B2B Personalization — Does It Mean What You Think It Means?

Personalization is the holy grail of marketing and sales today, driving ever greater investment in marketing technology (MarTech) platforms, data and digital commerce. How important is it to marketing leaders? 92% of B2B marketers say it is a must, according to Adobe’s 2019 report Progress in personalization. How B2B brands are keeping up with rising demands for personalization. The same report reveals that 91% of senior decision makers say their companies need to improve personalization capabilities. That sentiment is striking in several ways.

Effective personalization — one size does not fit all

In marketing today, the topic of personalization is ubiquitous. Exploding your inbox, the media, LinkedIn, and beyond, the volume of personalization chatter feels incessant. Analysts pontificate about it and MarTech vendors promise outsized growth because of it. Organizations are prioritizing it and striving to collect and leverage the data required to deliver it. Marketers define programs around it and spend millions of budget dollars to track and push their offers to prospects across their omnichannel ecosystems. There is a flood of examples.

Inevitably, it seems, Amazon becomes part of the conversation as the idolized best-practice model, the ultimate success story of digital commerce personalization done right. Facebook, on the other hand, has become the poster child of personalization abuse, unleashing the unintended consequences of personalization engine algorithms.

Business loves “best practices” and there is no shortage of “marketing personalization best practices” to be discovered via search (“About 23,000,000 results” according to Google). Analyst and vendor case studies are abundant.

There is one problem though — personalization “best practices” is discussed and consumed in aggregate, as a one-size fits all discussion and with a heavy reliance on technology over context.

The B2C model of Amazon is one retailers and digital commerce marketers dream about, but B2B is not retail. And, frankly, “Dear <firstname>” is not personalization, at least not to any senior B2B decision makers I know. Without consideration of the distinct differences between B2C and B2B buyers, purchase paths and other criteria, B2B marketing personalization is commonly misaligned and misdirected — and your audience recognizes it.

What does personalization mean to B2B buyers?

In the movie The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya is the Spanish henchman to the Sicilian criminal Vizzini. Throughout the movie Vizzini, upon encountering unanticipated events, repeatedly declares “Inconceivable!” Montoya finally says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

B2B marketers often use tactics they consider to be personalization best practices, applying whatever data they have, but often fall short of their audiences’ expectations as well as their own. It’s not a small problem.

The inevitable question is this — what does true personalization look like for your organization and market? More important, what does personalization mean to your prospects and customers?

Poorly done, superficial personalization can look a lot like stalking. And, unless vendor personalization attempts are meaningful and add true value, they are just background noise. B2B buyers are different. Full stop. High-dollar B2B transactions are very different, possessing long and complex sales cycles among multiple decision makers. This changes the meaning of personalization.

B2B buyers want personalization, in human terms, within the context of their roles and priorities. Putting your target’s first name in the emails you keep sending to them is not personalization in the way you think it is. Business decision makers want and need trustworthy information, perhaps more now than ever. They do not want or need more emails and programmatic ads shoved into their browser based on information your organization has acquired. Rather than validate the trust you think you are building, cheap “personalization” tactics undermine it.

Personalization is powerful

Personalization is powerful and the data confirms it. 87% of marketers report a lift in success due to personalization according to data reported by outgrow.co. However, personalization is not the same for all, and again, the data point lacks clarity without some definition of “personalization” tactics and some understanding of the audience reporting improved performance. In other words, the context matters, which is largely the point.

Buyers of commoditized products behave much differently than the buyers of complex business solutions and services. Those differences matter.

Meaningful B2B Personalization

How do you design meaningful B2B personalization into your marketing and sales engagement? Begin by defining what personalization means to your prospects and customers. Place the emphasis on their needs, understanding the context and priorities of their roles, how their buying process works and the kinds of outcomes and information that is relevant to them. The right content, at the right time, for the right buyer is the goal of personalization. Defining what that means at each stage takes work, but it’s the secret to doing it properly.

