by Jake Sorofman | July 15, 2014 | 1 Comment
In the movie “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner is famously egged on by a voice that tells him, if he builds it, they will come. He takes the voice at its word and, as promised, a ballgame ensues.
He built it. They came. If only everything were so simple!
It turns out that hanging a shingle is rarely enough to stimulate such demand. Marketers know this all too well. But many digital commerce leaders are more like Kevin Costner walking through that cornfield.
I’ve had conversations with digital commerce leaders who live in the isolated world of merchandising and site operations with only the faintest notion of what happens upstream. They run their commerce operations based on an article of faith that, if they build it, their customers will surely come.
They will, right?
Well, not quite. Not long ago, I spoke with a commerce leader who admitted, somewhat sheepishly, that, in her company, there was a yawning, Grand Canyon-sized gap between digital marketing and digital commerce. Here, when storefront performance wanes, the remedy isn’t what you might expect. Crank up the marketing spend? Run a promotion? Experiment with some new segments? Wheel out a campaign? Nope. Here, their solution is more like rearranging the deck chairs while the ship lists in the moonlight.
But that’s another movie entirely. The point I’m trying to make is that these commerce leaders are coming to realize is that such romantic field of dreams notions are only useful for impossibly earnest movies starring impossibly earnest actors like Kevin Costner. In the real world, where the rest of us live, this sort of thinking goes by a different word entirely.
Here, we face the harsher realities of doing business online: an abundance of choice and transparency that makes competition for your customers something more like “Gladiator” than “Field of Dreams.”
That’s why digital commerce leaders are beginning to see that marketing is the rate limiter of digital commerce. Without a digital marketing strategy, your digital storefront is more like that lonely Iowa cornfield. All hope and potential, a stocked storefront with no takers in site.
Contrast this with the commerce strategy at Burberry, for example, which has transformed its brand from hapless to hip, from moribund to modern with digital marketing infused into differentiated and distinctive commerce experiences. Here, commerce is anything but a shingle hung to flap creakily in the breeze.
At Gartner, we’re seeing a growing appetite for marketing savvy in digital commerce operations. My colleague Jennifer Polk tells us that marketing’s impact on digital commerce has more doubled (see “The Evolving Role of Marketing in Digital Commerce”; Gartner subscription required).
It’s a healthy shift and one that perhaps should come as no great surprise. After all, a digital marketing strategy is what makes digital commerce a business, not a dream. Or hallucination, as the case may be.
Category: digital marketing Tags: digital commerce
by Jake Sorofman | July 8, 2014 | 2 Comments
Here’s a confession: I have a low threshold for verbosity.
Why? Because I believe in the poet’s principle that words have more power in tight arrangement. But I also think that long, meandering rhetorical runs can be self indulgent, something you’d expect from the prattling dinner party guest with the coiffed mane and tight turtleneck whose gums flap to their own breezy ministrations on who knows what.
If you ask me, such free-associative fire hoses fail to respect an audiences’ intelligence and time—where the former is often abundant and the latter is often in the shortest of supply. Of course, this verbosity often comes from a place of enthusiasm, not narcissism—but, in either case, it alienates audiences.
I’ll admit that this aversion to long-windedness probably makes me seem more uptight than I actually am. But I do have a point to make beyond such revelations of my own personal peccadilloes.
My point? Marketers need to stop flapping their gums before audiences fall asleep in their soup.
As marketers, we have an obligation to communicate with economy and efficiency. Why? Because attention is hard to earn and easy to lose. Marketers should make a commitment of respect to their audience, upholding this vow with every clear, crisp, compelling and contextually relevant interaction:
- Clear means speaking like a human being.
- Crisp means that, all else equal, less is generally more.
- Compelling means being artful and unexpected—unordinary.
- Contextually relevant means listening actively and responding accordingly.
These principles apply to all manner of communication. The best conversationalist respects their interlocutor. The best marketer respects their audience. They both listen more than they speak.
