Many people assume a Go To Market strategy is really just a list of tactics -- trade shows, email, social media, influencers, etc.
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Happy New Year. For aud lang syne and all that.
We are well beyond that beautiful limbo of the holiday season, an inevitable opportunity for us as individuals to pause and look back on the previous 12 months.
Maybe there’s a tinge of regret (they are teachable moments), glimmers of brilliance, and hopefully buckets of pride in what we’ve achieved.
In the marketing industry, like all others being changed by technology, this time of year that falls at the end of calendar Q4 and beginning of Q1 is when we make predictions.
Don’t get me wrong, I love prediction pieces! They have kind of become an industry norm – something every blog and publication tends to run. Many are super helpful expert-POV that help us make sense of the change.
Most often, these predictions are a hugely optimistic look at the months ahead, and a really compelling benchmark - like a time capsule - as to where we are collectively the very moment the calendar year (human construct of time, human construct of time, human construct of time) comes to an end.
In the hype race, customers are left behind.
Now, if you’re situated comfortably within the marketing corner office of a marketing tech vendor (or more likely in a funky open office setting, you know, with the plebians) your predictions likely centralize around whatever it is that you’re selling.
Widget vendor? 2017 is undoubtedly the year of the widget.
If you’re in the media, you’re likely writing or being assigned stories that fall into the greater narrative of the tech industry. (Writing about “AI in marketing” this year? Yeah, you.)
We all know the dangers of hype.
Too often, executives who are making predictions try too hard to… well… sound like they can predict the future. Yes, we should all seek to be thought leaders, on the bleeding edge of our industry, ahead of the game, yadda yadda yadda. But what’s happened in many fields, especially marketing, is a bit of a race that’s getting out of control.
Vendors rush ahead to be innovative (or sound innovative). Our customers can barely keep up. Fast-forward 12 months and it’s time for another set of high-level, pie in the sky predictions that very few practitioners are ready to take advantage of.
Where is the customer in the maturity and adoption of these tactics? Who are you writing for?
They’re still trying to implement 2013’s predictions. Some are stuck in 2009. It’s not their fault, it’s the pace of change that is far more difficult to implement than the time it takes to write a thinkpiece on the future of their industries.
We are really not helping anyone with hundreds of pieces about what’s to come in the year ahead that are grounded in truth only realized by early-adopters, or worse, grounded in fiction.
So, I thought it would be fun to do a brief sanity-check of last year’s predictions. See how right our fortune teller industry luminaries really are.
Note: this is done in jest. I don’t mean to call anyone out, in fact I came across quite a few folks that I know and love and have left all names off my piece.
Let’s get into it: 13 Marketing Industry Predictions from 2016 – Did They Come True?
1. Digital Marketing will Cease as Marketers Shift to Marketing in a Digital World - Forbes
Forget digital, we’re so digital we’re not even digital anymore.
2. The Era of Cognitive Commerce has Begun – Forbes
Spoken like a guy who works for a cognitive business technology company, oh wait, he does (IBM).
3. Real-Time Marketing Analytics will Unite Online and Offline Behavior for Richer Lead Scoring and Nurturing in 2016 – Forbes
I know the predictor behind this one, and he’s a smart cookie. This one is getting closer to the truth, as it hopes phone activities from sales will be included in lead scoring. Also, he works at a company selling insights around phone activity. Moving on.
4. The arrival of Virtual Reality, combined with a major explosion of streaming and the death of old world distribution models will unleash a new age of what we used to call “TV” – Forbes, and this article too
Oooh a new age. I think ages, by definition, take a few years to shake out, so why don’t we check back on this one in a couple of decades.
5. Being Human Will Return to Marketing / Getting Back to Basics Will Trump the Sexy, Shiny, New Marketing Vehicle – Forbes
Now these guys are speaking my language. Are these predictions? Or is this a cop out? The jury is out…
6. The Maturation of Addressable Communications will Advance Across Channels – Forbes
I will take bread with this buzzword soup, yes, thank you. Mmm, delicious.
