Sunday, December 18, 2022

Our Most Popular Posts of 2022

This will be my last post of 2022, and I want to thank everyone who has spent some of his or her valuable time reading this blog. My goal here 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.

I'm planning to make a few changes to this blog in 2023. The plans are mostly final, and I'll be detailing them in my first post of next year on January 8th. In general, though, I plan to focus more of the blog content on the strategic themes that are shaping the practice of B2B marketing. More to come on this next month.

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 2022. I've ranked the posts based on cumulative total reads, so those published earlier in the year have an advantage.

So, in case you missed any of them, here are our five most popular posts of 2022:

  1. [Deep Dive] Online Marketplaces Reshape B2B Commerce and Prompt New Marketing Tactics
  2. Why Brand Loyalty Is a Rare Commodity
  3. [Book Review] A Strategic Guide to Using Artificial Intelligence in Marketing
  4. Novelty Is Essential for Compelling Thought Leadership
  5. [Deep Dive] Is Purpose Marketing Right for Your Company?

Happy holidays to everyone, and best wishes for a great 2023!

Image courtesy of Republic of Korea via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Why You Should Spend Part of Your Marketing Budget on Things That May Not Work

Marketers work relentlessly to optimize the performance of their campaigns and programs in order to maximize marketing ROI. But optimization isn't always the right objective. Read on to find out why marketers should spend part of their marketing budget on things that may not work.

The United States is the largest and one of the most vibrant venture capital markets in the world. In 2021, venture capitalists invested $329.9 billion in over 17,000 deals, according to the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA).

NVCA has also reported that total 2021 exit value - which is the cash venture capital investors receive when VC-backed companies are acquired or go public - was over $774 billion.

Venture capital investing isn't for the fainthearted. The venture capital business model is governed by what is usually called the "power law," which holds that out of every ten early-stage investments VC investors make, two will produce all the returns they earn. The other eight investments will generate little or no returns, and some will completely fail.

A successful venture capital investor is like a baseball power hitter who hits home runs, but also strikes out a lot.

So, why am I discussing venture capital in a blog about B2B marketing? Because the venture capital model can help marketing leaders make better decisions about how to manage a small but important part of their marketing budget.

The Revenue Allocation Challenge

The most important and difficult decisions marketing leaders must make inevitably involve the allocation of marketing resources (money, people, time, etc.). Regardless of company size, the resources available for marketing are rarely (if ever) sufficient to enable marketing leaders to do everything they'd like to do. Therefore, resource allocation is an intrinsic part of every significant marketing decision.

Resource allocation decisions can be difficult for a host of reasons, but one of the greatest challenges marketing leaders face is the need to deploy their resources to both maximize performance in the present and build a solid foundation for success in the future.

To increase the odds of achieving future success, marketing leaders need to consistently invest in programs that are specifically designed to identify the capabilities, tactics and other innovations that may become critical for effective marketing in the future. But the reality is, there is a strong tendency to prioritize investments that will produce short-term benefits and to underinvest in activities whose benefits are delayed or uncertain.

The 70-20-10 Rule

Fortunately, there's a resource allocation "rule of thumb" that can help marketing leaders overcome this strong human tendency. It's called the 70-20-10 rule (or sometimes the now-next-new rule), and it's been used for a variety of business purposes. Many companies have used it to allocate innovation resources, and Coca Cola reportedly used a version of the rule for years to guide marketing investment decisions.

Here's how the rule works.

The 70 ("Now") - The rule states that 70% of your marketing resources should be devoted to capabilities and programs with a proven performance track record. This will typically include the marketing channels, tactics and technologies you're already using. The primary goal of these capabilities and programs is to drive short-term performance.

The 20 ("Next") - The rule provides that 20% of your marketing resources should be allocated to emerging marketing channels, tactics and technologies. This category would include capabilities and practices that a growing numbers of other companies are successfully using. It would also include marketing channels or tactics that you have previously tested in small pilot programs and now want to use on a broader basis.

The 10 ("New") - The remaining 10% of your marketing resources should be invested in new capabilities and techniques that have just appeared on the scene. This category would also include the investments you make to test new creative concepts, value propositions or customer segments.

Use a Venture Capital Mindset

One of the main benefits of the 70-20-10 rule is that it prompts marketing leaders to consistently allocate part of their marketing budget to the development and testing of new marketing strategies, capabilities and techniques.

The 10% investment category funds the activities that drive true marketing innovation. In fact, this "bucket" of activities and investments can be accurately described as a company's marketing innovation incubator.

But . . . 

The marketing activities in the 10% bucket are by definition new and unproven, and therefore they are high-risk undertakings. These activities are inherently experimental, and, as we all know, experiments aren't always successful.

That's why marketing leaders should use a venture capital approach when selecting and managing the activities in the 10% bucket. Venture capitalists recognize that, no matter how much research and other due diligence they perform, they can't accurately predict which of the companies they invest in will turn out to be big winners. They understand that most of their portfolio companies won't produce significant returns, and they view this high "failure" rate as part of the cost of reaping the benefits produced by the winners.

Marketing leaders should adopt a similar mindset when thinking about the activities and investments in the 10% bucket. Many of these activities and investments probably won't be highly successful, but some of those that are can potentially produce exceptional marketing results.

Image courtesy of Vall d'Hebron Institut de Recerca VHIR via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, December 4, 2022

4 Questions You Should Ask Before You "Go All In" on Personalization

It's almost an article of faith among marketers that delivering personalized content and experiences to customers and potential buyers will improve business results. The value of personalization has gone largely unquestioned for nearly two decades. Most marketers now view personalization as essential for success, and many companies are on a mission to improve their personalization capabilities.

This strong belief in the power of personalization is easy to understand. There are now dozens of surveys showing that most consumers and business buyers want and expect to receive messages, offers and other content that are personalized based on their wants and needs.

But while support for personalization in marketing is widespread, it isn't unanimous. Earlier this year, Peter Weinberg and Jon Lombardo wrote an article for Marketing Week calling personalization "the worst idea in the marketing industry."

Weinberg and Lombardo base their case against personalization on two points. First, they argue that it's impossible to consistently produce effective personalization because the data used to fuel personalization is often inaccurate. They are particularly critical of third-party data, writing that, "Most third-party data is, to put it politely, garbage."

The second argument against personalization is that it wouldn't work even if marketers had accurate data about every customer and potential buyer. Weinberg and Lombardo write, "Arguably, there has never been a successful piece of personalized creative in human history. The biggest movies, books, songs and ads all speak to universal experiences that resonate with everyone, everywhere."

According to Weinberg and Lombardo, marketers would be better served by investing in performance branding, which the authors define as using "one-size-fits-most" marketing content that "speaks to the common category needs of all potential buyers, all the time."

The Four Critical Questions

In my view, Weinberg and Lombardo go way too far when they assert that personalization is "the worst idea in the marketing industry." The research clearly shows that when personalization is used under the right circumstances and in the right ways, it will boost marketing performance. But as with most business tools, the key to being successful with personalization is understanding when and how to use it.

