Social Media and ROI: Strange Bedfellows, or a Match Made in Heaven?

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock during the past few years, you’ve noticed that social media has become the new norm in our lives, both personal and professional. For businesses large and small, what was initially a curiosity has rapidly emerged as a highly effective tool for interacting with their customers and prospects. … As interest and investment in social media continue to grow, it’s inevitable that corporate stakeholders and bean counters across corporate America will begin to clamor for marketers to demonstrate ROI …

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock the past few years, you’ve noticed that Social Media has become the new norm in our lives, both personal and professional. For businesses large and small, what was initially a curiosity has rapidly emerged as a highly effective tool for interacting with their customers and prospects. In fact, according to Emil Protalinski in an article on ZDNet.com, a whopping 68 percent of small businesses say they use Facebook as their main marketing tool. Wow!

As interest and investment in social media continue to grow, it’s inevitable that corporate stakeholders and bean counters across corporate America will begin to clamor for marketers to demonstrate ROI for their firm’s social media activities. And believe me, Social Media spending will most certainly continue to grow. According to an article on CMOSurvey.com, in the next five years, marketers can expect to spend 19.5 percent of their budgets on social media, which is almost three times more than the current level. That’s a lot of shekels. This year alone, in fact, marketers are already spending 10.8 percent of their budgets on it.

With increased budgets will undoubtedly come increased scrutiny. But as is the case with most things, the devil is in the details, and measuring social media success is much easier said than done. Unlike most marketing activities, you see, which can be traced back to number of leads generated, customers acquired or sales made, Social Media KPIs are anything but clear cut.

Think about it for a moment. How much is a Facebook “Like” worth, anyway? How much would you pay to get a new follower or to be mentioned on Twitter? How much does each LinkedIn connection contribute to your company’s bottom line? Given this environment, it’s not a big surprise that there are some who simply shrug their shoulders and say that trying to pin ROI to Social Media is a complete waste of time. I don’t necessarily belong to that school of thought, but I do think that Social Media is an entirely new beast that needs to be viewed in a manner distinct from other places marketers spend their money.

Fact is, social media is not simply another advertising channel with a specific budget that can be attributed to a specific group of sales or other traditional marketing KPIs. This is because social media can be used by a firm for many different activities by different departments, many of which are not exactly under marketing’s purview or control.

For the customer service team, using Social CRM technologies and listening platforms, Social Media is an incredible tool that can be used to listen to and engage with customers on the Web, supplementing their phone bank and other customer service activities. For the sales team, Social Media presents yet another source of red-hot leads to be contacted—prospects that have expressed interest in their firm’s products or services and can be followed up on in real time. For marketers, social media may play a role in the department’s content marketing strategy, enabling them to disseminate awesome content to a large base of customers and prospects at minimal cost. And for a PR department, social media represents a unique way to broadcast company press and news releases to the press and public in a continuous feedback loop.

But as a direct marketer by trade, I must admit that I have a difficult time accepting that any activity run by the marketing department can avoid the inevitable ROI discussion. Sure, most ROI calculations I’ve seen in run-of-the-mill PowerPoints are 50 percent math 50 percent BS … I should know because I’ve made quite a few of them in my day! But that being said, I do think we’ll eventually get there. And I’m not alone: A recent study published by Mediabistro demonstrated that 64 percent of executives believe that social marketing will eventually produce a legitimate return on investment for their firms.

In many ways, this lack of clarity is a result of Social Media still being in its infancy to a large extent, and regarding ROI we’ve still got a ways to go. So what do I think the answer will ultimately be? I’m not completely sure, but let me leave you with this.

Because Social Media is being used by different departments with different budgets for different things, when evaluating social media a firm needs to grasp a firm understanding of how Social Media is being used within the organization. For each department, success will need to be measured and tracked differently based on performance metrics that are relevant to stakeholders in each of those departments. Sales teams, for example, should use metrics relevant to salespeople, such as number of leads generated, conversion rate on those leads and so on. Customer service departments, not surprisingly, operate on entirely different systems and, therefore, need to evaluate Social Media according to an entirely differ set of KPIs. Ultimately, each department’s success measurements for social media need to be based on their specific goals and metrics.

Okay, I’m out of space so I’ll leave it there for now. Have you tried to work out KPIs or perform ROI calculations for your Social Media program? If so, I’d love to see what you’ve come up with, so let me know in your comments.

—Rio

6 Steps to Building the Perfect Landing Page

Today, I’ve decided to go back to basics. And in the world of direct response marketing, nothing is more basic than the landing page. Having worked in the industry for many years, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that no campaign can succeed without a Landing Page that converts. This is an indisputable fact. Try launching an email or direct mail campaign with a kick-ass creative that sends people back to the homepage of your wesbsite and see what happens. Inevitably, almost all of your hard-fought leads will evaporate into cyberspace, lost forever, destroying any chance of achieving ROI.

Today I’ve decided to go back to basics. And in the world of direct response marketing, nothing is more basic than the landing page. Having worked in the industry for many years, I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that no campaign can succeed without a landing page that converts. This is an indisputable fact. Try launching an email or direct mail campaign with a kick-ass creative that sends people back to the homepage of your wesbsite and see what happens. Inevitably, almost all of your hard-fought leads will evaporate into cyberspace, lost forever, destroying any chance of achieving ROI.

