3 Ways to Better Manage Marketing Automation So the ‘Shiny Object’ Doesn’t Stab You

I presented at the All About Marketing Tech Virtual Conference & Expo on the topic of targeting and automation. One of the themes I hit upon was about how companies are hindering their marketing automation success with needless complexity.

On Thursday, I will be presenting at the All About Marketing Tech Virtual Conference & Expo on the topic of targeting and automation. One of the themes I plan to hit upon is about how companies are hindering their marketing automation success with needless complexity. This topic falls squarely in the “land of shiny objects,” which is a recurring theme in many of my posts.

This theme in my posts and the 1:10 p.m. ET session, “Using Automation + Targeting to Engage and Convert,” focuses on how tempting technology can be to the marketing practitioner and how it can lead to the desire to do too many things — to detrimental effect. However, there are three things you can do to manage automation better.

Step 1 in Marketing Automation

First, make sure you have a customer strategy. If you do not have a solid strategy, then you will be automating a bunch of tactics. Unless these tactics sit under a cohesive strategy, they may work against each other.

For example, a price-focused customer acquisition program may hurt long-term brand development or pricing power. When you add automation to this scenario, it will supercharge the tactic and potentially cause greater harm.

Step 2

Second, make sure you have a test-and-learn agenda. Automation is a very data and metrics-driven process and it is managed by humans, using those same data points and metrics.

Successful marketing automation involves iterative learning to drive growth. Therefore, knowing what you are trying to achieve through automation and running multiple tests to better understand the underlying dynamics is critical.

What tends to happen, however, is that too many objectives are pushed through the automation system and the ability to learn is muddled by an excess of data and a dearth of focus.

The advice I often give is:

“Because you can do something through automation, it does not mean you should.”

Creating a learning agenda you can manage and identifying the critical metrics needed for evaluation are critical first steps before automating a marketing function.

Step 3

Third, make sure you have a pivot plan. A pivot plan anticipates how you will modify your automation program and lists the levers at your disposal.

For example, if results are not coming in as expected, you may alternate content, alternate segments or redefine the automation goals.

Doing all three at once will most likely leave you as clueless as when you began. While this seems like marketing management 101, it is easy to lose sight of this with automation. Automation generally promises rapid decision-making over volumes of interactions and self-learning capabilities.

As a result, it is tempting to get out of the way and let it do its magic. In the near to mid-term, despite automation’s usefulness, this will not substitute for strategic and management thinking.

Conclusion

I am in no way discouraging the use of marketing automation. It is not only the future, but it is also the present and is driving positive results.

Successful marketers need to start experimenting with the technology now.

However, marketing automation is also not so wonderous and awe-inspiring that we forget that it needs management and strategy. That, in turn, means balancing lofty automation goals with what you can managerially digest.

Why KPIs Lack Insight and What Marketers Can Do About It

I have a love-hate relationship with KPIs. When done right, they are mission-critical to defining success and can focus the organization on the right priorities. When chosen poorly, KPIs can be disconnected with ground realities and be a constant source of frustration for team members trying to impact them.

I have a love-hate relationship with KPIs (key performance indicators). When done right, they are mission-critical to defining success and can focus the organization on the right priorities. When chosen poorly, KPIs can be disconnected with ground realities and be a constant source of frustration for team members trying to impact them.

However, poorly designed KPIs are not my primary gripe, at least not in this post. My main concern is that even well-designed KPIs are simply not deeply insightful, but they are often used as if they are.

Well-designed KPIs are full of contradictions. On the one hand, they are expected to be simple, easy to communicate, and intuitive. On the other hand, they’re expected to provide actionable information and be a reliable measure of important success criteria.

Anyone who has worked on developing KPIs knows that it is a game of balance and compromise, based on business objectives. The need for actionable information battles with the desire for simple metrics. The desire for intuitive metrics battles metrics that push status quo thinking or properly reflect the diversity of business interactions.

After many years working with and helping clients identify KPIs, I have found ways to manage their dichotomous nature, but never overcome it. If there is a brilliant mind out there who has solved for this, I would love to hear about it. For now, I will assume that this dichotomous struggle is a law of nature.