In work and in life, we’re all inundated by pleas for our attention. Attention, like diamonds, gold and perhaps truffles, is now among the rarest of commodities. Handle it with care—and don’t take it for granted. Because, as soon as you do, it yours to lose. And, I assure you: you will.
Category: digital marketing Tags: Communication, content marketing, social marketing
by Jake Sorofman | June 24, 2014 | 7 Comments
A lot is said these days about the CMO’s preparedness to navigate what is, even by most conservative measures, fairly extraordinary digital change.
Today, the CMO is expected to meet the connected consumer on a self-directed buying journey with compelling, relevant and resonant offers and experiences.
That’s no small task.
Last year, I wrote “The Rise of the Digital CMO” to take a closer look at whether the CMO is ready. The conclusion? Today, there’s a conspicuous gap between expertise and authority: digital natives have the former; CMOs have the latter. The gap is often bridged with a variety of new senior roles—like the chief marketing technologist, for example.
This post led to an ongoing Gartner research series that seeks to codify what makes digital CMOs different and finding real-life exemplars to illustrate these principles put to practice.
To make sense of this evolving role, I’ve also been giving thought to CMO archetypes, a system of classification that helps identify the biases and traits of different types of marketing leadership. Here, the goal is to use classifications to guide self identification, where traits and characteristics help CMOs find their power centers, their flex zones and their areas of conspicuous weakness.
Start by reviewing Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework, which defines the four disciplines of the modern marketing organization:
Next, look in the mirror.
If you recall, the goal of the Intelligent Brand Framework was to promote “whole-brain” thinking, encouraging a balanced view of the skills required for modern marketing organizations and counteracting the myopic tendencies that are so common in the age of shiny, bright and new.
The truth is that the Intelligent Brand Framework applies to both organizations and individuals. After all, it reasonably follows that any measure of the traits and biases of an organization probably also roughly translates to the traits and biases of the leader his or herself.
Therefore, let me propose four types of CMOs, based on this same classification:
1. Observation—this CMO is led by the voice of the customer, going to extraordinary lengths to understand their patterns and preferences. Above all else, they’re biased to believe that all truths come from this domain. This type of customer centricity can yield powerful insights and alignment with a target buyer, but it can also create a sort of myopia. Henry Ford may or may not have said* that, had he asked his customers what they wanted, they would have told him “faster horses.” It turns out that most customers aren’t all that visionary.
Find this CMO: Leading a focus group.
2. Inspiration—this CMO is a natural visionary, energized and directed by the universe of possibility that they conjure up in their own dreams (or hallucinations, as the case may be) and cultivate from crowds of customers, employees and other communities in their midst. This CMO rarely meets a challenge with a conventional solution. While continuous innovation can be a reliable source for sustainable competitive advantage, innovation for its own sake does not a profit make. Marketers must also become scale operators with an eye on the prize of repeatability.
Find this CMO: Impatiently challenging dogma.
3. Automation—this CMO is the exact opposite, focusing on operational efficiency to create a machine that drives predictable and repeatable growth. Often identified as a performance marketer, this CMO uses data and measurement as a precision weapon and automation as the robots to carry out his or her duties. This CMO is the CFOs best friend until strategies run their course. As innovations grow stale, operational excellence yields diminishing returns.
Find this CMO: Closing the loop on marketing spend.
4. Engagement—this CMO is a natural storyteller and, at root, a highly social animal. He or she finds energy in human relationships, online and offline, in person and at scale. Here, the goal is to build affinity based on authentic dialogues that create trust and shared values. The goal, of course, is to turn this affinity into loyalty and advocacy that return appreciable business value over time. Despite the undeniable human virtues of this approach, when over played, it can be construed as pandering and it’s sometimes too abstracted from the actual goal of ringing the cash register.
Find this CMO: Tweeting at the speed of thought.
The best CMOs aspire to embody each of these classifications. But in navigating a path for personal growth, it’s useful to start with a view for where you are and what you want to become.
(*) Whether or not Henry Ford actually said this remains in dispute, but it has become important and colorful folklore for describing the fallacy of customer-led innovation.
