Tag Archives: marketing technology

The Emperor’s New Clothes Factory

Positioning is a funny thing. You want to hoist a flag that others will rally around–something unique and compelling, something easily understood and valued. It has to be different enough that you stand apart from the competition. But it has to be familiar enough that customers quickly understand what you’re selling. That simple dichotomy–be different, be familiar–sometimes produces a viral feedback loop that can slow innovation across an entire industry.

Take the marketing software industry. A few years ago, I ran a research program at the CMO Council studying the adoption of CRM and related applications. At the time, I identified nearly a thousand vendors creating applications that in some way integrated with CRM. Campaign management. Lead scoring. Sales force automation. You name it.

Some of these applications were truly innovative, some were flavor-of-the-month knock offs. Many were simply automating some small piece of annoying manual labor. But all were targetted toward the same audience–marketing executives. Now, historically, marketing executives haven’t been the most sophisticated consumers of technology. Most marketers with the experience to be a senior executive today went to school before the rise of the Internet, and any new wave of technology can be a learning curve. There are plenty of savvy early adopters, to be sure, but taken as a whole, the marketing profession is still in the very early stages of technology adoption.

So when hundreds of technology vendors meet up with marketing executives, they have a fundamental challenge. How do you communicate a value proposition that senior marketing executives will understand and appreciate? Well, you listen of course. What do marketing executives say they need? Not surprisingly, marketing executives frequently list the challenges that keep them up at night. Generate actionable leads. Demonstrate marketing ROI. Deliver performance metrics and accountability.

And this is where the ideal of differentiation meets the survival imperative of finding common ground with your customer.

As a wide spectrum of application vendors face the obstacle of communicating their Techonology Difference to non-technical marketing executives, the vendors tune their message to the familiar things marketing executives want to hear. Leads. Metrics. Accountability. ROI. Which is fine in the isolation of a sales cycle, but rather problematic as a general trend. Soon, the vendors are all singing the same tune as a chorus, and everything starts sounding the same to marketers. Everything is about generating leads, delivering metrics, providing accountability. And then you find, as I did when I was doing my study, that anything remotely related to CRM that you put in front of a marketer elicits the same response. "I already have Salesforce. Why do I need this?"

This is the Emperor’s New Clothes Factory. Who’s going to tell the Emperor he’s naked when it’s vastly easier to sell more nakedness? And there’s plenty of nakedness to sell. Selling ROI is great, until marketers stop innovating in the absence of a proven business case. Selling metrics is fine, but to paraphrase Einstein, not everything that can be measured is important, and not everything that is important can be measured. Selling accountability is wonderful, but accountability doesn’t guide execution. The problem is a general trend toward easily digestable selling points that minimize innovation and slow the marketing technology adoption curve.

Sure marketers will figure this all out in time. SaaS applications are gradually pushing back IT control over marketing technology, and the emerging next generation of marketers has come of age in a far more wired world. But the evolutionary cycle is excrutiatingly slow and littered with dead bodies. Can’t we speed this up?

What we need as a marketing ecosystem is a big crucible where enterprise marketers and technology vendors can meet outside of the selling cycle. A forum where marketers can learn about technology innovation, and where vendors–particularly their product marketing teams–can better understand enterprise marketing challenges. With more common ground in our understanding of the marketing challenges technology can solve, vendors can develop applications that are not only compellingly different, but meaningfully familiar.

As it happens, I’m in the planning stages of this year’s Elite Retreat in Hawaii, and this issue is shaping up to be one our tracks. If you’re a senior marketing executive with an interest in marketing technology, or a marketing technology vendor, drop me a note and let me know what you think.  

Crossing the Social Media Chasm

The discussions among social media experts about emerging trends in marketing range from the ridiculous to the sublime. For all the ubiquitous two-bit pundits holding forth on the latest new definition of brand 2.0,  there are also incredibly thoughtful and provocative dialogs on practical marketing strategies among groups like the Online Community Unconference, run on the West Coast by Bill Johnson. Forrester is supporting some great work on the frontier of social media marketing, with analysts like Charlene Li, co-author of the latest social media must-read Groundswell, and Jeremiah Owyang.

