What does the future of marketing look like? No one has a crystal ball, but the rise of constant connectivity and an ever-growing list of channels is making marketers’ heads spin.
So what can marketers do to more effectively reach their target audiences in this increasingly fragmented landscape?
To dive into the future of marketing, blueriver’s Sean Schroeder recently sat down with one of the foremost experts on the topic, Robert Rose of the Content Marketing Institute.
Sean Schroeder (SS): At times, you paint a pretty bleak picture of the digital marketing state of the state. Along with some great recommendations, you seem to suggest that, while we think we may have choices in how we move forward, we really don't if we want to be successful. Is that right?
Robert Rose (RR): I hope it's not too bleak, and I'm hoping we paint a little bit of a positive picture toward the end of the white paper we co-produced, Connecting Content Marketing Experiences - Three keys to a more connected and aligned technology and marketing agenda.
But you're right, this is a really frustrating time to be in digital because marketers today are facing this Hobson's choice of marketing. We can either do it badly, or we don't do it at all.
Of course, we have to do it, because digital keeping up and catching up to every single thing we do, and it's overwhelming most marketers with the amount of technology and the number of available channels. How can we engage across all of those channels? How do we hire or create processes for that? I’m not sure it is entirely bleak, but this is an extremely disruptive time.
A lot of marketing organizations find themselves in a situation where the processes and the strategies that they put into place are really coming out of the digital 1.0 at best, sometimes even earlier, where all we had to do was manage our message across web, television, and print. If we could that we were doing pretty well.
We have to get above all the noise that's out there and figure out how to scale marketing to meet all of the touchpoints that our consumers expect.
Now there are hundreds of new channels that we have to be engaging on, and that our consumers expect us to be on. When we start looking at it, we've got to understand how we're going to get better insight from all of the things that we're doing, and from consumer behavior, other than just looking at customer records. The old idea of CRM is just not going to play in today's fast moving world.
We have to get above all the noise that's out there and figure out how to scale marketing to meet all of the touchpoints that our consumers expect. How are we going to scale our efforts across multiple divisions, multiple products or multiple global offices, and scale our efforts to be able to address all of that in a quality way? It's a very challenging time.
SS: Then, as consumers we're becoming extremely sensitive to the data that's being collected. That has to make things even more challenging?
RR: That’s right, it and is only going to get more and more challenging to collect that data. You've got customers who are really angry with brands because of the amount of data they have to give over in order to have a positive experience. For example, in retail, how much data do you have to give over to use the free Wi-Fi in a store? How much data do you have to give over to get some free element or free prize to understand their product a little more?
How much data are we going to collect on a consumer, and what kind of value are we going to return in exchange for that data?
This trickles down all the way into our thinking about B2B marketing or B2C marketing in the digital space, because that's really how we operate these days. How much data are we going to collect on a consumer, and what kind of value are we going to return in exchange for that data? Customers are becoming increasingly sensitive to that. Everything from what's going on in popular culture to the news to what's happening even with the NSA has made people really aware of the data problem. We have to not only be great caretakers of that data, but also we have to understand how much more valuable it is going to become to consumers over time. We had better be ready to deliver differentiated value in exchange for it.
SS: Given this, what's a marketer to do? How we move forward in this when we have access to this data, but people don't necessarily want us using it?
RR: We detail a number of these in the white paper, but the first step is understanding where we are. One of the common misconceptions is that we've got to look beyond customer records. This assumes we have good customer records to begin with. So many times an organization will tell me they have a marketing or customer database, but once we begin working towards a marketing strategy, and start peeling back the layers of the data that we have, we realize we don’t really have that much. Often times what we do have is inaccurate, old, or just not that valuable.
The first question we have to actually answer for ourselves is whether the data we have reflects the audience that we’re trying to attract, and the value that we're trying to deliver.
If we're going to start developing valuable content that's going to deliver value, how can we start understanding the customer even before they explicitly raise their hand? As we start creating experiences, whether they're blogs or newsletters or webinar programs or social programs, there are all of these channels that we have to manage. How can we start understanding the preferences of our audiences even before they start raise their hand and say, "Hi. My name is Robert, and I'm interested in your product"? Starting to connect these concepts is really the most valuable thing.
We are building an audience, identifying customers who are engaged, and ready to exchange some level of data--behavioral or explicit--in exchange for a great experience.
This gets to the entire point of the white paper - we aren’t building leads, and at this point, we’re not building opportunities yet. We are building an audience, identifying customers who are engaged, and ready to exchange some level of data--behavioral or explicit--in exchange for a great experience. That's the heart of content marketing, and that’s why, in the white paper, we call it “the audience development imperative”. That is the real value we drive by creating a better exchange for the data that we want from those consumers.
SS: In the white paper you ask three things. How we get better insight and access into prospective consumer behavior by means other than simply looking at existing customer records, how do we rise above the noise and scale to have presence on new and existing social and content channels, and how we connect and orchestrate our content in a way that enables us to actually deliver powerful, personally relevant, and ultimately persuasive experiences. Can you talk about those points?
RR: Looking at that first one, let me ask you a question. You deal a lot with various customers and their digital strategies. When you're sitting down with customers these days, what is the usual quality of the marketing database, if they even have one?
SS: Well, it varies, but unfortunately, it’s generally not what you're hoping for. At minimum, you're hoping that there's a well-managed marketing database, or even better there's marketing automation someplace that's connected to your CRM, with an exchange of data between the two. Of course, you want access to that data in a way that provides a foundation to the long term strategy.