Category: digital marketing Tags: CMO
by Jake Sorofman | June 17, 2014 | 3 Comments
The discipline of getting stuff done is among the various topics that I tend to obsess over. Why? Because (wait for it …) there’s a verifiable causal relationship between efforts and outcomes.
Beyond such incisive crackerjack wisdom is what may be a more meaningful explanation for my curious obsession in this area: We often confuse full calendars with worthwhile contribution; we forget that each unit of effort isn’t valued equally.
Effort, like any other currency, should be managed to highest yield.
Still obvious? I invite you to look around your own organization to see for yourself. I bet you’ll find a lot of people lulled into the false comfort that busy means productive and productive means valuable.
Not always, it turns out.
As a marketer and a CMO, I’ve tried to live by two very simple operating philosophies:
#1: Operate with a bias toward external action.
Too often, we allow the formation of pristine strategy to distract us from the important work of getting stuff done. Former Allied Signal CEO Larry Bossidy wrote an excellent book on this topic. If you ask me, there’s nobility in swinging the hammer—and it’s clearly essential to achieving any outcome.
What’s perhaps less obvious is that internal action is rarely as valuable as external action. Of course, sometimes internal efforts lead to external action. In very large companies, it takes a substantial internal focus to line up the resources to execute at scale—for example, to put the might of a large marketing organization, distribution channel or sales force to work on your behalf.
The difference here is that such internal efforts are in-line with external action. When they’re not, your efforts are often wasted, an exhaustible currency sacrificed in the name of corporate habit.
When this happens, either find an internal path to external action or look outside of your four walls to see how you can move the needle yourself.
Hold yourself accountable to this sort of external action every single day. Allow yourself the twinge of disappointment on those days when you’re unable to deliver on this doctrine. Post a reminder that encourages reflection on an all-important question: Have you moved the needle today?
#2: Learn what moves the needle for the business and do more of that.
Every business has its own levers that disproportionately impact growth and profitability. These levers often include the likely suspects of new customers, customer expansion, retention, and cost of sales, which vary to a greater or lesser extent based on how your business makes money over time.
Once you understand the levers of your business, create a metrics strategy that shines light on your contribution to these all-important areas of performance. Here, the key is to find intermediate metrics that fit neatly between the most granular measurable moments—the things that you can directly instrument and control—and these highest level goals.
Once you understand the direct relationships between these two things, you can begin orienting your teams’ effort around what moves the needle for the business.
And when in doubt, you can do more of that.
Category: digital marketing Tags:
by Jake Sorofman | June 10, 2014 | 4 Comments
No single topic hits my inbox and feeds with quite the same regularity as content marketing. Part of the reason is surely selection bias, since it’s a key topic in my research agenda. But I also think it’s one of those foundational disciplines in digital marketing that you couldn’t possibly shake even if you tried. Why? Because the content supply chain feeds multichannel audience engagement strategies. Today, it’s both a control point and a bottleneck for most digital marketing programs—in other words, it has the potential to become a rate multiplier, but it mostly acts as a rate limiter for digital marketers who lack content supply chain maturity.
So if content marketing is so important, why in the world has it declined in priority for digital marketers? In Gartner’s 2013 Digital Marketing Spending Survey, content marketing ranked second only to paid media, consuming an average of 11.6% of overall budget. But the 2014 Survey told a different story. Here, content marketing fell four places in priority, falling slightly behind mobile marketing with an average allocation of 9.3% of overall digital marketing budgets.
Why the correction? I have two explanations:
- The Big Pause—content marketing, it goes without saying, is a resource intensive discipline. If 2013 was the year of exuberant experimentation, 2014 marks the attendant hangover. Today, we see marketing leaders reigning in a portion of their content marketing spending until they can reliably measure its performance, point to business impact and achieve the scale and control currently afforded by paid media.
- Light Dawns on Marketing Spend—more mature content marketers have successfully instrumented their content assets for measurement, shining light on performance and allowing them to reel in the stuff that simply doesn’t work.
