early to say what’s going to happen to budgets but there could be a time later this year or next year when we say we’re saving money on travel at the same time as webinars and content are turning out to be great for lead generation. So, we may end up saying, let’s put more budget there.”

Conferences missed, but not that much

Courtney Wylie, VP of Product and Marketing at Mention Me, is similar to many other martech execs who have had to recently grapple with turning, in her case, a breakfast sales event into a webinar. While she will miss meeting up with prospects and clients in real life, she believes missing larger industry events will have less of an impact on lead generation than would have been the case just a couple of years ago.

“We’re not overly worried about relying more heavily on webinars because we find with big events you don’t get the contact details for people who have come to your presentation any more, due to GDPR,” she says.

“You used to get a couple of hundred potential leads from the organiser in return for sponsoring a stream but now you probably only get to arrange a coffee with, say, three interesting leads. For us, conferences are now mainly about brand building or second-touch, because people are already aware of us through our digital marketing; we focus a lot on SEO and PPC.”

Great webinars create compelling content

The big opportunity Courtney sees is that to hold webinars, the company is going out and pre-recording keynote speakers and during the event they will record the stream of panelists answering questions. This, she feels, is going to give the company some content to distribute as video and podcasts.

This could serve as a lead generation tactic, particularly as Mention Me already relies heavily on thought leadership content to help boost its SEO performance. While Wylie is not clear yet what budgetary impact cancelled events will have, she’s confident it will lead to the company relying more on content to boost its thought leadership credentials.

“It’s too early to say if we’re going to, say, double our content production, but we’re likely to increase it through video, podcasts, reports and articles,” she says.

“Getting our content out there is a good way of showing thought leadership which is only going to become more important if there aren’t events taking place where we can speak at.”

Distributing content to new eyes

It would appear, then, that the route of replacing live events with webinars is about to heighten interest in creating compelling content that shows thought leadership on a range of topics. The goal will be to grab the attention of prospects and existing customers on their laptop rather than an exhibition hall.

Martech and adtech companies will have their own properties to highlight this new raft of engaging content to existing prospects. However, to turn new content into fresh leads, from people who are not already visiting a company’s website, the likelihood is many may consider looking further afield to distribution partners.

–Sean Hargrave, Digital Donut. Read more articles from Digital Donut.

Want to Repurpose and Monetize Content from Online Events?

Watch this 1 minute video from Boundless Markets. Turn webcasts, webinars and other content into fuel for lead generation, branding and sales enablement.

Watch this 1 minute video.

Learn more

1803, 2020

The Most Important Things You Don’t Know About Your Business

By |March 18th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

My advisors told me not to use the subject line of this post.  They said I should not suggest that our readers don’t know their business.  Of course you do.  Our readers tend to be extremely smart, intellectually curious and great at what they do.  So why am I asking about things you don’t know? It’s to make that point that, no matter how much you know, there are often important gaps in knowledge that, if addressed, can help make much smarter decisions.  You’ll never have 100% of the data and striving for that would just slow you down unnecessarily.  I’m not talking about “nice to know” facts;  I am referring to insights that can inform big choices and drive excellent execution.mindthegap

What prevents smart people from finding out the “unknown”?  There are many reasons:   1) data and information can be hard to obtain, 2) data on hand is often not actionable and 3) available information is perceived as “good enough.”

But lurking beneath the surface is another, nagging dynamic— the fact that we’re generally too busy to stop and ask the questions “What key information are we missing in our business?”  And “Do we know what we don’t know?”

We recommend a systematic way of identifying and learning what you should know but don’t—about your market, your competitors, your customers, your opportunities and your marketing and sales performance.  By now you probably know that Boundless Markets conducts data audits, a structured process that identifies data and knowledge gaps for clients, and then fill those gaps (with new data sources, analytics and modeling, new technologies/tools, user videos, customer listening studies and quantitative market research).

Whether you do these things on your own or work with us, we advise starting by taking stock of your company or team’s data discipline.   This is NOT about boiling the ocean with data collection.  It IS about thinking critically about how data and analytics can help drive your business.

Does your company and team have data discipline? Here are three key ways to find out. These are things to ask yourself and your team.

  1. Do you have a list of data and knowledge gaps?

Gaps represent key pieces of information that are missing in planning and/or execution. They’ve been proactively identified by you and your team as “important things we need to learn.”   These gaps can be found in the upfront strategy setting and at all stages of execution.  It is wise to think broadly about data and knowledge gaps.

Knowledge gaps are highly situational and depend on your business.   Identifying the most actionable areas requires some deep thinking and care.   Here are some examples:

Why are some of your competitors winning some of your business?   How do your target prospects perceive your company vs. your competitors?  What are the leading indicators of your customer acquisition? Which of your customer prospects are in the market to buy right now?  Which non-intuitive things do your best customers have in common? How often do your target prospects visit your web site? What do people in your market think of our web site?  How does it make them feel? In your lead generation do you know exactly where you are losing prospects in the marketing and sales funnel, and the revenue you’re leaving on the table as a result?  How many sales calls does it take to close a sale on average?  Which of your customers have the greatest risk of leaving?

All of these things are knowable.

  1. Who has contributed to your list of data and knowledge gaps?

It’s important that employees with related goals get on the same page about the knowledge gaps that exist, or have a process to get there. For example, Sales and Marketing need to be aligned, because customer knowledge and analytics are the fuel that drives results, and data is the glue that connects sales and marketing. Recently we spoke with a marketing director who did not know the sales conversion of the leads he was generating. Without that knowledge there’s no way to determine revenue per lead and the number of leads required to optimize the customer acquisition process.  What’s worse is that, with a little bit of work, the data was readily available.

