Building the Social Organization: A Strong Connection to Customers

18 Mar

People Around Conference Table

At the heart of being a social organization is a strong connection to your customers. Ask any business leader, and they’ll say their customers come first. But at social organizations, this customer focus takes on special meaning. It’s not just the biggest customers who come first, but all customers. And it’s not just at the point of sale that they become important, but throughout the product lifecycle, from testing to development. Customers are really an additional “department” within the company, one that actively has a say in what the company builds, who they build it for, and when. Everything is done in collaboration with customers, from marketing to engineering. Scary? Only if you don’t trust your customers to know what they want from your company. And they do. By working with them, you’ll better ensure that you deliver what they need, thereby keeping you in business.

There’s a strong connection between being social and being Agile. Most of the social orgs I’ve come across also embrace Agile, at least in their development, and often in their marketing ops. Social organizations embrace Agile, listening to their customers and building their products based on their needs. They build for the market, rather than trying to create a market for what they want to build. They listen across multiple channels, from Twitter and Facebook to face-to-face meetings, and actively solicit feedback. They also listen to all customers—not just the loudest or the one with the biggest invoice. The reasons are that good ideas come from everywhere, the “little” guy or gal may represent your biggest demographic, and all customers are important—they talk about your brand, and you want them to love your company.

Customers feel they “own” a product that was built for their needs. They use it. They talk about it positively. They are invested in getting others to adopt it. It becomes something they need, and they will naturally talk about it to others they think could use it, too. Suddenly, you have an army of people ready and willing to sell “their” product to their friends, family, and colleagues. And you cannot get a better sales team than your own customers.

Dell’s Official Flickr Page via Compfight cc

The Social Organization: A Strategy for Growth

13 Feb

Social organizations represent a new breed of company, one that is uniquely positioned to thrive in today’s economy. These companies use both social and traditional media to reach customers, develop marketable products, and stay on top of their industries. Though it often seems to depend on new media, and often does, being a social organization centers on a very core business concept: putting customers first. Companies can be on Facebook all day and not be social if their voice is manipulative, their products misaligned with the market, and their service arrogant.  And companies that barely tweet can be social organizations if they relate, sincerely and authentically, to their customers, respect them, and present their core values transparently.

There are five features that social organizations have in common:

  • Strong Connections to Their Customers
  • Teams with Strong Personal Brands
  • A Real Brand Voice
  • Accessibility
  • Community

These values, though most often played out with a social media component, are more about embracing the values of social media, such as transparency and informality, creativity and the democratization of content. You become social not by using tools, but by living values. In the upcoming week or so, I’ll look at each value individually, and how your company can achieve market growth by becoming a social organization. 

7 Ways to Be a More Productive Marketer in 2014

1 Jan

2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year for marketers. With the economy expanding, new opportunities are opening up to expand brands, gain market share, and do some interesting creative. Trend like mobile are rapidly transforming marketing, making it a wonderful time to try new things. So how do you meet the new year with all its new challenges? Some simple tips can skyrocket your productivity:

1. Measure Better: Swear off “vanity metrics,” like (usually) bounce rates. Also, know that different campaigns require different metrics, and familiarize yourself with them. For instance, B2C campaigns can be measured in impressions and direct conversions, while a B2B campaign needs to be measured in leads, size of leads, and lead quality. Measure these things and you’ll have an efficient dashboard.

2. Go with Your True Style: “Square peg in a round hole creative” is what I call creative done in a style that is not authentic to its creator. Whether you’re a writer, visual artist, or front-end developer, or lead a team of all of the above, you know it’s a sad thing when you create something alien to your aesthetic. Worse, it takes a long time and it looks mediocre.

3. Strike when Inspiration is Hot: You are 5 times as fast when energized by a fresh, good idea. So plan your work, when possible, to take advantage of that energy. Install the WordPress app on your phone and jot down thoughts on the train. Do you have your best ideas at 7am? Then it’s a good time for you to get stuff done, even if nobody else is around.

4. Don’t Be Wishy-Washy:  You get asked by a client or stakeholder to do something that is a waste of time. This happens to marketers a lot, based on outdated information or urban myths of marketing or personal taste. Inexperienced marketers tend to go down wrong roads because they were told to. Experienced marketers have the confidence to say no to fads, failed strategies, and fictions. Smart people will respect you more when you offer guidance, rather than just execution.

5. Keep a Neat Workspace: This may be a small thing, but investing in organization will save you hours. Grandmother was right.