This leads me back to my main point. Marketers need to stop viewing KPIs as major source of insights. They are, as the name illustrates, only “indicators.” While this seems like an obvious statement, it is surprising how often KPIs have become the primary source of insights for most companies.

Take digital analytics, for example. Most companies using the web analytics platform use default metrics, such as clickthrough and page views, as their primary measures to understand web activity. While these metrics may indicate increased interest in content, they rarely tell you how satisfied the visitor was with the content or how valuable it was in decision-making. It is rare for companies to set up custom metrics and reporting, which might provide better insights. It is even rarer for companies to download raw web data into a data management tool and truly analyze visitor interaction with content, even though these solutions exist. Instead, most companies use the default web KPIs to derive custom insights into behavior on their website.

Another example can be found about how companies use social channel data. There are some great social analytics tools out there. When I come across most implementations, however, they are mostly set to track high-level sentiment analysis and rarely deliver deep insights. However, the underlying data is often volumes of highly informative, unprompted, free-form feedback. It has the added benefit of being free of interviewer bias or agenda-setting.

Recently, I was working on a project for a client that viewed their products as very innovative. Yet, when mining nearly 1,000 instances of social data, we found only one unprompted mention of innovation. Upon further investigation, we found that innovation was meaningless to the consumer. Instead, it was performance, excitement, and fun that consumers talked about most often. The customer was conveying what innovation really meant to them, while the company was still thinking in terms of engineering sophistication. This insight was un-minable from the standard social KPIs. Even traditional survey-based market research may not have captured this insight, as it would have relied on coming up with the right questions to uncover this disconnect between the company and its customers.

These examples demonstrate the need to dig deeper for better insights and I risk the label of “Captain Obvious” by making this assertion.

So, let me add to this. Well-designed KPIs, because of their simplicity and action orientation, often lull us into overestimating their insightfulness. This link is unconscious and habitual.

When I have asked marketers “What is your (Social, Web or Customer) data telling you?” A common response is, the (relevant) tracker is telling us [fill in the blank].

In reality, the answer to the question is rarely found in the tracker or KPIs. Even if they can point to a KPI that is helpful, the underlying explanation is still often conjecture or a hypothesis. In fact, the better aligned the KPI story is with commonly accepted wisdom, the more likely it is to be seen as data-driven thinking.

In other words, we find an interesting KPI trend and create a believable story around this trend and that becomes data-driven thinking when it is still just conjecture. It takes great discipline to put on the brakes and look for deeper and corroborating evidence and that is what KPIs really calls for.

I want to make clear that this post is not advocating for the elimination of KPIs. They are very helpful tools for aligning the organization and most of us understand that they are only indicators. When done well, however, they are insidiously brilliant at creating the illusion of deep insight; especially if the resulting story is a good one. Truly data-driven marketers should be aware of this and be ready to dig deeper before letting a KPI drive strategic decisions.

3 Steps for Building Brand Authenticity When Consumer Trust Is at Rock Bottom

Creating brand authenticity is a huge challenge. This is not only because it requires major coordination from all company functions, but it also takes highly focused discipline from strategy and planning to execution. Generating authenticity has three major components.

In my last post, I discussed how brand trust in the U.S. may have hit rock bottom and that marketers need to build brand authenticity. In this article, I would like to discuss a bit about how companies can address this challenge.

Creating brand authenticity is a huge challenge. This is not only because it requires major coordination from all company functions, but it also takes highly focused discipline from strategy and planning to execution. Generating authenticity has three major components: setting expectations, consistently meeting those expectations and actively managing failure. While these components seem simple, executing them well should not be easy. If it is, you are probably doing it wrong.

Step 1: Setting Expectations

When setting expectations, companies should remember that customers do not need you to solve all of their needs, just the needs that you can solve well. We have seen countless examples of companies entering spaces where they are out of their element, in search of new growth streams.

