Good Web Marketing Requires Good Listening

The role of a web marketer often entails telling the client what they believe needs to be done in order for the site to succeed online. But before an SEO campaign can even begin, there is a good amount of “listening” that needs to happen.

Before starting any web marketing campaign, we ask our clients a series of questions designed to help us get a better understanding of the client’s needs, wants and desires. This is used to help us set the strategy in a way that serves the client’s best interest.

For the most part, clients have a pretty good idea of what they want, but they don’t usually know the best way to achieve their goals. This is where the listening goes both ways.

Clients should also be sure to listen to the web marketer’s plan and then ask questions as necessary to help them understand how it all plays out. When clients, who undoubtedly know less about web marketing than the web marketer, are dictating the course of the campaign, they tie the hands of the marketers. Ultimately, this keeps them from doing what truly needs to be done to succeed.

When both parties take the time to listen to needs, desired outcomes and courses of action, then the web marketing campaign moves forward much more smoothly and effectively. If either side pretends to know it all, the outcomes will be fairly predictable, and it’s rarely good for anybody.

Stoney deGeyter   February 8th, 2016

Is Marketing Automation Right for Your Business?

Marketing automation sounds nice, and any kind of automation can make life easier when used properly. However, as with most technologically fueled tasks, it may not always live up to the hype. Maintenance, oversight, and glitches may throw a marketing team off balance, creating more work in the long run.

Whether you’re looking at streamlining social media or making many processes automated, we’ve got the details you need to make an informed decision for your business.

Defining Marketing Automation

Marketing automation isn’t one solution, but a collection of solutions that help marketers create a faster, more efficient workflow to reach a larger audience. Email marketing platforms exist under that umbrella, but marketing automation includes a vaster landscape.

Other types of platforms that fall under the term include: CRM systems, CMS systems, and the ideas and tactics behind the use of those platforms. Everything from the way you structure your emails to what you post on social media nests under the term “marketing automation.”

The Concept Behind Marketing Automation

Ideally, a marketing team already has the strategies and tactics for a marketing campaign in place, and the automation software serves as a facilitator for sending out content in an organized and measured way. However, it often becomes a tool for spamming consumers instead of providing value.

Some companies get in the habit or on a schedule of sending out content without thinking about the meaning and value behind the activities they share. For marketing automation to work, the marketing team’s focus must remain on providing value to the consumer – i.e., showing him or her what makes this content so special and relevant personally.

The Benefits of Marketing Automation

When used appropriately, marketing automation makes the lives of marketers easier with simple workflows that keep pushing a company towards its marketing goals. Marketing automation:

  • Enriches the marketing department. Marketers can only do so many hands-on activities in a given period of time. With marketing automation, they can take advantage of the slow times while reducing their workloads during busy times. The right software can make a team of three marketers seem like a team of ten.
  • Allows companies to reach a wider market. Many automated solutions allow marketers to do more with less. They can create the text for a campaign, and then spread it out across the website, social media, email, and other marketing channels from one centralized platform.
  • Facilitates success measurement. When marketers produce campaign content in a piecemeal fashion, some of the measurement process may take added effort or fall to the wayside completely. Marketing automation solutions may allow anyone on the team to login to an account and keep track of how well a campaign fares daily.
  • Saves money. Any time a solution helps marketers do more with less, the company saves time and money. In fact, marketing automation earns money over time.

The Drawbacks of Marketing Automation

Before you ask where to sign up, you may also consider these drawbacks that can hinder marketing goals in the long run. Marketing automation can also:

  • Encourage laziness. Readers can sniff out canned messages a mile away, and they don’t appreciate them. Unless it’s an immediate response to an opt-in or some other routine correspondence, personalization works best. Automation is so easy to preset that many marketers can pawn off activities to the software without thinking about their true goals first.
  • Start out rough. Rollouts of new technology don’t always go as planned. Data migration, training, and software integration take time to do properly. Without the right rollout, the in-house users may never fully embrace the technology, turning this newfound asset into a waste of time and money.
  • Get confusing quickly. Marketers need to fully understand how to use the system before starting. Without a clear understanding, a company could send out the wrong messages or fail to send the right ones out at all. Too many marketing campaigns can also present problems; consumers may see it as spam. Marketers may accidentally leave some campaigns unfinished or put too much content into others.
  • Require lots of updates. Without quality data, marketing automation doesn’t do much good. Companies need proper opt-in and opt-out channels in place as well as managed campaigns to facilitate the introduction of quality customer information. The wrong data could lead to the wrong campaign focus.