7. Intent-based Marketing Has Become a Reality – Forbes
Hello my friend! This predictor is also a very smart marketer who I love and respect. Three guesses what his firm sells.
8. By the end of 2016, CMOs will no longer present slideware to show their impact on revenue in board meetings– Forbes
Down with PPT!! Right after I finish editing next week's board slides.
9. In the same Forbes article, there’s one about the importance of data-driven marketing, from a marketing data vendor.
10. Another about sales and marketing alignment from a sales enablement technology vendor. And on it goes.
11. In content marketing, this article predicts live streaming will skyrocket in popularity (I do see a lot more of it from brands. I can’t yet find data on its usage but suppose this is closer to reality.)
12. It also speaks to the rise of personal authority over brand authority – something I harp on with my own clients. I’m behind this one.
13. This one predicts “brand/product/marketing/sales and CS teams will reorganize around innovation and customer experience”—again, let’s check back on that one in a few years. I love the spirit of this, but this one will take a while to shake out. Re-orgs take time…
Looking back, thinking ahead.
Look, while this article is done in the name of fun, I do hope it tempers next year’s slew of prediction pieces back to a pace that both positions your company as an innovative leader in your space, while addressing the real problems faced by your customers.
Otherwise, practitioners are sitting on the train, reading your piece on their phones, thinking “wow. My peers are so much farther along than me.” The truth is, most are not. It’s an illusion.
Speak to where customers are today, while painting a bright future for what they could have tomorrow. This will have more impact than lofty predictions.
In marketing, we can’t afford to be so full of BS about the future of our space. It’s become a joke.
Founders, you don’t need to always fake the illusion that you are somehow light years ahead of the market. No, investors don’t want to hear it. They know the companies that build billion-dollar industries are solving an addressable market problem, at the moment of need, with an eye to what’s to come.
Next time you write a prediction for the year ahead, do a quick gut check.
Now... where’s the champagne? I’m still celebrating.
My friend Samantha opens her new book, Unleash Possible, with this line:
An investor, a CEO and a CMO walk into a boardroom…
If you’re waiting for the punchline, it’s in the form of 15 chapters filled with hard-fought lessons picked up in the real world, from the perspective of someone who has spent her career growing businesses one product launch, sales pitch, customer interview and marketing campaign at a time.
I worked alongside Samantha over the course of the past few months editing every word in this powerful book. 15 case studies, 66,957 words, and 406,311 characters later, it is a real testament to what it takes to be successful in high-growth organizations today.
The book focuses on three core sections, and they are each important areas of concern for business leaders who want to, wait for it… unleash what’s possible. (See what I did there?) They are three things every business leader should focus on in the coming year:
- The motivation - and the metrics - that matter.
Hiring, and motivating, top talent is one of the most difficult pressures facing business leaders today, especially in digital marketing.
Understanding what drives your team, what fosters collaboration and true brainstorming, and what makes people LOVE to come to work every day and produce for you is critical. Hint: it’s not just about work perks like beer on tap (though that definitely doesn’t hurt.)
The keys are empowerment and trust.
What’s more, when measuring your marketing efforts, don’t get bogged down in activity-based metrics like click-through-rates. Tell a story with your numbers. Demonstrate your impact in the language the rest of the business uses: revenue and growth.
- The most important marketing stakeholder: Sales.
“Collaboration and alignment.”
These are the most over-used and under-implemented buzzwords I hear when someone is describing the relationship marketers have with their counterparts in sales.
(Can I get an Amen?)
There is a real, concentrated effort behind true sales and marketing alignment.
It requires consistent input, joint efforts over time, and working in tandem on shared goals (see focus area #1). This doesn’t work if it’s just lip service.