  1. Are your gaps prioritized, with a plan in place to address them and take action?

A big part of the planning process should be the action you’ll take once you find out the answers. Intended actions – what you’ll do (or could do) if you have the data – should drive the process.  This helps the prioritization.  Determining intended actions is best done in a group setting, since it really is a collaborative effort, and the process helps increase alignment.  The perceived ease of filling knowledge gaps also affects priorities.  Often it is assumed that things are not easily knowable.   Data often exists in silos or is not “in shape” to be actionable. Yet solutions are now available to address these issues and gain important insights.  And they are more robust and affordable than you may think.  Other times, third party data or analysis is required but the options – or the best way to proceed – are not resolved.  And this can result in a sort of decision purgatory….where issues linger eternally.

The bottom line:  it helps to proactively find out what your company or team does not know but should. Inject that discipline into your planning and execution. Then make sure you and your team are armed with intelligence to make more informed decisions.  To make this happen, pointed questions need to be asked and obstacles that get in the way of actionable insights need to be addressed.  When it comes to business intelligence, it’s best to remember the signs in the British Tube:   Mind the Gap.    Because information as usual leads to business as usual, and the status quo is often a dangerous place to be in competitive markets.

1803, 2020

Data-Driven Content – The New Reality of Marketing and Sales

By |March 18th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Since content is so critical to marketing and sales, it begs the question:  how can you use data to understand what content resonates with your audience?  Here are eight considerations for you and your team:

  1. How are you segmenting your content?

Segmentation, one of the golden oldies of the marketing profession, applies to content.  It’s important to not only know what content speaks to your paying customers, but also to the “tire kickers” you can engage to start doing business with your company.  But instead of looking at macro level stats among prospects, it helps to drill down with meaningful metrics among specific segments.  For example, how Data assessment banner adoften do VIP prospects come back and revisit your website?  What topics and what kind of content drove that behavior? The key is to segment your prospects who are at the beginning of the marketing funnel, e.g. new sign-ups to a newsletter etc.  When your list is enriched with data (from third parties or internal sources), it is easier to create more meaningful segments and then you’ll be in a better position to engage high potential prospects with relevant content.  One of our clients, a K-12 education company, had a “math concerned” segment.  After gaining some data, we created a free math assessment tool that was part of a broader customer acquisition strategy and revenue gains soon improved by double digits.

Content segmentation, of course, also applies to customers who are already on board, not just prospects.  Many companies are connecting their CRM systems to their analytics software, so they can understand which topics resonate most among different customer groups with real granularity.   This way they know the specific topics and types of content that are moving the needle (in terms of lead score, purchase frequency, recency, monetary value etc).

Ecommerce retailer Onward Reserve moved from a ‘batch and blast’ strategy to content segmentation that included best customers, non-purchasers and churning customers.  The groups were sent the same basic emails but with different content and messaging that was tailored based on previous engagement with their website.  They doubled their conversion rates and improved their average order value by 39% as a result.

2. Go predictive.

The content game is becoming more predictive.

Mashable uses data scientists to predict the likelihood of their content of going viral. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Haile Owusu, Chief Data Scientist at Mashable.  Owusu discussed how their approach to predicting content performance is similar to weather forecasting, the oldest data science in the world. They’ve gotten so good that within five minutes after a piece of content is published, they can predict the “velocity of sharing” with 75% accuracy and this number grows to 95% accuracy within 24 hours.

To do this Mashable looks not only at engagement with their own content, but also at content across the web.  To feed their content models, every day they crawl 1 million different URLs and 5 million social data points.

Of course, not every company has the scale to justify this kind of investment.  But predictive analytics are becoming attainable through cloud based tools, particularly with marketing automation.  Kapost reports a 250 percent increase in ROI when marketers incorporate predictive analytics tools into lead scoring—and content is the fuel that drives engagement, which makes lead scoring possible.  Some vendors even predict which keywords to use in content creation (based on analyzing traffic, conversions, SEO value and more).

3. On a budget? There’s always Google Analytics.

One of the advanced features of Google analytics is content grouping.  This allows you to categorize your content into buckets, to better see what kind of topics and issues resonate most.  Here are some uses:

  • See the impact of short form content vs. long form content that has a higher word count.
  • Group your content by author. Which authors drive the most traffic and revenue?
  • Group your content by department of company. Are certain departments producing better content?

Google even built a tool called Content Experiments that helps you conduct A/B tests to see what content performs best.  (Actually, well informed sources told me Google acquired some technology to make it, but still let’s give them some credit).

4. Headlines and Titles Matter.

I’m not advocating for salacious headlines that make for click bait.  But carefully crafted headlines that capture the imagination can make a real difference. A media company I know of recently helped a client with a piece of custom content.  The client’s headline was “Survey of State Tax Departments.”  Their team suggested “How does Your State Tax Department Stack Up?” which was tested vs. the other headline. It resulted in a 146% increase in clicks.

5. Still not a believer? Consider Google’s Algorithm.

Not everyone is drinking the data-driven content Kool-Aid.  But don’t we all want more traffic from search engines? It’s going back a while but remember this date: May 20, 2014. This day was when Matt Cutts, Google’s community liaison, tweeted that Google was rolling out Panda 4.0, an update to their ranking algorithm. Remember the companies that lost huge amounts of traffic?  It was the content farms (sites that quickly generate and publish low-quality and thin content) that suffered the biggest losses.

When your content is more engaging Google will take notice.  And when it’s not engaging they care.  In particular….

  • A high bounce rate can signal to Google that your visitors aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your site, or that they don’t consider your site to be very useful.
  • If your site’s visitors only come to your site once, never to return, Google can take that fact to mean that your site isn’t all that relevant or useful.

