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Marketing Hasn’t Changed. But Marketers Must.

  Have you read one of the many articles proclaiming that marketing is dead? It’s been replaced by “growth hacking,” “data-driven marketing,” even “customer relationship management.“ No doubt about it, something has changed. We marketers know it by the rising complexity of our work and the increasing demands and responsibilities of our departments. We have […]


Have you read one of the many articles proclaiming that marketing is dead? It’s been replaced by “growth hacking,” “data-driven marketing,” even “customer relationship management.“

No doubt about it, something has changed.

We marketers know it by the rising complexity of our work and the increasing demands and responsibilities of our departments. We have felt the change coming in the rise of digital marketing and the expectations for better accountability and budget allocation, the increased authority this ability has given us, and in the still accelerating pace at which we’re expected to make sense of it all.

This new reality of marketing is fueled by the seemingly endless array of marketing technology at our fingertips, which has only begun to feed the voracious appetite we and our companies have for marketing data collection, analysis, and presentation.

How we do marketing is changing, which means we as marketers have to change too.

Here’s a guide on how to adapt:


Out: Marketing Strategy

What’s Changed: Annual Marketing Plans
The New Reality: Monthly Marketing Objectives

Marketing plans? What are those?

Only those with enormous budgets and large staffs are planning on a 3-5 year basis.

In technology, even the largest marketing teams are never planning more than one year ahead. Most startups are thinking 3-6 months ahead; early stage startups think week-to-week.

To manage cash flows, companies want to preserve optionality and leverage changes in the marketplace as quickly as possible. That mentality is moving through the market into larger and larger companies, not just in cash-strapped startups.


Less Don Draper, More Marie Curie

How Marketers Must Change: Think like a laboratory – dream big, then test and measure weekly

Marketers themselves must evolve in this environment to leave behind the lengthy and academic de-risking approach expected to work with big creative bets.

Think about marketing spend the way a lab thinks about science: create hypotheses, test and measure them rigorously, then implement and measure the results, again and again.

If you’re a small, nimble agency specializing in flexible channels like digital advertising, your future is bright. If you’re about selling ads in long lead pubs, or years long consulting engagements, look out.

The types of people best suited to be in-house right now are more often subject matter experts: data analysts, copywriters, graphic designers, and user experience researchers. As always, marketers who remain in-house must add value by creating the themes and strategies that weave these disciplines together.

But in the new world, ideas can come from anywhere and can be measured by anyone, so the marketer is no longer a chief executive stand in, but a volleyball coach and cheerleader.

Instead of risk managers and “brand police,” marketing leaders now need to be brave risk takers and team champions, willing to test anything if it’s grounded in a good argument and backed by data and/or sound reasoning.

In: Marketing Operations

What’s Changed: Lengthy Planning, “Spray and Pray” Execution
The New Reality: Target, Test, Measure Carefully, and Iterate

Most big companies spend about a quarter each year in annual planning, but when it comes to actually executing on those plans, they often fall back on generalized tactics, or on repeating offline tactics in an online world.

Too often, marketing’s goal is “more sales.“

When marketing tactics were limited to television, radio, print, and mailings, a direct connection between sales and marketing spend was an easier thing to see. But with the proliferation of marketing channels and the increasing usage of multiple devices, this connection is getting harder to see on a channel by channel basis.

So marketers are solving this problem by going deeper into each channel.

Exhibit A: Email “Blasts”

In the past, it was about getting a big list and hoping the laws of large numbers would work out.

Today, the best practice in top marketing teams is to define the customer target as specifically as possible and then optimize the emails to that customer.

They don’t just “improve” email click through. They maximize sales by increasing the right visitors to the website, as measured by click-through, and increasing that rate and that number every month or quarter.

Exhibit B: Paid Marketing

Another example: paid marketing.

Today, marketing teams think of AdWords and banner advertising as something that must prove its worth, rather than being a default spend. New marketing options such as content marketing, social media, and effective and affordable SEO can provide perpetuity in cash flows, even if they are less trackable from a click tracking perspective.

