In 2016, most brands would agree that content is still King, and blogging remains an important part of any content strategy. Blogging can help build your brand, get your business get found online, connect with prospects and generate leads. What’s the content marketing echo chamber?

According to Hubspot, B2B marketers that blog receive 67% more leads than those that do not. But while blogging remains an effective growth strategy, mosts blog posts simply don’t make a dent in the universe.

most-blog-posts-dont

That means that nearly all major brands invest in blogging, but many can’t tie their blog activities to measurable results. Another troubling statistic — 60-70% of content produced by B2B marketing goes unused, according SiriusDecisions research. Here are five ways to avoid the echo chamber and content that converts:

The echo chamber

In the blogosphere, nothing succeeds like success. Marketers have found that a relatively safe way to cut the risk of publishing content that no one reads is to analyze what’s already trending and simply publish more of it. It’s easy to head over to BuzzSumo.com to identify popular blogging topics and what types of content is most shared on popular social networks

The issue is that whenever a new topic becomes popular, it’s invariably followed by a flood of similar posts by bloggers looking to cash in on the original post’s popularity. Many bloggers also attempt to take advantage of popular searches by connecting their posts to current events. Here are 7 Branding Lessons we can learn from (sporting event, awards show, celebrity arrest, etc)!

What’s missing from the echo chamber is value for your audience. Me-too marketing might help bloggers rack up some new views, shares and comments, but this content has a short shelf life and does nothing to position your brand’s thought leadership. Be bold with your next blog post, and take the road less traveled.

Me, my company, my products

Sadly, this is still a thing. Most marketers have made peace with the fact that people don’t care about you, your company or your products. They care about their own interests, challenges and problems that need solutions.

Yet, many companies still blog in painful detail about their expertise, exciting new products and industry-leading awesomeness.

The other issue with me-me-me marketing is that it employs corporate-speak instead of customer-speak. Marketing messages that don’t use the language of customers. There’s a great quote by Jeff Eisenberg, a founding father of conversion marketing:

thinkfaster-marketing

Speak to the dog, about what matters to the dog in the language of the dog.
Your audience may not be dogs, but if speak to them in your language instead of their own, you’ll quickly be tuned out.

Unresponsive design

Bad design = bounce.

A quick way to ensure your content goes unread in 2016 is to have it display poorly on mobile devices. And since more people each day access content from mobile phones and tablets than desktop devices, copy needs to be shorter and more concise than ever. Keep It Short and Simple (KISS), avoiding long paragraphs that make readers click away.

We have known since 1997 that web visitors don’t really read content as much as they scan it. For this reason, blog copy should be shorter, with important words highlighted and plenty of subheadings, visuals and bulleted lists to break up large blocks of copy.

Images that are bad for your image

Marketers know that content with images typically gets read and shared more often than purely text-based content. Many times, busy marketers write up their content, slap in a free stock photo and click Publish. While that’s not so terrible, it misses the opportunity of complementing and strengthening the message of your post.

Remember the adage that if you need to explain a joke, it’s not funny? Something similar happens if readers have to stop and wonder about the tie-in between your image and headline. The first image in your post is likely the first thing that many viewers will see as it’s shared across social media. You can help your audience by making sure your images are sized to display correctly and aren’t so large that they slow down page-load times. Take time to select an image that really complements your message. The world doesn’t need another image of smiling multi-ethnic millennials seated around a conference table.

Blog posts published daily

Fuzzy measurements

Of the millions of blog posts published today, how many move make measurable progress toward your business goals? It’s surprising how many brands publish blog posts that don’t support their stated goals. It’s important to know about page views, social shares, likes and content. These are sometimes dismissed as “vanity” metrics, but they provide useful information about your audience.

Along with these “micro-conversions” it’s essential to track more revenue-aligned conversion marketing events:

Every post is a learning opportunity

It’s important to focus on offering valuable information that answers your audience’s questions and addresses their issues. That’s how you help them through the Know > Like > Trust journey towards a Transaction.

But it’s equally important to have a process that to help you learn more about your audience with each post. Each post is an experiment — a unique opportunity to learn more about what’s important to your audience, and what type of content causes them to engage, share and comment.

Blogging advice is never in short supply on the Web, but remember that published best practices are best for someone else. Content marketing is highly contextual and what works somewhere else may not work for you. It’s up to you then, to have a process that ensures you have goals for each post, and carefully examine what worked and what didn’t.

Don’t stop pushing until you have a measurement strategy that helps you continually improve your content and quantify the business value of your blog. A lot of work, but it’s the only way to ensure your blog makes a dent in the universe.

Thoughts on avoiding the content marketing echo chamber leave a comment!

Whether you’re a Big fan or a Big skeptic, there’s no avoiding Big Data.

Some of the buzz has subsided, but Big Data is growing faster than ever, in volume, challenges and unprecedented opportunities. It’s estimated that 90% of the world’s data was created in the last two years, and that amount will double in the next two years.

If  you prefer the view from the bottom line, check out worldwide spending growth on Big Data and business analytics — $122 billion in 2015 to $187 billion in 2019, according to International Data Corporation.

Big data infographic 800

Yet, with this explosion of investment, not everyone is seeing the benefits of Big Data.

A key issue is that the amount of data is growing much faster than our ability to process it. While top-performing organizations are able to collect, organize and analyze data for insights and competitive advantage, others continue to struggle under Big Data’s crushing weight.

What’s the difference?