Don’t believe me? Want to know how big of a difference a kick-ass landing page makes? Huge. Think about it like this. I’ve seen top-performing landing pages convert upwards of 10 percent to 20 percent of visitors into leads or sales. By contrast, a generic Contact Us page on a plain-vanilla website will typically convert anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent. I’ll save you the time by doing the math for you: This means you’ll covert anywhere from three to 20 times more visitors. Do those numbers turn your head? If so, read on for some tips on how to build a landing page that kicks butt.

  1. KISS, or Keep It Simple Stupid—Generally, when it comes to landing pages less is more. Essentially, keeping visitors focused on the key message is the name of the game. This means eliminating all extraneous details not directly related to the campaign at hand. Links to other pages? Delete them. Fancy and distracting design. Change it. Lots of extra content about your firm? Gone.
  2. Headline—When visitors arrive on your landing page, you’ve got at most 15 seconds (and probably a lot less) to grab their attention. And nothing grabs someone’s attention better than a catchy and hard-hitting headline. According to Jeff Ginsberg (@mktgexperiments), landing page headlines should “emphasize what the customer gets rather than does and be customer-focused.” Couldn’t agree more. If you’re new to the headline game, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Check out successful campaigns and see what they used. Get a sense of what other marketers are doing, and remember that imitation is sometimes the sincerest form of flattery.
  3. Call-to-action—If you spent your hard-earned marketing bucks to drive someone to your landing page in the first place, bet your bottom dollar it’s because you want them to do something—express interest in your products or services by filling out a Web form, buy your product by whipping out a credit card and clicking submit on a shopping cart, etc. With that in mind, make sure your landing page contains a clear, concise and effective call-to-action that encourages the prospect to follow through and close the loop.
  4. Form—Unless you’re running a branding campaign—in which case you wouldn’t even need a landing page, right?—at the end of the user-engagement process you want to visitor to fill out some sort of Web form. Call it what you will—lead form, shopping cart and so on—but the act of filling out or not filling out this one vital page element is what will ultimately be used as a Key (if not the Key) Performance Indicator (KPI) that determines how well your campaign performed. When it comes to Web forms, the shorter the better. Fact is, nothing turns off or scares away Web visitors more than a long and imposing Web form. So make it short, sweet and to the point. Oh, and if possible, using technology such as Personalized URLs (PURLs) that pre-fills as many of the form fields as possible. Remember, the less there is to do, the greater the chance it gets filled out in the first place.
  5. Advertise security—Nobody likes to submit information on a website they don’t trust. In other words, flaunt your security credentials. If your page is secure and encrypted (SSL), make sure the security certificate is displayed prominently on the landing page. And if there are other security features your firm follows, darn right you should display them, too.
  6. Build credibility—Similarly to the last point, prospects fill out forms on landing pages because they trust the vendor. This means that it’s your job to tell your brand’s story in a clear, concise and compelling manner. The trick to this point is that because we’re talking about a landing page, you don’t have too much real estate in which to tell your story. In other words, talk about what make your firms and its products unique, but don’t waste too much space or verbiage doing so. If you want to tell a customer testimonial or testimonials, make them short and to the point.

Okay, I guess those are my best tips for landing pages. So go out and build some good ones. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

CEM: Getting Acquainted With Your Customers

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value. Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not.

You’ve probably heard of CRM, right? CRM is old hat. An acronym standing for Customer Relationship Management, the goal of any CRM program is to manage a company’s interactions with prospects and customers, while reducing the costs and building customer lifetime value.

Now how about CRM’s twin sister, CEM? Probably not. Unknown to many, CEM is an acronym that stands for Customer Experience Management. As a side note, Customer Experience is sometimes also referred to as CX. Now if you’re a marketer, regardless of what you decide to call it, Customer Experience Management is a discipline you need to get acquainted with.

In general, CRM programs tend place a heavy emphasis on marketing and communications. After all, establishing touchpoints with customers or potential customers at crucial points in the customer journey is incredibly important to achieve desired behavioral outcomes. Fair enough.

In many ways, CRM programs tend to be one-dimensional in nature, focusing on how the firm makes decisions as regards place, product, price and promotion, with little emphasis on customer needs or desires. It shouldn’t be too surprising then to learn that many CRM programs fail because they use an approach that—while brilliant on paper—is misaligned to actual customer wants, needs or expectations.

This is where CEM steps in. You see, it turns out that to succeed in today’s challenging multichannel and mobile/social environment, firms need to expand their scope of their CRM initiatives to create a program that aims to focus like a laser on customer needs, both rational and emotional, and drive toward expected outcomes and KPIs.

At a baseline, the goal of any CEM program is ostensibly to move customers from satisfied to loyal and then from loyal to advocate by taking a holistic view of the totality of their experiences—regardless of place, time or channel.

This is important because, let’s face it, at the end of the day customer perception is built through interactions across multiple events—most usually through multiple channels. As such, successful CEM programs all feature the capability to manage and track engagement where they actually take place—on the Web, on a mobile device, when a customer speaks with a customer service rep or deals with an automated switchboard on an IVR. It all adds up.

Depending on the type of business, customer engagement channels might include contact the Web (main website), mobile (mobile website or app), brick-and-mortar stores and call centers, while touchpoints may include phone (call center, IVR or in-house customer service team), Social Media, email, self-service Website (traditional or mobile) or in-person. Lifecycle engagement includes ordering, fulfillment, billing and support.

But that’s not all—CEM programs also take into account when engagements take place in relation to the customer’s (or buyer’s) journey. An initial conversation between a sales rep and a new customer would be tracked and discerned, for example, from an inquiry on the Web. And this has real-world repercussions. A customer service inquiry by a high-value customer, for example, would be handled differently than in initial inquiry by a prospect on a Web form.