It requires compromise, and creating common ground on items like:
- who your target customers really are (I especially recommend the chapter in this book on the dangers of only chasing the c-suite)
- how to develop accounts together (yes, Account Based Marketing)
- how to execute outbound efforts without sales tearing their hair out
None of these efforts can happen in a silo. I won’t spoil the book, but here’s a tip: ice cream can help.
- Applying buyer-driven guardrails to every tactic you deploy.
From my time as CMO of Cintell, the topic of being customer-centric has always been near and dear to me (watch my TEDx talk on the topic.)
It’s a simple difference of mindset that separates the “meh” and mediocre marketers from those who are high-performing. Customer-centric businesses have always been more profitable, but today, more than ever, it’s easy to lose sight of this fundamental aspect of our roles. We’re so busy, there are so many tools, never enough time.
In the book, Samantha applies the concept of being buyer-driven to a variety of marketing fundamentals. The takeaway for business leaders today is simple: if you’re not making decisions, whether strategic or tactical, with radical empathy for your buyer, your competitors will.
Whether you’re writing marketing content, creating email campaigns to nurture buyers over time with marketing automation, designing a referral program, wrangling together your CRM database, or crafting a PR strategy (all of which is discussed in this book, yes really), all of it starts, and ends, with your buyer - not with you.
You know that thought you have every now and again?
“I really should write a book.”
It’s usually followed by thoughts of “nah, I don’t have that kind of time,” or “nobody will read it.”
It’s simply not true. While writing a book like this is a great and enormous endeavor, it is totally worth it. When practitioners like Samantha, who have some solid and real advice to offer their peers put pen to paper, things like Unleash Possible are born. I personally believe the world of business is better off with this book in it.
And like all great and enormous endeavors, it’s totally surreal to see the final result in my hands. I’ll leave you with two points to consider (and trust me, I have read every word.)
You’ll want to keep it nearby. Unleash Possible is one of those books that you keep near your desk for reference. It will be something you read with a pen in one hand, ready to underline passages and make notes in the margins. The ideas within aren’t fluffy, they’re not out-of-reach, and they’re not intangible.
If you’re been following the hype problem in marketing, this book might be exactly what marketers seek these days.
You don’t need to be a marketer to learn from - and act on - this book. The chapters within are geared for CEOs, leaders in sales, investors, and more as it contains all the practical perspective you need to understand the charter of marketing today.
Congratulations to Samantha on this professional achievement. Thank you for including me in the journey, and for sharing your perspective with the world.
Now, who’s next?
There’s plenty of fervor around the need for buyer personas; so why do some fail to deliver real value?
From where I sit, we have entered a new phase in the evolution of buyer persona maturity in marketing– or maybe this has been the phase we’ve been stuck in ever since the phrase “buyer persona” was first coined years ago, first in the design movements of the 90’s, and later into marketing and sales.
Today, you can find over 500,000 search results on the topic, most supporting the need for buyer personas as a foundational component of effective marketing. Ask an industry thought leader, and you will hear similar validation, “personas are more important than ever” and “know your buyer first.” In fact, 73% of companies currently use, or plan to use, buyer personas (ITSMA).
But there is a very sobering gap between the perceived value of buyer personas and the actual, realized value.
85% of companies aren’t using buyer personas correctly, according to the same survey. This gap is what the next phase of buyer persona maturity is all about. In reality, organizations are struggling to realize value from buyer personas as they relate to a complex sales and marketing process. Why is this the case?
1. When they are little more than a demographic profile.
Our definition of a buyer persona may actually be the root cause for their failure.
There is a sharp difference between demographic segmentation (“CIOs and companies with over 5,000 employees in the manufacturing industry”) and in-depth buyer personas that represent a comprehensive view of the characteristics, attributes, motivations, and interests of these segments.
Buyer personas should seek to understand our targets as humans – how they make decisions, what drives their actions, how they behave.
“Personas fail when they turn out to be a rehash of previously established sales intelligence, and offer little guidance on how to humanize a brand, as well as content.” – Tony Zambito
2. When they are kept in the dark.
It’s 10am. Do you know where your personas are?