For many companies, the difference is in the DNA. Many of today’s most admired companies, like Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Uber are “digital natives’ that never had to transition away from legacy technology and business models. Things are tougher for traditional companies struggling with digital transformation and smaller organizations without the resources to deal with Big Data.

Another challenge — not only is Data Big, it’s unorganized.  Experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of existing data is unstructured. Your internal unstructured data comes from internal systems including CRM, financials, company email and and countless spreadsheets. External data includes customer emails, text messaging, social media, and data from the Internet of Things. 

Challenging, but there are lessons to be learned from organizations who have made Big Data a big success.

5 data points thinkfaster5 tips to help make Big Data a big success:

1. Establish budget and buy-in

Without executive approval and funding, there’s no such thing as a data-driven organization. You could have the world’s greatest data scientists performing amazing feats of analysis, but their insights won’t see the light of day without executive sponsorship. With top-down sponsorship, organizations are more likely enjoy the financial benefits of a company-wide data strategy. But Big Data leadership doesn’t come cheap. Staffing, training and maintaining modern data analysis tools is a hefty ongoing expense that must be approved and accounted for.  

Surprisingly, many organizations successfully clear the budgeting hurdle and implement analytics programs, then largely ignore the reports. This despite strong evidence that data strategy is a key factor for today’s high-performing companies. Even high-performing companies make subjective, rather than data-informed decisions, from time to time. A robust analytics program requires leadership not only to promote a data culture, but to use data for their own decision support. 

2. Adopt an agile approach

What happens when Big Data initiatives are paired with traditional project management?

A whole lot of nothin’.

Traditionally managed projects typically have long, rigidly defined development periods with less frequent team communications. An agile approach that employs shorter, more frequent work periods (sprints) that facilitate ongoing testing and improvement. Agile methodologies enable data-driven teams to make constant improvements and course-corrections throughout the development process to avoid ending up with a product that’s gone off track before it’s even launched. Bottom line? A culture of testing, optimization and improvement depends on an agile approach. It’s practically impossible to have one without the other.

3. Data centralization

As data volumes growing exponentially, the data sources contributing to that volume continue to multiply.

This rich diversity of data sources makes it difficult to collect data into a single “source of truth.” Any database designer will tell you that that redundant data from multiple sources can ruin management and reporting capabilities in a hurry.

Still,data from a company’s internal systems (CRM, HR, Financials) must be combined with third-party data to add valuable context and guide better business decisions. How much better? Investments in analytics tools are now paying back better than a 13-to-1 return on investment  with increased returns when these tools integrate with three or more data sources, according to O’Reilly Media. Data centralization may be difficult and expensive, but it appear that the resources invested are justified by huge potential returns.  

4. Data strategy and measurement model

For every popular tech phenomenon, there’s a stodgy underlying framework that doesn’t get much love and attention. It’s a shame, because there’s really no point in having data without data a strategy. A great example of a great framework is Avinash Kaushik’s Digital Marketing & Measurement model. This model is often used to implement Google Analytics, a super-powerful and free application that’s used by 29,616,540 live websites, according to Builtwith.com. How many of those websites support their implementation with a data strategy and use analytic rigor to improve business results? Far fewer.

Analytics measurement model 800

The reason this model has likely been so successful is that encourages a top-down approach that syncs sales and marketing with the organization’s most important goals. Models such as this can be used to encourage cross-departmental efforts to measure and improve marketing, sales, and customer success initiatives in an objective way.

The model with documenting high-level business objectives, then putting goals and Key Performance Indicators in place to support each goal. Target goals are then agreed upon and documented to ensure a clear definition of success or failure. This is followed by identifying key audience segments, because aggregated data isn’t actionable. The model comes with the admonition that “We not only wanted focus, we wanted hyper-focus” to ensure we understand our success or failure.

5. A story of data storytelling

Once upon a time, in the Valley of Silicon, there lived  a small team of data analysts. The team was happy, as they had largely achieved their goals of gathering data and reporting key analytics to senior management. They reported meaningful metrics such as conversion rates, customer acquisition costs and retention.

But nobody read their reports.

Nearly everyone in the company received weekly analytics reports and they liked the colorful tables and charts. But, using a magical tracking link, the analytics team learned that few people actually viewed their reports.

And so the team realized their job did not end with reporting — they also had to make sure that their management and peers understood the benefits of being data-driven. So, they removed detail and presented executives with streamlined, high-level reports. They pointed out significant differences from past results and progress toward future goals. They highlighted key findings and potential causes they deemed important for decision support. 

As the executives came to understand the insights contained in the reports, they made better decisions, which led to more revenue. The data analysts were awarded large bonuses and they all bought new hoodies, Apple Watches and expensive German sports cars. They all lived happily until the next reporting period.

The end.

Have your own data story to tell? Share it in the comments!

Sales and marketing alignment at the organizational level is very powerful — and very difficult 

For one reason or another, sales and marketing groups have a long history of non-cooperation or even outright hostility. And as the sales and marketing landscape accelerates, expands and becomes more digitized by the day, alignment becomes more important than ever.

Incorporating shared systems, goals and compensation can pay huge dividends. Even small steps such as sales and marketing agreeing to the definition of a qualified lead can go a long way toward improving the performance of organizations suffering from organizational silos.

