Why content marketers don’t want instant gratification

When marketers set realistic expectations, they’re in a better spot to succeed long term.

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When marketers invest in content, they have to face a difficult truth. No content program is going to drive substantial results in 30 days. Maybe not 45 or 60 either. They may have to wait 90 days or more before their content strategy starts to move the business.

That may go against our need for instant gratification, but when marketers set realistic expectations, they’re in a better spot to succeed long term. Writing a single blog post and asking your team to “make it go viral” is like planting a seed one morning before heading to work and demanding it become an aloe plant by the time you get home. Speed just isn’t a big part of the equation.

Anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t admitted to cutting corners at every turn. Of course, you can adjust a lot of variables to help the process along, but you can never press fast forward on building a trusting relationship with your audience. Consumers make very logical decisions when spending their time online. We may not always agree with those decisions, but people don’t spend much time engaging with content they don’t like.

In my experience, too many executives still want to see results from their content on an unrealistic timetable. Marketers tend to want every strategy distilled into three quick steps. Unfortunately, the search for a quick fix leaves many vulnerable to misinformation. I’m talking about the industry leaders who’ll dole out the “why” and “what” of content while mysteriously never delivering on the “how.”

But there is good news — none of that time you spend waiting will be wasted. There’s just so much to determine before your team starts creating: brand voice, target audience, goals, values, etc. After you’ve nailed down the details of your strategy, you begin creating content by focusing on metrics and messaging that encourage brand familiarity and engagement. Only after several months of nailing those concepts can you delve into conversion, lead generation, brand advocacy and more.

A content marketer’s mix of determination and patience also pays off SEO dividends as well. When you launch a digital publication, you’re not starting with domain authority, and search algorithms don’t tend to play nice with rookie mistakes. Search engines want to see you’ve constructed a healthy foundation of content for readers, and that’s what sends your work to the top of the SERP.

The truth is, you don’t want your early content to go viral only to have everyone walk away because you don’t have anything else to show them. They’ll chalk your viral success up to a lark, which is hard to recover from. Your brand is providing a new service by creating content that helps customers make sense of a topic or industry. You have to build trust over time so that those relationships can become meaningful. In other words, you want to be The Allman Brothers, not a one-hit wonder.

So I’m sorry to say that success won’t happen overnight. But for marketers like myself, the real beauty of content is that a good strategy pays off every time. When you deliver something beneficial to your target audience, and you make a habit of doing so over time, you leave second place in the dust. Your competitors will be miles behind.

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The new best practices for digital brand storytelling

People have been telling stories for thousands of years, and the elements of what makes a good story have changed precious little in that time. Through the stories we tell, we not only entertain and connect with others, but we also convey information about our own beliefs, tastes and aspirations. Brands use stories in the […]

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People have been telling stories for thousands of years, and the elements of what makes a good story have changed precious little in that time. Through the stories we tell, we not only entertain and connect with others, but we also convey information about our own beliefs, tastes and aspirations.

Brands use stories in the exact same way, and the best marketers understand how important stories are when it comes to demonstrating the how, what and why of a brand’s offering. Although the components of a good story remain as they’ve always been, the process of telling a story in the digital age has evolved considerably as new advertising technologies have emerged.

It’s incumbent upon marketers to ensure their use of new technology adheres to the principles and ground rules of good storytelling and advertising. Rather than common, linear storylines, we can now build complex story frameworks, capturing the right user’s attention, in the right place, at the right time, on the right device, with the right array of messages. Stories are no longer stuck on one set of rails but are capable of more and more unique variations. What follows is an overview of the new components of modern brand storytelling in the digital age.

Stories should be real time

When stories are told around a campfire, the best storytellers adapt to their audiences’ reactions and new information they might provide during the story. Today’s digital brand stories must do the same, and emerging automation tools make this possible. Automation enables data to be analyzed and executed well within the blink of an eye, leading to instantaneous ads that can make use of a variety of data sources.

One pivotal way real-time advertising can support creativity and storytelling is through dynamic ads, which help improve efficiency and optimization, as well as personalization. In short, a dynamic ad allows for the delivery of multiple variants of the same ad through automation, making it possible for the same ad to say different things depending on who it is being delivered to. A travel company, for instance, could take live data on flight options and then send relevant holiday packages and pricing to users depending on their travel interests, browsing activity, location and more.

