How to Connect with Creatives

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Professional creatives are a different breed. We tend to be doggedly passionate and full of wanderlust, so building strong working relationships with us can take a lot of effort. Because our work is so unique to our perspective– whether it’s a design, a webpage, or even a written document– it’s inherently personal. The best creatives are able to detach themselves from their work and receive objective and constructive criticism, but killing your darlings is a learned skill that doesn’t come naturally to most.

So with all that in mind, I’d like to share a few key tips to help you get the most out of all the makers in your life. Whether they’re on your team or part of an external agency, following this advice will help you get the best quality work out of your designers/writers/developers (etc.), while also making them hungry to do more.

Make Your Creatives Feel Safe

As in all relationships, empathy is everything. If you can establish that you understand where your creatives are coming from, the constraints they’re facing, and provide feedback in a thoughtful, productive way, your creatives are going to become extremely comfortable. When people are comfortable, they allow themselves to be vulnerable and uninhibited, which leads to better quality work and a willingness to take risks.

That’s pretty basic insight into the human experience, but most people don’t realize how much time creative work takes. Whether it’s writing a few paragraphs about a new product/solution or designing something small, like an email or a slide deck, unhinging your creative’s inhibitions will make work happen faster. Often our best ideas tend to align with our intuition, so if we spend less time agonizing over which approach is best, then the time we actually spend doing is much more productive and on-target.

Provide the Right Kind of Feedback

Along with empathy, throw in a healthy dose of compassion with your feedback. I’ve seen this go awry way too often– especially with agencies. You’ll have to gauge how sensitive your creatives are, but I’ve witnessed too many occasions where someone’s feedback was, at best, flippant, or worse, venomous. I’d say this is common sense if not for my own eyewitness account, but you should probably avoid saying anything looks or sounds dumb, or imply that it isn’t important. Nothing takes the wind out of a creative person’s sails like hearing someone deride their work. Remember, even if it doesn’t move the needle, what we do is an extension of ourselves.

Listen, creatives aren’t usually hyper-sensitive– we can deal with candor. But coarse feedback is the number one killer of comfort, and can really set you back. I’ve seen really talented designers submit lackluster work after being beat down by repeated occasions of harsh feedback.

The best method for providing feedback is to make it constructive. Lead with the things you like, then point out what you’d like to change. If you want to go the extra step, ask the creative what they think about the changes. Engaging them at this point makes the whole exchange much more collaborative, and ensures the creative juices keep pumping.

Understand Your Brand

In my own personal experience, it’s shocking how often I’ve received direction that specifically conflicts with our brand guidelines. For designers, this can be anything from logo usage to colors, and for writers, this can be tone of voice or just overall message. A lot of people trust their creatives to be the keepers of the brand and sound the alarm when things start to go off the rails, but it eliminates a lot of wasted time (and revisions) if you have at least a basic familiarity with your brand guidelines. Which makes a nice segue to the next point…

Avoid Revision Hell

Revisions are completely okay, and even an expected part of the process. But when you review someone’s work, give it your full consideration.

Early on in my career, I once designed an  postcard to invite our customers to visit our booth at a tradeshow. The design itself was done in 4 revisions. The next 23 (not exaggerating) either involved the logo size/placement, or the font choice. Unless you want to take the time to sit over your designer’s shoulder and cycle through the hundreds of options they have for “cursive” fonts (FYI– we call that script), this amount of revisioning isn’t necessary or productive. Further to the point, it makes your designers feel increasingly inhibited– you don’t want their ideas, you want yours.

Excessive amounts of revisions can also lead to another danger zone:

Discourage Burn Out

Have you ever blown a fuse in your house? This happens when you have too much electricity flowing through it, and it can’t handle the throughput. It literally blows up, and you have to replace it with a new one.

Creatives are like that.

If you have talent in-house, odds are that you only have one or two people outfitted with creative software. When there’s such a narrow bottleneck of creative bandwidth, it can be easy to overwhelm them with minutiae. Design some slides, write a press release, lay out a new brochure… All these things take time, and the average creative is going to treat each one with the utmost attention to detail. Everyone’s breaking point is different, but at some point we all hit our limits. And as any manager knows, replacing good talent is tough and expensive.

So how do you avoid burning out your creatives?

The first thing you need to do is help your creatives prioritize their workload. Sometimes this will be obvious, but other times it can feel like they have 10 equally important business-critical projects with converging deadlines and no latitude for an extension. Clearly communicating the priorities will help focus your creatives, and keep them focused.

