Showmanship

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Showmanship

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“This is the day of dramatization. Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do. Radio does it. And you will have to do it if you want attention.”

Dale Carnegie

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3 Ways To Build Your Brand On The Right Assumptions

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3 Ways To Build Your Brand On The Right Assumptions

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Teresa Caro, the senior vice president of marketing at Atlanticus, a financial services company marketing under the Fortiva family of brands, has spent her career helping brands connect with their customers, often in new ways. She worked for social media agencies in the early days of those platforms and helped brands like Chick-Fil-A, UPS, Wells Fargo, and Coca-Cola with their marketing strategies. We had a chance to talk recently about the need to unpack assumptions and her insights provide guidance to marketers and business leaders seeking to align marketing and sales and to put the customer in the center of their business.

Assumptions Can Hide Misalignment and Breakthroughs

“My biggest learning throughout my career is to never assume,” said Caro. Even fundamental things like the company’s financial goals might not be obvious. “Every company seeks to be profitable, yet, depending on the company goal, profitability may not need to happen until a later date.” She recommends digging deeper into the business goals to understand how marketing affects future results. “Will the company be sold in five years and so scale is the priority and profitability is less important (at least right now)? Is the company a public company and so profitable growth are the priorities? Are we operating in a highly commoditized space so more focus needs to placed on brand awareness, perception or differentiation?” The answers to these questions lead to very different plans. “I have even worked with brand manager clients who want to be perceived as more ‘innovative’ compared to their other brand managers, so we did less around the ‘tried and true’ and pushed more into sparkly objects,” Caro recalls from her agency days. In any case, understanding the underlying motivations can lead to real breakthroughs and uncover areas of misalignment. “Once that long term goal has been identified and translated into short term plans, next it is important to layer in the target audience.” Caro said it is important to consider all the stakeholders, “not just customer or consumer target audiences, but also internal, external, investor, board-type audiences.” Consider how your business plans, product positioning, or even messaging will resonate with all the stakeholders.

Measurement Requires Management

“Regardless of industry, the biggest assumptions are typically around measurement,” Caro observed. “What needs to be measured, is it being measured, is it being measured the right way, is it being reported on correctly, is it being analyzed appropriately, and is it being tested and optimized” are the questions that she advised asking. “Furthermore, do the right people have access to this data and do they understand how they can make an impact on these numbers.” If data isn’t understood or actionable, it isn’t useful. “In other words, people who are really good at creating reports, may not be good at analyzing them. People who are good at analyzing them, may not have the domain knowledge needed to make recommendations to different departments,” she said. “The most fascinating discovery I have made is the number of marketing organizations that don’t have an analytics person on their team or that they have to share them with finance and accounting,” she noted. This is likely to change in the coming years with a growing emphasis on data and analytics, but it is a gap in many small and mid-size marketing groups today and impacts the ability to make smart, data-driven decisions.

How organizations make decisions and use data to drive marketing plans can vary widely. “Many brands assume TV commercials always work, largely because it is the tradition in the company to always include TV commercials in their brand plans,” she said. “Content marketing has become another ‘you-just-have-to-do-it’ tactic in marketing plans.” Whether or not it is the right choice for the business, product, or sales approach. “For the record, there are ways to prove TV commercials work, as well as content marketing,” Caro summarized. “It goes back to the assumptions around measuring the right way, with the right tools.” And making sure those measurements tie back to the business strategy overall.

She warned against acting on data without first validating. For instance, Caro warned that a company shouldn’t use lookalike modeling, in which new prospects are pursued that match attributes from current customers, without validating that those current customers are the most valuable or profitable. They risk filling the pipeline with prospects that will not drive the business goals. Similarly, “rolling out social media and other forms of communication without validating other departments, such as customer service, can support the ramifications” is a recipe for brand damage. Metrics are exceptional tools, but they are only tools to be used by management to make smart decisions, even if that means rethinking traditional approaches or revisiting what has worked in the past. “Debunking of assumptions requires a business case and a leadership team willing to take a risk,” she added.

Brands Are Themselves Assumptions

It has been said that your brand is what your customers think and say about you without your involvement. In a sense, they are themselves a set of assumptions. Assumptions about how the product might perform, how the price compares to the competition, where the product can be purchased, and what the customer experience will entail. “When someone asks me to ‘brand position’ a company, I have found a lot of work goes into helping them understand all that goes into a brand,” recalled Caro. This includes not only “advertising, but PR to customer experience and everything in between.” It extends beyond marketing functions to sales. It extends beyond customer-facing roles to those who support the experience in factories, development teams, or billing departments. Good marketers “help their executive leadership or clients understand that what he or she decides to do as it relates to brand, impacts all aspects of the organization,” Caro said. “And, with a limited budget, not everything can be done.” Before your customers can make the right assumptions about you as a brand and a company, the organization has an opportunity to decide “what they want to be known for and how they want to reinforce this message.” And to give that priority across their entire business strategy.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.