Reporting should inform your stories

Reporting and attribution are often viewed as being on the opposite end of advertising’s creativity spectrum from storytelling. But in reality, reporting has become a critical component of the brand storytelling process.

Data from accurate reporting on user interactions with an ad can be used for intelligent retargeting and can help execute complex and adaptable campaigns. User interactions logged in an ad server can be used to build real-time segments, which can then be actioned and correlated with creative to build the story. It is the relationship between the analytics, data and creative that builds the fundamental story framework.

Your stories must be built for reach

As advertising technology enables access to more and more channels, advertisers can extend their scope and speak to more users. With new channels and media comes the potential for more interesting and emotional storytelling, and advertisers have a responsibility to adapt their messaging to make the best use of these different platforms.

Modern brand storytelling must be built to follow users as they hop across multiple devices during their daily internet browsing. Reaching the same user across mobile, tablet, laptop and desktop become an ever-present challenge, particularly when understanding their preference for using each device. With purchases, for example, one user might favor their mobile phone via an app, whereas another may prefer their laptop. Understanding these preferences is a challenge that must be met for the sake of efficient retargeting, frequency capping and to measure a user’s interaction with the ad. Cross-device is also required for successful sequential messaging across difference devices, a mainstay of modern storytelling.

Don’t neglect relevance and reaction

Relevance and reaction have always been cornerstones of good storytelling, and they are even more important in the digital age as far as consumer expectations go. Regarding relevance, data is bringing about a renaissance that has the potential to bring ads and users closer together. In fact, the key driver behind the digital advertising revolution has been the gift of personalization. Advertisers are no longer shouting into the void, but can instead tell stories to users that they can safely assume have at least some interest in their offering.

Meanwhile, every good story should elicit a reaction, and marketers must ensure the stories they tell are designed to elicit the right ones. While marketers can use data to find the right audience and ensure ads are reaching as many users as possible, their ads need to form an emotional connection with the audience to move them to action.

Technology can and should help facilitate the continuous interplay between user and advertiser as a brand narrative unfolds. In this regard, technology neither replaces or hampers the modern brand storyteller. Leveraged correctly, technology can make the story all the more powerful.

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Chevron storytelling uses purposeful immersive experiences to engage stakeholders

While a brand like Chevron may not seem an obvious choice for immersive experiences, they found success using AR and VR to explain key Chevron narratives.

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Frozen in place, alert and quietly breathing the eight-foot Perentie lizard sizes me up. The only discernible movement is an opaque eyelid gliding over a dark reptilian gaze. I don’t THINK it will eat me for breakfast. Suddenly it’s long, forked tongue darts out into the air just barely missing my nose, as the lizard loses interest and looks for his breakfast elsewhere. The Perentie is one of the largest lizards in the world and can only be found on a remote Island, off the Pilbara coast of Western Australia.

However, instead of requiring the 20-hour flight from the US, I was able to experience this beautiful creature in my own backyard with the help of augmented reality.

Chevron’s AR experience featured 3D, animated creatures native to Barrow Island, like the Perentie lizard.

The Perentie lizard along with two other rare and wondrous creatures, the Euro or Wallaroo and the Flatback Turtle, was part of Chevron’s latest immersive augmented reality experience that launched at the 27th World Gas Conference in Washington, D.C. The goal was to share details on Chevron’s Gorgon Project, a new and technologically-advanced liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant located on Barrow Island, a Class A Nature Reserve. According to Tina Robison, Senior Advisor for Policy, Government and Public Affairs at Chevron, the biggest reason they decided to use AR was to make the impossible possible. “There will never be an opportunity to bring people to Barrow Island and show them what we do there or the priority we place on protecting this nature reserve. So we brought Barrow Island to DC.”

Chevron not the typical brand for immersive storytelling

“Chevron is a conservative brand,” admits Robison. “Shareholder return is important, but we also want to leave a small footprint in the places we do business.” While a brand like Chevron may not seem like an obvious choice for immersive experiences, Chevron’s digital center of excellence has had success using AR and VR as a mechanism to tell partners, policymakers and industry insider’s key Chevron narratives by transporting these audiences to their remote operations. The latest AR experience documenting The Gorgon Project was a huge hit at the World Gas Conference with both Chevron CEO and Chairman of the Board, Mike Wirth and the US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, spending time on the exhibit hall floor engaging with the experience.

US Secretary of Energy, Rick Perry, explores Chevron’s AR experience at the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC. From the left:  Colin Parfitt, President of Supply & Trading for Chevron, Rick Perry and Mark Nelson, Chevron Vice President for Midstream, Strategy & Policy.