6. Have Leadership from the Top

Building a data-driven content culture takes leadership from the top.  And since marketers are “the new publishers” they can take some good lessons from the media and publishing world. Take Mashable for example. Pete Cashmore founded Mashable.com at age 19 and grew it to two million readers within 18 months.   In an interview with Inc, his passion for the numbers was clear.  “I would look at the stats everyday and say, “Have I beaten yesterday?” And almost everyday I would have beaten yesterday in terms of the number of people who were reading the site. So, that kind of kept me going.”   With leadership from the top, Mashable’s audience exploded.  Just a few years later and they had 45 million monthly unique visitors and 25 million social followers.

At Penton (now part of Informa), our data-driven content initiative was backed by the CEO and executive committee.

  • We developed personal content dashboards for every editor in the company so every author could see the metrics for the content they created.
  • We encouraged friendly competition and set up internal sessions where editors shared what works with their colleagues. This way, content creators weren’t just hearing a mandate from the ivory tower, they got helpful feedback from their peers.
  • Performance was measured with common metrics on engagement across all of our 70+ brands, starting with benchmarks and goals for every brand.

Ultimately we began to shift the culture.  Penton developed data products that created new revenue streams, grew the audience significantly and ultimately the company was acquired for $1.6 billion.

7. Get the Resources to Win

In order to win the content game, you need the resources to win.  Outbrain, the content syndication platform, has multiple data scientists on staff whose job is to inform the content mix so that Outbrain’s content recommendations receive the maximum engagement. They are staffed up to win the data-driven content game.  Who is on their team?  Data scientists, engineers with experience in machine learning and even a VP of Recommendations.

If you don’t have – or can’t justify – the resources to handle it internally, there are outside communities of data scientists like Kaggle that offer a more cost-effective way to harness a ‘cognitive surplus’ of top data scientists.

And if you don’t have enough usage or scale for a big data project, there’s always the tried and true method:  creating new accountabilities and roles in your organization centered around analysis.

8. Data-Driven Content Can Set Creativity Free, Not Limit It

Some content creators feel that the numbers can stifle their creativity.  Most content people are creative souls who want their originality and perspective to shine through. I’ve been there personally (and wrote for the Wall Street Journal when I was twenty).  Somehow, along the way though, I became more of a geek and learned that being driven by metrics does not necessarily imply a lack of creativity.  On the contrary, it can provide helpful context and a framework to guide creativity in directions that bear the most fruit.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, feel free to explore this article: 14 Types of Data that Can Boost Your Marketing and Sales

We also offer a Data Assessment that helps companies understand their gaps in what they know about their customers, prospects, competitors and marketing performance, with specific recommendations on how those gaps can be filled.

Feel free to ping me if you’d like to discuss.

Brad Mehl

1703, 2020

What’s “Working” in Your Business May Be Hurting You.

By |March 17th, 2020|Uncategorized|0 Comments

In recent years, Usain Bolt was widely regarded as the world’s fastest man — he held the world record in both the 100 meter and 200 meter dash and other events. In the 2008 Olympics he also set a world record in his other event, the 4×100 meter relay, with flair. As Wikipedia notes his record was not only set without a favorable wind, but he also visibly slowed down to celebrate before he finished and his shoelace was untied. Bolt won, and it wasn’t close.

What was the secret of his success?

According to Time Magazine, Bolt’s Olympics diet was, by and large, Chicken McNuggets.mcnuggets labled

In the ten days Bolt spent in Beijing, he downed approximately 1,000 nuggets, averaging 100 a day.   “At first, I ate a box of 20 for lunch, then another for dinner,” Usain writes in his autobiography. “The next day I had two boxes for breakfast, one for lunch and then another couple in the evening. I even grabbed some fries and an apple pie to go with it.” The end result?  Three gold medals, all with world records attached.

The Things “Driving Your Success” May Not be What They Seem.

As an ambitious Olympian whose entire focus was winning gold, Bolt must have believed that the McNugget diet would help him win. And win he did.  But did McNuggets actually help?  We’re all results oriented people. But there can be dangers in focusing on “the win” without closely examining what really drives it.  There can be correlation without causation–  just because things two things happen at the same time does not mean that one caused the other. Not knowing the real drivers of your success makes it hard to repeat that success, or change course when situations require.  We advise clients to quantify business drivers with real granularity.  Often the data is not easily available and lives in different silos, e.g. CRM systems, financial systems, email systems.  Unifying sales and marketing data is a challenge but something we take on since you can’t act on data if your data is not in shape to be analyzed.  Understanding the reasons for success often requires a deeper dive.

How Sustainable is Your Success?

It’s wonderful to celebrate successes. It motivates the team, builds momentum and unifies people around common goals.  However, as leaders we need to carefully define what success really means, particularly in the context of where the company and market is headed. Things that seem to be working that can actually pose a future risk, because what works today may not work tomorrow.  Here are some examples:

  1. A high performing, dominant marketing or sales channel. What if it dries up?
  2. Star performers carrying the load. What if they leave?  Every great team needs a strong bench.
  3. Solid sales reps, but those focused on legacy product lines and old sales tactics – not strategic growth areas.
  4. Certain customers (that may not be that profitable after deeper analysis).
  5. “Reliable” metrics. Are you measuring and optimizing for the wrong thing?

Self Imposed Change is a Sign of True Champions

True success is repeatable and scalable well beyond the short term win. But building a repeatable system of success often requires adapting and changing.   After the Games, Bolt hired a well-known dietician.  He ultimately realized that his horrible eating habits had to change. Like great champions, winning companies impose change on themselves.  Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Nardelli, the former CEO of Home Depot and Chrysler, at a conference where he spoke.  As Bob said, “Leaders must be able to reinvent themselves before they can reinvent their companies. You either innovate or you evaporate.”

Watch Successful Disruptors Closely and Be Realistic

Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, used to stress the importance of having a healthy paranoia in business. How well do you know the disruptors nipping at the heels of your company?  You can see their success but can you and should you emulate it?  There are no plug and play strategies—the successful practices of your competitors may not work for your company.  Honest looks in the mirror and reality checks on your company’s capabilities can help avoid false starts and inform strategies around building vs. buying vs. partnering to fill big gaps.  Because the success you see on the outside may not so doable when you look deeply inside.