Customer success dinosaur - sales and marketing alignment

The Pedowitz group calls
marketing synergy with sales the #1 predictor of revenue marketing success. Research by Marketo and Reachforce found that businesses who focus on sales and marketing alignment are 67% better at closing deals than those who don’t. Successful acquisition, CRM and lead nurturing programs are impossible without sales and marketing alignment.  

And as the customer journey becomes more personalized to individual messaging, channel and device preferences, it makes sense that better-aligned organizations will be able to provide more relevant customer experiences.  

Does sales and marketing alignment work?

As is the nature of the blogosphere, it’s likely that the the first-ever post extolling the virtues of sales and marketing alignment was followed quickly by a post announcing its demise. Some prefer the term “synergy” to “alignment.” Blogger Dave Jackson of Callidus Cloud says sales and marketing alignment is the wrong goal, calling it more representative of an old-school sales pipeline approach.

Like all best practices, the concept of sales and marketing alignment holds great potential, but it is only a starting point. There’s a big difference between someone else’s best practice what works for you. And as the sales / marketing world spins faster, best practices have a shorter shelf lives than ever.

Three sides to every story

The real issue is that when salespeople and marketers get together to talk about goals, they usually talk about their own goals — funnels, pipelines, pitches and president’s club. There’s less focus on customers are doing, and helping them achieve their own goals.

Sales and marketing alignment venn diagram

Not that the world needs another venn diagram, but it could be helpful extend the discussion beyond sales and marketing to include customer goals. How well does your organization know:

  1. What you want customers to do: Marketers and salespeople typically spend most of their time in this sphere. Laggards don’t even agree on what they want customers to do. Leading organizations agree upon this point and and consistently monitor it against documented goals and objectives.
  2. What customers are doing: If you could somehow survey Earth’s entire marketing population, you might find 100 percent agreement in favor of learning more about the way their audience thinks and acts. Marketers are pouring money into analytics to learn exactly what customers are doing. But too often, marketers don’t have a firm grip on how customers interact with their organizations (not just their products) across different channels and devices.
  3. What customers want to do: Knowing prospect’s age, location or gender is good information, but a poor predictor of customer intent. One reason this is so difficult is because it involves both quantitative and qualitative measurement efforts. In addition to watching what customers do on your website, you also must ask them about the goals they are trying to accomplish.

Bottom line? Customer success is your success.

Customer success guru Lincoln Murphy sums it up in just a tweet:

You can focus on adoption, retention, expansion, or advocacy; or you can focus on the customer’s Desired Outcome and get all of those things. 

In the digital age, organizations truly are drowning in data and thirsting for knowledge. Thousands of digital touchpoints and transactions each day throw off millions of data points. It can be difficult to find and focus on what’s important. But focusing on customer success is a good starting point for improving alignment between all organizational units, not just sales and marketing.

While more traditional organizations struggle to agree on what they want customers to do, data-driven, agile organizations are focusing on what customers are doing and how they can help them achieve their goals.

Any attempt to meet sales / marketing goals without helping customers achieve their own goals eventually fails.

There will always a balancing act between your organization’s goals and customer goals. But marketers that don’t acknowledge that customer success drive their own success are dinosaurs waiting for a meteorite.

Fill out the form down there to join the ThinkFaster Marketing email list,  or speak your mind in the comments below. 

 

The Donald Trump 700

Donald Trump here.* As the leading Presidential Candidate with the best hair and hottest wife, I’m often asked by non-billionaires how I got to be so successful. 

It may be because I’m a master of marketing and social media. Lots of people talk about brand strategy, but It’s one thing to talk about your brand and it’s another to have it in 20-foot tall stainless steel letters that can be seen for miles.

So, yeah, I’m frequently referred to as a tremendous marketer, and even Marketer-in-Chief, by various talking heads and hacks. So of course people look to me for marketing advice. Until recently, most of my time was spent crushing my political opponents, but you saw what happened there. So I’ve got a few minutes to share my marketing insights.  

Now, people say I have a lot of power. They tell me, they say to me, all the time, that I have the most power. But let’s talk about real power in social media. I feel a lot of people listen to what I have to say. I mean, I’m pushing 7 million Twitter followers.

You know how many people I follow on Twitter?

36.  

And let me be honest,  I’m thinking of dumping some of them because their Tweets are just not up to my standards. There’s a reason I’m so huge on Twitter. No one can call out a bunch of sleazy, incompetent, sad losers in less than 140 characters like Donald Trump. I mean, I am so successful on Twitter, I’m thinking we should change the name to “Trumper.” Trumper. Someone write that down!

Here’s my best advice on how to make marketing great again:

Be consistent.

When I speak, people pay attention because they know what to expect: Brilliant political thinking, maybe some observations on who’s dumb, who’s dishonest, who is a fat pig. But you take a guy like Marco Rubio. Huge failure. For months he’s just another all-talk, no-action politician on the campaign trail and then all of a sudden he’s out there trying to play the insult game. Making comments about my hands and cracking dick jokes like he’s Robin Williams. Let me tell, the guy is no Robin Williams. Rubio’s attempts at comedy were so pitiful, his mother decided to support Lyin’ Ted Cruz.

Escape the echo chamber.

Lots of politicians want to break out of the pack, but they all say the same things in the same boring way. It’s embarrassing, really. I’m embarrassed for these bozos. Unfortunately, lots of marketing today is just a copy of other people’s content and campaigns. As soon as someone like me, Donald Trump, catches fire in the media and starts trending, lots of lazy, low-energy bloggers notice and try to copy what’s popular. My suggestion is, don’t just parrot what works. Add some original perspective. Don’t mince words. Be who you are all the time. Even if doesn’t work at first, it still provides a better chance to distinguish yourself than just repackaging other people’s ideas.

