Sunday, December 29, 2019

Our Most Popular Posts of 2019

This will be my last post of 2019, and I want to thank everyone who has 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 informative, thought-provoking, and useful, and I've been immensely gratified by the attention and engagement this blog has received.

For the past several years, I've used my last post of the year to share which posts have been most widely read. For this list, I'm only considering posts that were published in 2019. I've ranked the posts based on cumulative total reads, so posts published early in the year have an advantage.

So in case you missed any of them, here are our five most popular posts for 2019:
  1. Have Marketers Fully Embraced the Growth Challenge?
  2. Both Market and Customer Expertise are Needed to Drive Growth
  3. Three Ways to Make Your Case Studies More Persuasive
  4. A Fresh Look at Millennial B2B Buyers
  5. How to Identify Revenue Growth Opportunities
Happy New Year, everyone!

Image courtesy of Republic of Korea via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Four Keys to Strong Customer Relationships

A recent report by Accenture Interactive provides several interesting insights on both the fragility of B2B seller-buyer relationships and what B2B companies need to do to strengthen long-term customer relationships. Service is the new sales was based on interviews with 748 business buyers and 1,499 B2B sellers across 10 countries and 16 industries.

All of the study respondents were directly involved in (or had oversight of) their company's buying or selling strategy or processes. About 75% of the respondents were manager-level or above, and about 25% were C-level. All the companies represented in the research had annual revenues of at least $25 million.

Accenture's report opens with some rather disconcerting statistics. The research found that 44% of B2B buyers had switched sellers in the 12 months preceding the study. The percentage was even higher among buyers who made weekly B2B purchases. Sixty-two percent of those study respondents said they had switched sellers in the previous 12 months. Another 36% of these frequent buyers said they plan to switch sellers in the coming 12 months.

When Accenture asked buyers why they had switched (or plan to switch), the three top reasons - each identified by 25% of the study respondents - were:

  • Uncompetitive pricing
  • Long lead times for delivery/fulfillment
  • Missed delivery dates
This finding indicates that business buyers are a pragmatic group, and it suggests that, before anything else, B2B sellers need to be sure they are getting the basics right.
On a more positive note, half of the buyers interviewed by Accenture said they had increased their average number of items per purchase and grown average purchase values with those sellers who met their needs and helped them succeed.
The Accenture research also sought to identify important attributes and behaviors of B2B "leaders," as compared with "laggards." The report does not provide a precise definition of "leaders" and "laggards," but it does describe how Accenture made the distinction:
"To discern the leaders from the laggards, we weighted responses to 12 questions from the sellers' survey across three key pillars of B2B transformation:  organizational strategy, activities, and infrastructure. To give a robust and accurate picture of the global state of buyer-seller relationships, greatest weighting was given to questions reflecting the objective and measurable elements of B2B sales and service."
With this "definition" in mind, here are some of the major differences between leaders and laggards that the Accenture report highlights.
Personalization - Leaders were twice as likely as laggards to track buyer behavior and more likely to make personalized offers based on "the sum of all behaviors." The Accenture study found that leaders consistently offered greater personalization at all stages of the customer journey.
Digital and Human Interactions - Laggards tended to prioritize digital sales channels over channels with a human touch. Leaders, on the other hand, emphasized interaction channels that provide a dialogue with buyers. This includes digital channels such as chatbots and traditional sales reps and call centers.
Organizational Commitment - Leaders were more likely than laggards to view customer experience as an ongoing work-in-progress rather than as a one-time effort. Seventy percent of leaders said that providing good service and experiences had been a top or high priority in their company for at least three years.
Functional Integration - Forty-eight percent of leaders said they had fully integrated marketing functions across channels, compared to only 19% of laggards. Leaders were also more likely than laggards to have partially or fully integrated their sales and marketing teams.

The Accenture report also highlighted the benefits of being in the leader category. Ninety-seven percent of the leader respondents said they had gained market share, 96% reported higher profitability, and 90% said they had won a greater share of their customers' wallets.

This research also confirmed the importance of blending digital and human-to-human interactions to build and sustain strong customer relationships.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Think "Close and Deep" to Maximize Growth

During the Cold War, U.S. Army leaders in Europe faced a disconcerting situation. Their mission was to defend NATO member nations in the event of an attack by the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact. The problem was, U.S./NATO ground forces were greatly outnumbered. During this period, Soviet army doctrine was to throw wave after wave of forces at defenders until they were overcome, and U.S. military leaders weren't confident they could win that kind of war.

To address this problem, the U.S. Army developed a warfighting doctrine that reintroduced the idea of depth to the battlefield. Under this doctrine, U.S./NATO forces would extend the battlefield deep on the enemy's side of the front lines and attack rear-echelon forces, while simultaneously engaging front-line forces. The objective was to break up the enemy's momentum and deplete enemy forces before they can get into the main fight. The principle of fighting close and deep at the same time remains a basic tenet of U.S. Army operational doctrine.

Some of you may be wondering what this brief foray into military history has to do with revenue growth. Quite a bit, actually. To generate consistent revenue growth over an extended period of time, business and marketing leaders must design and execute their activities so as to maximize performance in the present (fighting close), while simultaneously investing in activities and capabilities that will lay the foundation for success in the future (fighting deep).

In many ways, this challenge comes down to a question of resource allocation. Regardless of company size, the available resources are rarely sufficient to enable senior business leaders to do everything they'd like to do. Therefore, resource allocation is an intrinsic part of every significant business decision, and the challenge for senior company leaders is to spend their finite resources on those activities and capabilities that will produce maximum results.

Deciding where and how to invest finite business resources has never been simple or easy, but these decisions have become more complex because today's business leaders have more options and more factors to consider then ever before. Resource allocation decisions are made even more complicated by the need to address both current and longer-term needs. 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."

Fortunately, there's a good rule of thumb called the "70-20-10 rule" that business leaders can use to address the current vs. future aspect of the resource allocation challenge. The 70-20-10 rule has been used for a variety of business purposes. For example, Google has reportedly used it to manage the innovation process, and Coca Cola has reportedly used a version of the rule to guide marketing investment decisions.

