Sunday, February 24, 2019

Don't Rely Too Much on Marketing Best Practices

More than two decades ago, Michael Porter warned about the dangers of relying on benchmarking and "best practices" to produce business success. In a landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, Porter drew a sharp distinction between operational effectiveness - which often involves identifying and implementing best practices - and real business strategy.

Porter argued that competing primarily on the basis of operational effectiveness is usually a recipe for disaster. He wrote:  "The more benchmarking companies do, the more they look alike . . . As rivals imitate one another's improvements in quality, cycle times, or supplier partnerships, strategies converge and competition becomes a series of races down identical paths that no one can win."

Four years after Porter's article, Philipp Nattermann made a similar argument in an article for the McKinsey Quarterly. In this article, Nattermann contended that benchmarking and the use of best practices are important ways to improve operational efficiency, but they are not tools for strategic decision making. He wrote that business leaders rely too much on benchmarking and best practices because:

". . . they don't understand that benchmarking is simply an operational tool. Instead, they all want to occupy the point on the strategic landscape they their most successful competitor has staked out. Soon other competitors can be seen herding, lemminglike, around that best practice company's product, pricing, and channel strategies. Products and services become increasingly commoditized and margins tumble as more and more incumbents compete for smaller and smaller segments of customers and industry resources."

Despite the risks associated with best practices, business leaders continue to regard the identification and implementation of best practices as one of the most powerful management tools at their disposal. And it's not difficult to understand why the use of best practices remains so popular. It seems immanently reasonable to identify the practices of successful, high-performing companies and then emulate those practices.

The Allure of Marketing Best Practices

Marketers can become particularly enamored with best practices. After all, marketing success is difficult to achieve and even harder to sustain because the marketing landscape is always changing, and because it's incredibly hard to predict what marketing methods, channels, and message formats will appeal to potential customers. In these circumstances, it shouldn't be surprising that marketers are attracted to "proven" best practices.

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

Widespread Use Decreases Effectiveness

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

But marketing best practices are also highly effective - at least for a while -  because they are distinctive. When a best practice is new, it tends to be used by a relatively small number of companies. Therefore, the practice stands out in the marketplace and captures the attention of potential customers. But as more and more companies implement the practice, it loses some of the distinctiveness that made it highly effective. Content marketing is a good example of a marketing best practice that is now more challenging because it is so widely used.

The bottom line is, identifying and implementing marketing best practices may lead to a temporary improvement in marketing results, but it won't deliver superior marketing performance over the long term. Superior long-term marketing performance requires an effective marketing strategy and the use of marketing methods and tactics that will make your company distinctive in the marketplace.

Image courtesy of Paul Mison via Flickr CC.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

ABM Supports (But Doesn't Create) Better Sales-Marketing Alignment

Some pundits contend that account-based marketing will create better alignment between marketing and sales. In reality, ABM can be a catalyst for improving sales-marketing alignment, but it won't cause such improved alignment to magically materialize. The adoption of ABM will quickly uncover weaknesses in the relationship between your marketing and sales teams, and that's a good thing. Here's why.

One of the key requirements for successful account-based marketing is coordinated efforts by business functions that have historically operated more or less independently. The need for teamwork routinely involves marketing, business development, and sales, and when ABM is used to expand relationships with existing customers, it will also extend to the customer success/customer service functions.

To reap the maximum benefits from ABM, marketing, business development, and sales must jointly develop an engagement plan for each target account. This account plan will usually span several weeks to several months, and will likely include activities by all three functions that must be closely coordinated. In addition, these business functions must be ready to make on-the-fly adjustments to the account plan based on actual buyer responses and changing business conditions at each account.

Therefore, successful ABM requires multiple business functions to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. This level of coordination is challenging for many companies because it represents a major change in how they have traditionally engaged and managed sales leads.

In many B2B companies, the demand generation process involves a series of "hand-offs" from one business function to another. In essence, the process assumes that marketing, business development, and sales will engage potential buyers sequentially. The metaphor often used is a relay race in which each member of the relay team runs for a specified distance, and then passes the baton to the next runner.

The relay race approach has never been the best way to manage demand generation, and it is particularly problematic when used with ABM. The adoption of ABM has an effect that is similar to reducing the work-in-process inventories in a manufacturing process.