At the recent Content2Conversion conference, Erin Provey of SiriusDecisions described the current format of buyer personas, “I’ve literally seen binders on desks with pages of persona insights, qualitative and quantitative insights that cost thousands of dollars to produce.”
Buyer personas, in theory, are highly useful strategy documents. Why then are they so hard to find, trapped in PDFs and Powerpoints at the bottom of a desk drawer, or at best, maybe on the company intranet?
Personas should be made available throughout the business, referenced quickly and easily to guide the direction of marketing, sales, and product decisions.
3. When they are not updated.
The million-dollar question for many marketers is, “when was the last time you updated your buyer personas?”
Unfortunately the response often comes back in the form of years.
Personas are often not refreshed until a new regime change comes in. But if this is the case, you may miss the inevitable changes in that occur within fast-moving industries, whether regulatory (new compliance laws) economic (hard times in specific industries), or demographic (new or retiring buyers).
What’s worse, without refreshing personas on an ongoing basis, you may miss critical new influencers that emerge in the buying process. This information can be found in your CRM, happening in real-time in your marketing automation system, understood anecdotally in your sales pit, or revealed in primary persona interviews.
4. When they’re created in a bubble.
The process of creating strong personas involves three things that may terrify you:
- Interviews with real buyers (gasp!)
- Collaboration with other departments (say it ain’t so!)
- Challenges to your beliefs or deep-rooted assumptions (Nooo!)
I know. Take a deep breath. It will be okay.
There is no silver bullet for buyer personas. To get it right involves time-consuming interviews with real people, and an examination of the results with an open mind. This takes up bandwidth, may shift and pivot strategy, and – yes – calls for collaboration with other teams in the company.
A surefire way to create personas that don’t work is to do so in a conference room, doors shut, without involving other departments or speaking with real buyers.
5. When there’s no buy-in.
I recently heard personas were “emotionally adopted” by marketers. This rings true as the majority of B2B marketers predict their #1 responsibility in 2016 will be understanding buyers.
But other functions of the business all have skin in this game, and should reach consensus on the format, composition and expected use of personas. After all, “the only way personas add value is if the people who use them internalize them.” – Erin Provey, SiriusDecisions
When seeking to achieve buy-in, even the phrase can turn people off. “I have had clients say that we have to call it a buying center or we won’t get buy-in from the rest of the teams. Or we have to call it a profile, or something else. They get stuck in the semantics of it.” – Ardath Albee in a CMI interview.
6. When they do not translate to tactics.
Buyer personas that can not guide real-world strategy are fundamentally useless. They may look nice on the wall of your cubicle, but what value do they really provide? Personas should not be approached as a checklist item and filed away once completed. Instead, consider personas as “active tools” – objects that inform marketing strategy.
- Serve as a tool that can be referenced easily to help guide the development of relevant marketing programs
- Point to specific topics of content as related to priorities defined as important to the persona
- Reveal the circumstances of what could derail the detail (or the championing of the deal)
- Be unique from all other personas to indicate a truly definable market segment
- Identify a market segment that your marketing programs can reach and engage, as well as the means (channels, messages, formats) for doing so
- Build a storyline across the continuum of the buying process that enables mapping content to needs and priorities at different points of decision making
- Help marketers understand how emotions and empathy play in solving the specific problem or for reaching a key objective
Personas developed with this level of depth will serve as the foundation for content strategy developed to engage, create purposeful intent, and motivate them to buy. It’s pretty clear that a one-page profile with a few demographic details and descriptive adjectives won’t do the job.
7. When they don’t account for the buying committee.
B2B buying decisions are made by committee – multiple individuals working together to reach consensus. IDC found that an average of 7 buyers are involved in a B2B technology purchase decision.
Your persona development should reveal the dynamic among this committee, especially what information each member needs to share with each other as it relates to different perspectives. Targeting only the elusive “decision maker” disregards the way business people actually buy – collaboratively.