I hate to end this article on such an abrupt note, but I have to run and get some Chicken McNuggets…or should I?

Tweet this article.

Let’s be in touch. 

Read our other recent article:  Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company: The Google Way

2508, 2019

Why Marketers Should Care About Cloud Infrastructure (IaaS)

By |August 25th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

You may be wondering, “why is a marketing and product management guy writing about cloud infrastructure providers? And why should I care?”  This article gets into some technical detail, but hang in there. You’ll be better off for it.

Let’s start with some context.

Cloud technologies and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), in particular, are helping fuel the digital transformation that is so critical for many companies to effectively compete. They are enabling us to go-to-market faster, be more agile in meeting customer needs, reduce costs and much more.

More about IaaS later. The big point is that, increasingly, it is digitally savvy marketing leaders who are driving business transformation. Consider Beth Comstock, who became Vice Chair of GE after leading digital efforts at NBC, one of their flagship businesses, and serving as CMO of GE. In order for marketing leaders to drive deep lasting change like Comstock, we need to know how technology can advance the bigger vision and shape the customer experience.

To do it well, we need to stay technologically literate and collaborate with our IT colleagues, partners and customers.

Ultimately, marketing leaders are Guardians of the Brand. Marketing leaders must focus on the voice of the customer, develop contingency plans, and help shape the products and customer experiences that affect their brands. This means being an active stakeholder in technology decisions that affect those areas. The lines between marketing, product management and customer experience are indeed blurring.  

CMOs need to know about technology initiatives and other dependencies that:

  1. Influence our company’s ability to meet customers changing needs with agility   
  2. Ensure our products fit seamless with our customers’ workflows
  3. Enable our companies, products and brands to be part of a bigger ecosystem

Let’s take marketing at Software-as-a Service companies (SaaS), for example. SaaS marketing leaders should drive or at least be involved in initiatives such as customer on-boarding, customer feedback loops, product virality and levers that influence customer retention. It means rolling up your sleeves, diving into product requirements and, depending on your company, often working directly with engineers on customer-centric solutions.

So why should Marketing Leaders care about (Infrastructure as a Service) IaaS?

First, IaaS isn’t the only technology marketers should care about. Quite the opposite. It just happens to be the focus of this article since the connection between IaaS and Marketers is not obvious.

Let’s start by defining IaaS. At a basic level, IaaS enables companies to quickly scale tech infrastructure up and down with demand, so you pay only for what you use. It helps you avoid the expense and complexity of buying and managing your own physical servers and other datacenter infrastructure. 

What are the pros and cons of AWS, Azure, Oracle and others? Which provider(s) should be used, and how does that fit with the rest of the IT vision and technology stack?

This sounds like an IT decision. Yes, it is. But senior marketers are stakeholders.

The role of the CIO is changing. According to IDG, 37% of CIOs plan to focus on driving innovation in the next three years. The role is becoming more strategic and less operational, so alignment on vision and collaboration with marketing is critical. For marketing leaders, that means knowing the implications of technologies like IaaS. In international relations, when countries deal with other governments, there’s a philosophy called “trust but verify.” When it comes to big IT decisions, for CMOs and other “non-techie” drivers of transformation, I prefer “trust and stay aligned.”

How can IaaS usage ultimately affect the customer experience and our brands? Let’s consider a few use cases for IaaS.

  1. Test and development, and faster application development. With IaaS, teams can quickly set up and test and development environments and bring new applications to market faster. When you’re on the hook to launch a new product or digital initiative to meet revenue or other goals, it sure helps to know your company can do that without a snag. Dev/test environments need the ability to scale quickly, and the ability to do that well (and the economics of it) should not present obstacles that affect time to market for launching key initiatives. Again, it is an IT decision but one that has ripple effects on an organization. Just ask a DevOps professional.
  1. API Management and Integrations.  As I’ve written elsewhere, as marketers we want to put our companies at the center of our customers’ universe. Companies like Google and Salesforce have mastered the art of creating entire ecosystems for their communities. APIs are one way to make that happen, since they ensure our tech solutions work seamlessly with our customers solutions, in their workflows. One aspect of IaaS is API management and tools for integration. There’s no shortage of data integration providers (like Zapier at the low-end and Mulesoft and Talend for enterprises). But if data integration is central to a Mission Critical application, is a core part of the technology stack or a big driver of a decision to move away to a siloed legacy system, the strength of an IaaS provider’s native integration capabilities and services can matter.

Ask your technology teams: with either choice, are there potential implications that could affect our ability to develop, deliver and support the kinds of microservices we want to improve our customer experiences or speed to market?

  1. Big data analysis. Mining massive data sets is now the purview of marketing. We need to find key patterns, spot trends and connect the dots to get customer insights. Personally, I’ve used SaaS solutions to mine large data sets and understand what customers are saying online, what they are searching for etc. But to do this at scale for home-built solutions and your own products requires huge processing power, which IaaS provides economically.

AWS, Azure and other IaaS providers have native AI capabilities. As Azure says, “all it takes is an API call to embed the ability to see, hear, speak, search, understand, and accelerate decision-making into your apps.” AWS also promotes it broad and comprehensive suite of solutions for AI and machine learning. But again, it’s back to the “stakeholder thing” for product managers and marketers. Which IaaS providers have the fastest onboarding for AI and big data analysis? The best training? The largest partner ecosystem and flexibility? The answers could affect your speed to market, your customer experience and your brand. Again, it’s an IT decision, but you are a stakeholder.