Both of these scenarios point to a net reduction in spending on the content supply chain. Does this mean that content marketing is a lesser discipline? Hardly. It just means that it’s growing up. There’s a substantial appetite to scale up content marketing investments, but that’s unlikely to happen until transparency, accountability, scale and control are consistently achievable.
Once that’s happens, we’ll see spending accelerate again. Who knows? Maybe earned will overtake paid once content marketing becomes a discipline that can predictably turn dimes into dollars.
Category: digital marketing Tags: content marketing
by Jake Sorofman | June 3, 2014 | 1 Comment
Most marketers know that the better-faster-cheaper platitude is an old dog that no longer hunts. This is among the various tired devices and overused crutches that ring hollow to today’s audiences (problem-solution-impact is another that comes to mind; remember that one, B2B marketers?). Fortunately, many marketers have put them out to pasture, relics of a time when such brand-forward chest-thumping and predictable perfect-world posturing actually worked.
In their place is brand storytelling—which, of course, this is no new invention. The best marketers have always been brand storytellers. The difference is that, now, everyone is getting into the game.
But, like ice cream and neckties, storytellers come in many different varieties. The question is: What kind of storyteller are you? What kind of storyteller do you aspire to be?
Don’t know? Here are five archetypes to help guide you.
- The Evangelist—this storyteller narrates a path to a beautiful future paved with practical advice that gets audiences from here to there. Their goal is change and their method is pragmatic. The evangelist dispenses spoon-fed wisdom to guide you from as-is to to-be.
- The Skeptic—this storyteller is a bit of a rock-thrower, disrupting conventional beliefs by being, well, disruptive. Proven highly effective in politics (and cable news), this technique is best suited to times of high dissatisfaction with the status quo. Judge it right and your ideas may sound like flat truth telling. Judge it wrong and you may sound like a crank—and you and your ideas may get tuned out (like cable news) for the faux drama they may or may not be.
- The Jester—This storyteller brings levity to the party, using humor as the storytelling canvas. Wry observation, irreverence and iconoclastic, off-center narratives catch audiences off guard and delight with wisdom wrapped in wit—or wit wrapped in snark. Done well, this technique can win wide audience attention. Done poorly and you may ask: Is this thing on? Try the veal.
- The Helper—this storyteller, like the evangelist, is full of helpful wisdom. But, unlike the evangelist, they’re a bit lighter on the ideology. In fact, that point makes this storyteller not really storyteller at all, but really more of a brand publisher. Here, it’s more about FYI than POV. The helper aims to serve audiences’ needs first. For that, this storyteller is much appreciated.
- The Visionary—like the evangelist, the visionary seeks to illuminate a beautiful future. But they’re really more into tilting at the stunning architecture than paving roads for passage. Like the best TED talk, the visionary gets you to see things differently—and then leaves you to make use of that insight. The vision helps you see clearer, reach further, do—and perhaps be—better.
Truth is, most storytellers move between these archetypes, playing the visionary one day, the evangelist the next and perhaps trying their hand at the jester from time to time.
But the best storytellers are keenly aware which archetype suits them and their brand—and they stay true to that knowledge.
What type of storyteller are you?
Category: digital marketing Uncategorized Tags: brand storytelling
by Jake Sorofman | May 29, 2014 | 2 Comments
Maybe you remember the public debate I aired with Gartner analyst Jennifer Beck, which was instigated by a pronouncement that I used to bandy about to occasional jeers and eye rolls:
Campaigns are dead.
Well, it turns out that reports of the campaign’s demise were perhaps just a bit overstated. In my defense, I never meant dead, dead. I meant dying. No, not dying. Changing.
OK, so I was still wrestling with the right set of words to describe the sea change we were witnessing on the front lines. That sea change is what we’ve come to describe as two-speed marketing:
Speed one? Campaigns: time bound, centralized and tightly orchestrated.
Speed two? Continuous: decentralized, organic and conversational.
Like interlocked gears of different sizes, speed one spins lockstep with the cadence of the flywheel. Speed two (which, as you can see, is smaller) spins much, much faster.