Define your brand value and story — Every successful B2B organization has a customer value proposition. Define what makes yours unique — and what does not. Make sure everyone in marketing and sales understands it and how to use it. It defines your brand. Your prospects don’t care about your brand, your product or service, until they have a reason to care.

Historically, before digital transformation engulfed the universe, the role of giving B2B prospects a reason to care about your business solutions was done almost exclusively through personal interaction. Helping people buy has traditionally been the role of salespeople. That has changed.

Today, B2B buyers rely on a significant percentage of digital discovery, education, and interactions before engaging with sales. Buyer information needs haven’t changed, in fact, they have grown, but their methods have changed. Personalization helps make potential buyers care.

Define your audience. Understand the context of their business roles and priorities — The first thing to recognize is that you are not selling to a business. You’re selling to a person (likely multiple people) and there is a high likelihood that your product or service is not on their list of top priorities. How well you can position your solution to align with their priorities depends on how well you understand them and where your solution fits into them.

Creating Buyer Personas allows marketers to identify and understand the human being behind the role. By understanding the context and complexity of your prospect’s role, business needs, challenges and frustrations, you can develop messages and content that supports sales interactions by filling the digital chasm between a buyer’s identification of a need and buyer’s decision to engage a salesperson.

Identify how your business value aligns with your target audience’s business priorities — Consider where customer value resides in the context of the customer’s workday, professional interests, and primary function. What are their priorities and what big problems are they responsible to solve?

Every business has a formal set of objectives that cascade from the top, guiding the priorities of each department leader and their teams. This is what your audience is focused on. Whether formal or subconscious, every executive decision maker has a list of their top needs, challenges and frustrations. How and where do your value propositions intersect with the broader objectives? Find the contextual relationships and prioritize those with the strongest business impact.

Understand your B2B buyer’s journey, needs and timing

The fundamental buyer’s need for information has not changed. What has changed is that B2B buyers prefer to educate themselves before engaging a salesperson, using a fractured discovery process of many micro-events triggered by self-guided navigation and research. Digital due diligence helps buyers refine their business needs and objectives. It is standard buyer behavior and proportional to the cost and complexity of a project.

While there are several models, segmenting buyer journeys into progressively active pre-sales discovery stages is common. But beware, though the stages may seem linear, B2B journeys are neither linear nor concise.

Develop and deploy content accordingly

What do B2B buyers want and need to make informed decisions? Relevant information. Trustworthy content and guidance that helps them solve a business problem. Buyers have been telling us this for some time as evidenced by the recurring Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact studies.

It’s important to also recognize that your “buyer” is a group of individuals. No two of those individuals is moving at the same pace nor will they participate in each stage with the same interest. Each decision maker and influencer endorsement will require a clear value proposition and they will educate themselves as required by their business role and the stakeholders they represent.

Marketing teams that personalize content and messages to meet the needs of individual target prospects throughout their decision-making process, demonstrate authority in their space and earn trust as a potential partner understand B2B personalization.

“Dear <firstname> <lastname>,” is not personalization to B2B decision makers. Providing the right information and guidance, at the right time and helping decision makers become smarter buyers, is personalization.

This article was first published on Medium on Feb 11, 2022.

To Gate, Or Not To Gate? A Question As Old As Digital Delivery

Marketing Charts — https://www.marketingcharts.com/industries/business-to-business-108001

Why gate content? Leads. Gating content is about generating leads say 62% of B2B organizations as recently reported by Marketing Charts. And, though the answer to “why” surprises no one, the summary of the research they published highlights some interesting responses and related metrics worth deeper consideration.

Several of the highlights are intriguing:
“45% of respondents believe gating content adds an air of exclusivity to it.” I think users have quite an opposite reaction to gated content and see through that.
• As for the leads generated at the gate, the data is never as clean as hoped. 47% provide personal email (or a dedicated junk mail account address)
31% refuse the transaction cost of providing personal information for content. 45% of VP-level decision makers refuse.

Gating is a barrier to audience trust and the mission of your content. Period. Full stop.

Gating is as old as content marketing. It is the digital descendant of event raffles and the aggressive corralling of wanderlust trade show attendees for badge IDs. Tactically speaking, it is what marketing has always done — support sales and generate leads. I understand the rationale.