Should Your Company Invest?

Most experts would probably agree that automation offers one more step into the future of marketing. When approached with the right understanding, it can make the practice much more effective. However, you may want to start slow and with something not as vital to workflow processes. Get used to the technology and how it can work for you before trying to add another automated technology. Develop company policies with each new integration to prevent some of the drawbacks.

Kristen Matelski   January 4th, 2016

Automated Marketing Campaigns: An Immodest Proposal

I wrote last June about replacing traditional multi-step campaigns with a system that tracks customers through journey stages and executes short sequences of actions, called “plays”, at each stage. The goal was to approach the perfect campaign design of “do the right thing, wait, and do the right thing again”.

I still think approach makes sense but it suffers from a major flaw: someone has to define all those stages and all those plays. This limits the number of actions available since it takes considerable human time, effort, and insight to create each stage and play. Ideally, you’d let machines evolve the stages and plays autonomously. But while it’s easy for conventional predictive models to find the “next best action” in a particular situation, it’s much harder to find the best sequence of actions. This is why you can find dozens of automated products to personalize Web sites but none to automate multi-step campaign design.

The problem with multi-step campaigns is the number of options to test. These have to cover all possible actions in all possible sequences at all possible time intervals. Few companies have enough customer activity to test all the possibilities, and, even if they did, it would take unacceptably long to stumble upon the best combinations and cost unacceptable amounts of lost revenue from customers in losing test cells. In any case, available actions and customer behaviors are constantly changing, so the best approach will change over time – meaning the system would need to be constantly retesting, with all the resulting costs.

I’ve recently begun to imagine what I think is a solution. Let’s start with the problem that’s already solved, of finding the single next best action. You can conceive of my perfect campaign as a collection of next best actions. But a solution that merely executed the next best action for each customer every day would almost surely produce too many messages. One solution is a model that predicts the value* of each potential action, rather than simply ranking the actions against each other. This lets you set a minimum value for outbound messages. On days when no action meets this threshold, the system would simply do nothing. A still better approach is to explicitly consider “no action” as an option to test and build a model that gives it a value – presumably, the value being higher response to future promotions. Now you have a system that is organically evolving the timing of multi-step campaigns – and, better still, adapting that timing to behavior of each individual.

But what about sequences of related actions (i.e.,“plays”)? Let’s assume for a moment that the action sequences already exist, even if humans had to create them. This turns out to be a non-issue: if the best action to take with a customer is the second step in a sequence, the system should find that and choose it. If some other action would be more productive, we’d want to system to pick that anyway. The only caveat is the predictions must take into account previous actions, so any benefit from being part of a sequence is properly reflected in the value calculations. But a good model should consider previous actions anyway, whether or not they’re part of a formal sequence. At most, marketers might want to stop customers from receiving messages out of order. This is easy enough to design – it just becomes part of the eligibility rules that limit the actions available for a given customer. Such rules must exist for any number of reasons, such as location, products owned, or credit limit, so adding sequence constraints is little additional work. In practice, the optimal sequence for different customers is likely to be different, so imposing a fixed sequence is often actively harmful.

So far so good, but we haven’t really solved the problem of too many combinations. This requires another level of abstraction to reduce the number of options that need to be tested. When it comes to timing, initial tests of waiting for random intervals between actions should pretty quickly uncover when it’s too soon for any new action and when it’s too long to wait. This can be abstracted from results across all actions, so the learning should come quite quickly. Once reliable estimates are available, they can be used in prediction models for all possible actions. Future tests can be then limited to refining the timing within the standard range, with only a few tests outside the range to make sure nothing has changed.

The same approach could reduce other types of testing to keep the number of combinations within reason. For example, actions can be classified by broad types (cross sell, upsell, retention, winback, price level, product line, customer support, education, etc.) to quickly understand which types of actions are most productive in given situations. Testing can then focus on the top-ranked alternatives. This is relatively straightforward once actions are properly tagged with such attributes – or machine learning discovers the relevant attributes without tagging. Again, the system will still test some occasional outliers to find any new patterns that might appear.