Make your own media.

I don’t need to tell you that you can’t rely on the mainstream media to convey your message. I mean, you can rely on them to provide dishonest, incompetent, boring reporting but that won’t help you as a marketer. Take your message directly to the people. Even regular, non-billionaire people can tell your story better than the media. Trust people with your message instead of the media, and you’ll be be better off.  

Find a way to win.

In my bestselling book, one of my great quotes is that sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war. In marketing various products, I am not afraid to fail, or put my name on some product to make some money. Trump Vodka, Trump Airlines, Trump Mortgage. Some of my bets pay off, but not all. Here’s the secret. When you’re really successful, people hear about your failures for a while and forget about them. Today, who talks about Apple Newton and Lisa?  Google Wave and Google Buzz? Haters who probably don’t buy Apple products anyway, that’s who. Don’t focus on mistakes, focus on giving your fans something exciting to talk about. Your fans will shut down your haters for you. Maybe even punch them as the security staff ejects them from the venue.

CW trump thinkfaster marketingSpeaking of winning, that’s about all the time we have. Gotta get back to my victorious march to the highest office in the land, all that. I”ve already taken out a carload of GOP clowns who don’t even know how to lose properly but now it’s time to look across the aisle – and I cringe. You got a guy who looks like he wandered away from a retirement home for liberal college professors and a Washington insider who’s not sure whether it’s appropriate to send messages about national security through personal email on her Blackberry. It’s almost too easy, but some self-made billionaire / real estate mogul / marketing visionary has to win this thing.  

*This post may have been written by an imposter.

Got marketing tips of your own? Please share in the comments below, and help make marketing great again!   

Donald Trump Image by vectorolie, freedigitalphotos.net

Industry observers had a laugh when homebuyers polled in 2014 by the California Association of Realtors® shared their thoughts on getting a mortgage:

7% of recent buyers would rather undergo a root canal
23% would prefer to gain 10 pounds
7% would rather spend a night in jail (and those stripes make you look fat)

It’s  humorous twist, but more than a grain of truth. Many people see getting a mortgage as an unpredictable, expensive, paper-choked process that has remained the same for decades. For borrowers facing what’s likely the largest financial transaction of their lives, this type of messaging doesn’t inspire confidence.

Putting a positive spin on a process borrowers consider confusing, stressful, and time-consuming is difficult. The simplest path for many mortgage marketers has been to spin that familiar tale of pain and relief — getting a mortgage is is painful, but we make it less so!

Mortgage manufacturingSo why should mortgage marketers spend their time flacking this unsavory industry? For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. It’s where the money is. 2015 residential origination volume is estimated at more than $1.3 Trillion and the Federal Reserve estimates, the total value of the U.S. housing market is $21.69 Trillion.

That’s Trillions with a capital “T.”

To be sure the mortgage industry faces some big issues. But any good disruptor will tell you that an industry that’s sagging under the weight of overregulation, aging technology and low consumer confidence is a platinum opportunity.  So what are the problems?

Shopping for a mortgage is no fun

Most lenders deal with the same compliance burden, process and compliance challenges. It’s not surprising that many deliver the same tired marketing messages. The right loan. Low rates. Great service. Add in a complex application process and it becomes difficult for borrowers to shop for the best mortgage deal. The result? According to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) research, Nearly half of borrowers don’t shop around for a mortgage at all. If people don’t shop for a mortgages because they have a generally low opinion of lenders and and the mortgage process, that’s an issue — and an opportunity.

Those who don’t shop typically ask for referrals from Loan officers, Realtors and friends and family. It doesn’t help that borrowers now need to complete an application to get a Loan Estimate that reflects the true cost of a mortgage, including closing costs, APR, and other charges and fees, About 77 percent of borrowers apply with only one lender before choosing who gets their business.

This isn’t a bad situation for banks and established originators, but it’s changing quickly. Innovative technologies are enabling lenders deliver online education and streamlined application processes may soon make mortgage shopping as fast as shopping for a car.

It is fair to say that the current regulatory environment does not promote, reward, or even allow for  innovation – The Collingwood Group

The compliance burden
In the Collingswood group’s October 2015 Outlook Report, 72 percent of mortgage industry professionals surveyed cited regulation as the number one obstacle to their production. It’s a sad fact that the cost of such regulations are always passed on to the consumers they are intended protect.

In 2016, lenders continue to jump through CFPB hoops. The ‘Know Before You Owe’ (TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure) rules have strained marketing budgets as lenders pour resources into system upgrades and staff up on attorneys and compliance specialists.

The silver lining is that compliance has spurred real innovation and creativity in underwriting and risk management. Digital mortgage means faster, more accurate loan approvals, something mortgage marketers can get behind.

That whole meltdown thing
There’s been plenty of the debate about the causes of the Great Recession of 2007-2008 that brought the US and global economy to the brink of collapse. While it’s overly simplistic to blame the mortgage industry, many borrowers have suffered because of lax underwriting and other questionable lending practices.

Following the financial crisis of 2008, mortgage marketers faced the wrath of angry consumers who held lenders and banks responsible for the lax underwriting standards and wildly optimistic valuations of mortgage-backed securities that led to the great recession. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. For this reason, mortgage marketers are often put in the position of rebuilding brand reputations and trust in addition to getting some loans in the pipeline.

