Strategy and Technology: Which Is Chicken and Which Is Egg?

The average marketing stack includes up to 17 distinct technologies, according to Signal. Yowsa. No wonder integration is a big pain point for most marketing teams. No wonder martech is a hot investment area. No wonder our heads hurt.

The average marketing stack includes up to 17 distinct technologies, according to Signal. Yowsa. No wonder integration is a big pain point for most marketing teams. No wonder martech is a hot investment area. No wonder our heads hurt.

Technology is taking over marketing. Let me hear you say, AUTO! Let me hear you say, “AUTO-MATE.” I’m a devoted fan of technology that improves marketers’ productivity while enabling a more fabulous and satisfying user experience. But let’s not let all this technology go to our heads.

Technology is still a tool. And so strategy and content and creativity still need to be in the driver’s seat. You can’t buy the right technology if you don’t have a clear idea of what you need to accomplish. I had this conversation with a client this week — where we kept getting distracted by bright shiny objects (AKA: sales pitches from technology vendors), instead of focusing on what experiences we wanted to create for the customer. Once we hunkered down and really focused on the customer experience, the technology needs became obvious and much more attainable.

And yes, we did agree that we’d set aside some budget to test some wild and crazy ideas. Because that is often where the best new experiences come from — ideas that customers didn’t know to ask about.

Once you have that customer-focused objective in mind, the fun begins. Learning about all of the technologies available to modern marketing leaders is a feat in itself, but understanding how each technology maps to the goals of the marketing organization is even more challenging. It’s a little bit like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with a pure white (blank) picture. There are very few visual cues as to what fits together when and how … you need a deep understanding of technology — or an internal or external advisor you really trust to be looking out for you.

Your business strategy will set the expectation about what is being built, and a marketing technology strategy will provide clear outlines of the necessary steps to accomplish the work.

I find the chicken and egg problem appears at two levels.

  • Which Comes First? First, is the strategy borne of what technology is already in house? That could be a good starting point, and usually the best place to start for a proof of concept. Of course, buying technology is also a poor way to figure out your strategy. Yet, too often, we hear about a new feature or tool, and we want to test the channel without doing the work of considering content development and design, brand alignment, staffing resources and, most importantly, the customer need.
  • Best vs. Possible? Second, is the solution we select the best for the customer, or only the best that can be accomplished by the tools we have today? This is always the question when we get suggestions from a technology vendor. I know most will honestly aim to solve the problem in the best way for your business. It’s just that they only have their own tools to work with. It’s a caution for all marketers to watch.
Scott Brinker graphic
Scott Brinker graphic

As marketing technologist Scott Brinker aptly says in his ChiefMarTec blog, “No technology is a strategy-in-a box, and no strategy comes with a defined technology bundle.” He visualizes this concept in a Venn diagram, detailing the relationship between marketing, technology and strategy. He claims that where the three meet is the “Most interesting intersection in the world.”

I tend to agree. What are your most pressing challenges in getting your marketing technology to work for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Positioning Crisis to Look Like a Clever Plan

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says

It’s the holidays. And winter weather. Anything can happen to the best of our marketing plans, along with product or service delivery, no matter what time of year. So what is your plan if your biggest product shipment, event or other signature aspect of your organization is snared in a dizzying downward spiral because of circumstances out of your control? And how do you respond so, in the end, the boss says, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.”

If you’re like many direct marketing organizations, you don’t feel you have time to plan for crisis. As many of our long-time followers know, we do pro bono work for a performing arts organization in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The first weekend of December was to be the group’s annual Christmas Shows, and for the first time in its history, the entire region was iced in. Three out of four performances had to be cancelled—at the last minute. They have been rescheduled, but we focused on one thing at a time through the scheduling crisis.