RR: That's right, and this sounds like we have similar experiences. In many cases, when I'm talking with a brand and we're looking at their existing data - sometimes it's a CRM system, but in many cases the marketing database - it is usually incomplete at best. Maybe they have captured email addresses, maybe names, sometimes phone numbers, but that's really the only thing that they have going for them. Even when we start looking at something beyond the customer records, we have either improve the data or in many cases it just needs to be created from scratch.
If we can start to look at a strategy that creates valuable content, where customers want to give us that data in exchange for that content, that means the content itself has got to be pretty darn good, and we're really focusing on subscription. We're focusing on getting people to subscribe to this content or this experience and then connecting multiples of those experiences together, so that rich data profile gets progressively bigger and better over time.
SS: In our experience, organizations that are most well suited to actually do that, even if it's only over the email channel, are those that do have marketing automation in place, even if they're not necessarily using it, simply because marketing automation does provide multiple types of data. Is that your experience as well?
RR: My experience is that marketing automation tends to be one of the best available solutions to start this process, but it is far from complete. In most cases, because marketing automation solutions, by their very name, are focused on automating the marketing process, they're not truly built to facilitate a subscription and audience development process. That's a different thing, because these are not leads or opportunities yet. At some point we hope they're going to raise their hand, and we're going to push them into a marketing process or a sales process where we want to facilitate some buying decision down the road. We're building an audience, and we're exchanging value for data.
We're building an engagement with an audience that has nothing to do with them being leads or dripped or automated in any capacity.
This really gets us to the crux of it, where marketing automation solutions tend to fall down a little bit in connecting the different experiences. As an example, let's say I create a blog, and this blog is going to be awesome. This blog is going to develop wonderful value, and we're going to have content across our multiple product sectors here. It represents our brand approach. Let's just assume that it's great.
Most businesses may set up a subscription system for that blog using whatever software the blog has to accommodate that, and they may set up some sort of form for subscribing. But that itself is probably completely separate from the marketing automation system. When I come over, I've engaged in this blog, I've gone through and read it, and I'm really excited about it - now I go over to the website and I click on the resource center, and I want to download a brochure or a white paper. I'm asked to fill out another form, in order to provide completely new information - or the same information over again - because I'm now a lead. Now I'm going to go into the marketing automation system.
We need not only a new outlook and approach that embraces audience development, but also technology that helps tie these things together.
You may think the answer just to connect the blog to the marketing automation system - but that just doesn't happen. In many cases, that’s because we're not connecting those two experiences together from the web content management perspective, and from the marketing automation system. They're two very separate experiences. What I'm hoping for as a marketer is that, by the time that person comes over and wants to sign up and raise their hand for a demonstration, or for a brochure, a case study or a white paper, that I understand them as an audience member first. I know what blogs they've read. I know that they have done these things in our online magazine. I know how to have a much more relevant conversation with them and then, how to optimize the sales experience based on their experience in this other element, which in this case is a blog. Marketing automation is the best, but in many ways, it isn’t quite sufficient for this audience development process yet.
SS: It sounds like you're suggesting there are two things we need to take into consideration. We need not only a new outlook and approach that embraces audience development, but also technology that facilitates it and helps tie these things together.
RR: It's absolutely both. What we're talking about here is a new approach and strategy. This is where I spend most of my time these days, working with organizations to change the culture, the process, and the strategy around facilitating a better and more valuable customer experience, using content as the driver. You can read in content marketing and customer experience management in order to optimize the marketing process, but that's a difficult thing. We speak to some of these process challenges in the white paper. Those are difficult things.
SS: It sounds like, of the two things we need to consider, that one is going to be the most difficult. The other part is the technical solution, which seems a little bit easier, but only because changing the culture within an organization can be such a steep climb.
RR: Yes, because in many marketing organizations the technology drives the strategy, instead of the strategy driving the technology. The business basically buys content technology, marketing automation technology, email technology, analytics, and lets the features and functions of the technology determine what the process is going to be. The process adapts itself to sort of what comes out of the box in so many technology packages.
Let's architect the experiences that we want our customers to have - the processes and strategy that we're going to have internally to be able to meet and join and connect all of those things. Then, let's find a technology that actually meets the requirements of those processes.
The challenge with that, of course, is that you start mapping your processes to what's available from a technology perspective, and you then either do or don't use all of the capabilities of that particular technology because either A, you don't understand it, or B, the process doesn't quite match what your business wants to do. Instead, it should be exactly the reverse.
Let's architect the experiences that we want our customers to have - the processes and strategy that we're going to have internally to be able to meet and join and connect all of those things. Then, let's find a technology that actually meets the requirements of those processes. It seems like such a subtle change, and it seems like such a “duh” thing to do, but it rarely happens because of all of those things that we talked about in the beginning, because of how fast we have to be moving. This isn't necessarily the fault of marketers. They have been pressured to move so fast. It's like, we've got to triage, and we've got to make sure we're doing something - buying a social suite or a marketing automation solution, or a new web content management system, or redesigning the website, or launching a blog, or doing something. This actually feels better than stopping and thinking, “What should we be doing?”
Now is the time when we can take a step back, and say, “What should the experiences be like? How can we actually reduce the amount of content that we're creating, and increase its impact across the different channels, so that we can actually focus on providing great content that people want to exchange their data for?” If we can start to figure that out, that's when we start getting great data instead of “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
While the current marketing outlook is shifting dramatically, there are ways marketers can cut through the clutter and more effectively communicate with their target audiences.
Part two of this discussion explains how.