Look at the state we’re in…

There are some great marketing networks out there right now which are really looking out for the future of our profession. A few weeks ago I went along to what will hopefully be the first of many “meet a mentor” gatherings run by the Chartered Institute of Marketing where seasoned marketers offered help and advice to those just getting started. And last night Alasdair Hall-Jones from the Marketing Society kindly invited me along to the launch of the society’s new “Manifesto for Marketing” on the top floor of the swanky Aviva offices right next to the Gherkin in the City.

The Manifesto is worth a look – you can find it at https://www.marketingsociety.co.uk/events-gallery/marketing-manifesto-sustainable-growth. It defines marketing as “creating sustainable growth by understanding, anticipating, and satisfying customer need” and challenges marketers to “pursue a purpose, champion customers, and mobilise their organisation”.

I like the approach and particularly like the fact that it’s not rocket science. It doesn’t mention terms like ‘brand’, ‘digital’, ‘comms’, and ‘micro-environmental analysis’ – the terms that got marketing as a profession into the state it is currently in.

Because I don’t quite agree with the Marketing Society on why a manifesto might be needed in the first place. The Society argues that marketing is currently “in rude health” (to quote Amanda Mackenzie last night), but that the world is changing and marketing needs to respond. I believe that marketing is in a pretty bad state right now. And it’s the fault of marketers that we’ve got it into that place.

There was no need for a manifesto for marketing just ten years ago or twenty years ago. Back then, marketing was a burgeoning profession.  Businesses were recognising the needs for a marketing department for the first time and growing and funding them accordingly.  The future looked bright.

But marketers squandered that future.  A marketing manifesto is needed now not because the business environment has changed but because the business view of marketing has changed.  Marketers have alienated our business audience. We haven’t talked in language that business understands. We haven’t talked about ‘sales’, ‘revenue’, ‘profit’, ‘growth’. Instead we’ve been talking about ‘brand’, ‘social media’, ‘sponsorships’ – terms that even marketers themselves can’t agree about. We haven’t been transparent in our terminology and we haven’t been inclusive in our discussions. And so business no longer knows what marketing actually is.  And so we’ve lost the respect that our profession had in the last generation.

There’s a crisis in our profession. But we are waking up to this.  That’s why this manifesto has appeared now. It’s not even the first marketing manifesto that’s appeared this month – see for example: http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/62668-our-modern-marketing-manifesto-will-you-sign.

The driver for a manifesto that we can all get behind is important because it defines what we now do with it. The Marketing Society‘s manifesto was written by marketers.  The gathering last night was only of marketers and sought only the opinion of marketers about it. The manifesto is published on a speciality marketing site. That’s a good start.  But I think that the marketing profession needs to reach out to the rest of business to get their views on what marketing is and should be. We need to seek the views of CEOs and senior business leaders about what marketing should be. What’s the view of the CBI?  What about BABI? And so on. If we don’t consult more widely, we risk being as insular in our creation of a manifesto as we did in our conduct of marketing over the last twenty years.

In my view, a marketing manifesto is a great idea – which ever version we run with – but we need to get the implementation right if we are really going to turn things around.  And I hope that we can.

Because business needs good bold marketing more than ever.  And that’s a profession that I really want to be a part of.

Posted in marketing, social media marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mind the gap between the boardroom and the marketing department!

By Dave Stevens

I’ve been thinking rather a lot recently about the connection between businesses and their marketing departments. In all too many of the organisations that I come across, there is a regular complaint from execs that they do not know what their marketing department does or how it benefits their business. Frequently I find that the marketing teams in those organisations have lost their focus on delivering the goals of the execs or else are not communicating in KPI language that the business understands how what they do delivers those goals. Marketers frequently assume that business leaders know what marketing is. Business execs do not.