As is the case with most disciplines, CEM programs have evolved over time. This is a good thing. If you look at the chart, you’ll observe that I’ve broken down CEM into its three dimensions: Engagement Channels, Engagement Touchpoints and Engagement Lifecycle.

You’ll notice that I’ve bolded four of them in red. I’ve done so because these are recent additions to the CEM value system.

Okay, I know I could go on more, but I’m running out of room for this post. Got any questions or feedback? Please let me know in your comments.

Thanks,

Rio

MDM: Big Data-Slayer

There’s quite a bit of talk about Big Data these days across the Web … it’s the meme that just won’t quit. The reasons why are pretty obvious. Besides a catchy name, Big Data is a real issue faced by virtually every firm in business today. But what’s frequently lost in the shuffle is the fact that Big Data is the problem, not the solution. Big Data is what marketers are facing—mountains of unstructured data accumulating on servers and in stacks, across various SaaS tools, in spreadsheets and everywhere else you look in the firm and on the cloud.

There’s quite a bit of talk about Big Data these days across the Web … it’s the meme that just won’t quit. The reasons why are pretty obvious. Besides a catchy name, Big Data is a real issue faced by virtually every firm in business today.

But what’s frequently lost in the shuffle is the fact that Big Data is the problem, not the solution. Big Data is what marketers are facing—mountains of unstructured data accumulating on servers and in stacks, across various SaaS tools, in spreadsheets and everywhere else you look in the firm and on the cloud. In fact, the actual definition of Big Data is simply a data set that has grown so large it becomes awkward or impossible to work with, or make sense out of, using standard database management tools and techniques.

The solution to the Big Data problem is to implement a system that collects and sifts through those mountains of unstructured data from different buckets across the organization, combines them together into one coherent framework, and shares this business intelligence with different business units, all of which have varying delivery needs, mandates, technologies and KPIs. Needless to say, it’s not an easy task.

The usual refrain most firms chirp about when it comes to tackling Big Data is a bold plan to hire a team of data scientists—essentially a bunch of database administrators or statisticians who have the technical skills to sift through the Xs and 0s and make sense out of them.

This approach is wrong, however, as it misses the forest for the trees. Sure, having the right technology team is essential to long-term success in the data game. But truth be told, if you’re going to go to battle against the Big Data hydra, you need a much more formidable weapon in your arsenal. Your organization needs a Master Data Management (MDM) strategy in order to succeed.

A concept still unknown to many marketers, MDM comprises a set of tools and processes that manage an organization’s information on a macro scale. Essentially, MDM’s objective is to provide processes for collecting, aggregating, matching, consolidating, quality-assuring and distributing data throughout the organization to ensure consistency and control in the ongoing maintenance and application use of this information. No, I didn’t make up that definition myself. Thanks, Wikipedia.

The reason why the let’s-bring-in-the-developers approach is wrong is that it gets it backwards. Having consulted in this space for quite some time, I can tell you that technology is one of the least important pieces in the puzzle when it comes to implementing a successful MDM strategy.

In fact, listing out priorities when it comes to MDM, I put technology far to the end of the decision-tree, after Vision, Scope, Data Governance, Workflow/Process, and definition of Business Unit Needs. As such, besides the CTO or CIO, IT staff should not be brought in until after many preliminary decisions have been made. To support this view, I suggest you read John Radcliffe’s groundbreaking ‘The Seven Building Blocks of MDM: A Framework for Success‘ published by Gartner in 2007. If you haven’t read it yet and you’re interested in MDM, I suggest taking a look. Look up for an excellent chart from it.

You see, Radcliffe places MDM Technology Infrastructure near the end of the process, following Vision, Strategy, Governance and Processes. The crux of the argument is that technology decisions cannot be made until the overall strategy has been mapped out.

The rationale is that at a high-level, MDM architecture can be structured in different ways depending on the underlying business it is supporting. Ultimately, this is what will drive the technology decisions. Once the important strategic decisions have been made, a firm can then bring in the development staff and pull the trigger on any one of a growing number of technology providers’ solutions.

At the end of 2011, Gartner put out an excellent report on the Magic Quadrant for Master Data Management of Customer Data Solutions. This detailed paper identified solutions by IBM, Oracle (Siebel) and Informatica as the clear-cut industry leaders, with SAP, Tibco, DataFlux and VisionWare receiving honorable mention. Though these solutions vary in capability, cost and other factors, I think it’s safe to say that they all present a safe and robust platform for any company that wishes to implement an MDM solution, as all boast strong technology, brand and financial resources, not to mention thousands of MDM customers already on board.

Interestingly, regarding technology there’s been an ongoing debate about whether MDM should be single-domain or multi-domain—a “domain” being a framework for data consolidation. This is important because MDM requires that records be merged or linked together, usually necessitating some kind of master data format as a reference. The diversity of the data sets that are being combined together, as well as the format (or formats) of data outputs required, both drive this decision-making methodology.

For companies selling products, a product-specific approach is usually called for that features a data framework built around product attributes, while on the other hand service businesses tend to gravitate toward a customer-specific architecture. Following that logic, an MDM for a supply chain database would contain records aligned to supplier attributes.

While it is most certainly true that MDM solutions are architected differently for different types of firms, I find the debate to be a red herring. On that note, a fantastic article by my colleague Steve Jones in the UK dispels the entire single-versus-multi domain debate altogether. I agree wholeheartedly with Jones in that, by definition, an MDM is by an MDM regardless of scope. The breadth of data covered is simply a decision that needs to be made by the governance team when the project is in the planning stages—well before a single dollar has been spent on IT equipment or resources. If anything, this reality serves to strengthen the hypothesis of this piece, which is that vision more technology drives the MDM implementation process.