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4 Ways Successful Marketers Can Think Big And Start Small

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4 Ways Successful Marketers Can Think Big And Start Small

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Melissa Craig-Fink is the marketing and operations manager for Panther Residential Management who manages traditional and non-tradition multi-dwelling residences in several eastern US states. Throughout her career in marketing - working for brands like Quizno’s, Sports Clips, and the Ritz Carlton, and now as a department of one in real estate - she knows the challenges of balancing strategic and tactical priorities on long-term and short-term horizons. Here are some lessons she has learned that will help any marketer and business leader be successful.

Take Risks

“When I worked at Quizno’s in franchise marketing, digital advertising was a new concept and the marketing team was nervous to jump into that space,” Fink recalls. “It is funny to say now because I am a raging fan, but at the time we were not all convinced, and the marketing team was reluctant to manage the project.” This was over six years ago when many were still experimenting. “Although I was not very hopeful that digital would drive customers to our doors the way our traditional outreach had, I agreed to do it.” The rest is history, she said. The program was a success and she was forever changed as a marketer. “My mindset now is that everything is moving towards digital. Now, my role is primarily online reputation management and digital advertising. Roles that I wouldn’t have believed would exist just a few years ago.”

Be Prepared to Change

“Your market changes every quarter,” Fink explained. “You need to look regularly at your customer base, talk to your on-site teams and get fresh eyes on the changing demographics, and then shift your strategies.” This is true of any business, but especially in highly dynamic markets like residential real estate. For instance, Fink has had success targeting around universities for changing student populations.

Being responsive is critical to Panther’s business and to Fink’s role as a marketer, as future tenants are likely to be referred by today’s tenants. “People shop for apartments online, but not just on our website or properties, but in their friends’ social feeds, review sites, and places where we can only loosely influence what is said and shown about our properties,” she explained. “We try to be very responsive, answering positive or negative reviews within 2 hours and inviting those with complaints to speak to us directly.” This level of responsiveness requires an openness to change. “Our leasing agents have been nervous about invited angry customers to speak to them personally in the past, but that is how issues are resolved and negative reviewers turn into positive fans.”

Managing through emotional reactions is the key to finding actionable insights. “If you are defensive, ask yourself why,” she suggested. “If you can take the emotion out of it, you can remain empathetic to the complaint and find an opportunity to fix problems.” Alternatively, “you can defend yourself and make the assumption that the thing that people have complained about is not an issue, but if you see the anecdotes piling up, chances are you have a problem.”

The Answer Might Be Simple

Prior to her joining the company through acquisition, Panther lacked a marketing team. “A lot of things were blamed on the lack of marketing,” she recalled. “If we had just assumed that, we would have made some mistakes. For instance, in one of our properties, they noticed that lease booking and property tours were down and the cause was not obvious but was being attributed to lack of awareness. “Instead of just blaming brand awareness and jumping into a promotional campaign, I visited the properties and shopped the comparable properties close by and in the price range,” she recounted. “Sometimes the problems were so obvious it was comical. I would suggest that we needed to update the colors in the model, provide customer service training to the leasing office, or make simple changes and those began to make a big difference.” Simple changes that made all the difference.

These observations can happen physically on the property or in an analysis of the data. “In the franchise world, everything had tracking codes and I could create reports to show what was working with the IT department,” she said. “In apartments, I had to create the reports, work with vendors to create them, or uncover the data that existed in our current systems that no one had been utilizing.”

“Model homes are key sales tools for apartment leasing and sometimes there isn’t budget for a major refresh of an apartment, but even in those cases there is a lot we can do.” One model in Memphis hadn’t been updated in a while and had a large number of faux plants. “It looks cluttered and dated and it didn’t reflect the brand well,” Fink recalls. “We removed those plants, decluttered other decorations from the space, changed out the bedding and shower curtain and it looked modern and fresh.” Not all changes have to be expensive or extensive. “It can be as simple as swapping out the welcome rug,” she joked. “Ultimately there are judgment calls, but over time your judgment can inform you how prospective customers would be comparing their property to others in their price range and in the area.” This is true of other businesses and industries as well. The change you need might be a simple fix that no one had done before.

Think Big and Start Small

“Sometimes having a shoestring budget can cause you to think small, but if you get creative you can accomplish more,” she offered. “At Quizno’s, we were able to do an unbudgeted sponsorship of the Nashville Sounds baseball stadium. We chose to do this because we had multiple locations within a 5-mile radius of the stadium and were testing a geotargeting digital platform that would drive traffic.” There were short-term and long-term benefits to the campaign. “Once we decided it was worth recommending, we got owner buy-in and found creative ways to fund it. It worked so well, they rolled it out to other regions, even larger marks like Denver."