Along with prioritization, flexibility is key. Sometimes, those 10 equally important business-critical projects do need to happen at the same time… But most of the time, there is a little leeway. It’s far more important to help your creatives tread water than to allow them to drown under one or two big waves. Making sure they know where there is a little flexibility in their workloads goes a long way towards preserving their effectiveness and productivity.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, creatives need to have predictable time off. When we’re on, we’re on. Our brains don’t slow down or stop, which means that we often don’t get the mental rest we need. When things start to get crazy, maintaining a regular routine and sending your team home on time will do a lot more for your team’s efficiency than spending an extra hour at the office or working through the weekend.

Burn out is practically a fatal affliction for the creative marketer. Avoid it at all costs!


Common Questions about Marketing Automation

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I love chatting with other marketers about Marketing Automation. The completely automated possibilities, the changed and/or eliminated processes, data cleansing/normalization, ROI tracking… The list goes on. As a Marketo Champion, I’ve participated in a number of reference calls with other marketers who are kicking the tires, comparing Marketo to Hubspot, Eloqua, Silverpop, Act-On, et al. Needless to say, conversations with the uninitiated tend to involve them sitting on the edge of their seats, biting back an absolute *deluge* of questions.

The fact is, almost every one of those conversations is practically the same.

So, obviously the best thing to do is outline the most common questions and their responses here… Because Marketing Automation has completely spoiled me for doing anything manually twice! 😉

Bear in mind, what follows is the opinion of a single user, and much of my perceptions are colored by my extensive experience with Marketo. In the past, I’ve also used Act-On and have had a limited amount of interaction with Eloqua. All things considered, I think all these tools are great, and as marketers, we really can’t go wrong. So with that single caveat, please… Read on!


The TL;DR version is yes– an emphatic yes. Not only does Marketing Automation work well for small teams, I think it really maximizes what a highly motivated, deeply inspired group of individuals can accomplish. If you read nothing else in this section, know this: Marketing Automation is a force multiplier for your marketing efforts.

When I started with Marketo, there were 4 people on our marketing team, and really only two of us were involved in the initial set up and program rollout. So for all intents and purposes, our Marketo team essentially started out as a dynamic duo.

Marketing Automation is a force multiplier for your marketing efforts.

Prior to our Marketo rollout, we only occassionally interacted with our database of leads. A quarterly newsletter, product announcements, and a little tradeshow marketing was basically all we ever did. We had a system, but it wasn’t very efficient, scalable, or repeatable. We practically started from scratch on every new project.

With Marketing Automation, we can create one program that does everything we used to, and more. Better yet, when we do something similar in the future, we can just duplicate it and quickly customize it for our current needs. That’s what I mean by scalability. This allows a small team to pivot much more nimbly than ever before, and means that instead of focusing on the procedure of marketing, you can now focus your attention elsewhere– overall strategy, ROI tracking, or, more often than not, your next big project.

Does Marketing Automation benefit from a larger team? Absolutely– many hands make light work. But is it still feasible for a small team?


Um… No.

Full disclosure: I believe that any marketer in the year 2015 ought to at least know the basics of HTML and CSS. But I get that some people find basic coding to be a daunting prospect. Here’s the deal: every Marketing Automation provider offers free templates that are incredibly easy to customize. Still don’t feel comfortable with that? Find a partner like Unbounce  or Knak. Their WYSIWYG editors make the customization process a breeze. If templates aren’t your thing, outsource to a web developer once or twice a year.

The point is that once you have a few templates in your system, you don’t build emails and landing pages so much as you write them. Open the editor, drop some text in, swap out an image here or there… and you’re done. Simple and easy.

Here’s a free life hack for you: be super lazy and just make providing X number of templates a condition of the agreement with your Marketing Automation provider of choice. It costs them practically nothing, and you won’t have to stress about it.


Alt Title: Will it integrate with my instance of CRM?

Listen, we’ve all been there. I defy you to show me an instance of CRM that doesn’t have at least some data quality issues. Perhaps the greatest thing about Marketing Automation is that many of the big name providers can (and should) be indelibly tied to your CRM. When you combine that fact with the ability to change data values at scale, you have the recipe for down and dirty data normalization.

Here’s an easy example. You probably have a field in your CRM that denotes industry or business vertical. Now imagine within that field, you want to combine grocery, big box, and convenience stores all under a single new name, like “Retail.” Just about any Marketing Automation tool will allow you to make sweeping changes like that to your CRM in a matter of seconds. In fact, I’ve literally been typing this paragraph longer than it would take a new user to figure it out. No joke, it’s that simple.

So don’t let your data be the thing to hold you back. If anything, Marketing Automation helps you fix it!


It certainly doesn’t hurt to augment your organic inbound lead generation efforts with the occasional purchased lead list, but this question misses the point of Marketing Automation.