Many times, this ends in a poor customer experience and a huge financial hit. This is where the brand team should lead the conversation around what brand promises the company should make to its target markets. In this statement, “should” is an operative word; but it is often replaced by “want to” or “could,” in practice.

This happens because the market research identifies an unmet need or underserved segment. Then, the brand aspires to fill that gap without properly addressing its corresponding operational capabilities.

One example of how a company did it right is Domino’s pizza. Its well-documented campaign — apologizing for historically bad pizzas and promising a better experience — was bold and brilliant. However, it would have been a humiliating and epic fail if it wasn’t backed by a concerted and highly organized operational transformation.

Step 2: Meeting Those Expectations

Executing well is the next critical component, which has two managerial subcomponents:

  • measuring the customer experience; and
  • listening to the customer.

Companies primarily fail here, because they don’t know what to measure or where to focus. CX can be immensely detailed and complex. That can lead to overwhelming or underwhelming measurement strategies.

Assume you are managing a burger chain. You can measure how often you run out of key menu items or measure customer satisfaction with condiment packaging. Knowing where your priorities lie is important, but is often not as obvious as the previous example would illustrate. This leads to the second subcomponent, listening. Effective listening isn’t just about regular surveys or feedback. Customers of your burger chain may state they are frustrated by hard to open, messy ketchup packets. When looking at behavioral data, how often does that actually lead them to forsake the brand? How about when the menu item they want has run out?

Most market research, by its exploratory nature, is often exhaustive and can present many pain points which need addressing. While some methods, such as conjoint analysis, may help mitigate this issue, there is no substitute for analyzing real behavioral data.

Real listening lies at the intersection of what customers say and what they do.

Step 3: Managing Failure

Finally, brand authenticity requires that you have a prevention and mitigation plan in place, because mistakes happen.

Yes, it is important to “make it right,” and that should be done as soon as possible.

However, it also means knowing the difference between a mistake and a broad violation of the brand essence, or the brand’s core values.

Examples range from knowingly compromising on customer safety to highly public displays of brand hypocrisy. To avoid trust-destroying events, companies should conduct a brand trust audit and examine every compromise it makes that is counter to the core principals of the brand.

Some compromises need to happen, but when they do, they need extra oversight. For example, look at the college admissions scandal I mentioned in my previous post. Many believe that the elite colleges involved were victims. I disagree. Their primary proposition in the market is intellectual heft; yet there are clear avenues where they knowingly compromise on this proposition, such as athletic departments. The colleges should have been much more careful about monitoring that comprise and making sure it was not abused.

Compromises need to be made; however, once brands lose control over the quantity and quality of those compromises, the brand loses control over the values it claims to project.

Conclusion

I ended my last post by writing “Authenticity means saying what you will do, doing what you say and showing that you mean it.”

In retrospect, the statement seems to be focused too much on honest intentions (also sounds like a politician trying to sound folksy and humble.) I will not take back those words, because I also believe them to be true.

In this post, however, I acknowledge that much more goes into this than genuinely honest and good intentions.

Brand Trust in the US May Hit Rock Bottom, So Be Authentic

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse. We may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

If brand trust weren’t low enough, recent news events are likely to make things worse — much worse.

First, America’s air safety has been put into serious doubt due to delayed action regarding the Boeing 737 MAX ­and its potentially fatal programming. Then, we have reports that the rich and powerful have been bribing the pathway into America’s elite schools for their presumably unqualified kids.

While these news events seem unrelated, I believe they are pivotal events that will drive brand trust to near death levels in the U.S. Granted, brand trust has been on the decline for years, but we may soon find rock bottom, and it will not be pretty. For marketers, this is a huge challenge — because if there is one thing that drives purchases and loyalty, it is brand trust.

How regulators and the airline industry dealt with 737 MAX safety issues is unfolding into a major fiasco. Most countries quickly recognized a pattern after a second 737 MAX plane crashed this month, and they quickly banned the plane from flying in their airspace. The FAA (the U.S.’s air safety regulator) provided Boeing the benefit of the doubt and continued to permit 737 MAX use for several days. Now, the FAA will be fighting the perception (or reality) that it was more interested in protecting Boeing and airlines than it was in protecting the public. On top of that, while the FAA dithered, some airlines made it difficult to cancel or change flights for passengers who, rightfully, no longer wished to fly on the 737 MAX.