"If you continue to think big, you can often find ways to afford it. But if you limit your thinking, you will never know what could have been accomplished.”

“Always test small. In the businesses of retail franchising or apartment complexes, I always test in one or two locations or by segments,” she explained. The same held true in her time in franchise marketing. “If you start big doing a portfolio-wide roll-out, you don’t get the work the kinks out and fix things first.” With the growth of digital marketing, there is an assumption that data is more readily available than it might be, so finding things to test that can be measured is key. “Marketers are in the data analytics business,” Fink observed. “You must learn how to slice and dice your data into a format that is legible and actionable.”

“Innovation can happen at companies of all sizes and business models,” she said. “Larger companies might have more resources, but if there is a management buy-in, even small companies can do creative things.”

Fink had her concerns going from larger companies like Ritz Carton or Quizno’s to smaller companies like Panther Residential Management, but she has since concluded that “all businesses need an open mind and strategic thinking,” so she continues to find ways to think big and start small.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com

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Two Ways to Extend a Business

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Two Ways to Extend a Business

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“There are two ways to extend a business. Take inventory of what you’re good at and extend out from your skills. Or determine what your customers need and work backward, even if it requires learning new skills.”

Jeff Bezos

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Blocking And Tackling: Marketing Lessons From American Football's New Spring League

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Blocking And Tackling: Marketing Lessons From American Football's New Spring League

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The Alliance of American Football kicks off this spring, building on the traditions that have made American football the largest sports audience in the country, while innovating around player and fan experience.  This balance of innovation and tradition has lessons for every marketer or business leader seeking new growth.

The Product Needs to be Worthy of its Market Share and the Company of its Employees

Any company seeking to be successful must have a high-quality and attractive product that provides a good value for its customers.  This is true in professional sports as well. David Livingston, the president of the new Atlanta Legends team, joined the organization this summer with a background in corporate partnership with Spectra and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as brand management and executive leadership experience at IMG and Procter & Gamble PG -0.09%. Although the league is new, “the Alliance is a professional sports league, coached at a high level,” he explained. “There are over 475 years of professional football experience at the executive and coaching levels.  The teams want to win.  They have established systems to build out their rosters and their offensive and defensive schemes in play.” In the Atlanta market, the team has signed former University of Georgia quarterback and leader of the SEC career touchdown list, Aaron Murray and 13 year veteran NFLquarterback, Michael Vick in his coaching debut as the offensive coordinator.

Any team is only as good as its players and according to Livingston there are plenty of exceptional players to fill rosters for spring football. 1200 professional football players get cut every season around Labor Day when each of the 32 NFL teams trims their roster down from 85 players to 53. “These are accomplished college and professional football players that are no longer allowed to pursue their career,” he continued. “They could go to Canada and play under different rules and face limits of how many Americans are allowed to play.  They could switch to Arena Football and play on a smaller field, with fewer players, and different rules.”

They expect players to move from the National Football League to the Alliance and visa versa. “There is a high level of interactivity between the Alliance and the NFL,” he explained. “This is nothing minor about this league, although there is a development quality and component to it.”

“A person who might be the 3rd or 4th man on an NFL team can get more reps in practice, get more playing time, and even start here.  We are complementary to the NFL. That additional playing time translates to player development and to more game footage.  Not only do fans get to watch more football and broadcasters have more premium content to air, but NFL teams also get more game tape to review of these talented players.”

“One of the hallmarks of the Alliance league will be engagement with the players,” Livingston added. “We expect these players to have a lifelong career arc.  After they retire from the league, we are providing opportunities for them to go back to school, get career training or utilize a fund to ensure that they continue to do big and great things even after football.”

Take-Away: Whether it is a start-up or an established business, the company needs to have a high commitment to delivering an exceptional product and customer experience. That often means entering markets where the right talent can be found to fuel the growth. And knowing that your developing employees might be honing the skills and gaining experience to make them valuable to other companies is a welcome risk you take to pursue excellence.

Embrace Technology as a Game Changer

Fan and community engagement is now a requirement in professional sports and that is being formalized in this league. “All Alliance players are on standard contracts which include incentives to them to get engaged with their communities,” he continued.  “Not only on social media, but through commitments they make to organizations and projects that are important to them.  It is critical that players engage with the communities.”  This player-to-fan engagement extends to new platforms.

“Every fan has a smartphone and they are used to engaging with that device during the game, whether they are in the stadium or at home,” Livingston observed.  “Our proprietary app includes fantasy elements and encourages engagement.”  Wherever legal, there is a sports betting platform associated with the alliance. We expect fans to be engaged with what is happening, watching each and every play.  This new digital-first strategy has attracted venture capital and we are bringing the sports experience into the modern environment where today’s sports fans live.”