Every time I wanted to send a tradeshow email in the past, I used to have to wait on sales to send me their lists, compare that to the registered attendee list,  scrub the whole thing for competitors and vendors, and finally upload the final version to MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, or a similar service. That’s a lot of work and time that I could be spending on smarter things.

With Marketing Automation, you’re tied to your CRM. So for that same email, I can simply define who my target audience is, and proceed on my merry way. No more waiting on lists, because now I can segment our entire lead database based on any combination of data I choose… all in a few keystrokes.


Okay, this is obviously a troll question. It’s going to be a matter of much debate and opinion. Like I said earlier, my most in-depth experiences have been with Marketo. So the only fair way I can answer that is by saying that they’re all fast cars that will make you look super cool while cruising down the highway.

But… I will share one amazingly innovative anecdote from my experience with Marketo. Other providers may have something similar, so before I dive in, take a moment to rejoice that you are the customer, and all these guys are tripping over themselves to provide useful new features that will win your business.

Ah… who’s got it better than us? 😉

Here’s the deal. Marketo has these things called “tokens.” A token is basically just a string of text that, when placed into an email or landing page, dynamically populates data in its place. The most basic use for tokens is personalization, like greeting someone by their first name in an email salutation. Thinking about these in a more advanced way, Marketo lets you create entire programs what can be completely customized simply by editing the tokens.

Now, if you don’t have marketo experience, that likely doesn’t make a ton of sense. So let me illustrate. Simply by editing the text or links contained in these tokens:


You can dynamically update all the content that appears on a landing page or email in a single step. So the finished output for this responsive landing page would look like this:

token-screenPretty cool, right? Once you set it up once, you don’t even need to touch an editor. The main advantage to this tokenized setup is that it really makes your marketing automation programs scalable, and saves you a ton of time! My fellow Marketo Champion (and much smarter marketer than I), Edward Unthank, has been one of the main pioneers of the token. Bask further in his wisdom here.


7 Pieces of Life Advice

7 Great Pieces of Life Advice to Make You Better at Everything

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Across the entire marketing field, I’ve been reading a lot of advice lately. How to write copy that converts. 96,347 tips on how to optimize your landing pages. Enhancing your email deliverability rates through personalization. Retargeting your targets.

You get it. It can all be a little exhausting… not to mention humbling! Often times, there’s so much advice floating around on the interwebz that it makes it feel as though you’ll never be an expert in your craft.

So let’s be real here. A HUGE portion of the advice we receive every day is wildly subjective. What works for one person doesn’t always resonate for the next audience. So when I was trying to sit down and write this week’s post of useful marketing-related content, I started to wonder…

What can I share that’s actually universally useful?

So here– for your consideration, review, and application– are the seven best pieces of advice I’ve ever received (… so far). You can apply all the sagacious wisdom that follows to just about any area of life, especially marketing. But I think you’ll also find, with a little bit of reflection, that these tidbits of genius can also help you be a better person all around– whether that’s a husband, wife, sibling, marketer, team player, corporate citizen, or whatever.

Leave People Better than You Found Them

Here’s an idea we encounter all the time when we discuss how to build a successful engagement engine. The content we craft day-in and day-out needs to pass this one simple test: are my readers better off for having consumed the bounteous harvest I have just foisted upon them?

It’s so much more than that, though. Imagine if this were an unselfish mission statement that you kept at the back of your mind during every conversation. Your colleagues would love you. Your spouse/significant other would think you’re the best catch in the world. Don’t have a significant other? 10 bucks says that’ll change if you start living this out.

I’ve already extolled the virtues of placing your focus on others first in terms of content marketing, but consider how much more valuable you’d be to your entire team/organization if your sole focus was to edify everyone around you. This piece of advice elevates any conversation, and always causes people to think of you in a positive light. Is it feasible to keep this up 100% of the time? Absolutely not; we’re too human for that. But in terms of making lasting connections and inspiring motivation wherever you go, leaving people better off than when you found them is the key.

You Do You

What I love most about this is the dogged audacity that being yourself implies. Style is important, but something original always packs more punch than something pre-packaged (re: yo mama’s fried chicken & waffles versus McNuggets & Ego’s [RE:RE: thank me later]). Honing your own style means taking risks. You doing you means you’re willing to take those risks and whatever consequences– good or bad– they bring.

When I say “you do you,” I’m not talking about some overly romanticized method of “finding yourself.” I just mean that you should live life from a stance that you enjoy– sing like everyone is deaf and dance like everyone is blind (and in my case, also deaf). Contentment is contagious, and you can and should find a life-altering dose in your own skin.

Goodwill Generates Good Deeds

Here’s a simple truth… Try being nice to someone. What typically happens?