8. When they contain useless information.
In a B2B environment, the fact that a persona may drive a minivan and prefer The Bachelor over Shark Tank really doesn’t serve to inform a salesperson’s call strategy, a marketer’s email campaign, or a product manager’s roadmap.
Now, B2B personas that contain these details may have been done so in an attempt to humanize the persona, the spirit of which should be celebrated!
But this type of detail is extraneous. There are better ways to humanize a buyer in a way that is relevant to our day to day job responsibilities – and it starts with empathy. Read more about this in our post “5 Signs You Don’t Know Your B2B Customer”
The excitement and fervor around buyer personas and the unfortunate execution gap are only amplified by the emergence of marketing technology designed to automate the lead management lifecycle, even predict future behaviors. These tools only make a lack of buyer understanding all the more obvious, by exposing poorly targeted efforts to a greater audience.
It’s more important now, more than ever, to get personas right. Our only chance of realizing true value from marketing automation and content marketing, and successfully selling to an ever-empowered buyer, is to fully understand their needs and preferences from the start.
This post originally appeared in February 2015 on the Cintell blog.
Congratulations! You (or your PR team) have booked a briefing with a key journalist in your field. You've secured a date and time and agreed on a location... now what?
Colin Powell said about success, "There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure." The same can be said for media interviews.
When I worked in-house, I learned quickly that preparing my executive management team for briefings was as important as the interview itself. When I moved agency-side, preparing clients for their conversation with the media was a challenging, but hugely rewarding part of the process. After all, nothing has more power to threaten your credibility than a poorly-executed interview with a member of the press. But when you nail it? Nothing feels better.
Those who are well-prepared for a media interview seem confident, relaxed, and adept at handling whatever comes their way. Those who don’t prepare for that conversation may instead be forever haunted by Youtube clips of their on-air gaffe, or awkward, misinformed quotes in the resulting article. The next time you're about to speak with a journalist, remember these 13 tips:
- Be confident. You are the expert.
- Time goes by quickly, concentrate on what two or three key messages you want to relay in the resulting media coverage.
- Don’t overestimate a reporter’s knowledge of your subject. Set the record straight. Offer background information.
- Research the reporter’s previous articles and interview style.
- Stick to your main points and do not allow yourself to get drawn too far off on tangents.
- Avoid saying anything you do not want to read in print, hear on the radio, or see on television or the internet. Never lie to a reporter.
- Nothing is off the record, be wary of casual remarks.
- Avoid jargon and acronyms.
- Wear something comfortable and smart, avoiding fussy patterns and bulky jewelry.
- Practice; put yourself in front of a camera and play back the rehearsal.
- Don’t be fixated by the question. “Bridge” to a related point you want to make.
- Don’t repeat a reporter’s negative statement or slurs. Frame your reply as a positive statement.
- Make your final comment clear and concise, reemphasizing your main point. If you feel that you failed to get the message out, force it in at the end (“I think we’ve missed the real, critical issue here, which is…”).
Thank you to my sources:
Last night, I was invited to speak on a panel of kick-ass marketers at Hubspot HQ in Cambridge, MA with my new favorite organization, Young Women in Digital - a group of ladies working in the Boston marketing scene. Joining me was Elizabeth Good of the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway, Marissa Green of Cone Communications, and the only person I know to be able to speak in only 140-character soundbites, Katie Burke of Hubspot. The topic of the panel was PR, but naturally I took the opportunity to advise all the impressionable young minds in the room to, quote, "have the balls to say no" and "be a bullshit artist" when necessary. Sigh. Here are some of my other favorite quotes from the night:
— Hannah Fleishman (@hbfleishman) January 23, 2014
— Desiree Nattell (@DreamDabbler) January 23, 2014
— Bessie King (@Bessiejking) January 22, 2014
Thanks for having me, YWD!