Sunday, December 27, 2015

Our Most Popular Posts - 2015 Edition

This will be my last post of 2015, and I want to thank everyone who has spent some of his or her valuable time reading this blog. I hope that you have found the content here to be both thought-provoking and useful.

Thanks to analytics, I can see how many times each blog post has been viewed, and I thought this would be an appropriate time to share which posts have been most widely read. This ranking is based on cumulative total reads, so older posts obviously have a built-in advantage.

So, in case you missed any of them, here are our five most popular posts.

An Inconvenient Truth About B2B Demand Generation - If you're a B2B marketer, measuring the dynamics of your lead-to revenue funnel is critical to understanding how well your demand generation system is performing. This post shows that the demand generation system in many B2B companies is highly inefficient, and it describes how much improvement is possible through the implementation of best practices.

Why Content Marketing is the Best Way to Build the Brand - Some respected industry experts have argued that content marketing has made brand marketing or "building the brand" obsolete. This post argues that building the brand is still an essential marketing objective for B2B companies and that content marketing is now the best marketing method to use for branding. For another perspective on the importance of brand building, see Why B2B Branding Still Matters.

Use an Importance-Performance Matrix to Get Marketing and Sales Talking - A perennial favorite. This post explains how to use an importance-performance matrix to capture the degree of agreement or disagreement between marketing and sales regarding key demand generation issues. An importance-performance matrix won't tell you how to resolve conflicts between marketing and sales, but it will identify the issues you need to address.

Customer Experience is the New Competitive Battleground in B2B - One of the most widely-discussed topics in marketing circles over the past few years has been the growing importance of providing outstanding customer experiences and managing customer experiences effectively. This post describes the findings of several research studies which show that customer experience has become a new basis of competition and a primary driver of competitive advantage.

It's Time to Integrate Marketing and Sales - Marketing and sales "alignment" has been a hot topic among B2B marketing and sales professionals for some time. This post argues that it's time to move beyond mere "alignment" and actually integrate the marketing and sales functions. For more about this topic, see Four Key Ingredients in the Marketing/Sales Integration Recipe and Why Marketing-Sales "Alignment" Is No Longer Enough.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Illustration courtesy of Republic of Korea via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

B2B Marketing Developments That Took Center Stage in 2015


As 2015 draws to a close, it's interesting to think about what technologies, practices, or other developments in B2B marketing captured the most attention during this year. The nature of my work requires me to stay on top of trends and new developments in B2B marketing, and therefore I spend a considerable amount of time attending conferences, reading research reports, attending webinars, and performing other types of research.

During 2015, three practices - account-based marketing, predictive lead scoring, and sales enablement - generated a great deal of hype. None of these practices was completely "new" in 2015, but all gained substantial traction among marketers over the past twelve months. Predicting the future is always hazardous, but I think these practices are likely to play significant roles in B2B marketing in 2016..

Account-Based Marketing

The defining characteristic of account-based marketing is that it focuses on a group of identified or named target accounts. More specifically, ABM programs are directed at relevant individuals (decision makers or influencers) who are affiliated with those target prospects. In a recent survey by SiriusDecisions, more than nine out of ten respondents described ABM as "extremely" or "very" important to their overall marketing efforts.

As I have written before, account-based marketing is actually a combination of long-established marketing principles and methods, and new technology-enabled marketing techniques. For example, technology now enables us to target online advertisements and customize website content for individual target accounts. Today's most successful ABM programs also exhibit a high level of integration across marketing, business development, and sales activities. This characteristic has caused some ABM thought leaders to argue that ABM should really be called strategic account development because it encompasses much more than marketing.

Predictive Lead Scoring

Predictive lead scoring is an analytics technique that takes data regarding existing customers from a company's CRM and marketing automation systems, and combines that information with external data to create a profile of organizations that have the greatest propensity to purchase the company's products or services. Then, the scoring software aggregates similar data regarding the prospects in the company's marketing database and compares these prospects to the profile, resulting in a "propensity to buy" score for each prospect.

Predictive lead scoring can enable companies to qualify prospects using much more data than is typically used in traditional lead scoring systems. Therefore, predictive lead scoring qualifies prospects more accurately, and it can identify buying signals that are almost impossible to find using traditional lead scoring techniques.

Sales Enablement

Improving the effectiveness of sales efforts and increasing the productivity of salespeople are not new business objectives, but they have become important priorities for leaders in most types of business organizations. In the 2015 Sales Performance Optimization Survey by CSO Insights, respondents identified increasing sales effectiveness as their second most important objective for 2015, behind only winning new customers. Gartner recently estimated that $297.5 million was spent on digital sales content management systems in 2014.

Sales enablement - in some form - has existed in B2B companies for several years. But over the past five years or so, the interest in sales enablement has increased dramatically, driven largely by the appearance of sales enablement technology solutions. By 2015, the capabilities of sales enablement technologies had become quite sophisticated. Some solutions now have the ability to recommend specific content resources to a sales rep based on data analytics, and most solutions now enable companies to track the usage and effectiveness of their sales content resources.

2015 has been another interesting year in B2B marketing, and I expect more of the same in 2016.

Illustration courtesy of Automotive Social via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Welcome Decline of "Marketing Myopia"

In 1960, Theodore Levitt wrote a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review titled "Marketing Myopia." Forty-four years later, HBR editors commented that Levitt's article "introduced the most influential marketing idea of the past half century."

Levitt's central argument was that companies will cease to grow if they define their business too narrowly - in terms of specific products or services rather than in terms of customer needs. In one of the most memorable passages in the article, Levitt argued that railroads were in decline "because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business."

For the past few years, I've argued that many marketers are now afflicted with a new strain of marketing myopia, one that is characterized by an almost exclusive focus on marketing communications and the technologies that support them. As practiced in many companies today, marketing means marketing communications and not much more. In terms of the venerable 4P's model of the marketing mix, many marketers are devoting almost all of their time and energy to promotion, and they have largely ceded responsibility for product planning, pricing, and distribution (place) to other business functions.

Recently, I've seen some evidence suggesting that the new strain of marketing myopia may be on the decline. Earlier this year, the Association of National Advertisers (in association with McKinsey & Co. and GfK) conducted a study that primarily focused on the disruptive forces that marketing organizations are facing. The study included a survey of marketing professionals that was fielded in July and August of 2015 and generated 384 responses.

In this study, survey participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement with ten statements that described how marketing's role in their organization could be expanding. The table below shows the percentage of survey respondents who "strongly" or "somewhat" agree with each statement. Percentages shown in red indicate significant increases compared to the 2014 edition of the survey.



























These survey results suggest that marketers are taking a bigger role in shaping business strategy and in designing new products or services and new business models. Hopefully, these findings indicate that the attitudes about marketing are changing in many enterprises.