“The Alliance was formed to bring together a much more organic relationship between professional football, the players, and the fans,” he offered.  From the start, the Alliance represents a game (professional football) that will have a game (app) that can enable gaming (betting).

Take-Away: Utilizing technology in new ways can create new customer experiences and enable new business models.

Align Strategy with Capitalization

“The Alliance itself is a start-up, but the idea of extending the professional football season has been around for a long time,” said Livingston.  “Football fans are the largest sports audience in the US and during the regular NFL seasons there is high interest in the games themselves and in things like fantasy and big data gamification,” he continued.  “Those tend to drop off, however, after the Super Bowl, as they don’t translate as well to baseball or basketball.”

Others have tried and failed and many attribute that failure to one of capitalization structure, relying on individual franchise owners to share a commitment to success. “The Alliance is a single entity league. This means that all the teams are owned centrally,” Livingston explained. “I am one of eight presidents each running their own business units in our structure.”

All teams are owned by the league under the name Legendary Field Exhibitions, LLC whose investors are said to include Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund (whose investments include Airbnb, SpaceX, Facebook (FB -1.03%), Lyft, Oculus,and Spotify), The Chernin Group (TCG, which owns Barstool Sports and other media and entertainment properties), Jared Allen (former football defensive end), Slow Ventures (whose investments have included Evernote , Nest, Pinterest, Slack , PillPack, and Nextdoor),  Adrian Fenty (former DC mayor who is special advisor to Andreessen Horowitz), Charles King’s M Ventures (a former agent turned investor, who has represented Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey), and Keith Rabois (whose technology investments and executive roles include PayPal (PYPL -2.1%), LinkedIn (LNKD +0%), Slide, andSquare (SQ -2.24%).  MGM Resorts (MGM -0.84%) International has also made an investment in the platform with an eye to in-game sportsbook betting.

“This is different from the NFL and previously failed spring leagues of professional football where each team is a franchise owned by individual investors who make investments based on their own preferences or personal economic factors.”  The Alliance is made up of the Arizona Hotspots, Birmingham Iron, Atlanta Legends, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders, and San Diego Fleet. Although each of the cities vary, “with different sizes and media structures,” he continued, "this central ownership ensures that all of the team get the appropriate allocation of resources for the various markets.”  And that strategy is attracting a new type of investor.

Take-Away: Investor and management must be aligned to ensure that the strategies of the organization are getting the resources and prioritization necessary for success.  Unified ownership, in this case, could help the entire league execute their digital-first strategy and attract the talent to ensure the quality game play that will be required for the league to grow.

Disclosure: Some of the companies in which investors in the Alliance may also invested, could be customers, competitors,  investments by Amazon or affiliates, may have been acquired by Amazon or its affiliates, or maybe among investments made by competitors.  Amazon has a relationship with many professional sports organizations.

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

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A Good Use of Time

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A Good Use of Time

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“It’s not a question of whether being in a meeting is a good use of an individual’s time; it’s a question of whether it is a good use of the company’s time.” – Rick Jackson

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4 Lessons On Customer-Centricity From CaringBridge

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4 Lessons On Customer-Centricity From CaringBridge

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Chances are good that you have seen an invitation to CaringBridge from friend or family member who was experiencing what they call a “health journey,” whether that was a difficult pregnancy, a cancer diagnosis, or an accident.  Since it’s founding in 1997, over 740,000 websites have been created across 235 countries and territories globally. From its humble beginnings, it has lived at the intersection of technology, community, and medical incidences, when the founder Sona Mehringwas asked to update people on the status of her friend’s premature baby.  “Instead of making dozens of emotional and time-consuming phone calls, she decided to use her computer science background to create a website,” recalled Brigid Bonner, chief experience officer of CaringBridge responsible for all aspects of product development and marketing.  The child only lives a few short days, but left a legacy known as CaringBridge to help other families and friends in similiar situations.

This non-profit organization has lessons for other marketers, especially those who have customers experiencing trauma or stress.

  1. Everyone is Battling Something, Be Kind

    We have all seen this phrase on bumper stickers or on social media memes, but it is especially true for CaringBridge. “Our customer is anyone, whether it be the patient or their caregiver, who is experiencing a health journey,” said Bonner. This diverse set of constituents can be challenging. “Our service helps anyone, anywhere going through any type of illness or injury - mental or physical, long-term or short term – who needs to connect with their family and friends and receive support.”

    Roughly 90% of the several hundred thousand daily visitors to CaringBridge come to visit a friends’ site. “Users tell us, and research has proven, that the value created for both authors and visitors connected to each other through CaringBridge is therapeutic and immeasurable,” reported Bonner. The site has demonstrated that by connecting us at a human level, caring can go viral.