But the conversation and decision about gating content must go deeper. In fact, the simplicity of the question — to gate or not to gate — betrays a strategic and deliberate approach to the role of content today. Too often, the check-mark is defined simply by content classification rather than audience personalization such as role, journey stage and opt-in alternatives. Consider first how and where your content fits a prospect’s discovery path; does it meet their specific needs?

Faced with the question to gate or not to gate content, the first and most important question to consider is if, in the eyes of your audience, the content is worthy of the transaction cost. Most content is not. In fact, the 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study concludes that quality thought leadership is scarce — only 18% of business leaders consider vendor content excellent or very good. But take note, the impact of quality content is real and has a measurable impact on trust and reputation. 70% of decision makers will follow an author or organization that brings value (and not promotion). Conversely, “done poorly, it can harm business.” 60% of decision makers will stop following authors or organizations after reading thought leadership while 29% decided not to award business because of their thought leadership (or lack of it). Your content better be in that 18% of excellent/very good or risk the disappointment and loss of trust from your audience.

Gating is an internally focused tactic that ignores emergent trust and relationship challenges every digital business faces today. It also over-simplifies buyer behavior in complex sales cycles. But I understand the rationale, marketing is doing what marketing has been trained to do — support sales & generate leads.

There is an ironic and important paradox here. The chorus of business leaders and analysts evangelizing the importance of a more personalized and empathetic, customer experience — from end-to-end — has been rising for years now. Gating content is a contradiction.

Is there a place in the engagement process for requesting and acquiring prospect information? Yes, absolutely. Generating interest and sales opportunities is the heart of the marketing mission. Webinars are an example of a registration-required format that users readily accept. They understand there can be logistical limits and requirements when “live.” It also demonstrates legitimate audience interest by the act of registration and a calendar commitment to attend.

I’m all for strong content that informs prospects and can drive well qualified leads for sales. To be clear, it’s vital to create opportunities for users to provide personal info, but how and when you do it matters. Invoking “pay to play” access early in a prospect journey, before trust or authority has been earned, will close many doors that would otherwise remain open.

The Takeaways
1. Demand generation is a marathon. Slow down, nurture digital relationships and allow them to evolve. Trust and authority are earned, it’s not an algorithm.

2. Show, don’t tell; inform, educate and demonstrate why your solutions matter. Stop selling and stop talking about yourself; let your subject expertise be the star. Your trust and authority scores will increase immediately.

3. Be creative in creating opt-in opportunities like webinars that will demonstrate expertise, insight and customer value. Give your audience a reason to want to explore a relationship with your business. The prospect data you earn will be cleaner, will yield more productive nurture programs and increase lead quality.

Building trust and relationships have always been the first rule of sales success. Just because buyers don’t engage with sales until late in the sales cycle doesn’t mean prospects aren’t judging you. The importance of developing buyer-seller relationships based on trust and authority remain, but how those relationships evolve has been redefined. Until a buyer decides to speak to a salesperson, your digital behavior and your content is your salesperson.

This commentary was first published on Medium on Apr 17, 2019

New Marketing Landscape, Same Old Marketing Conversation?

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

If you’re involved in marketing, it’s no secret that change is everywhere. Technology has had a profound impact on all aspects of human behavior personally and professionally. The media we consume, how we consume it, and how we interact with brands – not to mention each other – has changed. The emergence of digital has altered everything, and marketing’s role today is not the marcom of yesterday. It’s a new game, with new rules, and an overwhelming number of new media, channels, and tools.

If you’re currently in a marketing leadership role and you find change scary and uncomfortable, now would be a good time to consider a career change. Conversely, if your personality is one that thrives on uncertainty, exploration, and opportunity, know this: Success will be elusive, but you will probably enjoy the ride. This is the reality of marketing today.

The need for transformation

There is endless analysis and conversation today about business transformation and innovation. It is a dominant theme among analysts, technology media, and executive management. Marketing is no exception.

