Creating Alignment For Marketing In Your Organization

A few weeks ago I repurposed some great content from Forbes about how marketing and sales must be aligned at all times.  It's a great article on the importance on how each part of the organization needs to work together in order to achieve the firm's goals.  Historically, marketing and sales have either operated in silos - where one group's success isn't predicated on the other - or they have been at war over strategy and execution in order to determine who holds the higher power position and what is ultimately more important, sales or brand.

I would submit that marketing and sales being on the same page is very important, but depending on the organization it's may be just as important...or even more be aligned with other key areas in the company in order to demonstrate value and meet the mission of the organization.  That's not to say that sales alignment for marketers isn't critical - there just may be other parts of your company that are just as important in order to put marketing in the best position to add value.

One of the obvious ones in today's day and age is IT.  If your tech group can't be counted on to assist with your marketing properties (websites, CRM, email service, etc.) you chance at being effective with your marketing plans are slim.  If you're dependent on the IT team to push things into the market as well as keep the trains running on time, I would suggest working to take that out of their hands.  With today's tools marketers can do this easier than ever and with little strain or impact on IT provided the right structure is in place.  Getting all those things in order with IT will help you be more efficient and effective.

Finance is always another group to consider for marketers.  They were always important for making sure we had money to do the things we wanted to do, but they are becoming more important to marketing as we begin to focus on return on investment.  They hold the cards in that game and you need to make sure your thoughts and plans for measuring and delivering ROI meet their ideas because if you don't agree I can pretty much guarantee finance will win any battle in that arena, leaving you with egg on your face and in scramble mode to justify all you are doing.

The last one I'll highlight is operations.  If your company has an operations team that help get the field teams what they need you will need to be joined at the hip with them on execution.  It's great when there is even a bit of blurred line between the two groups.  Some of my marketing teams worked so closely with operations that we took over things for them and they assisted us in making what we pushed out even better.  This will go a long way in creating the kind of alignment marketing needs within the company.

At the end of the day we all want to do marketing stuff, but if you're doing it within a company of any size you have to think about the interactivity between departments and how the power constructs work in order to do what's required to get your goals met.  It's not always fun playing politics and hopefully you can get things done with little selling of your soul, but think about how the other departments in your organization play into marketing's success and work to create alignment that will help you and the company be successful.

Creating The Best User Experience

As I sit here to write this post I am about to throw my computer through a window because I am trying to purchase something from a website.  I need it to do some very important things but I can't even log in to my account to get it done.  I won't name the company, but it's fair to say that if I wasn't completely locked into using them I would have moved on.  Even though I'm stuck and I have to give them my money right now, I will leave the experience feeling unsatisfied and on the hunt for a different company to provide me this service in the future.

That leads me to thoughts around user experience.   I don't think most companies have the luxury of having customer locked in, especially on the web where you're one email offer or Google search away from losing a customer.  Those locks are fewer and far between in today's digital age.  If you are relying on your website to interact with customers and most importantly have them purchase something over it, you better get your user experience right or you will face a long, painful business death.

Far too often companies build their user experience around an internal process or based on the limits of their technology, with no mind to how a real customer will use their site and how to make it as easy for them to do as possible.  This is where I admire Amazon - they consistently look for ways to make it painfully simple to use their site and have consistently removed barriers that would prevent someone from purchasing something from them.  They don't let their size create a culture that forces customers into their model.  They know the competitive landscape can shift under their feet and need to be consistently up on how they make things work for their customers.  There are others out there that get this too, and if you want to be a leader in user experience you have to design and build with the customer in mind.

It can often be as easy as relying on the KISS principal - keep it simple stupid.  How can you make browsing, shopping, data entry and purchasing as easy as it can be and remove all steps or clicks that prevent that from happening?  There may be some within the organization that say you need this or we have to do that, but each step should be picked apart to see what really matters.  Not only should you ask this intuitively but you need the data to support decisions.  Where are people dropping out of the buying process?  Why are people looking at not buying?  The great thing about the web is that if you set it up right you can track an amazing amount of behaviors and patterns and they will generally lead you to answer if you choose to accept it.

Make no mistake that the user is what matters - if you have active, engaged ones that spend money you are in a great position and your design and experience will help them get there.  Failures in the user experience process will create disconnects that will cause users to look somewhere else and ultimately kill your business with a thousand pinpricks.

Now I will go back and see if I can complete my purchase I need - if not beware of flying computers.


The Best Branding Starts From The Inside

I think if we all look at the most valuable brands in the market today - they all have compelling stories about their genesis and makeup.  According to Forbes, the top five are Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Coke.  Amazon is sixth and I bet there would be in the top five if things were reranked today.  What is common about each one is that their history and the growth of their brands are directly tied to the makeup and culture of the organization.

I personally put FedEx right near the top of the brand list (how they are #83 on the list is beyond me).  Granted there is some bias since I worked there for 5 years, but I remember hearing the story of Fred Smith getting a "C" on his Yale paper about his plan for overnight delivery and other yarns about how he kept the company going and moving it into the juggernaut it is today.  All those antidotes and the culture it helped created bleeds into the brand every day and I would guess that true of the other valuable brands on this list.

