Social Media: Why does brand insist on joining the conversation?

A colleague of mine, James Rice, participated in a great workshop held in Portland, Oregon, last week called Light Up Your Brand and I just wanted to share with everyone the PowerPoint deck that accompanies his presentation. Of course it loses something on its own, it was designed to illuminate James’ presentation, not be the presentation itself.

So what’s the topic? Social Media? WEb2.0? The death of advertising? Or simply a call attention to the fact that most marketing today is still centered on interruptive advertising? Most agencies are still figuring out how to deliver interruptive advertising on social media rather than using the media for what it’s designed for, having open, honest conversations among many, many people. James asks the question, why do brands insist on “joining the conversation” before they listen to it first and ask themselves what value they can bring before they join in. In fact, I wish most people would listen in first, think about what they can add of value and only then join the conversation, but that’s another topic all together. Check out James’ deck and join the conversation. Here’s the link:

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.

When CRM works, it’s all about aligning Marketing, Sales and Service, in other words, the customer lifecycle. But is it about the customer?

I was busy preparing for a conversation with a client about the importance of building a solid strategy around how to get business value out of an upcoming CRM technology deployment when I ran across a couple of good articles from William Band at Forrester Research.  In his piece entitled, “The Right CRM Metrics For Your Organization,” published last October, two key points are made; 1) “metrics enforce the discipline needed for CRM success and 2) Link CRM strategy, Tactics and metrics to business goals.”

Neither of these points are radical, new or very complicated.  But what surprised me about them was that they were almost the same key learnings I walked away with from a global CRM initiative I was a part of back in the 90s.  Does that mean we haven’t learned anything in the last decade or does it mean we were looking at the wrong metrics back then and did we understand what the business goals really were?

Over the years, I have talked about campaign metrics, customer lifecycle metrics, lifetime customer value, recency, frequency, RFM and of course the ubiquitous ROI.  More recently I’ve looked at aligning sales and marketing as a goal of CRM in itself and that raises another whole list of metrics; lead score, lead conversion, entering pipeline stage, time to conversion, order value….  And if that wasn’t enough, add in the Customer Service metrics like issue resolution, customer satisfaction, churn….  Not to mention the call center’s own internal performance metrics like time on call, pick up rate, drop rate….  In the end it appears that there are almost countless metrics that need to be considered and as Mr. Band suggests, it should be done before the technology purchase.

So what’s my point?  What was my aha moment when getting ready for my client.  It was simply this.  We have moved from tactical marketing, sales or service goals and raised them to business goals.  But in the process what about customer goals?  We have moved even more company centric at a time when the market is becoming more customer centric whether we like it or not.

Customer Relationship Management really refers to how companies can manage their customers.  It is a very one-sided and natural way, to track the relationship between company and customer.  In a Web2.0 or 3.0 or whatever .0 world we live in, our customers are taking control of the relationship itself and we need to establishing a new set of metrics that represent what is important for them.

We can start with customer rankings and ratings.  Which one of us are tracking how our products are being rated on 1) our own Web site if we allow it 2) commerce sites like 3) the big black blogosphere and 4) and perhaps most importantly in communities, both online and offline?  And if we do track this information, how many of us are using it alongside other metrics in our business dashboards?

We do countless surveys and research to see what is important for our customers.  Let’s start measuring it as well.  And not by the good old fashioned customer satisfaction surveys or even by net promoter scores.  No let’s get down to the individual level not the aggregate and add key metric fields right into the CRM system so we can report on, analyze and perhaps even optimize our customer experience from their point of view, not ours.  When we do, I think we may find some surprises

What is Closed Loop Marketing?

Closed Loop Marketing is the title I use to describe a business environment where two things happen simultaneously:  First, where technology, analytics and marketing automation is brought to bear, along with people and processes to facilitate better engagement with and between customers and prospects through all marketing, communications, and interaction channels,  and secondly, where marketing is aligned with the other key roles within and across the enterprise, including sales, service, operations, finance and IT.

Historically, Closed Loop Marketing has been used a term to describe a reporting environment where the results and impacts of marketing communications and campaigns can be delivered connecting the marketing activity with the sales and revenue figures, thus enabling ROI calculations and closing the loop between marketing expenses and revenue generated.  And that definition is still valid, but I believe only tells a part of the story. 

To truly create such a reporting environment, a company needs to integrate multiple different technology platform, reconcile differing data models and perhaps hardest of all, get different parts of the business like sales and finance to agree on common definitions of terms/metrics like customer, revenue, and costs.  Definitions which sound simple enough, but from my experience take a lot of wrangling and compromise reach consensus on.

Also required is the ability to integrate various applications and tools like campaign management, analytics, CRM, content management and business intelligence.  Properly connected, these tools along with a host of others create a means of supporting closed loop marketing.  Dis-connected or partially connected often times present a worse data environment than completely independent systems that produce their own results.

