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.
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.
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.
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.
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.