The "prime directive" of marketing should be to develop a deep understanding of potential customers, including their needs, goals, desires, and behaviors. Marketers use this understanding to craft more effective communications with customers and prospects, but these same "marketing" insights should also be used to guide the design, development, distribution, and pricing of products and services that will win in the marketplace.

Astute business leaders are now recognizing that providing great customer experiences is becoming the primary driver of competitive advantage. Recent research by Gartner found that 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience by 2016. Marketing should be the business function that takes the lead in helping the company to deliver great customer experiences, and that requires marketers to focus on much more than marketing communications.

Top image courtesy of Daniel Olnes via Flickr CC

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Why Your View of Data-Driven Marketing is Probably Too Narrow?

















One of the most profound changes in the marketing landscape over the past few years has been the dramatic growth of data-driven marketing. While the specific practices vary from company to company, it's almost certain that a large majority of companies are now using data-driven marketing in some form. The attraction of data-driven marketing is so strong that for many marketing thought leaders and practitioners, "data-driven marketing" has become almost synonymous with "effective marketing."

Last fall, GlobalDMA and the Winterberry Group conducted a major research study that demonstrated marketers' commitment to data-driven marketing. This research included a survey of more than 3,000 marketers, advertisers, service providers, technologists, and publishers from 17 global markets. Here are three of the study's major findings:

  • About 80% of survey respondents said that data is important to their current marketing activities, and more than half (57.1%) described data as "critical" to their efforts.
  • More than 90% of respondents said that data is becoming more important to marketing efforts, and over three-quarters (76.7%) said that data is growing "substantially" more important.
  • A vast majority of survey respondents (77.4%) said they they are confident in the data-driven approach to marketing.
The GlobalDMA/Winterberry study also found that most marketers are using data primarily to improve the effectiveness of marketing communications. When survey participants were asked to describe the primary focus of their data-driven marketing activities, 68.5% chose "Targeting of offers, messages, and creative content." When survey participants were asked what factors were responsible for driving their investment in data-driven marketing, the top choice (selected by 52.7% of respondents) was "Demand to deliver more relevant communications to customers/be more 'customer-centric.'"

Therefore, it's fair to say that, as currently practiced, data-driven marketing is primarily about data-driven marketing communications. And while improving the effectiveness of marketing communications is obviously worthwhile, data can and should be used to support other marketing functions that are equally important to business success.

Marketers now have access to more information about customers and prospects than ever before, and this voluminous data can help marketers develop a deeper understanding of customer needs and desires. Companies can leverage this understanding to develop products or services that are more inherently attractive to the company's target market. More than forty years ago, Peter Drucker captured the role and importance of understanding customers when he wrote, "The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product fits him and sells itself."

Data-driven marketing should be about improving the effectiveness of marketing communications, but it should also be about providing part of the intelligence that company leaders need in order to bring the right products or services to the market in the first place.

Image courtesy of Dushan Hanuska via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why You Need to Ditch Marketing Campaigns in 2016



Marketers have long used campaigns as the basis for planning marketing efforts. And for decades, the campaign paradigm worked reasonably well. Today, however, rising buyer expectations and changing buyer communications preferences require new kinds of marketing communications methods that don't fit the traditional campaign construct. As a result, several marketing thought leaders now contend that the campaign paradigm is obsolete. For example, Forrester Consulting recently wrote:

". . . most companies are stuck in an old campaign mindset and a corporate reality where each of their touchpoints is typically the domain of separate channel silos . . . The overall result is often messaging, execution, and delivery strategies that are fragmented across touchpoints and out of context to the consumer." (The Rise of Marketing Orchestration)

The reality is, it's time to ditch the campaign model and replace it with a planning framework that enables marketers to better align their activities with both buyer realities and critical business objectives. Therefore, the primary output of your planning process should be a marketing communications plan that embodies a cohesive, balanced, and value-driven marketing effort.

The diagram below shows the major elements of a marketing communications plan, which is similar in several ways to the B-to-B Marketing Campaign Framework developed by SiriusDecisions.










































Value Themes

In a marketing communications plan, value themes replace campaigns as the primary organizing principle. Value themes are derived directly from your value propositions, but a value theme may encompass more than one value proposition. For example, your product or service may enable your customers to reduce three distinct kinds of costs, and therefore you've developed three value propositions to reflect these benefits. In a marketing communications plan, these three value propositions might well be embodied in one "cost reduction" value theme.

Value themes are designed to be used for a relatively long period of time, usually at least a year, and they act as the primary guide for developing your marketing messages and content resources. Most B2B companies will have between one and four value themes for each product or product family and target market combination.

Marketing Program Families

Marketers in B2B companies are tasked to achieve several marketing objectives, and each of these objectives demands a distinctive set of marketing activities. In a marketing communications plan, these activity sets are called marketing programs, and most B2B companies need four types of marketing programs:

  • Reputation-building programs are primarily designed to build brand awareness and credibility with potential buyers in the target market.
  • Demand creation programs are primarily designed to acquire new sales leads and nurture those leads until they are ready to engage with sales reps.
  • Sales enablement programs are primarily designed to provide content and intelligence that supports the efforts of the sales force.
  • Retention & growth programs are primarily designed to sustain and enhance relationships with existing customers, improve customer retention, and increase "share of wallet."
Marketing Tactics

Your marketing communications plan will also include the specific tactics that you will use to execute each marketing program. The important point here is that most tactics can be used in all four types of marketing programs, although some tactics will play a more significant role in some types of programs than others.

Market Intelligence/Performance Measurement

The final component of a marketing communications plan is a system for (a) gathering and analyzing information about buyer needs, preferences, and behaviors, and (b) measuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. In today's B2B marketing environment, no marketing communications plan is complete without a system for leveraging data to better understand potential buyers and for measuring marketing performance.

Marketing campaigns are no longer the best way to play and organize marketing efforts. For more effective marketing in 2016, think instead about developing a comprehensive, value-driven marketing communications plan.

Top image courtesy of InfoWire.dk via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Marketing Planning for 2016 - How to Get Started

In my last post, I made the point that marketing planning for a B2B company has become a complex undertaking. I also argued that, while it's impossible to eliminate the complexity associated with marketing planning, you can make the job more manageable - and the outcome more successful - by using a sound planning process and framework. The diagram below presents a high-level, simplified view of the planning process and framework that I use when working with a B2B company on a marketing planning project.



























The first step in your planning process for 2016 should be to review your company's overall business strategy for next year and identify the strategic business objectives that marketing will be expected to influence. For example, your company's business strategy will almost certainly include an overall revenue growth objective, but it may also include distinct revenue objectives for specific products or product line, geographic markets, or customer segments. Having a clear understanding of these strategic business objectives will enable you to align your marketing efforts with those objectives.

The next step in the planning process is to focus on three core components of any sound marketing strategy - the definition of the target market, the value propositions that you will communicate to organizations in your target market, and the buying group, the individuals within prospect organizations who will make or influence the decision to purchase your products or services.