With that fresh experience behind us—and the lessons we learned about how to successfully keep ticket cancellations and refunds to a minimum—we offer these 10 recommendations that, someday, you may need to use in a crisis:

  1. The Customer Comes First There will be anguish about cancelling a delivery, event and more. But the customer’s personal safety, expectations and experience must come first. They will remember how you handled a crisis for years.
  2. Present a Solution, Not a Problem Foster a culture in your organization so that no one drops a problem at your footsteps and doesn’t offer a solution. Encourage problem solving and solution offering. If you’re not all in the same physical location, get on the phone. Email and texts are a lousy way to encourage dynamic creativity and solve problems.
  3. Communicate Internally First. In crisis mode, it’s easy to think the customer must be notified first. Our experience: internal decisions must be communicated to everyone inside the organization first because there will be those on your staff who are posting on Facebook or Twitter. They’re intent is good, they want to help. But if they have any detail wrong, it can confuse and damage your reputation.
  4. Be Transparent and Truthful. Your customers, patrons and donors deserve the unvarnished truth. In our case, the reason for cancellation was obvious. But customers deserve to know that you’re working on solutions. Tell them what you’re doing through social media and via email.
  5. Empower One Individual to Push the Messaging Buttons. This isn’t to say that others shouldn’t help implement the plan. The point is that one person calls the messaging shots and gives direction so your organization (including the top) speaks with one voice.
  6. Update Your Website Minute to Minute. Watch your analytics reports and you’ll see quite quickly that your customers will look at your website first. Have it update-to-date by the minute. Use in-your-face graphics, in a prime location on the home page, with your announcement.
  7. Mobilize Communications Immediately. In the old days, we would have done our best to make thousands of phone calls. Thankfully today, email and social media can get out the word quickly. Email segmentation allowed us to pinpoint exactly which patrons were directly impacted, and they were sent an email (without distracting thousands who are on the email list but not affected).
  8. Constantly Monitor Social Media. Social media announcements of this magnitude spread in minutes. If you have staff or volunteers, tell them exactly what you should say. Often your customer wants to help you and spread your message for you. Give them the information. Then monitor comments so you can answer questions and clarify misinformation.
  9. Enhance Your Product Once Delivered. Most likely your product is, well, your product. It can’t be changed. But you can include a gift or bonus for the inconvenience. Or make light of the situation through messaging and give your customers an even better experience.
  10. Stay Calm and Carry On. The best compliment you can receive after the worst is behind you is, “Your actions give the impression that this was a clever plan all along.” How do you build successful teams? Foster an encouraging, solution-driven culture. And don’t permit your organization to become paralyzed in the decision-making process.

Hopefully you’ll never have to manage a crisis. We don’t want to have to ever do this again.

If you’re curious about how the messaging was handled for this organization, you can read the details here through the end of December.

3 Questions Before Implementing Any Mobile Solution

I often get super excited when I see other businesses doing cool and innovative things in mobile. You read an article here, a blog post there, see a speaker at a conference … It makes me excited … I go back to review my notes and identify all of the things I want to execute. It’s usually a long list that has some low-hanging fruit and some things that are probably not going to happen any time soon …

I often get super excited when I see other businesses doing cool and innovative things in mobile.

You read an article here, a blog post there, see a speaker at a conference …

It makes me excited …

I go back to review my notes and identify all of the things I want to execute.

It’s usually a long list that has some low-hanging fruit and some things that are probably not going to happen any time soon …

Does this happen to you?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to figure out how to incorporate a new technology into a strategy the minute the news breaks, just because someone in a C-level position read a press release.

I then realize how easy it is as a marketer to get hung up on shiny objects, such as Google Glass, and start plotting how to leverage it moving forward. BUT, then I stop myself and ask myself three important questions.

These questions help me determine how, and more importantly when, to move forward with a new mobile opportunity.

  • What problem is this solving? This could be a customer problem or even an internal operational problem.
  • How will using this mobile solution make my customer’s life (or employee’s life) better?
  • How and how soon will it contribute to the businesses bottom line?

You see, at the end of the day I call myself a revenue marketer.

Leveraging mobile solutions that either solve a problem or make your customer’s life better usually end up in increased revenue.