  1. Web apps. IaaS provides the infrastructure to support web apps, including storage, web and application servers, and networking resources. It helps companies quickly deploy web apps and easily scale infrastructure up and down when demand for the apps is unpredictable. When I started Lively, a SaaS solution, we needed a tech infrastructure that could easily scale. When we spoke with FORTUNE 500 companies, scale came up in sales discussions. Customers didn’t care HOW we could scale, just that we could, and we needed to be able to confidently explain it. (After starting out with AWS, we ultimately settled on Heroku and Azure for different aspects of our product).
  1. Storage, backup, and recovery. IaaS helps companies reduce costs related to data storage, and reduce the complexity of storage management, which is particularly important in highly regulated industries where legal and compliance matter bigtime. Are you a senior exec in marketing, product management or customer experience in Banking? Pharma? Insurance? You’re an IaaS stakeholder. This is not to suggest that a company would NOT be in compliance if they chose AWS over Azure or some other IaaS solution. It just means that if you’re in a position where you’re speaking publicly or to customers you should be informed and speak with confidence knowing about the technology that helps your company manage data and mitigate risks.

Button line, choosing an IaaS provider comes down to:

  • Security
  • Compliance
  • Architecture
  • Manageability
  • Service levels
  • Support
  • Cost

Ask your IT colleagues: what are the potential upsides and downsides of IaaS providers?

AWS is the longstanding leader in IaaS, with its extensive data centers and pay-as-you-go model. It also has a comprehensive suite of developer tools, a large ecosystem of developers and strong reputation similar to the silent calling card of IBM in its heyday: “You can’t get fired by using IBM.”

But as with any solution, there are potential downsides of AWS.

  • Complicated service implementation. Some AWS services provide advanced capabilities but also require deep expertise for their implementation and support. Also, it requires companies to be well-versed in updates of their services. Sometimes, even for tech-driven companies and partners “keeping up with AWS” can be a challenge, based on CTOs I’ve spoken to. Fortunately, there’s large ecosystem of managed service providers who have deep expertise in AWS technologies. But do you want to go that route and add an extra layer for mission critical applications? Maybe. Maybe not. Something to consider.
  • AWS has had a reputation for not cooperating well with open source communities. There are signs of this changing but if you use open source solutions, keep this in mind and ask the right questions.
  • Cost. With any solution, the total cost of ownership must be considered. This includes downstream impacts on the organization and intangibles. There are loud whispers in the tech community that for enterprises, AWS may not be as cost efficient as it claims.

Leave Tech to the Tech Professionals but Have a Seat at the Table

If you’re focused on digital and marketing transformation, it helps to be insatiably curious, because the speed of change in recent years has been staggering. We need to continually learn and stay on the cutting edge of technology and instill that curiosity in our teams.

The lines between product management, customer experience and marketing are blurring. Increasingly, companies focused on digital transformation are tapping digitally savvy marketing leaders to drive that change. Again, keep Beth Comstock in mind. In addition to vision and leadership, she was known for staying informed by tapping top subject matter experts. In order to do that well, you need to know the right questions to ask.

10 Key Takeaways for Marketing and Digital Change Makers

Bottom line, when it comes to transformation, IaaS and other technologies it comes down to this:

  1. If you’re driving digital transformation, have a vision that advances the company’s core strategies, and make sure the executive team is aligned.
  1. Be the Guardian of your brand.
  1. Take some ownership for the customer experience. Better yet, shape it.
  1. Build strong, collaborative relationships with your CIO and CTO
  1. Leave IT decisions to IT professionals, but make sure you’re at the table for the big ones like IaaS.
  1. Ask the right questions and tap the knowledge of subject matter experts.
  1. Make sure that technology decisions fuel and support the bigger vision.
  1. Be aware of IT decisions that could inadvertently affect the customer experience and the brand.
  1. Stay technologically literate, insatiably curious and instill that in your teams.
  1.  Rinse and repeat.
2407, 2019

Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company – the Google way

By |July 24th, 2019|Articles|0 Comments

Back in 2001, I was invited to a luncheon with Google and had the good fortune of sitting next to their CEO, Eric Schmidt.  At the time Google was only a few years old – a one dimensional but fast growing search engine company – and Eric was eager to get some feedback and ideas.  He asked me what I thought…about my pain points, Google’s business and their opportunities.  I told him about the need for more data to understand with transparency how to optimize advertising on Google. And beyond that I said, “Eric, you’re sitting on a goldmine of data.  What if you set it free and made it readily available to customers?   Imagine the ecosystem you could build around that data.   Agencies, analysts and marketers would all start relying on it…”   Eric leaned in with a twinkle in his eye and said, “I can see it.  I can.”   Google engineers were probably working on just that at the time.  And looking back, we may have been having one of the first conversations about what eventually became Google Analytics, a product that propelled a revolution data-driven marketing.

What is a business ecosystem, anyway?

Center of Universe - squareI’m no ecologist in the scientific sense but will offer this definition.  It is a business community or network formed around a company’s mission, assets or products that supports members, builds customer relationships and adds value that scales through ancillary services.  When value is created by members – through new services, functionality and content – it feeds the network, increases the importance (and/or size) of the ecosystem and makes the company behind it more indispensable.

The result?  You get closer to center of your industry’s universe and your customer’s universe.

Many technology companies, and famously Google, have built empires through their ecosystems.   Google Analytics, for example, has spawned a whole economy of vendors, consultants and apps devoted to building on (and optimizing) its analytics.  Their ecosystem is nurtured with APIs, structured partner programs,  communications support, user conferences, and more.

Salesforce has mastered the art of the ecosystem.   Their APIs and App Exchange they have spawned an entire industry devoted to enriching their core product.   This year their mega conference, Dreamforce, had 135,000 registered attendees from 91 countries and 2000 speakers from their customer base and partner network.  Very sticky stuff.

How can you create an ecosystem, or be a little more “Google-ish” that way?

Let’s face it, not every company can be like Google.   But there are still things you can do to make your company more central and more relevant to your customers.  Here are a few ways.