Defining your target market, developing compelling value propositions, and identifying the buying group are critical for effective planning because these factors largely dictate the content of your marketing communications plan.

Think of it this way. If you've ever watched someone install a tile or hardwood floor on a home improvement TV show, you may remember that the installer spends a great deal of time making sure that the first row of tiles or boards is straight and square with the walls of the room. After the first row is in place, the rest of the installation usually goes fairly quickly. That's because as long as the rest of the tiles or boards "fit" with the first row, the whole floor is almost guaranteed to turn out right.

The definition of your target market, your value propositions, and your buying group are like that first row of floor tiles or boards. They provide the "landmarks" and reference points for the development of your marketing communications plan.

Target Market and Value Propositions

Defining your target market and developing value propositions is almost always a "back and forth" process. That's because it's likely that your products or services can create value for users in several ways, but it's also likely that they will create more value for certain kinds of companies. Therefore, the most effective way to deal with these two factors is to start by understanding and describing how your products or services will create value for users. From my experience, the best way to capture this insight is to answer a series of questions and record your answers in what I call a customer value map. Here are the questions:

  1. What are all of the significant reasons that companies have for purchasing a product or services like ours? What problems or needs motivate the buying decision?
  2. What kinds of organizations are likely to have the problems or needs that underlie these reasons to buy?
  3. What specific outcomes are organizations seeking when they decide to buy a product or service like ours?
  4. What specific features and capabilities of our solution will produce these desired outcomes?
  5. What will the economic benefits be if these desired outcomes are achieved?
The Buying Group

Once you have defined the target market and identified how your products or services will create value for companies in your target market, it becomes somewhat easier to identify the buying group. When you develop your customer value map, you will identify the problems or needs that motivate organizations to purchase products or services like yours. A good way to identify the buying group is to add a question to your customer value map (after question 2 in the above list):  "Who within these organizations is most affected by each problem or need (who has the most to gain if the problem is solved and the most to lose if it isn't)?"

For most marketers, the primary output of the annual planning process should be a marketing communications plan that describes how you will tell your story to potential buyers. In a future post, I'll explain how to build and effective marketing communications plan.

Note:  If you'd like to learn more about developing value propositions and see an example of a customer value map, take a look at my white paper titled,"How to Create Irresistible Value Propositions."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why Marketing Planning is Hard (and How to Make It Easier)

With less than two months remaining in 2015, many marketers have already started planning their marketing efforts for 2016, and most others will begin their planning process over the next few weeks. To develop a successful marketing program for a B2B company, marketers must make several important decisions, and those decisions require answers to a number of questions. Some of the most critical questions are:

  • What kinds of organizations will make our best prospects?
  • How will our products or services create value for those prospects?
  • What individuals in the prospect organizations will make or influence the decision to purchase our products or services?
  • What "arguments" will we use to persuade potential buyers to purchase our products or services?
  • How will we demonstrate the value (ROI) that our products or services will deliver to a prospective customer?
  • What content formats and communication channels will we use to tell our story to potential buyers?
  • What technological capabilities will we need to develop or acquire in order to effectively implement our marketing programs?
  • What human skills and capabilities will we need in order to successfully develop and execute our marketing programs?
  • How will we evaluate the effectiveness of our marketing efforts?
  • What financial resources will we need in order to adequately fund our marketing efforts?
From these questions, it should be clear that planning a comprehensive marketing effort for a B2B company is not a simple undertaking. And the reality is, I could easily have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the number of questions that I included in the above list.

Planning an effective B2B marketing effort has become more complex for a variety of reasons that have been widely discussed over the past few years. For example:
  • The abundance of easily accessible information has shifted power to buyers and placed them firmly in control of the buying process.
  • The abundance of information has also elevated buyer expectations and made buyers more demanding than ever before.
  • The proliferation of content formats and communication channels enables buyers to obtain information in the ways they actually prefer, and this multiplies the volume and variety of marketing content resources that companies must develop and the number of channels they must use to effectively reach buyers.
These and other factors have made it more challenging for B2B marketers to plan, develop, and execute marketing programs that will create the kind of meaningful engagement with potential buyers that drives higher sales.

While it's not possible to eliminate the inherent complexities of marketing planning, you can make the job more manageable by using a well-designed planning process and framework. A good process and framework will help ensure that you address all of the issues that are important to the success of your marketing effort, and that you deal with those issues in the right sequence.

In my next two posts, I'll describe an approach to marketing planning and a planning framework that I've found to work well in B2B companies.

Image courtesy of David Wilson via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Sales Reps Should Be Involved in Lead Nurturing

Last month, Howard Sewell, the President of Spear Marketing Group, published a blog post with the provocative title Please Don't Let Your Sales Reps Nurture Leads. In his post, Howard described a personal experience of becoming a lead for a marketing technology company. He had contacted the company because he thought its technology might be useful for a prospective client campaign. Howard spoke with a salesperson and got pricing information.

The prospective campaign was cancelled, so Howard e-mailed the salesperson, gave her the news, and told her that he would keep her company in mind for the future. From then on, Howard received a monthly phone call from the salesperson, who would leave a voicemail saying something like, "I was just wondering if you have any needs currently where we could help."

In his post, Howard argues that these kinds of calls "are the worst possible use of a sales rep's time." He goes on to write, "Placing calls to leads that were once qualified, in the hope, by some accident of timing, that the prospect may yet have a need again, is destined to be a fruitless and thoroughly unproductive endeavor." Howard closes his post with the emphatic statement:  "Get your salespeople out of the lead nurturing business."

Howard Sewell is one of the B2B marketing thought leaders that I pay close attention to, and I always find his views insightful. In this case, I agree with Howard that the tactic used by the salesperson was essentially worthless. However, I don't agree that sales reps should stay out of lead nurturing.

In my experience, the most effective lead nurturing programs utilize several methods and channels of communication and involve both content-based communications (which are typically handled by marketing) and person-to-person communications (which are typically handled by business development reps or salespeople).

Recent research has confirmed the importance of including person-to-person communications in the lead nurturing process. For example, it its 2015 B-to-B Buying Study, SiriusDecisions found that sales reps from winning vendors were involved at every stage of the buying process, and that sales rep interactions with potential buyers are particularly significant during the early stages of the buying cycle. And research by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that even millennial B2B buyers prefer to have direct contact with vendor representatives during the research phase of their buying process.

There's no doubt that content-based communications will continue to play the dominant role in lead nurturing, but there's no real substitute for person-to-person communications. When you have a personal conversation with a buyer, you have the potential for a richer exchange of information. A personal conversation provides three distinct advantages over content-based communications:

  • It enables you to more accurately assess how interested a potential buyer is in your product or service and where he or she is in the buying process.
  • It allows you to discover and then explore issues or topics that arise unexpectedly, and these unanticipated discussions can provide insights that may enable you to help the potential buyer move forward in the buying process in a more expedited fashion.
  • It enables the seller's representative to establish the personal "connection" with the potential buyer that will be needed to ultimately produce a sale.
To be effective at lead nurturing, sales reps must remember that lead nurturing conversations are not "sales calls." But that's a topic for another blog post.