The first important thing to recognize is that personalization isn't a single, monolithic marketing technique. It's a term that encompasses a wide variety of use cases that differ in significant ways. They have different business objectives and different data requirements, and they can demand different human and technological capabilities. Therefore, you need to assess each potential use of personalization as a discrete marketing project.

When you're evaluating any potential use of personalization, there are four critical questions you need to answer.

"Do we have enough accurate data to successfully implement this use of personalization?"

No proposed use of personalization will be successful if you don't have relevant and accurate data. Unfortunately, personalization efforts often miss their mark because of inadequate or inaccurate data. In a survey of U.S. consumers conducted earlier this year for Redpoint Global, 70% of the respondents reported receiving mistargeted information at least once a month, and 24% said they receive mistargeted information daily.

Each proposed use of personalization will also require specific types of data. For example, offering a research report to potential buyers working in a set of selected industries will require different data from making a product recommendation based on an existing customer's previous purchases.

So, this is really a two-part question:  "Do we have the right types of data to execute this proposed use of personalization, and is the data accurate and reliable?"

"Will this use of personalization provide a meaningful benefit to members of our intended audience?"

Research by Gartner has shown that personalization works best when it provides meaningful, pragmatic value to the intended audience. The most effective uses of personalization will be those that help members of the intended audience solve important problems, or address important issues, or get more value from a product they've already purchased. Personalization can also be effective if it makes it easier for a customer to do business with your company.

The important point here is that when you're evaluating a prospective use of personalization, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and ask, "How will this help me?"

"Is this use of personalization appropriate based on the relationships between our company and members of our intended audience?"

No one likes "creepy" personalization, and today's consumers and business buyers will react strongly to personalization that goes too far. In the Gartner research mentioned above, 38% of the survey respondents said they would stop doing business with a company that sent them creepy personalized messages.

The lesson here is that the level of personalization you use needs to match the real-world status of the relationship between your company and each member of the intended audience. To be effective, personalized marketing must be based on genuine insights about your audience. When you take personalization beyond such insights, it becomes inauthentic and will likely be perceived as superficial, presumptuous or creepy.

"Do we have informed permission from the members of our intended audience for this use of personalization?"

Numerous research studies have shown that marketers are facing a Catch-22 when it comes to the use of personalization. On one hand, the research shows that most consumers and business buyers want and expect personalized messages and experiences. The research also shows, however, that many consumers and business buyers aren't comfortable with how companies are collecting, accumulating and using their personal or business information.

Personalized marketing will not reach its full potential unless marketers use an approach to personalization that addresses these privacy concerns. If the huge volume of personalization research tells us anything, it tells us that consumers and business buyers will welcome and value personalized content and experiences when they are helpful, authentic and based on permission that is willingly and consciously given.

So how can you gain this kind of informed permission? There are three key steps.

Use personalization "programs" - In most cases, personalization should be organized into discrete programs, each of which is designed to provide a specific type of value to a specific type of customer or prospect. This approach will help you to focus on the purpose of personalized marketing from the perspective of your intended audience.

Ask for participation - Invite the members of your intended audience to "subscribe" to personalized content on a program-by program basis, and reassure them that subscribing to one program won't open the floodgates to other marketing communications.

Be Transparent - It's important to be radically transparent in your invitation about the details of the personalization program. So, the invitation should include:

  • Why the program will be useful and valuable for the recipient
  • What personal information will be used, and how the information will be used
  • How the personalized content will be delivered (format)
  • How frequently the personalized content will be delivered
  • How long the program will last
  • A clear statement that the recipient can "unsubscribe" at any time
It's About When and How - Not Whether - To Personalize
The issue for marketers is not whether to personalize marketing content and experiences. The evidence is clear that customers and prospects want and appreciate the increased relevance that personalization can provide. The real challenges are about how to deliver personalization. By making personalization helpful, authentic and based on informed permission, you can reap the maximum benefits of personalized marketing.

Top image courtesy of Jernej Furman via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, November 27, 2022

[Book Review] Ann Handley's Not-To-Be-Missed Guide to Better Marketing Writing

Source:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Ann Handley's new book, Everybody Writes:  Your New and Improved Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2022), was released last month, just in time for astute marketers to add it to their wish list for the upcoming holidays.

Even better, you should just go ahead and buy Everybody Writes for yourself and use the holiday season to read and digest the many valuable insights the book contains. That way, you can start applying Ann's principles to improve your writing at the beginning of the new year.

Ann Handley is well known and highly respected in the marketing community. She is the Chief Content Officer at MarketingProfs, a marketing training and education company, and a frequent speaker at marketing industry events. In short, Ann knows whereof she speaks (and writes).

Everybody Writes is a second edition; the first edition was published in 2014. But the new Everybody Writes is, well, new in many ways. Ann Handley says she went into preparing the updated edition thinking that it would take "maybe 10 minutes," that she would, "Run the vacuum and puff the throw pillows and spritz some Febreze around the pages . . ."

Instead, the update took six months, and Ann says she "also built an addition on the back. Replaced the draftiest windows. Installed a bouncy house in the yard . . ."

Early in the book, Ann makes two points that provide the rationale for Everybody Writes. First, she argues that effective marketing requires good marketing content, and good marketing content requires good writing - regardless of the format the marketing content takes.

The proliferation of marketing channels and content formats, and the nearly ubiquitous embrace of content marketing have put extreme pressures on marketers to feed the content beast. Unfortunately, this incessant demand for content often results in the production of content that isn't very good.

Ann describes this problem in unambiguous terms:  "We are a planet of publishers, yet many of us are polluting the pool with content rubbish. We are all creators, yet many of us are squandering the opportunity we have to communicate directly with those we care most about reaching."

Ann's second point is that writing is a craft that can be learned. Therefore, any marketer can improve his or her writing skills by "working the right muscles." She writes, "You can learn to be a better writer - the same way you can learn algebra or Excel formulas or playing the ukulele. You need only a little knowledge, a lot of consistent effort, and good habits."

What's In the Book

Everybody Writes contains an introduction, 91 chapters and a section devoted to content tools. You read that right . . . 91 chapters. Ann chose to share her advice with readers in bite-sized portions. The shortest chapters don't fill even one full page, and most are only two to four pages long.

This approach makes Everybody Writes extremely reader-friendly. You can read the book in small increments without losing your way.

Ann organized the 91 tapas-sized chapters in six thematic parts.