    Advice you can use: “As families and friends increasingly live in far-flung places, and with our increased reliance on technology to connect us, CaringBridge is a revolutionary leader in filling a need through the power of community,” said Bonner. Everyone can use community and the more than your offering and customer experience replicates this kind of care, the more it will be shared.

  2. Community Can Be Capital

    “Ninety percent of all funding comes from those who have experienced the power of CaringBridge firsthand,” Bonner stated. For people at their most vulnerable time, “a CaringBridge site is literally a sanctuary of communication and helpful support that afford users with privacy controls which determine how, when, and to whom their information is shared, if at all.” Choosing this business model allows them to remain a free platform and to be advertisement-free, which they feel critical for building trust and a great user experience.

    Advice you can use: People will support causes, tools, and approaches that make their lives easier. There are a number of different business models that might apply to your organization and that could have been considered by CaringBridge. Finding the one that best serves the mission, honors the customers, and serves the financial needs of the business is critical.

  3. Customer Experience is Everything

    “Convenience, control, safety, and trust is at the center of how we design our user experience,” continued Bonner. “Health journeys can cause a huge upheaval in the lives of individuals and their loved ones and the last thing they need is a stressful experience. Coming to terms with the life change they are going through, and the often confusing medical and financial jargon that comes with it is challenging.” At a time when people are reeling from bad news and learning new vocabulary, they don’t want to have to learn a new technology. Setting up a new website in less than 3 minutes, without automatic selections or complicated choices, is critical to making the CaringBridge experience work, without sacrificing privacy and control.

    As you might imagine, CaringBridge cares a lot about privacy. Although everything is self-reported, the information that authors are trusting to the organization and the friends they invite to read it is incredibly sensitive. There are multiple privacy features that allow the content to be as private or public as the author wants. They can track visitors, decide the level of interaction they want, and they can change the setting at any time.

    Advice you can use: Life is stressful enough, your user experience shouldn’t be. CaringBridge user survey feedback, usability labs, and user testing to refine their experience. Knowing your customers well is the key to simplifying the experience.

  4. The Experience Extends

    I recently had an experience where a contact of mine was mentioned for work anniversary in an email from a shared social media platform, when in fact he had died a few years ago. It made me sad and caused me to think about the implications of death in our digital world. Bonner agreed that the remembering or celebrating of “milestones can be delicate, especially for those who may have been in an end of life journey.” As a result, they do not auto-trigger messages on key dates, however, they do let the author (who is in many cases the caregiver of a loved one) determine was those “milestone moments” are and it is their journaling activity that triggers notifications to family and friends. “In this way, we know there is always a substantive update, and the CaringBridge community is still there to offer love and support. Some authors will continue to journal for months or even years after a loved one has passed.” In this way, the experience is extended in duration, along an axis of time.

    And the extension of services and care also add breadth to the offering in the midst of the health journey. CaringBridge has a “Ways to Help” area that users can use to coordinate the myriad of other types of help they may need in one convenient place. For example, “users can set up a planner to arrange visit schedules or request meals. They can indicate which medical facility their loved one is in. They can also connect or start a GoFundMe campaign straight through their CaringBridge site for cases where personal financial support is needed to offset medical expenses.” It is this expansion of services that make it

    Advice you can use: The community that arises around an experience can extend both in breadth and duration and is powerful. This has implications for other industries or services who can be challenged to think beyond their immediate product adoption or use cycle to extend to other offerings and services.


This article was originally posted on Forbes.com

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Listen Like Your Life Depends On It: Four Lessons for Marketers

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Listen Like Your Life Depends On It: Four Lessons for Marketers

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A lot has been written and tried with regards to content marketing, account-based marketing (ABM), and advertising in all of its forms. New regulations, like GDPR, are sending marketers back to the drawing board to craft campaigns and mechanisms for communication with their customers and going into a new year, it is a good time to step back and think about the idea of relevance. Drew Neisser, founder and CEO of Renegade, is an author, podcast host and advisor to CMOs and leadership teams on having courageous and courteous strategies. He has some insights that will help business leaders rethink the basics.

  1. Listen Like Your Life Depends On It (because it does)

    Before we can make sure companies are as good at listening to their customers as they are talking at them, we must “start with the reality that just about every product or service is moments away from being disrupted by a competitive offering,” Neisser said provocatively. “That sense of urgency needs to inform how brands approach their listening activities. It needs to be a company-wide priority, not just the responsibility of one department.” There are numerous ways to conduct this research. “Customer satisfaction surveys, brand health tracking, in-product rating, and social listening are table stakes,” he said. They are necessary but insufficient. “These necessities will help identify shortcomings in your product and service offerings that you must address ASAP and let your customers know that you’re at least trying to be responsive,” he added. But defensively listening for problems or risks will not lead you to major breakthroughs. “Here you’ll need to do a different kind of listening,” he continued. “One that requires genuine creativity and foresight, reinterpreting what you hear, discarding the obvious for the courageous.” Insights that lead to focus in your communications and the direction of your product development are the ones that are your long-term lifeline.