Image courtesy of Flazingo Photos via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's Old and New in Account-Based Marketing

If you're involved in B2B marketing, you're probably aware of the hype surrounding account-based marketing (ABM). Some industry thought leaders are touting ABM as the "next big thing" in B2B marketing, and research confirms that the enthusiasm for account-based marketing is growing. For example, in the 2015 State of Account-Based Marketing Survey by SiriusDecisions:

  • 92% of respondents said that account-based marketing is "extremely" or "very" important to their overall marketing efforts.
  • 61% of respondents whose companies had implemented ABM said they plan to invest in technology to support their ABM efforts over the next twelve months.
Most of the hype about account-based marketing tends to portray ABM as a "new" type of marketing. In reality, account-based marketing is an amalgamation of old and new marketing principles and methods, and a set of relatively new, technology-enabled marketing techniques.

What's "Old" in Account-Based Marketing

The defining characteristic of account-based marketing is that it focuses on a group of identified or named accounts. ABM programs or campaigns are directed at relevant individuals (decision makers or influencers) who are affiliated with those named customers or prospects. This aspect of account-based marketing is by no means new.

Any business or marketing strategy worth its salt will include a definition of the company's target market, and this has been true for decades. In addition, for years, many B2B companies have been using direct marketing methods that focus on specific individuals who are affiliated with the business organizations that are in the company's defined target market.

So, in short, some of the fundamental principles and methods of ABM aren't new, but in fact, they embody techniques that many B2B companies have been using for years. However, this doesn't mean that the current incarnation of account-based marketing is simply a rehash of "old" marketing methods and practices.

What's "New" in Account-Based Marketing

Two characteristics distinguish the current practice of ABM from the "account-based" marketing campaigns and programs of the past. First, we now have technology tools that are enabling several new ABM techniques. For example, we now have the ability to target online advertisements and customize website content for individual named accounts or for specified types of accounts.

The second defining attribute of current ABM efforts is the level of coordination among marketing, sales, and business development activities. Today's most effective ABM programs typically combine content-based interactions and human-to-human interactions to create an integrated communications plan for each target account. In companies with the most successful ABM programs, marketers, sales reps, and business development reps work jointly to develop and then execute the integrated communications effort. This characteristic has caused some ABM thought leaders to argue that account-based marketing should really be called something like strategic account development because it encompasses much more than marketing.

ABM can be a powerful approach to demand generation for many B2B companies, and new technology tools can certainly enhance the effectiveness of ABM efforts. But ABM isn't entirely new, and successful ABM programs will incorporate many long-standing marketing principles and techniques.

Image courtesy of Cliff via Flickr CC.

Monday, October 26, 2015

More Evidence on the Need to Improve Content Marketing Efficiency



Earlier this fall, I published a post that focused on the need to make content marketing more efficient. The impetus for that post was a recent research study by Gleanster and Kapost that demonstrated the economic importance of improving the efficiency of content marketing activities and processes. Here are three of the major findings of the Gleanster/Kapost research:

  • Large and mid-size B2B firms in the US collectively spend over $5.2 billion annually on content creation efforts.
  • Poorly managed and/or cumbersome content management processes lead to an estimated $958 million each year in excessive spending on content marketing by large and mid-size B2B companies.
  • $0.25 of every $1.00 spent on content marketing in an average large/mid-size B2B company is wasted on inefficient content marketing operations.
This month, I attended a webinar sponsored by SAVO that provided more confirmation of the importance of content marketing efficiency. The webinar included a presentation by Erin Provey, Service Director of the Strategic Communications Management practice at SiriusDecisions. Ms. Provey's presentation was based on data from the SiriusDecisions 2015 Cost of Content Survey and the SiriusDecisions Cost of Content Benchmark Model.

The SiriusDecisions research and analysis focused on how much B2B companies are spending on content development and on how much of that content is "productive." For this analysis, SiriusDecisions divided B2B companies into three size cohorts. Small companies were defined as those having less than $100 million in annual revenues. Medium-size companies have between $100 million and $1 billion in revenues, and large companies have more than $1 billion in revenues.

SiriusDecisions estimates that small companies invest about $900,000 per year in content development, medium-size companies spend about $10.8 million, and large B2B enterprises spend about $17.5 million. These spending amounts are averages, and they include both external and internal costs.

SiriusDecisions defined productive content as content that is "activated" by internal audiences and consumed by external audiences. Unproductive content is content that isn't used because it cannot be activated "as is" or because it can't be located. Across B2B companies of all sizes, SiriusDecisions estimates that 65% of all the content "owned" by companies goes unused. More specifically, SiriusDecisions says that 28% of content isn't used because it is "unfindable," and 37% is unusable due to low quality or lack of relevance.

Because of unproductive content, SiriusDecisions estimates that between 11% and 19% of the annual investment in content is wasted. In small B2B companies, this annual wasted spending amounts to about $100,000. Medium-size companies waste about $2 million, and large B2B enterprises waste about $2.3 million. As with the total cost figures, these waste amounts are averages.

The SiriusDecisions research provides a sobering dose of reality and more compelling evidence that virtually all B2B companies can realize significant financial benefits by improving the efficiency of their content marketing efforts.

Image courtesy of Carolyn Coles via Flickr CC.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What are the Core Disciplines of Modern Marketing?

It's no secret that the marketing landscape is more complex today than ever before. Heightened buyer expectations for greater relevancy, the proliferation of customer touch points, interaction channels, and marketing technologies, and the growing role of data and data analytics have all added complexity to the marketing function.

To succeed, in today's dynamic and complex marketing environment, companies must assemble teams of marketers who have the right skills and competencies. But, what specific competencies will a high-performing, modern marketing organization possess?

Tomasz Tunguz, a partner at the venture capital firm Redpoint, addressed this issue in a recent blog post titled The 9 Marketing Disciplines of Great SaaS Companies. Mr. Tunguz' post was based on a presentation made at a venture capital conference by Bill Macaitis, the former CMO of Zendesk. Although Mr. Tunguz' post and Mr. Macaitis' presentation dealt specifically with marketing at SaaS companies, most of the disciplines are equally important for other types of B2B companies.

Here are the nine marketing disciplines that Tunguz/Macaitis identified, along with my interpretation of each discipline's primary role(s).

Operations and Analysis - The team that is responsible for performing data analytics and for leveraging analytics to optimize marketing performance. Tunguz/Macaitis say this is the first team a company should build and that it is likely to become the largest team in the marketing organization.

Customer Evangelism - This team is primarily responsible for identifying and building relationships with potential customer evangelists and for leveraging customer endorsements.

Content - This team develops the company's content marketing strategy and plan, and creates and/or curates needed marketing content.