Below is a brief overview of how the 70-20-10 rule can be used to guide resource allocation decisions in marketing. Keep in mind, though, that the rule can also be used for several other kinds of resource allocation decisions.

The 70%

The marketing version of the 70-20-10 rule says that about 70% of your marketing resources should be devoted to capabilities and programs with a proven track record of acceptable performance. These will include marketing channels, techniques, and technologies that your company is currently using successfully.

The 70-20-10 rule does not mean that companies should simply "keep on doing what we're already doing." It means that marketers should evaluate how well their "bread and butter" programs are performing and continue to invest in those that are delivering acceptable results.

The primary goal of these capabilities and programs is to drive incremental performance improvements in the present and over the near-term future.

The 20%

According to the 70-20-10 rule, about 20% of your marketing resources should be invested in "new" but promising capabilities and techniques. This category would typically include channels and techniques that a growing number of other companies are using successfully. In many cases, these channels and techniques will be approaching mainstream adoption.

Investments in this category are not quite as safe as those in the 70% group, but they often relate to capabilities or technologies that will become critical to your success in the near-term future.

The 10%

The remaining 10% of your marketing resources should be invested in truly new capabilities and techniques that have just emerged on the scene. Obviously, these are high-risk investments that aren't likely to produce short-term benefits.

For small and mid-size companies, the investments in this category may consist primarily of learning about the new techniques or capabilities - e.g. sending members of the marketing team to conferences or other educational events. Larger companies may also decide to launch small pilot programs to experiment with a new capability or technique.


As with other rules of thumb, marketers should view the 70-20-10 rule as a general guide rather than a precise prescription. The specific percentages in the rule may not be appropriate for every business in every competitive situation. The benefit of the rule is that it leads marketers to give appropriate consideration to both current and future needs and thus increases the odds of successfully producing consistent revenue growth.

Image courtesy of winnifredxoxo via Flickr CC.

Related Articles

How to Identify Revenue Growth Opportunities

How to Address the Growth Challenge

Sunday, December 8, 2019

How to Identify Revenue Growth Opportunities

Driving consistent, profitable revenue growth is one of the most persistent challenges that business and marketing leaders face. The key word in that sentence is "consistent." Many companies can produce substantial revenue growth sporadically or over a short period of time. But it's exceptionally difficult to consistently generate above-average growth over the long term.

In my last post, I wrote that business and marketing leaders must perform two distinct but related tasks to maximize revenue growth:

  1. They must identify what growth opportunities are (or can be) available to them and determine which of those growth opportunities are most attractive.
  2. They must find the right balance between short-term and long-term growth opportunities.
In this post, I'll focus on how business and marketing leaders can identify growth opportunities. I'll cover balancing short-term and long-term opportunities in my next post.
Structural Sources of Growth
The first step in identifying potential growth opportunities is to understand the dynamics of revenue growth - how it happens or, more accurately, where it originates. There are, in fact, several distinct sources of growth. These structural sources of growth are not dependent on how a company is organized or the types of products or services it sells. Instead, they are based on the business and marketing strategies that a company uses to tap into each source.
This topic has been discussed in management and marketing literature for a long time. In a 1957 article for the Harvard Business Review, Igor Ansoff identified four structural sources of growth and four related types of growth strategies:
  1. Sales of existing products in existing markets (market penetration strategy)
  2. Sales of existing products in new markets (market development strategy)
  3. Sales of new products in existing markets (product development strategy)
  4. Sales of new products in new markets (diversification strategy)
In a 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review, Michael Treacy and Jim Sims identified five structural sources of growth:
  1. Continuing sales to existing customers (base retention)
  2. Sales won from the competition (market share gain)
  3. New sales in an expanding market (market positioning)
  4. Sales from expanding into related markets (adjacent market expansion)
  5. Sales from expanding into new, unrelated lines of business (diversification)
I've used both of these models when working with clients to frame our discussions about how to grow. But over the years, I've expanded on these models to create a more detailed framework of the alternative ways to generate growth. The current version of my framework is shown in the diagram at the top of this post.
This framework is a good tool for stimulating your thinking about how to grow your business and for identifying the growth opportunities that are (or can be) available to your business. When using this framework, it's important to keep several things in mind.
First, the good news is that these structural sources of growth are always present, at least to some degree. Their existence isn't dependent on the market conditions a company is facing at a particular moment in time. However, the volume of revenue that a company can obtain from each source is greatly influenced by the market and competitive environment. So the framework identifies potential sources of revenue growth, but it doesn't tell you about the relative attractiveness of those sources. To perform that evaluation, you'll need to use traditional market and competitive analysis tools and techniques.
Second, no single source of growth is likely to provide all the revenue you need to reach your growth objective.
And third, each source of growth has distinctive attributes and dynamics. So you'll need a specific strategy and game plan for each source of growth you choose to pursue.
In my next post, I'll discuss the importance of balancing short-term and long-term growth opportunities.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

How to Address the Growth Challenge

Growth is to a business organization what oxygen is to a living organism. It is the life force of the organization. For decades, sustained profitable growth has been the linchpin of long-term business prosperity. Profitable growth creates a virtuous cycle of forces that supports and drives business success. When a company stops growing, these same forces begin to run in reverse, creating a vicious cycle that makes success difficult to achieve.

My first post of 2019 asked the question:  "Have Marketers Fully Embraced the Growth Challenge?" Back in January, I answered that question this way:

"The recent research indicates that leading business growth is more of an aspirational goal than a current reality for most marketers. Overall, the studies show that most marketing leaders are still relying on conventional marketing communications tools to drive growth, and they remain much less involved in other business activities that have a significant impact on growth."

Research published this year indicates that my conclusion is still largely accurate. For example, in the February 2019 edition of The CMO Survey, respondents identified driving growth as the top challenge for marketing leaders. Yet only 43.4% of the respondents reported that the marketing function leads revenue growth in their organization. In the August 2019 edition of the survey, the percentage of respondents saying that marketing leads revenue growth dropped to 36.0%.

