What Marketers Are Buying in 2017

If you’re looking at what investments to make this year, or trying to convince your colleagues to put the company’s money where your mouth is, take a look at the chart below to find out where other marketers are putting theirs.

Along side the media usage survey we released in the January/February issue of Target Marketing, NAPCO Media Research head Nathan Safran recently surveyed marketers on one very simple question: Which technologies, solutions and services will your company be investing in for 2017?

The answers weren’t necessarily surprising, but they do give a simple, yes/no indication for where marketers are putting their money.

First of all, a majority of responses said they plan to buy tech for email and social media marketing. So over 50 percent of marketers surveyed still feel a need to make investments to unlock the full potential of those channels.

Not far behind those, in the 40 to 50 percent range, marketers are investing in content marketing, video marketing, Web analytics and direct mail solutions.

We’re also seeing a lot of respondents who plan to invest in the bedrock marketing tools of CRM. Marketing automation, databases and mobile tech.

So, if you’re looking at what investments to make this year, or trying to convince your colleagues to put the company’s money where your mouth is, take a look at the chart below to find out where other marketers are putting theirs.

TM Plan to Buy Chart

4 Digital Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

At the risk of damning these ideas by calling them resolutions — which means we’ll swear we’re going to do them, but they never get done — here are four ideas worth adding to your plans for 2017.

Digital marketingAt the risk of damning these ideas by calling them resolutions – which means we’ll swear we’re going to do them, but they never get done – here are four ideas worth adding to your plans for 2017. (That’s a very manageable one per quarter for the whole year, so no excuses!)

Marketing Automation

For anyone working at anything smaller than enterprise level, marketing automation sounds scary – and unattainable – because of the expense. That’s not the case.

Yes, you can implement tools with some astronomical seat license fees, but without an enterprise-sized audience, you’re not going to reap a reasonable return. Instead, build (or upgrade) your website so that it’s focused on conversion. That means

  • Publishing content that generates interest
  • Developing calls to action to build your list
  • Automating your email for drip marketing

You can get fancier later with behavior-based triggers and other kinds of automation, but keep it simple to get started. Once you see results, you’ll be able to gauge how much of an investment makes sense.

Video Implementation

Another to-do list item that seems daunting and expensive. It doesn’t have to be. Even if you invest in full professional scripting, production and on-screen talent, video is useful in so many ways that you’ll be able to make your investment more than a one-shot deal.

One idea is to book your crew for a half-day shoot and prepare 5 or 6 – or more – pieces. If all but one of your pieces are evergreen, you can roll them out over the following few quarters as part of drip marketing campaign. Or you can shoot clips that will work as part of the time-based automation you have already put in place. (See above.)

Influencer Marketing

It’s not just in politics that we’re living in a “post-truth” world. It’s hard to believe anything you read anymore on just about any topic. Your prospects are skeptics, too. Which is why trusted sources become so valuable.

Organic or paid, connecting with influencers can be an incredibly productive way to increase your reach and your standing in the market place. Social media makes it easier than ever for you to reach the influencers. (And, in turn, for them to to have the incredible reach that you’re trying to leverage.)

The key is in finding influencers whose audiences overlap with your target audience, and whose services are complementary to yours.

Marketing Partnerships

Partnering with colleagues is almost 3a rather than 4, but since this is your resolution for the 4th quarter, we want to make it easy. (We all know how insane the 4th quarter can be …)

Again, the goal is to find colleagues whose audience overlaps with yours but whose services do not. The difference here is that you can frequently go one step further – or a step in a different direction – than you would with influence marketers by creating joint efforts to market around. (A wine shop and a restaurant can host wine-tasting dinners, a market research consultant and a digital marketer can create a consulting package, and so on.)

The four ideas above shouldn’t be an overwhelming amount of work for the new year – and they should provide you with a great return on the time and money you invest in them.

How Much Content Is Too Much?

Content marketing can be traced back to the 1895 publication of The Furrow, a magazine launched by John Deere. It now circulates to over 1.5 million farmers in 12 languages to 40 different countries. Was The Furrow a strategically smart marketing idea? Absolutely.