Paid Media - This team manages the activities that involve the use of paid media channels, such as TV/radio/print ads, display ads, and SEM.

Website Conversion - Tunguz/Macaitis say this team is a group of front-end and back-end engineers who are responsible for optimizing the company's website.

Product Marketing - This is the team that is focused on understanding specific customer needs (product-related), on segmenting the market, and on developing appropriate pricing structures.

Lifecycle Nurturing - This team is primarily responsible for strengthening relationships with existing customers.

Communications - Tunguz/Macaitis say this is basically the public relations team.

International - This is the team that manages the company's marketing efforts in areas outside the "home" country.

What do you think? Does this list identify all of the core disciplines that a high-performing, modern marketing organization requires? What would you add or change?

Image courtesy of arisexpress via Flickr CC.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

HubSpot Research Offers Insights on Blog Performance

In an earlier post, I discussed some of the major findings of research by TrackMaven regarding the effectiveness of blog posts. The TrackMaven research contained data regarding the best day of the week for publishing blog posts, the best time of day to publish, and the optimal length of blog post titles.

While the TrackMaven study included some data regarding posting frequency, it didn't attempt to identify what posting frequency is best, nor did TrackMaven attempt to determine what blog post length is most effective.

After my earlier post was published, I discovered a blog post by HubSpot that provides several insights on these perennially important issues. This post describes a test that HubSpot ran on its own Marketing Blog to determine what its optimal editorial strategy should be. More specifically, the managers of the blog wanted to determine whether they should be publishing longer, more in-depth posts on a less frequent basis, or shorter posts on a more frequent basis.

To answer these questions, HubSpot conducted an experiment to determine how changes in blog posting frequency and content mix affected three key performance metrics - views, net new leads, and subscribers. To get the full flavor of what HubSpot discovered from its experiment, you need to read the HubSpot post. In this post, I'll focus on the findings that relate to posting frequency.

The experiment was conducted over a period of six weeks. During the first two weeks, HubSpot tracked the results produced by its existing editorial practices (the Benchmark strategy). In the second two weeks of the test, HubSpot reduced the number of posts published by about 50% and increased the percentage of longer, more in-depth posts. HubSpot called this the Low Volume, High Comprehensiveness (LVHC) strategy. In the final two weeks, HubSpot increased the number of posts published by about 50% (over the Benchmark number) and increased the percentage of shorter, less in-depth posts. HubSpot named this the High Volume, Low Comprehensiveness (HVLC) strategy.

Here's what HubSpot found:

  • The Benchmark and HVLC strategies produced almost the same amount of blog traffic, but the LVHC strategy resulted in about 32% less traffic.
  • During the LVHC phase of the experiment, the blog produced about 4% fewer leads than it did when the Benchmark strategy was used. During the HVLC phase, the blog produced almost twice as many leads, compared to the Benchmark strategy.
So, what can we learn from the results of the HubSpot experiment? Most of us would like to believe that content quality will trump content quantity. The HubSpot results suggest that, for blogs anyway, content quantity (posting frequency) has a significant impact on blog performance.

Note:  As part of its experiment, HubSpot categorized its blog posts based on the type of content they contained and then measured the performance of each type of post. I found these results to be particularly interesting, and once again, I recommend that you take the time to read the HubSpot post. For me, the most important takeaway was that no single type of blog content excelled at both traffic generation and lead generation. So you need to publish several types of posts to maximize the overall performance of your blog.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Why the Quality of Your Content Marketing Strategy Matters

For the past two years, the annual content marketing surveys by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs have pointed to the importance of having and following a documented content marketing strategy. In both the 2014 and 2015 editions of the survey, a majority of B2B respondents whose company had a documented content strategy rated their content marketing efforts as highly effective (a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 5), while only a small minority of respondents with a documented strategy rated their efforts as ineffective (a 1 or 2 on the five point scale).

A recent study by the CMO Council, in partnership with NetLine Corporation, contains some findings that seem to contradict the results in the CMI/MarketingProfs surveys. Lead Flow That Helps You Grow was based on a survey of 213 senior marketing leaders primarily located in North America.

In the CMO Council study, only 10% of respondents said they have no content marketing strategy. At the same time, however, only 12% of respondents described their content marketing program as a "high performance engine." More importantly, most of the respondents were not particularly happy with their ability to leverage content to generate high-quality sales leads. Only 15% of the respondents described their demand generation strategies as very or highly effective. Twenty-nine percent of the respondents rated their demand generation strategies as moderately effective, and 32% said they were somewhere in the middle.

The CMO Council also asked survey participants what was causing their content marketing programs to under-perform, and the following table shows the top factors identified by survey respondents.


















These factors indicate that many of the respondents to the CMO Council survey do not, in reality, have a well-conceived and complete content marketing strategy. If you have a sound content strategy, it's not likely that you will be developing content that isn't tailored for specific audiences, or that your content isn't relevant for your target audience, or that you aren't leveraging effective distribution channels.

In an earlier post, I discussed seven high-level questions that your content marketing strategy must address. If your strategy includes thorough answers to those seven questions, most of the problems shown in the above table won't exist.

Today's business buyers are awash in content, and it takes high-quality content to be successful when content is so abundant and easily accessible. But to consistently create and deploy content that will enable you to achieve your marketing objectives, you need an effective content marketing strategy. So in essence, the quality of your strategy is just as important as the quality of your content.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Should Marketers "Go All In" on Algorithmic Marketing?

One of the most profound changes in marketing over the past two decades has been the explosive growth in the development and use of marketing technology. Today, technology touches virtually every aspect of marketing, and our use of marketing technologies continues to grow.

Big data, predictive analytics, and "data-driven marketing" are now among the hottest topics in marketing circles, and most thought leaders say that companies are only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to using data and analytics to automate marketing. Some thought leaders envision a not-too-distant future where computer algorithms direct many of the interactions between companies and their customers or prospects without human intervention.

For example, in The Marketing Performance Blueprint, Paul Roetzer, the founder and CEO of PR 20/20, writes:

"Imagine an algorithm-based recommendation engine for all major marketing activities and strategies. The engine will use a potent mix of historical performance data, industry and company benchmarks, real-time analytics, and subjective human inputs, layered against business and campaign goals, to recommend actions with the greatest probabilities of success. If built or acquired by marketing technology heavyweights, these tools will add algorithmic marketing strategy to the automation mix."

In an article for Marketing Land, Mr. Roetzer expanded on his view of the future:

"Natural language processing, hypothesis generation and dynamic learning are core components of the technology that will transform the marketing industry. Rather than simply automating manual tasks, artificial intelligence adds a cognitive layer that infinitely expands marketers' ability to process data, identify patterns, and build intelligent strategies and content faster, cheaper and more effectively than humans."

The support for data-driven marketing is strong and growing, and many enterprises are already using data and predictive analytics to automate some interactions with customers or prospects. I contend that marketers should approach automated algorithmic marketing with a healthy dose of caution and make sure they fully understand its limitations, as well as its potential benefits.