But when you step out of the social media echo chamber–when you turn off Twitter and Facebook and sit down face to face with enterprise marketing teams to discuss the application of social media to immediate business and marketing objectives–the reality of how much ground we still need to cover to improve marketing’s responsiveness to market changes becomes clear. It’s a classic Crossing-the-Chasm adoption scenario, and we’re still only establishing a beach head.

In the past few months I’ve been meeting with a lot of marketing organizations to discuss social media challenges and opportunities as we build our pilot program for SocialRep. There are a few visionary companies that are really diving into social media as a competitive marketing strategy. But for most companies, a couple of trends are becoming very clear.

1. In most marketing organizations, no one truly owns Social Media as a marketing function–not even the VP of Web Marketing in most cases, at least in any proactive sense. Social Media programs are championed here and there by innovators in the trenches, but there’s little if any coordination among different programs, much less with general marketing strategy.

2. Few marketers can mount or defend a compelling business case for social media programs. Most get tripped up by the demand for marketing ROI and stall out, waiting for point-solution vendors to come up with an ROI story, or for someone on high to suddenly get social media religion. If you’re a savvy marketer and you don’t already have a clear case for ROI, there isn’t one.
If you’re planning a social media campaign to drive customer
acquisition, chances are you already know how to measure the ROI. If
you’re trying to build a community, or drive more market engagement, forget
about ROI—you’re in the domain of Brand Equity, and it will cost you more to
measure it than it will to get started building something on the cheap. Start talking to your CFO about opportunity cost and a budget for innovation. I ranted about this in depth here.

3. Many marketers still don’t understand the fundamental shift that social media represents. I know that sounds hard to believe given the volume of discussion about the Shift in Control Over Brand, but there’s a serious disconnect between buzz theory and practical application. Numerous times over the past few months I’ve connected with marcom people driving social media programs still under the impression that  conversations are generated by the outbound PR cycle–social media has just changed the venue. Natural consumer behavior is not to go online to discuss your latest technology or licensing partnership, but to dialog about why your product sucks, what consumers want next, and where can they get something better than you offer today. When you point that out, everyone gets it, but somehow that message hasn’t reached critical mass in the marketing trenches. 

4. Saas has done a tremendous job in freeing marketing from the leash of IT. Eliminating the cost and risk of data integration is a huge boon to marketers and has opened the floodgates for new marketing applications. But it’s an overwhelming sea of options for marketers who are finding it hard to make sense of what will really help them move the needle. I see companies spending months in paralysis of analysis over  platforms and point solutions, forums and blogs, mashups and viral video, desperate to make the "right" choice before stumbling forward. It’s so much cheaper on every level to go out and fail today, get over it already. Do something cheap. Do it quick. Take your lumps and get smarter so the next time you succeed.

5. The baton is inevitably going to be passed to a new generation. You can already see the transition environment starting to merge with savvy social operators figuring out how build communities all across the web. There’s a huge opportunity for tech-savvy marketers to take up positions of influence in the purchase decision-making process–particularly those who are in their 20s and social media native. But there’s also a big smug factor in this demographic, and not a lot of appreciation for depth on marketing fundamentals. Companies would be smart to put together a partnership program between older and younger marketers. Tons of value to share.

I’m sure there’s a lot I’m missing, which is why I’m continuing my research project to identify and interview the smartest marketing and technology people I can find and hear what they’re up to. I’ll be posting some more videos in the coming week. If you missed the first set of videos, you can find the first one on this post with John Girard. Then just click forward through the posts for Matt Roche and Jack Jia.

If you have suggestions on who I should interview, please let me know. I’m particularly interested right now in finding CMOs from companies that are forward-thinking on social media. Send me some introductions. Please!