A brand, for all its marketing needs and intents, is the sum total of an organization's character - both perceived and actual.  We all know that marketing is about controlling perception, but brands take everything in - the good and the bad - and live with that in full display of the public.  We've all seen great brands die at the hands of bad actors or management and great ones either grown from nowhere or rise from the ashes.  I would submit that the main reason for all of that is how the organization acted and the tenants it held on to over the course of their maturation.

Regardless of your company's size or tenure, this concept is not out of reach for you.  The best brands are developed from the inside of a company - not outside.  Sure the creative execution may be aided by the help of talented agencies and partners, but the art and copy will never work if there is no depth.  There has to be an authenticity that goes along with branding or else it is just color and words on a page.  Search for that authentic current in your organization and have it reflect in your branding.  It will make your positioning and messaging stronger and provide a truer connection to the market and your customers.

You may not be Jeff Bezos packing boxes on the floor or Bill Gates building a computer in a garage but there are things that make your company unique.  Understand them and leverage them in your marketing.  It will set the tone that will drive your brand to new heights.

What To Do When Your Marketing Is Underperforming

At some point in our marketing careers, we all end up in a position where our marketing efforts are not bearing any fruit.  It could just be a perception issue - your client (internal or external) are not seeing results they want and they place blame at the feet of marketing.  But in today's ROI based world you will probably have plenty of numbers to show you when what you are doing isn't working.  If you end up in this situation here are a few things to think about as you dissect the problem:

  • Is it really a problem yet?  All program take some time to generate results and yours may just not have had enough time.  However, it is important to know when enough time has run on the clock.  Just like calling a timeout in football or basketball, knowing when to do it is an important part of your strategy.
  • Is it a strategic issue or a tactical one?  If your stuff is failing, you need to figure out if your issues revolve around strategic issues or tactical ones.  Was your targeting off?  Did you overplay your market position?  If your strategy is off, no amount of tactical brilliance will make your marketing work - and vice versa.
  • Is it positioning and messaging?  Maybe you have the right strategy in place but you are not communicating correctly.  Are your value proposition and feature/advantage/benefit transitions getting your message to the market?  If you are lost in your own internal vernacular or using complicated terminology that just doesn't work with the target the loss of signal shows up in your lack of results.
  • Is it art and/or copy?  Sometimes creative gets too much of the blame when marketing goes wrong (see Pepsi, H&M, and Dove for recent examples) but at some point in the process that creative got approved.  Hopefully, you have enough time to thoughtfully review your creative from all angles and you can be in a position to make minor tweaks once you are in market.
  • Are your metrics right and measurable?  Making sure you measure the right things and have the ability to measure them is important.  True objective measurements of performance provide a real dividing line between success and failure, but the important part is to know what success looks like before your marketing efforts go out so that the goals are clear.  If there are not you have little ground to stand on and end up chasing around answers to questions you don't really know.

No one likes calling their baby ugly, but there are going to be situations when your marketing efforts don't get you what you need.  Don't hold on to your position too long or you'll end up like General Custer at Little Bighorn.  Take an honest assessment of what's happening and make the changes that need to be made.  Everyone makes mistakes - it's the ones that correct them without ego getting in the way that see more success in the long run.

Content Marketing Strategies That Work

As marketers, we all know the importance of content marketing.  Not only does it help us stay engaged with our clients and prospects with timely and relevant information but it is critical for search engine optimization and drawing traffic to our web and social properties.  On average, B2B marketers are now allocating 28% of their total marketing budget to content marketing (Content Marketing Institute) but almost every company struggles with building and maintaining an effective content marketing strategy.   Here are some ideas on ways to improve it:

  • Build, and actually use, a calendar - almost every content marketing professional talks about setting up a calendar that outlines topics and set dates for releases, but invariably it falls off the tracks after a few weeks as other priorities become more exciting or pull our attention away from it. Management needs to hold teams accountable for hitting the marks set forth in the calendar. Much like an editor of a newspaper, deadlines have to be hit or the news doesn't get out.

  • Don't be afraid to repurpose content - your followers enjoy hearing from you but they like hearing from other people as well. Linking and sharing other interesting articles and information will help them stay engaged longer on your channel rather than searching for data in other areas and may end up liking them better. Find reliable sources of data for your industry and market and give your subscribers what they need, especially when it supports your mission and objectives.

  • Find valuable and consistent authors - more often than not content marketing is thrust upon a handful of people and they get overwhelmed with the volume of work required or burned out on writing on a finite set of topics. Find more producers and share the load. If everyone writes one article a quarter and you have enough authors you produce more quality content with little incremental work for everyone.

  • See what the competition and other influencers are doing - if you are short on topics or ideas, look to the competition or others in your industry that are producing content for ideas that you can add your own spin to or even counterpoint to enhance what you are trying to communicate. Obviously, you don't copy and paste it, but their ideas will give you insight on what may be relevant to their customers, so why not try and steal their readership by borrowing their ideas.

Content marketing will continue to be critical for marketers as the appetite for new materials is desired by the market and the search engines demand it in quality for their algorithms.  Take these ideas and see how you can boost production of your content while adding depth and insight to what you put out there.