If you think the brand trust deficit has been fueled by companies playing lose with customer data, playing loose with customer lives (or the perception of doing so) will be rocket fuel for said deficit.

While consumers ponder how much their lives are worth to regulators and the airline industry, for the vast majority, we found that elite university brands don’t believe we are worth enough to get into their colleges. News that the notoriously difficult and stressful college admissions process can be bypassed by those with the means to provide hefty bribes is retrospectively unsurprising and yet still shocking. Despite the pretentious branding, most everyone trusted that admission to an elite school meant that you were smart and worked hard. That brand trust has been diminished, and more stories of corruption in higher education are likely forthcoming.

What All of This Means for Other Brands

The sad reality is even if your company has not faced negative news, it is impacted — because the default level of brand trust is perhaps the lowest it’s ever been. The “2018 Edelman Trust Barometer” report (opens as a PDF) shows that the decline in U.S. of brand trust has been dramatic from 2017 to 2018 and can only be described as a “crash.” For 2018, among informed consumers, the U.S. ranks dead last in brand trust among 28 major economies (it was sixth place in 2017). Add recent news events and you can image where brand trust might be today. What makes these news events pivotal isn’t their transparent disregard for public trust, but that they involve historically trusted institutions. The FAA has been the reason we are willing to fly new airlines with no safety histories. As for colleges, we trust them with our still-developing young adults and pay ridiculously large sums to them to educate them. If we can no longer trust these institutions, then trust is in crisis.

The Brand Trust Solution

To address the growing trust deficit, it is unlikely more advertising or better content will be sufficient. Companies must learn to be authentic. Authenticity, however, can be very difficult to achieve and only comes together when the whole organization rallies around the brand purpose and the value propositions made to its customers.

Authenticity means saying what you will do, doing what you say and showing that you mean it. And American consumers desperately need it.

Marketers Must Take Stock of Their Data-Driven Power Now

With the 2020 elections already underway, social media marketing is in the spotlight. Although I am not sure if the spotlight was ever really off of its data-driven science since the 2016 election. Although all of the major social networking platforms have been dragged in front of congress to discuss how they use data, it was the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that drew the most media attention and become the poster child.

With the 2020 elections already underway, social media marketing is in the spotlight. Although I am not sure if the spotlight was ever really off of its data-driven science since the 2016 election.

Although all of the major social networking platforms have been dragged in front of congress to discuss how they use data, it was the relationship between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that drew the most media attention and become the poster child.

What data-driven marketers need to recognize is that what happened with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica was not some off-the-books, sneaky misuse of social data. Rather, it was executed very much in line with the broader vision of social media marketing. That has implications for how we use social media as part of our digital marketing mix.

Why Data-Driven Marketers Must Take Stock Now

What makes social media a powerful platform for marketers is that it not only targets individuals based on demographics, but it could also targets based on their location, personality and current context.

Considering all of the conscious and unconscious information users can share on social platforms, there is a powerful amount of information algorithms can mine to generate marketing content and messages most likely to resonate with users. Not only can social media know where you are and what you like, but also your closest friends and your emotional state on any given day. It is even likely that social media algorithms have a better understanding of your underlying emotions and motivations than you do. To anyone who has spent time micro-targeting, this is not a surprise. Given enough data, a shockingly perceptive algorithm can be developed. This is why social media had mile-high stock valuations even when platforms were still hemorrhaging cash.

Let’s face it; marketing has always included an element of manipulation. The function of consumer insights and research is designed to provide marketers levers for manipulation. With some exceptions, we have been able to sleep at night knowing that the consumer stood a chance or that we were also offering a real benefit, so some manipulation was just part of it. When we started using rich data with algorithms to develop more targeted models, many of us saw this as the ultimate example of customer empathy. This was going to empower marketers to become highly relevant to their consumers.