The Content Show That Never Ends: Repurposing Like a Media CompanyWhat started as a way to educate and inform farmers on the latest farming trends has spawned an entire industry.

According to The Content Marketing Institute, content marketing can be traced back to the 1895 publication of The Furrow, a magazine launched by John Deere. It now circulates to over 1.5 million farmers in 12 languages to 40 different countries. Was The Furrow a strategically smart marketing idea? Absolutely. Does it continue to have a role in John Deere’s marketing toolbox? Definitely. Have some brands missed the point of this strategy? Without a doubt.

Since farming knowledge, insight and technique is constantly changing and new trends are emerging regularly, it makes sense that The Furrow is at the center of this key industry. But 54 percent of B2B marketers state that creating engaging content is their number one challenge. Other top challenges include producing consistent and/or a variety of content.

As a result, many blogs, whitepapers, videos, etc. are often full of uninspired messages that don’t engage readers or help position the brand in a meaningful way. They are merely “filler” to allow a marketer to check a box. Blog post? Done!

So what’s the best way to evaluate how much content you should be generating and how often? The answer, unfortunately, is not simple.

Since the strategic purpose of any content should be to help build positive brand awareness, keep your brand top-of-mind with your customers and prospects. Why deliver content that doesn’t help your buyer? The buyer should be the focal point of all of your content: understand their needs, their pain points, the problems they’re facing, the hierarchy for purchase decision within an organization and what those influencers need in terms of information.

Content topics can often be best identified by talking to the sales force and/or your customer service reps. They can share the top questions asked by buyers, the top objections they have to overcome and the most asked service issues. Supplement those insights with some investigative work in top keyword searches using Google Analytics, and you should be able to develop a laundry list of topics for meaningful content. Because at the end of the day, buyers don’t want “content” — they want solutions to their problems.

The reality is, no one will notice if you don’t post a blog today. No one will complain if they don’t get your tips ‘n tricks for the week, or if you skip a day or two of messaging. No one except the person monitoring your output — which I promise you, is only your boss.

With all the marketing automation solutions out there, too many marketers are worrying about how to keep feeding the machine. But it’s about quality, not quantity.

9 Content Marketing Tips From Cleveland

Cleveland: It’s not just home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, LeBron James and the Cavs, and one of my favorite speakeasies. It’s also home to Content Marketing World — one of my favorite conferences.

Content is a big dealCleveland: It’s not just home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, LeBron James and the Cavs, and one of my favorite speakeasies. It’s also home to Content Marketing World — one of my favorite conferences.

I missed Content Marketing World this year due to a huge project I took lead on — and if you asked any of the people on my team — that made me super bummed.

But the good news is that my “What Were They Thinking” partner in video antics, Taylor Knight, was able to make the trip and soak up all the glorious content marketing knowledge in the great orange glow within Cleveland’s convention center.

Aside from coming back with a ton of video footage from interviewing some of my content marketing heroes, like Ann Handley and Robert Rose, Taylor also had a bunch of relevant takeaways to share.

So without further adieu, here’s Taylor doing a little Sass Marketing guest blogging about her favorite things from Content Marketing World 2016:

content marketing worldLast week, I had the opportunity to attend Content Marketing World in “The Land” — Cleveland. Thousands gathered to hear the best minds in content marketing speak about their successes, challenges, failures and predictions for the future.

There were so many amazing sessions and keynotes (including Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill and comedian Michael Jr.), so I wanted to share my top three takeaways with everyone who wasn’t able to attend. Here they are:

Takeaway 1: It’s Not the Best … It’s the Best Promoted

Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director at Orbit Media, shared in his keynote that it’s not the best content that wins, it’s the best promoted content that wins. He said marketers should concentrate on two things to succeed:

1. Original Research
This can be observations you make about a trend, an aggregation of information from other sources or surveys you conduct. “What do people in our industry often say but rarely support? Find the missing stat,” explains Crestodina.

2. Strong Opinions
Your content should take a stand because strong opinions lead to shares. Crestodina suggest marketers answer the following questions to create great content:

  • What do you believe that most people would disagree with?
  • What do you think will happen in the future that people don’t agree with?
  • What questions are people afraid to answer?

Takeaway 2: Slow Down

Ann Handley, chief content officer at MarketingProfs, told marketers to “slow down.” It may be hard to know when to slow down because the norm has been to rush, rush, rush and create as much content as possible. Handley says answer these three questions before creating content:

  1. “So what?” This is a shortcut to empathy and connecting with your audience.
  2. “Wait, what?” This is figuring out the “why” before you even get to that what.
  3. “Does this sustain us?” This can mean either be sustaining you or your brand.

Takeaway 3: Build a Network for Success

Mitch Joel, president of Mirum, gave a keynote titled “Content Is Dead.” This seemed a bit shocking considering we were at Content Marketing World, however, Joel gave the audience great advice.

He told marketers that they should concentrate on building a network, and then the content you produce for that network will succeed. In the future, (when every marketer builds up that network) other changes will happen. Joel says the future of content marketing is:

Augmented Reality + Virtual Reality = The “Next” Platform
Data + Machine Learning + Artificial Intelligence = Actionable Content
Permission + Marketing Automation = Customer Loyalty

Extra, Extra

I couldn’t stop with just three! Here are a few more of my favorite tips and takeaways from Content Marketing World 2016.

• Facebook “views” are counted when someone watches the video for three seconds or more. Measure for longer views and a better sense of engagement. — Chelsea Hunderson, social media marketing manager, HubSpot

• Measure content in real time, then change strategy in real time. Things are constantly changing and they don’t always go according to plan. — Lars Silberbauer, global director of social media and search, LEGO Company Ltd.

• When it comes to content marketing, executive needs to do more than buy in — they need to endorse content marketing. — Deanna Goldasich, CEO, Well Planned Web

• If you want people to share something, you have to know what they want to say, then say it better. — John von Brachel, SVP of content marketing, Bank of America

• A one second delay in page speed can decrease conversions by seven percent. — Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures

• Dates on your blog will make your content look old. — Andy Crestodina, principal and strategic director, Orbit Media


Content Marketing Master ClassAhhhhhhh it sounds like this year’s Content Marketing World was sooooo good as usual!

But guess what? If you’re like me and missed it — and that realization is eating away at your soul … no? Just me? Okay then —guess what? You could attend one of six Content Marketing Master Classes!

The Content Marketing gurus will be touring the country with this 1-day master class, so check out the site to see if there’s one coming to a city near you and sign up! You won’t regret it, AND you’ll have fun!

Can a Machine Think for You?

I expect most of you are going to go with “No.” You might balk at the entire idea. But I had a conversation last week that pointed out that, if they’re working, isn’t that exactly what you’re counting on your marketing automation tools to do?

“As soon as we started thinking for you, it really became our civilization.” — Agent Smith, “The Matrix,” 1999, Warner Bros.
“As soon as we started thinking for you, it really became our civilization.”
— Agent Smith, “The Matrix,” 1999 Warner Bros.
People don’t make memes of this quote. For me, one of the most memorable lines of the movie.

Can a machine think for you?

I expect most of you are going to go with “No.” You might balk at the entire idea. But I had a conversation with Adobe’s Chris Wareham, senior director of product management for Adobe Analytics, last week at Adobe Summit where it became clear that, if they’re working, isn’t that exactly what you’re counting on your marketing tools to do?

“The state of the industry with data is to point a lot of really, really smart postgraduates with math at the problem and hope for good answers,” said Wareham. “And that’s not scaling.”

The bottleneck is that not everyone can be a data scientist, not everyone can do that kind of thinking, or has the training to do it themselves. Not everyone works effectively that way.

However, marketing departments today can’t afford to wait a week for the DBA on their IT teams to turn those reports out. That’s where Adobe’s virtual analyst comes in. According to Wareham, “the gap we’re filling in the industry is the need for people to be data-driven even in very simple interactions that they have.”

Wareham compares it to the revolution in we’ve seen in website analytics. Once (probably before many of you remember) finding out how much traffic was coming to your website involved getting daily or weekly reports from a guy called “The Webmaster.” Pretty quickly tools emerged to automate those reports, then deliver the numbers in real time. Google Analytics provides all that information, and a lot more we never dreamed of, in real-time.