Now, of course, an organization may discover that it’s simply not feasible (or desirable) to combine together customer, product and supplier information in one centralized place, and in one master format. But it’s important to keep in mind that the stated goal of any MDM solution is to make sense out of and standardize the organization’s data—and that’s it.

Of course there’s much more I can cover on this topic, but I realize this is a lot to chew on, so I I’ll end this post here.

Has your firm implemented, or are you in the process of implementing, an MDM solution? If so, what process did you follow, and what solution did you decide upon? I’d love to hear about it, so please let me know in your comments.

No More Menial Jobs and 2 Other Steps to Customer Experience Transformation

As a marketing consultant, I read great articles about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) every day on the job. Most of them focus on the sales and marketing aspects of CRM … what strategies to employ, tools to use, messages to send out and so on. But let’s not forget that world-class CRM programs also include awesome customer service, essentially creating a Total Customer Experience that fosters long-term, profitable relationships with customers.

As a marketing consultant, I read great articles about Customer Relationship Management (CRM) every day on the job. Most of them focus on the sales and marketing aspects of CRM … what strategies to employ, tools to use, messages to send out and so on. But let’s not forget that world-class CRM programs also include awesome customer service, essentially creating a Total Customer Experience that fosters long-term, profitable relationships with customers.

For many companies, however, the customer service element in CRM is often an afterthought. Banished to a windowless office in the bowels of the company, customer service teams are quite literally out of sight, out of mind. Much of the time, this function is even outsourced entirely. But I have a sneaking suspicion things are going to change big time in coming years, and here’s why.

It’s no secret that companies are now dealing with super-informed, savvy and influential end-users who leverage Social Media and the vast research resources of Web 2.0 to make their purchase decisions. Let’s call this new end-user ‘Customer 2.0.’ In this new paradigm, the balance of power is shifting away from the sales and marketing teams, as firms are discovering that Customer 2.0s are by and large unresponsive to traditional sales and marketing tactics.

This means that customer service is, quite literally, becoming the first and only line of defense. If customer service is poor, it follows that the overall Customer Experience should be lousy, too. Given these facts, it shouldn’t be too controversial to suggest that in the business world of tomorrow, excellent customer service will not only the hallmark of a successful firm, but a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) by which success is measured.

Providing top-notch customer service necessitates transforming the way a firm does business and engages with its clients—aligning it to a model where customer service plays a central role in the firm’s operations. Welcome to the world of Customer Experience Transformation.

For customer service, I define Customer Experience Transformation in three broad swathes:

1. PersonnelIt’s time to view customer service as a profit center, not a cost center.

Say goodbye to the days in which customer service is viewed as a cost center, staffed with bottom-of-the barrel employees who can easily be replaced. To the contrary, customer-focused firms hire smart, savvy and highly motivated customer service representatives, knowing full well that these valuable employees are the firm’s principal ambassadors to the outside world.

I recently read an excellent article in Ad Age titled “Are You Ready for a World Without Menial Jobs?” The crux of the article is that instead of cutting costs, the world’s most successful retailers are actually investing heavily and spending for more than their rivals when it comes to recruiting, training and retaining customer service staff. Turns out, this steep up-front investment ends up paying off in spades down the road, in the form of higher sales and increased profitability.

2. SystemsWorld-class service needs world-class infrastructure supporting it.

Truth be told, customer support is only as good as the systems a firm has in place to support its operations. In the world of Customer 2.0, a Web presence acts as a primary point of engagement with customers. In that vein, it’s crucial to provide customers a Web presence that is not only clean, clutter-free and easy-to-navigate, but also—especially when it comes to providing personal or account info—personalized and secure. Furthermore, a website must be also optimized for ALL major Web browsers and operating systems, including—and especially—mobile.

In the age of Social Media, no firm that’s serious about providing customer service can avoid having a social media strategy. Without getting into a nuanced approach required for firm-wide Social Media engagement, as regards customer service, Social Media can and should be used to listen to, engage with and monitor a company’s customer base. There are some great SCRM (SocialCRM) and Social Media monitoring tools out there. Supported by savvy staff, they can be used to ensure customers are being engaged with quickly and effectively.

Internally facing, there are myriad important questions to ask, as well. Where are customer data stored, and how often is this database updated? How often are these data being synced with information from outlying systems, including IVRs, marketing tools, etc? What CRM solution is being used, and are best-practices being followed? If not, good luck tracking KPIs.

3. DNAChange the way you act, and you’ll change the way you’re perceived.

In many ways, corporate DNA is the most important element in Customer Experience Transformation. Corporate DNA is synonymous with corporate culture, which permeates the way in which an organization engages with its customers. For many companies—especially those in legacy industries—becoming customer-focused requires a major pivot.

To illustrate this point, let’s focus on the healthcare industry. Because in the US, health insurance is almost always procured by the employer, the primary point of engagement with end-users is usually when they call up to see why claims haven’t been paid. Now if you’ve never had healthcare in the US, you know this is most definitely not a pleasant experience. No wonder people don’t care for healthcare companies, in general.

Now, of course, denying and approving claims is far from the only thing that healthcare companies do. But, as a customer, you’d never know it. What this implies is an industry ripe for transformation.

