Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Our Most Popular Posts of 2017

This will be my last post of 2017, and I want to thank everyone who as spent some of his or her valuable time reading this blog. My goal for this blog has always been to provide content that readers will find to be informative, thought-provoking, and useful, and I've been immensely gratified by the attention and engagement this blog has received.

For the past few years, I've used my last post of the year to share which posts have been most widely read. In the past, I've ranked posts based on cumulative total reads, regardless of when a post was published. Therefore, older posts had a built-in advantage, and they often appeared in the "most popular" list.

This year, I'm considering only posts that were published in 2017. So, in case you missed any of them, here are our five most popular posts for 2017:

  1. Why It's Time to Reset Expectations for Content Marketing
  2. What You Need to Know About Target Accounts for ABM Success
  3. Research Confirms that Customer Experience Drives Financial Performance
  4. The Economics of ABM Account Selection
  5. The Promise and Peril of Personalization at Scale
Happy New Year, everyone!

Image courtesy of the Republic of Korea via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Key Attributes of Thought-Leading Brands

There's no longer any doubt that thought leadership content is having a major impact on B2B buying decisions. Several recent research studies have shown that business buyers are consuming more thought leadership content than in the past, and that thought leadership affects decisions at every stage of the buying process.

Research has also shown, however, that business buyers are becoming more selective about the content they consume. The volume of "thought leadership content" has grown exponentially over the past few years, and companies are finding it harder to create content that will stand out from the crowd and capture the attention of potential buyers.

A new study by Longitude - a marketing agency based in London - sought to identify the attributes and practices of companies that excel at the development and use of thought leadership in their marketing efforts. This research was based on a survey of 360 executives who are responsible for the management of thought leadership at their organization.

Based on an analysis of survey responses, Longitude identified a set of organizations that are outperforming their peers at "thought leadership marketing." These high-performing companies were designated as Thought-Leading Brands, while the balance of survey respondents were called Followers.

Longitude found that Thought-Leading Brands achieve far better business outcomes than Followers. The table below shows the percentage of Thought-Leading Brands and Followers who reported that they are nearly always successful at using thought leadership to achieve five strategic goals:

The study also found that there was no single reason for the superior performance of the Thought-Leading Brands. In the study report, Longitude observed:  "Instead, it is a combination of factors; they are consistently adopting a broad range of best practices to ensure success."

Longitude asked survey participants to rate their company's performance across eight thought leadership capabilities. The following table shows the percentage of Thought-Leading Brands and Followers who scored themselves as excellent on those eight capabilities:

The Longitude study also highlighted the growing importance of original research in thought leadership success. The study report described the important role of original research in emphatic terms:  "Business audiences are more discerning and will only engage with content that looks too important to ignore. Only the most interesting topics and campaigns - those backed up by robust and genuinely insightful research - stand any chance of getting noticed."

Top image courtesy of Affen Ajlfe ( via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Why "Handle With Care" Should Be the Watchword for A.I. in Marketing

Artificial intelligence has been one of the hottest topics in B2B marketing in 2017. The hype surrounding A.I. and related topics, such as machine learning and predictive analytics, has been almost deafening. Many industry pundits are asserting that A.I. is already revolutionizing the practice of B2B marketing.

While some of the claims made about artificial intelligence are exaggerated, it seems clear that A.I. has the potential to be one of the most powerful marketing tools we've seen in the past several years. But some uses of artificial intelligence also have the potential to trigger negative reactions from potential customers. So, before marketers fully embrace artificial intelligence, they need to understand how people feel about A.I. generally, and more specifically, how people view the use of A.I. in marketing.

Syzygy (a WPP digital agency group) recently published the results of an August 2017 survey that was designed to uncover the attitudes of American consumers about artificial intelligence. This survey generated 2,000 responses from individuals in the US, with equal participation by men and women. The respondents were equally split among Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers.

For this study, Syzygy defined artificial intelligence as "technology that behaves intelligently, using skills we normally associate with human intelligence, including the ability to hold conversations, learn, reason and solve problems."

Syzygy found that US consumers have a broad range of feelings - both positive and negative - about artificial intelligence. When survey participants were asked how they feel when they think about A.I., the top four feelings identified were:

  1. Interested (45% of respondents)
  2. Concerned (41%)
  3. Skeptical (40%)
  4. Unsure (39%)
When Syzygy asked survey participants to describe how positive or negative their feelings are about A.I., the results show that strong feelings are the exception, not the rule. Eighty-six percent of respondents described their feelings as neutral, mildly positive, or mildly negative.

Syzygy also asked survey participants several specific questions about the use of artificial intelligence for marketing purposes. The good news for marketers is that over two-thirds of Americans are open to companies using A.I. to communicate with and serve them. However, the study also revealed attitudes that should concern marketers. For example:
  • Seventy-one percent of respondents said that companies should need their express consent before using A.I. to market to them.
  • Nearly nine out of ten respondents (89%) said that the use of A.I. in marketing "should be regulated with a legally-binding code of conduct."
The lesson from this research is that marketers should approach the use of A.I. cautiously and be sensitive to the skepticism and concern it can create. Marketers will need to stress the benefits and value that A.I.-powered applications can produce for customers, and above all else, they must be open and transparent about how they are using artificial intelligence in their marketing efforts.