(Note:  The CMO Survey began asking this question in August 2016. Since then, the percentage of respondents reporting that marketing leads revenue growth has ranged from a low of 29.0% to a high of 43.4%.)

This fall, the CMO Council published a strategic brief that discussed the importance of growth and the major issues surrounding growth. The brief also discussed some steps that companies need to take to successfully address the growth imperative.

How to Achieve Transformational Growth described the issues surrounding growth in emphatic terms:

"For many companies, growth is the driving force that brings it all together. Yet questions loom:  Where do you find it? How do you inspire it? What hinders it? How do you invest in it? Who within the organization orchestrates and owns it?"

The CMO Council observed that many companies are addressing the growth challenge by creating new C-level positions to lead growth initiatives. The brief noted that:

  • According to research by Singular, more than 21% of brands with at least $50 million in advertising spend now have chief growth officers (CGOs).
  • More than 6,000 executives profiled on LinkedIn have the CGO title.
  • 15,000 executives on LinkedIn report being the chief revenue officer (CRO) for their company.
  • 28,000 of the executives say they are chief commercial officers (CCOs).
The CMO Council discusses three keys to maximizing growth:
  1. Align the functional areas of the organization that play critical roles in driving growth. This will include marketing, sales, product, customer experience, technology, and analytics.
  2. Create a growth culture. Nurture inclusiveness and encourage input from all organizational levels.
  3. Set a growth agenda that identifies attractive growth opportunities and builds a sound strategy for exploiting those opportunities.
Regardless of whether growth is led by the CEO, CMO, CGO, CRO, or CCO, companies face two distinct but related tasks when addressing the growth challenge. First, they need to identify what growth opportunities are (or can be) available to them and which of those opportunities are most attractive. And second, they need to balance short-term and long-term growth opportunities.
I'll be discussing both of these issues in upcoming posts.

Image courtesy of Mike Lawrence ( via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Why Your Marketing Content Should Be "Job Focused"

The first step to designing an effective marketing strategy and creating compelling marketing content is to understand what your potential customers are trying to accomplish when they purchase products or services like those you provide. In most cases, people don't buy a product or service because they want that product or service itself. More often, what they really want is what the product or service will help them accomplish.

Theodore Levitt, the legendary professor of marketing at the Harvard Business School, captured this idea in a memorable way when he often reminded his students that, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole."

In The Innovator's Solution, Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor built on Professor Levitt's idea to describe what is called the jobs-to-be-done framework. The basic idea of this framework is that when people become aware of a "job" they need to get done, they look for a product or service they can "hire" to perform the job.

Christensen and Raynor argue that this is how customers "experience life." Their thought processes begin with an awareness that they need to get something done, and then they seek to hire something or someone to to the job as effectively, conveniently, and inexpensively as possible.

What Milkshakes Can Teach Us About Marketing

Christensen and Raynor also provided a memorable example of hiring a product to get a job done. In their case study, a fast-food restaurant chain wanted to increase sales of milkshakes, and it commissioned market research to determine how to accomplish this goal. The most surprising finding of the research was that almost half of the milkshakes were purchased in the early morning. The milkshakes were usually the only item purchased, and they were rarely consumed at the restaurant.

Digging a little deeper, the researchers found that most of the morning milkshake customers were people on their way to work. Many of them faced a long commute, and they needed something to make the drive more interesting. Also, they were in a hurry, they were usually wearing their business clothes, and they only had one hand free.

These customers sometimes "hired" other foods to fill their morning needs, but most of the alternatives had significant disadvantages. Bagels left crumbs on their clothes, and breakfast sandwiches made their hands and the steering wheel greasy. It wasn't so much that these customers "liked" milkshakes more than bagels or breakfast sandwiches, but milkshakes were simply better than those alternatives at performing the job the customers needed to get done.

The Magic of Job-Focused Marketing

The jobs-to-be-done framework is often used to guide the process of developing new products or services, but it also has implications for marketing. What it tells us is that one key to effective marketing is to focus the majority of our marketing messages and content on the jobs our potential buyers need to get done.

To create compelling "job-focused" messages and content, marketers need to thoroughly understand the jobs their potential customers are trying to get done, including:

  • What the specific jobs are
  • Why the jobs are important
  • What happens if the jobs don't get done
  • How potential buyers are trying to perform the jobs - what tools and processes they are using
  • What is preventing them from getting the jobs done effectively and efficiently - the limitations and shortcomings of their existing tools and processes
As marketers, it's easy for us to forget that most potential buyers aren't really interested in our products or services per se. What they are (or can become) interested in is what those products or services can help them accomplish. Our products or services are simply the means to an end, and it's critical to keep this in mind when planning our marketing efforts. 
To use Professor Levitt's metaphor, our marketing strategy and our marketing content should be more about quarter-inch holes than quarter-inch drills.

Image courtesy of GotCredit ( via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Two Ways to Improve Your ROI Credibility

With the fourth quarter of 2019 well underway, many marketing leaders will have already started planning for 2020. In most cases, the planning process will include an analysis of how well marketing performed in 2019. and many marketing leaders will use return on investment (ROI) as the primary tool for conducting this assessment.

Over the past two-plus decades, ROI has become the "gold standard" for measuring marketing performance and for communicating the performance and value of marketing to senior company leaders. So you would think that, by now, marketing leaders would thoroughly understand what marketing ROI is, and how to calculate it correctly. Unfortunately, however, that is not always the case, as a recent survey conducted by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions makes clear.

The LinkedIn Research

The Long and Short of ROI report is based on a survey of 4,000 B2B and B2C marketing professionals from 19 countries. Survey respondents worked in a wide range of industry sectors, including technology, financial services, professional services, and manufacturing. The survey was conducted in June 2019.