This means the mobile solution you implement may not be super flashy or sexy, but it gets the job done.

That’s why so many brands still heavily rely on SMS as their mobile marketing workhorse. It just works.

So, I challenge you to ask yourself these three questions when you’re approached with an opportunity that sounds cool and innovative.

Just because someone higher up than you recommends it doesn’t mean it’s the right solution.

Innovation is relative.

Solve a problem. Make your customer’s life better. Make more money.

Have you ever had this challenge? If so, we’d love to hear about how you got through it.

Push vs. Pull Marketing: In B-to-B, You Need Both

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing. “Outbound is bad,” she said. What? Well, I guess her feeling is understandable. Inbound marketing is all the rage today. Hubspot promotes it. Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it. With the new popularity of pull marketing, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why

The other day, a marketing colleague told me she was feeling under pressure to move all her efforts to inbound, or “pull,” marketing. “Outbound is bad,” she said. What? Well, I guess her feeling is understandable. Inbound marketing is all the rage today. Hubspot promotes it. Marketo promotes it. Seth Godin promotes it. With the new popularity of pull marketing, B-to-B marketers may be under the mistaken impression that push marketing is dead—or should be. How wrong they are. And here’s why.

Simply put, B-to-B marketers need a mix of push and pull. Limiting your strategy to pull alone will reduce your market, and limit your ability to identify all the prospective buyers who might need your solution to their problems.

In B-to-B, pull marketing generally means making yourself visible, or being helpful, and hoping that people will get the idea that they should visit your website or otherwise reach out to find out more about you and your offerings. The theory is a good one. And it works great for luring prospects at various stages of the buying cycle, especially when they have already identified a need and are researching potential solutions. Bingo, with pull marketing tactics like providing educational content, you have a good chance of snagging a fairly qualified prospect.

Typical pull tactics in B-to-B include:

  • Developing informative, non-salesy content, to educate all comers on how to solve their problems, and what a great partner you can be in helping them. This can be in the form of blogging, downloadable white papers, videos, infographics and others.
  • SEO and SEM, which will pull prospects to your site and your content when they are looking for particular information.
  • PR, or media relations, to persuade others to write interesting and favorable things about your products, or highlight your expertise and experience.
  • Social media, for distributing your content to followers, and inviting them to share it with their networks.
  • Speaking engagements, whether online or in person, where your expertise is on vivid display.

But what about prospects who don’t even know they have a problem? Or who haven’t defined the problem yet, not to mention considered a solution? Or maybe you have a solution that is so new, prospects don’t even know how to research it. To get all the business you deserve, this is where push marketing is essential.

In B-to-B, push marketing includes all the outbound messaging that have proven themselves for decades, most notably:

  • Direct mail, including dimensional mail. Keep in mind that the list business in the U.S. is so mature, and so sophisticated, you can find just about every prospect using mailing lists, no matter how narrowly you target.
  • Telephone calls, using the same lists, when the list owner gives you permission to call.
  • Advertising, online and offline, with a strong call to action to generate a response.
  • Event marketing, such as trade shows and conferences, where you can not only kick off relationships with new prospects, but also convey your expertise through speaking engagements.

Sure, these methods may be intrusive and unfashionable. But this is what we marketers do. To fulfill our mission of market coverage, scalable lead generation, and profitable sales growth, the modern B-to-B marketer must pull—and push—every possible lever.

Anyone want to argue about this? Let’s discuss!

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

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.

A Real Mobile Wallet (Finally!)

I heard about an interesting mobile payment technology yesterday from MobilePayUSA. The press release I saw detailed how MobilePayUSA, a mobile payment solutions provider, launched a private beta test of its solution with Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt in Balboa Island, Calif.

I heard about an interesting mobile payment technology yesterday from MobilePayUSA. The press release I saw detailed how MobilePayUSA, a mobile payment solutions provider, launched a private beta test of its solution with Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt in Balboa Island, Calif.

Big deal, right? Well, the release noted that MobilePayUSA launched its test without near-field communication (NFC) technology.

