Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Continuing Power of Traditional Marketing

In a recent blog post, I argued that predictions of the impending demise of traditional advertising and marketing techniques and channels have been overstated for more than two decades. I also suggested that companies are still using traditional tactics and methods because they are still relatively effective, contrary to what some prognosticators have asserted.

Traditional advertising and marketing methods still work because they benefit from several deeply-ingrained characteristics of human judgment and decision-making that haven't changed much despite the recent profound changes in how we humans access information and communicate.

After I wrote and published my earlier post, I discovered recent research that includes persuasive evidence regarding the continuing power of traditional advertising and marketing techniques and channels. The Deloitte Digital Democracy Survey explored how the adoption of new communications technologies and devices is changing media consumption habits and preferences. The Deloitte survey involved almost 2,100 US consumers and was fielded in November 2014.

The Digital Democracy Survey addressed a broad range of issues, including the ownership of various digital devices, the perceived value of various communications/content services, and the time spent consuming various types of content on various types of devices.

For this post, I'll focus on one question in the survey that addressed the influence of several advertising and marketing techniques and channels on buying decisions. Survey participants were asked to rate the influence of 21 specific tactics, methods, and channels on their buying decisions. The table below shows the top ten tactics and channels based on the percentage of survey respondents who said the channel or tactic had high or medium influence.

Recommendations from a friend/family/known acquaintance earned the top spot in the ranking, but what stands out in these results is that five of the top ten most influential tactics or channels - television ads, in-theater advertising, magazine ads, product placements, and newspaper ads - are traditional methods by almost any definition.

The Deloitte research was a consumer survey, and it's likely that a survey of B2B buyers would produce somewhat different rankings. For example, I would expect business buyers to rank the influence of vendor websites higher than is shown in the above table. Nevertheless, the results of the Deloitte survey clearly demonstrate that traditional advertising and marketing methods still wield significant influence with potential buyers.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Is Predictive Lead Scoring the Next Big B2B Marketing Technology?

The pace of innovation in marketing technology over the past decade has been nothing short of breathtaking. In the B2B marketing space, one of the hot new technologies is predictive lead scoring. There's no doubt that predictive lead scoring is still in its infancy, but it's beginning to gain some traction in the market. Last fall, SiriusDecisions published a report that provides valuable perspectives on the current state of the predictive lead scoring market. According to SiriusDecisions:

  • Fewer than 500 B2B companies are currently using predictive lead scoring. But. . .
  • The market is growing rapidly. In 2014, there were nearly 14 times more B2B companies using predictive lead scoring than there were in early 2011.
  • 78% of the companies using predictive lead scoring are in the high tech industry.
  • Over half (56%) of current users have annual revenues of $50 million or less.
  • Nine out of ten current users say that predictive lead scoring provides more value than traditional lead scoring.
How Does It Work?
A predictive lead scoring platform is an analytics application that takes data regarding existing customers from a company's CRM and marketing automation systems, and combines that information with external data (from the web, social media, and other third-party data sources) to create a profile of organizations that have the greatest propensity to purchase the company's products or services. Then the application aggregates similar data regarding the prospects in the company's marketing database and compares those prospects to the profile of the company's existing customers, resulting in a "propensity to buy" score for each prospect.
Benefits of Predictive Lead Scoring
Predictive lead scoring enables companies to qualify leads and prospects using much more data than is typically used in traditional lead scoring systems. Therefore, predictive lead scoring qualifies leads and prospects more accurately, and it can identify buying signals that are almost impossible to find using traditional lead scoring techniques and technologies.
Advocates also argue that predictive lead scoring enables both marketers and salespeople to focus their efforts and resources on the leads and prospects with the greatest potential to buy, and that it can improve the relationship between marketing and sales by providing a more objective, data-driven, and therefore more reliable, way to qualify leads.
Is It Right For You?
Predictive lead scoring technologies are evolving rapidly, and any assessments made today have to be considered tentative at best. Predictive lead scoring solutions appear to offer significant benefits, but marketers should keep a few things in mind.
First, these solutions rely heavily on data from a company's CRM and marketing automation systems to construct the scoring model. So, if your company is a fairly mature user of CRM and marketing automation, and if your systems contain a significant amount of good data, predictive lead scoring could be a sound investment. On the other hand, if you don't have enough good CRM/marketing automation data to work with, the value of predictive lead scoring will be more problematic.
Predictive lead scoring solutions are not outrageously expensive, but they may be out of reach for many small B2B companies. Pricing is always changing, of course, but it appears that the starting price for most predictive lead scoring solutions ranges from around $2,000 to about $6,000 per month.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Seven Questions Your Content Marketing Strategy Must Answer

It's now abundantly clear that content marketing has become an integral part of the marketing efforts of most B2B companies. Recent research by several organizations has shown that an overwhelming majority of B2B companies are using content marketing in some form. But despite this widespread use, many B2B marketers aren't particularly happy with their content marketing program. In the latest B2B content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, only 38% of respondents rated their content marketing efforts as effective.

