Sunday, April 27, 2014

The State of "Enterprise-Level" Content Marketing

LookBookHQ and Oracle Eloqua recently published the findings of their Eloqua Community State of Content Marketing Survey 2014. This was a survey of the Oracle Eloqua "community," which I believe means users of Oracle Eloqua's marketing automation software.

The Oracle Eloqua software is an "enterprise-level" B2B marketing automation solution, so many of the respondents to this survey were affiliated with larger organizations. For example, 66% of the respondents work at companies with more than 500 employees. Fifty-one percent of the respondents had annual marketing budgets of more than $500,000, and 38% had annual marketing budgets of more than $1 million. These survey findings are interesting because they reflect the attitudes and practices of sophisticated marketing organizations that should be more "advanced" than average firms when it comes to content marketing.

Here's a brief summary of some of the findings.

Content Objectives

The top four objectives for content marketing identified by survey respondents were:

  • Demand/lead generation (88%)
  • Lead nurturing (66%)
  • Brand awareness (58%)
  • Sales enablement (51%)
My Take:  These results aren't really surprising, but they differ somewhat from the findings of the latest annual content marketing survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. In that survey, the top four content marketing objectives were brand awareness (82%), lead generation (74%), customer acquisition (71%), and thought leadership (68%).

Volume of Content Produced

Participants in the LookBookHQ/Oracle Eloqua survey were asked:  On average how much new content (excluding blog posts) is your company producing? Here's how the participants responded.
  • Multiple assets per week (29%)
  • One asset per week (13%)
  • One asset every two weeks (20%)
  • One asset per month (28%)
  • One asset per quarter or less (7%)
My Take:  This is the first survey I've seen that quantifies the volume of content that marketers are producing. I was somewhat surprised that 42% of respondents said they are producing at least one new content asset per week. In my experience, that's an aggressive content development pace. I suspect that smaller companies are producing significantly less, if you don't include blog posts and social media updates.

Content Marketing Challenges

The single biggest content marketing challenge identified by survey respondents (24%) was "getting our target audience to engage with our content." However, 44% of respondents identified some aspect of content production as the biggest challenge. The specific challenges were as follows:
  • Creating enough targeted content (23%)
  • Creating enough content (16%)
  • Creating content that helps our sales teams (5%)
My Take:  In the CMI/MarketingProfs survey discussed earlier, the top three content marketing challenges identified by respondents were lack of time (69%), producing enough content (55%), and producing the kind of content that engages (47%). So, the results from the LookBookHQ/Oracle Eloqua survey are quite similar to the CMI/MarketingProfs findings. To me, these findings make the point that producing enough quality content is not easy, even for relatively large organizations with substantial marketing budgets.

Other Interesting Findings
  • Blogging is a mainstream marketing activity. Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said they publish at least six posts per month.
  • Seventy-five percent of respondents said they are repurposing content assets at least two times (59% said 2-5 times).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Vital Importance of "Unrealistic" Thinking

In 1960, Theodore Levitt wrote a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review titled, "Marketing Myopia." When it was republished in 2004, HBR editors said the article, "introduced the most influential marketing idea of the past half century."

In a quintessential passage in the article, Levitt explained the decline of railroads in terms that have become part of the fabric of business:

"The railroads did not stop growing because the need for passenger and freight transportation declined. That grew. The railroads are in trouble today not because that need was filled by others (cars, trucks, airplanes, and even telephones), but because it was not filled by the railroads themselves. They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business."

In essence, Levitt argued that railroads fell into decline because they remained tied to their past, while technological and other developments gave customers more effective ways to meet their transportation needs.

The tendency to stick with what's worked in the past even while the competitive environment is changing is one of the biggest dangers facing leaders of all types of business organizations. As Don Peppers wrote in a recent article at LinkedIn:

"We develop our habits, our work patterns, our routines, and we adapt those habits and routines to an ever-changing competitive and technological environment. Over time, we go to greater and greater lengths to preserve our traditional routines, until pretty soon we're crossing an entire ocean just to be able to do things the way we've always done them . . . The problem is that the more we simply make minimal accommodations to deal with a radically changed environment (even if the change was gradual), the more fragile we become . . ."

The most effective way to combat this dangerous tendency is to periodically analyze the competitive environment and fundamental business issues from the perspective of a new business. In other words, you need to step away from your existing strategies and practices and ask:  What would we do if we were starting our company from scratch in today's market environment? What would we do to maximize our chances of success given current market conditions?

For example, how would you answer questions like these if you were starting with a clean slate?:

  • What products or services should we offer?
  • What kinds of customers should we seek to serve?
  • In what geographic markets should we compete?
  • How should we structure our operations?
  • How should we build our brand?
  • How should we market our products or services?
Thinking this way can be difficult because it doesn't come naturally to most of us. Plus, some people will question the value of this approach because it's inherently unrealistic. No existing business ever works with a truly clean slate; it always has resources, processes, and values that define what the business is and limit the actions it can take.