Image courtesy of James Whatley via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Why Proving the Impact of Marketing is Difficult

For several years, marketing leaders have faced growing demands from the C-suite to prove the value of their activities and programs. Marketing accountability has become the mantra for many CMO's, and return-on-investment has become the gold standard for measuring marketing performance. Several books and a host of white papers and ebooks have been written about marketing performance measurement, and dozens of webinars and conference presentations have been devoted to the topic.

But despite all of this attention and brainpower, proving the financial value of marketing is still challenging for many marketing leaders. Data from The CMO Survey - conducted by Dr. Christine Moorman with Duke University's Fuqua School of Business - demonstrates both the significance and the persistence of the challenge. The CMO Survey has been conducted semi-annually for the past several years, and the following chart shows the percentage of surveyed CMO's who have reported they are able to show the impact of marketing spending quantitatively.

Over the past three years, less than half of the surveyed CMO's have said they are able to quantitatively measure the impact of marketing spending on business results.

Proving the economic value of marketing is challenging for several reasons. A recent article in the Journal of Marketing summarized the difficulties as follows:

". . . marketing aims to create and stimulate favorable customer attitudes with the goal of ultimately boosting customer demand. This demand, in turn, generates sales and profits for the brand or firm, which can enhance its market position and financial value . . . As a result, marketing has multiple facets, some attitudinal, some behavioral, and some financial. However, the relation between the metrics that assess these facets is complex and nonlinear . . ."

Measuring the value of marketing activities is a complex undertaking, but the heart of the challenge is usually attribution. Attribution is the process of assigning both revenues and costs to a marketing activity or program, and it's impossible to accurately measure the financial value of a marketing program unless you can accurately assign economic benefits and costs to it. So, the accuracy of your value or ROI calculation ultimately depends on the accuracy of your attribution model. 

The State of Marketing Attribution

A few weeks ago, Econsultancy (in association with AdRoll)  published the results of a study regarding the use of marketing attribution, the goals and benefits of attribution, and the effectiveness of various attribution methods.

The State of Marketing Attribution 2017 report is based on a survey that produced 987 responses from both in-house marketing professionals ("company respondents") (74%) and professionals from agencies, consulting firms, vendors, etc. (26%). Respondents were based in Europe (53%), North America (22%), and Asia Pacific (22%). Company respondents came from both B2B and B2C enterprises operating in a wide range of industries.

Econsultancy found that the use of marketing attribution is growing. Eighty-one percent of company respondents said they are practicing attribution at some level, up from 79% in the 2016 edition of the survey. Thirty-nine percent of company respondents said they are using attribution with most or all of their marketing programs, up from only 31% in 2016.

Econsultancy also found that a growing number of companies are using attribution models that encompass both digital and offline channels. In the 2017 survey, 60% of company respondents said they are using some type of multichannel attribution, up from only 42% in the 2016  survey.

On the surface, the growing use of marketing attribution looks like a positive development. However, Econsultancy's research also revealed some troublesome facts about how marketing attribution is currently practiced. The survey asked participants to identify the specific attribution methods they are using and rate the effectiveness of each method. The following table shows the percentage of company respondents using each attribution method, and the percentage rating each method as very or somewhat effective:

These findings are disturbing because the three most widely-used attribution methods (and four of the top five) are methods that assign all of the revenue from a sale to one marketing touch point. Even more disturbing, large majorities of the survey respondents rated these methods as very or somewhat effective - 92% for first touch, 86% for first click, 85% for last touch, and 74% for last click. In reality, none of these "single touch" attribution methods will produce an accurate assessment of performance of value.

The Econsultancy research also found that most companies don't act on the insights derived from marketing attribution. The survey asked participants to indicate their agreement or disagreement with this statement:  "We don't action the insights we get from attribution." Twenty-three percent of company respondents strongly agreed with the statement, and another 47% agreed somewhat.

It's likely that marketers aren't relying on the results they obtain from attribution because they lack confidence in the validity of the attribution models they are using. They intuitively recognize that those models are incomplete at best, and may be seriously flawed.

The Bottom Line

Proving the impact of marketing is likely to remain challenging for the foreseeable future. Accurately attributing revenue to a marketing activity is a difficult task, particularly for companies with complex sales cycles that involve multiple decision makers.

The most important first step is to stop using all forms of single-touch attribution (first-touch, first-click, last-touch, and last-click). Except in rare cases, any single-touch attribution method will produce inaccurate results and lead to poor marketing decisions.

Custom attribution was regarded as the best attribution method by participants in the Econsultancy research, with 48% of the respondents rating it as very effective. Developing and implementing a custom attribution model requires a fair amount of thought and time, but the benefit is a more accurate view of marketing performance.

Top image courtesy of Rick B via Flickr.