Incidentally, this approach also helps to solve the problem of sequence creation. Category-level predictions would show when a customer is likely to respond to another action within a given category. If the system is consistently running out of fresh actions in one category, that’s a strong hint that more should be created. Thus, a sequence (or play) is born.

So – we’ve found a way for machines to design multi-step sequences and to reduce testing to a reasonable number of combinations. You might be thinking this is interesting but impractical because it requires running hundreds or thousands of models against each customer every day or possibly more often. But it turns out that’s not necessary. If we return to our concept of a value threshold and assume that time plays a role in every model score, then it’s possible to calculate in advance when the value of each action for each customer will reach the threshold. The system can then find whichever action will reach the threshold first and schedule that action to execute at that time. No further calculations are needed unless the model changes or you get new information about the customer – most likely because they did something. Of course, you’d want to recalculate the scores at that time anyway. In most businesses, such changes happen relatively rarely, so the number of customers with recalculated scores on any given day is a tiny fraction of the full base.

None of the concepts I’ve introduced here – value thresholds, explicitly testing “no action”, sharing attributes across models, and precalculating future model scores – is especially advanced. I’d be shocked if many developers hadn’t already started to use them. But I’ve yet to see a vendor pull them together into a single product or even hint they were moving in this direction. So this post is my little holiday gift – and challenge – to you, Martech Industry: it’s time to use these ideas, or better ones of your own, to reinvent campaign management as an automated system that lets marketers focus again on customers, not technology.

David Raab   December 9th, 2015

How To Unify Your Sales, Service and Marketing Departments Around Customer Experience

Imagine you’re getting ready to drive your car. But when you turn on the engine, you get a mobile notification telling you that your oil needs to be changed, and it gives you a link to the nearest dealership with a 10% discount coupon. You’re left surprised and delighted by the sheer, almost magical convenience of it all. But is that event classified as a sales, service or marketing interaction? The correct answer is: all of the above.

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Omar Akhtar   November 3rd, 2015

Brand Advocacy As A Marketing Strategy

Part 1: Observations

I wanted to share some thoughts on a market trend that, while not new, is very much coming into its own in terms of capabilities and relevancy.

Many of us are witnessing a paradigm shift in the selling of products or services. As control of an online conversation continues to shift, we are experiencing a power transfer from sales and marketing arms to that of the informed and empowered customer. Aside from the seismic impact this could have on the way businesses are managed and marketed, it is also creating new opportunities for those whose voice was previously limited to their in personal conversations.

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Bill Conticchio   October 6th, 2015

Avoid The 50 Ways Of Failing At Influencer Marketing

Brands: Stop Doing These Things!

Influencer Marketing is hot and that means the value of influencer relationships is higher than ever.

Working hard to romance in-demand experts to collaborate, co-create and even advocate can be a substantial investment. The mutual benefit from these long term relationships can mean anything from hugely successful marketing programs for brands to top billing at speaking events, book deals and consulting work for the influencers.

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Lee Odden   September 10th, 2015

The New Marketing Contract and Why Context is the Future of Marketing

We live in a time of great technology evolution and revolution. Innovation is not only upon us; it affects, even disrupts, us as marketers and as consumers of other businesses. Your customers are more connected than ever before and they’re always on. The number of touchpoints between businesses and customers has exploded. Technology is everywhere and something new is always on the horizon. Wearables. Smart watches. The Internet of Things. Everything is changing.

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ieadmin   August 11th, 2015

Do you still need to measure brand awareness?

As a marketer, I am a late bloomer. I spent most of my career in technology, not doing any marketing at all until 20 years into my career, in 1998. Now I spend all of my time on marketing technology, so I have experience only in digital marketing–not with any traditional marketing tactics and techniques. One question pops up over and over again is: “what about brand awareness?”

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Mike Moran   July 14th, 2015

How To Win at Web Marketing: Invest More Than The Other Guy

There are two true components to successful web marketing. The first is the knowledge/skill component. Without that you’re dead in the water. But once you’re at the top of your game (or you’ve hired those who are) then what? How do you grow your business faster than the competition?

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Stoney deGeyter   June 15th, 2015

Important Things To Remember When Creating B2B Content

Companies in the B2B space from IBM to HubSpot have been actively and effectively engaging prospects with longer sales cycle content for years. Like many competitive environments, a lot of emphasis for marketers has been about creating “more” content. More blog posts, videos, infographics, social messages, emails, and so on.

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Lee Odden   May 19th, 2015