The Gorgon Project AR experience was delivered using Apple iPad Pros and a trigger placed in the center of circular tables within Chevron’s conference exhibit booth. Attendees could pick up the iPad and immediately begin to engage with the 3D content displayed digitally over the marker on each table. The experience included three areas of exploration or chapters. Chapter one explains Chevron’s unique quarantine management system that focuses on protecting the nature reserve and the environment. Chapter two teaches users about the unique wildlife found exclusively on the island and chapter three describes how the liquid natural gas is shipped from Barrow Island to global customers.

Chapter 3 of the AR experience allowed users to learn more about the facility on Barrow Island and the process of sourcing and shipping liquid natural gas around the globe.

When asked about success metrics, Robison listed off a few key measurements of success: How many people engaged with the experience? How long did they stay? How many questions did they ask? How easy was it to use and understand? By these standards the experience was a home run, engaging hundreds of conference attendees during the four-day conference. However, the Barrow Island story was chosen specifically so it could be leveraged in other areas of the business, not just for policymakers or even those attending the conference. According to Robison, “the Gorgon Project AR experience also gives employees a tool to have conversations with family and friends and the Australian business unit is able to show some pride in the great work they are doing.” Chevron also worked in partnership with The Washington Post to share the AR experience beyond the conference by distributing it through the publisher’s app. The execution was the first advertiser-led AR activation for the Post.

Immersive storytelling just the start for Chevron

While this is the first AR project for Chevron, they are not new to the power of immersive storytelling. Last year Chevron launched a 360 VR experience that documented life on one of their most remote oil rigs off the Gulf of Mexico.

The extreme conditions on the rig – upwards of 115 degrees and 100% humidity, the remote location–280 miles off the coast of New Orleans, deep in the heart of international water, and safety concerns around the film crew’s electrical equipment made the project a logistics nightmare according to Dave Snyder, SVP and executive creative Director at design and innovation agency Firstborn. Snyder’s creative team at Firstborn conceived and developed both The Gorgon Project AR experience and the 360 VR virtual rig experience in close partnership with Chevron. Snyder admits he was surprised and delighted by Chevron’s commitment to innovation, “Anytime we get to do a cool, bleeding-edge, innovation type project, I get really excited. Immersive is the last little realm of neat stuff in digital. Chevron was unbelievably supportive.”

Snyder’s VR production crew took a two-hour helicopter journey into the Gulf of Mexico to capture the rig in 360.

Chevron’s commitment to innovation starts at the top with a CEO that is dedicated to being a leader in the space. According to Robison, this was an essential ingredient for getting internal support for a new, immersive storytelling approach, “One of our key internal priorities is being on the cutting edge of innovation. Our new chairman and CEO, Michael Wirth, is focused on digital innovation and he wants us to lead the industry in this space, and I think that helped us be successful with this immersive experience.”

Snyder agrees that aligning company-wide goals and objectives is required for a company to be truly innovative. “How do you try and sell in innovation? Unless your company is really bought into it and changes the internal structures, and KPI’s and how people get their bonuses it’s going to be really hard for companies to innovate. Great immersive projects create innovation halos over a brand — that’s a positive. I think that’s very important.”

While Chevron is currently leveraging AR and VR for storytelling, Robison believes this could be the gateway to innovation across the entire business. “What’s really cool is seeing our executives engaging with AR content and thinking about how they can use this in operations environments. Can we look at piping differently? Can we look at how our projects flow together so that we can make better decisions and move product faster? So not only was it an opportunity to tell our story but a way to experiment to see how we can use this to be innovative across our business strategy.”

Chevron CEO and Chairman of the Board, Michael Wirth, took time to engage with the AR experience while walking the exhibit floor at the World Gas Conference.

Key elements for successful immersive experience

To create a truly memorable and valuable experience, Snyder believes the most important element is the purpose for both the brand and the audience. The audience needs to be able to sense that purpose when interacting with the experience. For both the AR and 360 VR experiences created for Chevron, the experience took the user to a place they would have otherwise never been allowed to go. Instead of having partners and policymakers sit through a six-minute video on The Gorgon Project, Chevron opted to create a memorable, interactive experience that would allow the user the freedom to explore in their own way. “The tech can’t be the story. It’s not that Chevron did VR. That’s not a story. It’s that Chevron took you to a place you could have never gone. The tech needs to elevate or enhance the story you are telling.”