  2. Ask Whether Your Content Deserves to Live

    “Sadly, most branded content is not cutting through,” Neisser observed. “With more than eight of 10 marketers embracing content marketing, the increase in blog posts, videos, emails, webinars, social shares, and podcasts, among other formats, has dramatically outpaced the hours in the day for actually consuming this stuff.” Marketing organizations don’t want to be left behind their more verbose competitors often drive towards consistent and predictable communications that keep their brand in the forefront of their customer’s mind; thus the “content calendar” is born. Neisser advises customers in a different direction entirely. “Content calendars typically push brands into a puddle of mediocrity,” he said. “Rather than focusing on creating truly inspired content that is unique, engaging and imminently sharable, marketers become slaves to their self-imposed schedules, rushing out content that is of little interest or value to anyone.” Instead of inspecting and interrogating each post or asset for its value, the brand keeps pouring announcements out assuming they are valuable.

    “These calendars are brand-centric, not customer-centric since no prospect or customer is going to ask on any given Friday, ‘Oh, gee, where’s that email from brand x?’ unless, of course, your content is extraordinary.”

    “Content calendars may mask the absence of a true strategy, one built around an insight that helps prospects reimagine how a particular product or service could change their work lives,” Neisser offered. If you don’t know how your product or service will change a customer’s life, then they may not want to hear from you yet. Not all the content you produce is deserving of the attention you are asking your customers to pay.

  3. Zig When Others Zag

    “What is working in marketing is what’s always worked in marketing – a courageous strategy that sets up an artfully told story,” he offered. “One expression is courage is to zig while others zag. For instance, Airbnb recently sent me a travel magazine.” That’s right a print magazine at a time when many are saying print is dead.” It is an interesting and unexpected choice for a company born digital, but it made an impression. “I spent an hour devouring the fascinating experiences shared from cover to cover,” he recalled. “This magazine is a vivid expression of Airbnb’s unique promise to provide an immersive and indigenous travel experience.”

    This unexpected approach can turn up in more than just your marketing campaigns. It can be a differentiating feature in the product itself that stems from the customer insights. It could be a way of doing with the company that makes it easier or faster. It could be the style and voice of the brand that helps it stand out in the marketplace and be more relevant to its target customers. It’s the “Blue Ocean Strategy” that helps brands create distance between them and their customers and even create new categories.

  4. Decision By Committee is an Invitation to Personalize

    Metrics like email open rates or click-through conversions can be misleading, even when you think things are trending well. “Marketers are shifting how they measure the effectiveness of content campaigns as marketing automation and account-based marketing software make it easier to track engagement,” he said. Whether in B2B or B2C selling environments, “most are able to track a prospect’s journey from awareness to interest, to readiness based on their interactions with content.”

    In the consumer world, individuals are increasingly relying on peer reviews and social recommendations and in the B2B landscape, “we are definitely in the era of the decision by committee and as a result, the customer journey is more complex and convoluted than ever.” Traditional “journey-tracking can lead to false positives.”

    Consider this example:

    A CMO could express interest in an e-commerce platform by watching a demo but her colleagues in IT, finance, security and merchandising may have a completely different solution in mind. Six months into the process, the CEO could suddenly jump in and essentially restarts the investigation. Generating another new lead for sales. In this example, the buying committee is likely to take over a year to make a decision and the CMO is unlikely to able to control the process, even if they are the original sales qualified lead and might sign the agreement in the end. The enlightened B2B marketer is prepared for this situation, creating all sorts of tools and resources that address the proclivities of all the participants. For example, they could create an ROI or TCO calculator for the CFO, a security report by a respected 3rd party for the CISO (chief information security officer), a functionality comparison chart for the merchandiser, a service program overview for the customer experience team, a strong customer reference for the CEO, and a peak under-the-hood with third-party developers.

    Marketing might call it an MQL and then sales talks to the person and might even reclassify it as an SQL, only to have unconverted lead months or years later and the finger pointing begins. This is where ABM can play a role as it “helps resolve this age-old dilemma since it requires both Sales and Marketing to agree on the prospect list. From there, ABM allows for tracking of various engagements.” These can be business specific. “For example, at least one ABM system integrates FedEx shipping data, so a salesperson knows exactly when a package arrives and who signed for it thus allowing them to plan exactly when to make the follow-up call.” Others tie closely to social listening systems and provide multiple points of insights. “Assuming the target list was truly qualified, ABM makes it a lot easier for both Sales and Marketing to track what’s generating what kind of responses and when,” Neisser observed.

    The more you know about your customers and their decision-making process, the more you can tailor your content and create a cadence of storytelling that isn’t by rote but is highly relevant to your customers.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.

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A Business is a Thing Unto Itself

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A Business is a Thing Unto Itself

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“Working on the business recognizes that the business is a thing unto itself.  The business is a product that results from our purposeful creative, or alternatively, it is the default result of our subconscious neglect.  Like the engine of a car, the business is a mechanism that exists to solve a problem, provide a service, and do a job.  And like an engine, if it is not serviced, maintained, and improved, it will fail and become obsolete.” – Shane Jackson

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3 Step Recipe For Building A Customer-Centric Business

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3 Step Recipe For Building A Customer-Centric Business

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Junea Rocha is an unconventional culinary entrepreneur whose career has been driven by passion. Eight years ago she was running projects for a construction company. Now, she is the co-founder of Brazi Bites, a frozen bake-at-home cheese bread sold in over 7,000 grocery stores nationwide. The company has experienced 13x revenue growth the past two years, is a Shark Tank alum, and has just closed a round of funding to accelerate growth plans.

Sustained Enthusiasm Comes from Passion

Junea, like her beloved Pao De Queijo was born in Brazil. “Growing up, cultural and family expectations led me to pursue a Civil Engineering degree in college,” she explained. After graduation, she moved to the US and started a career working as a project engineer for a general contractor, “building massive condo towers, parking garages and military bases around Portland, Oregon,” she recalled. But she felt her true calling was elsewhere. “I had a serious passion for my family’s Pao De Queijo recipe and thought there was an opportunity to bring the Brazilian staple to the US,” she explained. But it wasn’t just that passion that encouraged her entrepreneurial leap. “It was clear to me that Americans loved Pao De Queijo,” Rocha said. “Especially when friends and family from the States came to my wedding in Brazil and went crazy for it! I wanted to build something that was fueled by that excitement.”

Find the Why, While Staying True to the Recipe

It was that group of family and friends that provided the first customer research. The founders then “spent the first two years sampling Brazi Bites at local grocery stores and events,” she recalled. “We kept adjusting the product, branding and messaging as we learned from our consumers how best to communicate,” always staying true to the original family recipe. Although a staple in Brazil, cheese bread is new in the States. “The two biggest questions that we heard at that time were: what is this, and when do I eat this?” she said. “Soon after we got started, it became clear that gluten-free awareness and clean label products were gaining momentum and our recipe was hitting the mark. Early adopters were raving about us and their excitement fueled us to keep pushing forward.”

Customer insight continues to drive innovation at Brazi Bites. “I’m always talking to consumers at grocery stores, food shows, and listening to our social channels,” Rocha said. “Our Brand Ambassadors on the ground meet thousands of consumers every week and come back with a wealth of information for us to digest. We also use surveys when something big is on the way or we enter a new market.” They have plans to bring other better-for-you Latin foods to the US market, beyond the variations of Brazi Bites now available.

Customer-Informed Intuition is the Source of Innovation

Rocha offers advice for any marketer or business leader to keep your passion in the center of your efforts. “As you grow, stay true to what earned your first customers. Never stop listening to them and make sure to remain open to change if you miss the mark,” she said. As an entrepreneur and leader, it is critical to “be laser-focused on execution, to value data and to understand the trends, but to realize that sometimes you must go with your gut to innovate.”

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com.

Junea Rocha is a Forbes contributor. Jennifer Davis is a Brazi Bites customer. The product is sold in thousands of outlets across the country, including Whole Foods which is a subsidiary of Amazon.

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6 Ways To Build Trust With Peers To Align Sales And Marketing

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6 Ways To Build Trust With Peers To Align Sales And Marketing

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In order to build alignment between sales and marketing, the first step is aligning the leaders of these functions. And alignment takes communication and compromise towards a shared vision. This can be a challenge to achieve in the best-run organizations and even more challenging when the culture or norms of the groups have caused friction and fractions.

Jonathan Raymond, author of Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For and founder of the consulting firm, Refound, has a few lessons to share.

“Between managers and their employees, there is an implied agreement that the manager will give feedback. That same agreement does not necessarily exist between peers in an organization,” he began. “Either it is the cultural norm of the company, which is rare, or that trust has to be built.” Here are six ways to build relationships with other managers or executives across your company.

Negotiate Space For Feedback

“You could go to the co-manager and say ‘we work together a lot and as cross-functional teams we share resources. You see me and my team clearly and probably have feedback and I’d like to hear it,’” Raymond suggested. If there is a specific project or initiative on which you could use feedback, you could use this as a starting place, but don’t stop there. Offer to provide your own insights.

You could continue by saying “Similarly, I see things from time to time and could provide you insights. Can we support each other in this?” Raymond offered that “If the answer is ‘yes,’ then when the time comes you can mention the agreement by saying ‘remember when we talked about giving each other feedback?’” This agreement helps you create space for feedback. “Like so much of management,” Raymond continued, “much is accomplished in the set-up, prep, and planning. Establishing ground rules and shared expectations are is the key.”

Reset With Transparency

“If the relationship has been damaged and needs to be repaired before cultural listening and feedback can occur, you need to reset the relationship,” said Raymond. Perhaps there are frayed emotions or hurt feelings. Perhaps there is a history of distrust to overcome. The rest is “accomplished best with vulnerability and transparently apologizing for past bad behavior,” suggested Raymond. “You can’t have a productive conversation until you are two humans in a room together. If either of you is seeing only past scars or an obstacle to be overcome, you won’t be successful.”

“You can’t solve a human relationship with technology. No among of email, chat, texts, or Slack messages will give you context, tone, and body language. You need to speak to the person face to face, if possible. So many people put off these kinds of meetings only to find how powerful they can be. One leader told me he had been putting of a contentious conversation for two years, but he finally made the trip to go see a colleague with whom he didn’t get along. After a 2-hour meeting, which he described as the best of his career, he and the other person got the issue resolved. They realized there were much more a like than they thought. We have airplanes and phones for a reason (other than checking our email). Sometimes the only answer is conversation.”

Start Small

In his book, he describes a metaphor of a ladder through which you can provide feedback with authority. This can be applied in co-management relationships, especially those in need of repair or in early days of being established. “When bringing up a delicate issue or feedback, smaller is better,” he advises. “Start the conversation with a simple mention.” In other words, start on the first rung of the ladder. Maybe it is a comment about how a meeting went or a project deliverable. Mention an observation. Often these small mentions don’t require action, they are just to help set expectations. “Less is more,” he continued. “Leave space after the observation for the other person to respond and take their own actions.” Often little things become big things if they are unmentioned. Handling things when they are small, “is an often-overlooked step,” Raymond observed.

Adapt for Style

Not every person or leader is the same and these differences in preferences and communication can lead to big misunderstandings and tension. “When working with peers who might share your leadership style archetype or have a very different one, self-awareness is critical and it is useful to have a common language that you can use to identify points of conflict or collaboration.” You can use tools like Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinders, Insights Discovery, Kolbe, or the frameworks in Good Authority to give you a common vocabulary or ask those who know you best for their insights. “Your team already knows your archetype and tendencies. You can either get in on the joke or not,” Raymond quipped. “Self-awareness is important to a healthy dialogue and for getting feedback.”

But beware of downsides. “The biggest factor working with someone your own style is projection,” he warned. “You tend to be hypercritical of the things that you yourself do. Beware of that reaction when you observe others’ weaknesses.” Every style has strengths and weaknesses. And the “challenge with each of the archetypes is a flavor of micromanagement. Each style wants to have control and it is demonstrated in different ways.” Watch for this tendency in yourself first. Remember that what you “learned in childhood or developed in our professional careers to manage reality was rewarded,” he explained. And we can tend to keep with it, “even if it doesn’t work in the organization or isn’t serving us.”

Show Appreciation

“If you are with an organization that has more cache or publicity in the company, it is important to proactively reach out to other functions to acknowledge their contributions, ask what would make their jobs easier, to lend expertise in the spirit of generosity, and to elevate others,” Raymond suggested. “Nothing beats going down the hall to talk to people.” In some organizations, this is the sales organization that is seen bringing in new business and in others, it is the marketing organization that is seem building brand and garnering industry attention. You can build a lot of goodwill by simply acknowledging the work and contribution of others in a way that suits their style preferences.

Align Around the Customer

The customer should be the center-point of any alignment conversations as every role in the company should be aimed at creating better customer experiences and engendering loyalty. Create opportunities for shared listening with customers. It is critical to ask questions without knowing the answers. “Sometimes market research can feel like leading the witness,” Raymond observed. “Listening for what you want to hear and generating confirmation bias. You have to remain open to being surprised to be truly curious.” This openness can translate into some surprising insights, not just about the products or services, but about the company itself.

Raymond often asks his clients to reflect on product feedback in this way: “How is the feedback you are getting about the product exactly what we need to change about the culture?” For instance, are your customers saying you are slow and lost your edge with your product roadmap? “Chances are your decision making is slow and you have gotten more conservative in your bureaucracy,” he offered. “If customers complain that they can’t get answers, your employees probably have the same complaint,” as customer experience often mirrors employee experience. “If you want your customers to think of you like the innovation leader, then how is that demonstrated in your culture? What is innovative about your workplaces or internal culture?” he asked. What does customer feedback about products or services say about the culture and cross-functional alignment of your company? What needs to be changed? Use these conversations as a catalyst for courageous conversation and a foundation for teamwork.

This article was originally posted on Forbes.com

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