High ROI Marketing Strategies for a Down Economy

high-roi-tips1Last night I had the opportunity to moderate a great panel discussion on the topic of High ROI Marketing Strategies for a down Economy, held in conjunction with the Seattle Direct Marketing Association, SDMA. monthly dinner meeting.  The panel consisted of Andrea Schwarzenbach from Alaska Airlines, Andy Cotton,Yahoo, Jamie Lomas, AdReady, Brian Ratzliff, WhatCounts and Michael Williams, Williams-Helde.

The was a great turnout of about 85 marketing professionals from all over the Puget Sound and the discussion was both lively and thought provoking.  The overriding messages were; don’t be afraid of the economy, now is the time to try something new and pay more attenpation to your customers.

I had asked each panelist to come up with 1 tip that they could pass on to the attendees and we put all the ideas together in a short deck.  Take a look, download it or pass it on to a friend.  We all got a lot out of the evening and I hope you will as well.

B2B Recommendations for Turbulent Times

I spend a lot of time with our clients figuring out the best strategy, the latest measurement tools and how to cut through the noise. But lately many of the questions have been around should B2B marketers be doing in times of economic turmoil, when no one is sure how far it is to the bottom and when we will start coming back up. So I carved out a little time and tried to come up with a few key best practices that might give at least a little direction. I’d really like to ask for everyone else’s thoughts. And maybe together we can chart the right course.

First, as the old saying goes, the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining. And while the weather metaphor may not match the current financial outlook, the lesson should be heeded by every marketer and by B2B marketers the most. Success in B2B focused businesses comes as a direct result to the quality of the relationship between companies. Traditionally this has been primarily the province of the direct sales force. But in an increasingly more online world, the quality of the relationship is measured by the quality of the online experience, which is most often managed by marketing rather than sales. So in hard times, when B2B purchasing is put on hold and buying cycles lengthen considerably, it is up to the B2B marketer to use all the tools at their disposal to nurture the relationship so that when the recovery comes and the buyers have money in their hands, they turn to those with whom they already have a relationship.

Second, in today’s world, the selling of technology is becoming a larger share of B2B transactions and the process of buying and selling technology is changing rapidly. IT purchases used to be the almost exclusive realm of technology professionals. They would recommend new technologies, deploy them and have complete responsibility for their support. And to many business users, how that technology worked and how it worked together was a mystery that went well beyond both their expertise and their interest. Now however, approaching the end of the first decade of the 21st century and when Gen X types are approaching what we used to call middle age, the roles are in flux. The rapid growth of Software as a Service and even Software plus Services, especially in the enterprise space, is testament to the fact that business owners are no longer willing to completely delegate technology to the IT department. For this new generation of business leaders, technology is not just the plumbing that runs behind the scenes, it is often the measure of innovation and a key differentiator in their business. For the B2B marketer, this means that technology can’t be packaged just for the geeks and promoted by the proverbial speeds and feeds, it must be presented to the business decision maker and must demonstrate the business value it delivers. It’s solution selling at its most basic.

Next, it’s not only that technology is moving out of the server room, it’s also being taken home. According to a recent survey of online adults, 77% used Microsoft Word at home as well as 58% used Microsoft Excel, once an exclusive business tool. What does this mean to a B2B marketer? The line between B2B and B2C customer is becoming blurred as the line between our work and our home lives fades. We are taking traditionally business applications like Word and Excel home and we are bringing Facebook and Twitter into the office with us. This is especially important as consumer products lead the innovation race and it’s just as likely that a business will be clamoring to get the latest B2C products and services, but use them in a business context. So the B2B marketer has to recognize that their audiences may be interested in their products as a consumer and that their companies are competing against consumer products in the business arena.

Finally and perhaps the most important tip for today’s B2B marketers comes from one of my favorite analysts at Forrester Research, Laura Ramos. She’s been posting a series on Forrester’s marketing blog entitled, “B2B Marketing Obsolete, Really?” And one her best messages is, “For marketing to evolve, we need to learn to listen more than we talk.” The world of Web 2.0 is no longer an abstraction. According to the most recent data I’ve seen, 75% of online adults in the United States participate in some form of social media. And that number is fairly consistent across most age groups. It’s not just a bunch of tweens on MySpace. Companies are being talked about on the Web, B2C and B2B alike. Business people are seeking out their peers to research and rate products and companies alike. And if you are not reaching out to find out what they are saying, where they are living online and who they are listening to, you can bet your competitors are.

Bottom line, despite the economy, there’s a lot B2B marketers need to be doing now and its not just this quarter’s sales that depend on it. The future of their companies may depend on how they step up to the plate.