Many of today’s B2B marketing conversations are data-rich, wrapped around annual surveys of marketers and buyers summarizing sentiment, budgets, and priorities. When done well, they capture the preferences and pain points of a profession in transition and have legitimate benchmark value. They clearly document changing trends and challenges, and the best of them deliver true insight. Yet at the same time it feels like something is missing.

The trend of “more” – content, measurement, and beyond

“More” is a recurring theme in recent years for marketing. More media choices, channels, and formats are complemented by the need for more leads and measurement. And, of course, more content. Seventy percent of marketers surveyed in 2015 by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) plan to create more content, but only 8% of B2B marketers rate their content efforts as “very effective.” That’s not a great return on investment. Given the continued challenge over measurement and attribution, one has to wonder about the 8%. Is it tightly measured? Or is it based on circumstantial evidence, or worse, is it assumptive?

This is one of the troubling trends that CMOs are being pressured to correct. Only 5% of marketers surveyed by CMI rate their organization’s efforts to track ROI as “very successful,” and a 2016 DemandWave survey says a full 35% of marketers don’t even have an attribution model, let alone one that is working well.

Content Science reports a couple of equally disturbing success metrics that seem to have survived the analog age of marcom – 27% gauge success by the creation rate of content, and 71% gauge success by “meeting deadlines.” Though no one will dispute the need to hit delivery dates, these metrics do not reflect the performance of content. In fact, they suggest a highly quantitative checklist approach at a time when quality and scalability matter more than ever.

This is all part of the ongoing conversations marketing is having among themselves. But as relevant as these conversations are, they are beginning to feel a bit like redundant noise. That may sound harsh, but most are rich in describing how digital customers have changed buying behaviors, the urgency of digital transformation, and the latest assessment of marketing tactics. Yet, when considered in aggregate, something is missing.

Changing the conversation inside and outside of marketing

Are the conversations around content, marketing, and advertising too narrow? Are they focused on the right things?

This recent Advertising Age article titled “The Big Agenda” is encouraging. It highlights the need to replace short-term thinking for the longer view and reflects a focus on “making marketing work better.” From readers surveyed, these are the top three priority issues in 2016:

1. Making marketing more efficient (55%)
2. Improving creative excellence (54%)
3. Finding new ways to reach consumers as they block or skip ads (52%)

What is missing from the conversation today is the important new role marketing must unequivocally accept – marketing is now a direct and substantial part of the sales process. The new role is not about creating more content and publishing more often; it is about being more effective at earning audience attention and driving demand.

The 2015 B2B Marketing Trends Report from CMI highlights a key organizational challenge that must be part of the new marketing conversation. It is the wide distribution of accountability across organizations for content marketing: C-level (23%), product marketing (19%), demand gen (18%), PR (15%), social media (6%), or the omnipresent “other” (14%).


The distribution metric is significant because it documents a fractured model aligned to traditional internal structures.

Unfortunately, most attempts to adapt and improve marketing performance have been tactically iterative, constrained by legacy assumptions and habits. Technology, consumers, and communications have changed too much for incremental evolution.
Everyone needs to turn off autopilot and re-think the entire approach, right down to organizational structures and processes. Process is key to efficiency, but a process based on an old set of rules is industrialized disaster. For many, this is the status of B2B marketing today.

Until organizations accept this, marketing execution will be marginalized by the lack of a holistic vision and execution strategy. New, operationally sustainable strategies will need to break old habits, processes, and role-based silos. Digital business requires transformation at every level, perhaps most of all in marketing.

As Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.” Are you ready to change the conversation of marketing?

This article was originally written for and published by Content Science Review.

Why I don’t repurpose content

engineer content, dont repurpose it

Raise your hand if you are in marketing and have embraced the need to deliver content across multiple media and channels.  It is a virtual certainty you have.  It supports SEM strategies, increases impressions and communicates multiple perspectives.  Content teams are working harder than ever to deliver quality content in a variety of forms.

Now, raise your hand if your budget and resources have increased proportionately.  Note to self – no raised hands are visible.  So without additional resources what options remain? Work harder or work smarter ( or both is a third option of course).