Those who were not on board were behind the times. (To confess, I used to view most cautionary voices as laggards or technophobes. Some were, some weren’t, but they were also right to worry.)

Today, we need to take stock of how that empathy is used. With great empathy comes the power of even greater manipulation. Despite all of the data policies out there, we are not addressing the real question: How much manipulation is too much?

Is it fair to push an antacid ad at someone who posts about a visit to the county fair and winning the pie-eating contest? Seems “big brother-ish,” but benign?

How about pushing anti-anxiety medication ads to a college student going through a breakup during finals week?

While this sounds horrible, we technically can.

Don’t Do It Just Because You Can

How companies manage and leverage consumer data is becoming part of the company’s ethical standards, but we need to extend beyond data privacy to data use.

Just like use of child labor, environmental footprints and other ethical standards, standards on the use of consumer data will be a critical way that companies define their brands and the role they wish to play.

3 Trends Impacting Marketing and Marketing Technology

This is the year that more becomes less; marketers beware. I’ve put on my marketing and marketing technology prediction hat to share three trends with you.

This is the year that more becomes less; marketers beware. I’ve put on my marketing and marketing technology prediction hat to share three trends with you.

I would like to wish all my readers a happy 2019. At the beginning of this new year, I would like to test my powers and lay out some predictions. I believe (maybe hope?) this is the year that three long-overdue trends will impact marketers and marketing technology. In any case, I am going on the record; let’s see if I have egg on my face in December.

1. There Is Too Much Content Out There

In 2019, I hope we finally challenge the adage that “content is king.” Maybe a few years back it was king, but now there are too many claimants to the throne and too many smaller and smaller kingdoms. For example, just exploring all the great content on Netflix can take up several months of full-time viewing. Then there is HBO, Hulu, YouTube, etc. Maybe saying that content is a commodity would be taking things too far, but content is no longer king.

Having a better understanding of context and timing will be much more important. Delivering the right content at the right time, to the right person is the next king.

2. Marketers Will Finally Agree That Martech Is a Tool, Not a Strategy

Too many marketers have been confusing the latest marketing technology with customer strategy. Many times this misconception is fed by the solution providers themselves.

I believe that the right martech build can provide great dividends and represents an agile, data-driven platform to better engage with your customers. However, it will not make your customer engage with you. Customers have to like you and feel attachment to your brand for them to engage.

Before investing in additional martech, there are fundamental questions that must be addressed. Such as:

  • Why do customers want to engage with us?
  • What is the level of engagement that is reasonable to expect?

Too many times, I see marketers simply push for higher and higher engagement numbers, with no thought as to what is reasonable or sensible. If I gave each relevant brand in my life 15 minutes per week, I would not have time for anything else, In some cases, limited engagement is probably a good thing. For example, my local utility is very relevant in my life, but If I must engage with them, it is probably a bad sign.

3. A Major Shift in Consumerism — From More to Less

With so much content and so many products and services available, literally at the push of a button, many consumers will look to actively filter out products and services that have little or no meaning to them. For example, I recently took a hiatus from my Netflix subscription because I was no longer able to engage with the content. Netflix has really great content, but I am simply overwhelmed and the shows are all blending together. The (anti?) consumer trend of minimalism will be growing. While few consumers are likely to become minimalist, there will be a growing trend to ask the minimalist’s question before every purchase: “Will buying this really make me happier?”

Here’s Your Fortune, Marketers

I believe that 2019 will be the year we have a reckoning between a glut of supply and the inherent limits of our ability to consume. This conflict will not only play out in the B2C markets, but also within B2B markets; especially when it comes to marketing. Most senior marketers I have spoken to readily admit that they are horribly confused and overwhelmed by the marketing tech world. So many choices, so many overlapping solutions and each one claiming to be the “answer.”

In 2019, we need to start asking if we are worthy of the headspace we are asking of our customers and also how we manage our own headspace so that we can become better marketers.