  • Foster innovation with APIs.  APIs encourage outside development, applications and new services that build on what you do.  You might think APIs are only for technology companies.  Not true.  APIs are more about leveraging data in ways that facilitate innovation and make your offering more sticky with customers—and every company has data.   International Hotel Group, for example, has an open API that enables partners to create customized experiences for travelers shopping on travel booking sites.  Media companies and business information providers, challenged with disruption, should take note.  They have large data sets and audiences – two key building blocks of an ecosystem.  Forbes, a real media innovator, has an API.  And so does USA Today, whose partners have built over 200 apps by leveraging its data. (Note I said data, not “content” , but that’s a story for another day).
  • Conferences that make you shine. User and customer conferences are a forum to share best practices and build important relationships, putting your company at the center of the action.  They provide a showcase for partners and customers who add value to the ecosystem and generate content that can further grow the universe.   Last week I attended the Marketo Nation roadshow, a user conference which featured Marketo partners and provided excellent case study on using marketing automation to grow adoption of apps.   I made some good contacts, reconnected with others and discussed it with colleagues.   And now YOU are reading about it.  But user conferences don’t have to be just for technology companies.   ADP has one for example and they are a global provider of HR solutions.  Their ADP Pro User conference shares best practices and attendees even earn professional credit hours when they go.
  • Thought leadership and research. Collecting data and shaping it into insights with real perspective is what thought leadership is all about.  And that makes your company more relevant to customers.  ThomasNet’s Industry Market Barometer, for example, takes the pulse of its market and offers valuable insights into trends, innovation and challenges in manufacturing.   Findings are used with customers and widely promoted in the media.  In general, one good research study can be milked until the cows come home.  Earlier this year we conducted a study called The State of Safety for one of our clients and we’ve been leveraging the insights in sales and marketing for months.

Can a non-technology company be more like Google?

Creating an ecosystem – or taking steps in that direction – is not just for technology companies. Let’s take a packaging company for example.  Many parts of the packaging industry are easy to imitate and have low barriers to entry, which makes for intense competition and hurts profits.  You can’t get further from Google or Salesforce than that.   How can a packaging company create an ecosystem?

What if the company collected data from its customers (and elsewhere) on the most innovative uses of packaging?  What if that data were standardized with benchmarks and trends for the industry and shared with suppliers, consultants and others who supported packaging innovations—with the understanding that their developments be fed back to the company – and celebrated through special reports, events etc?  What if they created a best-in-class partner program to provide specialized capabilities for customers? Participating suppliers who provide add-on value – waterproof, shake-proof, anti-theft, anti-rust, mold-proof and anti-pollution aspects of packaging – might be attracted to the company’s ecosystem. They’d want to be associated with thought leadership, recognition and a network with broad reach in the industry.  Additional capabilities would enable the company to meet a broader range of needs for customers, and might enable it to expand into new markets.  This is not your grandfather’s corrugated box company.

How far should you take it?

This is a bigger question than can be answered here.  It would be doing you a disservice to try in this format.  But you should ask:  how can you tap into a core part of your business and encourage outside development around that core in ways that add value and feed on itself to your benefit?

There is no one right answer or a right way to create an ecosystem.   But important lessons can be gleaned from players like Google who have gotten it right for their business.   While being the center of your industry’s universe is an audacious goal, there can still be powerful benefits even if it you just move a step closer to that center.  And, who knows, that process might just be sparked with a single customer conversation.

Tweet this

If you’d like to discuss research studies for thought leadership (or otherwise get closer to center of your customer’s universe), give us a call at 917-373-7451 or drop us a line.

2101, 2019

The Most Powerful Sales and Marketing Technology Ever

By |January 21st, 2019|Articles|0 Comments

In the digital world, driven by interaction and big data, there are many sophisticated ways to get customer feedback.  Here a few…and I’m saving the best for last.

  • Social media monitoring tools that mine and semantically analyze online discussions.  These tools are getting more and more specialized for specific industries, e.g. there are different social monitoring platforms built specifically for restaurants and car dealerships.   These days you can’t go anywhere in New York City without running into a hot dog vendor, an investment banker or someone who has developed a new social media monitoring tool. (And that’s even since Salesforce acquired Radian6).
  • Online survey tools like Qualtrics that tie respondents’ attitudinal data from surveys to demographic and behavioral data that lives in databases and analytics software. They’re made even more powerful with overlays of transactional data.
  • Platforms like Jive Software and Get Satisfaction that facilitate customer communities and integrate with social media, CRM systems and marketing automation tools.   This takes “feedback” to the next level by making it actionable – by putting it right in the tools used by marketing and sales teams in the context of their workflow.  You know things are far along when Gartner even has a Magic Quadrant for the space, called Social CRM.

We regularly review marketing and sales technologies.  And I’ve come across the best one yet…a technology so advanced and so powerful that it provides customer insights like nothing else.

It’s called The Telephone.Phone technology

Here are some benefits of this amazing tool:

  • Real-time feedback from customers and prospects based on any imaginable segmentation
  • A deep qualitative view into concerns, challenges and the stuff that   keeps potential customers up at night (without the complexities of semantic analysis)
  • Flexible, dynamic mechanisms to trigger follow-up actions
  • Human expression and nuances, as if you’re actually talking to someone

The main use case of this tool is a unique methodology called A Conversation.  It’s a process where people actually listen.

Unlike most marketing automation campaigns, Conversations can be two-way, responsive and consultative without being canned.  We are advising all clients to pursue The Telephone and Conversations more deeply, and follow best practices in doing so, as part of their marketing and sales mix.

And remember folks, you heard it here first.

=================================

Want to engage in more conversations and make your company indispensable?

Read our other post:  Build an Ecosystem Around Your Company – The Google Way

Drop us a line if you’d like to discuss.