If a healthcare company wants to be regarded as a healthcare company—as opposed to a health insurance company—then why not start by acting like one? Better yet, act like a health partner, providing customers with practical healthy lifestyle tips and ideas that will improve their health and, presumably, lead to fewer claims down the road.

Better yet, find out more about customers and send out highly personalized healthcare information they can use in their daily lives. Or, taking it a step farther, how about using that information to create fun contests and social media engagements customers can participate in, ‘gamifying’ the user experience.

In this model, although the business model has not changed, the overall customer experience has been transformed, resulting in a more positive brand perception, higher lifetime value and, of course, increased profitability.

Is your organization creating an awesome customer experience? If you have any questions or feedback, please let me know in your comments.

Thanks,

—Rio

Marketing: It’s the New IT

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

Spring is here and change is in the air for marketers in the way they consume technology. Big change. Not incremental or run-of-the-mill change. We’re talking a paradigm-busting tectonic shift that’s going to change the way that companies are structured. And when the dust settles, things will never be the same again, for Marketing or IT.

What do I mean? What I mean is we’re on the ground floor of a transformational process in which marketing replaces IT as the stewards of the Marketing Technology Infrastructure. At the end of this process, marketing will own and manage vast majority of IT’s responsibilities, as they relate to marketing functions. This is going to happen—sooner than you might think—as a result of several parallel trends that are already underfoot in the business world.

  • Emergence of robust and easy-to-use SaaS marketing technologies—the proliferation of tools like Constant Contact, Eloqua, SalesForce and Marketo give marketers access to incredibly powerful plug-and-play solutions that can be used with virtually no internal IT support. Because they’re delivered using the SaaS model, all updates and tech support are managed by the vendor. Talk about a marketer’s dream …
  • Development of secure and dependable cloud storage and computing infrastructure—as little as five years ago, companies could never have imagined moving their precious data outside the organization’s firewall. Oh, how times have changed! Numerous security breaches combined with improved cloud technology and falling prices for storage have turned the tables on this argument. Why go through the cost and hassle of maintaining your own databases if you don’t need to? For many companies, this is already a rhetorical question.
  • Standardization of Web-service-based API architecture—Now that API technology has grown up, so to speak, we have a universally agreed-upon language (XML) and set of standards (SOAP/REST) developers can use to tie disparate systems together. Building on point No. 1, APIs are a quick and effective way to pass information back and forth between various platforms. What’s more, a new generation of developers has grown up that’s fluent in this ecosystem, and companies are taking advantage by staffing up big time. Within the next couple years, you’ll never again hear, “We don’t have an API developer on staff.”
  • Validation of the “Platform” model for development—why build a platform when you can use someone else’s? What’s more, why try to build a better mousetrap yourself when you can leverage a network of thousands or tens of thousands of developers who are willing to give it stab? This is the power and promise of the platform model. Over the next few years, the marketing space will be increasingly dominated by large platforms who create ecosystems their clients can tap into for cutting-edge capabilities, and developers can leverage to line their pockets. By 2020, I think it’s safe to say that if you’re a developer, you’ll either be working at a platform, developing apps for one, or building tools and methodologies that pass information back and forth between them. So if you like to code, get with the platform program, and quick!

Because the relationship between IT and Marketing could be described as “frosty,” at best, I think it’s safe to say that, overall, this will be a welcome change for most CMOs. In my experience, marketing departments tend to feel that IT is understaffed, distracted and overall not a strong partner for the marketing team to rely on. If anything, the adversarial nature of this relationship will serve to accelerate the overall trend of many IT functions dissolving into marketing department’s purview.

But what’s most interesting about this process is that it will not be limited to the marketing department. Think about it. Other departments consume technology as well, right? That means it’s going to happen in parallel throughout the entire enterprise organization: Finance, Accounting, Purchasing, Procurement … They will all go through the same transformation, as software is procured from SaaS service providers, and data storage and database management is migrated to the cloud. We’re talking comprehensive and organization-wide transformation.

I’ve already seen the beginnings of this process within many of my client’s organizations. In a previous post, The Great Marketing Data Revolution, I touched upon the incredible transformation organizations are being forced to make as they deal with and try to make sense out of with the deluge of unstructured marketing data they are collecting every day, which is often referred to as “Big Data.”

For many companies, the ultimate Big Data strategy involves a Master Data Management (MDM) solution for collecting, aggregating, matching and storing this vast pool of information. While supported by IT, MDM initiatives tend to be marketing projects, as most of the data is collected and used by marketing. MDM/Big Data solutions tend to be cloud-based and take advantage some, if not all, of the four points I addressed above.

Now what’s going to happen to IT, you might ask? If you’re working in IT, don’t fret. Your department won’t disappear. But its role will undoubtedly change with the times. Instead of focusing on product development and infrastructure maintenance, IT will instead focus on identifying the right players to engage with, testing, auditing and supporting the process—not to mention providing API technologists to help tie systems together. And, possibly, developing specialized tools to help fill in gaps the marketplace has overlooked.

If you’re a developer, this means that you’re going to need to redefine your skills to align them to the needs of the marketplace. And the good news is you probably have a few years to get it sorted out. Still, things will undoubtedly change and—once the proverbial tipping point is reached—they’ll change awfully fast.

So I hope this all makes sense. I do have a feeling this may be a controversial topic for many readers—especially those in IT. If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please let me know in your comments.

Create a Bucket List

Whether you’re new to database marketing or a seasoned pro looking for some new idea to get your creative juices flowing, one of the most useful, and impactful, activities you can embark upon is to create what is called a “Bucket List.”