One important limitation is that algorithmic marketing relies mostly on behavioral data. Virtually all of the data about customers and prospects that falls under the rubric of "big data" is data describing behaviors and actions - the digital footprints that we leave behind as we use digital devices and channels to consume or exchange information. As I wrote in an earlier post, the problem with behavioral data is that it can tell us what someone has done (and often when and where he or she did it), but behavioral data alone doesn't tell us why someone took a particular action or behaved in a particular way. In many cases, behavioral data reveals little about customer attitudes and motivations, and these factors play a huge role in successful marketing.

We also need to be cautious about algorithmic marketing because it can make us overconfident. The vast amount of data that we can now access and analyze, and the growing power and sophistication of predictive analytics software can easily lead us to think that algorithmic marketing is more effective and reliable than it actually is. In reality, algorithmic marketing makes us susceptible to a version of the McNamara Fallacy.

The McNamara Fallacy was named for Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense during the early stages of the Vietnam War, and it relates to his approach to managing the war effort. The term was coined by the noted social scientist Daniel Yankelovich, who expressed it in the following terms:

"The first step is to measure whatever can easily be measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide."

Like all humans, we marketers have a strong tendency to base our decisions on the evidence that's easily available to us, and we tend to ignore the issue of what evidence may be missing. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman has a great way to describe this powerful human tendency. He uses the acronym WYSIATI, which stands for what you see is all there is. My point here is that it can become easy for us to believe that the data we can track, collect, and analyze is the only thing that matters, and therefore that predictions and recommendations based on that data are inevitably correct. But, it's just not that simple or straight forward.

I'm not arguing that marketers should ignore or avoid using big data, predictive analytics, and algorithmic marketing. These tools can be immensely powerful,so the key is to use them wisely and to remember that they're neither complete nor perfect.

Image courtesy of Daniel Morrison via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

New Research on B2B Content Marketing Trends and Practices













This summer, Starfleet Media published The 2015 Benchmark Report on B2B Content Marketing and Lead Generation. The Starfleet report is based on a survey of high- and mid-level marketing and sales professionals that was conducted in the second quarter of this year.

The survey produced 324 qualified responses, and respondents represented B2B companies of all sizes, from very large (more than $1 billion in revenues) to very small (less than $1 million). Most of the respondents (69%) were affiliated with companies located in North America, while 22% were affiliated with European companies.

In many ways, the findings of the Starfleet survey echo the results of research from several other firms. For example:

  • Almost nine out of ten respondents (89%) said their primary high-level objective for investing in content marketing is to acquire new customers.
  • The top three specific objectives for content marketing identified in the survey were generate more leads (92% of respondents), raise brand visibility (90%), and generate better leads (87%).
  • The top four types of content assets used in the past twelve months were case studies (67% of respondents), company-branded white papers (62%), company-branded webinars (58%), and company-branded e-books (52%).
  • Almost nine out of ten respondents (86%) identified  creating compelling content as their biggest content marketing challenge.
  • Companies across all industries produced or licensed an average of 5.5 new content assets over the past twelve months.
The Starfleet survey also revealed a few incongruities that are worth noting. For example, 90% of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that unbiased third-party content is generally perceived as more credible than company-branded content, while 83% agree or strongly agree that third-party content generally produces higher-quality leads. However, only 38% of respondents said their company had used research reports licensed from third parties during the past twelve months.

Starfleet also found a significant disparity in the number of content assets that companies create or use. According to the report, software providers produced or licensed an average of eight new content assets over the past twelve months, while the average for all other types of companies was only 3.5 content assets.

The Starfleet research also confirmed that B2B companies are making a substantial financial commitment to content marketing. Thirty-three percent of survey respondents said they spent more than half of their marketing budget on content marketing during the past twelve months, and more than one-third of respondents (36%) said they plan to allocate a greater portion of their marketing budgets to content marketing over the next twelve months.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and TopRank Online Marketing

Sunday, September 13, 2015

There's No Such Thing as "No Decision"















B2B companies that track the performance of their demand generation efforts often categorize the outcomes of potential deals as wins, losses, or no decisions. In many cases, no decision is a catch-all category that is used for all potential deals that aren't successfully closed or lost to a competitor.

Research has shown that no decisions occur frequently. For example, the 2015 Sales Performance Optimization survey by CSO Insights found that between 20% and 28% of forecast deals result in no decisions. In this research, the term forecast deals referred to sales opportunities that were sufficiently "ripe" to be included in revenue projections for a specific fiscal period. Sales Benchmark Index takes a broader view of the issue and has estimated that 58% of the typical sales pipeline will stall or result in no decision.

There are two fundamental problems with the won-lost-no decision framework, one of which is that the no decision label is inaccurate 100% of the time. When a prospective customer does not buy (either from you or from a competitor), the prospect is making a choice to either remain with the status quo, or use internal resources to "fix" the status quo in some way. Whichever the case, the prospect has made a decision, and we need to evaluate the outcome accordingly. Calling this outcome a no decision can easily lead us to view the cause of the outcome as simple inaction.

The second problem with the no decision label is that it is too generic to inform marketing and sales leaders what really caused a prospect to opt for the status quo. This is important information because it enables us to identify the causes that we can affect and to separate those from the causes that are beyond our control.

For example, a prospective customer may choose to stick with the status quo because your offering and those of your competitors don't provide enough value to justify making a change. If you're experiencing a significant number of these outcomes, it's likely that you're targeting the wrong prospects or that your lead qualification process isn't revealing the "lack of fit" as quickly as it should.

Or, you may have prospects that decide to remain with the status quo because they don't recognize the real value that your solution would deliver. In this case, your marketing content and/or your selling process may not be adequately communicating value to your prospective customers.

In both of these scenarios, you can reduce the number of what are typically called no decisions, either by using a better definition of your target market or a more rigorous lead qualification process, or by improving your ability to communicate the value that your solution will provide.

In other cases, prospective customers may decide to stick with the status quo because of events or circumstances that are beyond your control. Some examples would include:

  • A change in company leadership that results in a shift of strategic priorities
  • A downturn in the financial performance of the prospective customer that results in tighter controls on spending
To improve demand generation performance, you need to know why you win or lose, whether the loss is to a competing company or to the status quo. To gain this understanding, we need to recognize that there's really no such thing as no decision.

Illustration courtesy of Flickr CC and Dan Moyle

Sunday, September 6, 2015

It's Time to Focus On Content Marketing Efficiency



One of the best-known aphorisms in business is that effectiveness is about doing the right things, while efficiency is about doing things right. Effectiveness and efficiency are the yin and yang of high performance, and both are essential to producing superior long-term business results.