Odds are, they probably reciprocate. In a perfect world, this is a Cold War in reverse. Someone gets you a cup of coffee. You get them a donut. They buy you lunch. You name your firstborn after them.

Junk like that.

Oozing goodwill towards your colleagues, friends, and acquaintances almost always pays in dividends. Here’s a case in point for you:

Whenever I travel someplace new, I usually take a very expensive bag of camera gear with me. Now, I know that the airline will only insure the bag for a fraction of its contents; I also know that people in crowds tend to suck, and bring too much carry on onto the plane. On at least a dozen occasions, a friendly conversation with the gate agent has earned me an upgrade to my boarding group and sidestepped any issue with the airline forcing me to check my bag, thus resigning it to the twisting nether in the underbelly of the plane. Once, the gate agent was so kind, she upgraded me to first class for free.

Does that happen all the time? Unfortunately, no… But does smiling at a TSA rep or flirting with your waitress (or waiter… I’m pretty equal opportunity when it comes to doling out good vibes) cost you anything? Absolutely not… but on the upshot, often times it still pays you back anyway.

Attitude is Everything

You can’t control most of the things that happen to you in life. You can, however, control your attitude. Will you be bitter and enraged, or overjoyed and excited? The attitude you choose to adopt frames how you react to any situation.

Does a positive attitude make everything better? No, obviously not, or I’d be using Benjamins for Kleenex. But does a negative attitude make things worse? You betcha.

If It Doesn’t Look Cool, You’re Doing It Wrong

The story behind this piece of advice is simply too epic to not share. When I was a young Marine attending the School of Infantry (the real one, on the West Coast), we had just finished a long hike with full packs, weapons, and a paralyzingly hot sun. We were tired, dehydrated, and to be honest, not at our mentally sharpest. So naturally, the Marine Corps views this as the perfect time to teach us something important: Room Clearing.

Now, at the time, the US military was heavily invested in the Iraq War, and everyone knew what urban combat meant: lots and lots of room clearing. It’s dangerous work (as compared to the high explosives we normally worked with), and requires selfless teamwork to an extent I haven’t experienced before or since.

So fast-forward to when it was my team’s turn to go. We stacked up on the fake house, all signaled “go,” and flowed into the room.

Did I mention we were tired?

There were fake targets in each corner of the room. The first guy through the door hesitated on which direction he should clear first, which stopped down our entire train. If it were the real deal, we’d all have certainly been killed. Expecting to have our heads chewed off, we braced for the berating that we knew would be coming. To our surprise, the Staff Sergeant overseeing the course calmly walked up to the first Marine, and in the most gentle, fatherly voice said:

“Listen Devildog… if it doesn’t look cool, you’re doing it wrong. Don’t think so much. Just commit to a plan and trust your team to adapt. Your six belongs to them.”

In fairness, I think that’s some multi-faceted sagacity right there… But it’s a general truth that we marketers can certainly apply at least to our presentations and possibly other content (emails, landing pages, websites… whatever). If it looks cool, it probably works. I’ll admit, it’s not always universally true in marketing– sometimes long-form copy converts better than good design. But as a guideline, and in most other things in life, it works.

Don’t Just Strike While the Iron’s Hot… Make It Hot by Striking

Simply put, we open the doors to our own opportunities. Whether we’re patient or proactive, the idea here is do whatever you need to do to get the job done. To have your message heard. To steal your roommate’s girlfriend because she’s too good for him (to be clear, that never happened… to me, at least). Don’t wait. Be proactive.

Mistakes Are the Best Teachers (But They Don’t All Have to Be Your Own)

Because my core demographic is stubborn male, 18-35, typically I have to screw up in a pretty monumental way before I can learn a valuable life lesson. Being willing to take risks and be wrong is one of the things I’ve actually come to like about myself. The other half of this advice, though (as my parents have often pointed out) is that these mistakes don’t always need to be your own. Learn from other people’s pain and struggles. Ask questions, and see trends. This is kind of like Predictive Analytics… We know generally how likely someone is to take a certain action based on past behavior from a number of people who were similar situations. Take that marketer’s mindset for predictive analytics and apply it to your own life!

How To Court Your Customers

How to Court Your Customers

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Courting your customers? I know, that’s a weird headline– but hear me out. Last week, I made a light-hearted remark comparing the consultative sales process to how most people experience dating. The basic idea is that people almost automatically like and trust people that are interested in their interests. On the opposite end of that spectrum, people tend to distrust or even disregard people that appear to only be out for themselves. This is common sense stuff, so what does this psych 101 lesson have to do with your marketing strategy?