Whether you’re new to database marketing or a seasoned pro looking for some new idea to get your creative juices flowing, one of the most useful, and impactful, activities you can embark upon is to create what is called a “Bucket List.”

No, I’m not talking about a building a list of activities that you and a middle-aged companion wish to complete before you shed this mortal coil. I’m talking about taking a long, hard, and close look at your customers or prospects and getting to know them—really getting to know them—well enough to create broad classifications about who they are, what they do, what they like, and what affinities they share.

Remember, at the end of the day, database marketing is about sending out the right message to the right people at the right time—and, hopefully, achieving the desired response from the customer or prospect as a result. And without proper customer segmentation, this task simply cannot be done cost effectively, if at all.

Now, of course, there are many great customer segmentation models out there you can use. In a great article titled “Selecting a Customer Segmentation Approach” by Andrew Banasiewicz, Director of Analytic Services at Epsilon, four groups are identified: Predictive, Descriptive, Behavioral and Attitudinal.

Out of these four, the Predictive and Attitudinal models are arguably the most popular and widely used. Predictive is a model that uses value segments driven by customer purchase behaviors, extrapolating past behavior into future actions. An Attitudinal model, on the other hand, identifies affinity segments based on respondents’ expressed attitudes toward a company’s brand or products.

Now of course this list isn’t exhaustive and there are other models you can use. One popular alternative is Psychographic Profiling, which is used widely in the B-to-C space. In this model, consumers are assigned into groups according to their lifestyle, personality, attitude, interests and values.

Many B-to-B marketers, on the other hand, may prefer to use a segmentation model based on Firmographic variables, such as industry, number of locations, annual sales, job function and so on. Many software companies, not surprisingly, trend toward usage-based profiling, which includes variables, such as type of device used (desktop, tablet, mobile device), Operating System and so on.

One important fact that’s routinely overlooked is that successful customer segmentation requires taking a holistic approach. This includes aligning a firm’s segmentation goals to its marketing objectives and data acquisition investments. In other words, the data you have will determine not only which model you use, but also what marketing campaigns you’re able to run.

Now of course both data inputs and needs are in flux throughout the firm’s lifecycle. As Banasiewicz points out, for a firm in high-growth customer acquisition mode an Attitudinal model might work effectively for demand generation initiatives among qualified and segmented pools of prospects. Marketing campaigns in this scenario, we can assume, would speak to customer desires and affinities, with purpose of lead generation/nurture.

On the other hand, once the firm has acquired a large pool of customers, it’s not unrealistic to think that transitioning to a Behavioral model using inputs from past purchases will be more effective for running what are now CRM campaigns, focusing on driving lifetime value and repeat purchases.

Different groups not only have different attributes and attitudes, but consume different types of media. As such, they will respond to different types of offers, communicated in different ways and in different places. Where should a firm spend its marketing budget? Online display, email, direct mail, social media, print? … The choices are dizzying in today’s multichannel environment. Having a robust customer segmentation model can definitely help in the decision-making process.

Another important feature of customer segmentation is the realization that different customer groups can not only have wildly different demographic and psychographic identities, but very often will have strikingly varying lifetime values. To the surprise of some, a customer segment with a with younger average age will very often have a higher lifetime value than a group far senior to them, despite having far less disposable income to spend today. This may be based solely on the fact that the younger customers have, simply by being younger, many more years of being a loyal customer ahead of them. Taking this into account, many brands’ obsession with successfully penetrating the youth market should come as no surprise.

Now of course it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees, as customer segmentation is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself. Once you have broken your customers or prospects down into segments, the trickier (and for those who are not data geeks) more fun part of the equation involves devising incentive and reward strategies for each segment, and creating compelling marketing messages and collateral that can be used to get the message out across the various marketing channels. Knowing your customers, this part is a lot easier, which brings me full circle back to my point from the top: Create a bucket list.

Content Marketing, or Selling Without Selling

In my last post titled ‘Be the Wave—Or ‘The New Marketers’ Manifesto,’ I discussed that amazing transformation that’s taking place in the way people interact with their favorite brands. Exciting stuff, right? Building on that, today I would like to turn your attention to another crucially important trend in the marketing world you need to become familiar with, called ‘Content Marketing.’

In my last post titled ‘Be the Wave—Or ‘The New Marketers’ Manifesto,’ I discussed that amazing transformation that’s taking place in the way people interact with their favorite brands. Exciting stuff, right? Building on that, today I would like to turn your attention to another crucially important trend in the marketing world you need to become familiar with, called ‘Content Marketing.’

As I mentioned in my last post, we’re in a time of rapid change, where control of the Buyer’s Journey has shifted to the customer and out of the firm’s control. In this landscape, many consumers have simply shut themselves off from the traditional world of sales and marketing. Armed with laptops, smartphones and tablets, today’s buyers instead turn to the Web and Social Media to educate themselves.

Making a sale in this new paradigm requires having a presence where your prospects or customers are—which is increasingly on their mobile devices and in the Social Media universe—not necessarily where you want them to be or where they were previously.

But that’s not all. Today’s consumers also tend to be increasingly turned off by traditional sales and marketing tactics. This has resulted in plunging response rates and decreased levels of brand perception across the board. Think about it. If you own a DVR, when’s the last time you actually sat through a full 30-second TV commercial? Probably during the Super Bowl, right? That was more than one month ago.

Success in this environment requires selling by informing—and this is where Content Marketing comes into play. Content Marketing means creating and distributing valuable and highly relevant content to your customers and prospects, with the goal of attracting and engaging your target audience, while driving profitable customer interaction and cementing your brand’s reputation as a thought leader and industry expert.

