4 marketing roadblocks to customer obsession

Originally published in CMO Essentials on May 15, 2015.

B2B marketing used to be a simpler proposition—conduct market research, agree on a creative and compelling message, and execute campaigns around that message. Today, marketing is responsible for targeted branding, messaging, ample and quality demand generation, event collateral, competitive positioning, ROI, digital and social awareness and more. We must be experts in more areas than ever before, and we must be willing to give up what previously worked well to try what might fail, in order to bring value to our organization.

Marketers must now be “specialized generalists” — generalists enough to understand the many channels and technologies available to them, but experts enough to be effective across channels – and deeply so within at least one of them—which means that marketers need to be master collaborators, as well. There isn’t a single element of the marketing mix that doesn’t contribute to the overall strategy and the results produced, and marketers must know a lot about all of these strategies in order to be effective and understand how their customers think, educate themselves and buy. Analysts and industry leaders are now rallying around this concept, labeling it “customer obsession.”

The question then becomes: Is it enough to make the collective decision with your marketing colleagues to be customer obsessed, and if so, what are the roadblocks B2B marketers face in achieving this customer obsession?

1. Limited access to our “characters”

Successful marketers know that telling a compelling story is paramount to their strategy. However, most marketers aren’t given the power to alter (or even be informed of, often times) the product roadmap, nor do we have the time to immerse ourselves in the sales process in order to truly understand the scope of what prospects want to know, and what kinds of challenges they face. So, we aren’t given full access to complexities faced by the central characters in our stories.

It is highly difficult for marketers to tell relevant, relatable stories if we can’t get inside the minds of our protagonists. The plot, the dénouement and the resulting resolution are all contingent on character. And let’s be honest. Stories that engage smart, adult readers shouldn’t be of the fairy tale variety.

2. Data takes time to analyze

Analyzing and measuring data is critical to understanding product-market fit, customer behavior, user-experience, retention, and the buyer’s journey. Aberdeen research, for example, found that 67% of marketers report using analytics for campaign development, and another 56% report using analytics to improve customer relationships.

Unfortunately, the most important metrics are often the hardest to measure, or at the very least, take the longest time to parse, optimize and improve. And to make matters more complicated, software suites that offer color-coded charts and real-time analytics often present a slew of additional challenges that marketers don’t have time to spot or configure in ways that make more business sense.

If you’re a B2B marketer with a sales cycle of 6 months +, measurement in these areas becomes even harder.  Open rates, number of followers, and traffic are all important, but marketers must be able to quantifiably connect their efforts to hard metrics, such as revenue and growth. If you launch a marketing initiative in January, but you can’t connect those efforts to sales until July or even December, it’s not easy to optimize or make the case to change your mix in the interim. And if you’re a newer company that sells high-value products or services to enterprise brands, this can take even longer due to less data and unique buying journeys.

3. Late onset marketing ADHD

Unless you’ve got a large staff of inbound marketers, outbound sales people and digital and social marketers driving and optimizing your campaigns, marketers have to be able to narrow their focus. And since the most successful marketers today are also voracious readers, trend spotters and self-teachers, narrowing your focus to what works and what’s relevant takes a lot of consistent research, blog-reading and self-educating.

We must avoid marketing ADHD by learning to focus on the right tools to drive the right results, which requires us to be savvy marketing consumers as well.

Today, B2B marketers should be passionately curious (but able to channel that curiosity effectively), ready to shift focus on a dime if the data dictates it, and willing to take risks to reap results.  That’s not always easy for marketers who previously relied on a signed-and-bound marketing plan to guide their efforts, or who aren’t willing to let go of more traditional way of doing things.

4. Not everyone orders the same dessert

If four in five B2B purchases involve multiple decision-makers, then I’ve got to be a marketing and sales patissier to appeal to all of them.  Without sitting in on sales calls all day, or having direct access to the decision makers to pick their brains, this is incredibly difficult. To further complicate matters, decision-makers move to new departments, organizations go through a total “reorg,” or the team recalibrates their lead-gen strategy. All these factors can result in a need for a totally new recipe.

Take all these ingredients, whisk them together and try to produce one perfectly set and torched creme brulee. Serve up the creme brulee, wait for it to be eaten, and monitor the faces of your consumers for their reactions. Tweak your recipe, adding a bit more or less creme this time, making sure to catalog every minuscule change you make to the recipe so that you can do some “if this then that” reasoning for the next iteration.