There is no such thing as “no-cost refinancing.” There is only “full cost” refinancing disguised by marketing code as “no-out-of-pocket-cost-refinancing.” – Forbes

Lender-bending the truth

Mortgage fraud, scams and predatory lending arrests make good headlines. Even better when someone actually goes to jail.

But mortgage mischief isn’t limited to a few bad actors.

For example, is it always a great time to buy a home or refinance? Many lenders and real estate pros say so, year after year, regardless of market or personal conditions. Repeating the “great time to buy” mantra undermines credibility.

Can you imagine an attorney’s ad that says “It’s a great time to sue someone! File today!

Many lenders are happy to let borrowers think “no closing costs” means that they don’t pay closing costs at all. But there is no free lunch and there is no free mortgage. They know costs are paid by rolling them into the loan, or through higher interest rates over the life of the loan. If today’s lenders don’t want to vilified with the banks and mutual funds who still make their money with fine print and hidden fees, they must include more transparency and education in their marketing pitches.

“Marketing’s changed so rapidly … more in the past five years than in the past 500 years,” – Sanjay Dholakia.

So what’s next for mortgage marketing?  

Powered by Big Data and automation, marketing technology is already moving at light speed and mortgage tech isn’t far behind.

It’s true that marketing is changing at light speed, and traditional financial marketing doesn’t work for the renowned millennials who demand speed, transparency and responsiveness.

As Mark Schafer says in the Harvard Business Review, if you’re a marketer in a highly regulated industry, it’s time to stop making excuses and figure out how to create powerful digital marketing.  The digital, transparent, big data future of mortgage marketing won’t be easy. But neither is robbing a bank.

Share your thoughts in the comments below!

In recent years there’s been a trend of replacing long lists of New Year’s resolutions with a single guiding word for the entire year. Would that work for marketing?

To some, it seems simplistic to reduce a year’s worth of goals, thoughts and actions down to a single word. But many people find it helpful to have a touchstone word to guide their actions and keep their goals and actions aligned with their values.

After reading the book Abundance by futurist-entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and journalist Stephen Kotler, I adopted that word for 2015. The book is a filled with eye-opening stats and stories about how the world’s seemingly insurmountable problems around water, food, energy, education and healthcare are being tackled by innovative communities and exponential technologies. It’s also a great counterbalance to the dismal 24-7 news cycle of global tragedies, crises and killings.

At the business level, this is an excellent book to remind marketers who are hyperfocused on their next milestone to keep an eye on long term trends that shape our industry. So as the digital economy brings marketers face-to-face with bigger data, shorter market cycles and disruptive technologies, it seems like more than ever, some structure is needed to keep the ensure marketing keeps place with the pace of change. My 2016 word is:

ALIGNMENT

The concept of marketing alignment is very powerful.

Today, more touchpoints are more interconnected to more moving parts that are moving faster than ever before. My bet is the emphasis on marketing alignment will continue to grow.

Here are some marketing alignments to watch in 2016:

Customer success: If your organization still measures and compensates marketing performance by lead volume, you’re a dinosaur waiting for a meteorite. Whether you’re a growth hacker at a bare-bones startup or part of a large enterprise marketing staff, alignment of customer success goals with organizational goals is more important than ever. It’s easy to see that customer support organizations can dramatically affect revenues. Another driver is social media, which has given customers a new voice and more leverage to air their issues and express their opinions, good or bad. Because it often costs several times more to obtain new customers, Customer Success is becoming a more popular and well-defined practice. For a great overview, check out Lincoln Murphy’s Customer Success: The Definitive Guide (Slideshare). As the cross-pollination between demand-gen and customer success continues, more marketers will find themselves responsible for onboarding higher value customers at the outset, rather than evaluating them at the end of the funnel

Marketing Apps: Marketers spend more time than ever to research, acquire, learn and assemble a “stack” of applications that truly drives growth.  In the process, they can become very passionate about their marketing stacks. Scott Brinker’s 2105 Marketing Technology Landscape “supergraphic” shows 1,876 vendors in 43 categories. Aligning tools and services this army of marketing vendors requires a strong understanding of applications and the ability to evaluate, learn and implement marketing technology more quickly than ever before.

Marketing technology landscape

Top-performing marketing organizations have stacks that are aligned and finely tuned for productivity. Today, it’s not uncommon to find a killer app, API, or service that can save you hours of work and provide a competitive advantage for your organization. Too much info for one infographic? Heinz Marketing has partnered with Scott Brinker to produce a downloadable directory of the 2015 Marketing Technology Landscape in .xls format.

Regulatory Trends: Many marketers misunderestimate the impact of compliance on their business. In my day job developing mortgage technology, I frequently hear lenders and originators talk about what a drag compliance puts on productivity and profits. And the cost of non-compliance is higher still. According to MarketWatch, the big banks have paid more than $142 billion in fines for mischief related to the to the financial crisis. With rules tightening around everything from advertising to referral partnerships and social media, practitioners must incorporate compliance into their strategic planning, rather than relying on reviews and tweaking at the end of the process.

At this moment, the rate of technological change is the slowest you will ever experience for the rest of your life. – Shelly Palmer

Faster cycles: In September of 2015, I saw Sean Ellis speak at a meetup in San Francisco called Move Beyond the Marketing Plan So You Remain Relevant. I felt pretty relevant on the train in, not so much on the train back. Much of the presentation was about how leading companies are leaving traditional marketing plans behind in favor of a faster, more agile approach called a High-Tempo Testing Growth process.