Content Marketing is the art of opening up a dialog with your customers and prospects without engaging in actual hard selling or pitching. Instead of relentlessly promoting products or services, you inform customers and prospects about key industry issues, sometimes involving your products, but mostly not. The objective is to deliver information that makes your potential buyers better educated, while lifting the perceived value of your company, brand and products.

The foundation of this strategy is the belief that if buyers are well informed, they will not only reward us with their business and ongoing loyalty, but also become brand advocates and help spread the word across the Social Media Universe—essentially doing our jobs for us.

Content Marketing is highly effective because study after study has shown us that, when push comes to shove, the vast majority of buyers prefer to receive company information in an informative article versus an advertisement. In fact, according to statistics published by the Custom Publishing Council and Roper Public Affairs, 80 percent of business decision makers prefer to receive news and information this way. Wow!

But if you think the term ‘Content Marketing’ sounds kind of fuzzy and you’ve never heard of it before, you’re not alone. It’s basically a new umbrella term that encapsulates a number of things, some new and some old. Many things can be considered Content Marketing, including white papers, blogs, industry studies, feature articles in industry or trade publications, website copy and, of course, a presence on various Social Media websites.

Marketers of all stripes are currently using Content Marketing strategies in a wide variety of business activities, including demand generation, lead nurture, direct sales, customer retention and CRM, not to mention generating valuable PR and establishing the firm as an industry thought leader, while increasing brand equity and perceived value.

Ever hear of the term ‘Content Engineer?’ If not, I guarantee you will soon. A Content Engineer is a fancy sounding title that describes someone, usually in the marketing department, who specializes in researching, creating and deploying relevant and engaging content, while tracking interaction and engagement and tying it back to an ROI. It’s a new role, but more and more firms are jumping on the Content Marketing bandwagon and adding a Content Engineer to their staff to help lead the way. Does your firm have a Content Engineer yet? If not, what are you waiting for?

Be the Wave—Or ‘The New Marketers’ Manifesto’

Don’t ride the wave, be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it. For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape.

Don’t ride the wave; be the wave. A friend of mine named Devin, who works as a management consultant, recently taught me this phrase. I simply love it. I interpret it to mean: Make your destiny; don’t succumb to it.

For marketers, I think this phrase has incredible relevance in today’s rapidly changing landscape. It’s no secret that the ground is quite literally shifting beneath our feet as a radical transformation takes place in the way people interact with companies, and marketers are being forced to pivot in a brave new world that is largely unknown.

What’s happened is the Buyer’s Journey has been turned on its head. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, I described it in a recent post. Buyer’s Journey refers to the process prospects go through as they make their decisions on which companies to do business with or buy products from. It’s is a complex evolution that spans the entire progression, beginning with identification of the underlying need, and ending with product selection.

Not long ago, Buyers were relatively uninformed, and the Buyer’s Journey was controlled lock-stock-and-barrel by the marketer. To be successful, marketers essentially needed to try out different approaches, through trial and error, and see what worked. Kind of like throwing stuff at the proverbial wall to see what stuck. Once you found a successful formula, all you needed to do was repeat it again and again.

Companies simply told their customers what they should buy and what they needed to know to buy it. Not surprisingly, firms didn’t really know too much about their customers. They didn’t need to. All they needed to know was what worked from a utilitarian point of view, not why it worked.

Recent technological advances have completely altered the landscape—evolving it to a state that would have been unrecognizable a mere dozen or so years ago. For one, today’s marketer confronts a highly sophisticated, engaged and informed consumer who is comfortable with the digital landscape, and familiar with the latest gadgets and tools. Native to the Web and connected to multiple Social Media networks via the latest devices, today’s buyer may know as much about a marketer’s products as the marketer’s sales or marketing teams. For most marketers, this is a truly frightening concept.

Now add to the mix that many marketers are quickly discovering, to their great consternation, that the sale is often won or lost before the relationship even begins—as greater numbers of buyers educate themselves using the vast resources available on the Web, which include customer reviews , referrals from peers on Social Media, and so on. The Buyer’s Journey of yesteryear has been turned on its head.

This brave new world calls for a brave new approach—one that not only leverages the latest advances in technology, but more importantly focuses on the central narrative of the new way brands engage with their customers and prospects. No, having a slick website and a cursory presence on social media isn’t enough. Marketers need to use technology to transform how they do business.

Today’s firms not only need to get to really know who their customers are, but where they go, what they do, and what affinities they share; they also need to engage them where they’re comfortable, which is increasingly on their mobile devices and in the vast and constantly changing Social Media universe. I know it sounds daunting, but the good news is that marketers can learn to leverage the same technologies that created such change in the first place.

Let’s take a quick look at mobile. Let’s say, for example, I’m in Chicago on business, it’s dinnertime and I’m hungry. I spot a steakhouse across the street from my hotel. But because I’ve never been there, I pick up my iPhone and open up the Yelp App, where I pull up the listing to see what others have to say. Turns out that someone went there last week and had a really, really bad experience … and wrote a review trashing the place. And it’s the only review. Well, looks like I’m not going there tonight.

But fortunately it’s a double-edged sword. Let’s imagine instead that the owner had employed a strategy to drive customers online, specifically to give a review on Yelp. This strategy could involve placing a QR Code on the menu, along with a special offer for a free appetizer for all who give a review—or maybe a deal with Foursquare, Groupon, ScoutMob … or one of many mobile companies offering merchants tools to leverage this exciting new channel. Now instead of seeing just the bad review, I would see many good ones from happy customers.