For the past several years, marketers have been working to improve both the effectiveness and efficiency of marketing activities and programs. When it comes to content marketing, however, most of the attention has been given to the effectiveness component of the performance equation. Marketers have been primarily focused on dealing with issues like:

  • What attributes must our content have to create meaningful engagement with our customers and prospects?
  • What content formats will be most effective with our target audiences?
  • What channels will best enable us to reach our potential customers?
Because content marketing is a relatively new practice for many companies, it's understandable that marketers have concentrated mainly on making their content marketing effective, and have been somewhat less concerned about content marketing efficiency. Doing the right things should take priority over doing things right, particularly when the activity or process is new and the requirements for success are not fully understood.

But now, B2B companies are making huge investments in content marketing, and the time has come for marketers to focus on making their content marketing activities as efficient as possible.

A new research study by Gleanster and Kapost reveals the economic importance of improving the efficiency of content marketing activities and processes. The study is based on a survey of 3,408 marketing professionals in US B2B companies having 250 or more employees.

Here are some of the major findings from the Gleanster/Kapost research:
  • Large and mid-size B2B firms in the US collectively spend over $5.2 billion annually on content creation efforts.
  • Managing the overall content process is the single biggest content marketing challenge for marketers in large and mid-size B2B companies (identified by over 90% of survey respondents).
  • Poorly managed and/or cumbersome content management processes lead to an estimated $958 million each year in excessive spending on content marketing by large and mid-size B2B companies.
  • B2B companies that have invested in optimizing their content marketing efforts have marketing cycle times that are 240% faster than average firms.
  • The average large/mid-size B2B company spends and extra $120,000 per year on internal marketing personnel to produce the same volume of content as a firm that has invested in optimizing its content marketing operations.
  • $0.25 of every dollar spend on content marketing in an average large/mid-size B2B company is wasted on inefficient content marketing operations.
The findings of the Gleanster/Kapost research are both provocative and compelling. Even if the economic estimates are only reasonably accurate, they clearly show that virtually all B2B companies could realize significant benefits by improving the efficiency of their content marketing operations.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Darryl Moran

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Dramatic Growth of Global Content Marketing



Numerous research studies have documented the growing use and popularity of content marketing. For example, we know from the latest survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs that an overwhelming majority of both B2B and B2C companies are now using content marketing in some form, and that about 70% of the companies that practice content marketing are creating more content today than they were a year ago.

Last month, PQ Media provided important insights on the economic impact of content marketing when the firm published its Global Content Marketing Forecast 2015-19. PQ Media estimates that global content marketing revenues - revenues generated by firms that provide content marketing services - increased by 14.4% during the first half of 2015, after growing by 13.3% during 2014. The firm projects that content marketing revenues will more than double over the next five years.

When internal spending is included, PQ Media estimates that total spending on content marketing in 2014 was about $145 billion and is expected to reach $313 billion by the end of 2019.

For its report, PQ Media identified eleven content marketing channels:

  • Branded digital and DVD videos
  • Branded games and content tools
  • Branded guest postings, articles, and case studies
  • Branded mobile content and apps
  • Branded print and digital magazines
  • Branded print and e-mail newsletters
  • Branded printed books and e-books
  • Branded research reports, white papers, and public documents
  • Branded social media sites and visual content
  • Branded webinars and online presentations
  • Sponsored events and event publications
By revenue, the largest content marketing channel is print and digital magazines, although its market share is falling. PQ Media says that print and digital magazines represent about 33% of the market today, down from about 50% in 2007. The firm estimates that in five years, print and digital magazines will constitute only about 15% of the market, but it will still be the largest single content marketing channel.

According to PQ Media, the fastest growing channel in 2014 by revenue was branded mobile content and apps, which increased by 61.5% during the year.

As you might expect, the United States is by far the world's largest market for content marketing, and PQ Media estimates that during the 2015-19 period, the US market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of almost 14%. The fasting growing market from 2013 to 2014 was South Korea, while the US ranked 11th (of the 15 countries studied).

Analysts at PQ Media call content marketing "the world's hottest marketing platform" and argue that it "shows no signs for cooling down anytime soon." It's hard to argue with that conclusion.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and StockMonkeys.com 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Importance and Challenges of Integrated Digital Communications



In an earlier post, I observed that most B2B marketers now recognize that providing outstanding customer experiences has become an essential requirement for competitive success. It's also now clear that digital communications play a vital role in customer experience delivery and that today's customers expect compelling and consistent experiences via whatever interaction channel they choose to use. Therefore, it's more important than ever for B2B companies to have an integrated approach to customer/prospect communications, particularly digital communications.

Recent research by Omobono (a digital marketing agency with offices in the UK and the US) found that an overwhelming majority of marketers recognize the importance of integrated digital communications. In the 2015 What Works Where:  The Recipe for Digital Success in B2B study, 94% of surveyed marketers said that an integrated approach to digital communications is important, and 56% rated integrated digital communications as crucial.

Omobono also found that marketers understand the benefits of integrated digital communications. Sixty-four percent of survey respondents said that an integrated approach to digital communications produces better customer experiences, 61% said that it results in more effective communications, and 56% said that it produces more consistent messaging.

The Omobono survey also revealed, however, that most B2B companies do not have an effective strategy for integrating their digital communications. Only 28% of respondents said they have a formal digital communications strategy. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they have an informal strategy, and more than a third (34%) said they have no strategy for delivering integrated digital communications.

Having a formal strategy is critical for producing effective digital marketing communications. In the Omobono study, 35% of the respondents with a formal strategy believe their digital communications are very effective, while only 11% with no strategy rated their communications as very effective. Having an informal strategy is only marginally beneficial. Only 17% of the respondents with an informal strategy said their digital communications are very effective.

These results bear a striking resemblance to some of the findings in the latest content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. In the 2015 survey, 60% of B2B marketers with a documented (written) content marketing strategy said their organization is effective at content marketing, while only 7% with no strategy and 32% with a verbal strategy rate their content marketing efforts as effective. B2C marketers have a similar perspective. Sixty-five percent of B2C marketers with a documented content marketing strategy said they're effective at content marketing, while only 11% with no strategy and 28% with a verbal strategy believe they're effective.

Integrated communications and content marketing are now essential components of the marketing mix for B2B companies, and these survey results show that both require a formal, documented strategy to be effective.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Tatinauk

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Is Your Company Ready for "Micro-Moments" of Marketing?

Despite the increasingly important and ever-expanding role of technology in B2B marketing, astute marketers recognize that all truly effective marketing is grounded in a deep understanding of the needs, expectations, and behaviors of potential customers. This understanding is what enables us to develop marketing content and marketing programs that will create and sustain meaningful engagement with our potential buyers.

The customer intelligence we need to enable effective B2B marketing has several dimensions, but one essential component is an accurate picture of how our potential buyers access and consume business-related information.

We now know that most business buyers are leveraging the wealth of information that's available online to educate themselves about business issues and possible solutions. Easy access to information has already driven significant changes in B2B demand generation.