But most companies don’t think through HOW how they’ll get to their success metric, and so in many cases, they default to paid advertising because that is what they understand and it’s what’s most easily trackable (even if that tracking isn’t as accurate as we would wish).

The best marketers now do paid marketing last – only after non-paid options have been applied.

In other words, “more sales” isn’t specific enough to be an actionable goal for a marketing team.

The best marketing teams are choosing specific milestone metrics based on channel, such as engagement rate (social media), click through rates (social media and email), time on site (blog posts and landing pages), conversion rates (funnels), cost per click (paid spend), and cost per acquisition (paid spend) are better choices because they are leading indicators for sales and profitability in that channel.

By incrementally improving on the milestone metrics for your company, you can move the ball down the field on your key metrics, like sales, each month and each quarter.

One does not simply growth hack

There are no silver bullets. Only discipline and luck.

How Marketers Must Change: Dive Deeper, Hire Specialists

Top marketing teams now have marketing operations groups. Their role is to gather the technology stack, maintain horizontal tools and relationships (email service providers, web analytics tools, inbound marketing technology, and customer databases).

However, every marketer, not just the marketing operations team, needs to think in terms of execution as much as strategy on a per channel basis, which means spending more time on HOW they will get results, to a much more granular level than before.

Most marketers know that 95% of marketing is execution: grinding out the copy, proofreading, design, targeting, media buying, printing, measuring, and distribution of those messages.

But new marketers know that if they spend time understanding the data points and strategy for each channel, individually is the only way to get affordable, consistent results.

This means the end of “spray and pray” and ushers in a new era of necessary focus and discipline. When not all channels can be pursued, then choosing channels is now a critical step in the marketing process that requires more effort than before.

In a nimble, hypothesis-driven marketing world, the faster a team can execute and iterate, the faster it can meet its goals.

Great marketers have always been able to take responsibility, demonstrate good judgment, and think systematically about how to take a problem like poor email click through rates, and create a testing plan around them.

That starts with understanding the metric itself–its drivers and origins, as well as knowing when and how to call out vanity metrics like impressions or social media likes, or efforts that aren’t supported by data. The difference is that this is now happening to great depth on a per channel basis, not just at the executive level.

New Marketing Talent Will Come From New Sources

Keep in mind that experience in a given channel and the ability to go deep into that channel can be far more important to your company’s success than traditional measures of human potential, depending on the speed, drive, and channel focus you need.

That ace writer and social media guru may never have graduated from college, let alone have an Ivy League MBA.

One scrappy startup hired a car rental salesperson, who had an undergraduate degree in design, as a customer support representative. 3 years later, that person became their head of product.

When it comes time to spend, marketing executives, you don’t allocate millions of dollars to one channel without a steady stream of testing and optimization. Getting the measurement right is harder than it looks; proving the ROI even harder.

Forcing each channel to work for its supper requires discipline and patience, and careful management of your executive staff’s expectations. A CMO’s job now is to find the right – probably different -people, and give them time and resources while they diligently labor to solve for growth.

That’s a lot different from the way things were done in the past, and it’s our job now to help our companies evolve, too. I wrote more on the subject of hiring a growth marketer, here.

Timeless: Customers and Profit

The rumors of Marketing’s demise are greatly exaggerated.

Knowing the customer cold and orienting all activities towards sales and profitability will continue to be the essence of great marketing. How we do that has changed, and that change is where great opportunity lies for anyone willing and able to adapt to it.

Those who can learn to thrive in a nimble, disciplined, measured, and creative way will only see their careers grow in the years to come.

Marketing is the part of an organization that interacts with customers, and that won’t change, no matter what trendy title it gets. No matter how the ways we learn about, engage with and persuade our customers evolve, when we talk about marketing, we’re still talking about how to interact with customers.

Forest Fires Are Harsh But Create Healthy New Forests

Here’s a little secret: Marketing is very much alive. It’s just the WAY we do marketing that is dying. The good news is that the seeds of unprecedented opportunity lie in the ashes of the forest fire wrought by change.

