Brand Authenticity – Crafted or Contrived

Companies are striving to connect with their customers by embracing the special and unique. Brands want to emphasize an understanding of their audience and their personal connection with the customer. Unfortunately, managing perception can be tricky, especially if consumers see these initiatives as thinly veiled manipulation.

Content Isn’t Concrete

Scan the mass of content marketing conversations and resources and you’ll find plenty of information about how to create, curate, distribute and track content. The tone of the collective dialogue can give the sense that “content” is a generic raw material, a basic, non-descript, concrete we pour into whatever content marketing form we need in the moment. Content isn’t concrete.

When we’re in the throes of managing all the many moving parts of a content marketing program we can lose sight of how the details of each piece support the larger idea. The “brand story” your team painstakingly developed can seem like a vague and distant memory. The management of an active content marketing program can be like having a tiger by the tail, you’re putting all your effort into just hanging on. You’re not thinking about the “narrative”, or the tiger’s motivation and backstory.

How do we manage feeding the content marketing beast and making sure each piece of content we create has a clear message AND connects to a cohesive whole?

Clarify your story – It’s impossible to create content that effectively supports a fuzzy story. Spend the time to crystalize your messaging. Do it with your internal team, hire an agency or consultant or use any of the million available resources to help with this. Clear messaging is your touchstone.

Who’s it for? – Basic stuff, but really think about who your content will work for. There will be content that works reasonably well across all audiences and some will need to be focused on specific market segments or profiles. All-purpose content has a place, but like many things billed as all-purpose, you may get something that is broadly mediocre instead of narrowly effective.

Battle conditions – “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” You’ve no doubt heard some variation of this famous quote. In the heat of managing an active content marketing program your well-documented, defined plan can go right out the window. Leave capacity to respond to the ad hoc program changes, mandates from the corner office or in-the-moment opportunities.

Hit the pause button – Before you hit publish, send or post take a minute to bump your content against your true north messaging. Ideally this mapping should have happened at the onset, but do that last check and make sure things ring true. You may be inspired to frame what you publish slightly differently after reminding yourself how it fits into the big picture.

Each and every piece of content you create, or curate, has it’s own unique characteristics and should tie to the larger story. When the content in content marketing is strong, we see the full potential of medium and message working together. In the end we all love a good, well-constructed story. You’ll need a lot more than just concrete to build it.

Learn more about our vision for marketing experience designdownload our vision document

How To Sell Me A Lot Of Marketing Software

Marketing Software - Ben Franklin I’m evaluating marketing software vendors.  If you’ve been through a vendor search and evaluation you know how time consuming, tedious, and frustrating the process can be.  In the spirit of helpfulness and at the risk of tipping my hand to any prospective vendor who may read this, I’m going to share a few tips on how to land me as a customer (or maybe not).  Consider this a little “Tough Love” for marketing technology sales.  A companion post for “How To Be A Good Prospect” is likely to follow so everyone will get their moment in the sun.  All in good fun.

Take your time responding to my initial inquiry – I know you’re busy and being too responsive may make it appear you actually want my business.  Be coy, take your time, and don’t seem overly anxious.

Hide your number – If I go “old-school” and try to call your company, be sure to bury your phone number deep, deep in your website or just remove the number altogether.  Make me work for it.  If by chance I persist and find your number, do not under any circumstances provide a way for me to be connected to a live person.  Voice mail should be good enough for everyone.

Be crazy busy – Provide only one potential meeting time, preferably earlier than 5:30am or after 7pm in my time zone; and never, ever talk to me in the same week as my initial contact.

Be late, or better yet, no-show for our meeting.  Let’s face it; your time is what’s important in this equation.  I should feel lucky you’ve agreed to meet with me at all.  Showing up on time is so old-fashioned anyway.

Don’t learn anything about my company – Understanding anything about how I might use your technology in my business is only going to slow this whole thing down.  It really doesn’t matter  what industry we’re in, whether we’re B2B, B2C, services or product oriented.  Just do your off the rack, vanilla pitch and I’m good.

Assume I’m a simpleton… – Explain things to me like I’m in first grade.  If you’ve honored my request to stay uninformed about my business, you’re likely unaware of how much or how little I know about technology.  A slow cadence and condescending tone works magic.

or assume I’m a rocket scientist – If simple doesn’t work you can bring a member of your “technical team” to dive into a sea of acronyms, jargon and otherwise unintelligible technospeak.