Most of the results presented in the survey report refer to "digital marketers." Unfortunately, the report does not define who "digital marketers" are, nor does it indicate whether all of the survey respondents were "digital marketers." With that caveat in mind, here are the "headline" findings from the LinkedIn study:

  • 70% of digital marketers claim they are currently measuring ROI.
  • 77% of digital marketers measure ROI during the first month of a campaign, even though 55% of those marketers reported having a sales cycle that is at least three months long.
  • When most digital marketers say they are measuring ROI, they are actually measuring a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs), but not true ROI.
  • 63% of digital marketers don't have a high level of confidence in the "ROI" metrics they are currently using.
The LinkedIn survey report argues that marketers should (a) clearly distinguish between KPI-based metrics and ROI, and (b) measure ROI over the length of the sales cycle in order to obtain accurate results.
When You Say ROI . . .Mean ROI
The findings of the LinkedIn survey highlight two of the still all-too-prevalent ways that many marketers are misusing ROI. First, many marketers use "ROI" as a catch-all term to describe a wide variety of benefits produced by marketing activities. But return on investment is a specific financial metric that has a well-established meaning among management and financial professionals.
This means that none of the following constitutes ROI:
  • Increased brand awareness
  • Increased market share
  • Increased customer lifetime value
  • Increased average deal size
  • Improved conversion rates
  • Improved response rates
  • Improved NPS/customer satisfaction scores
For many companies, tracking some or all of these performance measures will be valuable, but they do not constitute marketing ROI. Calling any of these benefits "ROI" reflects a misunderstanding of what ROI is, and if a marketing leader presents one of these kinds of ROI calculations to a CEO or CFO, his or her credibility will be weakened.
Calculate ROI Correctly
The second way that many marketers misuse ROI is to calculate it incorrectly. The basic formula for marketing ROI (MROI) is:

MROI = (Gain from Marketing Investment - Cost of Marketing Investment) / Cost of Marketing Investment

So the basic MROI formula contains only three components:
  1. The financial gain from the marketing investment
  2. The cost of the marketing investment
  3. Time - Although the formula doesn't expressly contain a "time" value, MROI is always measured for a defined period of time.
While the basic MROI formula appears to be quite simple, that simplicity is deceptive. In reality, calculating MROI accurately can become a complex task because every component of the formula presents questions that require thoughtful answers and sound judgment calls.
I've addressed many of these issues in several previous posts, so I won't repeat that material here. However, I've provided links to my ROI-related posts below. If you're involved in calculating MROI, I encourage you to take a look at these posts and carefully consider the issues they discuss.

Image courtesy of Rick B via Flickr CC.

ROI-Related Articles

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Fresh Look at Millennial B2B Buyers

The role of millennials in B2B buying decisions, and their distinctive attitudes and behaviors as business buyers have become major topics of interest for B2B marketing and sales professionals over the past five years. Since 2014, numerous research studies - including studies by the IBM Institute for Business Value, Google/Millward Brown Digital, Merit, and Heinz Marketing/SnapApp - have focused specifically on this subject.

A few days ago, Demand Gen Report published the results of new research - conducted in partnership with The Mx Group - that provides a current take on the roles, perspectives, and preferences of millennial business buyers. The B2B Millennial Buyer Survey Report is based on a survey of "close to" 200 millennials - people born between 1981 and 1996 - working for B2B companies.

The Demand Gen survey results provide numerous specific insights about the attitudes and behaviors of millennial B2B buyers, but I suggest there are three key takeaways from this research.

Millennials Take Charge

Many millennials have risen to leadership positions and are now exercising significant authority in B2B purchase decisions. Fifty-six percent of the respondents in the Demand Gen survey held director-level positions or above, and another 42% held managerial positions. Twenty-one percent of the respondents were vice presidents or held C-suite positions.

Forty-four percent of the survey respondents indicated they are a primary decision maker at their company for purchases valued at $10,000 or more. Another one-third of the respondents reported being a key influencer and/or recommender.

Other research has confirmed the growing responsibility and authority of millennial B2B buyers. For example, in a 2015 survey of 1,469 employed millennials by Merit, 73% of the respondents said they were involved in B2B buying decisions, and approximately one-third (34%) of the respondents reported being the sole decision maker for their department

A Preference for Peer/Colleague/User Content

The millennial buyers surveyed by Demand Gen expressed a strong preference for learning about products or services from peers, colleagues, and other users. When the survey participants were asked what types of content were most helpful in their buying decisions, the top choice was user reviews (61% of respondents), and case studies came in third (34% of respondents).

When the survey participants were asked what resources they usually depend on when researching business purchase decisions, the top choice was review sites (49% of respondents).

The desire to learn from peers also influences how millennial buyers use social media. When asked what role social media plays in their process for researching potential purchases, a majority of the survey respondents said they browse existing discussions to learn more about their topic of interest (63%) or ask for suggestions and recommendations from other users (55%).

On this issue, it's clear that millennial B2B buyers aren't significantly different from other business buyers. Recent research has shown that buyers of all generations are now relying more on information from peers, colleagues, users, and other independent third parties. For example, in a 2019 survey of 712 business technology buyers by TrustRadius, participants were asked to rate the trustworthiness of fifteen sources of information used in buying decisions. Four of the seven most trusted sources involved independent third parties (peers, friends, or colleagues, users, analysts, and communities or forums).

The Challenges Haven't Changed (Much)

The Demand Gen survey also revealed that millennial B2B buyers face many of the same challenges that all business buyers confront. More than half (52%) of the survey respondents said there are too many people involved in buying decisions at their company, and nearly half (49%) complained that their buying group is often indecisive and misaligned.

The next three most frequently identified challenges were:
  • Difficulty getting budget allocated (39% of respondents)
  • Lack of trust from senior management/not taken seriously (38%)
  • Difficulty proving clear potential of ROI (28%)
While a lack of senior management trust may be a slightly bigger challenge for younger buyers, it's likely that B2B buyers of all generations would say they're affected by the challenges identified in this survey.

Image courtesy of Jeff Djevdet ( via Flicker CC.

Related Articles

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Two Observations on the New CMI/MarketingProfs Content Marketing Survey

A few days ago, the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs published the findings of their latest content marketing survey. The B2B Content Marketing 2020:  Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America report is based on 679 survey responses from content marketers and marketing executives with B2B companies in North America. All respondents were with companies that have been using content marketing for at least one year.