Research has also shown that having (and following) a content marketing strategy is critical to success. In the 2015 CMI/MarketingProfs survey:

  • Only 35% of respondents said they have a documented (written) content marketing strategy, while another 48% said they have a strategy, but it's not in writing.
  • 60% of respondents with a documented strategy said their company is effective at content marketing, but only 7% of respondents without a documented strategy said their content marketing efforts are effective.
A comprehensive content marketing strategy will address numerous issues. The Content Marketing Institute has published an excellent white paper on content marketing strategy which includes thirty-six questions that marketers should consider when they're developing their strategy.

While all of the questions in CMI's white paper are important, I usually recommend that clients begin by focusing on a set of seven core questions. The answers to these questions won't constitute a complete content marketing plan, but they will provide a solid foundation for your content marketing strategy.
  1. Who is the target audience for our content? What are the characteristics of the organizations that constitute our best prospects, and what are the attributes of the people in those organizations who will influence the decision to purchase our products or services?
  2. What are the primary marketing objectives (brand awareness, lead generation, etc.) of our content marketing program?
  3. What issues or topics will be relevant and compelling to the people in our target market?
  4. What content formats will be most effective with the people in our target market?
  5. Given the communications behaviors and preferences of the people in our target market, what communications channels will we use to publish, distribute, and promote our content?
  6. Who will be responsible for creating our content resources, and who will manage our content marketing program?
  7. What financial resources will be needed to fund our content marketing program, and where/how will we obtain those resources?
From these questions, it should be clear that your content marketing strategy must be based on clearly defined marketing objectives and a deep understanding of your potential buyers. This reinforces the point that content marketing is ultimately a means to an end. It is a method of marketing that enables companies to create and sustain meaningful engagement with potential buyers for the purpose of achieving strategic marketing objectives.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Why Customer Success Content is Critical

In an earlier post, I explained why most B2B companies need to focus more attention on strengthening relationships with existing customers, and I suggested that marketing should play a leading role in these efforts.

The primary objective of marketing to existing customers is to retain and, where possible, expand the business you do with profitable customers. The most effective way to achieve this goal is to help your customers successfully implement and use your solutions. Therefore, most of your communications with customers should be focused on providing information and insights that will help them maximize the value they obtain from your solutions and from their relationship with your company.

Many marketing thought leaders are beginning to call this kind of content customer success content, and it plays a vital role in the emerging discipline of customer success management.

In a recent white paper, Forrester Research discussed the growing use of customer success management by software companies that offer their solutions on a subscription, or software-as-a-service (SaaS), basis. Forrester described customer success management in the following way:

"In the B2B SaaS industry, companies have been hiring senior level people dedicated to the active management of their customer base. . . Irrespective of the title, the goal of this function is to become the 'trusted advisor' to the company, to make their customers successful with the products they have purchased, and ensure that they are realizing economic value from their investments in order to preserve their revenue."

Obviously, existing customers have different information needs than prospects, but many content marketing principles are the same for both audiences. Suppose, for example, that you sell a complex product such as an enterprise-level software application or some kinds of industrial equipment. In these circumstances, your new customers will likely face a significant learning curve to become proficient with your product. Most of your customers will move through multiple stages in the process of learning how to use your product, as illustrated by the following diagram:

We know that when we're marketing to potential buyers, it's critical to have content resources that are specifically designed for each stage of the buying process. That's because the issues that are important to prospects change as they move through the process. The same principle applies when you're developing content for existing customers. The information needs of a mature user are significantly different from those of a new user, and the same content won't be equally effective for both.

Another similarity is the need to provide content in a variety of formats. For example, some of your users will prefer to access "how-to" content in written form (help articles, answers to FAQ's, etc.), while others will prefer to learn via videos.

Finally, while it's generally true that you need different content for prospects and existing customers, some content that is designed for customers can also be effective for potential buyers. For example, a case study that provides a detailed description of how one of your customers used specific features of your product to accomplish an important business objective would be valuable to other customers and to late-stage prospects.

Marketing's responsibilities don't end when a new customer is acquired, and content marketing should not stop when the initial sale is closed. For many companies, marketing to existing customers is just as important as marketing to potential buyers, and content is critical to your success with both audiences.