Stop for nothing – Our conversation should be more soliloquy where you speak continuously for the full duration of our meeting.

Avoid my questions – In the event I do get a question in somehow, do not answer the question directly.  The skillful deflection and redirection of my question to align with your canned PowerPoint presentation will score big points with me.  Ideally, I should be left with the odd sensation that my question received a response while I still end up without the information I needed.

Price is unimportant – When pressed for pricing details, provide meaningless price ranges.  “Our solution is typically between $1 and $1,000,000 depending on a number of variables.”  Applying the “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” tone is also a nice touch.

Be a closer – Ignore anything I have shared about my evaluation and buying process.  Always be closing, preferably as aggressively as possible.

Don’t sweat your follow-up – There is no information I could request that is likely to have any real bearing on our ultimate decision so don’t waste your time jamming up my inbox with anything I may have asked for.

There you have it vendors, the keys to success and a surefire way to sell me a lot of marketing software.

NOTE : If the snark factor was a little high on this post, my apologies.  There are many vendors I’ve encountered who have NOT followed the aforementioned suggestions.  To those vendors, thank you.  You know who you are.

Collaboration Between IT and Marketing: IT, Marketing Friend or Foe?

When it comes to technology, do your marketing projects handle like a sports car or a tank? They say you need the right tool for the job, but when it comes to marketing, you typically want to move as quickly as possible. But as marketers, we find ourselves puzzled by how long it takes to get results from our IT counterparts.

In today’s consumer-driven, cloud-based world, it’s easier than ever to bypass IT and launch our own technology initiatives – especially in smaller companies. However, in larger organizations, marketers may find it difficult or impossible to get things done without the help and support of their nerdy, back-office co-workers.

Making sense of IT’s motives

Understanding how the typical IT person thinks will go a long way to helping you make the case for their assistance on your next marketing initiative.

IT has been conditioned to think about things in terms of complexity and scale

In larger organizations, IT performance is measured in terms of up-time, availability, performance, integration and support. IT professionals don’t win points for breaking speed records, unless their systems function flawlessly. In fact, IT best practices call for extra procedures that can slow implementation times considerably; It takes extra time to build redundant systems, document procedures and conduct quality assurance testing.

IT thinks your new cloud-based <insert marketing vendor solution here> is a toy.

Why? Because they’ve spent years developing a massive internal system that could probably do things just as well. Really? Probably not, but IT wants to believe it.

But wait – your new marketing vendor claims they can integrate with all your systems with little or no effort. Is that true? What would you say if you were in charge of marketing for that vendor?

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The key here is to understand that IT may have an interest in maintaining or adapting its own systems instead of adding yet another solution to the stack.

Yes – there is an element of not-invented-here at work, but IT people are pragmatic and they can be persuaded if marketers are prepared to work with them.

Is your vendor focused on marketers or IT?

IT people know the advantages and pitfalls of integrating their systems with cloud-based solutions. However, they might have their own criteria for vendor selection that differ from yours. In categories like business intelligence and analytics, some vendors focus squarely on the business executive, extolling the simplicity of their products. Others focus only on developer APIs and IT metrics.

A savvy vendor knows their audience, but pivots their message to address the unique concerns of each stakeholder in the sales process. Make sure your vendor can speak effectively to IT before you arrange a meeting.

IT / Marketing Partnership = Success

If you force your vendor/solution on IT, you are doomed to fail. Instead, engage IT as a partner in the selection process. By involving IT before you choose a vendor/solution, you achieve two important things:

[list-ul type=”check”]

[li-row]Stroke their ego – IT is used to being the last to know. Instead, treat IT as a peer rather than a contractor and you will start to build a long-term partnership.[/li-row]

[li-row]Force some skin in the game – when IT commits to help with the selection of a vendor/solution, they are on the hook for results. By contrast, if you force your preferred vendor/solution on IT, they will resist.[/li-row]

[/list-ul]

If IT still insists on using its own systems to solve a problem – and – you don’t feel the approach will be successful, you still have options.