The annual CMI/MarketingProfs survey has become one of the most popular and widely-cited research studies in the content marketing world. The latest survey has already triggered several articles and blog posts, and I'm sure many more are now being written.

In many ways, the findings from the latest survey echo those in previous versions of the study. For example, they tell us that having a documented content marketing strategy is vital for success, and that top-performing content marketers prioritize the information needs of their audience over their company's promotional messages.

In this post, I'll focus on how some of the attributes of top-performing content marketers have changed since last year's survey, and I'll argue the latest survey shows that most small and mid-size companies should be outsourcing more of their content marketing activities.

Notable Changes in the Attributes of Top Performers

CMI and MarketingProfs provide survey data for both "most successful" and "least successful" content marketers. The survey defines "most successful" marketers as those respondents who characterized their company's content marketing effort as extremely successful or very successful at achieving the company's desired results. "Least successful" marketers are those respondents who described their content marketing program as minimally successful or not at all successful.

The survey report compares most successful to least successful content marketers across several attributes and practices, and as might be expected, there are substantial differences between the two groups. It's also useful to look at how the most successful marketers have evolved over the past year.

The following table depicts how the most successful marketers rated several attributes of their content marketing program in both the latest survey and in last year's survey:

This table shows that in the latest survey, higher percentages of the most successful content marketers reported that their organization's content marketing is sophisticated and/or mature, that they have a documented content marketing strategy, and that they have successfully used content marketing to build loyalty with customers, nurture subscribers, audiences, or leads, and generate revenue.

Somewhat surprisingly, the share of the most successful marketers who said they measure content marketing ROI fell by five percentage points. This could be interpreted as a step backward, but I don't believe that's wholly accurate. I would argue that the change is more likely due to the recognition by sophisticated content marketers that the primary focus of marketing measurement should not be on content marketing per se. Here's my view on this topic.

Small and Mid-Size Companies Underutilize Outsourcing

In this year's survey, half of all respondents said they outsource at least one content marketing activity. However, the use of outsourcing varies greatly depending on company size, as the following chart shows:

Only 37% of respondents from small companies (1-99 employees) said they outsource any content marketing activity, compared to 56% of respondents from mid-size companies (100-999 employees), and 71% of respondents from large companies (1,000+ employees).

These findings suggest that many small and mid-size companies are outsourcing less than they should to optimize their content marketing program. Other findings from the survey show that 44% of small company respondents have no employees working full time on content marketing, and another 29% have only one full time content marketer. More surprising, just over half (53%) of survey respondents from mid-size companies reported having no or only one full time employee dedicated to content marketing.

As the use of content marketing has continued to grow, the competition for buyer attention and mindshare has become more intense. One effect of this heightened competition is that a significant amount of high-quality content has become a prerequisite for content marketing success.

The survey data suggests that many small and mid-size companies aren't committing enough internal resources to create and sustain an effective content marketing program. Under these circumstances, outsourcing some aspects of content marketing - particularly content development - can be a smart and cost-effective way to close the gap.

Top image source:  Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs

Sunday, October 27, 2019

New Insights on the State of Marketing Technology

A recent survey by WARC and BDO (with interviews by the University of Bristol) provides more evidence that the role of technology in marketing is continuing to grow. Martech:  2020 and Beyond is based on a survey of more than 750 brands and agencies located in North America, the U.K., Europe, and APAC. The survey was fielded in June and July 2019.

The explosive proliferation of marketing technologies has been widely discussed and well documented. The inaugural (2011) edition of Scott Brinker's marketing technology landscape graphic included about 150 companies. The 2019 version of the graphic includes 7,040 technology solutions.

Market Size and Growth

WARC and BDO estimate that total spending on marketing technology in North America and the U.K. will reach $65.9 billion this year, up from $52.4 billion in 2018. This equates to a year-over-year growth rate of 25.8%. WARC and BDO had previously estimated that 2017 spending in these two markets was $34.3 billion. So, in North America and the U.K., the market for marketing technology has nearly doubled over the past two years.

The WARC/BDO study found that marketers' commitment to technology is still growing. On average companies in North America and the U.K. will spend 26% of their total marketing budget in 2019 on technology tools and services, compared to 23% of the budget in 2018. While spending on technology seems to have leveled off in the U.K., it's still growing robustly in North America, as the following table shows:

A slight majority (53%) of the global survey respondents expect their spending on marketing technology to remain stable over the 12 months following the survey. However, of those respondents who believe their technology spending will increase, 51% expect the growth to be more than 10%. Growth expectations among North American respondents were more temperate. Only 35% of those respondents expect spending increases of more than 10%.

Need and Utilization

Fifty-five percent of the global survey respondents said they have all the marketing technology tools they need, but the findings regarding technology utilization were decidedly mixed, as the following table shows:

As the table indicates, only 24% of the respondents reported that they have all the tools they need and fully utilize them, while 41% acknowledged that they aren't fully utilizing the technology tools they have.

Among respondents from North American companies:

  • Only 15% said they have all the technology tools they need and are fully utilizing them.
  • 57% said they don't have all the technology tools they need.
  • 45% said they aren't fully utilizing the technology tools they have.
Current Uses
In terms of how companies are using marketing technologies, more than half of the survey respondents reported using a technology tool to support each of the following marketing disciplines or activities:
  • Email (79% of respondents)
  • Social media (77%)
  • Content marketing and management (68%)
  • Customer relationship management (65%)
  • Analytics, measurement and insights (65%)
  • Mobile (60%)
  • Data management (60%)
  • Advertising technology (58%)
  • Commerce, lead generation and sales (53%)
Key Takeaways
The WARC/BDO survey provides two important takeaways for marketers. First, the marketing technology space is extremely dynamic. The number of technology solutions available to marketers is still increasing, although the pace of development may be slowing slightly. And second, it's likely that most marketers will always be challenged to keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation.
Top image source:  WARC/BDO

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Sunday, October 20, 2019

Three Key Takeaways from Gartner's New CMO Spend Survey

Gartner has just published the results of its 2019-2020 CMO Spend Survey. The research report is based on survey responses from 342 marketing executives in North America and the U.K. at companies with $500 million to $5 billion or more in annual revenue.