B2B Startups Need Brands Too: How To Prototype Yours

You Already Have A Brand. What Is It? First, let’s get one thing out of the way: great brands all start with great products.   A great product solves a real problem for your customers, who must love your solution enough to pay you for it. B2B startups, in particular, are laser-focused-as they should be- on […]

You Already Have A Brand. What Is It?

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: great brands all start with great products.  

A great product solves a real problem for your customers, who must love your solution enough to pay you for it. B2B startups, in particular, are laser-focused-as they should be- on creating products that solve problems.  

Now, let’s talk about why your B2B startup should work on its brand strategy, too. While you have been busy building your product, pitching investors, hiring people, and selling to customers, your company’s essence has coalesced into a brand.

But is it the brand that will serve you best down the road? Is your brand in conflict with your product, costing you leads? There’s no way to answer those questions if you don’t know what your brand is, today.


Why Should A B2B Startup Care About Brand?

Successful brands have consistent messaging. But as more and more people get involved with your company, more and more ideas and interpretations will be infused into your brand.

As your company grows, you will need to delegate work to people that you cannot supervise, and you need to know that the message will reflect what you and your team have worked so hard to build.

For example, one day you will ask a marketer to improve your messaging, sales materials, advertising, or PR. How can they write new messaging for you if they don’t know what your brand is, or what you stand for? You will need to do the work, either now or later.

But doing it now, when there are fewer stakeholders, will make it easier down the road and improve the likelihood that your company’s communications are consistent enough to start building a brand that will serve your company well in the marketplace.


Prototyping Your B2B Startup Brand

You don’t need an expensive agency or weeks in a conference room with PowerPoint to do this. All you need is a few hours, whether over a weekend or slowly over a few weeks, of focus and commitment to putting a stake in the ground with your brand, the way you did with v1 of your product. And just like your product, you can prototype and rapidly evolve your brand.


Step One: Look into a Mirror and Define Your Current Brand.

Take a day or two and write down what you think your brand is.

That is not the same as describing your product since the latter is only a part of the former. There are numerous free frameworks and documents out there to help you do this, but start by asking yourself questions like these:

  • A brand is a promise. What are we promising? What do we stand for?
  • Are we delivering on that promise in the eyes of our customers now? If not, are we delivering on a different promise? How are we measuring that, if at all?
  • Who are our customers now, and in the next 12-18 months? Are they the same? If not, how are they different?
  • Because of what our product does, what do our customers receive? (tangible and intangible benefits). These may differ by customer segment.
  • How are we truly different from anyone else in this space?
  • Why should customers/employees/investors believe us? (proof points)



You can prototype your brand just like you do your product.

For now, this is just for you. It’s a writing prompt, to try and put what you already think and feel into words. Now it’s time for a 360-degree review.

Ask your co-founders to do the same, independently and in writing, if you can. Then ask your customers, your prospects, your employees, your investors, and your board. Ask investors who turned you down. Try to collect as many points of view as possible.

Consultants can be helpful facilitators because even great marketers can lose objectivity once they are in the founder/CEO role. Be sure that any consultant you hire does not push their vision, but works to uncover what you believe to be true.


Step Two:  What Brand Do You Want? Building the Brand’s Requirements.

Depending on how early-stage your company is, you may be surprised by what you find. This process will uncover hidden assumptions and different perceptions that may challenge you.

That’s a good thing.

Take some time to process it all, and determine where you want to go.  Then you can combine the answers into a cohesive whole in one document. Again, if you are unable to be objective, a consultant can help you through several revisions.

Your co-founders and company leadership need to come to a consensus on this before you go further. Take the time to do this, and it will ensure that when you go to implement it, the message will be communicated clearly and consistently.

This is no different than building a “product requirements” document.


Step Three: Implement. Possibly Pivot.

Once you have a full picture of what you stand for, you can start evaluating your company against this brand standard.

Does your product need to shift direction? What about your pricing? Most certainly your advertising messaging will need to change.

