Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written January 2011

The Voice of Effective Marketing

As I mentioned in The Ownership Society, there's been significant debate and uncertainty over the years about exactly what marketing is, and what it should be doing.  If your CEO is still wondering about that, time for a new year's resolution!

What is Marketing?  If you listen to Seth Godin, he'll tell you that marketing is the creation and nurturing of great stories:  narratives and impressions that circulate among your customers and prospects.  He'll tell you that discovering the real stories about your company or your product is probably more important than making up your own.  Why?  Because the stories you promulgate don't have the ring of objectivity, precisely because they come from you.  today's haiku:  "Nobody is as credible as someone who has nothing to sell." 

If you listen to Regis McKenna, he'll say that what the stories are really isn't as important as how and why the stories travel around social networks.  Buzz comes from the fact that the right people are resonating, not the details of what they're resonating about.

Fine, they're both right.  Marketing is the orchestration and encouragement of customer stories across social networks.  This used to be called word of mouth, but now it can be much more precisely monitored and enhanced, if not controlled.  Yep, you really need to take a look back at the two-parter I did on social media metrics

But you don't want to leave yourself at the mercy of whatever User Generated Content (read: drek) the customer types into Yelp or Facebook.  You've got to have an ongoing process that encourages and produces the right stories at the right time for each of your audiences.  It's those darned segmentation and relevance topics again.


Anyone who thinks marketing is all style and no substance hasn't seen good marketing.  Substance -- topics the audience cares about and content that is useful to them -- is at the core of marketing influence.  This is not to say that you should run out and get a bunch of writers to endlessly churn out documents.  "Content" has a lot deeper meaning than just a bunch of PDFs.

Look at two truly effective marketers, Apple (for B2C) and (for B2B).  Almost without interruption for 10 years, they have been delivering great products for their customers and great earnings for their investors.  Sure, they've had quality products...but so have their competitors, so that doesn't explain the difference in their sales.  What gives these companies true market power is their product story, the narrative about why their products matter and the coherent series of product improvements that leads the market toward the future.

You don't have to own an iPhone or use iTunes or the iStore to know that they have been literally reshaping the cell phone industry, the music business, and the video business.  You may think that's Chatter is silly, but a million people are using it (it's turned on by default now) and SFDC's competitors will have to follow.

The very first layer of your story is your identity:  who you are as a company, what you're good at ... and what you're not.  You have to be self-aware and brutally honest here, because you can't contradict your company's true essence.  Fake it, and you blow all chance at trust

The next layer of content is the product and service strategy, plus any important business model shifts (like, on-premises vs in-the-cloud software).  That strategy needs to be wrapped in a narrative that makes your plan not just relevant, but seem almost inevitable.  Strategy can't be just a marketing deliverable:  it needs to be developed as a collaboration that includes marketing along with the CTO, CEO, and VP of Sales.

The next layer of content is the messaging, which must be targeted to your company's biggest segment.  Messaging needs to evolve in response to marketplace resonance, but it must not jump around.  The big picture must be stable for at least 18 months (it takes that long for repetition effects to really work), even though the details can come and go.  A classic mistake in messaging is over-reacting to competitors' gambits.  While you can't ignore really successful competitors, most of the time the competitors' message won't be remembered by the audience any more than yours will.  Clever use of Google adwords can help you identify which of your competitors' big campaigns is really having an impact, and which are just a glorified smoke-bomb.

Those first three content layers require the most executive attention, but ironically they don't produce a single content deliverable -- nothing your sales channel can actually use.  The next layer of content is the classic "collateral tree," which describes the sales document architecture for each of your product and service lines.  Usually, there's too much of it:

  • there are too many documents to be kept up to date over time, and
  • most of the documents don't get used anyway.

Job 1 is to identify which documents are used and which aren't.  Unfortunately, these content analyses almost always forget the step that really matters:  why aren't the documents used?  The biggest issues:  relevance and information value to the customer.  Jargon and sloganeering needs to be weeded out -- get rid of your company's Turbo Encabulator.

The learnings from that document-usage analysis should shape the final layer of content:  the sequencing of emails, documents, videos, and web interactions that work most effectively with your target audiences.  This requires developing a model of how the customer makes their decisions, understanding what information and resources they need to take the next step in the purchase decision.  This model must not be built on speculation or urban legend or management say-so.  Instead, it must be a collaboration between sales and marketing -- both at the VP level and worker-bees -- using real data from customers.  Then, the model needs to be tested and refined with real prospects as they go through the pipeline.

The last ten years has produced a plethora of new technologies that really help the marketer measure, tune, and sequence their content deliveries.  Survey Engines, Web content management systems (particularly those supporting A/B testing), and Lead Nurturing systems (aka "vertical campaigners" or "marketing automation systems") provide the marketer tremendous leverage in understanding, reaching, and influencing the audience.  These systems' effectiveness comes not just from presenting content, but from behavioral targeting:  sequencing content in optimal ways based on audience responses.

The bottom line is that content effectiveness depends not just on the material, but on the timing and order of the content delivery.  That's what makes the content more relevant, more actionable.  Effective marketers have always needed to be clear thinkers, fast writers, and great presenters.  But now, they also need to deeply understand statistical methods and be power users of marketing automation and CRM systems.  I cannot make this any clearer.

Ave Atque Vale

For the last 9 years, you've been reading this newsletter -- a serialized book on B2B marketing best practices.  It's been a pleasure to write them, and it's been really gratifying to receive your kind words and reactions.  I really hope they have been useful, or at least interesting confirmation of your darkest suspicions about marketing.

But you may have noticed that I wrote a real book (Prentice-Hall's Secrets of Success), and since 2006 have been putting all my quality time into SalesLogistix, a CRM management consultancy and implementer. 

Guess what:  SalesLogistix has a monthly newsletter.  It's a quicker read, and has lots of actionable ideas about CRM, Marketing Automation, and better collaboration between sales and marketing.  I'm going to be moving your subscription from The Taber Report to Answers.  As always, just click the unsubscribe link if the (ahem) content isn't relevant to you.

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