Nevertheless, this "unrealistic" way of thinking is vitally important because:
  • It brings vulnerabilities to the surface and makes them visible. If there are significant differences between your current strategies and practices and those you would use if you were starting from scratch, those differences likely constitute competitive weaknesses.
  • It will frequently reveal the importance of adopting and implementing new business or marketing strategies, and thus provide the impetus for making difficult changes.
One final word. In every company, someone must be responsible for performing this kind of "unrealistic" analysis, and in my view, that "someone" should be marketing. Marketers should be particularly well-suited to play this role because they are primarily responsible for identifying the needs of customers and prospects and for understanding the dynamics of the competitive environment, which is precisely what is required to make this "what-if" analysis productive.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why the Direct Approach in Lead Generation Isn't Always Best

The conventional wisdom among B2B marketing and sales professionals is that the fastest and surest route to a closed sale is to identify and create engagement with the economic buyer - the individual who can actually make the decision to purchase your product or service. This perspective usually leads marketers and salespeople to focus their lead generation efforts on C-level executives. As marketers, we create content and design lead generation programs for CxO's. As salespeople, we try to get in front of high-level executives whenever we can.

As it turns out, however, taking a direct approach to the presumptive decision maker/economic buyer may not be the best lead generation strategy, at least if your company sells complex and/or expensive products or services. To start with, significant buying decisions are rarely made by a single individual. Buying by committee is now the norm, and while an individual executive may still have the authority to sign-off on a proposed purchase, the de facto buying decision is usually made by a group.

There's also a more subtle, but equally important, reason why the direct approach may not be best, and it relates to how senior executives make important business decisions. Research by CEB has shown that when decision makers (the people who actually sign the contract) are evaluating prospective purchases, the single most important criteria is widespread support for the proposed supplier/solution across the organization. In other words, what the decision maker really wants to know is that a proposed purchase has the strong backing of his or her team. Therefore, the real key to winning over the economic buyer is to win the support of the key buying influences.

While consensus buying is not a new phenomenon, it has now become the norm because senior decision makers recognize that stakeholder buy-in is critical for the successful implementation of most significant new initiatives.

For marketers, the emergence of consensus buying has three major implications. First, it makes it critical for marketers to identify all of the members of the "buying group" and understand what their interests and concerns are relating to your proposed solution.

Second, it means that marketing must develop content resources that speak to the needs and concerns of all the stakeholders who will influence the purchase decision. Both marketing and sales are responsible for creating engagement with all of the significant buying influences.

Finally, the emergence of consensus buying means that marketers should not target lead generation campaigns too narrowly. We now know that targeted, more relevant lead generation programs are more effective than the "spray and pray" campaigns of the past. At the same time, however, you shouldn't exclude influencers from your lead generation programs even if you have a good idea of who the ultimate decision maker will be. The likelihood is, you'll need those influencers to close the deal, and some of them could become your strongest advocates.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why You Need Both Short-Term and Long-Term Marketing

All business leaders face two fundamental demands. They must execute their current business activities well enough to win success in today's competitive marketplace, while at the same time adapting their strategy to meet tomorrow's competitive challenges. As Jack Welch, the former Chairman and CEO of GE, once said, "You've got to eat while you dream. You've got to deliver on short-term commitments, while you develop a long-range strategy and vision and execute it."

Marketing leaders face this same business challenge. To build a well-tuned demand generation system that will produce consistent and growing revenues, marketers (and sales leaders for that matter) must simultaneously focus on both the short term and the long term.

Managing marketing efforts to deliver both short-term and long-term results is similar to the military doctrine of fighting close and deep at the same time. In military science, fighting close and deep means that you engage the enemy forces directly in front of you (fighting close), while simultaneously attacking the enemy's rear echelon forces (fighting deep). The basic idea is to weaken the rear echelon forces before they get to the front lines.

Some of you may be wondering what military doctrine has to do with B2B demand generation. Quite a bit, actually, especially for companies with long and complex demand generation cycles. In these circumstances, maximizing demand generation results requires marketing programs that cover the full depth of the demand generation arena. In other words, companies with high-performing demand generation systems engage both long-term and short-term prospects simultaneously.

From a marketing perspective, a complete demand generation system will include the five types of customer-facing programs shown in the diagram below.

The important thing to remember is that these programs impact revenues over different time horizons. At one end of the spectrum, sales enablement programs provide content and tools that support sales reps as they work with short-term sales opportunities. At the other extreme, reputation-building programs are designed to build brand awareness and credibility that will impact revenues over a longer time frame. The principal objective of reputation-building programs is to lay the foundation for your lead acquisition efforts.

Lead acquisition and lead nurturing usually produce an impact on revenue in a more intermediate time frame, and marketing to existing customers can produce both short-term and long-term results.

During the past few years, a great deal of attention has been given to the role of marketing in acquiring and nurturing leads. One reason for this attention is that, with today's marketing technology tools, it's relatively easy to connect these marketing activities to revenues and thus demonstrate the value of marketing.

Lead acquisition and lead nurturing are obviously important marketing functions, but so are the other types of marketing programs. It takes all of these programs to create a demand generation system that will deliver revenue growth in both the short-term and the long-term.