The Gartner study produced several valuable data points, but I want to focus on three takeaways that I found particularly interesting.

Marketing Budget Growth

Gartner's survey indicates that marketing budgets will come in at 10.5% of company revenue in 2019, down from 11.2% in 2018. This agrees closely with the August 2019 edition of The CMO Survey, which found that current marketing budgets represent 9.8% of firm revenues.

However, most of the Gartner survey respondents were optimistic that their marketing budgets will increase in 2020, as the following table shows:

Gartner observed that this CMO optimism exists despite widespread concerns about a global economic slowdown among many economists and financial industry pundits. In fact, when survey participants were asked how the overall economic environment would likely affect their company's performance over the next 18-24 months, 86% of respondents indicated they believe the future impacts will be positive.

The above table also shows that marketing executives with B2B manufacturing companies are significantly less optimistic about future budget growth than other marketing leaders. In my view, this is likely due to the economic slowdown in manufacturing that is already occurring, and to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit in the U.K.

Martech Spending Falls

Gartner's study found that spending on marketing technology represents 26% of the total marketing budget in 2019, down from 29% in 2018. However, Gartner does not believe that this year-over-year decline indicates that marketing leaders are reducing their long-term commitment to technology.

In the research report, Gartner observed that spending on marketing technology has varied considerably over the years and that part of this variability is due to normal investment cycles. The report also referred to other Gartner research, which had found that some marketers are struggling to implement and fully utilize new technology tools.

I generally agree with Gartner's thinking on this issue. The explosive proliferation of marketing technologies is well documented. And with most technology tools, it takes time to assimilate a new technology and begin to fully utilize it. So, it's not surprising that technology spending is volatile, and we shouldn't read too much into a one-year decline.

The Rise of Marketing Operations

The third interesting takeaway from the Gartner CMO Spend Survey relates to the growing importance of marketing operations. The Gartner survey asked participants what capabilities they consider most vital for the execution of their marketing strategy over the next 18 months. The following table shows the percentage of respondents who included each capability in their top three choices:

As the table shows, 30% of survey respondents included marketing operations as a top three capability. Survey respondents also estimated they they are currently spending 12.6% of their marketing budget on marketing operations. Other research by Gartner (the 2019 Marketing Organization Survey) found that two-thirds of marketing organizations now have a discrete marketing operations function.

Gartner argues that the growing complexity of marketing and a shift toward a more decentralized marketing organizational structure are driving the need for a marketing operations function that is focused on creating excellence in planning and execution across the entire marketing organization. Gartner also observed that the scope of the marketing operations function is growing, and now includes diverse responsibilities such as technology management, talent management, budgeting, and supplier management.

Top image source:  Gartner, Inc.

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Sunday, October 13, 2019

Where Marketers are Missing the Mark with Customers

The New York chapter of the American Marketing Association has just published a research report that should be required reading for marketers. The Techlash is Here report addresses several aspects of marketing in the world's two largest economies - the United States and China. While the findings about China are interesting, this post will focus on the U.S. results.

The U.S. part of the research consisted of two quantitative surveys and several interviews with marketing leaders. One survey included 502 marketing executives - about 200 from agencies and approximately 300 from brand owners. The second survey polled 508 U.S. consumers. The consumer sample was matched to population data through weighting.

This research revealed two significant disconnects between U.S. consumers and U.S. marketers, one pertaining to social media, and one relating to the appetite for, and concerns about, new marketing technologies and practices.

The Social Media Marketing Bubble

According to Investopedia, a bubble is "created by a surge in asset prices unwarranted by the fundamentals of the asset and driven by exuberant market behavior." The AMA New York surveys suggest that a different kind of bubble may exist in the social media marketing space.

In the consumer survey, respondents said they expect their use of social media to decline over the next three years. The net change (the proportion of respondents expecting to spend more time on social media minus the proportion who expect to spend less time) was -6%. The survey also found that Facebook use is likely to show no net growth over the next three years, while the use of Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn will decline over that period.

U.S. marketers, on the other hand, plan to substantially increase spending on social media advertising over the next three years. In the marketer survey, social media generated the strongest indication of increased spending (net 68%), followed by web display ads (net 51%) and email (net 47%).

Other research has found a similar exuberance for social media among marketers. In the August 2019 edition of The CMO Survey, respondents said they expect spending on social media to increase from 11.9% of their current marketing budget to 22.5% of the budget in five years.

The Techlash is Here report describes the emerging social media marketing bubble (my term, not theirs) as follows:

"American marketers are overindexing on many social media now and plan to increase spending even as consumer use flatlines or falls off. Currently, the share of ad spend devoted to social media in America . . . is 150% of the proportion of consumer media time they receive."

The Technology Disconnect

The AMA New York surveys also investigated the attitudes of U.S. marketers and consumers about nine specific marketing/advertising technologies and techniques. In this research, between two-fifths and three-fifths of U.S. marketers said they plan to increase their use of every one of those nine innovations, as the following table shows:

A striking disconnect between marketers and consumers becomes apparent when we look at the results of the consumer survey. As the table below shows, none of the nine technologies or techniques is viewed favorably by a majority of U.S. consumers. Four of the nine did receive a favorable plurality by survey respondents, but five of the nine technologies and techniques are viewed unfavorably by a plurality of U.S. consumers.

Once again, the survey report describes the current situation in compelling terms:

"American marketers overrate the perceived positives of marketing innovations:  most expect that U.S. consumers will consistently welcome them . . . On average, nearly four out of five (78%) expect American consumers will agree with each benefit claim we tested. The proportion of marketers who say consumers will agree substantially exceeds that of consumers who do on every one of them - by an average of 27 points."

The Takeaway

The AMA New York research should serve as a wake-up call for marketers. It highlights the risks inherent in getting caught up in the hype that inevitably surrounds new marketing channels, techniques, and technologies. While this research dealt with important disconnects between marketers and consumers, many of the study findings will apply to B2B marketers and business buyers.