To answer that, let’s back up and think about the status quo facing us marketers. I recently read that a whopping 78% of Internet users conduct product research online. Honestly, the most surprising thing about that number is that it’s only 78%; I would’ve easily believed upwards of 90%. In either scenario, your first impression with a large portion of your prospects– whether they’re qualified or not– comes from your website. To keep the dating metaphor going, think of your website like a Tinder profile. Your bio better be on point if you want to make’em swipe right!

How to get their digi… email address

We could spend countless hours discussing the most effective strategies for making a website visitor convert (and in the coming weeks, we will). Designing a killer UX, writing CTAs that inspire, or creating content that coerces a form response… All of these are great ways to help your leads navigate their way through your funnel and augment your automation strategies. But for today, I want to focus on a much higher level: your message.

To create a message that leads to a healthy long-term relationship, here’s a couple guidelines you should keep in mind.

Be Useful

The B2B space sports an intrinsic “what can you do for me” perspective. If we’re honest, this doesn’t even diverge from the dating metaphor, either. But instead of companionship, mutual good vibes, or even just fun, the answers to this question in the B2B world range anywhere between growing the bottom line or just making life easier by solving some kind of pain.

Let’s look at an example of this. In a previous job, I had the amazing experience of being part of a company that was acquired by a peer-grade competitor. Now, the weird thing wasn’t that they bought us; we were insanely profitable, and offered year after year of proven success at kicking their butt. What was a little strange, though, was how they shifted their entire sales organization to our model; they kept our people and processes, and used their new investment as a key learning experience. Our year-on-year growth was like the proverbial snowball, and by the time they acquired us we had become a fully-formed avalanche. At the end of the day, though, we sold very similar products that delivered very similar value to the exact same target markets. All things being equal, why was our growth a hockey stick while their sales were flagging?

It all came down to our go-to-market strategy. We built an entire team around delivering the best consultative approach, where we (gave the illusion that) we completely forsook our best interests in preference of understanding our customer’s business and how it could be most enhanced– whether by us, a strategic partner, or even another competitor. Across all our marketing materials and digital efforts, our dogged persistence on delivering and proving value is what herded new customers through our funnel. Our emphasis on the “right solution” established so much more credibility for us than our competitors could keep up with using the antiquated feature/benefit approach. Even better, the sales people that showed no fear of the competition and embraced the opportunity to be useful and do some good for their customers very rarely lost.

Goodwill generates good actions.

Be Relevant

If you’re putting your customer’s needs first, chances are you’re already being highly relevant. As a digital marketer, you already know they’re interacting with your website. If your messaging there is considered useful, you’ve already made a great impression… So to keep it going, you want to ensure that message stays at the forefront of their mind. This is where retargeting can help.

Companies like AdRoll do a great job explaining the nuts and bolts of how retargeting works– this isn’t intended to be a plug for them, but instead a use-case for the technology. For a moderate budget, you can place ads that resonate with your customers, based on narrowly defined criteria. Similar to how AdWords works, your leads will be served an ad based on specific actions they took– in this case, on your website, emails, or landing pages. Amazon has been doing this for years, so it’s not really that it’s new… it’s just an extremely viable good idea to keep your message in front of your leads, no matter where they go on the web.

AdRoll recently published the survey results of how 1,000 marketers are approaching their digital strategies in 2015 and beyond. The stats are very interesting, so I encourage you to read the whole thing here. One key takeaway, though, is that most marketers that have put retargeting through its paces are finding that it can be equally effective as paid search and email campaigns.

Just… Don’t.

As marketers, we spend what I assume to be an unhealthy amount of time and caffeinated-energy deducing new ways to cut a swath through all the cluttered messages our customers receive every day. So when I see salespeople (or worse, other marketers) launch into a rehearsed pitch, my head starts shaking involuntarily. Whenever I see a powerpoint presentation start off with five slides about how apparently awesome my/your company is, I just have to turn off my brain for fear of what it might do to me if I allow it to endure more mindless corporate-speak-infused drivel.

Spoiler Alert: nobody cares.

It doesn’t matter what you’re selling; your customers won’t believe a few catchphrases and hollow promises are going to solve all their problems. What they want, whether they realize it or not, is to invite a dialog. “Here’s our problem. What do you think we should do to fix it?” Starting off any conversation by talking about yourself is an instant turn off, and yet somehow we continue to see it ALL. THE. TIME.

Brothers and sisters, please… Just don’t.

Key Takeaway

Ask yourself this: does your message inspire your leads & prospects to say yes to a second date? If not, where is your focus?

Next week, we’ll take this briefly in a more tactical direction and discuss a little more about how to optimize landing pages to boost conversion rates!

3 Stages of Content Marketing

The 3 Stages of Content Marketing

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Marketers talk a lot about Content Marketing. We’re at the point where a simple concept has become a high-brow buzzword. Allow me to re-simplify this for you: Content Marketing is just storytelling.