Maybe you’ll find (as one B2B company we know did) that your billing team needs to be more responsive, or that your sales folks need coaching. The messaging on your website may need to evolve, or maybe you sell a tool for risk management to conservative gatekeepers, but your visual design is all about fluidity and change, creating a mismatch of promise and need.

The best news is that you can A/B test any and all of your hypotheses on your website or in your advertising.



You Know How To Do This

One way to make your brand concrete and scalable is to write a messaging document, which is simply your brand essence made tangible into exact words you want people to use when talking about your company and your products.

If a brand is about feelings, messaging is the concrete expression of those feelings. If you’re not a natural writer, a consultant can help.

You’ll want to think through short, medium, and long messaging, your proof points, the tone of voice, and style, which may vary depending on the audience.

That way you have a standard for everyone to measure communications against.

Make a list of what needs to change, then get to it. This is a great use of a hackathon in a slower period. Do all the planning and prep work in advance, then gather everyone for a concentrated period to pay down your “brand debt” the way you pay down technical debt.


Step Four: Iterate.

You are a startup. Everything is changing, and so should your brand.

If you treat this exercise as a prototype, you’ll get it done faster. Work with it for a few months, and have it evolve as your company grows. Don’t get anchored on it just because you spend this time and energy. Just like v1 of your product, your brand will change to meet the needs of your company and customers.

Pro tip: Schedule a “brand review” for a year from now. It will be so much easier since you’ll be iterating and not generating from scratch.


You Have A Brand. Make It Work For You.

As a startup founder, you are responsible for your brand. Right now, it exists, even without your attention. Put just a few hours of time into this exercise, and you can leverage your brand for the next phase of your growth.

On top of everything else you face as a founder, understanding and managing your brand might feel overwhelming. Take a minute to remember that you have done the hardest part already – creating a product someone wants. You probably have a huge backlog of product changes too.

Just like with your product, you can always allocate some story points in every sprint to touch a piece of your brand.

The point is not to think of your brand as an accident, but to manage it the way you manage your product and cash flow – with clear intent and vision.

I’ll be speaking about B2B Content Marketing at the Growth Marketing Conference on December 8, 2016, San Jose. I look forward to seeing you there!

3 Retargeting Ads That Will Boost Your Business

We already know people are very busy online. They dart around from one thing to another like goldfish lost in a fishbowl.   Heck, you are probably not even reading this right now! And for good reason, you want to get to the important stuff…   And that is why using Retargeting is so powerful. […]

We already know people are very busy online.

They dart around from one thing to another like goldfish lost in a fishbowl.


Heck, you are probably not even reading this right now! And for good reason, you want to get to the important stuff…


And that is why using Retargeting is so powerful. You get busy people to re-engage with your site and your business. So please listen to me when I say:


The number one thing you need to do today, is install your Facebook Website Custom Audience Pixel.


And here is a great article explaining why you need to do it in more detail.


Once you have done that, we can discuss a few simple strategies for sending out retargeting ads to your website visitors. Seriously, go do that now, before reading on.

Alright, good.


In case you are unclear what I am talking about:


RETARGETING is the act of “pixeling,” or tagging, your website visitors in an attempt to send ads to them at a later time.

It is easily the most important part of any online marketing strategy.

Why is retargeting so important?

  1.  These are people that have already expressed clear interest in your business by visiting once or more.
  2.  Most people are not ready to buy from you on the first visit (you don’t get married on the first date).
  3.  They haven’t said no yet.
  4.  They are now more familiar with your business and brand than ever before.


SEGMENTATION: It’s also very important to segment your website traffic appropriately and track if and when users move down your marketing funnel and convert.

For example, You want to AVOID sending them ads for products they have already purchased, or sending them to a blog post they have already read. Every time you don’t segment properly, it cost you ad dollars, and your customers get frustrated with you and leave.

I’m not going to get into the segmentation part in this article, but I just so happened to have written another article explaining how to segment your Facebook Website Custom Audience.


3 Retargeting Ad Types

So now that we agree that retargeting your website visitors is crucial to gaining leads and sales, let’s explore a few specific retargeting ads/campaigns that you should be running towards your warm traffic – people that are aware of your brand.