6. Have Days When You Work from Home: Offices are wonderful. There’s opportunities to share ideas, camaraderie, and free coffee. But as more marketing is focused on in-depth, artistic-quality creative, you need to focus. Set aside some time to retreat to your home office, library, or even behind a closed office door if you have one and write, design, or code.

7. Talk and Listen to Salespeople: They are on the front lines, and for a B2B operation to work, you need to get raw insights from talented salespeople. They know what the customers want, they know what the competition is doing. They can give you the invaluable qualitative data on why a specific type of lead converts well, making it easier to shape messaging to grow leads. By the same token, a good sales process needs to be a closed loop with marketing to make leads pay off, with tight alignment on messaging, good lead followup, and a willingness to share. When you work hand in hand with sales, great things happen, leads stop “leaking” and start converting, and revenue grows.

Agile Marketing: Notes from TechDay Camp

18 Nov

This weekend, John Cass and I had the honor of presenting at TechDay Camp, a daylong conference on making technology work for businesses. Our session covered Agile marketing–its history, why it works, and how to get started. What we covered included:

  • Agile marketing draws on the tradition of Agile development. It drives growth by allowing marketers to build small, quick marketing programs in half the time, test them on target audiences, and perfect them based on early data.
  • Agile marketing has a higher ROI than traditional marketing, because it allows you to find what works faster, spending only on what’s proven, and waste less on marketing that doesn’t work.
  • Building an Agile marketing program means being highly driven by data. Your data will tell you what messages are resonating in the marketplace and getting you customers. Always look at what’s actually driving revenue.
  • Agile marketers never stop iterating. There is no longer any such thing as a set in stone campaign than runs for months. Campaigns build on feedback, such as sales data, to become ever more responsive to what your customers want.

For the full content, here are the slides from the session:

Why Content Marketing Is Tailor-Made for Lean and Agile Organizations

15 Nov

Agile and lean have long been mantras in the development world, and the principles are well-known in managing companies overall. However, in recent years, we’ve been seeing the principles of agile, and now lean, applied with revolutionary effects in marketing. Much of this charge has been led by visionaries including John Cass, with whom I’ll be presenting on agile marketing for the small shop at this week’s Tech Day Camp. Running an agile marketing operation, similar to running a lean startup, leads to faster progress and better results that more closely align with company needs. Overall, an agile marketing department can accomplish more with less.

But what about agile content, specifically? How does content marketing work for the agile organization overall? We’ve long known that marketing is about more than advertising; it’s a vital touchpoint between customer and organization, and at its best facilitates innovation and internal growth. There are several ways that content marketing, especially, is a driver of growth in the agile organization:

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  • Helps Meet Customer Needs: It is no longer enough to have a product, if it ever was. What leads to customer loyalty and market growth is to have a brand, one that gets it and aligns with your customers’ needs. This means, usually, content that supports their strategies, not just a tactical tool. Content is always a secondary product, and is arguably often the primary product, especially when you are competing against a sea of commodity tools. As a result, its production needs to be as closely aligned with customer needs—and as iterative—as your product. Using lean and agile content creation, you don’t just commission a set of whitepapers and coast on them for years. You write the content your users need to get their jobs done, based on the feedback they give you. And you turn it around quickly, rather than at the often glacial pace of traditional-model marketing, where a single whitepaper can go through 15 rounds of revisions and several layers of approval.

 

  • Builds the Collaborative Partnership Between Customers and Your Company: Core to lean and agile is iterating a product based on customer feedback. A key struggle for companies is to find customer feedback mechanisms that tell the true story, and are representative of the majority of users, and free of the Hawthorne effect, or the biases of the biggest customer. An oft-overlooked feedback platform is your content marketing. Why? First off, users are often more comfortable delivering feedback in content context. After all, content is a dialogue, lending itself to conversation with your users. It’s especially valuable for securing feedback from users who are not early adopters. They are ultimately going to be your core of users, and you will need to meet their needs in order to succeed. Such users are less likely to provide feedback, and are much more likely to access strategic documentation such as white papers. Setting up a two-way dialog around content, for instance by spinning a white paper into blog posts and social media posts, will bring these users into dialog with you in ways no other feedback method can.

 

  • Surfacing Key Data on Product: Again, your content is a vital part of your overall content offering, and it’s often the front line between you and your customers. It’s to content that customers increasingly turn when they are having higher-level issues with your product—those that touch on why they use your product, rather than the tactics of how. For instance, if you’re building a CRM, a customer will turn to your content library for advice on how to implement effective drip marketing using the tool, or the best ways to score leads. These strategic needs touch on the core of what your users need. And they’re more likely to surface as content consumption, rather than feature requests. Thus, it pays to pay attention to the content your loyal users are accessing. It points the way to what they really want from your company and your product. You can map analytics and marketing automation data to user personae, use it to inform product road maps, and more.

 

Agile as a philosophy is about every aspect of a company’s operations. It’s about how you run your organization, rather than simply a development process. When agile marketing is integrated with a company’s other agile processes, truly amazing growth can happen.

Why Do Resource-Centered Marketing?

19 Oct

We hear a lot about content marketing—it’s still a buzzword, and for good reason.  But what about the subset of content marketing focused on creating good-quality resources, such as whitepapers, ebooks, e-courses, and resource centers? This resource-centered marketing is a challenge, because of its huge need for internal resources, but it’s been found to reap tremendous rewards. Case studies, especially on companies that do it amazingly, such as Hubspot, keep showing us that customers stay loyal to companies that follow this marketing model—and they keep growing. But it takes some doing to set up a great resource-based marketing model—it’s the more complex sister of content marketing: the emphasis is less on simpler forms, such as blogs and infographics, and more on the concept of being a partner in teaching and training your customers. So when companies ask: why should we do this, rather than taking out ads, the answer is, that is will create an entirely new value proposition for your company, one that makes you a partner, not a vendor. In a world of great tools, it’s this partnership that makes many companies stand out from the pack:

  1. There is less reliable, affordable information out there than you think: We live in an information age, and yet, it’s still sometimes hard to find an affordable resource for just what you need, right at your fingertips. There are a lot of whitepapers out there, but they’re often blatantly salesy. Many great books are available, but many are more information than someone needs, intimidating, or narrowly focused. Courses take time and funds. Reliable, timesaving, objective guides are actually still relatively rare. No one is incentivized to make them. If you’re a true expert, selling your expertise, you’re better off writing a book and speaking at major conferences (which also cost money). And companies are still putting out a lot of poorly-written, promotional material, called “information.”
  2. Even simple software is part of a complex problem: Your product is so easy to use it does not need any documentation. But that doesn’t mean that the problem you’re solving is easy, and your customers don’t need help using your product. Your product is the tool that helps people solve a business or personal challenge, whether it’s collaboration or organizing your coupons, but a tool is often the least part of solving the problem—especially if it’s a good tool. The larger issues your customers face are structural, strategic, and practical. What you’re providing is less important to them than how it will help them. They need to know the “why” and “how” behind the “what” you are providing: why collaboration tools will make them more productive, and how to get their teams to adopt a new way of working. Resources will help them implement your solution in a way that delivers real strategic value, by helping your customers with real strategic support. This is what turns people who like your product, but don’t use it, into paying customers.
  3. All customers like a good product, they love a company that gets their problems: A nice product is just the beginning. There are plenty of nice products. Most are positioned and sold by people who clearly haven’t walked in the customers’ shoes, and it shows. This feeling—that a product was created in a vacuum—creeps up before a customer even sees the actual product. It’s there on a website, in marketing materials that say “Buy!!” but little else. Or blog posts that are mere boasts about how great the company is.

You’re not like that. Your company has practitioners within their inner circle, building a product tailored to their real-life needs, whether they’re HR managers or CIOs. But if your marketing doesn’t reflect that, if all it says is “BUY!”, then customers coming to your site will get that same sinking feeling: here are people making a product that seems nice, but who don’t quite get it.

If nothing else (and it accomplishes a lot more), a well-developed, resource-centered marketing approach demonstrates to clients that you do get it. You can’t fake authentic, practitioner content. Resources with real value and depth, drawing from experience, show that you do, indeed, walk in the customers’ shoes. That, in turn, speaks volumes for your product: that, based on your experience of their very needs, it will have the features they want, work as expected, and solve a real problem. That beats shouting “Buy!” on your website.

  1. The resources become a part of the product: People will start using your software or tool not because of the product alone, but because of what else comes with it. The resources will be another, valuable tool that helps them get their jobs done, in addition to the application you’re selling them. It makes marketing a center of value, one that people engage with before they buy, so that they are, in effect, becoming “customers” much earlier in their engagement with you. They become involved in your resources, and that makes them so much more willing to buy.

A resource-based marketing program is more than effective marketing. As marketing, it demonstrates that you can be a partner, not just a vendor, giving them the support they need to really implement your solutions. However, what its real payoff is that it creates an additional, stronger value proposition for your company and product: a great tool plus the resources to transform the customers’ jobs, companies, or lives. This is what makes a good company a great category leader. 

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