Along with developing a purpose-driven experience, there are a few other recommendations to help ensure success. Robison suggests using small, internal teams and allowing them enough time to test and learn. For The Gorgon Project AR experience, she leveraged a team of five key players and the project took about one year from start to finish.

Chevron’s team built out a simulation of the conference exhibit floor in a warehouse to serve as a testing environment for the AR experience. This resulted in crucial adjustments that improved the user experience.

Robison also suggests keeping the story very simple, constantly putting yourself in the shoes of the user and editing out anything that isn’t absolutely necessary. When asked what she wanted the audience to feel, Robison sums it up this way, “That energy and the environment can co-exist. It’s not one or the other. Chevron is working very hard to make sure that happens. And we respect the places that we work and we’re committed to ensuring safe and reliable operations and protection of those places. I think the AR experience does that.”

MarTech readers can experience both The Gorgon AR project in The Washington Post app and the virtual rig 360 VR project within the New York Times’ T-Brand studio or learn more about these projects directly from Chevron’s website.

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5 predictions for B2B marketing in 2019

Connected data will be king and ABM will take over as a core platform but the tired old persona-based advertising will die in the coming year.

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As we close out 2018, most of us have already been spent the last couple of months (at least!) thinking about 2019. And as I think about the coming year, I think about “what’s next” for B2B marketers. This gets more and more challenging each year, because the pace of change has accelerated each year. But that’s also why B2B has become such an exciting and dynamic market during the past several years.

So, here are five trends I predict will be hot for B2B marketers in 2019.

1. ABM will become a core platform for marketers in the martech stack

While CRM is the system of record for all sales activity and marketing automation systems are used by almost all sophisticated B2B marketers, each carries well known limitations. In particular, both focus on known, individual contacts. In an account-based world, that’s not enough. As a result, ABM platforms are quickly becoming the third leg to the B2B marketing tech stack. Together with CRM and marketing automation solutions, B2B marketers can span individual to account, and known to unknown in their marketing and sales activities.

2. Connected data will be king

With a fragmented martech landscape, it’s easy to understand why customer information can become siloed.  Getting a true 360-degree view of the customer has been a challenge that has plagued marketers since the beginning of marketing. But connecting customer data across different marketing technologies is getting closer to becoming a reality for many marketers.

By integrating technologies such as CRM, marketing automation, and ABM platforms, marketers can start to share data across these applications. And this will start to give marketers the complete customer view that we have craved.

3. We’ll stop talking about Artificial Intelligence

For B2B marketers, AI has been front and center of the conversation for the past couple of years.  That’s about to change. Not because AI is going away. It’s just becoming a given- a set of underlying technology  that is just “there”. Like electricity. AI will become an accepted (and expected) part of all marketing, advertising and sales technology. We’ll stop talking about it watch just let it work its magic in 2019, such as anticipating which content or messages visitors to a website will find most useful at each stage of their buying journey. There are almost a limitless number of applications for AI in marketing. And 2019 will be the year that AI based becomes like a utility for B2B marketers.

4. Next best action will become feasible at scale

Marketers have long talked about taking the ideal next best action when it comes to marketing programs based on where people are in the buying cycle. But it’s been impossible to achieve without massive amounts of data being synthesized by AI in real time. Humans just can’t process that amount of information. The emergence of AI means that automated next best action triggered based on specific activity in the buying cycle will become a reality in 2019.’

5. Persona-based advertising is dead

For years B2B advertisers have used personas as a proxy for reaching the right audience: their target buyers and influencers. But personas used for advertising amount to little more than guesswork in terms of who you actually reach, so marketers waste a huge amount of money on poorly targeted ads each year. B2B advertising is one of the last frontiers of marketing to be modernized but is finally undergoing a massive transformation that will significantly improve performance and the efficiency of ad dollars. By combining an immediate understanding of the accounts marketers want to target and sophisticated intent data to identify the buying committee within those accounts, B2B advertising can achieve precision and scale in 2019. And finally replace the tired old personas that we’ve been forced to use.

Let me know if you agree (or disagree) with the predictions I’ve made and how you believe they will impact your marketing organization.

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Measuring return on content: It’s simpler (and more important) than you think

Here are some steps you can take to avoid the consequences of neglecting attribution in the mid-funnel.