Let’s be honest… Anything that is written or documented in some way IS content. Whether it’s a brochure, case study, whitepaper, or whatever, we use these puddles of ink (or pixels) to convey individual messages that– when taken together with the rest of our content arsenal– illuminates a central story. Common plot lines in the B2B world have included such classics as “We have the best widget for your needs,” and “No one does this as well as we do.”

As an aside, nowadays many marketers are trending towards a softer touch by being more human in their approach. Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot more success reaching customers with a consultative “let’s-talk-about-your-needs-and-interests-over-drinks” tack versus “CHECK-OUT-THESE-WHIZ-BANG-FEATURES”. Incidentally, this is also some of the best dating advice I ever received… Anyway, I’ll be sharing a few more thoughts on this subject in the coming weeks.

The 3 Stages of the Content Marketing Journey

Every story is a journey, and in the case of content marketing, this journey coincides nicely with your sales cycle. To help you craft the best possible arc, there are three specific stages of the process that I’d like to focus on:

  1. Plan.
  2. Do.
  3. Tweak.

Content Marketing– Stage One: Plan.

The clever among you have no doubt noticed that only one of these stages relates to the actual *production* of your content. Creating the perfect story arc means you need a finely crafted beginning, middle, and end to your story in mind before you even begin to create your content marketing strategy. Imagine how differently some of your favorite stories might’ve turned out if the author hadn’t given some thought to the ending before she started…  Sydney Carton may have drank himself into oblivion. Voldemort might have actually managed to kill Harry. Bella might’ve eventually become interesting. (That’s a Twilight joke, for those of you more discerning than I with regard to how you spend your time in fictional climes…)

Suffice to say, planning is an important step. With that in mind, take a look at some of these  staggering statistics regarding Content Marketing:

  • 62% of marketers think their organization’s content marketing strategies are ineffective.
  • 74% of consumers report that they’ve been frustrated with websites that showcase content they perceive as irrelevant to them.
  • Only 5% of buyers say they’re willing to give up personal info in exchange for content.

Those numbers are depressing, and I only bring them up to illustrate a simple point: without a healthy amount of strategic forethought, failure to connect with your customers is almost guaranteed.

To craft the best plan, you need to think about the most important aspect of your job as a marketer: to deliver value to your audience. Let that value be your guiding light, and for every piece of content, ask the question “how would this piece help my target customer?”

Content Marketing– Stage Two: Do.

Ah, the safe harbor of rolled-up sleeves, caffeine, and carpal tunnel. The tactical side of Content Marketing can be an extremely fulfilling process– especially if you’re a content guy like me. When you’re creating new content, there’s one key mantra you should keep in mind:

What is more important than how.

What I mean is that the topic you choose to address and the message you tie to it is more important than the medium. You can always parse a worthy piece of content into something new. To drive our Engagement Marketing efforts, I’ve taken long form whitepapers and split them into several smaller, more focused touches via email. That’s a fairly common sense best practice, but the reason it worked in my situation was simply because the content’s message was on point. Write messages that inspire your customers to take the next step in the journey, and don’t be afraid to experiment!

Content Marketing– Stage Three: Tweak.

The most important thing about this stage is the unspoken acknowledgement of imperfection. I’m a huge fan of the idea that a flawed piece of content right now is much better than a perfect piece of content that is MIA. Like I said in stage two, you should be experimenting and finding out what works– and what just… doesn’t. Stage 3 is where you optimize your content and readdress the parts that could be improved.

So… How do you optimize your finished content?

Know Your Audience

Okay, this one is common sense. Sometimes, a message doesn’t work because it just wasn’t the right fit for the audience you were talking to. Basic as it may be, showing brilliance here will pay dividends later.

Buyer personas have become a big deal lately. Most people talk about the obvious benefits in terms of marketing automation– target campaigns to specific groups with laser-like focus. Another benefit that shouldn’t be ignored, however, is the psychology that goes into creating a buyer persona. You’re basically getting into your customer’s head, seeing the world through their eyes. When we talk about humanizing our marketing efforts and making our customers the heroes of their own stories, this is huge. If you’re already crafting your content with a double-shot of empathy, you’re more than halfway there.

If you haven’t written buyer personas for your key business segments, Hubspot has a pretty cool template to help you get started. Check it out:

Download a Buyer Persona Template

Understand Why People Share

People share content for a number of reasons. In my experience, goodwill generates good deeds, and people generally love being useful. Beyond that, here is a shortlist of general reasons people might be inspired to share your content:

  • The possibility of being rewarded.
  • Good vibrations.
  • Your content supports their beliefs.
  • Your content inspires a sense of “awe.”
  • They think you’re trustworthy, and want to share that trust with others.