And this is but one example of many. Another is the best-practice use of QR Codes for Augmented Reality by Best Buy and other electronic retailers. Armed with a smartphone, you can now scan QR Codes affixed to the in-store displays for products you’re interested in. You can obtain detailed product specs, warranty information … even detailed product reviews. Plus, by connecting to social media, it’s even possible to see what friends or followers have to say.

Okay, looks like I’m running out of space. But I guess the main message is: Embrace technology and use it to control your own destiny—don’t let it control you. And the good news is we can take this ‘philosophy’ and apply it to really any type of firm. Take a close look at your company and see how technology can be used to change the way you do business.

Instead of ducking your head in the sand, use new tools—whatever they may be—to give your customers new and improved ways to engage with your company and its products. Delight them. In the end, firms that do so will enjoy great success in coming months and years. Those that don’t … well, they might not be around. Be the Wave.

The Great Marketing Data Revolution

I think it’s safe to say that “Big Data” is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. It’s a topic we’ve covered in this blog, as well. In case you missed it, I briefly touched on this topic in a post titled “Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey,” which I published a few weeks back. For those of you who don’t know what it is, Big Data refers to the massive quantities of information, much of it marketing-related, that firms are currently collecting as they do business.

I think it’s safe to say that “Big Data” is enjoying its 15 minutes of fame. It’s a topic we’ve covered in this blog, as well. In case you missed it, I briefly touched on this topic in a post titled “Deciphering Big Data Is Key to Understanding Buyer’s Journey,” which I published a few weeks back.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, Big Data refers to the massive quantities of information, much of it marketing-related, that firms are currently collecting as they do business. Since the data are being stored in different places and many varying formats, for the most part the state they’re in is what we refer to as “unstructured.” Additionally, because Big Data is also stored in different silos within the organization, it’s generally managed by various teams or divisions. With the recent advent of Web 2.0, the volume of data firms are confronted with has quite literally exploded, and many are struggling to store, manage and make sense out of it.

The breadth of data is simply staggering. In fact, according to Teradata, more data have been created in the last three years than in all past 40,000 years of human history combined! And the pace of data is only predicted to continue growing. You see, proliferating channels are providing us with an unprecedented amount of information—too much even to store! In a marketing sense, the term Big Data essentially refers to the collection of unstructured data from across different segments, and the drive to make sense of it all. And it’s not an easy task.

Think about it. How do you compare email opens, clicks and unsubscribes to Facebook “Likes” or Twitter followers, tweets or mentions? How does traffic your main website is receiving relate to the data stored in your CRM? How can you possibly compare the valuable business intelligence you’re tracking in your marketing automation platform you’re using for demand generation, against the detailed customer records you’re storing in your ERP you use for billing and customer service? Now throw in call center data, point of sale (POS) stats … information provided by Value Added Retailers (VARs), distributors and third-party data providers. More importantly, how do they ALL compare and relate together? You get the picture.

Now this begs the next question; which is, namely, what does this mean to marketers and marketing departments. This is where it gets very interesting. You see, unbeknownst to many, there’s an amazing transformation that is just now taking place within many firms as they deal with the endless volumes of unstructured data they are tracking and storing every day across their organization.

What’s happening is firms are rethinking the way they store, manage data and channel data throughout their entire companies. I call it the Great Marketing Data Revolution. It’s essentially a complete repurposing and reprocessing of the tools they use and how they’re used. This wholesale repurposing aims not only to make sense out of this trove of data, but also to break down the walls separating the various silos where the information is stored. As we speak, pioneering companies are just now leading the charge … and will be the first to reap the immense benefits down the road when the revolution is complete.

Ultimately, success in this crucial endeavor demands a holistic approach. This is the case because this drive essentially requires hammering out a better way of doing business by reprocessing across these four major steps: Process Workflow, Human Capital, Technology, and Supply Chain Management. In other words, doing this right way may require a complete rethinking of the direction that data flows within an organization, who manages it, where the information is stored, and what third-party suppliers need to be engaged with to assist in the process. We’re talking a completely new way of looking at marketing process management.

With so many moving parts, not surprisingly there are many obstacles in the way. Those obstacles include legacy IT infrastructure, disparate marketing structure scattered across various departments, limited IT budgets and, of course, sheer inertia. But out of all the obstacles companies face, the most important may be the dearth of data-savvy staff and marketing talent that firms have on staff.

Firms are having a difficult time staffing up in this area because this transformation is actually a hybrid marketing and IT process. Think about it. The data are being created by the firm’s marketing department. As such, only marketing truly understands not only how the data are being generated, but more importantly why they’re important and how this information can be put to actionable use in the future. At the same time, the data are stored within IT’s domain, sitting on servers or stacks, or else stored in the cloud. And because the process involves a complete rethinking and reprocessing, it really needs a new type of talent—basically a hybrid marketer/technologist—to make it happen.

Many are deeming this new role that of a Data Scientist. Not surprisingly, because this is a new role, employees with these skills aren’t exactly a dime a dozen. You can read about that here in this article that appeared on AOL Jobs titled “Data Scientist: The Hottest Job You Haven’t Heard Of.” The article reports that, because they’re in such high demand, Data Scientists can expect to earn decent salaries—ranging from $60,000 to $115,000.

Know any Data Scientists? Are you involved in a similar reprocessing transformation for your firm? If so, I’d love to know in your comments.