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Marketers are investing billions of dollars in content marketing efforts every year, and yet many have a very weak understanding of the return they see on such investments. According to the Content Marketing Institute, a third of B2C marketers (PDF) don’t even measure their return on content. That figure grows to a staggering 47 percent among B2B marketers (PDF).

This lack of accountability is a stark contrast to the data-driven strategies that the same marketers are meticulously applying to their lower-funnel activities in search and display. Why the difference? Well, according to the Content Marketing Institute, 45 percent of B2C marketers who don’t measure their content ROI cite the top reason as “we need an easier way to do this.” That same response tops the list of reasons given by B2B marketers, right alongside “no formal justification required.”

The simple fact of the matter is that many marketers aren’t tracking return on content because they’re intimidated by what they perceive to be a seriously complicated undertaking. Or worse, they’re not even trying because their superiors aren’t asking, which suggests that they’re OK with not properly understanding and optimizing their content budgets. These marketers are at risk of having their content marketing budgets cut altogether by skeptical superiors who don’t see the return.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

Ultimately, tracking return on content in the mid-funnel – where content marketing drives consumers from awareness into the stages of consideration and engagement – isn’t all that different from tracking ROI in the lower funnel. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Rather, marketers need to commit to understanding these mid-funnel activities and get smart about how they monitor activity on the content being circulated by their brands.

In tracking return on content, there are two key areas where marketers should focus:

Engagement indicators

Two key engagement metrics to consider when it comes to content are time spent and scroll depth, but these measures should not be approached in siloes, where on their own they can provide false positives. For example, a person might open a piece of content and walk away from the computer, driving up time spent but never engaging with the content. Meanwhile, if a person opens a piece of content and scrolls rapidly to the bottom, there’s a good chance they never actually read the content and were instead seeking something else on the page.

Fortunately for marketers, they now have the ability to look at a content completion rate that compares the amount of time a person spends on a page against the amount of time it would take an average reader to consume the content (a measure made popular by Medium), cross-referenced with scroll data.  This more-holistic approach allows marketers to confirm with greater accuracy which pieces of their content are driving meaningful engagement with their audience.

Downstream conversions

When it comes to conversions, marketers can lean on their expertise in media attribution when gauging return on content. Using similar methodologies (e.g., tagging exposure), they can determine which pieces of content lead to specific actions within their standard lookback window. This doesn’t always have to be a purchase. It could be something more basic, such as reading a piece of content on a company’s blog and later navigating to look at products, register for an event or sign up for a free trial.

Test and learn

While it might be a relief to some marketers that their organizations don’t require them to track return on content, two problems arise in that scenario:

  1. Without understanding the real-world value of content marketing, executives are likely to target these budgets for cutbacks when cutbacks are required.
  2. More importantly, if marketers can’t connect their content marketing efforts to business outcomes, they will never be able to properly optimize their content, not to mention their media spend across the full funnel.

Brands, especially those in the direct-to-consumer and e-commerce spaces, spend a ton of time optimizing their landing pages and websites to improve their use of imagery and calls to action. Those very same principles should be applied earlier in the funnel as well. It’s not a matter of just creating content and blasting it out there. As with advertising and landing page elements, marketers need to take a test-and-learn approach to their content, and they can do so efficiently.

Think about content testing the same way that studios think about TV show pilots. The studio makes one episode and tests it with a small audience screening. At that point, the episode might be taken to a wider audience and ultimately be developed into a full show – or it might be put on the shelf. In short, the studio won’t invest more deeply if the content doesn’t resonate.

In this same vein, marketers have the opportunity to test and learn with their content by posting it on owned properties and monitoring activity based on a smaller audience. The content that resonates (according to the metrics described above) is where marketers should then double-down with their paid efforts, as well as in future content creation initiatives. Done right, marketers should even be able to identify which content tends to influence higher-value purchases among consumers.

In short, there’s no good reason for marketers today do not have a handle on the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts. The metrics are simpler than many think, and the consequences of neglecting attribution in the mid-funnel have wide-ranging implications for optimization efforts across the entire customer journey. It’s time, as an industry, to get serious about measuring return on content.

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Breaking through with meaningful content marketing in the age of storytelling

A conversation on the state of story-driven content with analyst and author Brian Solis.

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Today, it seems that everyone is a storyteller — some 550,000 marketers list storytelling in their profile on LinkedIn. But connecting with people through the power of the story requires a lot more than changing your title.

The challenge is shifting from content marketing to true storytelling: understanding an audience, inspiring them, compelling them and igniting their imagination.