The main idea is that companies who don’t want to get left behind need to create a testing team and process to drive growth. The faster you can run high-value tests and and apply learnings, the more optimized your company’s growth. Another advantage to this approach is alignment between a company’s divisions, as ideas for testing and optimization were welcome from HR and finance as well as sales and marketing. As market cycles move faster, speed is becoming a competitive advantage for not only startups, organizations of all sizes seeking to outgrow the competition.

Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 6.4 billion connected things will be in use worldwide in 2016, up 30 percent from 2015, and will reach 20.8 billion by 2020. In 2016, 5.5 million new things will get connected every day.

(Way) bigger data and connected devices: More people living the digital lifestyle means an ever-growing sea of more devices, interactions and data. In 2016, digital natives consume content on their own schedules, through the digital channels and devices they choose. Great for them. Super-demanding for marketers. It’s a struggle to come up with enough relevant content to span the buyer / customer lifecycle, and even tougher to deliver that content in a format that’s optimized for each channel. Once that content is created, released and promoted, there’s an unprecedented amount of data to deal with.

Marketing campaign strategy that’s not aligned with data strategy is no way to win business in 2016. Cutting-edge marketers not only provide content that’s relevant to each channel, but continually optimize content and channels with testing programs like the High-Tempo Testing Growth process described above. The more data collected, the more important it is to close the gap between collecting and reporting data (simple) and utilizing data to make better and faster business decisions (damn difficult).

Marketing success means realignment

Marketing activities that aren’t directly linked to (and measured against) revenue goals shouldn’t happen. But in the real world, there are a number of reasons for non-alignment: lack of communication, siloed organizations, political infighting and “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Marketing alignment won’t guarantee revenue growth. But using a traditional marketing plan in 2016 may guarantee that you’re ceding business to faster, more agile competitors.

Finally, just as the key to great writing is rewriting, effective marketing alignment means constant realignment.

With business evolving at such a rapid rate, your organization’s people, process and technology can get out of alignment pretty quickly. As Diamandis puts it, we are using faster tools to design and build faster tools. In such an environment, speed isn’t just a competitive advantage. It’s a requirement to remain relevant.

What’s your word? Share your thoughts below, even if they are not aligned with those expressed in this post!

I love the Grinch.

This time of year, there are dozens of holiday specials to watch, but few have obtained the classic status of How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The playful verse, brilliant music and quirky animation are as compelling today as they were a half-century ago. The Grinch was was highly original even by Suessian standards, perhaps the greatest holiday villain since Ebenezer Scrooge. Among hundreds of his creations, the Grinch was a favorite of creator Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel, who saw much of the Grinch to his own persona.

Grinch guide to growth hacking image courtesy of vecteezy.com
“I was brushing my teeth on the morning of the 26th of last December when I noticed a very Grinch-ish countenance in the mirror. It was Seuss! So I wrote about my sour friend, the Grinch, to see if I could rediscover something about Christmas that obviously I’d lost,” Geisel said.

It may seem like a stretch, but I think How the Grinch Stole Christmas! holds some important lessons for growth hackers and all marketers. The Grinch:

Takes action. Once the Grinch formulated a plan, he realized that all that Christmas stuff wasn’t going to steal itself. Since his concept was a seasonal play, he knew there was no time to analyze market trends, financing and regulatory issues. He went straight to work, without even stopping to scrawl his idea on the back of a proverbial napkin.

Bootstraps, making use of materials and staff he had on hand. No reindeer? No problem. Choosing not to pursue venture capital afforded him a degree of  freedom he would not have had otherwise. Plus, going through the pitch cycle or even a Kickstarter campaign means he would have missed a tight launch window and ended up among the many startups that never actually start up.

Has a wonderful, awful idea which didn’t scale. He knew that sometimes during the traction phase, growth marketers must take extraordinary actions to onboard their first customers. Some argue that the Grinch could have boosted productivity by hiring seasonal employees, but he managed to steal all the Who’s stuff using only existing staff and resources. Breaking and entering may not be a viable long-term strategy, but it opened up several professional opportunities for the Grinch in publishing, feature films and Christmas merchandise.

Builds trust. Although initially the Grinch’s head wasn’t screwed on just right, and his business model was a criminal enterprise, he was able to turn things around. At first, he is reviled as a monster not be touched with a thirty-nine-and -a-half-foot pole. He totally alienates the no-more-than-two cohort by lying to Cindy Lou Who regarding a customer support issue. Yet somehow, by the end of show, he’s seated at a place of honor at the feast, and even carves the roast beast, rather than spending Christmas in the Whoville pen with a cellmate named “Max the Ax-Murdering Zax.” Despite the Grinch’s issues, he probably was perceived as more trustworthy than lawyers, advertisers and Congress.

Pivots his thinking when faced with new evidence. Say what you will about the Grinch, he listened carefully  to his audience. Upon hearing the Who’s Christmas morning chorus, he is humbled and inspired to change his ways. In the process, he posts some jaw-dropping KPIs. His tiny heart grows two sizes, and he musters the strength of 10 grinches plus two – a hefty 1,100% gain. That is growth hacking, right there. These Uber-numbers could serve as inspiration for stalled startups who can’t bear to leave their original concept behind to pursue a more promising business model.