Keeping Ahead or Keeping Pace with Customers

I’m attending the Forrester Research Consumer Forum in Dallas this week. As usual with Forrester, there is some very good information, the networking is great and the event is well run. My only criticism is that some of the analysts present snapshots of research that in some cases is months old and I’ve already reviewed it. This wouldn’t be necessarily bad if the in person sessions shed deeper insight or generated a lively discussion on the topic, but as in most conferences, the Q&A is weak and most discussions are conducted at a fairly low level of expertise.

The theme of this conference is “Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow’s Customer”. It’s a very important topic, especially in troubled economics times. And I was pleased to see that many of the sessions spoke to the guerilla in the room, namely how do we cope with the ups and downs we’re facing every time we look at the markets and the economic forecasts.

I will dive into some of the specific sessions in future posts, but I wanted to raise one question up front. While the theme is keeping ahead of tomorrow’s customer, shouldn’t the real theme be more of keeping pace with customers. It seems a throwback to the old school of marketing to think that we as marketers can keep ahead of customers, that we are responsible for controlling the conversation rather than being active participants.

Is Integrated Marketing the same as Integrating Marketing?

The other day I found myself in a heated discussion about integrated marketing. On the one side, it was argued that integrated marketing is a decade old concept that was proven not to be either practical or particularly effective. The other camp argued that integrated marketing is a core element of anything we call marketing2.0 and regardless of name, is something that is essential for the future of marketing. Both sides of the debate have good arguments and I couldn’t find any fault with their logic, however I think both miss the point.

The future of marketing does not hinge on integrating messaging across multiple channels like we tried to do at the advent of the internet age. We’ve learned that different media and different mediums require unique messaging. Just because a TV ad is video, does not mean that it’s going to be a hit on YouTube. Traditional print copy losses most online readers before the first sentence is complete and anything that hints of advertising or hype will be shot down within any community.

On the other side, simply participating in every new social network like Twitter, Imeem or Boing Boing does not automatically mean great marketing. Companies still spend as much on Yellow Pages ads as they do on internet marketing and broadcast TV is still the biggest single line item in any marketing plan. They key is not trying to be everywhere, but trying to be in the right places, where the right customers are.

I started out by saying that both points of view are missing the point. It’s not that they are wrong, but I think the real meaning of integration in today’s marketing world should reflect solutions to the problems that are keeping CMOs up at night. The biggest struggle marketing has is not with customers, but with the rest of the company.

For decades, marketing departments have used their own metrics and their own milestones for success. Even as their methods and tools have become more sophisticated, most marketers still speak in terms of reach & frequency, opens, click-throughs and response rates. Those that do attempt to measure business metrics like ROI, tend to use implied or derived revenue data and quite often their formulas do not reflect basic understanding of finance principles.

And this lack of business rigor is reflected in the way other parts of the enterprise view marketing. From the CMO council to Forrester Research, there are multiple studies that say the same thing. Most CEOs do not believe that marketing can justify its expenditures, even if they know intrinsically there is value in what is being done. Few CFOs accept any numbers marketing presents as accurate and VPs of Sales tends to argue over the influence and therefore impact of marketing programs. In general, they assign the revenue to the one who closed the sale, not the one who found the lead.

The answer is the integration of marketing into the rest of the enterprise, allowing the CMO to take their rightful place as a business leader in the C suite. Like everything else in business, this integration has people, process and technology elements. From a people perspective, marketers have to become increasingly left brain thinkers. Identify themselves as business people, no matter how creative they may be and learn to look at everything they do by asking the question, does this advance the business? From a process point of view, organizations have to stop thinking in terms of the marketing funnel, the sales pipeline and customer service and understand and track the customer along the complete customer lifecycle continuum.

And finally, look to technology as the enabler of both people and process. Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, has got to come out of the Sales closet it normally hides in. If companies’ marketing, sales and customer service groups are not all using the same CRM application, or at least the same data, then they are bound to remain siloed in their approach to the customer. If the data collected from each customer touch point is not brought together and form the basis for a robust business intelligence solution, then each division will continue to report on its own metrics; campaigns, sales, incidents and not understand the value contribution of each interaction.

So, by integrating marketing into a closed loop environment, built upon a platform where all customer interaction is captured in a CRM system and then reported on and analyzed through the multiple lenses of a BI solution, companies will be able to understand their customers across time and behavior, as well as across media. The result will be achievement of integrated marketing through the integration of marketing.

What is Agency2.0?

What is Agency2.0? Several of us at Ascentium have been working on the definition of for some time and it is at the heart of how we define ourselves in the future. Last year Peter Kim (who is also presenting with you at MCONN08) at Forrester Research put out a paper entitled, Help Wanted: 21st Century Agency, in which he posited that as corporate marketing organizations reinvent themselves and become customer centric, they will need more and more help from their agencies, not just in traditional ways, but increasing as trusted advisors helping clients “capitalize on emerging channels and technologies.”