 

2506, 2016

The Marketer’s Guide to Brexit

By |June 25th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

The day after Great Britain voted for the Brexit (exiting the EU), the news headlines read “Regrexit: UK voters voice doubt over referendum choice.”

Regrexit.  Really?  Oh, how we love combining two words into one in clever ways.  It’s what the French call a portmanteau. Case in point:  how the marriage of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez was called “Bennifer” by the media.Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 7.53.25 PM

Here are some takes on Brexit for the business world, particularly for the finicky and faddish marketing profession where media, tools and tactics can quickly come and go.

  • Grexit – when you stop doing something that was really great to begin with
  • Pretexit – when you pretend that your strategy is working, and then are forced to change course
  • Forgexit – when you forget why you decided to abandon a strategy
  • Retexit – when you leave your customer retention approach behind
  • Contexit – when you lack enough context or insights about customers, prospects, competitors or potential markets and, as a result, have to bail on what you’re doing. Or when content marketing falls short. Contexits are often the result of data or knowledge gaps that can be filled. (Warning…not so subtle plug coming….Boundless Markets fills these gaps with quantitative research for thought leadership and decision making, customer interviews, data audits and user videos that shed light on perceptions of websites).
That’s it.  I have to Mexit now (leave to eat some Mexican food).
1806, 2016

LinkedIn and Microsoft: It’s All About the Ecosystem

By |June 18th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

I’m just back from Denver, where I spoke on data-driven customer success and marketing to groups of software executives.  It was the same week that Microsoft acquired LinkedIn.  In other words, good timing to talk about engineering products so that marketing is built right into those experiences…which is a big driver of Microsoft’s strategy.

Many pundits have called on Microsoft to retain LinkedIn’s autonomy and to not bake it into the mother ship in overtly commercial ways.  But when you buy a company for $26 billion, you can bet there are big plans for for synergies.

It begs the question, how will Microsoft monetize their new prize?

One clue lies in looking at the competition, Google and Apple.  Those companies have engineered their products to created an ecosystem, so that using one product naturally leads into using another product.  (For example, Apple’s Facetime connects users on Ipads, Ipods, Iphones and Macs, which is why my kids make fun of me for using an Android phone when I have a Mac computer).

Microsoft has traditionally not been great about building a product ecosystem.  Expect that to change. According to Chris Caposella, Microsoft’s Chief Marketing Officer, their strategy involves four parts: acquire, engage, enlist, and monetize. Acquire is Microsoft’s way of getting people to use a product for free. Engage is Microsoft’s plan to get them hooked on the product and leverage other parts of its ecosystem to keep someone using the service. Enlist is simply finding fans to keep the circle going, and then monetizing is figuring out who will pay for subscription versions of the service they’re hooked on.

So, for example, the LinkedIn integration may include:

  • Improving Office, with LinkedIn connections. E.g. preparing emails to a sales prospect and seeing all your connections at that company (and dozens of other use cases).  Office is a big part of Microsoft’s $6.7 billion productivity and process business, which needs a boost.  Their revenues were down 2% last quarter.
  • Improving Microsoft’s CRM offering, by including connections with companies. If CRM is ultimately about managing relationships, what better vehicle for that than an existing social network with its built-in insight about who is connected to whom?  You can imagine LinkedIn features with hooks into Microsoft’s CRM, and vice versa, and new freemium offerings.
  • Making LinkedIn more of a workflow tool by embedding Microsoft functionality like OneNote (their note taking app), so LinkedIn users can easily see and share their ideas and thoughts — on any device — as part of the LinkedIn experience.  In other words, if Microsoft tools can make LinkedIn more useful, then LinkedIn’s hooks into Microsoft products will be even more valuable.  Their goal should be to make this a virtuous cycle.  They have already begin embedding OneNote into SurfacePro 3, for example.
  • Data mining to improve user engagement, cross-sells and up-sells across the Microsoft product suite (or at least parts of it). LinkedIn is a data machine.  When you combine millions of users with data on relationships, content preferences and professional education (via Lynda.com), Microsoft should be able to monetize LinkedIn in ways LinkedIn as a standalone company was not able to.

In a broader sense, there are ways to build an ecosystem around your company, even if you don’t have a software product.  Here are some thoughts on doing that the “Google Way” in one of my previous articles. It’s all about getting closer to the center of your customer’s universe.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

 

 

 

1205, 2016

Data-Driven Content – The New Reality of Marketing and Sales

By |May 12th, 2016|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Since content is so critical to marketing and sales, it begs the question:  how can you use data to understand what content resonates with your audience?  Here are eight considerations for you and your team:

  1. How are you segmenting your content?

Segmentation, one of the golden oldies of the marketing profession, applies to content.  It’s important to not only know what content speaks to your paying customers, but also to the “tire kickers” you can engage to start doing business with your company.  But instead of looking at macro level stats among prospects, it helps to drill down with meaningful metrics among specific segments.  For example, how Data assessment banner adoften do VIP prospects come back and revisit your website?  What topics and what kind of content drove that behavior? The key is to segment your prospects who are at the beginning of the marketing funnel, e.g. new sign-ups to a newsletter etc.  When your list is enriched with data (from third parties or internal sources), it is easier to create more meaningful segments and then you’ll be in a better position to engage high potential prospects with relevant content.  One of our clients, a K-12 education company, had a “math concerned” segment.  After gaining some data, we created a free math assessment tool that was part of a broader customer acquisition strategy and revenue gains soon improved by double digits.

Content segmentation, of course, also applies to customers who are already on board, not just prospects.  Many companies are connecting their CRM systems to their analytics software, so they can understand which topics resonate most among different customer groups with real granularity.   This way they know the specific topics and types of content that are moving the needle (in terms of lead score, purchase frequency, recency, monetary value etc).