Consistently delivers. Most of all, the Grinch is exemplary in showing commitment and consistency. Marketers justifiably have mad respect for Robert Cialdini, who illustrates the power of consistency in his Six Principals of Persuasion. People like to see consistency in their own behavior as well as others, and the Grinch nails it. He has careened down Mount Crumpit every season since 1966. He never just chills in his cave watching Scrooged or blows the whole thing off to spend the winter in Boca Raton. Like the Grinch, growth hackers need to be resourceful and consistently deliver whatever is needed for traction.

I can’t imagine getting tired of watching the Grinch have his annual epiphany.  And it doesn’t hurt to have that reminder that maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.

The three words that best describe what you should do next are as follows, and I quote:

Leave a comment.

Image courtesy of www.vecteezycom

OK, I get it, millennials are a big deal.

Born between 1982 and 1993, there are over 80 million of them, larger than any other generation to date. About one in three American workers today are millenials. They are growing, learning, earning, and rapidly becoming our future leaders. They are coming to power and will be running the show when Boomers are long out to pasture.

But although millennials continue to receive lavish media coverage, there seems to be little agreement about how to approach them in terms of marketing and media strategy. A quick look at Google Trends shows searches for millennials outpacing Gen X and Baby Boomers, without adding in Gen Y, another term for millennials.

Trends for millenials, boomers, gen x, gen y

In some reports, millennials are described as a mysterious and marketing-proof generation with mercurial demands and preferences. Other times they are portrayed as easy marks, a generation of drunken leprechauns who might be easily parted from their gold with a few well-placed marketing campaigns.As a group, millennials are described as tech savvy, independent, connected and activists for social justice issues. But some marketers are calling BS on these broad generalizations.

The problem? Millennials are not a target market. The group is too big and diverse to to draw meaningful conclusions and insights. Digital marketers love to talk about cohorts — groups of people sharing a common characteristic over a certain time period.

But targeting everyone born during an 11-year span is only slightly better than “anyone with a pulse” targeting. Identifying someone as a millennial provides little information marketers can use to create relevance and value. The needs and interests of the older millennials (this segment is called “Geezer Millennials” in our office), nearing the ripe old age of 33 this year, are far different than those who are 22 and perhaps still in college.

So, what are the issues here?

1. Limited reach – marketing analytics virtuoso Avinash Kaushik makes a useful distinction between the Largest Addressable Qualified Audience and the subset of those folks who have strong commercial intent — those potentially in the market for your product. Smaller still is the the group of these qualified folks who actually become your customers. No marketer has the resources to address 80 million prospects, so some savvy segmentation is needed.

Besides, any company with the resources to target 80 million people is too smart to target 80 million people.

2. Intent – Search marketers and those using predictive analytics will tell you that demographic data can be useful, but on its own it says little about user intent. Focusing on audience size without considering commercial intent is a costly marketing mistake. Lots of millennials doesn’t always equal lots of revenue.

Years ago, knowing the age, gender and location of your ideal customers was considered advanced marketing. Today, marketers are more accountable than ever to gather customer insights and turn those insights into measureable results. Analyzing cohorts can certainly help identify the links between a population’s characteristics and its behavior. But trying to discern how millions of people will act depending on when they were born is a big leap.

3. Priorities – Depending on your goals, it may not matter much if your customers are millennials.  Knowing whether or not your prospect is a millennial may be useful, but it’s not a key data point that helps your organization deliver a truly valuable product or service. In creating a product-to-market fit, every question below is potentially more important than “Are you a millennial?”

  • What is the problem or challenge we can help with?
  • Are you currently considering a purchase?
  • Are you aware of our products and services?
  • How did you become aware of our company?
  • What information sources do you use in purchase decisions?
  • How do you use PCs, mobile devices and tablets in your buying process?
  • Do our prices seem reasonable?
  • What comparable products are you considering?
  • What search terms did you use to find us?

millennials selfie in surf small
Non-actionable data 
Infographics about millennials as a group of texting, sexting and selfie-taking digital natives are interesting, but data without an action plan is just trivial pursuit. For example, I have read that millennial men spend twice as much on clothing previous generations.

Interesting, but it’s just the beginning of the testing cycle. Now you have to figure out if that relates to your business, create and evaluate a hypothesis, create digital marketing assets and launch a campaign. Anyone buy your custom personalized men’s yoga gear? Why or why not? Then you start the testing cycle again.

It’s labor-intensive…but maybe you can hire some hard-working millennials to do it.

What do you think? Is the millennial opportunity overrated? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Hey, look – zebras!

It’s not the type of thing you typically hear when you’re driving down California’s Highway 1 with your family. But my daughter was right, there surely were several zebras grazing by the roadside. It was the first signal that we were entering a storybook world of unimaginable opulence. We were nearing the entrance of Hearst Castle, once the grand home of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, now a museum.

The lavishly decorated 90,000 square foot, 56-bedroom, 61-bath oceanside estate is situated on a hilltop with stunning views of the California coast and countryside.

Hearst Castle Charles WarnockThe zebras that roam the grounds trace their lineage back to what was once the world’s largest private zoo. Other highlights include a 50-seat theater, a massive indoor pool lined with gold-infused tiles and a private airstrip. Frequent visitors included Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant and Clark Gable, Charles Lindbergh and Winston Churchill.