Start by understanding the capabilities (and possible limitations) of IT’s preferred solution. Be prepared to isolate functionality and focus on attributes you will need to accomplish your goals.

Instead of thinking in terms of vendors and software, focus on business requirements and challenge IT to come up with a solution that delivers the goods.

Consider IT’s perspective:

Marketing has a reputation for chasing the shiny objects and IT will be wondering if this is the real deal or just a flight of fancy. Once they realize you are serious, they will be asking the following questions:

[list-ul type=”minus”]

[li-row]Why don’t we just build this internally?[/li-row]
[li-row]How will we integrate this with our other systems?[/li-row]
[li-row]Who will support this?[/li-row]
[li-row]How we will this affect performance?[/li-row]

[/list-ul]

Re-frame the conversation

Shift the conversation slightly by phrasing the same questions a bit differently:

[list-ul type=”plus”]

[li-row]What is the best way to solve this business problem?[/li-row]
[li-row]What kinds of information and data will this project require? Will we need real-time data or are their other alternatives?[/li-row]
[li-row]Does this require IT support or can marketing manage on its own? How can we minimize the impact on IT?[/li-row]
[li-row]How do we measure success together?[/li-row]

[/list-ul]

Conclusion

Digital marketing is data driven and the technical burden on marketing is growing every day. Marketers will either need to hire their own technical resources or partner with the IT teams that manage the company’s information systems. Consider the following statistics*:

[list-ul type=”arrow”]

[li-row]16% of marketers say that controlling technology is the most significant challenge they face in 2013.[/li-row]
[li-row]18% of marketers say finding tools to accurately measure ROI is a major challenge of their technology systems.[/li-row]
[li-row]31% of marketers in enterprise companies indicate a lack of support from their IT teams.[/li-row]
[li-row]Despite the impending big data influx, just 15% of marketers’ say their top tech concern is managing all their data.[/li-row]

[/list-ul]

Let’s face it: Marketers need IT. Improving collaboration between IT and Marketing will take some work, but it will improve your ability to execute on digital marketing initiatives. In our recent post: The Chief Digital Officer, Doomed or Destiny, we talk about the potential marginalization of the CMO and CIO. This marginalization comes as a result of organizational silos that prevent collaboration and innovation. Successful marketers will need to understand and collaborate with IT or risk being left behind.

* 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report

The Chief Digital Officer. Doomed or Destiny?

Chief Digital Officer Graphic

If you haven’t heard, there’s a new title making its way to a C-suite near you: Chief Digital Officer.  I’m certainly not breaking this news, MIT, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and an array of others have covered the emergence of the CDO in the last few months.  There’s already a Chief Digital Officer Summit and a long and growing list of respected organizations who’ve made the jump and hired CDOs.  The Chief Digital Officer is here.  Whether the CDO is here to stay is another question.

The business world is still getting its collective head around the idea of a CDO with perspectives ranging from overtly negative to extremely bullish.  A Russell Reynolds Associates piece states  “In many cases, the CDO will be the senior executive handling the fastest growing revenue streams within the business or will be the executive holding the keys to the company’s future—placing him or her squarely in line to replace the CEO.”  Sounds like a position a few people might be interested in.

Whether or not you’re a believer in the CDO role, it’s clear we are in a state of massive transition and accelerated organizational evolution.  Gone are the days of neatly parsing functional roles and responsibilities and managing an organization in old-school silos.  The modern business fabric should be tightly-woven, highly connected and effectively blended.  The CDO role could be a catalyst to create more collaborative, multidimensional businesses if that isn’t happening organically, or the role could be quickly marginalized and tossed on the “great idea, didn’t quite work the way we thought” heap.

While we wait to see how things evolve, I see a handful of reasons a CDO might be a fantastic idea:

Hybrid power – Whether it’s a marketing-minded technologist or a technology-minded marketer we need leaders with a hybrid skill set.  To some extent this is happening now where marketers are increasingly tech-savvy and a surprising number of IT-professionals are becoming much more knowledgeable about marketing.  Still a long way to go on both sides of that equation so a CDO with skills in both areas would be valuable.

Independent perspective – A CDO may be in a position to provide counsel or make key decisions without the innate organizational biases of their CIO/CMO counterparts.  It may be naive to think a member of any organization is without bias and not impacted by political factors, but a new role could disrupt entrenched structures and allow new approaches and ideas to take hold.