  • It's shifted control of the buying process from sellers to buyers.
  • It's elevated the importance of content-based communications and fueled the growing use of content marketing by B2B enterprises.
  • It's caused the typical B2B buying process to become less linear and "orderly" than it once was.
Recently, Google shared research which suggests that more changes are on the way for B2B marketing. The Google research revealed that mobile communications are enabling people to access and consume information differently than in the past, and Google says these new interaction patterns are game-changing for marketers.

Specifically, Google argues that the customer purchase journey is now fragmented and composed largely of many brief interactions that frequently involve a mobile communications device. People are increasingly using mobile devices in their spare moments of time to engage in brief, spur-of-the-moment interactions for specific purposes. Google refers to these brief, but highly-focused, interactions as micro-moments.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's Senior Vice President of Ads & Commerce describes micro-moments as follows:  "Micro-moments occur when people reflexively turn to a device - increasingly a smartphone - to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something. They are intent-rich moments when decisions are made and preferences shaped." Therefore, Google says, companies must win these micro-moments in order to achieve marketing success.

Micro-moments impose new demands on marketers. The Google research found that when people interact via a micro-moment, they have high expectations for immediacy and relevance. So, marketers will need to develop and deploy content resources that will work effectively in micro-moments. At a minimum, this means that companies will need resources that can be easily and quickly consumed and resources that are accessible via all communication devices.

The Google research focused primarily on the behaviors of consumers, and it's likely that the behaviors of business buyers differ in some respects. However, as B2B buyers become more comfortable with, and dependent on, mobile devices, micro-moments will play an increasingly important role in the B2B buying process

Sunday, August 9, 2015

New Insights on Making Blog Posts More Effective

Blogs have been around since 1994, and over the past decade, they've become a core content marketing channel for many B2B companies. While there are plenty of newer channels through which B2B marketers can publish and share marketing content, a blog still provides several important benefits. For example:

  • It's an ideal vehicle for providing your potential buyers with bite-sized pieces of your marketing content.
  • It can be used to point prospects to your more "substantial" content resources (white papers, research reports, videos, etc.).
  • It's a good tool for improving your company's position in organic search.
When blogs began to become a popular marketing channel, several firms published research regarding the optimal length of blog posts, the most effective publishing frequency, the best day of the week to publish a post, and similar issues. Over the past couple of years, I've seen less of this type of research, but a few days ago, I discovered a research report by TrackMaven that provides some interesting statistics on these kinds of topics.

TrackMaven is a provider of content analytics software. For this report, TrackMaven analyzed 1.2 million posts published at 4,618 blogs and captured the number of social shares for each blog post, which amounted to a total of almost 2 billion social shares for the data set. I encourage you to read the full research report, but here are a few of the major findings:
  • 87% of the blog posts in the study were published during the workweek, with Tuesday and Wednesday being the most popular days. However, blog posts published on the weekend did better in terms of social shares. For example, only 6.3% of the posts in the study were published on Saturday, but those posts received 18% of the total social shares.
  • Most of the blog posts in the study were published during normal working hours, which TrackMaven defined as roughly 9 am to 6 pm EST. However, blog posts published between 9 pm and midnight had the most social shares.
  • Most of the blog posts analyzed had titles containing about 40 characters, but posts with longer titles (up to about 60 characters) received the most social shares.
My major concern with the TrackMaven study is that it essentially equates the effectiveness of blog posts with the number of social shares they generate. In many B2B companies, the  target audience for a blog is relatively senior executives and managers, and many of those individuals are not particularly likely to engage in social sharing. Therefore, social shares don't necessarily provide an accurate measure of the reach and impact of blog posts. Nevertheless, the TrackMaven report is a worthwhile read.

Note:  Earlier this year, TrackMaven published the results of a broader study that included social media content as well as blog posts. I discussed that study in an earlier post and made a similar point about its methodology.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Will We Soon Have a Magic "Marketing Answer Machine?"

Last week, Mark Schaefer published a blog post with the provocative title, "Why Big Data will go away soon." In this post, Mark argued that, for the next five years or so, the ability to analyze and extract insights from big data will be a critical skill for marketers. But then, Mark says, technology will make it so easy to use data in marketing that the complex aspects of data analytics will become invisible to most of us.

Here's now Mark described the not-too-distant future:

"In the foreseeable future, I can definitely see a time when we won't have to worry about specifying the correct statistical test or making sure your data is 'cleaned up.' You'll simply ask your device a question about your customers or competitors and it will know what data to pull, what analysis to run, and how to interpret the results.
. . .
In this new environment, we won't think about the Big Data that is fueling those answers just like we don't think about the sophisticated electronics at work when we are flying to a business meeting or responding to an email. It's just there. It just works. We don't know how, we don't care how. We don't give it a name. The Marketing Answer Machine will be our best friend."

Mark's view of the future is probably accurate in many ways. I think it's very likely that data analytics software will become easier and easier to use and that the complex, "heavy lifting" stuff will increasingly occur in the background, most likely overseen by a small group of "data scientists."

But, will the "Marketing Answer Machine" really provide all of the customer insights we need to optimize our marketing activities and produce successful marketing programs? I'm not so sure.

In a recent blog post for the Harvard Business Review, Charles Handy eloquently explained why we should view the "infosphere" - the combination of the Internet and computer technology - as a mixed blessing. Charles Handy is one of the most influential management thinkers of the past thirty-plus years and the author of more than a dozen books, including The Age of Unreason and The Age of Paradox.

While Mr. Handy's post deals primarily with the potential negative impacts of data and technology on individuals, organizations, and society in general, he has a message about the limitations of data that marketers need to remember. He wrote:

"Today's technologies would like to reclassify us bundles of data - be they words, numbers, or images - that the infosphere can process more easily. . . This kind of algorithmic society, with its programmes [sic] and routines, will take the stress out of life - but also much of its meaning if we let it.

This meaning is rooted in our consciousness, which cannot be coded or made into data. Nor can the virtues of beauty, truth, or goodness, which you recognize when you see them but cannot adequately measure or define. Love, trust, loyalty, and judgement [sic] - the essentials of our human relationships - are also immune to sensible quantification. Trying to codify them is pointless."

It would be unreasonable to suggest that having and using relevant and accurate data about current and potential customers won't help marketers make better decisions and create more effective marketing programs. But it's equally unreasonable to believe that data and data analytics are all that's necessary for successful marketing.

Virtually all of the data about customers and prospects that we track and use is behavioral data. Behavioral data can tell us what a potential buyer has done (and often when and where an action was taken), but behavioral data doesn't reveal the psychological and/or emotional factors that motivated the behavior, and it doesn't tell us much about the context in which a behavior occurs.

Big data is seductive because it appears to give us a highly detailed picture of our potential customers, but despite the detail, big data provides only part of the "customer intelligence" we need for effective marketing. It's like having a high-resolution version of half of the Mona Lisa.