An excellent article in the Cambridge Marketing Review led me to seek out a great paper from the Capsicum Group (www.thecapsicumgroup.com) on the subject this week which was based on in-depth interviews with C-suite and senior marketers from 40 corporates across a representative range of sectors.  Capsicum conclude that the business-marketing gap is caused by marketers not being seen as peers by the leaders of the business – something that then goes on to make the gap still wider. This means that marketers are not getting a seat at the strategy table and are focused instead on tactics. The gap isn’t helped by the increasingly back office nature of the marketing team that gets them away from clients and instead focuses them on the things that matter less. If marketing are responsible for brand in such organisations, it’s usually that they’re responsible for the visual elements, but not the way the brand is actually experienced by clients and employees each day. It all seems a bit bleak for marketers then. Could the last marketer out of the back office turn out the light?

What turns bleakness into frustration is that marketing has a lot to offer the top table. Done properly the marketing department can be a critical constituent of doing business well, growing orders, increasing revenue, deepening margins, and driving cash by building and maintaining executive networks, attending business events, identifying pipeline opportunities, growing the pipeline, planning workshops for the business around how to respond to environmental challenges, creating and pricing and testing new offers, developing programmes for key accounts, and engaging with delivery teams to ensure a total brand experience for clients and employees – as well as running a damn fine event.

There is a real need for marketing out there. And in my experience, it is possible to rebuild the link between marketing departments and the businesses they serve. It takes time, care, and proof of delivery to create trust. It requires a brilliant and dedicated team of marketers committed to the cause and it requires the preparedness of a few business execs to go on the journey to provide air cover. There’ll be slip-ups and set-backs along the way that require remedy and re-work. There will be times when the gap feels less bridged than ever. But what a brilliant feeling when things begin to change! And that makes all of the effort so very much worthwhile for the business as a whole – including the marketing department.

Posted in b2b marketing, marketing | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The tablet is here. Deal with it…


By Dave Stevens

Venture capitalist Mary Meeker recently presented a paper at Stanford comparing the first ten quarters of shipments of each of Apple‘s “I” devices – iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The paper showed that iPad shipments in the product’s first 30 months outrate the iPhone threefold. By January 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, 29% of US adults owned tablet computers or eReaders. Meeker noted that 48% of American children wanted an iPad for Christmas 2012, while 36% wanted an Ipad Mini.

And if ever you wanted proof that the age of the tablet has truly arrived, I can tell you that it has even reached the board-room of the firm where I work. Now that is arriving! The quarterly thud of Board papers arriving on the door mat has been replaced by the ping of a file arriving on the iPad’s Directors’ Desk. Our 30 people-strong Management Committee operates in the same way as the Board. And that’s not a problem, because every one of the 30 Senior Partners that attend have a tablet. For presenters, the ordeal of presenting Powerpoint slides displayed on big television screens at the front of the Board room is no more. Slides are now available on Directors’ Desk – creating a new challenge for presenters about how to get your audience’s attention when they are looking down at a personal screen on their laps. (Best solutions I’ve found so far here by the way are:  (1) to tell your audience that you expect that they have read their slides in advance and so they should put down their iPads and discuss or (2) to take advantage of the medium to offer personalised content for each reader.)

The change at the Board room means a change in the way B2B firms do sales.  Because CxOs are using tablets more, the tablet is increasingly being used as a sales tool. Which means marketers need to get their sales support materials into a new medium.

More fundamentally, the arrival of tablet is changing the way marketers interact with customers. Customers are accessing marketing content at different times and in different ways. Most obviously so far, B2B online visiting times are changing out of traditional 9 to 5 and into evening. And perhaps for the first time, visitors are genuinely browsing – looking around and clicking on a wider variety of sites and content areas that interest them – perhaps reflecting the increased time and less disciplined mood offered by the new setting in which tablets enable B2B content to be accessed. According to the US Census Bureau, 144 million Americans spend 52 minutes per day travelling – and that is time that could be spent accessing content by tablet. And according to Morgan Stanley, the average American spends more than three hours per day in front of the television – time for a second screen. Genuine browsing calls for deeper content than B2B firms are used to (hence the growth in focus on “content marketing”). Because the content has to compete with other distractions such as television, marketers are now looking to new means of getting their messages across – hence the growth of video, the craze for branded tablet applications, and the bizarre infographics bubble which I write about elsewhere in these pages. In advertising, the tablet is bringing a focus on AdBank (a video format that lets users choose to watch a programme in return for credits or the ability to skip the ad after a few seconds), full page banners, pre-roll with overlay (offering content within the ad), and rich media interstitials.