I think the gear metaphor accurately captures the dispersion of energy propelling today’s marketing organizations.
If you’re like most marketers, you’re probably executing at both speeds on some level. But the question you should ask is whether your energy is diffused or amplified.
Diffusion happens when these two speeds work in competition.
Amplification happens when they work in concert.
Modern marketing is about learning to coordinate this energy so both speeds spin together. What links the gears? Your strategy itself—goals, themes and points of view.
Speeds one and two may differ dramatically in tone and technique, but they should be unified in their purpose of moving the needle for the business.
Category: digital marketing Tags: campaigns, content marketing, two-speed marketing
by Jake Sorofman | May 22, 2014 | 1 Comment
For marketers, delivering exceptional customer experiences is about hiding the seams. It’s about making paid, earned and owned channels complement and amplify each other in mutually reinforcing ways.
But in order to pull this off, marketers need to learn to close the loop. Too often, customer experience is a vague promise, an intractable ideal that marketers can’t really deliver upon in practice. Why? More often than not, it’s because they haven’t really closed the loop:
- Across channels—where paid, earned and owned touch points are aligned and coordinated across media, method and message to achieve coherent brand storytelling.
- Between moments of truth—where each interaction informs the next, adapting to a consumer as they wind and wend their way through the decision journey.
- Across organizational silos—where the seams are erased between the organizational silos that stand in the way of exceptional branded moments. Here, seamless handoffs between marketing, sales and support help organizations consistently achieve and sometimes vastly exceed customer expectations in the service of daily customer interactions.
The highest performing customer experiences happen when organizations walk the talk, investing beyond the window dressing of customer-centric philosophy and finding ways to deliver exceptional branded moments that surprise, delight and renew brand affinity in ways that are both scalable and repeatable.
Closing this loop depends on a digital marketing hub, which brings together:
- A unified audience profile to inform relevant experiences;
- A content supply chain to feed the beast with rich and engaging stories;
- Collaboration and workflow to align people to plan, execute and respond apace;
- Orchestration to automate repeatable procedures and actions at scale; and,
- Analytics to fully close the loop, so each interaction informs the next.
In any large-scale operation, logistics are often the unheralded hero. Anticipating and coordinating resources to meet a future point of need in an underrated skill.
In a sense, the best digital marketers are masterful logisticians. They’ve closed the loop to run marketing like a flywheel-driven machine, like a profit-driven business and like an instrument of customer delight.
Of course, doing this is easier said than done. But as product and service advantages erode in the face of hyper-competition, its customer experience that becomes the new competitive battlefield.
How do you make customer experience your competitive weapon? Start by closing the loop.
Category: digital marketing Tags: Customer Experience, digital marketing hub
by Jake Sorofman | May 12, 2014 | 3 Comments
Greek tragedies often resolved intractable plot complications by suddenly parachuting in an omnipotent force from the heavens above. Known as a “deus ex machina”—or, literally, “god from the machine”—it was a reliable device for yielding a happy ending or adding a comic turn to an otherwise tragic plot.
Today, many digital marketers stare skyward hoping on the arrival of their own heaven-sent machines. Their tragedy? The fragmentation of audiences, the proliferation of channels and the exploding speed, scale and complexity of digital engagement. In this case, the machine is automation, the robots set in motion to make marketing a precision instrument for driving business growth.
But some digital marketers don’t know whether to be relieved or afraid.
Breathless headlines now foretell a vaguely dystopian future where the robots reign. Automation, as the storyline goes, is bound to steal your job—if not now, then on some later horizon.
It’s worth noting that the flames of this particular fear have been fanned for eons, as each generation of technological and economic progress ushers in its share of Luddite resistance. But perhaps this time it’s different, you think. Perhaps, this time, fact has overtaken fiction in the inexorable march of progress.
And there you stand, flatfooted, glancing over your shoulder, wondering: Are the machines friend or foe?
Chances are they’re both. Gartner predicts that, by 2020, the majority of non-routine career paths will be disrupted by smart machines in both positive and negative ways. Smart machines have the very real potential to be friend or foe, depending on the role they—and you—play in your marketing organization.