The dynamics of digital content are very different than non-digital. I recognize that this is obvious, but how much have your content creation strategies changed?  Not much… is the response from most organizations.

The business world still has a documents-first mindset.  Oh sure, they are tweeting, some are blogging, a few are socially active, and if my email inbox is a barometer, everyone has a marketing automation tool. But the source, focus and process is typically based on a document, which marketing then repurposes across digital channels.

Repurposing content is reactive, not proactive

“Repurpose your content.” You’ve read it, I’ve read it, it is everywhere. It makes sense – at first glance.  But when you look deep into your goals and digital tactics, it’s backwards.  Repurposing content from high-value documents like whitepapers or eBooks, is inefficient. It’s a reactive retrofit, not a proactive strategy.

I’m not saying that your whitepaper is not valuable, just that how most create them today is inefficient considering additional digital content goals.

Engineer you content, don’t retrofit

The idea of content engineering is based on the need for scale and orchestration of message.  It is an evolution guided by content, communication and promotion strategies designed to articulate value to an audience where they will find it and in a form appropriate for consumption.  Fish where the fish are.  The challenge (as if there is only one…) is that there is no longer a large school of fish, but many ponds and baits.

I embrace the engineering approach because it is rooted in strategy and progressive steps. Strategy is a top-to-bottom approach, defining the core conceptual message, goal and tactics.  Strategy guides the framework – your message pillars that can both stand-alone and support the big idea.  Each pillar has it’s own foundation and unique conversational value.

What is more unique than non-digital approaches is the idea of creating functional components from the bottom up. Developed incrementally and progressively, guided by the broader strategic message, each pillar is functional along the way and does not need to be reverse engineered to become smaller assets later.

This process is efficient and delivers incremental content throughout the process.  It provides a roadmap to inter-connect supporting ideas and will often uncover relationships that were not initially obvious.  Most importantly, you won’t be waiting for the completion of the ‘next big thing’ and then working backwards to extract messages and content to promote it.  Instead, you’ll have time to orchestrate how it is delivered and shared with your target audience.

What is your experience – care to share?

10 Predictions for B2B Marketing in 2014

2014 B2B Content & Marketing Predictions

Lets be honest, there is nothing new about predicting the year ahead.  By now you’ve no doubt encountered many projections for how our industry will evolve between now and December.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the goal of my commentary is to commit my own thoughts “for the record” so that I can return to these strategy KPI benchmarks later for measurement.  Too many times have I said to myself “I predicted that” but had nothing in writing to validate my internal boasts.  Enough said.  Here is my list:

Google+ will gain serious momentum as an important B2B social channel 

Omit Google+ at your own peril.  As Google continues to refine search algorithms with emphasis on defining and empowering the semantic web, Google+ will emerge as a key channel for B2B research, digital conversations and audience engagement.  It will fill the gap between personal conversations on Facebook and professional engagement on LinkedIn.

Organizations will begin to recognize the need to restructure for digital content creation and multi-channel delivery

Execution of digital marketing message, content and program strategies require more integrated team planning and execution.  Traditional twentieth century organization structures were designed to market via non-digital processes and media.  These legacy org structures represent silos and obstacles to capitalize on new tools, media and channels and blended digital strategies.  The emphasis on measurement and improved marketing ROI will force organizations to recognize the need for structural re-alignment.  Not much change will occur in 2014 but the conversation will escalate.

The document-first approach to content creation will begin its decline as the content strategies adopt a content engineering approach to optimize for multiple channels and media 

Creating a white paper and then having a discussion about additional ways to leverage or “repurpose” the document is not enough.  Repurposing of flagship documents, webinars, etc. will be replaced by a process that strategically plans and designs for multi-channel digital distribution rather than retro-development of a single tactic.   While this won’t yet gain significant momentum, the conversation will evolve away from repurposing to strategic multi-purposing and execution in the planning stage.

Momentum for the Marketing Technologist and Data Scientist will soar

The importance of technology and user experience in any digital engagement cannot be ignored.  As technology is now the delivery path for content, services and applications, achieving meaningful, audience-valued interactions will require greater collaboration and alignment between IT, marketing and other groups.  Combined with the need to capture business value from volumes of data and continued pressure for meaningful marketing metrics, these two roles will be instrumental in the maturity of these goals while acting as liaisons between the traditional CMO v. CIO non-conversation.

Video will receive a greater percentage of marketing budget and will grow as a preferred communication media. 

Video has reached the precipice of business acceptance.  It is recognized as a powerful communications tool, but it has yet to be leveraged in practice.  Barriers limiting daily video use such as the networks ability to deliver quality video, ease of adoption and creation, and user experience are falling.  Video as the “killer app” is ready to assume a dominant role in business communications in ways most do not yet see.

APIs and digital platform consolidation will emerge as vital to content strategy

Context and rationalization of content aligned with both audience personas and the sales cycle are important competitive differentiators for business.  To connect ‘the right’ resources that bring contextual value to the marketing mix will place increased emphasis on APIs.  Consolidation of disconnected information and content sources will take time but the trend will be to recognize the need and begin a process of integration not previously acknowledged.

Curation will grow, but successful integration within messaging and content will remain dormant

There is too much content to manage and consume.  Period.  Automation of the process has matured and gained momentum, but only a very small minority will go the extra mile to truly optimize and integrate it within their content creation and delivery strategies.

Social listening will become a budget line item

Business is social. Social listening will soon be deemed a requirement, not an option.  Recognizing that peer-to-peer conversations impact every target audience and with the integration of social into customer service platforms, listening will be emphasized.  The challenge for B2B will be timely response due to lack of strategy and structure.

Apps will proliferate and have a significant impact on experience design and will influence web interface design

I see this everywhere already so maybe it’s not a fair prediction, but mobile apps have forced digital designers to jump out of their interface design box.  This is long over-due and I’m thankful to mobile for a better user experience and more visual delivery of digital content.  Many thanks to Apple and Ideo in particular for igniting this evolution.

Engagement goals will lead to more B2B focus and emphasis on brand communities.  

Business has recognized the value of social channels and is now committed to respond.  Two trends are inevitable – brand community growth and increased emphasis on measurable KPIs of this activity.

Branded communities will be the natural strategy for most mid-sized and large B2Bs.  Why? Because most these brands find it hard not to focus on themselves and because it will be easier for them to manage KPIs in communities they control.  The majority will not gain much traction however, because users will gravitate to communities of interest and not communities of brand.

What do you think?  please share thoughts and comments.

An important lesson learned and leveraged

Bailey-sketchAll of us recall events, activities and mentors that impacted our personal and professional lives.  These are the experiences that shape our behavior, skills and personality, ultimately making us who we are.

One of the most memorable lessons of my education came during a drawing class I was enrolled in.  I loved to draw, but sketches of the human form were not in my portfolio for a reason. So when the instructor declared our assignment of the day to be a portrait to be rendered from a photo, self-doubt was a clear undercurrent as I scanned the resource files for my photographic model.

Soon the model and I were back at our seat, poised and ready with pencil in hand.  In an instant, my doubt turned to curiosity as the instructor told us to turn the photo upside down and draw the image from that perspective. I could see from a glance around the room I was not alone in my surprise.

When the exercise was finished, the results were impressive. The accuracy of my sketch was unprecedented, easily the most accurate portrait I had ever drawn.  But why?

What we learned that day was that shapes and objects familiar to us are influenced by our memory and interpretation of what we see.  Because we are familiar with a shape or image, the brain skips more critical study once memory tells us what it is supposed to be.  By turning the image upside down, preconception of what the object looks like is eliminated and forces critical evaluation of now unfamiliar shapes, relationships and patterns.

I leverage this lesson almost every day in life and in business.  It taught me to turn questions and problems upside down in order to see them more clearly and to eliminate the influence of preconception.  Used in combination with my favorite question – what if, it activates an exploration of opportunities and critical evaluation of environmental factors that are sometimes easily missed. The result is inevitably a more clearly defined goal unrestricted by the sometimes-restrictive framework of familiarity.