And the prediction from Meeker is that tablet and smartphone installed base will exceed that of the PC globally by the end of this quarter. We have arrived in a new world. Now marketers need to learn how to survive and thrive within it.


Posted in b2b marketing, marketing, social media marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Something is rotten in the state of marketing…

By Dave Stevens

I set off for the British Film Institute on London’s South Bank this morning to attend the B2B Marketing Awards Showcase event (www.b2bmarketing.net/awards-showcase). To my knowledge this event is a new concept in events in the marketing space where, rather than simply attending an awards ceremony to watch winners collect trophies presented by B-list comedian presenters while simultaneously trying to down as much of the free wine as possible, we actually listen to what the award winners did to win the accolade and the postulate how we can emulate their achievements in our own organisations. It’s a sobering and worthy idea and therefore could only really have been invented in this age of austerity.

The agenda was a packed one – we heard from twelve award winners and reviewed upteen Powerpoint slides. The first thing that struck me was the good sense of what the speakers presented. We heard stories of marketers starting their work by conducting client research, building marketing plans, focusing on internal communications first, measuring their results – all things taught in any basic Chartered Institute of Marketing course. These are the first things we learn at marketing kindergarten. Which makes it worrying that we need to remind ourselves of these basics. So many marketers do not follow these steps and I have to ask myself why that is. Just what has gone so wrong that the elite of the marketing community feel the need to spend so much time iterating the basics to their peers or that we feel the need to note down their words and nod sagely?

The second thing that struck me was the degree to which the speakers flagged the key to their success as ensuring marketing worked closely with sales. Again this new fact was fervently grasped by the audience as an amazing insight. But surely this should not be a revelation either? Surely marketing and sales departments are aiming to achieve the same thing? How can it not make sense for them to work together?

I left the event feeling somewhat uneasy that my profession seems so uncomfortable with its very fundamentals…

Posted in b2b marketing, marketing | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Social Media Crash is coming…

By Dave Stevens

I see that B2B Marketing magazine has published its latest IT Marketing Benchmarketing Report (go to http://www.b2bmarketing.net/it-benchmarking-2013 for details). And I’m delighted to report that this survey of 200 technology marketing practitioners (and one day we should get behind exactly what a marketing practitioner is. I’m a CMO and I consider myself to spend an alarmingly small amount of time being a marketing practitioner) contains great news.

In fact I’d go as far as to say this contains the best news for e-marketers for many years.


Here goes:-
According to the survey, the least effective marketing channel or technique is…social media. 53% of respondents regarded it as “not very important”. 69% of respondents could not say how to demonstrate ROI on social media. Just 12% currently make any use of it at all.

Those with a big backlog of B2B Marketing magazines or an obssessive recollection of useless marketing statistics – and I leave you to decide which category you think I fall into – will recall that previous surveys have ranked social media much more positively; indeed as a potential game changer.

So this “social media crash” is quite a turnaround. And it is good news.

It’s fairly safe to say that as I write an occasional blog, use Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook regularly, and spend a fair amount of my marketing career revamping company websites at Barclays and O2 and PA Consulting Group, and championing the importance of e-marketing teams within a marketing function, I am an advocate of digital techniques for marketing. Such techniques are faster, more cost effective, provide a better customer experience.