What’s the threat level? It depends on how deeply you employ automation, which graduates in roughly three parts that range from filters and analysis to programmatic action to machines that actually learn.
- Augmentation—is where automation is used to assist people in what are decidedly human-centric tasks. Here, automation provides the assist, but it’s used directly in line with human-led tasks. For example, curating content, social listening, crowdsourcing ideas, crunching data. These are all examples of augmentation, where automation amplifies human performance.
- Orchestration—is where machines execute an explicit set of instructions to carry out rote tasks, often faster, with more precision and at greater scale than people could execute on their own. Here, people define the business rules, the thresholds and the parameters and the machines carry out the orders down to the letter, like dutiful soldiers in your command.
- Autonomic—is when automation takes on adaptive, self-adjusting qualities. Here, automation goes beyond explicit programmed instructions and actually learns based on its own observations—so called “machine learning.” This is where automation starts to rub up against human intelligence as algorithms learn, adapt, optimize—in a sense: think.
Each level of automation displaces some level of human effort. In doing so, it will commoditize certain roles. But the best marketers won’t attempt to hold back the inevitable tides of automation; they’ll carve out a path that puts them in control of what they accept as a necessary evolution.
They’ll also learn balance, recognizing that robots—for all their operational and analytic prowess—simply can’t feel. By cultivating both data- and human-centric skills across strategic and operational domains, marketers rise above the machines as inviolably capable in subtle, ambiguous and creative disciplines, which are durable against the commoditizing effects of automation.
As Gartner’s Intelligent Brand Framework suggests, the best marketers learn to balance head with heart.
Robots may well replicate some aspects of human intelligence in the march of progress, but they’ll never replicate the uniquely human aspects of heart.
Category: digital marketing Tags: Automation, Intelligent Brand Framework
by Jake Sorofman | May 6, 2014 | 4 Comments
A couple weeks ago, I riffed on the six digital disruptions rocking CMO’s worlds. This week: a continuation on the same theme, with an emphasis on what it takes to execute in this tempest-tossed world.
To meet the digital disruption head on, marketers must make fundamental changes in how they execute. These changes align to the following six new realities of modern marketing:
1. It’s closed loop—data must course from one channel to the next like liquid to inform personalized experiences that intersect audiences on a wandering path to purchase. Marketers must learn to trace the thread from investment to outcome, developing a discipline for continuous optimization.
2. It’s two speed—marketers must balance discrete time-bound campaigns that shape demand and influence selling motions in specific and deliberate ways with continuous “always on” audience engagement that’s intelligently orchestrated and optimized over time. The interlocking gears of these two speeds propel the modern marketing engine forward.
3. It’s community oriented—if the two speeds propel marketing forward, the engine’s flywheel is sustained by community-driven conversations, user generated content and advocacy cultivated at scale.
4. It’s performance driven—closing the loop allows marketers to optimize investments based on verifiable proof, not vague directionality. Making marketing continuous allows measurement and adjustment to coincide. Thus, optimizations are made dynamically and performance drives every ounce of effort.
5. It’s service oriented—while service orientation may be an idea more naturally aligned to IT thinking, its principles should inform how we think about modern marketing architectures. As marketing shifts from campaigns to always on, communities amplify reach and resonance, and continuous measurement becomes mantra, marketing assets themselves must evolve from monolithic and disconnected to an interconnected web that’s built for programmatic and human consumption at social and digital scale and instrumented to shine light on performance.
6. It’s whole-brained—data may be the X-factor for modern marketing, but, taken in isolation, it can cause marketers to miss a fundamental point: marketing is, broadly, about emotion; and, specifically, about human beings. Marketers need to develop a whole-brained way of thinking that balances capabilities across human and data-centric disciplines in both strategic and operational domains. The alternative is a sort of myopia where, for marketers, data represents a sort of fool’s gold that, for all its shiny and brightness, remains a currency of dubious value.
Category: digital marketing Tags: CMO, content marketing, data-driven marketing, performance marketing