ABM "Lowers the Water Level"

In the discipline of lean manufacturing, inventory is one of the seven primary sources of waste, and most lean practitioners are always looking for ways to reduce inventory levels. To explain one role that inventories play, lean experts use a "rocks in the river" analogy.

In this analogy, inventory is like the water level in a river. As long as the water level is high enough, boats on the river will easily float over any rocks in the stream bed. The high water level makes the rocks invisible and also eliminates the danger they would otherwise pose for boats navigating the river. But if the water level is lowered, the rocks become visible, and the danger they pose becomes clear.

Lean experts say that inventory in a manufacturing system often conceals problems in the manufacturing process. High inventory levels also alleviate the immediate pain caused by the problems, but at a high cost. When inventory levels are lowered, the real problems become visible, and the ramifications of those problems become apparent. So in lean manufacturing, reducing inventories ("lowering the water level") not only eliminates waste, it also points company managers to the real problems that need to be solved.

The adoption of account-based marketing works in a similar way. Because successful ABM demands an unprecedented level of collaboration and coordination across multiple business functions, any lack of collaboration or coordination will quickly become visible. And this will enable company leaders to address the specific problems that are holding back the success of their ABM program.

The bottom line is, ABM can be a catalyst for improving the relationship between marketing, sales, and other business functions because it will make weaknesses in those relationships visible and addressable.

Image courtesy of monikomad via Flickr CC.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Marketers Are Embracing Advanced Marketing Measurement

Demand Gen Report's 2018 Marketing Measurement & Attribution Benchmark Survey makes one point abundantly clear:  Measuring marketing performance is both a top priority and a major challenge for most B2B marketers.

Eighty-seven percent of the survey respondents said that measuring marketing performance is a growing priority for their company, but more than half (54%) also said their ability to measure and analyze marketing performance needs improvement or is poor/inadequate.

The widespread interest in measuring marketing performance indicates that the demand for performance measurement software is poised to grow substantially. In a September 2018 report, Forrester Research said that marketers spent about $1.09 billion on marketing measurement solutions in 2017, and the firm estimates that spending on such solutions will reach $2.1 billion by 2023.

The Demand Gen research also revealed what is motivating marketers to improve their measurement capabilities. When survey participants were asked what is increasing their need for deeper metrics, the top two drivers identified were:

  • The desire to show marketing's impact on pipeline and revenue (70% of respondents)
  • The push to show ROI from all marketing investments (60%)
As these results show, the key motivations for improving marketing measurement capabilities are to demonstrate the economic value that marketing creates for the business and to optimize the mix of marketing programs based on economic performance.
Both of these objectives require the use of financial metrics, and this makes marketing measurement more challenging. The heart of the challenge is attribution, which is the process of assigning revenue and costs to marketing programs. 
There are three robust methods for attributing revenue to, and measuring the financial impact of, advertising and marketing programs. Two of these methods - marketing mix modeling (MMM) and multi-touch attribution (MTA) - have been in use for several years. The newest and most sophisticated method is unified marketing measurement (UMM).
Marketing Mix Modeling
Marketing mix modeling involves the use of advanced statistical techniques to estimate the impact of advertising and marketing activities on incremental sales and/or other desired outcomes. Marketing mix models are usually based on many months of historical information about sales and marketing/advertising spending across both digital and offline channels. MMM also incorporates factors such as weather, competitive activity, seasonality, and overall economic conditions.
MMM is a top-down approach that estimates the impact of distinct marketing programs and channels on incremental revenue. These models do not evaluate the actions of individual prospects or customers. Because MMM is backward-looking and doesn't consider the actions and responses of individual people, it doesn't provide the timeliness or level of detailed information that are required to support tactical marketing decisions.
Multi-Touch Attribution
Unlike MMM, multi-touch attribution is a bottom-up approach that analyzes information about the actions and behaviors of individual prospects and customers. Ideally, this data will include every exposure that an individual has had to a marketer's messages and his or her responses (or lack thereof) to those messages.
Most MTA solutions focus exclusively or primarily on estimating the financial impact of digital marketing activities, and their ability to capture the impact of offline marketing activities is limited. Therefore, MTA solutions can overstate the amount of revenue attributable to digital marketing programs. MTA solutions can also be inaccurate because they don't usually account for a baseline of revenue that would exist without any marketing efforts.
Most robust MTA solutions use advanced statistical techniques and computer algorithms to assign revenue to marketing activities, rather than relying on simplistic pre-set "rules" (such as first-touch, last-touch, etc.) that often produce wildly inaccurate results.
Unified Marketing Measurement
Given the inherent limitations of MMM and MTA, a growing number of companies have begun using a method known as unified marketing measurement that leverages the strengths and eliminates the weaknesses of MMM and MTA. UMM solutions are capable of measuring the impact of both digital and offline marketing activities, and they combine a top-down and bottom-up approach. In its report, Forrester estimated that UMM solutions now account for 28% of the measurement solution market. 
What About Cost?
These advanced marketing measurement solutions aren't exactly cheap. In a report published last year, Gartner estimated that companies pay from $100,000 to $250,000 on average for a one year MMM or MTA solution. And the cost can be much higher. 
Notwithstanding the cost, advanced marketing measurement solutions can be a smart investment for many companies. In its report, Forrester noted that these solutions often enable a 15% improvement in marketing ROI, and that overall spending on marketing measurement represents only 0.2% of total marketing spending.

Illustration courtesy of Kari Bluff via Flickr CC.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Salesforce Study Identifies Major Marketing Trends

Salesforce recently published the fifth edition of its State of Marketing report. The new report is based on a survey that was fielded between August 13th and September 23rd of last year, and produced 4,101 responses from marketing leaders (manager or higher). Survey respondents were from North America, Latin America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe.

The authors of the report observed that today's marketers are facing far different challenges from their predecessors. These new challenges are driven by high customer expectations for overall experiences that match their expectations for product quality. This observation isn't particularly surprising, given that the importance of customer experience has been widely discussed for several years.

The Salesforce survey identified four major trends in marketing.

Marketing Becomes the Orchestrator of Customer Experiences
Providing exceptional end-to-end customer experiences is inherently cross-functional, but marketing is well positioned to function as the hub of customer experience efforts. Nearly half (45%) of the survey respondents said that marketing is leading customer experience initiatives across the business at their company.

This finding is nearly identical with the August 2018 edition of The CMO Survey, in which 45.7% of respondents reported that marketing leads customer experience efforts.The Salesforce survey also found that marketers are forging connections with sales, commerce, and service teams in order to deliver better end-to-end customer experiences.

New Realities Elevate the Importance of Data Unification
It's not news that the effective use of data is critical for marketing success. The Salesforce research found that marketers are using more sources of data to gain a deeper understanding of customer needs, preferences, and behaviors.

According to the survey, the median number of data sources used by marketing organizations will increase from 12 in 2018 to 15 this year. However, more work is needed to unify those data sources. Only 47% of survey respondents said they have a completely unified view of customer data sources.

Marketers Remain Committed to Personalization
The Salesforce survey revealed that marketers' belief in the power of personalization remains strong. More than eight out of ten of the survey respondents said that personalization produces major or moderate improvements in brand building, lead generation, customer retention, customer acquisition, and customer advocacy.

The survey also found that the use of artificial intelligence to power personalization is growing. Twenty-nine percent of respondents in the latest survey reported using AI, up from 20% in 2017. Marketers also appear to be focused on trust and privacy issues. Fifty-one percent of respondents said they are more mindful about balancing personalization and privacy than they were two years ago.

Marketers Strive for Real Time Engagement
Lastly, the Salesforce research found that engaging customers in real time has become marketers' top priority and their biggest challenge. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents said they now engage customers in real time across one or more marketing channels. It also appears that marketers are making their engagements more responsive and dynamic. Fifty-two percent of the survey respondents said they adapt marketing strategy and tactics based on customer interactions.

The annual State of Marketing survey by Salesforce provides an important snapshot of the attitudes and practices of global marketers. I suspect that the new Digital Trends Survey by Econsultancy will address some of the same issues, and it will be interesting to compare the findings of these two studies.

Image source:  Salesforce