But as with every new entry into the marketing mix of communications channels over the last few decades, social media has been placed on a pedestal as being the marketing techique that changes everything. It can do at least six impossible things before breakfast. And it is true that social media can deliver some amazing things: increased awareness of a business, increased traffic to a website, more favourable perceptions of a brand, the ability to monitor customer and prospect conversations about an organisation, the ability to develop targeted marketing activities, a better understanding of customer perceptions of their brand, improved insight about target markets, and so on. But it is just one part of the marketing channel mix – a neighbour to the rest and not a substitute.

And this IT survey recognises that truth for the first time. If an effective marketing channel is one that delivers you the IT technology sale, you probably wouldn’t use social.

And yes – it’s just one survey. And not a great one at that: the marketing tools that respondents could choose from in the survey is hardly a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive list. Content marketing hardly sits alongside third party events for instance.

This is not definitive. But it’s the first sign that social media is finally finding its place in the marketing tool-kit. Such an adjustment happened with the web ten years ago as the dot-com crash followed the dot-com bubble. It is beginning to happen now with social media. And that can only be a good sign.

Posted in b2b marketing, marketing, social media marketing | 4 Comments

Does your business know what it really wants?

By Dave Stevens

I was lucky enough to meet with Professor Malcolm McDonald this week at a gathering of sales and marketing leads arranged by PA Consulting Group.  McDonald proved to be the draw for many of the attendees.  He is something of a legend in marketing circles alongside the likes of Kotler and Levitt.  McDonald is the author of over 40 books, including the best seller Marketing Plans: How to prepare them, how to use them.

That book was a big influence on me as I learned the ropes about how to become a marketer.  It explains how marketers should put together a marketing plan starting with an audit, then setting marketing objectives and strategies, then defining the tactics for each aspect of the marketing mix, and finally building an implementation plan around the same.  It then goes on to outline how to operate the plan that has emerged, how to monitor and control it.  It is a remarkably effective methodology that I’ve employed with success throughout my marketing career.

However, it depends upon businesses first knowing what they want to achieve.  And frequently they do not.

A fair portion of businesses have no such thing as a business plan.  In a 1998 study conducted by Leslie Rue of Georgia State University, 40% of the 300 or so businesses who answered his survey admitted they had no written business plans at all.  A more recent survey of small businesses in the US found that less than a third had a plan.  A lack of a business plan can make it hard to develop a marketing plan.

And even when there is a business plan, it may not be one that has been communicated to the business.  There is something about the concept of a strategy document that appears to demand the header private and confidential.  What is agreed is not communicated outside of the board room.  And frequently the marketing department is perceived as being outside of the need to know group.

And even when there is a business plan, it may not address the questions that the marketing department need answers to; namely what is the desired level of profitability over what time period, which products or services are to be deployed in which markets, what production and distribution facilities, personnel, and finance are available, what is the approach to CSR and to the City…

There has been a significant amount of discussion in the marketing press about the challenges of researching the customer when the customer does not know what they want.  But the same is frequently true of the business selling products and services to that customer.  Businesses frequently don’t know what they want.

However that does not mean that marketers should abandon the concept of a marketing plan altogether.  We simply need to be more flexible about how we achieve it.

1.  Be persistent about asking for the plan.  If your business leads haven’t shared the business plans with the marketers, marketers need to ask them why not.  It may be that the marketing department was simply not considered as an audience for the plan and that you need to explain the importance of your having that visibility.  Or it may be that there are sensitive parts of the plan that need to be excised first or that marketers need to sign up to the confidentiality obligations of others.  But be clear you can’t write a marketing plan without a business plan.

2.  Be clear about the questions you need answering.  If there is no business plan, marketers need to ask the business leaders what they are looking for strategically and then commit these business objectives to writing and share them with the business.  This may mean helping the business leaders to develop their plan yourself.

3.  Infer the answers to the answers to your questions.  If the business leaders can’t answer your questions, then you need to infer the answers.  It may be that you can do this from observing the way that the business behaves and then inferring the cause and then putting that into writing.  This may mean that you need to refresh the resulting marketing plan more frequently – but that in itself is no bad thing.

So be persistent.  Ask the questions.  Observe behaviour.  And write the marketing plan.  I guarantee it will be worthwhile.