And if you discover, much to your horror, that creme brulee just isn’t satisfying your prospective consumers’ palates, consider a lemon soufflé or the more traditional apple pie.  Or try serving them right-to-left rather than the more preferred left-to-right.

These marketing challenges can be solved, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, these solutions aren’t downloadable and ready-to-implement in 24 hours. These solutions take humans to engineer, execute, manage and optimize. But if it’s true that marketers are as passionate, solution-oriented, creatively and strategically minded as they should be, then we are uniquely positioned to take it on.

The solution lies somewhere in the new marketing mindset, the data, the customers who produce that data, and the power and scalability of the products we use to become intimately acquainted with them. Marketers who build time into their plans to sit down and work with the data as a team rather than relying on software to digest and transform it for us, will make the cut and so too, will the products and services they sell.

What is brand advocacy?

 

 

Promoting your B2B referral program: Don’t forget the SPICE!

A B2B referral program will be a highly successful as a source of new business if you promote it with success in mind.

Marketers generally like acronyms, so in the interest of the K.I.S.S. principle, I offer my fellow marketers an acronym to emphasize the key principles of referral program promotion:

S marketing

P ainless

I nnovate often

C reate trust

E mpower your advocates

 

SMARKETING

Smarketing is a cool term that denotes the mutually beneficial and strategic alignment of sales and marketing teams.

Make it your top priority to involve sales at every point in your planning from concept to benefits to how the program is promoted and optimized.

A successful B2B referral program is dependent on smarketing to bring home the ROI, so the more you work with and prove the benefits of your program to your sales team, the more successful and visible your program will be.

 

PAINLESS

A basic marketing principle, keeping your program simple and painless from registration to making referrals to earning rewards will ensure that your advocates stay engaged, excited and empowered.

 

INNOVATE OFTEN

You’ve geared up for a killer program launch and taken every step to drive your customer or partner advocates to refer and refer often. And it works! You’re a marketing star! Everyone is lavishing praise on you and your team and asking how they can create their very own referral program thanks to your super powered marketing ingenuity!

Don’t get too comfortable, Mister and Missus Marketer.

Just like you wouldn’t run the same TV spot for years on end, you can’t just let your referral program go. It’s like any other marketing or promotional best practice: keep it fresh and innovate often. Change it up. Offer a “double your rewards” promotion. Spice up the creative. Stay on your toes!

 

CREATE TRUST

A referral program requires the same marketing discipline as any other strategic initiative. We mentioned that a lack of planning for your referral program can result in a flop.

The same goes for creating trust with your advocates and the prospects they refer to you; if you fail to create it, your program won’t work.  We’ve seen it happen and we don’t want it to happen to you.

But you can still easily lose all that hard-earned trust if you:

 

  • Try to run your referral program manually, which more often than not, leads to missed or dropped referrals, forgotten rewards, or a lack of appreciation for every advocate’s referral and closed deal that results from that referral.

 

  • Make the program clunky, cumbersome, difficult-to-understand or too much work to implement.

 

EMPOWER YOUR ADVOCATES

There are numerous ways to empower your advocates but the three most important are:

 

  1. Give your advocates many ways to refer – email, social, printed cards, SMS, and any other way they communicate with your brand.

 

  1. Offer advocates a pre-written suggestion for social sharing, but also allow them to change your suggestion and personalize it.

 

  1. Make registering for the program as quick and easy as possible so that they can advocate for you without too much effort.

 

Remember that a B2B referral program can easily become your demand-gen bread and butter. Your bacon when you bring home the bacon. Your referral program will take the cake. But when you’re shakin’ and bakin’ up your program, don’t forget the SPICE!

What is brand advocacy?

Customer referrals are the problem and solution for banks

Capgemini and Efma’s World Retail Banking Report was recently issued, and the news for world banks was anything but bullish. Drawing on responses from over 16,000 customers across 32 countries, as well as in-depth executive interviews—the 2015 WRBR reports on critical performance metrics for the banking industry.

A simplified summary of the most salient challenges for banks in the US and worldwide according to the 2015 study, looks something like this:

  • Banks are experiencing measurable deterioration of profitable customer behaviors
  • “Switch kits” make moving from one bank to another easy and fast, resulting in an increase in customers in every region of the world who report that they are likely to leave their current bank within 6 months
  • The numbers of high customer experience ratings are exponentially decreasing in large part because of banks’ inability to digitize, relying instead on inflexible legacy systems
  • Across the globe there was a sharp increase in customers who said that they would not be likely to refer a friend or colleague to their current bank

It is a certainty that banks must innovate and drive their business into the 21st century. And those banks that do not begin putting systems and programs in place to counteract some of the damage already done, will not stay competitive. Consumers are far too empowered and educated to stay with a bank that does not meet their standards or needs.

One solution to bank’s lack of referrals is…a referral program
You heard correctly! If a growing number of a bank’s customers report an unwillingness to refer people they know to their bank, then one rapid and highly effective solution that creates demand generation is through a referral program. While that may seem counter-intuitive at first, consider this:

  1. Even if 40% of a bank’s customers are unwilling to make a referral, that still leaves the 60% who either are willing to make a referral today, or who would consider making one or more if asked in the future.
  2. Referred customers are highly desirable for multiple reasons, but as the report mentions, referred customers require fewer marketing resources, which causes them to generate more revenue at a lower cost.
  3. It has been proven in many recent studies that customers acquired through a referral are more loyal and stay with a brand longer than customers acquired through other channels.

In fact, the often-cited longitudinal study, “Why Customer Referrals Can Drive Stunning Profits,” conducted by Harvard Business Review, found that customers obtained through referrals are more loyal and more valuable. HBR calculated that referred customers are nearly 20% more likely to stay with a bank, and generate over 15% more profits than other non-referred customers.

Amplifinity understands a bank’s need for demand generation
Amplifinity’s own clients in the financial and banking industries have reaped tremendous value from their customer referral programs. One of our large banking clients launched a referral program that actively engaged almost half of their registered customers. Each of these customers made an average of 1.7 referrals, and some have made as many as 3 referrals (to date). Even more impressive is the fact that just over 80% of those referrals resulted in a new customer for our client.Enterprise-level referral software quickly contributes to building and retaining relationships with the loyal customers banks do have, by leveraging them to drive higher quality customer acquisition. And because an automated referral program does the heavy lifting for bank marketers – with the demand generation, tracking, monitoring and fulfillment of rewards taken care of, this allows banks to focus on solving other challenges.

Banks are clearly at a crossroads as the WRBR makes alarmingly clear, and they must quickly make radical, organization-wide business decisions to address these challenges. But as Amplifinity’s banking clients are well aware, customer referral programs are a strategic, highly effective strategy for mitigating some of the damage, and building a stronger and more loyal customer base.

What is brand advocacy?

Consumer psychology isn’t always complicated

Originally published on MediaPost April 7, 2015.

Many levels of marketing fascinate me, but the psychology underlying consumer behavior is probably the most compelling. To some degree, I think that all successful marketers are students of human psychology. I have worked in advertising for a few global brands. In strategizing the direction for TV spots or direct mail campaigns, we sat in huge conference rooms after months of conducting live (yes in-person) focus groups to get into the minds and wallets of consumers — and, it should be said, to validate how much of our clients’ money was spent on them. Still, no matter how much qualitative data we amassed, nor how many creative concepts were presented, our final direction was mostly conjecture — though, we didn’t share that with our client.

There was an enormous disconnect between what happened in those conference rooms and focus groups and what happened in the marketplace. We’d buy up some media spots, run our campaigns, and generate some reports that were, again, based on loosely correlated data.

Today I am a marketer at a software company. We develop referral software that essentially automates one of the oldest and most successful forms of selling — asking people who like what you sell to give you names of people they know who might like your stuff too. There’s not a whole lot of complicated psychology at play here. We trust people we know.

Still, many marketers want to find a deeper level of motivation behind this “phenomenon.” I spend time every day reading marketing and sales blogs — especially those that focus on referral and reference marketing — and every day I come across smart, educated marketers hoping to complicate this idea of referral marketing simply to unveil a groundbreaking psychological finding about what makes referrals so revolutionary.

Just this week, I was presented with all sorts of theses. Here are just a few:

“Susie Consumer shares her brand experiences because she has an emotional need to be heard.”

“Bob Buyer asks for purchasing advice because he has a general distrust of information provided by people he’s never met.”

“Human nature drives consumers’ universal need to be seen as an authority.”

Now, with all due respect, I’d ask the reader to consider George Orwell’s “theory” (born of many similar theories through history) of “Reality Control.” Essentially, Orwell posits that governments are guilty of creating chaos or confusion simply in order to solve it. Propaganda. Denial of objective reality. Keeping people confused so that they will buy your solution.

But I’m saying there’s nothing complicated about brand advocacy. When consumers share content, ask for or provide referrals, or reference positive or negative experiences, there doesn’t have to be some deep, complicated, sub-consciously motivated reason.

People share opinions and make recommendations for all the same reasons they always have — because humans like to be social; because we like to share good and bad experiences so that we can help others have or avoid the same ones; because we’re bored; because we will get something in return if we do. This is consumer psychology but it isn’t particularly advanced, and we don’t need focus groups or infographics to prove it to us. We don’t have to sort through disparate data to arrive at a strategy.

So here is my groundbreaking opinion based on very little research at all: referral marketing works because people share things that they like. Today referral marketing works even better because it can be digitized and automated and tracked and managed and all kinds of cool stuff. If you’re a brand looking for something more psychologically or empirically sound than that, you can always run some focus groups or develop a couple multimillion-dollar ad campaigns and mull over the data for a few months in a big conference room.

Questions? Contact Theresa Trevor at ttrevor@amplifinity.com

Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Truths and myths of brand advocacy

No marketer, brand manager, marketing automation professional or even an advocacy marketing exec would look you in the eye and tell you that they’ve got a no-fail brand advocacy marketing strategy. The development of brand advocacy marketing is still in its infancy, though there is a set of variables generally agreed upon as necessary for success. If marketing was foolproof, Coca Cola would never have spent millions to market New Coke back in the 80s. Walgreens would have immediately rejected the offer to carry Barack Obama Chia Pets on its shelves.

That doesn’t mean that brand advocacy is a precarious use of your time and budget. Far from it. In fact, brand advocacy programs are generating huge ROI and delivering measurable results that far exceed results from traditional marketing initiatives. More importantly, the data that results from running a skillfully developed and implemented advocacy program can shape future marketing efforts in a targeted way that wasn’t possible until now.

referralsSo what do we know about brand advocacy?

Brand Advocacy: True or False?

1) A brand should know who their brand advocates are, and to what degree they will advocate on a brand’s behalf before running a brand advocacy program.

False.

Surveys and scores based on a set of variable criteria determined prior to implementing a brand advocacy program are not the best indicators of program success.

Even formulas developed with scientific precision that purportedly reveal who among a brand’s customers will more than likely advocate on its behalf? There are quite simply too many deviations and factors to consider that make such formulaic approaches highly effective at the onset of a program.

The truth is, a brand will miss out on major opportunities to activate hundreds, even thousands of customers who happened to tell you that on a scale of 1-5, they’d recommend your brand only “sometimes.”

Further, it is often the initially uninspired customer who will turn around and become your most passionate advocate when properly motivated or nurtured.

2) Incentives are an effective and profitable way for a brand to nurture its brand advocates and encourage future advocacy.

True.

Whether you’re a lab rat or a consumer, rewards drive fairly predictable behaviors. The truth? If they like, love or are loyal to a brand, consumers will advocate on its behalf, and will appreciate the brand’s token of gratitude when they take time out of their busy schedule to do it.

Have you ever recommended your hair stylist to a friend and, in return, received a reward for a free trim for yourself and your friend next time you both set up an appointment? Did you feel it was a gratuitous reward for what you’d have done regardless of the free haircut? Probably not.

Ever been asked to refer a friend to the same bank you left a few months ago because of its horrible customer service? Did you refer your friends anyways, just for the $100 reward the bank was offering? Your enemies maybe, but probably not your friends. No reward can motivate most customers to refer a friend to a brand that the customer doesn’t actually like.

3) When running a referral program for the first time, if a customer does not respond to your initial request for a referral, the customer should be eliminated from the second wave of the program.

False.

People are busy. And when they’re really busy, they probably won’t respond to your brand’s referral request. But, as life typically goes, those same busy people eventually become less busy at some point. Sometimes the very people who seemingly snub you the first go-round, become passionate and proactive advocates the next go-round. Happens all the time.

The truth is, if your customers or employees or partners really like what you do, they will happily help out your brand. You’ve just got to ask them at the right time and place – and sometimes it takes asking more than once.

AMP blog, brand advocacyOriginally published on Wired.com Innovation Insights January 16, 2014

 

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Amplifinity talks brand advocacy with leading marketing blogs

Amplifinity has been talking a lot lately – for good reasons.  We are turning our enterprise clients’ brand advocates – their customers, employees and influencers – into powerful sales and marketing channels.  Read more about how we are doing it!

Amplifinity in B2C “Four Reasons Marketers Should Focus on Brand Advocacy”
By CEO, Richard Beedon

 

“Employees: A New Sales and Marketing Channel”
Amplifinity in iMedia ConnectionBy CEO, Richard Beedon

 

“Brand Advocacy: Fact or Fiction?” Amplifinity in AdRants
By Director of Marketing, Theresa Trevor