Ecommerce retailer Onward Reserve moved from a ‘batch and blast’ strategy to content segmentation that included best customers, non-purchasers and churning customers.  The groups were sent the same basic emails but with different content and messaging that was tailored based on previous engagement with their website.  They doubled their conversion rates and improved their average order value by 39% as a result.

2. Go predictive.

The content game is becoming more predictive.

Mashable uses data scientists to predict the likelihood of their content of going viral. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Haile Owusu, Chief Data Scientist at Mashable.  Owusu discussed how their approach to predicting content performance is similar to weather forecasting, the oldest data science in the world. They’ve gotten so good that within five minutes after a piece of content is published, they can predict the “velocity of sharing” with 75% accuracy and this number grows to 95% accuracy within 24 hours.

To do this Mashable looks not only at engagement with their own content, but also at content across the web.  To feed their content models, every day they crawl 1 million different URLs and 5 million social data points.

Of course, not every company has the scale to justify this kind of investment.  But predictive analytics are becoming attainable through cloud based tools, particularly with marketing automation.  Kapost reports a 250 percent increase in ROI when marketers incorporate predictive analytics tools into lead scoring—and content is the fuel that drives engagement, which makes lead scoring possible.  Some vendors even predict which keywords to use in content creation (based on analyzing traffic, conversions, SEO value and more).

3. On a budget? There’s always Google Analytics.

One of the advanced features of Google analytics is content grouping.  This allows you to categorize your content into buckets, to better see what kind of topics and issues resonate most.  Here are some uses:

  • See the impact of short form content vs. long form content that has a higher word count.
  • Group your content by author. Which authors drive the most traffic and revenue?
  • Group your content by department of company. Are certain departments producing better content?

Google even built a tool called Content Experiments that helps you conduct A/B tests to see what content performs best.  (Actually, well informed sources told me Google acquired some technology to make it, but still let’s give them some credit).

4. Headlines and Titles Matter.

I’m not advocating for salacious headlines that make for click bait.  But carefully crafted headlines that capture the imagination can make a real difference. A media company I know of recently helped a client with a piece of custom content.  The client’s headline was “Survey of State Tax Departments.”  Their team suggested “How does Your State Tax Department Stack Up?” which was tested vs. the other headline. It resulted in a 146% increase in clicks.

5. Still not a believer? Consider Google’s Algorithm.

Not everyone is drinking the data-driven content Kool-Aid.  But don’t we all want more traffic from search engines? It’s going back a while but remember this date: May 20, 2014. This day was when Matt Cutts, Google’s community liaison, tweeted that Google was rolling out Panda 4.0, an update to their ranking algorithm. Remember the companies that lost huge amounts of traffic?  It was the content farms (sites that quickly generate and publish low-quality and thin content) that suffered the biggest losses.

When your content is more engaging Google will take notice.  And when it’s not engaging they care.  In particular….

  • A high bounce rate can signal to Google that your visitors aren’t finding what they’re looking for on your site, or that they don’t consider your site to be very useful.
  • If your site’s visitors only come to your site once, never to return, Google can take that fact to mean that your site isn’t all that relevant or useful.

6. Have Leadership from the Top

Building a data-driven content culture takes leadership from the top.  And since marketers are “the new publishers” they can take some good lessons from the media and publishing world. Take Mashable for example. Pete Cashmore founded Mashable.com at age 19 and grew it to two million readers within 18 months.   In an interview with Inc, his passion for the numbers was clear.  “I would look at the stats everyday and say, “Have I beaten yesterday?” And almost everyday I would have beaten yesterday in terms of the number of people who were reading the site. So, that kind of kept me going.”   With leadership from the top, Mashable’s audience exploded.  Just a few years later and they had 45 million monthly unique visitors and 25 million social followers.

At Penton (now part of Informa), our data-driven content initiative was backed by the CEO and executive committee.

  • We developed personal content dashboards for every editor in the company so every author could see the metrics for the content they created.
  • We encouraged friendly competition and set up internal sessions where editors shared what works with their colleagues. This way, content creators weren’t just hearing a mandate from the ivory tower, they got helpful feedback from their peers.
  • Performance was measured with common metrics on engagement across all of our 70+ brands, starting with benchmarks and goals for every brand.

Ultimately we began to shift the culture.  Penton developed data products that created new revenue streams, grew the audience significantly and ultimately the company was acquired for $1.6 billion.

7. Get the Resources to Win

In order to win the content game, you need the resources to win.  Outbrain, the content syndication platform, has multiple data scientists on staff whose job is to inform the content mix so that Outbrain’s content recommendations receive the maximum engagement. They are staffed up to win the data-driven content game.  Who is on their team?  Data scientists, engineers with experience in machine learning and even a VP of Recommendations.

If you don’t have – or can’t justify – the resources to handle it internally, there are outside communities of data scientists like Kaggle that offer a more cost-effective way to harness a ‘cognitive surplus’ of top data scientists.

And if you don’t have enough usage or scale for a big data project, there’s always the tried and true method:  creating new accountabilities and roles in your organization centered around analysis.

8. Data-Driven Content Can Set Creativity Free, Not Limit It

Some content creators feel that the numbers can stifle their creativity.  Most content people are creative souls who want their originality and perspective to shine through. I’ve been there personally (and wrote for the Wall Street Journal when I was twenty).  Somehow, along the way though, I became more of a geek and learned that being driven by metrics does not necessarily imply a lack of creativity.  On the contrary, it can provide helpful context and a framework to guide creativity in directions that bear the most fruit.

If you’d like to learn more about this topic, feel free to explore this article: 14 Types of Data that Can Boost Your Marketing and Sales

We also offer a Data Assessment that helps companies understand their gaps in what they know about their customers, prospects, competitors and marketing performance, with specific recommendations on how those gaps can be filled.

Feel free to ping me if you’d like to discuss.

Brad Mehl