  • Part I contains Ann's rules for how to write better and "hate writing less."
  • Part II discusses some basic rules of grammar and usage.
  • Part III focuses on the importance and use of brand voice.
  • Part IV digs into the importance and value of brand stories.
  • Part V spells out Ann's rules for effective and ethical publishing.
  • Part VI contains Ann's suggestions for how to create 20 common types of marketing content.
Part VII of the book contains descriptions of several content tools that can help marketing writers produce better work more efficiently.
You can use Amazon's "Look inside" function to view the complete table of contents of Everybody Writes.
My Favorite Parts
It should be evident by now that I'm a big fan of Everybody Writes. With this book, Ann Handley has created a resource that can help any marketer become a better writer. In addition, the book is easy to read, and Ann's effervescent personality shows in every page.
Everybody Writes is packed with valuable insights and suggestions from cover to cover, but two specific parts of the book stand out for me.
Chapter 7 describes the Writing GPS, a 17-step process that Ann recommends marketers use when creating "longer" content pieces. As the name suggests, Ann says you should view your writing process as a kind of global positioning system that will get you where you need to go.
Ann explains that seven of the steps in the Writing GPS framework are the "required minimum" for writing content. These are steps that most content writers already use in some form. The other ten steps "add magic and adventure to a basic journey." She writes, "We need a framework that goes beyond the basics so that you can see where a little extra effort or attention can make the magic happen."
My other favorite part of Everybody Writes is the description of "content tools" that Ann provides at the end of the book. These tools include writing tools, editing tools and word finders among others. I was already familiar with some of these tools, but several were entirely new to me. I've already experimented with some of these new-to-me tools, and I can tell they will be extremely useful.
A Final Word
When I'm creating the early drafts of any significant piece of content, I prefer to write by hand in a comfortable chair with a dictionary, a thesaurus and a copy of The Elements of Style within easy reach. From now on, I'm adding Everybody Writes to my small library of arms-length writing aids.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

An Extra "Pinch" of Human Effort Will Boost Demand Gen Results

Powerful marketing technologies enable B2B marketers to automate many communications with customers and prospects. But a "pinch" of additional human effort applied at the right time and place can boost demand generation results just like a tablespoon of bourbon elevates the taste of a Thanksgiving pecan pie.

There's no longer any doubt that technology has reshaped the practice of B2B marketing. Over the past two decades, the number of marketing technology tools has grown at an astounding rate, as Scott Brinker's annual marketing technology landscape graphics have clearly documented.

The capabilities of marketing technologies have also dramatically improved. With today's technology tools, B2B marketers can deliver marketing messages in a wide variety of formats, manage messaging in multiple communication channels, and automate many of their interactions with customers and prospects.

But despite the impressive capabilities of today's marketing technology applications, there are several "inflection points" in your relationship with a customer or prospect where hands-on human involvement can have a big impact on results. These inflection points are moments in your relationship with a customer or prospect when there is a ripe opportunity to move the relationship to a higher level.

One of these inflection points is when you are seeking to have the first person-to-person conversation with a potential buyer. Numerous studies have shown that many business buyers prefer to conduct early-stage research and information gathering on their own, and to delay conversations with vendor reps until later in their decision-making process. Overcoming this reluctance is challenging, but a relatively small dose of human involvement will increase your odds of success.

To illustrate how easy it can be to add a dash of human involvement, consider this example.

Below is the text of an email I recently received from a business development representative with a sales technology company. I received this message after I attended one of the company's webinars. I've altered the message to conceal the real names of the company and the BDR.


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 for 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"
I suspect the company used its marketing automation software to send this email to everyone who attended the webinar.
This isn't a bad follow-up message. It's concise and not overly promotional. But it didn't convince me to reply and schedule a telephone conversation. (Note:  The webinar itself was quite good. I didn't decide not to schedule the call because of a bad webinar experience.)
What Roger failed to do in this message is show me that he know some basic things about me and my business and suggest why a telephone conversation could be worthwhile.
If Roger had spent two or three minutes scanning my LinkedIn profile, he would have been able to get a basic understanding of what I do. My profile also contains links to the 188 articles I've published at LinkedIn. If Roger had spent another five minutes scanning the titles of those articles, he could have obtained a pretty good understanding of my professional 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. Something like this immediately after the bullet points:

"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."

This approach would have demonstrated that Roger had made an effort to get to know me and my business, and the suggested topic of the telephone conversation fits with my work.

Some readers may be thinking:  "There's no way we can have our business development reps spend even this much time on every prospect." That's not what I'm recommending. This approach should be reserved for prospects whose engagement with your company suggests that they may be ready to move the relationship to a higher level.

Such as prospects who have registered for and attended a webinar.

The important point here is that a small investment in hands-on human involvement, when strategically used, can produce a significant impact on demand generation results.

Image courtesy of Thomas Brueckner via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Why You Need More Than One Go-To-Market Strategy

The stereotypical view we have of B2B commerce is that it involves expensive and/or complex products or services, large buying groups and long buying cycles. But in reality, most B2B companies earn substantial revenue and profit from other types of sales. So, unless your company is an outlier, you need more than one go-to-market strategy in order to maximize revenue growth.

For nearly two decades, most of the research and other published content about B2B marketing has focused on "high consideration" purchases that involve multiple decision makers, complex decision-making processes and lengthy buying cycles.

For example, in the 2022 B2B Buyer Behavior Survey by Demand Gen Report:

  • Fifty-nine percent of the respondents said their average buying group consists of four or more people, and 23% said it consists of seven or more people.
  • More than half (55%) of the respondents said the length of their buying cycle has increased somewhat or increased significantly compared to the previous year.
In an earlier survey of sellers by Forrester, 94% of the respondents said they sell to buying groups of three or more people, and 38% said they sell to groups of ten or more people.
The reality is, high consideration purchases with large buying groups and long buying cycles don't represent all (or even most) B2B commerce. Many B2B purchases are routine, with buying decisions being made fairly quickly. In a 2021 survey of "industrial buyers" by Thomas, more than half (53%) of the respondents said they typically make buying decisions in less than a month.
While we don't have much current data about the distribution of B2B purchases across various types of buying scenarios, it's likely that substantial dollars are associated with scenarios that don't fit the high consideration stereotype.
The important point here is that many B2B companies derive significant revenue from more than one buying scenario. It's equally important to recognize that different buying scenarios require different go-to-market strategies to produce maximum success. Therefore, identifying the buying scenarios that are relevant for your company should be an integral part of your go-to-market planning.
The Buying Context Dictates the Buying Process
The characteristics of a B2B buying process are largely determined by the context in which a potential purchase is considered, and the dominant factor in the buying decision context is usually how much risk the potential buyers perceive is associated with the prospective purchase. The following diagram illustrates this relationship.

The top box in the diagram contains several factors that define the context in which a potential purchase will be evaluated. The common denominator across all these factors is that they will capture the level of risk the buyers associate with the prospective purchase.
For example, buyers will perceive a higher level of risk if they aren't familiar with a product or service, or if the acquisition and implementation of the product or service will require major internal changes.
The bottom box in the diagram describes the major attributes of the buying process. These include the size and composition of the buying group, the length of the buying cycle, the volume and nature of the activities performed in the buying process, and the use of formal procurement processes.
As the perceived risk associated with a purchase increases, buyers will take steps to mitigate that risk, and those steps largely dictate the attributes of the buying process that's used. As a result, the buying process used for an expensive and/or complex product or service, or for a purchase that will require major internal changes will usually involve several decision makers, include substantial research activities, and require a significant amount of time to finish.
In contrast, when a potential purchase has a low level of perceived risk, buyers will typically use a decision-making process that involves fewer people and less research, and they will make the buying decision faster.
Buying Scenarios That Don't Fit the Stereotype Now Matter More
The importance of buying scenarios that don't fit the high consideration stereotype can be seen in the expanding role of B2B e-commerce and, more specifically, in the rapid growth of online B2B marketplaces.
Online B2B marketplaces have become the fastest growing segment of a rapidly growing B2B e-commerce market. In 2021, B2B marketplace sales grew 7.3 times faster than overall B2B e-commerce sales.
Research has also shown that marketplaces and other e-commerce channels are no longer just for low-ticket purchases. In a 2021 survey by McKinsey, over three-fourths (77%) of business buyers said they are willing to spend $50,000 or more on a single purchase made via an e-commerce channel or other remote interactions, and over one-third (35%) are willing to spend $500,000 or more.
The bottom line is, you need a go-to-market strategy for all of the buying scenarios that can potentially produce significant revenue for your company.

Top image courtesy of Willi Heidelbach via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, November 6, 2022

[Research Round-Up] An Updated Look at B2B Content Marketing by CMI and MarketingProfs

Source:  Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs

(This month's Research Round-Up reviews some of the major findings from the latest content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. This research has been conducted annually for 13 years, and it provides valuable perspectives on B2B content marketing trends and practices.)

The Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs published the findings of their latest B2B content marketing survey a couple of weeks ago. The B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends:  Insights for 2023 report is based on data from 925 survey respondents. All respondents were affiliated with B2B or hybrid B2B/B2C companies, and all were involved in the content marketing efforts of their organization.

Respondents were drawn from a range of industries, company sizes and job roles.* Half of the respondents were concentrated in two industries - technology/IT/software/hardware and agencies (content marketing, advertising, digital, PR, etc.). In terms of company size, nearly half (47%) of the respondents were with companies having fewer than 100 employees. The survey was in the field during July 2022.

Here are some of the important findings from the new survey.

The Growing Importance of Content Marketing

The COVID-19 pandemic drove a step-change in the importance of content marketing at virtually all B2B companies. Throughout most of 2020 and 2021, in-person B2B marketing events were almost nonexistent, and business shutdowns and work from home policies made it impossible for companies to meet face to face with their customers and prospects.

As the pandemic has ebbed, it appears that the importance of content marketing has actually increased. Seventy-one percent of the respondents in the CMI/MarketingProfs survey said content marketing had become more important to their organization over the year preceding the survey.

A High Level of Success with Content Marketing Remains Elusive

Many marketers are still finding it difficult to achieve a high level of success with content marketing. Only 29% of the survey respondents said their content marketing efforts are extremely or very successful. Another 56% rated their content marketing efforts as moderately successful.

Marketers are Optimistic About Future Spending

Half of the respondents in the survey expect their content marketing budget to increase next year, and another 38% expect it to stay the same as in 2022. Fourteen percent expect their budget next year to increase by more than 9%, and 36% expect an increase of 1% to 9%.

These results echo the findings of the September 2022 edition of The CMO Survey. In that research, respondents said they expect their marketing budget to increase 8.8% (on average) over the 12 months following the survey.

Recent actions by the U.S. Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy in an effort to combat decades-high inflation have triggered rising fears that the U.S. economy will fall into a recession later this year or in 2023. Under these circumstances, marketers' expectations for increased budgets next year may be overly optimistic.

Maximizing the Benefits of Marketing Technology is Challenging

Having and using the right technology tools has become vital for effective content marketing, but the CMI/MarketingProfs survey revealed that most marketers have more work to do to maximize the potential benefits of marketing technologies.

Only 28% of the survey respondents said they have the right technology tools in place to effectively manage content marketing in their organization. Thirty percent of the respondents said they haven't acquired the right technology tools, and another 31% said they have the right technology but aren't using it to its full potential.

Recent research by Gartner produced similar results. In Gartner's 2022 Marketing Technology Survey, respondents reported that they are utilizing only 42% of the capabilities of their overall marketing technology "stack." This was down from 58% in the 2020 edition of the survey.

The CMI/MarketingProfs survey report argues that many B2B companies don't have the right marketing technologies - or aren't fully using what they have - because they built their tech stacks without first developing a sound strategy. There's little doubt that this has happened numerous times.

But marketers may also be underutilizing their technology tools because they are changing tools frequently and thus are often in the process of learning new technology applications. In the Martech Replacement Survey 2021 by MarTech, two-thirds (67%) of the survey respondents said they had replaced a marketing technology application in the year preceding the survey.

Most Companies are Measuring Content Performance, but Challenges Still Exist

Eighty-one percent of the respondents in the CMI/MarketingProfs survey said their company measures content performance. That was up from 75% in the 2021 edition of the survey. When asked what metrics they rely on most when evaluating content performance, the top three metrics identified were:

  1. Conversions (70% of respondents)
  2. Quality of leads (60%)
  3. Website engagement (57%)
The survey also asked participants about the challenges they face with measuring content performance. Four challenges were most frequently identified by survey respondents:
  1. Difficulty integrating/correlating data across multiple platforms (48% of respondents)
  2. Lack of organizational goal-setting KPIs to measure against (45%)
  3. Difficulty tying performance back to our goals (43%)
  4. Difficulty extracting insights from data (42%)
The annual research by CMI and MarketingProfs has provided valuable insights regarding content marketing trends and practices for the past 13 years. I recommend that you take the time to review the full survey report.

*CMI and MarketingProfs do not state that this survey is based on a representative sample of a specified target population (e.g. "B2B content marketers"). Therefore, the survey results may not reflect the views or practices of the overall population. In other words, the survey results can't be "projected" to the larger population.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Why a Cautious Approach to Marketing Analytics Makes Sense

Fueled by the exponential growth of online communications and commerce, marketers now have access to an immense amount of data regarding customers and potential buyers. Marketers have recognized that this vast sea of data can be a rich source of insights they can use to improve marketing performance and drive business growth.

The use of data in marketing has a long history, but it's been one of the hottest topics in marketing circles for the past several years. The benefits of "data-driven marketing" have been touted so frequently by so many industry analysts, consultants and technology providers that leveraging data is now viewed as essential for effective marketing. As a result, many marketers have made substantial investments in data collection and analytics capabilities.

The Real-World Use of Marketing Analytics

Despite the abundance of data and the increasing power and sophistication of data-related technologies, the actual use of data analytics in marketing isn't as pervasive as all the hype would suggest. In the September 2022 edition of The CMO Survey, respondents reported that marketing analytics is used in 48.9% of projects 

A survey of marketing analytics users conducted by Gartner earlier this year produced similar findings. In that research, respondents said marketing analytics influences just over half (53%) of marketing decisions.

When Gartner asked survey participants why analytics isn't used to support more marketing decisions, the two most frequently cited reasons related to data quality and management - "data are inconsistent across sources" and "data are difficult to access."

However, Gartner's survey also found that the practices of business decision makers are impacting the use of marketing analytics. For example, a third of the respondents said decision makers tend to use the output of analytics when it supports the action they've already decided to take and to ignore such output when it points to a contrary action. Hello, confirmation bias!

In addition, about a fourth of the survey respondents said decision makers don't review the information provided by marketing analytics, reject the recommendations provided by marketing analytics, or decide to rely on gut instincts to make their decisions.

Satisfaction With Marketing Analytics is Mixed

Research has also found that satisfaction with the impact of marketing analytics is mixed. For example, the September edition of The CMO Survey asked participants to rate the contribution of marketing analytics to company performance using a 7-point scale, where 1 = "Not at all" and 7 = "Very highly." 

Fifty-eight percent of the survey respondents rated the contribution of marketing analytics at 5 or above, indicating a relatively high level of satisfaction with the impact of analytics.

But in earlier research by Gartner, 54% of the surveyed senior marketing leaders - CMOs and VPs of marketing - said marketing analytics had not produced the impact on their organization they had expected.

Some industry analysts have suggested that underutilization and the perceived lack of business impact may cause some company leaders to reduce their investment in analytics capabilities. 

Commenting on the findings of Gartner's 2022 survey, Joseph Enever, a Senior Research Director in the Gartner marketing practice, said, "By 2023, Gartner expects 60% of CMOs will slash the size of their marketing analytics department in half because of failed promised improvements."

A Cautious Approach to Analytics May Be Wise

But is it altogether bad for marketing leaders to approach the use of marketing analytics with a healthy amount of caution? I don't think so, and here's why.

Marketing analytics can fail to deliver the expected benefits for several reasons. First, the hype surrounding the use of data and analytics in marketing has raised the expectations marketers and other business leaders to inflated levels. And second, marketers are still learning how to generate insights from data and analytics that will make meaningful contributions to business performance.

It's also becoming clear that the data most marketers are relying on, and how they are using that data, can produce "blind spots" that lead to less-than-expected results. An October 2020 article in the Journal of Marketing identified four of these potential blind spots.

  1. "First, marketing data may result in prioritizing short-term growth ahead of long-term growth."
  2. "Second, marketers may overly rely on historical, internal data at the expense of forward-looking, external growth opportunities."
  3. "Third, marketing data may create a preference for more easily measured digital touchpoints at the expense of offline channels."
  4. "Finally, marketers may rely on available data in lieu of representative or predictive data."
(Emphasis in original)
The fourth blind spot cited in the Journal of Marketing article alludes to a broader issue relating to the use of marketing analytics and also points to an important limitation of data-driven marketing.
As I noted earlier, marketers now have access to a huge amount of data regarding their customers and potential buyers. But the data most marketers are using to fuel analytics, while vast, is not comprehensive. It doesn't provide a complete picture of the wants, needs or mindset of a potential buyer. Therefore, the recommendations produced by analytics are not always as accurate as we often assume, and this partially explains why analytics doesn't always deliver the expected results.
Given this limitation, business leaders (including marketing leaders) should view the outputs of marketing analytics with a critical eye and not become overconfident in the accuracy of those outputs or the business impact they will produce.
Like all humans, we marketers have a strong tendency to base our decisions on the evidence that's readily available, and we tend to ignore the issue of what evidence may be missing. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, has a great way to describe this powerful human tendency. He uses the acronym WYSIATI, which stands for what you see is all there is
The vast amount of data at our fingertips and the seductive capabilities of marketing analytics technologies can easily lead us to believe that the data we collect and analyze is the only thing that matters, and that simply isn't true.
I'm not arguing that marketers should not use data, analytics and data-driven marketing. These tools and techniques can be immensely powerful. The key is to use them wisely and to remember they're neither complete nor perfect.

Image courtesy of Rick B via Flickr (Public Domain).

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Having a Plan Does NOT Mean You Have a Strategy

With the fourth quarter of the year now underway, many business and marketing leaders have already begun their planning for 2023. Over the next few weeks, they will be evaluating how well their business performed in 2022 and looking for ways to improve performance next year.

This annual ritual is usually called strategic planning, and the output of the process - in larger companies at least - is often a lengthy document that  describes what company leaders hope to accomplish in the coming year and what actions they intend to take. Most strategic plans also include a detailed description of where the company will invest in new or existing assets and capabilities.

In fact, the annual planning process is often dominated by budgeting issues. Roger Martin, the well-regarded strategy guru, has this to say about the predominant emphasis on budgeting:  "The vast majority of strategic plans that I have seen over 30 years of working in the strategy realm are simply budgets with lots of explanatory words attached."

The problem is, many business and marketing leaders confuse strategy with planning. They assume that the development of a business or marketing plan is equivalent to the formulation of a business or marketing strategy.

But in reality, formulating strategy and developing plans are fundamentally different tasks. They require leaders to address different issues, and more importantly, they demand different types of thinking.

Most Plans Have Three Components

In the course of my career, I've reviewed dozens of business and marketing plans, and I've found that most have three major components.

Goals/Objectives - Most business and marketing plans contain a set of goals and objectives that leaders hope to achieve in the coming year (or other planning period). Most of these goals and objectives are expressed in quantitative terms (increase revenue by X%, increase market share by X percentage points, etc.).

Initiatives - The second major component is a description of the initiatives that company leaders intend to implement (or continue) in pursuit of their identified goals and objectives. This is usually the longest part of a business or marketing plan. For example, a marketing plan for a B2B company will usually address several initiatives, such as:

  • What marketing campaigns or programs will be run
  • What marketing channels will be used
  • What events (trade shows, etc.) will be attended or conducted
  • What technology tools will be acquired, updated or replaced
Budgets - The third element of most business and marketing plans is a revenue projection and budget. As I indicated earlier, the annual planning process is often dominated by budgeting issues, so this part of the plan usually receives the greatest scrutiny from company leaders.
What Makes Strategy Different
The formulation of a business or marketing strategy requires leaders to address a very different set of issues from those covered in a typical planning process.
Strategy has been described in a variety of ways over the years. In Playing to Win:  How Strategy Really Works, A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin proposed a five-part framework that captures the essence of strategy very well. Lafley and Martin say that strategy consists of an integrated set of choices that answer five fundamental questions.
  1. What is our winning aspiration? (What does success look like?)
  2. Where will we play? (In which markets, with which types of customers, in what channels, in which product categories, and at which vertical stage or stages of the industry will we compete?)
  3. How will we win? (What will enable us "to create unique value and sustainably deliver that value to customers in a way that is distinct from [our] competitors?")
  4. What capabilities do we need to have in place in order to win in our chosen field of play?
  5. What management systems do we need to institute in order to create, review, communicate about, and manage our strategy?
While all of these questions are important, questions 2 and 3 ("Where will we play" and "How will we win?") are the two that are most crucial for developing an effective strategy. Lafley and Martin wrote, "These two choices, which are tightly bound up with one another, form the very heart of strategy and are the two most critical questions in strategy formulation."
Strategy Must Come First
Success in business and in marketing requires both a sound strategy and a thorough plan, but strategy formulation should always precede planning. That's because the plan should be based on (and designed to support) the choices that define the company's strategy.
For example, a company's strategy will include choices about what types of customers the company will seek to serve and how the company will create value for those target customers. It's impossible to develop a sensible marketing plan until those strategic choices have been made.
Having a strategy in place actually makes planning easier because the strategy provides "guardrails" for the planning process. The content of the strategy enables company leaders to more easily determine which initiatives are most essential for the strategy to work and therefore are most likely to produce the desired outcomes.

Image courtesy of Kyle Van Horn via Flicker (CC).

Sunday, October 16, 2022

[Book Review] A Behavioral Science Road Map for Marketers

Source:  Kogan Page

Data science and behavioral science have emerged as the twin pillars of marketing success in the twenty-first century. They have become, in essence, the yin and yang of consistent, high-performance marketing.

These disciplines are both essential because together they enable marketers to develop a more complete understanding of their customers and potential buyers. Data science (which includes the technologies that enable the collection and processing of data) can give marketers a rich picture of buyer behaviors. Behavioral science (primarily in the form of behavioral economics) provides a set of principles that enable marketers to better understand how people process information and make decisions. 

Data science has received a huge amount of attention in marketing circles over the past several years. For example, the use of artificial intelligence in marketing has recently been one of the hottest topics in the industry. The use of behavioral science in marketing has received somewhat less attention even though it has a longer history of use by marketers.

The reality is, marketers have been using principles of behavioral economics for years, albeit largely unwittingly. A 2010 article in McKinsey Quarterly put it this way:  "Long before behavioral economics had a name, marketers were using it. 'Three for the price of two' offers and extended-payment layaway plans became widespread because they worked - not because marketers had run scientific studies . . ."

A new book by Nancy Harhut - Using Behavioral Science in Marketing:  Drive Customer Action and Loyalty by Prompting Instinctive Responses (Kogan Page, 2022) - is a timely and much needed resource for marketers who want to leverage the power of human psychology in their marketing efforts.

Nancy Harhut is a seasoned marketing professional who has extensive experience with using behavioral science in marketing. In 2017, she cofounded HBT Marketing, a consultancy that specializes in applying principles of behavioral science to marketing. Prior to HBT, Nancy held senior creative management positions at several agencies, including Hill Holiday, Mullen and Digitas.

What's In the Book

Nancy Harhut refers to Using Behavioral Science in Marketing as a "hands-on handbook," and that is an apt description of her book. She clearly wrote Using Behavioral Science in Marketing primarily for hands-on marketing practitioners.

While Ms. Harhut provides clear and concise descriptions of the behavioral science principles covered in the book and includes ample citations to the research relating to those principles, her primary focus is on how marketers can apply those principles. She wrote, "In fact, you'll find I go short on the scientific research and longer on the way to use it."

Ms. Harhut devotes one chapter to an overview of the emotional and rational elements of human decision making. The remaining sixteen chapters discuss specific behavioral science principles that can be leveraged in marketing.

One of the strengths of the book is that it includes real-world examples and case studies in every chapter. Many chapters also include call-out boxes that describe "mistakes" that marketers can make by ignoring or misapplying behavioral science principles.

The book covers many of the most popular principles of behavioral science including loss aversion and the endowment effect (Chapter 2), the scarcity principle (Chapter 3), social proof (Chapter 5) and choice architecture and the status quo bias (Chapter 11).

However, Ms. Harhut also addresses principles that aren't discussed as frequently in the popular behavioral science literature. These include the consistency principle and the Zeigarnik effect (Chapter 8), automatic compliance triggers (Chapter 13) and literary devices that can increase the impact of marketing messaging (Chapter 14).

My Take

Using Behavioral Science in Marketing is a great resource for marketers who want to incorporate principles of behavioral science in their marketing programs, and it's a book that should be on every marketer's reading list.

Nancy Harhut's writing style is informal and engaging - which isn't surprising given her professional background - and she does an admirable job of making a complex topic accessible to marketers. However, it's vital for marketers to remember that while many behavioral science principles are relatively easy to understand, it takes skill and experience to use those principles effectively.

Ms. Harhut acknowledges this in the Introduction of the book. She describes the tactics discussed in the book as "easy to apply," but she also writes:  "These are proven approaches that you can take to influence your targets' decisions, to increase the likelihood they'll do exactly what you want them to. No, there is no magic bullet that will work for everyone, every time. But by skillfully applying the principles of human behavior to your marketing messages, you can gain a competitive advantage." (Emphasis added)

Human decision making is a complex phenomenon that encompasses multiple rational and non-rational elements. To achieve consistent marketing success, marketers must become adept at applying well-established principles of human psychology in their marketing efforts. Nancy Harhut's book is a valuable resource for marketers who want to better understand the basics of human thinking and behavior.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

[Research Round-Up] B2B Highlights from "The CMO Survey" - The Impact of Marketing Analytics and "Working from Home"

Source:  "The CMO Survey" (Christine Moorman, 2022)

(This month's Research Round-Up continues my review of selected B2B findings from the September 2022 edition of "The CMO Survey." In this post, I'm discussing what the survey found pertaining to the growth and impact of marketing analytics and "working from home" in B2B marketing.)

In last month's Research Round-Up post, I discussed some of the major findings in the latest edition of "The CMO Survey." "The CMO Survey" is directed by Dr. Christine Moorman and is sponsored by Deloitte LLP, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association.

This research has been conducted semi-annually since 2008, and it consistently provides a wealth of information about marketing trends, spending and practices. I provided a detailed description of the survey in my earlier post, so I won't repeat that here.

In this post, I'll cover two more findings from the survey that I found particularly interesting. As in my earlier post, I'll be discussing the responses of B2B marketers exclusively unless otherwise indicated. The percentages and other numerical values in this post are the mean of applicable survey responses, also unless otherwise indicated.

The Growth and Impact of Marketing Analytics

"The CMO Survey" asked participants several questions relating to their investment in, and use of, marketing analytics. Respondents with B2B product companies said they currently spend about 10% of their marketing budget on analytics, while those with B2B services companies said they devote about 7% of their budget to analytics.

Spending on marketing analytics appears poised to increase. Respondents with B2B product companies said they expect to spend just over 15% of their marketing budget on analytics in the next three years, while those respondents with B2B services companies expect to spend about 13% of their budget on analytics in the same time period.

The survey also asked participants to rate the contribution of marketing analytics to their company's performance using a 7-point scale, where 1 = "not at all" and 7 = "very highly." Just over two-thirds of the B2B marketer respondents (67.6% of respondents with B2B product companies and 67.3% of those with B2B services companies) rated the contribution of marketing analytics at 4 or above.

These findings indicate that the B2B survey respondents had a generally favorable opinion of marketing analytics. However, other research paints a different picture.

For example, a survey conducted earlier this year by Gartner found that analytics only influences 53% of marketing decisions. Commenting on the survey findings, Joseph Enever, a Senior Research Director in the Gartner marketing practice, said, "By 2023, Gartner expects 60% of CMOs will slash the size of their marketing analytics department in half because of failed promised improvements."

The Extent and Impact of "Working From Home"

One of the most profound effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on business organizations has been the proliferation of remote work - a/k/a "working from home."

When the pandemic began in early 2020, many companies quickly enabled most of their administrative employees to work exclusively from home. Nearly three years later, many companies are using a "hybrid" model of work. While the specifics vary, they typically require employees to be "in the office" some number of days each week, but allow them to work remotely on the other days.

Remote/hybrid work and "return to the office" have been hot topics in the business media for the past several months, but most of the coverage has focused on these topics at the company or industry level. "The CMO Survey" provides several important insights about the extent of remote work in marketing and the impact of working from home on the marketing function.

Remote work appears to be fairly widespread in B2B marketing. In the September edition of the survey, respondents with B2B product companies reported that more than half of the people in their marketing organization are working from home all or part of the time. Respondents with B2B services companies reported that 57% of their marketing employees are working remotely all the time, and 49% are working from home some of the time.

"The CMO Survey" also asked participants about the impact of remote work on five attributes of their marketing organization. The following table summarizes how survey respondents described the impacts.

As this table shows, most of the surveyed B2B marketers do not think remote work has made their marketing organization less productive. In fact, significant percentages of the respondents reported that working from home has improved their organization's productivity.
The table also shows, however, that B2B marketers are concerned that remote work is having a negative impact on the culture of their marketing organization and on their ability to properly socialize younger team members.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

What Marketing Leaders Should Do NOW to Prepare for a (Possible) Recession

B2B marketers have faced a parade of unprecedented challenges since COVID-19 reared its head in early 2020, and it now appears that 2023 will bring a new round of challenges. Faced with the highest level of inflation in four decades, the U.S. Federal Reserve has dramatically tightened monetary policy in an effort to cool an overheated economy.

The Fed's Open Market Committee has already raised the target federal funds interest rate 3 percentage points this year, and it's likely we'll see more interest rate hikes by the end of this year. The Fed is also reducing the size of its balance sheet, which effectively tightens financial conditions.

As a result of the Federal Reserve's restrictive monetary policy, fears that the U.S. economy is heading for a recession have increased substantially. Some economists fear that the Fed will tighten too much or keep the restrictive policy in effect for too long and thus fail to engineer a "soft landing" for the economy. Others believe that inflation will be so stubborn that the Fed will have no choice but to tighten monetary conditions so much that a recession becomes inevitable.

Growing fears of an economic downturn have dominated the business media for the past several months, and these concerns have also spawned a boatload of articles and blog posts about how companies should manage marketing in a recession. A Google search yesterday using the term marketing in a recession produced more than 4 million results even when I limited the search to the past three months.

Many of the recently published articles have emphasized the importance of continuing to market and advertise during a recession. This line of reasoning isn't new. In fact, multiple studies dating back to the early years of the last century have repeatedly shown that companies that maintain their spending on marketing and advertising during an economic downturn outperform those that slash their marketing and advertising budgets.

The results of these studies are compelling, but they are also counterintuitive. Most business leaders instinctively believe it's necessary to reduce spending in a recession. Smaller companies may have to reduce costs in order to conserve cash, and large, public companies often reduce expenses in an effort to preserve margins and earnings per share, both of which have a substantial impact on stock prices.

These are powerful motivations, and marketing leaders are unlikely to convince CEOs and other senior company leaders to maintain marketing budgets simply by citing the studies referred to above.

What Marketers Can Do Now

So, what should marketing leaders do now to prepare for the possibility of a recession? The first critical step is to conduct a thorough and objective assessment of how a recession would be likely to impact their company. This step is essential for two reasons.

First, recessions are not one-size-fits-all even at the macro level. They can differ substantially in both intensity and duration. For example, the "Great Recession of 2008-2009" is widely regarded as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930's. GDP fell as much as 2.6%, the national unemployment rate reached 10%, and the downturn lasted 18 months.

In contrast, the so-called "Dot-Com Recession of 2001" was relatively mild and short. GDP fell by 0.95%, the unemployment rate reached 5.5%, and it lasted only eight months.

No one can know, of course, what the next recession will be like. Many economists believe that if the U.S. economy goes into a recession later this year or in 2023, it's likely to be relatively mild.

Marketing leaders must also remember that a recession will not impact all types of businesses equally. This was dramatically illustrated during the COVID-19 recession of 2020. Public health measures instituted to combat the pandemic essentially cratered business conditions for companies in the travel and hospitality industry, while online retailers such as Amazon and other companies with strong ecommerce operations saw their revenue and profits grow explosively. The COVID-19 recession was unusual in several ways, but unequal impacts have been seen in virtually all recessions.

To assess how a recession could affect their company, marketing leaders must analyze how it is likely to impact their company's customers, and perhaps their customers' customers. This is a bottom-up analysis, but the specific approach will vary depending on the structure of the company's customer base.

If, for example, a company derives a significant percentage of its total revenue from a small number of large customers, marketing leaders should assess the impact of a recession on these customers individually. For smaller customers, the best approach is to group customers based on type of business and evaluate the potential impact of the recession on each of these customer groups or clusters.

The objective of this assessment is to enable marketing leaders to forecast how a potential recession would affect the demand for their company's products or services and thus their revenue. The critical point here is that this assessment needs to be done before company leaders make decisions about whether or how to change marketing strategy, tactics or spending during a recession.

Marketing during an economic downturn will never be easy. The best approach can require company leaders to go against their instincts and conventional business wisdom. Recessions can create substantial economic challenges for some companies, but recessions don't equally affect all types of businesses. For many companies, a recession is not the time to stop spending money on marketing, but it can be the time to change how marketing dollars are spent.

The best way to market during a recession will always be company specific, and the best way to discover the right approach to marketing for your company is to begin with a thorough and objective evaluation of how the recession is likely to impact your customers.

Image courtesy of via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Four Steps to Creating Stronger Customer Case Studies

Customer case studies have been a core part of the B2B content marketing mix for years. In the latest content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, 61% of the B2B respondents said they are using case studies in their content marketing program. 

But recent research also indicates that the value business buyers ascribe to case studies has declined. For example, in the 2022 Content Preferences Survey by Demand Gen Report, 40% of the surveyed business buyers identified case studies as one of the most valuable types of content they use when researching potential purchases. That was down from 72% of the respondents in the 2016 edition of the survey.

There are, I would argue, two main reasons for this decline. First, buyer expectations for all types of content have risen sharply in recent years, and case studies haven't kept pace with these rising expectations. I'm frequently asked by clients to evaluate their customer case studies, and many of those I've recently reviewed look much like the case studies I was reviewing ten or fifteen years ago.

The perceived value of case studies has also declined because business buyers have become more skeptical of all forms of vendor-produced content, and in many business sectors, they now have easy access to information they perceive to be more objective.

Building Better Case Studies

It's clear, therefore, that many B2B companies need to improve the quality of the customer case studies they create. A recent episode of Marketing Prof's Marketing Smarts podcast contains several valuable suggestions for making case studies more compelling and effective.

This episode features Bob Wiesner, a partner at the Artemis Partnership and the author of Winning Is Better:  The Journey to New Business Success. Artemis Partnership is a business development consulting firm, and Bob Wiesner has consulted on several billion dollars worth of business development projects in the advertising, audit, management consulting, law, pharmaceuticals, high tech and investment banking spaces.

In the podcast, Wiesner emphasized that a good case study is a story. He said, "Like any good story, they should have a plot, they should have a problem, a challenge, they should have a method for resolving it, they should have an outcome, they should have heroes and even villains."

Wiesner then discussed a four-step process for building stronger B2B case studies.

Step 1 - The starting point of a good case study is a clear articulation of the problem the customer was facing or the opportunity the customer wanted or needed to exploit. It's important to describe the problem or opportunity in some detail. How difficult or complex was it? What was the context it was occurring in? The objective is to describe the problem or opportunity in a way that a reader in a similar type of company can relate to it.

Step 2 - Describe the insights that your organization possesses that enabled you to understand the customer's problem or opportunity and design the right solution.

Step 3 - Describe the solution you provided to the customer. What did you do that solved the problem or took advantage of the opportunity?

Step 4 - Describe the actual business results or outcomes your solution produced for the customer in quantitative terms. In other words, use actual customer data to describe the results. Acquiring this type of data will be much easier if you and the customer agree on how the success of your solution will be measured at the beginning of the project.

My Take

The Marketing Profs podcast contains valuable information, and I encourage you to listen to the podcast and/or read the accompanying transcript. However, I disagree somewhat with one of Wiesner's points.

In the second step of Wiesner's case study development process, he argues that companies should describe their expertise. He said, "What you want to do instead is write a case study that says we understood the nature of this villain, of this problem in this way, we had this wisdom, this insight, this experience. We were able to apply that insight to the problem so that we (and only we) could actually find the right solution to it."

In my view, this isn't the right approach in most circumstances. The mistake many companies make when creating case studies is to cast themselves, rather than their customer, as the "hero" of their case studies.

The story line of many case studies resembles the plot of an old silent movie where the villain ties a helpless damsel (the customer) to railroad tracks, and the hero (the selling company) rides in at the last minute to rescue the damsel in distress from an oncoming train.

An effective case study will lead readers to identify with the customer. You want readers to vicariously experience the pain the customer was feeling - which Wiesner also advocates - and with the success the customer achieved. In essence, you want readers to finish the case study believing they can achieve similar success. When you make your company the hero of your case studies, you're asking readers to identify with your company, not with the customer.

An outstanding case study will speak from the customer's perspective. It will tell the customer's story and describe what the customer was able to accomplish with, of course, help from your solution. So, when you're preparing a case study, you can give your company a strong supporting role, but always let your customer be the star.

One final word about case studies. When I began preparing case studies for clients two decades ago, the conventional wisdom was that case studies should be short, usually no more than 1-2 pages. But most buyers want to use case studies to validate their purchase decision. And this means that a case study needs to include enough detail to describe the customer's business situation and experience with your product or service in a meaningful way.

So, B2B marketers should ignore the old rules about case study length. A case study should be as long as it needs to be to tell the customer's story in a compelling way.

Image courtesy of Jernej Furman via Flickr (CC).

Sunday, September 18, 2022

[Research Round-Up] B2B Highlights from "The CMO Survey" - Part 1

Source:  "The CMO Survey" (Christine Moorman, 2022)

(This month's Research Round-Up is devoted entirely to the September 2022 edition of "The CMO Survey." This research has been conducted semi-annually since 2008, and it consistently provides a wealth of valuable information about marketing trends, spending and practices.)

The findings of the latest edition of "The CMO Survey" were released earlier this month. "The CMO Survey" is directed by Dr. Christine Moorman and is sponsored by Deloitte LLP, Duke University's Fuqua School of Business and the American Marketing Association.

The September 2022 survey results are based on responses from 273 senior marketing leaders at for-profit companies based in the United States. Over two-thirds (68.4%) of the respondents were affiliated with B2B companies, and 95.6% were VP-level or above. The survey was in the field from July 12 - August 4, 2022.

Dr. Moorman and her colleagues typically produce three reports for each edition of the survey.

  • "Highlights and Insights Report" - This is a relatively brief and graphically-rich report that provides mostly overall survey results, along with an analysis of those results and major marketing trends.
  • "Topline Report" - This report provides response data at the aggregate level for all survey questions.
  • "Firm and Industry Breakout Report" - This report provides response data by four primary industry sectors (B2B product companies, B2B services companies, B2C product companies and B2C services companies), company size, and volume of internet sales. This report is quite lengthy, but it provides the most detailed view of the survey data.
In this post, I'll be discussing the responses of B2B marketers exclusively, unless otherwise indicated. The percentages and other numerical values in this post are the mean of applicable survey responses, also unless otherwise indicated.
Declining Economic Optimism
For the past several years, "The CMO Survey" has asked participants about their level of optimism regarding the overall economic environment. When the September survey was in the field, two economic issues were top-of-mind for most business and marketing leaders.
Inflation had been rising for several months and had reached a four-decade high in the spring of this year. To combat this inflation, the U.S. Federal Reserve had begun tightening monetary policy and had signaled that monetary policy would probably need to be restrictive for an extended period of time. As a result, fears that the U.S. economy is heading for a recession had increased substantially.
Under these circumstances, it shouldn't be surprising that B2B marketers have become less optimistic about the state of the economy. The survey asked participants to rate their level of optimism regarding the overall U.S. economy on a 100-point scale, with "0" being least optimistic and "100" being most optimistic. The following chart shows how B2B marketers rated their optimism in the five surveys conducted since June 2020.

As this chart shows, B2B marketer optimism reached a post-pandemic high in the August 2021 survey and has been slowly declining since.
The September survey also asked participants if they were more or less optimistic about the overall U.S. economy compared to the previous quarter. The following table shows how B2B marketers responded.

In the February 2022 survey, only 41.0% of respondents from B2B product companies, and 39.1% of those with B2B services companies said they were less optimistic about the U.S. economy compared to the previous quarter.
Marketing Spending Expectations
Perhaps because of their lower expectations regarding the performance of the economy, B2B marketers responding to "The CMO Survey" generally expect the growth of their marketing spending to slow or be flat in the coming year, although the survey revealed a notable difference between the views of marketers at B2B product companies and those at B2B services companies.
The survey asked participants by what percent their marketing spending had changed in the prior 12 months and by what percent they expected their spending to change in the next 12 months (relative to the prior 12 months). The following table shows how the B2B survey respondents answered these questions.

As the table shows, marketers at B2B product companies expect the growth of their marketing spending to slow substantially over the coming year (compared to the previous 12 months), while marketers at B2B services companies expect their spending to continue growing at about the same rate.
Changes in consumer spending patterns may partially explain these differing growth expectations. During the early part of the pandemic, public health measures caused consumer demand for many services (travel, dining out, etc.) to decline sharply. Many consumers responded by increasing their purchases of products.
As the impacts of COVID-19 began to wane, the pent-up demand for vacation travel, eating out and many other services was released. As a result, consumer spending on services has increased substantially over the past year or so, while spending on many types of products has slowed.
These changes in consumer spending patterns eventually impact the entire product/service value chain and ultimately affect the business conditions that B2B companies are facing.
In next month's Research Round-Up post, I'll discuss some of the other major findings from the September edition of "The CMO Survey."