Are CIOs and CMOs interchangeable?

CIOs and CMOs should know enough about each other’s field of expertise to be interchangeable according to Jim Davis, SAS’s global marketing chief in a recent CMO.com article.

I had to read that statement more than once.

After considering this concept further, I thought to myself why don’t we also add the CFO, COO and CEO into that prototype and include a couple of engineering PhD’s and legal counsel.  Now that is an executive persona.  Clone them into a board of “Mini-Me’s.”

Think of the synergy in that boardroom.  No hidden agendas, no bitter debates or personality conflicts.  The enterprise now has complete strategic alignment across operations, product development, IT, marketing and sales.  Dream team.

Don’t get me wrong; Mr. Davis makes many important points.   As a former CIO his emphasis on technology is no surprise.  To be clear, I agree with the majority of his opinions.  I just don’t’ agree that the CMO and CIO roles could be interchangeable.

In fact, it’s not that I completely reject the ideal of that concept.  It’s just not realistic. Culturally speaking, no one sits at more distant ends of the boardroom than the CIO and CMO, assuming of course that the CMO has a seat.  Their training, skills, experiences, and often personalities, are polar opposites.

Technology is a tool; it’s not the solution to marketing’s mission.  There is no debate about the unprecedented potential it represents as a production, delivery and measurement mechanism, but to confuse marketing with technology is naïve and doomed to failure. And B2B technology vendors are often the worst offenders.

Marketing has become distracted by technology and automation.

Marketing is ultimately about awareness, communication, persuasion, and audience experience. It begins with a compelling message and story that delivers unique differentiation that your audience cares about. To quote Leo Burnett, effective messaging “does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.”  It is human, empathetic, and most of all, memorable.

These basic building blocks do not come in a box.  The technology and the applications – they are tactical tools for delivery and measurement.  Ultimately success is measured in terms of customer acquisition and retention, not the size and quality of your database or email open rates.

As a technology marketing and content strategist, I agree with Mr. Davis’ philosophy at the tactical and execution level. Marketing does need a better understanding of what’s in the technology box, and how they can use it.  But do not become distracted by it.  Without simple, memorable, inviting messages, it will not achieve the objective.  Garbage in, garbage out, it’s just being distributed more efficiently.

The CMO and CIO are not interchangeable, but the evolution of digital technology does require that their roles and objectives be synchronized and complimentary. The digital age has also created at least one shared reality – it has forever changed the IT and marketing roles. The changes these executives have seen in the past 15 years are unprecedented, turning both their professional worlds upside down.

To succeed as business leaders in this new age, the CMO and CIO will need to transcend isolated and historic roles.  As digital interactions and devices continue to mature, the two business groups will become inseparable in the customer experience conversation. Marketing and IT will represent a new business ecosystem that will ultimately be defined and measured by customer experience.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome additions to this conversation.

An open letter to marketing

Marketing, you have become distracted; you’ve lost your focus. Somewhere along the way you lost site of your roots and abandoned your heritage.  You have forgotten that content is king, communication is personal and your audience has issues and needs other than your own.  They really don’t care about your goals; it is all about them.  Selfish, isn’t it?

You have been seduced by technology and automation.  It’s understandable, and it’s not entirely your fault. We all listen attentively to the promise of technology.  We wait anxiously for the next digital release and the new roadmap to success. So does your management team.

Marketing, your distracted relationship with technology and automation at the expense of message and story will not end well.  Laura Ramos eloquently captured this in a recent Forrester blog post:

“Once upon a time, there was a little marketer with a big problem. Her sales executives said, ‘We need more leads.’ So she bought a big new shiny marketing automation engine . . .  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I’m sure we all know the end of the story. The marketing engine didn’t live up to expectations because data and content didn’t come in the box”.

I’m waiting for the culmination day when I receive the marketing automation email that simply tells me to fill in the registration form.  No exchange offered, nothing of value for me, just the naked opportunity to give up my email, phone and address information and wait for the telemarketer to call.