Marketers' exuberance for new technologies and techniques is often attributed to the fear-of-missing-out or the shiny object syndrome. This view is overly harsh, but it does contain some truth. FOMO can actually be a positive thing when it motivates us to experiment and test new tactics and tools. But if it isn't tightly controlled, FOMO can also result in bad - or at least ineffective - marketing investments.

The findings of the AMA New York research regarding personalization are particularly noteworthy. As I have previously written, marketers are facing a true conundrum regarding when and how much personalization should be used. In fact, I would argue that the personalization-privacy paradox will be an "elephant-in-the-room" issue for marketers in 2020. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.

Top image courtesy of Artura Pardavila III via Flickr CC.

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Sunday, October 6, 2019

When "Prove You Know Me" Personalization is Essential

A few months ago, I published a post arguing that marketers who want to improve the effectiveness of personalized marketing should focus primarily on making personalization pragmatically useful to recipients. This argument was based on the results of several research studies, including a 2018 survey by Gartner/CEB that polled more than 2,500 consumers in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

One objective of this study was to identify what types of personalized messages are most effective. Survey participants were asked several questions about the content of personalized messages they had recently received. From the participants' responses, Gartner/CEB identified two types of personalization based on what consumers perceived was the primary intent of the message:

  • "Prove You Know Me" Personalization - Consumers perceived that these types of messages were primarily intended to demonstrate that the company "knows" the recipient. So, for example, they may have explicitly mentioned a previous purchase made by the recipient, or they might have mentioned that the recipient had recently viewed a particular product.
  • "Help Me" Personalization - Consumers perceived that these types of messages were primarily intended to help the recipient in some way. For example, they may have made it easier for the recipient to complete a purchase, or helped the recipient understand how to better use a product.
To measure the comparative effectiveness of these types of persosnalization, Gartner/CEB created a "Commercial Benefit Index" that considered four consumer intent and behavior factors - brand intent, purchase, repurchase, and increase in shopping cart size. When Gartner/CEB analyzed the impact produced by each type of personalization, they found that "Help Me" personalization produced a 16% increase in the CBI, while "Prove You Know Me" personalization resulted in a 4% decline in the CBI.

Where "Prove You Know Me" Personalization Really Helps
As any good lawyer will tell you, "There's an exception to every rule." The evidence is clear that "helpfulness" is the most powerful driver of effective personalization. But there are some points in your relationship with a customer or prospect where demonstrating that you "know" him or her can be critical to advancing the relationship.
One of these points is when you are seeking to have the first person-to-person conversation with a prospect. Many prospects prefer to conduct early-stage research and information gathering on their own, and to avoid conversations with vendor reps until later in their decision-making process. Overcoming this reluctance is difficult, and that's where an injection of "Prove You Know Me" personalization can be highly effective.
To illustrate this point, below is the text of an email message that I recently received from a client development representative at a sales technology company. I received this message after attending one of the company's webinars. I've altered the text to conceal the real names of the company and the rep.

Thanks for attending our webinar with Jones & Company, "The Secret Sauce for a High-Performing Sales Organization."
Hopefully, you enjoyed the webinar - John and Joe had some great insights on . . .
  • The current state and challenges of sales enablement in the age of the modern business buyer
  • Why a buyer-centric sales enablement approach is vital to an organization's revenue growth
  • How the right software can accelerate sales enablement efforts and help win more deals
Would love to get your feedback from the webinar.
Are you available this Friday for a quick 15 minute chat?
Roger Smith"

On the surface, this appears to be a well-constructed email. It's concise and not overly promotional. But it didn't convince me to reply and schedule a telephone conversation. What "Roger" failed to do in this message is show me that he knew some basic things about me and my business, and explain why a telephone conversation could be worthwhile.
If "Roger" had spent two or three minutes scanning through my LinkedIn profile, he would have gained a basic understanding of what I do. My profile also contains links to the 127 articles that I've published at LinkedIn. If "Roger" had spent another two of three minutes scanning through the titles of these articles, he could have obtained a pretty good understanding of my professional interests and focus.
With this information, "Roger" could have easily added a short paragraph to the email that would have made me more inclined to schedule a telephone conversation. That paragraph could have looked something like this:
"I see from your LinkedIn profile that you work with B2B companies to develop marketing strategies and marketing content. I also noticed that you've written several articles about improving marketing and sales productivity. I'd like to get your thoughts about the role that sales enablement technology plays in improving sales productivity.
Are you available this Friday for a brief telephone conversation?"
This approach would have demonstrated that "Roger" had made an effort to "get to know" me and my business, and the proposed topic of the telephone conversation is one that could be useful for both "Roger" and me.
Some readers may be thinking:  "There's no way we can have our business development reps spend this much time on every prospect." That's not what I'm recommending. This approach is reserved for prospects whose engagement with your company suggests that they may be ready to take the relationship to a higher level by beginning to have person-to-person conversations with your reps.

Image courtesy of Marco Verch (trendingtopics) via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Why It's So Hard for Companies to Change

In 2013, Scott Brinker, Hubspot's VP Platform Ecosystem, and the author of the widely-read Chief Marketing Technologist blog, published a post that introduced Martec's Law. In essence, Martec's Law states that technology changes at an exponential (very fast) rate, but organizations change at a logarithmic (much slower) rate. (See Scott's graph below.)

The rapid development of marketing technology is well documented. The 2014 edition of Scott's marketing technology landscape supergraphic contained 947 technology providers. The 2019 edition of the supergraphic contained more than 7,000 technology solutions.

Scott argued that the core problem encapsulated by Martec's Law is that "technology is changing faster than organizations can absorb change." And it's clear that this problem extends far beyond marketing.

Over the past few years, digital transformation - which can be defined as the use of digital technologies to create new, or reengineer existing, processes, culture, and customer experience - has become an important strategic objective objective for many companies. However, the evidence indicates that most digital transformation initiatives have not succeeded.