3 Top 2018 Marketing Posts That Predict 2019 Outcomes

As a regular contributor to Target Marketing, I thought I would use my last post of 2018 to take stock of the marketing posts I did through out the year. Being data-driven, I began by looking at the data to find the most-read posts.

As a regular contributor to Target Marketing, I thought I would use my last post of 2018 to take stock of the marketing posts I did through out the year. Being data-driven, I began by looking at the data to find the most-read posts.

A clear lesson for me is that the wonkier my post, the less popular. (I know! I am surprised as you. I have so much technical and boring perspective to give!)

Nevertheless, below are two posts that the wisdom of the market indicated were my better contributions to the marketing world. I also added my closing thoughts for the year for both posts. Lastly, I also include my personal-favorite post, which I file under the “business fiction” category — for the benefit of the Pulitzer Prize Board.

Data and the Decline of Sears

My top post for 2018 discusses how the downfall of Sears was not about its refusal to adopt new technology and embrace data. In fact, since 2005, Sears strongly embraced a data-driven culture.

Rather, the problem was that Sears’ leadership did not show visionary boldness, and focused its data-driven energies on mostly tactical wins.

I would like to emphasize that data-driven thinking was not the downfall of Sears. In fact, it yielded great results where applied. Rather, it was the narrow-minded application of data-driven thinking that resulted in the downfall. This is an important lesson for those who believe that transforming into a data-driven culture is an inoculation from obsolescence.

Marketing Strategy: Nike’s #JustDoIt Campaign and Kaepernick

The second-most popular post hypothesized what the long run game plan was behind Nike’s campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. There were three hypotheses.

  • First, that Nike is simply focused on the issue of racial justice and not looking to weigh in on all of politics.
  • Second, that Nike is trying to drive dialog by alternating between liberal and conservative talking points, and the Kaepernick ads were the starting point.
  • Finally, that Nike is actively seeking to become a brand associated with left-leaning politics.

It is the last hypothesis that worried me the most. Not because of my political beliefs. Rather, I think it is bad for the country if companies also join the hyper-polarized state of American politics.

To my personal relief, it seems since then that Nike is focused on the specific issue of race. Their follow-up campaign, featuring professional soccer player Raheem Sterling, addresses the need to speak out against racism — even if it isn’t easy to do so.

Looking at 2019 and beyond, I think Nike has wisely positioned itself on the right side of history.

‘Nobody’ Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

My personal favorite post, which came in sixth, is a fun read. It features a dialog with a fictional consultant named “Nobody.” It distills, through dialog, a reoccurring theme in most of my posts. Data and analytics cannot replace managerial courage.

To 2019 and Beyond!

If there is a prediction for 2019 I would like to make, it is that we will begin (just begin) to see data and analytics become accepted as valuable tools and not a replacement for decisive action.

For a concrete example of this, I would refer the reader to my top post of the year regarding Sears.

Best wishes to all for a happy and prosperous 2019!

B2B Marketing ROI — Focus on Quality Over Quantity

The efficacy of B2B marketing can be notoriously hard to measure. Due to long sales cycles and channel conflicts, most B2B marketers are underestimating the ROI of their campaigns. In an effort to improve ROI, B2B marketers often fall into the trap of measuring quantity over quality. Here are three things that B2B marketers are regularly doing but should stop.

The efficacy of B2B marketing can be notoriously hard to measure. Due to long sales cycles and channel conflicts, most B2B marketers are underestimating the ROI of their campaigns. In an effort to improve ROI, B2B marketers often fall into the trap of measuring quantity over quality. Here are three things that B2B marketers are regularly doing but should stop.