Enchanting and powerful as technology is, it will remain a tool and not the solution.  To believe it has all the answers marketing requires is both naïve and doomed to failure.  But there is hope.  Every pendulum swings both ways and ultimately settles into a balanced state.

Marketing is ultimately about communication, persuasion, and audience experience and success is measured in terms of customer acquisition and retention.   It begins with a compelling message and content that delivers unique differentiation that your audience cares about. These basic building blocks do not come in a box; they are inherently human, emotional and memorable.  The technology and applications are important tools for the digital age, but they are the mechanics, devoid of vision and empathy.  Even the technology vendors realize this.

Digital First, Documents Last

Throughout the history of marketing, documents have been the cornerstone of B2B content creation and delivery – brochures, white papers, press releases, data sheets, etc.

The digital age antiquates this model.   Documents as the focal point of content development does not support multi-channel, multi-media content creation and distribution. As a process it does not deliver the scale necessary to efficiently support the digital mix, nor does it match digital consumption preferences.

It’s not that documents no longer have a place in the content mix, but digital content strategies need to think beyond the PDF.  This means digital first. Workflows need to evolve to produce content that is modular and scales to support all media forms and distribution channels.

Documents will remain relevant as a format, but they are only a part of a much broader mix. They can no longer be the foundation of the content development process.

Multiplying Content to Accelerate Inbound Traffic

Content marketing is all the rage.  It should be. Its influence is well documented and as a result, it has spawned a new industry of marketing experts and professionals.

But how does a resource strapped enterprise capitalize on the need for more search optimized content and growing consumption habits? By capitalizing on existing, effective content, and converting it into many other forms.  Repurposing original content is a common recommendation. The result?

  1. Consistency of message for audience
  2. Content that conforms to multiple user consumption preferences and learning styles
  3. Creation of social media content kits
  4. Improved analytic reporting and consumption assessment
  5. Improved editorial coordination
  6. Ease of management
  7. More scalable content development projects
  8. Increase in content back-links, and URLs to related content
  9. Reduced cost of creation;
  10. Exponential volume of search optimized, quality content across the web
  11. Greater awareness across the marketing & communications group of content and messaging
  12. Increased qualified inbound prospects

If your website is well optimized for lead generation, increased traffic and engagement translates into more qualified leads, a percentage of which convert into sales.

Content Magnification

How many content items can be created from a single source? A LOT.

Take for example a your white paper.  The primary information source is the SME, who provides the key customer value propositions to a writer or your marcom team, who are then tasked with the project of creating a compelling, consumable information source describing why your prospect should consider buying from you.  In years past, it was a print document, today it is digital – probably a PDF.

This is a historical and well defined exercise that has been practiced for decades.  This was well suited for brick and mortar business, but falls short in today’s digital economy.  But the question before us is not about creating the source content (which is another important process to be considered), but how many ways can it be leveraged for digital consumption.  Content marketing is a beast, and it is hungry.

Why do we feed it? Because your prospects are hungry for information and your content is marketing currency. Currency that has an exchange rate that converts into qualified web traffic and web traffic into leads for sales. It is an ecosystem.

What does the content marketing beast consume? Can we feed it?  Repurposing existing material is a beginning to reach prospects beyond the document. Here a starter list of what can be generated directly from the initial collateral:

  1. Web content
  2. Landing pages
  3. Webinars
  4. Online presentations
  5. Video
  6. Audio Podcasts
  7. Social media (tweets, blogs, commentary)
  8. Promotions and campaigns
  9. Direct mail & newsletters
  10. PPT speaker notes
  11. Press & analyst resources
  12. Translated content resources for regional teams and audiences

Repurposing your best material can certainly generate all this, but it can also be done concurrently and by design, which is the idea behind “content engineering”.  It’s easier than you might imagine.  Is it necessary? After all, the collateral is produced and available, but it’s not enough, not today.  A single document with your well-conceived and developed value proposition is not enough. A new approach to magnifying content is beyond important.  It’s essential.