Posted in b2b marketing, marketing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why there’s no such thing as “Content Marketing”…

By Dave Stevens

I wish I could say that I found the first grey hair on my head when looking in the shaving mirror this morning.

But the truth is that I think I’ve identified enough grey in what little hair I still have to say I’m beyond that.  I recognise a statistically significant trend when I see one.  It’s undeniable now, I’m getting old.

Still, at least I’ve got the ever-new, always-refreshing discipline of marketing to make me forget my age, haven’t I?  A glance at this morning’s Twitter feed suggests not.  The term “content marketing” is trending.

One writer is suggesting that there are stages of content marketing evolution, another that there are content marketing-related tools they can’t do without, another that their content marketing strategy might be headed for trouble.

In fairness, this is hardly a new trend.  “Content marketing” has been around for a while.  Why, I see there’s even a “Content Marketing Institute (CMI)” now.  And no wonder.  For Mikal E. Belicove (the Wikipedia “authority” on content marketing no less) says that “When it comes to marketing strategies, content marketing has just been crowned king, far surpassing search engine marketing, public relations and even print, television and radio advertising as the preferred marketing tool for today’s business-to-business entrepreneur.”  Wow!  And B2B Marketing magazine has got the numbers to prove it:-  51% of B2B marketers identified content marketing as being the most important tool for generating leads, outscoring brand awareness (38%), thought leadership (34%) and sales (29%).

So what on earth is this amazing “content marketing” then?

It’s interesting that the marketing textbooks I used when I was a cool young marketer back in the day make no mention of “content marketing” at all.  Not a passing reference in Kotler, Armstrong, Saunders, and Wong’s seminal Principles of Marketing.  You won’t find the term in Malcolm McDonald’s Marketing Plans:  How to Prepare Them, How to Use Them.  Not a peep in Wilson and Gilligan’s Strategic Marketing Management.

What about something more B2B and a bit more recent?  Kotler’s 2002 tome, Marketing Professional Services maybe?  Nope.  Nothing there.  The CIM‘s Marketing Professional Services by Michael Roe from 2001?  Sorry no.

It seems then that “content marketing” is a new thing.  And so I have to look to the internet for the definition.

Belicove defines it as “the creation and publication of original content — including blog posts, case studies, white papers, videos and photos — for the purpose of generating leads, enhancing a brand’s visibility, and putting the company’s subject matter expertise on display.”  Joe Pulizzi, the CMI‘s content marketer of the year (who also happens to be CMI founder), describes it as “story-telling by brands to attract and retain customers.”

And this is where I’m sounding old even in the discipline in which I work…  But in my day Belicove and Pulizzi would be using their definitions to describe “marketing”?

Is anyone really suggesting that there are messages that we send out that don’t contain “content” or that are in some way not designed to generate leads, build visibility, or show off a company’s expertise?  Surely you can’t have search engine marketing without content to draw your audience to?  You can’t have public relations or advertising without content?

So we have a new term (“content marketing”) that describes an old term (“marketing”). The cynical among us might suggest that the likes of Belicove and Pulizzi have made the term up to get those very despised search engines to give them some face time.

Well, “good luck to them” you might say.  You might think that I’m clutching at semantics here.  Perhaps it’s time to stop following this old fart and move on to other blogs elsewhere?  If Pulizzi and others want to create a new term with an old definition and attract web hits to their name as a result, then that’s fine isn’t it?

Well, no.  Because as soon as we start developing new terms for what is simply good marketing, we discredit our discipline more and more as we associate “marketing” with disreputable practice.  That’s a risk for a discipline like our’s because it does not carry the weight in business that Finance and HR functions do.

If we do want to go down this route, perhaps we should be singling out different types of content:  “thought leadership marketing”, “client credential marketing”, and so on?  But “content marketing” is what we all do as marketers.

Or perhaps I’m just getting old…?

Posted in b2b marketing, marketing | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments