Sunday, May 21, 2017

Marketing Best Practices Need Warning Labels


Business leaders of all kinds regard the identification and implementation of best practices as one of the most powerful management tools at their disposal. And why shouldn't they? It seems immanently reasonable to identify the practices of high-performing companies and then emulate those practices.

Marketing leaders are particularly enamored with best practices. After all, marketing success is difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain because the marketing landscape is always changing, and because it's incredibly hard to predict what marketing messages and methods will win the hearts and minds of potential customers. In these circumstances, it shouldn't be surprising that marketers are so fond of "proven" best practices.

Marketing best practices are often portrayed as effective and reliable tools for achieving marketing success, but the reality is somewhat more complicated. Best practices can be helpful when they are understood correctly and used appropriately. However, it's very easy for marketers to become enthralled with the purported benefits of best practices, and to forget about their limitations.

These days, many of the products we buy come with warning labels which highlight the bad things that can happen if we use the product incorrectly. Maybe marketing best practices should come with a set of warnings to remind marketers of their potential "dangers." I can think of several warnings that could be appropriate, but here are three that are particularly important.

Not Comprehensive

"WARNING:  Marketing success results from the interplay of numerous activities and conditions, not all of which are addressed in these best practices. Therefore, these practices may produce less-than-expected results if other factors required for success are absent."

Most marketing best practices are accompanied by an implicit or explicit claim:  Use these practices and your marketing performance will significantly improve. But here's the problem. Most collections of best practices relate to one aspect of marketing, while marketing success usually results from the combined effects of numerous factors, many of which the best practices don't address. Therefore, best practices never provide a truly comprehensive "formula" that will guarantee large-scale improvement in marketing performance.

And even if you assembled a comprehensive list of the marketing best practices that are relevant to your business, you still wouldn't have the magic formula because marketing success is affected by factors that are beyond the scope and control of marketing. These factors include activities in other areas of the business, economic conditions, the actions of competitors, and the unpredictable responses of potential customers. The bottom line is that best practices may be necessary for improving marketing performance, but they aren't sufficient to guarantee marketing success.

Widespread Use Reduces Effectiveness

"WARNING:  The widespread adoption and use of these best practices will reduce their effectiveness."

One of the most paradoxical characteristics of marketing best practices is that the more widely they are used, the less effective they become. Marketing best practices derive their effectiveness from several sources. A practice can be effective because it is based on sound business principles, or because it resonates with how potential customers make decisions, or because it leverages the capabilities of a particular medium of communication.

But best practices are also highly effective because they are usually exceptional. When a best practice is new, it tends to be used by a relatively small number of companies. Therefore, the practice stands out in the marketplace and more effectively captures the attention of potential customers. The distinctiveness also serves to differentiate the company using the practice from its competitors.

Unfortunately, as more and more companies adopt and use a best practice, it loses the distinctiveness that made it highly effective. Content marketing is a great example of a marketing practice that is now more challenging because it is so widely used.

Based on Hindsight

"WARNING:  These best practices have been identified by evaluating past results, and they may be less effective in the future. Past performance is not a reliable indicator of future results."

Best practices are always based on hindsight. We don't identify a principle or technique as a best practice until we have a fairly significant track record of performance. But as we all know, the marketing environment is constantly evolving. New technologies are appearing at a breathtaking pace, and many of those technologies enable marketing practices that were previously unheard of. Meanwhile, customer expectations are also rapidly changing.

Under these circumstances, marketers should view all best practices as "temporary" and always be alert for developments that may require a change of marketing methods or techniques. It's an overstatement to say that all best practices are obsolete by the time they are recognized as "best." But it's equally wrong to assume that today's best practices will remain unchanged for very long.

Use With Caution

Marketing best practices can help you improve marketing performance and achieve marketing success. But they must be used with caution.

Image courtesy of Travis Wise via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Started With Customer Journey Maps


Delivering great experiences to existing and potential customers is rapidly becoming a vital source of competitive advantage for many B2B companies. Recent research indicates that most B2B companies expect to be competing primarily on the basis of customer experience in the very near future.

The starting point for improving customer experiences is understanding what interactions are occurring with customers and potential customers, and how useful and satisfying those interactions are from the customer's perspective. A growing number of companies are using customer journey maps to create a visual representation of the interactions that affect customer experiences.

Customer journey maps can serve many purposes, and as a result, they come in a wide variety of forms. If you want to get a feeling for how much variety exists, just run a Google image search for "customer journey map."

There's a wealth of information about building customer journey maps. Over the past few years, customer journey mapping has been the topic of dozens, if not hundreds, of books, articles, white papers, and blog posts. These content resources often take different approaches to customer journey mapping, and that, combined with the many uses of customer journey maps, can make the process seem extremely intimidating.