1. Social Proof

A user visited your website but didn’t buy. They could probably use some real life validation for why to buy your product or service. Create a social proof ad showcasing some of your best clients or testimonials.



Power Tip: A video testimonial ad with a satisfied user giving a genuine testimonial is a retargeting campaign goldmine. It’s completely worth a solid time and money investment to get it done.

Try to get the pain of your user across to the audience, and the relief that came with your solution. Have the user talk about the issues or disbeliefs they had prior to using the product, but the value they found after using it. Don’t oversell, the more “real” it is the better it will work.

If you can’t get a detailed testimonial, or you don’t have a celebrity sponsor, you can pull from Yelp reviews, Facebook reviews, and even emails you have had with your customers (post them anonymously or get permission). This isn’t the most ideal path, but it gets you started.

If you have absolutely no social proof, your job for the next 7 days is to get some – preferably with an image of your customer using your product.


Btw, NEVER falsify or exaggerate social proof.

By providing social proof, you build a significant amount of trust with your audience and validate your product has been tested in the market, and works.


2. Squash All Objections

  • Budget
  • Time
  • Commitment
  • Value
  • Too Complicated
  • Fear of Change
  • Trust
  • Complacency


All of these objections happen over and over again on your website, whether you are aware of it or not. If you know which one seems to be the biggest problem with your product, then you should blog/write/video/podcast/penpal about it.


But the best way to squash an objection is with a video retargeting ad addressing the problem head on. Personally, I prefer to get in front of the camera myself for this one and make it a one-on-one conversation. If you are part of a larger organization, it’s now your job to convince the CEO that he needs to step up and get it done.


“Hey it’s me with X, and I wanted to talk about why you need to start using our product Y today…” (Remember this is to a warm audience that is aware of your product but has not bought it yet, never send this to a cold audience)

This line could be the start of a compelling argument for your product or service. It introduces you as a real person (squashing worries of trust), addresses the urgency, helping to squash complacency, and brings a bit more value to the table.


Image via a great post on FB Ads: Digital


In this ad, Betty Rocker is able to give so much value by providing people with a great smoothie recipe that her viewers can’t help but trust her. She successfully squashed all objections to buying her product.


Remember, when doing video ads on Facebook, you start muted, so add in some words at the beginning and try and get them to turn the sound on.

Super Bonus Tip: You can now put a call to action right inside your Facebook video ad. This is straight gold.


3. Sales Ads (duh)

They have visited the site, but haven’t bought the product yet, a simple sales ad may get them back in the funnel to complete the purchase. You need to showcase the product benefits, provide even more value than before, and still match the copy on the sales page.

Make sure you are hitting a truly warm audience and not just someone who visited one page for 20 seconds (back to the importance of segmentation).

Remember, people aren’t on Facebook to buy, necessarily. And people don’t buy from people they don’t trust.


So establish TRUST first, then hit them with the sales ad and see how it converts.


You would especially want to run this ad to traffic that has already seen the other ads, and since you can pixel users who have watched 3 seconds of a video ad, you could easily target only users who have already seen your social proof ad and squash objections ad with this ad to give that final push.


Let me say that again:

  • Run a video retargeting ad explaining your product more and squashing complaints.
  • Then run a sales ad targeting viewers of the previous ad (that haven’t already bought from you).


Final Thoughts

A couple of quick notes about retargeting ads:

  • You don’t need a lot of money to run them, because they are only going to users who have visited your website already.
  • You need to keep an eye on your “frequency” and make sure you aren’t showing the same ad to the same person 10 times. You can test for what frequency is working for your business. Most of the time, we try to keep it around 3, but sometimes 8 works. Anything more than 10 is either a “NO,” or you have a bad ad with a weak CTA.
  • You can prepare for retargeting ads long before you start running them, so get that pixel up today. You don’t necessarily have to be running them from the second your initial traffic campaigns begin.


If you aren’t retargeting, you are doing it wrong.


That’s it from me. Tell me, do you use retargeting ads? What other retargeting methods have worked for you? Be sure to tell me in the comments section below.