Martyn Etherington Speaks: The Story of a B-to-B Digital Marketing Turnaround

I had the chance recently to catch up with Martyn Etherington, a marketing leader I’ve long admired. Martyn had just left his post at Mitel, where he was CMO and Chief of Staff. In a reflective mood, he was willing to field some questions about his successes there. You may remember Martyn from his instructive Diary of a CMO, published by Direct Marketing News in 2013.   Martyn’s answers reveal what’s working today in B2B digital marketing.

At Mitel, you more than doubled the size of the digital marketing team after arriving there in 2012. Where did you direct them to focus their efforts, and why?
Quite simply, it was customer driven. Customers have changed the way that they buy, and therefore we need to change the way we sell. I directed them to focus on three key areas:

  1. The Zero Moment of Truth, the concept pioneered by marketers at Google that focuses on the importance of visibility at the earliest research stage of the customer journey. Winning at ZMOT means knowing the key words and phrases that your customers use, instead of what we as vendors use to describe our products. This means outside-in thinking instead of inside out. A telling example was the success we claimed for maintaining key positions for the term “Premise Based PBX Systems,” when there were fewer than 30 searches a month on that phrase. “Business Phones,” on the other hand, was getting a million searches a month—and we were missing out. The solution was conducting Voice of Customer (VOC) research to develop a lexicon of key customer terms and phrases, to buy those key words, and also to pepper them in all the content we produced.
  2. Improving the customer experience, especially at the website. Mitel had made numerous acquisitions, which meant nearly 40 different web platforms. VOC research drove the new navigation, site structure, information architecture, search and content, down to product nomenclature. Putting the customer at the center of our business, we saw a tripling of our web traffic, a reduction in bounce rate and a higher conversion of visitors to leads.
  3. Becoming a more socially active business. In March 2014, we had probably 30 people in our company engaged in social media in one form or another. Around that time, I picked up a book called The Social Employee, by Cheryl and Mark Burgess. I read it in one weekend. It said that if we were to really transform a brand to be outside-in and put the customer at the center, we must have our employees understand that we are all brand stewards. So, after I read that book, I phoned Jill Rowley, and together we developed a series of social training sessions. Fast-forward, we went from the 30 users to close to 2,000 employees who are actively engaged in social media. We made it very easy for them. Whenever we put out an announcement, we sent out a whole series of canned tweets that our employees can cut and paste or edit. We’ve tried to take away the fear. Our social policy is simply: At all times use your best judgment. There are no other rules. We refined it a bit over time, and you can read the details in an article about our social transformation in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

What were the most productive digital initiatives?
I can point to all three main digital pillars as being productive. Identifying the key words and phrases our customers uses at the Zero Moment of Truth saw an initial 30% increase in our ranking and positioning on Google search. The complete redesign of our web site based on Voice of Customer tripled the number of visitors at launch in October 2014. Using social and hashtags for key events such as trade shows and the football World Cup 2014 improved our brand awareness.

What’s one of the more exciting developments in the world of B2B digital marketing that has captured your interest?
Without doubt, the science behind ZMOT and the recent emergence of a sub-section, which is Micro Moments of Truth. These are the new battleground for brands.

I know you are an avid consumer of business books and media. Anything from your reading list these days that you’d recommend?

  1. B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, by yourself. [Thanks, Martyn!] Speaks to the underpinning of all good marketing, and a topic that is much hyped but rarely explained.
  2. Think Big, Act Bigger, by Jeffrey Hayzlett, who dares readers to own who they are as a leader or company, define where they want to go, and fearlessly do what it takes to get there—caring less about conventional wisdom, re-framing limitations, and steamrolling obstacles as they go.
  3. The Brand Flip: Why Customers Now Run Companies and How to Profit From It. Marty Neumeier shows you how to make the leap from a company-driven past to the consumer-driven future. You’ll learn how to flip your brand from offering products to offering meaning, a topic very dear to my heart.
  4. The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society. Charles Handy looks at current trends in capitalism and asks whether it is a sustainable system. He explores the dangers of a society built on credit. He challenges the myth that remorseless growth is essential. He even asks whether we should rethink our roles in life—as students, parents, workers and voters—and what the aims of an ideal society should be. Very thought provoking.

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

New Directions for B-to-B Data-driven Marketing

Okay, we’re in the maelstrom. But what is on the horizon for data-driven marketing? Here are some predictions, culled from interviews with several very bright observers who contributed to my new book, “B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results.”

For us B-to-B marketers, the world is changing about as fast as we can stand. My head spins at the speed with which new tools, applications and approaches arrive on the scene. Where does this all come from? The Internet, of course, whose impact on business buying behavior has changed the game. As a platform for communications, for selling, for just about every element of the marketing arsenal, it is forcing marketers to think more carefully about customer and prospect data.

Okay, we’re in the maelstrom. But what is on the horizon for data-driven marketing? Here are some predictions, culled from interviews with several very bright observers who contributed to my new book, B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results.

  1. More power and influence for marketing:
    The sales function has traditionally held the primary B-to-B revenue responsibility, leaving marketers with a history of frustration at their exclusion from a seat at the senior executive table. That is changing fast, as new tools and measurable communications techniques enable marketing not only to demonstrate financial results, but to take on revenue responsibility. “Salespeople are no longer the only rainmakers,” says Thad Kahlow, CEO of the digital agency BusinessOnLine. “Marketers today have serious revenue targets hanging over their heads.”
  1. B-to-C provides the inspiration:
    B-to-B marketing is rarely the leader in advancing data-driven marketing techniques. But it is adept at watching and taking up the new ideas from consumer marketers that apply to business buying, observes David Myron, editorial director at CRM magazine. One example is experiments with unstructured data, like that from social media, where consumer marketers are making headway. B-to-B marketers will likely search and analyze nuggets not only from social media but also from phone conversation content and email content, to identify buying intent, competitive interest and other actionable insights.
  1. The end of the database “build:”
    Digital marketers today are taking greater advantage of “real-time” data, delivering immediate responses to interactive behaviors between customer and marketer. Increasingly, the ability to manage such data points efficiently will make the traditional marketing database too stagnant and unresponsive to be useful. We are not there yet—the idea is still experimental. But the “always-on” future is beginning to be visible, where your storefront is always available for any kind of customer interaction.
  1. A simpler technology picture:
    Most marketing technologies claim to make marketer’s lives simpler. But at this point, marketing technology has become dizzying in its complexity. In the future, says Nitin Julka, product manager at LinkedIn, more and more of the complexity of running marketing campaigns is going to be automated, in a simpler way, so that marketers can focus on what truly matters—their target audiences, buyer’s journeys, and messaging.
  1. A sensible balance between data, insight and marketing strategy:
    “You can have all kinds of customer data, and still not understand how to communicate persuasively with customers and prospects,” notes Howard J. Sewell, president of Spear Marketing Group. “Software and analytics can’t tell you the what and the why.   We need to respect and harness what the data tells us, but also put it in its place.”
  1. Data is the business:
    The appreciation among stakeholders for the importance of customer data will continue to grow. “Data isn’t something we just have stored over there,” says Frank Cutitta, CEO of the Center for Global Branding, and professor at Northeastern University. “Data is the business. Companies that understand this are ahead of their competitors.”The Internet has been with us since the early 1990s, and by now it has impacted every scrap of B-to-B marketing.   But the next stage of its evolution will be to simply go away, as a thing in itself. Digital marketing will become so mainstream that it will be called simply marketing. We will no longer make a distinction between online and offline. We will understand and interact with customer from all sides, in a seamless whole. And the data will be the enabler of that relationship.

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