  1. Stop Making Sales Conversion Your Only Marker of Success. Yes, sales conversion is a very critical metric, but it is notorious for getting diluted or lost in a long sales cycle. Examples of this include: credit for a sale being split along multiple marketing and non-marketing touchpoints or the sales department wants full credit for the sale. The latter happens because five years back, the customer had briefly talked to a sales agent — and marketing gets no credit. As a result, marketers should have multiple conversion metrics (aside from sales) which are within the marketer’s sphere of influence. Examples include: white paper downloads, social sharing of content or mail list sign-ups.
  2. Stop Assigning Click Volume as a KPI. Yes, it is a performance indicator; however, it is not a KEY performance indicator for most B2B campaigns. First, let’s get past the fact that a clickthrough can be unintentional, click-baited or a bot. None of those clicks will have any value and baited clicks usually have negative value. However, even legitimate clicks tell you nothing about why the prospects are there and their level of engagement or sales disposition, which are the real metrics in B2B sales. Instead, focus where those clicks lead to macro-conversion activities, such as downloads or contact information shares. These post-click activities tell you much more about the level of engagement with site visitors, the types of prospects you are attracting and the relevance of your content.
  3. Finally, Stop Cold-Selling Through Digital Channels. As a B2B customer, if I don’t know you and you have not come recommended by someone, why would I take the time to learn about your company? Unless you have a very unique product that addresses an acute need and you catch me at the right moment, I am simply not going to “click here to learn more.” In my experience, these campaigns are full of low-quality clicks. Jeff Molander’s recent post “Ditch the Call to Action in Your Cold Email Strategy” provides a great discussion on why you should be aware of selfish calls to action. Aside from just being ineffective, these communications can also place your email campaigns on blacklists and hurt your overall brand.

A healthy B2B measurement program begins during the campaign planning stages. I often recommend the clients think about the digital sales development journey and how they want to develop sales opportunities. When thinking about content, I suggest that they don’t simply focus on sales conversion, but also think about content that helps prospects develop a relationship with their company. Finally, I ask them to think about measuring immediate content’s effectiveness. Tracking shares, mail list signups and other engagement activities help you understand prospect intent and confirm marketing effectiveness faster than waiting for the eventual sale.

The Decline of Sears Is a Story About Narrow-Minded Analytics

I am a data-driven marketer, but I also talk about the dangers of using analytics for narrow-minded goals at the expense of long-term advantages. The story of Sears and its eventual bankruptcy is very illustrative of what I mean about narrow-minded analytics — used for short-term gains at the expense of longer-term goals.

I am a data-driven marketer, but I also talk about the dangers of using analytics for narrow-minded goals at the expense of long-term advantages. The story of Sears and its eventual bankruptcy is very illustrative what I mean about narrow-minded analytics — used for short-term gains at the expense of longer-term goals.

I know, because early in my career, I had spent several years at Sears. More importantly, I was there when Sears was bought out by Kmart holdings.

In 2004, Sears was already in decline. But it was still a force to be reckoned with. Despite the fact it had struggled to improve its soft lines (apparel, textiles, etc.) performance, it was still the go-to retailer for hard-line goods, such as appliances and tools. Management was also trying new formats and new product lines to rejuvenate the Sears brand.

Then the announcement came. Sears will be bought out by Kmart Holdings and ESL investments, run under the leadership of Eddie Lampert. The feeling among Sears employees was immediate demoralization. It was as if an old but proud ship was under attack by a ghost pirate ship under the flag of a cursed and dead brand.

Sensing the fear, senior management began preaching the benefits of a more efficient, data-driven management mindset that ESL investments would bring. Along with more resources, the data-driven culture would reward “smart risk-taking.” By better leveraging data, Sears would climb out of its slow descent to once again become a dominant leader in retail.

In this spirit, I became involved in an aftermarket pricing project, where we leveraged pricing and sales data to determine the optimal price of thousands of parts used in the repair and maintenance of hard-line goods. The project netted over $10 million in the first year alone, and the team was recognized with the “making money” award (Yes, that was the name of the award). As more price optimization projects came online, tens of millions of dollars in bottom-line revenue were being realized quarterly.

While the pricing initiatives were a brilliant use of analytics, senior leadership didn’t take advantage of the analytical talent to address the issue of the declining top line. Where was the data-driven strategy for top-line growth? Were we simply collecting cash for the big transformation? Was something already in the works? As we tweaked and re-tweaked algorithms to squeeze more profits, the brand atrophied. Long story short, you have what Sears is today.