“As marketers, we’ve bought into the aspiration and the ideal of storytelling-based marketing without going through the exercise of what it actually takes to become a storyteller,” says Brian Solis, a marketing expert and principal analyst at Altimeter Group. When Solis wrote “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design,” he immersed himself in the art and science of storytelling, working closely with Pixar artist and storyboarding expert Nick Sung.

Brian Solis, analyst and author of “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design”

I spoke with Brian about the gap between content marketing and storytelling, and what marketers need to know today.

Q. How should businesses by thinking about storytelling?

Brian Solis: There are some common pillars of quality storytelling — and it all starts with knowing your audience, what they love/don’t love, what they value, etc.

Aside from the seven common plots of story, there are pillars that resonate with certain audiences, depending on their goals and yours. These include inspiration, usefulness, importance and inclusivity, just to name a few — and these apply to content marketing, too.

Q. How can marketers apply this framework to their campaigns?

The arc of a marketing campaign is usually the opposite of a traditional story arc. The climax, which is typically the product launch day in business, is followed by the supporting action and road to wider adoption — until the budget runs out or the campaign is over.

Stories are continuous. Opportunities for engagement are always on. Customers do not go on/off based on your campaign or content calendar.

For marketers, the hero in the Hero’s Journey is your customer. Think about how they traverse their world every day and what information they need to succeed and be the “hero” in their story, then use that to inspire your stories.

Q. What mistakes do you see marketers making when applying storytelling to their content efforts?

Too many marketers have no clear idea who they’re trying to reach, what’s important to them and why. Sixty percent of marketers still don’t have a documented content strategy, my research has found, even though nearly three in four marketers plan to spend more on content in the coming year.

It’s difficult for any brand to stand out right now, and content is more often designed to be “viral” rather than engaging, useful or empathetic. That’s a big reason why a significant amount of content fails.

Q. Is the shortening attention span of mobile users making it more difficult for content marketing to resonate?

Mobile devices are like digital appendages. Consumers are busy living their “best” lives while being inundated with information on mobile.

People don’t want marketing and brand-approved messages. They want personalization, usefulness and value. They’re willing to pay attention to — and share — content that speaks to them, helps them, or boosts them within their community.

That means thoughtful and relevant stories that they can consume based on their state of mind or intent and their preferences and expectations…at the right time, in the right context in the right format.

Q. How can marketers best measure their success?

The underlying problem is that many marketers have lost sight of who they’re really creating content for. Instead of investing in engaging with their audiences of human beings who have intent, goals, aspirations, passions, needs, they’re prioritizing quantity and developing campaigns for the people who are approving their work.

Too often, I see marketers measure success with vanity metrics such as likes, traffic, views and followers. These numbers actually take them further from the people who matter — those who need their experience and advice.

Instead, I’d suggest that marketers focus on growth. Use AI and machine learning to predict intent. Translate those insights into content that matters to customers. Then, consider designing for the A.R.T. of engagement (actions, reactions and transactions).

Track the impact you’re making on the people and the businesses you’re trying to reach. That means knowing what moves the needle with them by considering the meaning, utility and value that your marketing content provides.

Read more about storytelling
Making emotional connections in a digital era
Data-driven storytelling: the intersection of numbers and narrative
The science of storytelling
Storytelling for action: Why brands need to tell a complete story

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From funnel to flywheel

If you’re like most marketers, you could name the basic parts of the sales funnel in your sleep: Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Decision, and Purchase. Of course, businesses have tweaked the model over the years, adding extra steps and so forth, but the basic premise has remained the same. But there is one problem with the […]

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If you’re like most marketers, you could name the basic parts of the sales funnel in your sleep: Awareness, Interest, Evaluation, Decision, and Purchase.

Of course, businesses have tweaked the model over the years, adding extra steps and so forth, but the basic premise has remained the same. But there is one problem with the model: it’s the opposite of customer-centric. In fact, in the traditional sales funnel, leads are treated a bit like uniform widgets moving along a conveyor belt, with various things happening to them along the way.

The problem is that if you’re not centered on the customer, your marketing efforts might be going to waste. If we had a nickel for every brilliant content strategy that seemed to explode with engagement while yielding little (if any) measurable return on investment, we’d have more than a piggy-bank full of change.

Centering the customer in your sales model changes that, though, because the customer now drives all content and all marketing efforts, instead of the other way around. In this piece, we’ll explain a new sales model. Maybe by the end you’ll be like us: falling ever-so-slightly out of love with the funnel — and in love with the flywheel.