Hearst knew what many companies are now rediscovering: In the media business, it’s more profitable to own than rent. Hearst’s day truly was the golden age of media for the select few who owned the magazines, newspapers and movie studios. Today, every company is a media company, and the gold may be a little more evenly distributed.

There’s never been a better time to become a media mogul

Even in a time when anyone with access to a PC and internet connection can become a publisher, many organizations still focus on paid media rather than owned. It can be challenging to balance paid, earned and owned media, but it’s a challenge worth taking. Paid advertising can be extremely effective, but it’s more important for brands to own their media assets and control their distribution.

The essential premise of content marketing is building authority and trust through consistent publishing of valuable and actionable content. What happens if you don’t own your content or don’t control how it’s distributed? You could be at the mercy of keyword inflation or Facebook’s latest algorithm changes. You pay with your time and financial resources to build an audience. Should you pay ongoing fees every time time you want to access that audience?

Paid media has a place in the marketing mix. Many businesses have kick-started their success using Google Adwords. But many others have learned the hard way that the benefits of paid search stops the moment you stop paying.

Build your own castle

 OK, so owning the media content has benefits. What about earned media? When someone else – a media influencer, customer, social media commenter – distributes your content without payment, it’s considered earned media. This word-of-mouth messaging that’s shared by your audience is more important than ever in today’s noisy world. Earned media can be an important part of an integrated marketing strategy because positive messaging about your organization often carries more credibility when it’s delivered by a third party

Decision-makers who filter out brands that they don’t want to hear from are often receptive to what that brand’s prospects, partners and clients have to say. Earned media can take the form of product reviews, testimonials, blog comments, social media shares, case studies and more.

And because much of this earned media is in digital form, the benefits are much more quantifiable than in Hearst’s time. With the appropriate tracking and distribution strategy in place, it’s possible to measure the value of earned media toward revenue goals.

Paid, Owned and earned media – you must flip it

I was finishing up this post, I saw this headline in an article by Chad Pollitt about a Nielsen study commissioned by InPowered:

Content Marketing Is 88 Percent Less Effective Than Public Relations

As if to shore up the point that many organizations seem to be budgeting backwards, spending the most time and money on paid and owned media then the least earned media. The article’s research showed that earned media proved more effective than paid and owned in every stage of the buyer’s journey. Many marketers may be surprised that the study found earned media to be so powerful throughout the purchase cycle.

nielsen study commissioned by InPowered

Got the right balance of media?

“Expert” opinions abound, but your optimum balance of paid, owned and earned media will depend on your organization’s particular goals. Smart marketers, like smart investors, know that they can reduce risk and maximize returns by diversifying their holdings and closely monitoring performance.

What’s your media mix? Share your secrets in the comments section below!

lotus 300Media unfold
As does the lotus blossom
Content does converge

The number of digital channels available to marketers seems to increase every day, and it can be a challenge for content marketers to create an effective media mix. At the heart of every successful content marketing program is relentless optimization in the search for the perfect media blend.

Whether you’re split-testing a headline or allocating a multi-million dollar marketing budget, optimization is the ongoing process of making the best use of your financial and human resources. The best content marketers not only know how to map their content modules to business results; they know the relative value of the media channels they use.

One useful way to organize media for planning purposes has been called the POEM model – paid, owned and earned media. Thinking of your content marketing in these terms may be especially  helpful as the lines between paid, owned and earned media continue to blur. Here are some examples of paid, owned and earned media. Notice that the media types overlap, which some call converged media – and it seems to be converging more rapidly than ever before.

A POEM for Content Marketing image NlPRLykwyv5cwprwIw6Ivj3aVHZ4 wQ8IYvCrljExG358fgd7kaaM1lmG4ok2kDkzuZWJDfJ37VRiEg3NVOYttS2klUhQIe fL1Vntpxa9Ue3uNh1Zpzpzty Q1

Paid media has its roots in traditional broadcast advertising. It’s interruption based, but can still be very effective for acquisition and awareness. It’s also a fast way to get started, and paid media is sometimes necessary to put our brand messages where they need to be to connect with target audiences. Downsides include zero control over keyword inflation or Facebook and Google’s latest algorithm changes. Over-reliance on paid media means lots of strategy changes and editorial gyrations.  Also, many prospects trust paid media less than earned and owned.

Owned media has come more into focus with the rise of content marketing, as brands have realized that they are all publishers, whether they like it or not. Owned media, like company websites, blogs, ebooks and infographics, can be great media to deliver the answers and solutions prospects want. One difference that separates content marketing’s top dogs from its average bears is lead nurturing, which is fueled by owned and earned media. Perhaps the best feature of owned media is the ongoing benefits of evergreen content. A blog post, ebook or website content that engages visitors month after month beats a tweet or Facebook post every time.

Earned Media refers to the promotional power of having others recommend and share our content. It’s often the most powerful media you can’t buy because you’re relying on the inherent value and usefulness of your content to get people to share. Social proof – one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion – happens when people rely on the actions of others to guide their behavior. Social proof is a powerful influencer both online and offline. People share content for various reasons – to help others, to appear intelligent, and to trigger reciprocity.  Brands should share for the same reasons.

Just as financial investment portfolios should be consistently evaluated and reallocated to reduce risk and increase rewards, so should media portfolios. Your organization’s media represents a significant investment, so it only makes sense to reduce your risk and increase rewards. Got a strategy that’s poetry in motion for creating the perfect media blend? Speak your mind in the comments below!