Holistic thinking – In Marketing and IT we often gravitate to thinking about things in terms of technologies, tools, campaigns, and programs.  Even when thinking strategically there seems to be a natural inclination to slide into these more tactical or narrowly focused frames.  A CDO might be in a position to think more holistically.

And there are of course a handful of reasons a Chief Digital Officer might not work well:

Not a one size fits all – Both the definition of the CDO role as well as unique organizational dynamics will define the success or failure of the CDO.  These definitions and dynamics will vary wildly as will the success rate of the CDO.  Adjusting to a new member of an executive team could be a bumpy transition even where the CDO role and individual in that position are seen as significant contributors.

CIO/CMO marginalization – How will current CIO/CMO’s react to a CDO?  Will this new position be seen as a valuable resource or perceived as a wedge driving them further from the CEO and hijacking their budgets, talent, and internal influence?  It’s easy to think about the insertion of the CDO rationally without considering the human reality of how existing leadership may react.  A likely reality is many CIO/CMOs may not be wild about the impact of a CDO.  How would you feel?

Collaborative culture – Whether it’s a CDO leading the way or the existing CIO/CMO team the key to digital success will be organizational alignment, shared objectives and a collaborative culture.  Businesses who understand this will ultimately get where they need to go.  Businesses who don’t will end up crashed on the rocks, regardless of which C-title is running the show.  A CDO in the wrong culture will have a tough path to success.

Overall organizational alignment, shared vision, and objectives is the CEO’s job.  I personally believe the CEO needs to be the CDO.  Who better than the CEO to create and communicate a vision and organizational framework coupled with a smart, empowered team to execute around that structure?  Stepping back a bit, the CDO role is only a little piece of the bigger story of how businesses will adapt to the convergence of tools, technologies, and consumer expectations in an always-on, multi-platform world.  The Chief Digital Officer experiment is underway.

photo credit: JD Hancock via photopin cc

Augmented Reality Check

Augmented Reality World Image

I was fortunate to attend the Augmented World Expo earlier this week and I think I can say my reality has been augmented in a very positive way.  The event itself was very well run (Great job to Ori Inbar and his team) with an impressive roster of presenters, vendors and AR experts.  For me this event crystallized many of my thoughts about AR and opened my eyes to an infinite number of possibilities.  We are currently working on a research project for this Fall which will dig into AR in more detail and explore how marketers can begin thinking about tapping the amazing potential of this new set of capabilities.  In the interim a few quick thoughts related to Augmented Reality for marketers:

AR is amazing!  The experiences and capabilities available right now, today, are incredible.  I could fill an entire blog post with links to demonstrations of AR that showcase the whiz-bang, oooh, aaaah impact of well executed AR campaigns.  With great restraint I’m including a handful of links to provide a flavor of what’s possible.  This truly only scratches the surface.

No shortage of Hype.  Given the nature of AR and the new experiences it can provide the hype factor around this new bright, shiny object is high.  I contributed to the hype myself with the initial portion of this post.  Reliable data about the industry and AR impact on marketing campaign performance is tough to find at this early stage.  Our upcoming report will include a sampling of metrics, but right now there is at best a loose connection back to specific marketing ROI in most cases.  If you’re looking into AR from a marketing perspective, ask a lot of questions and make sure you push for clarity on what vendors can actually provide, which pieces they don’t offer and what success stories they have in your space.

AR is in it’s Wild West phase.  It’s a little chaotic, there’s a ton of energy, talent and potential but also a lot to sort through.  Being involved with AR at this early stage is likely to be a little bumpy, but an exciting ride.

The future is now.  It’s not big news we’re living in a mobile, multi-platform, always-on world.   AR is in many ways just an extension of this mobile lifestyle.  As devices continue to become more pervasive and seamlessly integrated into our lives the more valuable and effective AR-style marketing programs will become.  If you’re in marketing you WILL be involved in AR marketing in some shape or form sooner than you think.

So much more to cover on Augmented Reality for marketers, much of it to be included in our upcoming report.  The YouTube channel for Augmented Reality Expo is worth some time, a solid collection of interviews with many of the key players in the space.  Learn what you can, AR is here to stay.