In recent research by McKinsey & Company, only 16% of survey respondents said their organizations' digital transformations have successfully improved performance and also equipped them to sustain changes over the long term.

So why is change so hard? Hundreds of books and articles have attempted to explain why change is difficult for most organizations, and what business leaders can do to create a greater willingness and capacity to change. While many of these books and articles have contained valuable advice, it seems clear that no one has really identified the "silver bullet" that will consistently boost the capacity for change.

Clayton Christensen has developed a framework that can help us understand why organizational change is difficult. Christensen described this framework in an article in the Harvard Business Review (co-authored with Michael Overdorf), and elaborated on it in The Innovator's Solution (co-authored with Michael Raynor). Christensen developed this framework to help business leaders succeed at disruptive innovation, but it is equally useful for identifying the factors that determine how effectively a company can make any significant, far-reaching change.

According to Christensen, the ability of an organization to succeed with any significant transformation depends on three types of capabilities - resources, processes, and values.

Resources - Resources include people and tangible business assets such as cash, facilities, equipment, and technology solutions. Resources can also include intangible assets like intellectual property and relationships with suppliers and customers.

Processes - Processes are the activities that organizations perform to transform resource inputs into finished products or services.

Values - Values include the ethical principles that an organization "lives by," but the term has a broader meaning in this framework. It also includes the criteria or standards that people in the organization use to set priorities and make decisions. Therefore, values include the myriad of (mostly unwritten) cultural rules and norms that influence how people in the organization think and act.

Resources, processes, and values largely dictate what an organization can and cannot accomplish. And they both enable and constrain an organization's capacity for change.

To understand why organizational change is difficult, it's critical to keep two points in mind about resources, processes, and values. First, any significant change or transformation will require changes in all three organizational capabilities. In other words, any successful transformation will likely require the organization to find or develop new resources (or redeploy existing resources), develop new processes (or reengineer existing processes), and modify its values.

The second important point is that the three organizational capabilities are not equally easy to change. Resources are usually the most flexible capability and are relatively easy to change. Processes are usually less flexible than resources and are therefore somewhat more difficult to change.

Clearly though, the most difficult capability to change is values. Values are difficult to change because they tend to develop slowly and over time, they become deeply ingrained in an organization's cultural DNA. When change initiatives don't succeed, it's most likely because company leaders have underestimated (a) the need to change core company values, or (b) how difficult those changes are to make.

Christensen's RPV framework doesn't make organizational change easier to accomplish, but it can help business leaders, including those in marketing, to identify where the greatest barriers to change are likely to exist.

Top image courtesy of R/DV/RS via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Power and Peril of Performance Metrics

Measuring performance has been a major feature of the business landscape ever since double entry accounting made its appearance in the 14th or 15th century. "You can't manage what you can't measure" is one of the most widely-repeated cliches in the business world, and it's been an article of faith for several generations of executives and managers.

It's easy to understand why business leaders view performance measurement as critical for effective management. Metrics give us a way to make sense of our environment and to describe our objectives and results in concrete terms that are easy to understand and communicate.

The fixation on performance measurement has affected virtually all business functions, including marketing. For the past several years, marketers have faced growing pressure to prove the financial impact of their activities and programs. As a result, they're placing greater emphasis on measuring the performance of marketing tactics and channels, and some marketing leaders are allocating budgets and basing marketing mix decisions on performance metrics.

Overall, this has been a positive development. It's hard to argue that business leaders, including marketers, shouldn't measure the performance of their activities and use metrics to guide important decisions. But, it's also important to remember that performance metrics must be used carefully because they can produce unintended consequences. These unintended consequences can result from several factors, but two are particularly important.

The Power of Performance Metrics

The first important thing to remember about performance metrics is that they have the power to shape human behavior. Almost a decade ago, Dan Ariely, the noted behavioral economist and author of Predictably Irrational, described the power of performance measures in a column for the Harvard Business Review. He wrote:

"Human beings adjust behavior based on the metrics they're held against. Anything you measure will impel a person to optimize his score on that metric. What you measure is what you'll get. Period. This phenomenon plays out time and again in research studies."

So the power of performance measurements to cause us to change our behaviors is reason enough to use them with care.

The Surrogation Problem

Another factor that makes performance metrics potentially dangerous is a psychological phenomenon known as surrogation. Surrogation is the human tendency to lose sight of the real objective or strategy and instead focus only (or almost entirely) on the metrics that are meant to represent the objective or strategy. In other words, we have a strong tendency to decide (often subconsciously) that scoring well on the metric is the desired objective or strategy.

The process of surrogation is easy to illustrate. Suppose that one of your company's important objectives is to provide outstanding customer experiences, and you decide to measure progress on that objective using a customer survey. The surveys are conducted periodically, and the results are shared with customer-facing employees and frequently discussed at management and staff meetings.

Under these circumstances, some employees may begin to think that the objective is to maximize scores on the customer survey, rather than to deliver outstanding customer experiences. This can become a serious problem if those managers or employees begin to entice customers to give only high scores on the survey even if they weren't completely happy with their experience.

Surrogation is likely to occur when three conditions exist:

  1. The actual objective or strategy is complex and relatively abstract.
  2. The metric is concrete and easy to understand.
  3. The person involved does not consciously reject the substitution of the metric for the actual objective or strategy.
In an article appearing in the current issue of the Harvard Business Review, Michael Harris and Bill Tayler describe three ways to reduce the odds of surrogation occurring:
  1. Make sure the actual objective or strategy is thoroughly understood by all relevant managers and employees. Involve as many of these people as possible in the formulation of the objective or strategy.
  2. Avoid linking compensation to metrics. Research has shown that tying compensation to metrics increases the likelihood that surrogation will occur.
  3. Use multiple metrics. Surrogation is less likely to occur if multiple metrics are used to measure the success of a strategy or the attainment of an objective.
As noted earlier, measuring the performance of marketing quantitatively has now become a common practice, and overall, this is a positive development. But marketing leaders must recognize that like any business tool, performance metrics need to be used carefully and wisely.

Image courtesy of James Whatley via Flickr CC.

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