“They were very complex things that made a very complex job really simple,” says Wareham. “So we’re starting to apply those same types of capabilities to a customer analytics problem set. Broadening the data set, leveraging the machine learning to automate a lot of those analytics processes, so a less sophisticated person can get a lot more leverage out of the data.”

And that’s where the robots come in. (Well, “virtual assistant,” but that’s really just one servo-enabled titanium chassis from the same thing, right?)

“Our usage of machine learning, our usage of things like the automated analyst, is really about applying machine learning to fix a problem,” says Wareham. To actually replace a data scientist takes more than reporting stats or tracking goals. The virtual assistant needs to be able to recognize the trends, opportunities and personas that a data scientist would, and that means breaking the rules. … Or at least the business rules many databases use to automate marketing

“Wherever we see rules, that smells like smoke to us,” says Wareham. “We want to get rid of the rules, and make everything that is currently rules-based algorithmically based, so it can learn, and it helps our customers get leverage out of the data.”

Robots breaking rules? Asimov would not approve, but it might be exactly the thing marketers need.

Whether this sounds joyous or terrifying probably depends on if you’re picturing Johnny Five or The Terminator.

Johnny Five, "Short Circuit," 1996 TriStar Pictures.
Johnny Five, “Short Circuit,” 1996 TriStar Pictures.
"The Terminator," 1984, Orion Pictures.
“The Terminator,” 1984, Orion Pictures.

Either way, it’s an interesting time to be a marketer.

Marketing Automation Is Not Marketing Strategy

Too often these days, I hear B-to-B marketers mouth claims like, “We got this new [fill in the brand] automation tool, so now we can reduce headcount.” Or, “Once this automation system is installed, it will take our marketing to the next level.” This worries me. Marketers sometimes see automation as a silver bullet. But it’s only a tool

Too often these days, I hear B-to-B marketers mouth claims like, “We got this new [fill in the brand] automation tool, so now we can reduce headcount.” Or, “Once this automation system is installed, it will take our marketing to the next level.” This worries me. Marketers sometimes see automation as a silver bullet. But it’s only a tool. Marketing automation doesn’t identify your best target audiences. It can’t develop value propositions. No way will it make the tough decisions among competing investment options. I’m reminded of Mike Moran’s great book title, Do It Wrong, Quickly. In other words, marketing automation doesn’t work without strategy.

Remember ten years ago, when CRM came along? Déjà vu all over again, to echo Yogi Berra. Marketers thought that the new CRM software would solve their customer service and customer retention problems. Expectations dashed. Not only was it a nightmare to get up and running, the software served only to automate the processes—good or bad—that companies already had in place.

Even the marketing automation software vendors themselves recognize the importance of strategy, for their own success, as well as that of their clients. Think about it: If their clients can’t get the value from the software, their revenues are going to be impacted.

So education campaigns are underway. Marketo, for example, sponsored a compelling study by Sirius Decisions that explains the importance of a strong process in driving results when using marketing automation software. Their data shows that companies using automation combined with a reasonable lead management process—inquiry generation, qualification, nurturing and hand off to sales—produced four times the sales volume of companies with automation but with weaker processes.

Eloqua, too, makes a strong case for strategy in its guide, “6 Pitfalls to Avoid in Your Marketing Automation Journey,” which contains the important reminder to avoid putting “too much focus on technology, and not enough focus on buyers.”

So, what should we be doing with automation, to ensure its success? Three things come to mind.

  1. Be realistic about what it can and can’t do. Automation is not a silver bullet that you can set and forget. So make sure real humans are thinking through the essential tasks of identifying your key audiences, understanding their needs, scoping out their buying processes and developing contact strategies to move them along, in your direction.
  2. Clean up your database. By now it’s clear that the database is the single most important success factor in B-to-B marketing communications. So don’t be automating messages that can’t or won’t be delivered to the right targets.
  3. Train up your team. Too many marketing groups are leaving the campaign automation system to a set of junior staffers who interface with the tools, deploy campaigns and report results. I am not saying the marketing VPs should be executing campaigns, but to get the right mix of strategy and tools, we need better integration. Senior marketers should be deeply aware of the capabilities of the software. And junior staffers need training in strategic marketing thinking.

Are there other success factors in B-to-B marketing automation you can share?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

3rd Pick in the 2013 Marketing Cloud Acquisition Draft Is …

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Gosh, it is almost getting boring around here waiting to see where the next selection will go. Salesforce grabbing up ExactTarget with the first selection was the first big surprise. Not so much the ExactTarget side, because there had been rumors for some time that ET was on the market.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Gosh, it is almost getting boring around here waiting to see where the next selection will go.

Salesforce grabbing up ExactTarget with the first selection was the first big surprise. Not so much the ExactTarget side, because there had been rumors for some time that ET was on the market. The surprise was more about Salesforce jumping into the fray. Oh, they definitely needed this acquisition or one like it. For all the great tools that Salesforce has for gathering, organizing, prioritizing and listening to your contacts and gathering data, what they have never had is a robust and efficient way to segment and actually reach those valuable contacts. ExactTarget gives them that one big missing capability through the ET campaign management platform, along with many fresh concepts and ideas in social opportunities.

The other gem in what Salesforce picked up in this acquisition, and what likely drove the total price of ExactTarget so high, is ET’s recent purchase of Pardot to strengthen their own marketing automation growth plans. Even the Salesforce CEO gushed about the inclusion of Pardot in his Twitter post around the purchase, thrilled that the transaction included: “The fastest-growing marketing automation and lead nurturing company for Salesforce users.”

But that price. Wow—$2.5 billion. Worth it? Yes, most likely, in the long term. But in the short term, it is a real drain on the cash flow for Salesforce; probably severely limiting other expansion plans or possibilities. It seems painful enough that now, just a month later, they have had to take out a $300 million loan to carry the cost. I have to believe that Salesforce is certain that the long-term cross-sell and integration possibilities for both companies will make it all worthwhile.

Then a few weeks later, an even bigger shock when Adobe slips in to scoop up Neolane. Another big matchup that fits the overall strategy needs of both organizations. While I hadn’t heard of any open shopping of Neolane, it makes sense that they would be eventually in the crosshairs of a larger enterprise. A strong set of campaign management tools, a top-line roster of satisfied clients, a steady string of industry honors and awards during the last four or five years, and continuous innovation of the product line toward achieving “visionary” ranking across three separate areas in Gartner’s “Magic Quadrant” reports and named a “leader” in Forrester’s “Wave” report. There was a whole lot of upside potential waiting there for the right suitor. Like Salesforce just a little earlier and Oracle in 2012, before the Eloqua acquisition, Adobe was the big man on campus in its primary business, but has stumbled about in efforts to build a suite of contact management and execution tools that would translate to the market segments outside of its solid base of agency clients drawn in by its creative leadership. Neolane will certainly be able do that and bring powerful new strategic offerings to the Adobe table.

So the 2013 first- and second-round picks have been completed. Where do the prognosticators think the next two or three picks will fall? Silverpop, which had also flirted with Salesforce in the past, seems primed. But who trades up to get them? SAS maybe? Or are they completely satisfied with their own marketing automation tool? They might jump in to keep up with the Joneses in finding a way to up the game on their existing marketing automation capabilities. Or maybe SAS goes for top-gun Marketo, which is always talked about in merger potential conversations, but never seems to work out the final details of a deal. How about Microsoft? Do they take their time, because they had the last move in 2012 when they picked up Marketing Pilot, or do they decide to make the bigger splash with one of the big dog free agents—either before SAS moves, or will they wait for one of the other choices? There are plenty of potentially available independents out there ready and willing to be courted. And there is never a shortage of companies looking to add a ready-to-serve subsidiary to their arsenal.

So who do you think will be the next CRM/Marketing Automation data darlings to join forces toward World Marketing Domination? Take a guess, email it to me, and I will dig up a special prize for the first one—or ones—to get it right.

Turn Your Customers Into Your Best Salespeople

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Happy customers are your brand’s best salespeople. Today’s social media platforms make it easier than ever for brand advocates to share their enthusiasm with hundreds (if not thousands) of colleagues and other prospects in their online networks. The power given to consumers is real. It’s created a sort of forced collaboration between marketers and their customers — with industry bloggers, analysts and journalists chiming in too. Empower customers and your marketplace and you win. Try to control it and you may incite a mutiny.

Enabling satisfied customers to spread the word takes a combination of the right messaging and some careful listening to ensure you don’t lose out on valuable opportunities for positive online word-of-mouth. Empower your brand advocates by devoting attention to these four specific areas:

1. A great customer experience. Certain customers will go out of their way to praise a high-quality product, helpful customer service or even a compelling interaction with a brand. (This holds true whether they’re B-to-C or B-to-B customers.) Naturally, the first step is to offer a great product or service. Then start paying attention to who’s talking about your brand, what they’re saying and where they’re saying it. Social media listening tools will help you locate enthusiastic customers online. Make them prime targets for engagement.

Don’t wait for the active few, go after the silent majority, too. The primary reason most customers don’t share good news about brands they do business with is because they’re never asked. After every appropriate interaction — and without being creepy or becoming a nag — invite your customers to participate in product reviews, experience surveys, customer forums or just plain telephone calls as part of “executive outreach sessions.” Use the channel that the customer used, whether it’s SMS, social, email or retail.

2. Loyalty. Customers willing to share their positive experiences with your brand are well worth your time and resources. Once you’ve found these happy customers, invest in them to create a loyal following. You can’t underestimate the power of simply thanking customers for their business.

In addition, keep your database up to date and integrated with your segmentation and campaign management tools. Update customer profiles to include recognition of brand advocacy and nurture loyalty with special acknowledgments, promotions and discounts. It’s critical to keep these interactions relevant, personalized and well-timed. In other words, don’t spam. Just because you can email a brand advocate on her birthday, before holidays and whenever her favorite item is on sale doesn’t mean your messages will be welcome.

Track response rates over time so you can optimize message frequency and timing. While many of your loyal customers will be happy to receive lots of notices from you, never assume their interest. One of our retail clients recently found that a whopping 10 percent of their most loyal customers had marked their email messages as spam in the past year. When the retailer reached out to these customers via other channels to find out why, it learned that the email messages were too frequent and not specific to the interests of those customers. Don’t risk upsetting or annoying your customers to the point of complaints. Listen to the response data you have and back off when necessary.

3. A platform to promote. Help your brand advocates find their voice by giving them ample opportunity to share their feelings online. They’re multichannel, so think across channels too. Engage them via email, your website, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Make sure they feel welcome to talk about their positive customer experiences online.

Is your company blog comment friendly? Do you provide a timely response to mentions of your brand on Twitter? Are you using clickstream and email data to inform your personas and segmentation? Does your website provide easy access to contact information for customer service and social media accounts? Present a seamless approach across all platforms — both traditional and digital — so that your messaging is consistent and credible.

4. Pull your head out of the sand. There are dozens of examples every month of brands that tried to ignore negative social commentary or got “shamed” for suppressing negative comments on Facebook. Nestle, for example, battled with Greenpeace supporters who voiced their concerns over the company’s use of palm oil. Rather than listening and engaging with concerned consumers, Nestle created a wealth of bad PR for itself by deleting posts and snapping back at fans. Similarly, Pfizer agitated consumers by deleting Facebook posts that suggested one of its viral video campaigns may be sexist.

If you’re going to listen and respond to social data, you must accept and engage with consumers who don’t agree with your positions or didn’t have a good brand experience. Like all battles of public opinion, the trick is to empower your advocates to respond to your detractors while providing a fact-based, reasonable platform for thoughtful discussion.

Brand advocates have always played the role of valuable, cost-effective salespeople. Now their voices can be amplified even more via social media networks. With a little encouragement and support, today’s brand advocates can become a powerful sales force. Put marketing automation and integration tools to work and you’ll be able to find your satisfied customers, engage with them and delight them even more with offers and promotions that resonate and cultivate deeper brand loyalty.