Know What Drives Search

Understanding how people find your content is just as important as understanding how they engage with it. I’d wager that almost everyone’s content marketing strategies are totally digital at this point. I know a few people who still use direct mail and printed collateral as effective tools, but with the advent of omnipresent screens, the way we consume information is simply evolving along with each new gadget. This means we have an opportunity to predict how our customers will behave on teh interwebz, and position our content in such a way that they’re sure to run into it!

The first metric behind this is search terms and relevancy. What are the keywords that would likely lead someone to find your content, and how relevant are those keywords to the content itself?

Next, consider what the competition is doing. How does your website’s page rank compare to theirs? If it’s lower (and believe me, we’ve all been there), it might be time to talk to a few SEO agencies to see what can be done. Chances are, this isn’t as expensive of a process as you think it is.

Third, is your content unique? I don’t just mean from your competition here, I mean even your own content library. If it’s not, it might be hard for the viewer to discern one piece from the next. So far (somehow), I’ve avoided repeating the tired phrase “Content is King.” It is, but… Something to keep in mind: if Content is indeed King, then the User Experience is his Queen. Make it easy for your customers to find useful content.

Fourth, match your content to the medium. Do people come to your website expecting long-form whitepapers, or pithy videos? Again, make sure they find what they’re expecting to find.

Finally, consider your audience size. How broad of an audience would be interested in your content? You might consider adjusting your AdWords strategy accordingly if it’s a narrow audience and a high-bid keyword.


3 Fantastic Reasons to Make Engagement Marketing Part of Your Strategy

3 Fantastic Reasons to Make Engagement Marketing Part of Your Strategy

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The way Engagement Marketing has been bandied about over the last couple years is nothing short of amazing. Some treat it like a magic bullet; others, a healing salve that will provide convalescence to their ailing pipeline. I (regrettably) even know a few holdouts that batch-&-blast their customers to sweet, sweet campaigned oblivion. Suffice to say, there are definitely a few key reasons Engagement Marketing should be part of your strategy, so standby for edification!

But First… Some Foundation.

As marketers, we generally accept that we shouldn’t cling to tradition. People and technology continually adapt and progress, and our messages and the manner in which we deliver them need to follow suit. Today, customers in any industry can bury themselves in an avalanche of information with just a few quick searches… and that’s exactly how we tend to act. Think about the last purchase you made on Amazon (or wherever). How many reviews did you read before you made a purchasing decision? Did you go to the product’s website for more information? Did you compare several other reviews from different websites, or ask anyone you know about their experience with the product/service?

Odds are, you probably said yes to at least some of those questions. My point is this: if one of your customers is at the point of initiating a conversation with you, chances are they’ve already done their fair share of due diligence and know the nuts and bolts of your offerings. That works great in and of itself, but it doesn’t really help you funnel qualified leads to your sales force. That strategy is basically the marketing equivalent of putting on a bomber jacket, growing some sick sideburns, grunting a Fonzie “aayyyy,” and waiting for the ladies to swoon. This might’ve worked well at some point, but unless you’re targeting leads with an exclusive penchant for “Happy Days,” it just doesn’t anymore. As my main dude Kid President would say:

You’re gooder than that

Once More Into The Breach!

Clearly, there’s a gap between basic curiosity and serious consideration. Firing friendly salvo after salvo at that unknowing target can inspire your prospects to seek cover deeper in your funnel if the message is (wait for it) on target. But truly successful Engagement Marketing has evolved past simply placing your leads into a drip campaign that sends them general messages that may or may not apply. The Engagement engine, as it turns out, can be so much more sophisticated than that!

According to a recent study, drip-style nurturing can take over a year before a lead becomes a purchase. If you have a long sales cycle like I do, I’m sure you can appreciate my desire for more immediate feedback on how well my campaigns are performing. In order to get a better grasp on the pulse of your Engagement Programs, you need to narrowly define how leads end up in particular streams, and create some rules for how they transition to the next stage.

Failing to plan next steps is tantamount to planning to fail.

The 3 Main Reasons You Should Consider Nurturing Your Leads

Alt-Title: Be a Grower AND a Show-er

Okay, this is what you’re here for. In case you just scrolled to these naughty bits, consider wheeling up on that mouse. All of the above is an essential foundation for what Engagement Programs can do, and a few key things to think about as you approach your Engagement Marketing Programs. With all that said, let’s discuss the key benefits of why you should engage your prospects like this.