A what wheel?

Like its predecessor the funnel, a flywheel is not just a metaphor, but also a real-life tool that powers multiple, modern-day inventions. Invented by James Watt of lightbulb fame, the flywheel is a disc or wheel around an axis. It has assorted industrial applications and can be found in car engines, ships, and a lot of other places where energy needs to be generated, amplified, stored, and stabilized.

The flywheel effect, described by Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great, describes a massive, 5,000-pound metal disc mounted horizontally on an axle. He asks the reader to imagine pushing it, so that it turns around that axle. At first, getting it to move at all is extremely difficult. But with each push, it gets fractionally easier and the flywheel begins to pick up speed. Collins writes:

Then, at some point—breakthrough! The momentum of the thing kicks in in your favor, hurling the flywheel forward, turn after turn … whoosh! … its own heavy weight working for you. You’re pushing no harder than during the first rotation, but the flywheel goes faster and faster. Each turn of the flywheel builds upon work done earlier, compounding your investment of effort. A thousand times faster, then ten thousand, then a hundred thousand. The huge heavy disk flies forward, with almost unstoppable momentum. 

It’s a great metaphor for marketing. Because that momentum isn’t the product of any single push. Instead, the energy is cumulative, generated by a lot of little pushes, with the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Ideally, marketing and sales should work the same way. The energy, leads, and revenue created by marketing efforts is not due to any single channel, piece of content, or campaign; it’s a cumulative effect. And once it really gets going, a good marketing campaign keeps spinning. It generates energy.

Putting the customer at the center

Instead of a funnel into which prospective customers are unceremoniously dumped, the flywheel puts the customer at the center of the wheel: the axle.

Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan, for example, sees the customer as the lynchpin, with the flywheel itself divided into three equal segments, each representing stages along the customer journey: attract, engage, and delight. Each area creates energy and passes it along to the next, with the delight phase feeding back into attract.

Other flywheel devotees divide the disc into Marketing, Sales, and Service — again putting the customer in the center position. Each effort feeds into the next, cycling around and around, but always circling the customer.

This may be the most important aspect of the flywheel model — that it centers the customer. The funnel, on the other hand, doesn’t consider how those customers can feed back into the funnel (or the flywheel) to help create additional growth and engagement.

The funnel can’t conceive of customers buying from you more than once, so the momentum you build acquiring customers via the funnel just falls away. Following every quarter, every customer, every conversion — you’re starting all over again.

Learning to fly

The momentum of a flywheel is determined by three primary pieces:

  1. The weight of the wheel

With a physical flywheel, the greater the mass of the flywheel, the greater its momentum and the harder it is to stop. In the customer-focused model, the “weight” looks like an exceptional customer service experience that builds your reputation and brand in ways that create retention, build ambassadors, and deliver value into your marketing and sales segments. The way that you deliver that customer experience will be unique to your business model.

  1. How fast you spin it

The speed in the flywheel model is really about the number of “pushes” you give the wheel. How much content is your marketing team delivering? Which channels are you using to reach prospects? How many leads are coming from the content?

  1. The friction

Reducing flywheel friction is about ensuring customers remain satisfied and keeping your efforts aligned. If poor sales performance is slowing the momentum from marketing — or if poor service is hurting retention of hard-won sales — your flywheel will slow down, and your business will suffer. On the other hand, when everything is aligned, your efforts will feed into each other and keep your flywheel humming along.

Finding alignment and purpose

It’s one thing to draw up a model and another to align cross-organizational efforts in real life. Part of finding alignment is cultural, getting leadership to buy in and coordinating communication among departments. But a huge part of the lift has to be operational — and will be dependent on having technology that enables marketing, sales, and service to coordinate.

At CallTrackingMetrics (CTM), we’ve been thinking this way for some time now — though we only recently discovered the flywheel model. Our call intelligence and management platform brings together all the three segments of the flywheel: marketing, sales, and service.

It tracks call sources, lets agents tag and score calls, helps businesses respond immediately to inquiries, and provides a data-rich environment that can inform stakeholders across organizations about marketing, sales, and service performance. It also helps create reporting to determine returns on investment for content and campaigns, customer feedback, and more. In short, it makes it easier to understand and engage with customers in a meaningful, helpful way.

That engagement matters. A lot. Because, at the end of the day, marketing and sales are all about creating better experiences along your customers’ journeys. And the funnel model has never recognized the important part customer service teams play in generating customer retention, brand building, and developing stronger relationships and alignment between your business and your customers — as well as within the disparate teams in your organization.

In the end, the flywheel ensures that everyone in your business shares the same purpose: keeping the flywheel spinning, in order to create better relationships with and experiences for your customers. However hard it might seem to get it spinning at first, once the flywheel gains momentum and sales start churning, it’s well worth the effort.

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Marketers struggle to keep up with content creation demand for their personalization efforts

Businesses may need to invest more resources in content creation efforts.

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As advertising and other brand communications get increasingly personalized, the demand for multiple iterations of content is growing at a rate that marketers are struggling to keep up with. And personalization without, well, personalized content just doesn’t work.

This week, Adobe released State of Creative and Marketing Collaborations which looks at this issue with a survey of more than 1,000 North American marketers, creatives, advertising and IT professionals.

The report says that creative teams working on personalized campaigns are producing an average of 28 pieces of content a week and can take up to 12 days to get a single piece to market. But even with all that output, most marketers and advertisers feel like they could be doing better.

Why you should care

Content has always been king. But in this age of hyper-personalization, the demand has gone into overdrive — providing more of a need that many companies can afford — both financially and operationally.

To catch up with the demand, businesses may need to invest more resources into their content creation efforts: 33 percent of those surveyed said their biggest barrier to personalization is the time investment and 20 percent said cost. This is reinforced by data from the survey that says that half of companies that simply had more money to spend with revenues of more than $50 million reported higher satisfaction with their content strategy and creation and felt they were very well coordinated, as opposed to the average across all businesses at 34 percent.

There is good news. Advertisers and marketers have added considerable staff in content creation (a 63 percent increase for advertisers, 60 percent for marketers) and the vast majority still prize content quality over quantity.

And there’s good news operationally with a majority of marketers, advertisers, creatives and IT pros communicating with each other at least once a week, and 71 percent wanting to get creatives involved in the pre-planning process earlier.

More about the numbers

  • Companies need to step up. Only 26 percent of brand creatives, 21 percent marketers, and 24 percent advertising professionals believe their companies do enough to personalize digital advertising.
  • Scale continues to be an issue. Fifty-nine percent of marketers, 52 percent advertisers, 41 percent agency creatives and 53 percent brand creatives find it difficult to personalize content at scale.
  • More “digitally advanced” businesses (59 percent) say they are outperforming the competition, their content creation and delivery is very well coordinated, and their personalization is extensive than other companies (35 percent).

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We’re hiring: Help digital marketers advance their thought leadership

Third Door Media is currently looking for a Community Editor to lead contributed content efforts for its industry-leading editorial brands Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today.

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Third Door Media is currently looking for a Community Editor to lead contributed content efforts for its industry-leading editorial brands Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today.

The Community Editor is first a convener, adept at cultivating a strong community of contributors who have demonstrated high-level expertise in digital marketing and wish to help their fellow marketers by extending that knowledge to their peers. The Community Editor is a skilled editor and content specialist who helps contributors develop their content to have maximum reach, impact and educational value to the more than 1.6 million audience members who trust Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today for the best and most-actionable intelligence.

This is a remote position.

Core job responsibilities:

  • Identify and recruit contributors for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today.
  • Work with contributors to develop their content and leverage best practices for digital publishing, offer feedback and guidance.
  • Editorial review of all contributed content. This includes editing, proofreading and fact-checking.
  • Manage publishing calendar for contributed content
  • Foster discussions among members of the contributor community, convening them through vehicles like email and Slack.
  • Create editorial boards from our contributor community, hosting discussions with members of TDMs editorial team and our contributors.
  • Work closely with our events programming team by either recommending contributors who could be speakers or vice versa.
  • Track performance of contributor content across all digital channels
  • Lead special projects and packages tied to contributor content.
  • Assign contributor pieces to align with TDMs editorial calendar.

Essential Requirements:

  • Strong editorial judgement and content development expertise.
  • Ability to manage many external relationships.
  • Strong editing and writing skills.
  • Highly organized. Position requires the candidate to coordinate a very large roster of contributors.
  • 3-5 years experience in creating digital content in a newsroom, digital media company or content marketing department.
  • Technical comfort with digital content tools, planners and content management systems.

If you are interested, please send resume and cover letter to Henry Powderly, Vice President, Content at hpowderly@thirddoormedia.com.

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