By Todd Sommers
A mentor gave me a great piece of advice when I got into triathlons. He said during the swim and the run, all competitors are equal. The bike is the longest leg of the race and the only place where you can legally buy a mechanical advantage. A well-trained athlete on a carbon fibre frame with upgraded wheels and aerodynamic handlebars has a significant advantage over the athlete on the average road bike. But this advantage is wasted on an athlete who doesn’t have the strength or endurance to sustain high speeds. If you don’t do the hard work, the bike doesn’t make an impact. It’s a lot like software available to marketers today.
There are countless marketing software options. Software vendors pitch us and our clients daily. In my experience, no client has ever said “X software tool is perfect for my business”, and whether these products merge, get acquired, or change the logo, most toolsets still don’t do exactly what the clients need. These tools tend to automate routine tasks and offer clues to investigate and inspire. Making your data actionable requires putting in the work just like training for a triathlon.
If you invest in technology, you have to invest the same energy into getting the most out of it to gain a competitive advantage. Here are examples of how we’ve partnered with clients to get the most out of their data.Demand Generation
Marketing working with sales and machines can drive phenomenal growth for many B2B companies, but more often than not we’re tasked with breaking down the silos between the two teams who often are measured by different goals. We also work in the marketing automation/CRM platform backend to set up the tracking, scoring, and workflows. This is another area where an expensive tool like Pardot, or Marketo, or HubSpot can be wasted if the campaign infrastructure is incorrect. In that case, the marketing automation platform becomes an expensive e-mail engine.
- Each platform has its nuances, and teams need to continue to learn more about all of the available features. Triple checking workflows before launching a campaign ensures resources and leads are maximised.
- When a prospect becomes “closed/won” that prospect’s journey deserves scrutiny. Understanding key touchpoints from a successful example can lead to adjustments in scoring that optimise programmes.
- Ensure you have a fully integrated plan, including remarketing, CRM, SEM, and sales coordination. A white paper can also be versioned into an infographic or an email. Whatever form the campaign takes, colleagues on the sales team need to be aligned with the core messages. The beautiful design may pique interest but won’t close the sale for cloud computing services. The chasm between sales and marketing – and the software they use - persists at many organisations, and an agency can be a neutral party in helping both get more of what they need.
- Planning for messages should also be aligned with data capture. The title and function of an individual should be augmented with company size, industry, potentially even growth. As more and more B2B firms focus on ABM, capturing prospect data will help ensure you are targeting the proper accounts.
We tend to see clients in two camps. First, those that leverage insights and metrics about their brand content performance either through the social platforms directly, or in combination with tools like Sprinklr, Khoros, or Sprout Social. Second, those leveraging broader trends and online conversations to expand their insights and audiences with tools like Brandwatch, Falcon.io, or Pulsar. Because of the social platform APIs, there is no single tool or report that leads to breakthroughs.
- The deeper, and more frequent, your social listening, the better your campaigns will perform. This holds especially when data from LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook isn't integrated into a single tool. You have to leverage insights from both camps explained above – the broader online conversation as well as what you’re seeing in the performance of your brand channels.
- Don’t dismiss an insight when an initial piece of content underperforms. Test and learn because it might be the format, channel, time of day, or a small change required to deliver for your audience.
- Consider reporting separate metrics for each channel using what the social platforms give you. We see clients spent a lot of time trying to compare LinkedIn’s apples to Facebook’s oranges. As long as those charts are moving up and to the right, you’re improving. Over time the automated reporting demonstrates progress, and your time is better spent searching for insights instead of reconfiguring data.
Understanding data and when and how to use it with regards to your content strategy could be the difference between success and failure. "According to LinkedIn, 78 percent of marketers expect to increase their content budget this year,”* and if there’s one area I wish we focused on more in client discussions, it would be on the content distribution plan. Spend as much time creating that plan as the content itself.
- There are so many data points accessible, that often brand marketers just don't know where to start or what they should be looking at. In fact, only "36% of marketeers said they were satisfied with their companies’ ability to measure the success of content." Tools and software solutions will help to make sense of what you can measure and learn from, but having a clear strategic plan in the first instance is key.
- If the insight for your content comes from search, focus the first 60-90 days of your distribution strategy on non-search distribution before those SEO benefits kick in. Budget for amplification through multiple channels even with sponsored content. Investing here improves ROI because most brand content doesn’t get the consumption levels it deserves.
- Don’t overlook the opportunity to test multiple creative options to see what performs best with your audience before you launch. Competition for eyeballs is fierce. The first few seconds of a video, for example, can bring the audience in or steer them away, and there are tools to predict performance with your audience before content launches.
- Branded content partnerships with top-tier outlets still require a distribution plan. Borrowing equity from those outlets offers a nice plate to serve your story to new audiences, but you should also trust past performance data to leverage on other channels.
The Road Ahead
The good news, at least for now, is that software hasn’t replaced marketers. The software makes marketers even better at their jobs – driving more actionable insights and better business outcomes. But the advantage of having technological resources drives of the most benefit when you put in the work. Remember that those first few pedals on a bicycle take the most energy to get moving, but it becomes easier and easier to maintain your momentum over time once you start putting in the work. Todd Sommers is an executive vice president at Allison+Partners, where he leads a team of integrated marketers and brings together multi-disciplinary campaign elements to create compelling programmes for clients. Find out how we can help you with integrated marketing here.