What does this mean? Basically, it means that unlike most other players in the mobile payment space, MobilePayUSA doesn’t require vendors or customers to buy new NFC technology-based hardware to use it. (NFC is next generation short-range, high-frequency wireless communication technology that enables the exchange of data between devices built with this technology. Many devices aren’t yet built with this technology, however, nor have any standards been created around it.)

Here’s how it works: MobilePayUSA’s mobile payment app connects to its cloud service, which gives users access to multiple payment options as well as discount and group cards. Users that sign up for the service enter their credit card information on MobilePayUSA’s website and download the app. Then, when they’re in a store that accepts the service, they simply open the mobile payment app and show the cashier. The cashier hits a few buttons, the transaction is processed and a receipt is emailed to the customer.

Here’s a promotional video showing an actual mobile payment transaction taking place at the Tutti Frutti Frozen Yogurt store using MobilePayUSA’s app. Pretty neat, huh?

Also unlike other e-wallets, MobilePayUSA doesn’t use RFID chips embedded in smartphones, so credit information is never stored on a phone or shared with the merchant. The company declares this difference will prove to make its solution more secure from the real threat of illegal skimmers and hackers.

I have to admit, I think this is a really great use of mobile commerce technology. It seems to make it very easy for consumers (and retailers) to finally take the mobile commerce plunge. What do you think? Please leave a comment below.

Melissa Campanelli’s The View From Here: Notes From IRCE

Wait, is it 1999? That was my feeling as I walked through the exhibit hall during the 2010 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago earlier this week. Crowded booths packed with people asking questions, lots of tchotchkes and smiling vendors were the order of the day on the floor. Of course they were smiling; the event was the “largest meeting of e-commerce professionals ever assembled,” Internet Retailer Publisher Jack Love told a packed audience at the opening general session. Love told attendees the total attendance at IRCE 2010 exceeded 6,300 people, a 33 percent increase from IRCE 2009 in Boston last June.

Wait, is it 1999?

That was my feeling as I walked through the exhibit hall during the 2010 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition (IRCE) in Chicago earlier this week.

Crowded booths packed with people asking questions, lots of tchotchkes and smiling vendors were the order of the day on the floor. Of course they were smiling; the event was the “largest meeting of e-commerce professionals ever assembled,” Internet Retailer Publisher Jack Love told a packed audience at the opening general session. Love told attendees the total attendance at IRCE 2010 exceeded 6,300 people, a 33 percent increase from IRCE 2009 in Boston last June.

On the exhibit floor, I met with many product and service suppliers and retailers, and all seemed excited that online retailing is growing and thriving as the economy gets back on its feet.

In terms of exhibitors, the floor was split between e-commerce platform providers, search providers, payment and security solution providers, and email marketing service providers. I met with many vendors; here are some highlights:

  • First Data, a merchant processing services provider, is about to launch eGift Social Solution, a mobile commerce service that provides consumers the ability to send item-level gifts — such as cups of coffee, sandwiches or movie tickets — to Facebook friends.
  • Listrak, an email service provider, introduced its Purchase Cadence Optimization solution, which automates email remarketing campaigns designed to proactively prompt customers to repurchase products.
  • MarketLive, an e-commerce software provider, has created a new version of its intelligent commerce platform, clearly with its customers in mind. The new version enables retailers to offer shoppers more refined search queries, as well as leverage online content and syndicate it across affiliate sites and social networking sites. It also packs advanced testing capabilities.
  • Payvment, a provider of social network-powered e-commerce applications, offered a solution that enables companies to open storefronts on Facebook. The solution provides a universal shopping cart, a shopping display and search tool designed for Facebook e-commerce, the ability to offer fan discounts, and enables any Facebook user to add comments and reviews to their storefront.
  • SLI Systems, a provider of intelligent on-demand search services for e-commerce sites, discussed Rich Auto Complete, which helps consumers search websites more efficiently by providing rich media suggestions to complete search terms they’re typing.