Finally, closed loop marketing requires that the marketing department understands data, analytics and technology, sales understands customer experience and IT understands that systems can work fine and still not deliver at all what the business owners need.

So is Closed Loop Marketing possible in today’s world?  Yes, I think it is.  Bu that’s for another post.

Does Blockbuster need Circuit City? Without the technology, what good is the content?

I read the other day a great post from my friend David Blum who was commenting on the announcement of the proposed merger of Blockbuster and Circuit City.  I agree that the recent bid is interesting in the context of what it portends for the future of branded experiences, but I think the real importance is the business necessities that are driving such a marriage.

Today’s consumer is bombarded on so many fronts by content, much of it of less than stellar quality, that they react by either tuning out or becoming much more discerning in their consumption of content.  This extends beyond just entertainment and encompasses the changing way consumer approach the buying process, whether in an ecommerce context or simply going into retail stores.

The merging of Blockbuster, a supplier of content and Circuit City, a supplier of the hardware that enables the consumption of content, demonstrates the ying/yang between content and technology.  And this is a lesson that all of us in the world of entertainment and marketing need to take notice of.  If we don’t understand the technology that delivers the branded experience, we won’t be able to design, develop and deliver the content in a way that connects with today’s consumer.

Engagement and Lifetime Value: The two ways to measure customers

Its 4:45p and I’ve made it through most of the first day of the Forrester Marketing Forum.  Met a lot of good people, heard some good presentations, spoke with some smart analysts.  So what, you may ask.  What have I walked away with that is making me think differently about my customers, clients or the direction of marketing?

Brian Haven of Forrester kicked off with Engagement: A New Approach to Understanding Customers.  Which was no surprise since the theme of the entire conference is engagement.  Honestly I was prepared to yawn, not because of the speaker, Brian is a strong, smart and engaging (see, I can use the lingo) speaker.  And not because I disagree with the thesis of the talk, that we all need to move away from speaking to customers or even the 1:1 mantra of dialogue with customers and evolve to relating to customers in terms of the degree and integrity of the engagement with customers over time.  The reason I was prepared to yawn was that I thought I knew the argument fairly well and I was not expecting to hear anything new or enlightening.

So what stood out in the end?  Brian showed an eye chart slide filled with literally dozens of analytical metrics and data points that to a greater or lesser degree we’re all either already collecting or would like to be collecting.  Brian asked the question, “with all the analytical metrics available, which ones are meaningful?”  At first glance, it was a fairly straightforward question.  I looked at each metric on the slide and there wasn’t a single one I could say was not a valid measurement tool or one I would advise a client was unnecessary.  So my first reaction was that they’re all meaningful.  But of course before that idea could even come out of my mouth I questioned it.  It was then that I realized that the issue was not which ones of more meaningful than others, it was really how can you bring all these metrics together in such a way as to demonstrate value to the business.

And I guess that was Brian’s point.  Engagement is the sum of many points of view, touch points and metrics.  It is trying to measure an ephemeral relationship that most likely changes with every new interaction or more broadly with every exposure to the brand.  It is measuring emotion.

Compare that to sophisticated models that calculate lifetime customer value and you’ve got the two keys to measure the outcome of marketing; increasing customer value, i.e. the revenue over time that can be directly attributed to a customer and secondly affinity, loyalty  or whatever other term you want to apply to the emotional relationship that is a driver of influence.

So thanks to Brian for making me think of how to measure customer value both rationally and emotionally.

It’s Still Marketing versus Sales

I was attending a peer conference today, with CMOs, VPs of Marketing and fellow Marketing Services practioners.  We discussed the state of marketing today and exchanged thoughts on the challenges we all are facing.

On the surface, it was surprising to me, how little the issues have changed over the last decade.  The central issues were still a lack of resources and budget and the tensions between marketing and sales.  But once we got beyond these issues, the real dicussions started.  Is there any meat to Web2.0 tactics?  Is role-based marketing something really new, or is it 1 to 1 marketing in new clothes?  Which marketing automation tools are worthwhile and should we be investing in more PR?

The consensus?  The jury is still out, but at least there’s comfort in knowing we’re all facing the same issues and can still come together to share ideas and experiences.

Tomorrow start the Forrester Research Marketing Forum. 

The Online Marketing Suite

I was just reading Peter Kim’s blog, beingpeterkim discussing the idea of the online marketing suite  I fully agree that the time has come for marketer’s to embrace the idea of an online marketing suite.  However I think it is a mistake to represent it’s value as being primarily around collaboration and optimization.  Marketing organizations are being pushed harder and harder by the rest of the enterprise to integrate marketing with sales, operations and particularly finance.  There are two values of what Peter’s Forrester colleague Suresh Vittal calls the enterprise marketing platform.

First, by integrating various technology tools like analytics, campaign management and CRM, marketing organizations can begin to track relationships, capture real behavior and preferences and engage customers with meaningful dialogue.

Secondly, my integrating all these various applications, marketing will be able to elevate its reporting and analysis from campaign reporting to real business metrics that can measure ROI or ROMI from prospect (think adserving) to conversion (think ecommerce) and most importantly loyalty (CRM).

While the first will bring the most immediate benefit to members of marketing organizations, it is the second that will gain them the success and respect.

CMOs Do They Get Respect?

Every day I’m reading more about what CMOs want.  In a recent survey, Forrester Research reports that almost two-thirds of CMOs want more involvement in “business strategy development” and over one-third aspire to become CEOs.  Lofty goals, or at least remunerative to be sure, but what does it take for not only CMOs, but entire marketing organizations to leave Rodney Dangerfield behind and finally get some respect?

According to a CMO Council report, nearly three-quarters of the C-suite executives consider the marketing organization, “highly influential and strategic in the enterprise”, but at the same time said that nearly two-thirds believe their top marketers don’t provide adequate ROI with which to gauge marketing’s true performance.  What’s the deal?  And is there anything we can do to help our friends, peers and clients?

When it comes to it, marketing organizations have two responsibilities, one external and one internal.  Externally, marketing is responsible for customer engagement, from the classical funnel of awareness, consideration, preference, action and loyalty, to the new world where the explosion of new channels, consumer-generated content and digital communities have flattened our Earth and changed the shape of engagement from push to pull, from mass to micro segmentation and from dialogue to community conversations.

Internally, that is within companies, marketing has the responsibility of accountability.  No longer can they define success in terms of reach and frequency or even response rates to targeted campaigns.  Today, marketing is on the hook for being able to measure, report and optimize their own expenditures, i.e. deliver a return on marketing investment (ROMI).  In many cases, especially in B2C companies, the CMO owns a P&L, a key benchmark for having a seat at the “strategic development” C-suite table.

What does it take to successfully execute each responsibility?  Over the course of the next few postings, I want to start examining this question and I look forward to comments and suggestions from readers.

As a hint, I will lead with the statement that I don’t believe that either responsibility can be achieved without the significant use of technology and that many corporate marketing organizations and most agencies are unwilling or unable to take the steps necessary to provide the environment which will make the CMO succeed and earn the respect of the rest of the executive team.

Software as a Service for Marketers; its not easy, but it’s worth it.

Last night I had the opportunity moderate a panel of some of the smartest people I’ve met in the marketing world.  It was at the monthly dinner meeting of the SDMA,, on whose board I sit.  The topic was Where Art & Technology Meet: SaaS for Marketers and the panel included Kathleen Brush, CMO of WebTrends, Bill Patterson, Director of Product Management at Microsoft, responsible for the upcoming launch of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Live, Steve Gershik, Director of Marketing Innovation for Eloqua and Blake Matheny, CTO for Compendium Blogware.

Kathleen opened the discussion with the point that the SaaS, software as a service, or on-demand, has democratized marketing technology and made it available to a far broader class of marketing organizations than the Fortune 500 type enterprise with a lot of resources, larger budgets and deep IT support.  Bill added that it wasn’t just the SaaS model, but the expansion of the business applications offered to today’s marketers, regardless of whether it is delivered in a hosted, on-premise or completely outsourced manner.

When I asked the panel what advice they would give marketers evaluating various technologies, service providers and professional services companies, Steve cautioned that buyers should ask for references, make sure what service and support is offered and understand what the true cost of ownership is.  On that theme, Blake reminded all of us that there is no such thing as a free lunch.  Even those companies advertising low monthly service fees, no contracts and no set up charges, do not allow you to get away without spending some serious money and making a real business commitment.

Once you’ve chosen a provider and a business application platform there are definite costs associated with training, support, customization and potentially significant costs to switch to a different platform down the line, when your business needs change.  Always factor in not only what your business requirements are today, but what happens if you grow, contract or move in a different direction.

Finally, the panel tackled the question of how or if you should try to integrate multiple “best-of-breed” solutions or go with a single vendor and their “integrated” solution.  The consensus was that first, look under the hood to make sure claims of integration are real.  Often companies enhance their offerings by buying other companies and then claiming that simply because two products share the same logo, they can now claim to be integrated.

I am of course biased in this regard, because my company Ascentium, has made its mark by being both a marketing and a technology company.  We can help our clients tackle the issue on several fronts, by integrating best of breed solutions like Microsoft CRM, WebTrends for analytics, Exact Target for email, SharePoint for content management and Performance Point as the robust BI tool that brings them all together and delivers on the promise of closed loop marketing.  Or if the client wants a simple, easy to deploy, Swiss army knife solution, we fully embrace Eloqua and the best marketing solution available.  And for those clients who don’t want to take on anything themselves, we can provide the above solutions as a fully outsourced service.

In the end, we got great feedback from the 100 some attendees of the event and I want to personally thank all of the panelists and invite them to join this discussion, either to add any points I left out, correct any mistakes I may have made or simply continue the discussion for a larger audience.