This spring he followed up that paper with another good piece called, “The Connected Agency”, where he argued that agencies now need to help their clients listen to customers rather than just shout at them. Peter and I were at a forum together in Toronto in May and spoke about the new role agencies can play helping clients engage with clients, which means multi-directional rather than either the traditional one-way push advertising of most of the last half-century or the bi-directional construct embodied in the 1:1 marketing movement of the last decade.

While I’m not holding up Forrester as the be all and end all in marketing thought leadership, I agree with Peter’s basic tenets that the new style of agency has to be a resource that enables companies to engage. And that engagement is defined by the customer experiences that are generated, managed, monitored and acknowledged by the client. And that it is up to the agency to be a creator of those experiences.

For the agency to be able to create those experiences, they have to be able to bring to bear not only the traditional skills of brand, strategy, research, account planning and creative, but now they need to be able to excel at analytics, technology and business intelligence. This new combination of skills is what defines agency2.0, or at least how we should define it so as to own the space.

Once you’ve defined the space in that way, the agency engagement model you describe of black-box delivery and risk- sharing make sense. I don’t think most marketers are ever very concerned about the internal organization of their agencies as long as they have clear lines of communication and a single throat to choke.

The Future of eCommerce and The Customer Experience

I’ve been thinking a lot about contemporary ecommerce customer experiences lately. Besides fixing the obvious problems like having to register before you buy, going all the way through the purchase process before seeing the shipping costs or taxes and of course the all too frequent screw up that makes you start all over again and hope that your credit won’t be charged twice, I wonder who is really looking at commerce as just one piece in the overall customer experience.

In the technology world, ecommerce usually refers to the actual shopping cart/order management application that enables a company to sell products online, order and fulfill and take payment. Companies with recurring payment plans like cell providers and cable companies even allow you to add services, increase plans and in some cases refer a friend. But from a customer-centric perspective, ecommerce needs to include analytics applications that track what is important to a customer by their actions of the Web site, i.e. where they have spent their time, which pages or products they have shown interest in. Once you start wanting to remember anything about a particular customer, you will need a CRM system or customer data management program. And if you’re going to provide a personalized customer experience you will need a robust enough campaign management system to present unique combinations of relevant content.

Who’s going to provide all these systems? Amazon? Microsoft? Salesforce.com? It’s another case where what Forrester calls the enterprise marketing platform is a need waiting for a solution.

Ascentium named Partner of the Year by Microsoft. Why does that matter to a marketing services company?

This week Microsoft honored my company, Ascentium, with its prestigious “Partner of the Year” award for our work in the area of portals and collaboration.  We were also named a finalist in the category of CRM Partner of the year.  This comes on the heels of being named one the top ten agencies by the Interactive Media Council and one of the top 50 digital agencies by Adage Magazine. So what, other than it’s always cool to work for a company that’s winning awards and being named to top ten lists?

It shows that we can bring together a team that is equally adept at marketing and technology.  That it is possible for these two distinctly different business types, and I’d go one step further and say two inherently different styles of reasoning can come together and create something new and unique.

I’ve been evangelizing, some might say harping on, the concept of what I have been calling closed loop marketing.  I gravitated to the term closed loop marketing, not because it’s the most accurate representation of my views on how marketing and technology can and should intersect, but because it’s a relatively well-understood term within the marketing world in the context of reporting and reaching the goal of measuring ROI in a way that will satisfy CFOs and more importantly CEOs, not just marketing organizations.

What I really mean by closed loop marketing is the ability to create, develop, deliver, and support truly differentiated experiences, whether between company and customer (B2C), company and company (B2B), company and employee (B2E) or customer and customer (C2C).  Experience is core to communication.  It is both logical, lineal and definable as well as emotional, inspirational and multi-dimensional in nature.  It spans the entire customer lifecycle from awareness, consideration, conversion, retention and loyalty.  It is the essence of engagement and the rationale of relationships.  And ultimately, from a business perspective, it is the source of all revenue.

In today’s world of multi-channels, global reach, micro-segmentation and a societal case of attention deficient disorder, it is the holy grail of successful companies and can only come about through a partnership between marketing, sales and IT.  There is almost no customer interaction that does not involve technology and the capture, use or movement of data.  When a retail customer buys their groceries, an online buyer downloads music, the CEO attends an event or when any of us goes to the Web to search for information or to communicate with our friends (which of course the term friends has been completely redefined in the Web2.0 world), we are engaging because of technology.  CRM, BI, HTML, Ad-serving, lead scoring, site optimization; all are technology tools which provide the intelligence to empower experiences.  So when it comes down to it, the solution is fairly simple:

Experience plus Intelligence equals Relationship –    E + I = R

So back to the question at hand, why does it matter that Ascentium wins Partner of the Year and Top Ten Agency at the same time.  It’s because we have studiously built a team of people who understand the formula and are proving that right brain marketers can co-exist with left brain technologists and that together they can use intelligence to build experience and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve always that combining intelligence and experience was a good thing.  Maybe politicians should even try it sometime.