There are, however, several things you can do to make the process more manageable, especially if you're just getting started with customer journey mapping.

First, it's important to remember that the mapping process - when it's done the right way - is actually more valuable than the maps themselves. Dwight Eisenhower made this point about military plans when he said, "Plans are worthless, but planning is everything." To create accurate customer journey maps, it's essential to gather and use customer input, and this gives you the opportunity to see your business through the eyes of your customers.

Second, customers will actually have several journeys over the course of their relationship with your company. Don't attempt to address all of these journeys in one mapping project. Work on one journey at a time, and focus on getting that one right.

When companies are just beginning their journey mapping efforts, I usually recommend that they focus on post-purchase journeys. There's a lot of buzz these days about using journey maps to support marketing and sales efforts. These kinds of maps cat certainly be valuable, but post-purchase journeys tend to be more concrete and thus easier to map. Plus, it's usually easier to obtain input from existing customers.

Finally, it's important to clearly define your objectives before you begin to create a customer journey map. To improve customer experiences, the most important thing to understand is what your customers are trying to accomplish when they interact with your company. Therefore, it's important to describe each journey in terms of the customer's objective. In other words, define your customers' journeys by asking:  What jobs are our customers trying to get done when they interact with our company?

Once you've answered this question, you can begin the process of improving customer experiences by answering a second question:  How can we make it easier, faster, and/or cheaper for customers to get these jobs done?

One final thought. Mapping customer journeys is not a one-time job. You will need to validate and possibly update your customer journey maps on a regular basis, at least once a year.

Illustration courtesy of Jenny Cham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Why Marketing Leaders Must Connect the Dots


In a recent article for dmnews.com, Mike Colombo, the CMO of Cloudwords, argued that many CMOs aren't ready for a seat at the C-suite table. According to Mr. Colombo, many CMOs aren't winning a seat at the "grown-up" table because they're still relying on performance metrics that are inconsequential to company leaders.

Recent research has confirmed that many marketers aren't doing a great job of communicating the value that marketing contributes to the business. In the 2016 Marketing Performance Management Benchmark Study by VisionEdge Marketing and Demand Metric, only 23% of survey respondents said their CEO would give marketing a grade of "A" on its ability to demonstrate its value and contribution to the business.

A disconnect between marketing and the rest of the C-suite can exist if CMOs don't clearly communicate the relationship between marketing programs and the business outcomes that matter to other C-suite executives. Most marketing leaders tend to focus on the programs they're running and the direct results of those programs (response rates, downloads, pageviews, etc.). The problem arises when these direct program results aren't linked to the high-level objectives that C-level executives really care about.

The ultimate mission of marketing is to drive revenue growth. Virtually all companies have a revenue growth goal as one of their top-line strategic business objectives. Many companies also have specific goals for new customer acquisition, customer retention and growth, and market share, but these objectives are all directly related to revenue growth. Therefore, every marketing activity is (or should be) designed to generate (or contribute to the production of) revenue.

To effectively communicate the connection between marketing activities and revenue, marketing leaders must develop a revenue growth strategy, which, at its most basic level, is a hypothesis that describes how the company will grow revenue. A revenue growth strategy is essentially a big if-then statement that says, "If we execute these specific marketing programs, then we will meet our revenue growth objectives."

However, many marketing activities don't directly produce revenue. Some marketing activities are several steps removed from the realization of revenue, but they are essential components of the revenue generation process. Therefore, a revenue growth strategy is a set of if-then statements, each of which describes a specific marketing activity and the anticipated results of that activity. These individual if-then statements are then combined to create chains of cause-and-effect relationships that connect individual marketing activities to the realization of revenue.

A simplified version of one of these cause-and-effect chains might look something like this:

  • If we publish a blog that offers readers access to compelling content resources, then more potential buyers will identify themselves and consume our content.
  • If more potential buyers identify themselves and consume our content, then we will generate more qualified sales leads.
  • If we generate more qualified sales leads, then we will create more legitimate sales opportunities.
  • If we increase the number of legitimate sales opportunities, then we will close more sales.
  • If we close more sales, then we will produce more revenue, and that will help us reach our revenue growth objectives.
In short, CMOs can fail to earn a seat at the C-suite table if they don't "connect the dots" between marketing programs and revenue growth. To create and sustain credibility with other senior company leaders, CMOs must understand the links between individual marketing activities and revenue growth, and they must make those links visible to the CEO and other members of the C-suite.

For more on this topic, take a look at Laura Patterson's recent article at MarketingProfs

Illustration courtesy of Lisa Plummer via Flickr CC.