However, this story is not an indictment of the transformational powers of data-driven thinking. Rather, as I have written in previous articles, such as here and here, this is an indictment of management’s ability to exercise visionary, data-driven thinking. Analytics is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t replace courage and visionary thinking.

Sears was so busy picking up loose change off the floor, it forgot to look up at the bus barreling toward it.

With analytics, this is easy to do, because it is exceptionally good at optimizing for your current environment. Changing the rules, however, requires the blend of analytics and courage.

Some argue that Eddie Lampert and ESL investments always planned to juice and kill the Sears brand. Eddie Lampert has denied this from the beginning. I believe him, because there was a time when Sears’ coterie of store brands (such as Kenmore and Craftsman) still carried immense market value. That was the time to begin stripping Sears.

This is simply a story where the potential and power of data-driven thinking was advertised as an opportunity for transformational change, but was frittered away picking up loose change.

Nike, Where Are You Going With Your #JustDoIt Marketing Campaign?

With Colin Kaepernick being the face of #JustDoIt, Nike stock is at a record high. Unlike most corporations desperate to stay out of the highly partisan political environment, Nike went all-in. In response, President Trump tweeted “What was Nike thinking?”

With Colin Kaepernick being the face of #JustDoIt, Nike stock is at a record high. Unlike most corporations desperate to stay out of the highly partisan political environment, Nike went all-in. In response, President Trump tweeted “What was Nike thinking?”

One answer is that Nike was thinking Kaepernick was standing up for what he believed in and that it was in-line with Nike’s own beliefs. However, that answer seems a bit naïve if you know anything about well-managed brands.

Since this latest #JustDoIt campaign, the Internet’s been flooded with conspiracy theories. I thought I would provide three theories on what Nike was really thinking.

Theory One

Nike is reading the tealeaves and is positioning itself accordingly. A high-value brand like Nike does its consumer research and its leaders evidently believe that history will be on the side of Colin Kaepernick.

Sure, Nike has taken risks before, when it launched campaigns to support causes such as gender equality or fighting ageism. While avant-garde, the campaigns did not have anywhere as much political heat as the NFL “taking a knee” controversy does. Even for Nike, this was bold and a decision like this would certainly have been backed by exhaustive research. In the end, Nike is not taking sides on the full political war, but it is on this one important issue.

Theory Two

Nike is planning to play both sides of the divide. The next campaign might involve a conservative talking point. Maybe the larger message of the campaign is that the country should be a bit less vitriolic about opposite viewpoints or that we all share a love of sports.

Admittedly, this is a long-shot theory, but one I find more digestible vs. a future where the labels on our shirts or shoes lump us in with one faction or another, which takes us to Theory Three.

Theory Three

Nike decided to fire a segment of customers (avid Trump supporters) because picking a political side is more profitable.

I have seen many companies hesitate to fire any customer. If they do, it is usually at an individual level, based on specific behaviors; such as frequently returning merchandise or driving losses in some other way.

In the rare cases where companies have guts to fire whole segments, it is usually done by simply ignoring the segment — not poking them, like this #JustDoIt campaign.

In the case of Nike, they vocally picked a political side. When other brands have been pushed into politically partisan positions by their founders, such as L.L.Bean, Under Armour and Chick-fil-A, they have quickly tried to claw back to neutral ground, claiming that the founder’s position was personal and not reflective of the brand’s.

Because this is a branded campaign featuring Kaepernick, Nike has no cover of plausible deniability. Nike unambiguously chose a political side and has so far been successful.

In the End Zone

Based on this, we may see more brands pick political sides. In the future, there may be even more politically aligned brand,s but I certainly hope that is not where we are headed.

Many of us in business try to keep our personal politics out of business. This has left our professional lives as a place where we all can find some sorely needed common ground. Yes, there are issues in every generation that prick our conscience enough to force our hand, business etiquette be damned. Those rare issues aside, for those of us who don’t want our opinions spoon-fed to us by political parties or talking heads, highly political brands are a very dystopian future.

Among the three theories I presented, I hope the third one is very wrong.