Reason #1: Building Your Brand

This is an easy one. Engaging with your leads and prospects with useful content establishes credibility for your brand. Being informative, useful, and empathetic does much more for your brand than the shotgun blast that takes lazy aim at a large list with single-target messaging. Instead, the hands-off approach builds credibility for your brand and practically guarantees good vibrations with your prospects right from the start. This harkens back to one of the most basic human characteristics: we like people that like us.

Reason #2: Building Relationships with Your Leads

All of the above is backstory to this central idea: Engagement Marketing helps you build effective relationships with potential customers at any stage of their buying journey. If they’re teetering on the edge of the top of your funnel, push them over the edge by serving up information that’s useful to them. Use a light touch– they’re not ready for late-stage sales messages yet. Set up some triggers to track how they interact with your emails and website so that when they exhibit further signs of interest, they’re automatically embraced into the next level of your relationship. To illustrate this point, think of the last time you met a good friend for the first time. Did they drone on and on endlessly about themselves, or show interest in your interests, needs, and desires?

I’m betting on the latter. Now think about all the shenanigans and high jinks you’ve gotten into with that friend. Kind of worth it, right?

Reason #3: Engagement Programs Curtail The Sales Cycle

Like I said above, I work with a fairly long sales cycle. I read a recent statistic from an IDG study that claimed most B2B purchase decisions involve an average of 7.5 decision-makers in the buying process. Thinking about conversions and ROI, the faster you can get those 7.5 people to agree that you’re the one, the faster you’ll prove marketing’s value to sales… And that support doesn’t come easily. If you’ve been able to start the conversation early with an informative and useful Engagement Program, you’ve essentially made the sales teams’ job exponentially easier. Your sales team will appreciate having to do less convincing, and this will also free them up to keep turning the crank on their other accounts.

Additionally, leads that believe in the value of your solutions tend to buy more. Any sales person can corroborate that story– in fact, for most businesses, it’s not about competing on price but instead about proving value. Be valuable to your leads and prospects at every touchpoint you have with them, and they’ll pay it forward.

Literally, though. They’ll pay you. With money. And probably a fair amount of goodwill, too.

Last Thought

Engagement Marketing is absolutely something you should be doing. However, an important distinction to keep in mind is that Engagement Marketing is still only one piece of a bigger whole. All of these efforts can be further enhanced on your other channels with Personalization. But the depth and breadth of that subject is a topic for another day.

More to come!

Marketo Summit 2015

2015 Marketo Summit: An Honest Review

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The 2015 Marketo Summit is now (unfortunately) over. If you weren’t able to attend, or if you’re considering attending Summit in the future, this honest review is for you.

Let me state the obvious disclaimer: I’m a Marketo user. I’ve drank deep of the purple-flavored Kool-Aid, and have emerged transformed. I’m a big believer in this era of engagement, and I’m constantly looking for exciting new methods and strategies. To that end, Summit had a lot of fantastic learning opportunities on tap. What I want to offer here, though, is simply a fair assessment of the things Marketo did well, as well as a few things that could be improved.

If you’re on the fence about attending Summit in 2016, here’s a few key insights from the Chucks on the ground:

The Most Righteous:


As predicted, the sessions were (mostly) amazing. The only problem was that there were so many good options! Almost every time slot offered several sessions that imparted a deep sense of loss when I had to skip them in favor of another– like I was choosing which one of my family members would survive a crisis. Luckily, Marketo is sharing the recorded audio and slides from these sessions at some point in the near future, and next year’s Summit will be four days as opposed to three… So I’m optimistic that Summit 2016 will have less of that “kill your darlings” feeling.

I’ve shared my notes via Evernote, so please feel free to download and review! These are without a doubt THE most valuable part of Summit.

Evernote Notes 

The Keynotes

I walked in with high expectations of Arianna Huffington on day one, and even THEN was still blown away. The theme for this year’s Summit was “Inspiration,” Arianna offered excellent life advice and personal accounts that failed to disappoint. The one thought that has stuck with me is the need to have predictable time scheduled to disengage and recharge, and that the tactical day-to-day things that drag us down have a tendency to get handled. That means being a better husband and all-around man really fuels me being a much-improved marketer, and all the other small stuff takes care of itself. Simple advice, but much needed.

Phil Fernandez, Marketo Chairman and CEO, shared his vision for the future of the marketing nation… Namely, the death of mass advertising and the old ways of marketing and a renewed focus on the era of engagement through personalization. The clarion call throughout the entire Summit was that to be better marketers, we need to be more human. All the business-speak and political maneuvering is secondary to the fact that no matter what business you’re in, you sell to people. Again, simple advice, huge impact.

I almost skipped the second keynote on day two (in favor of catching up on the aforementioned tactical things that have a tendency to get handled), but I’m so glad I didn’t. Sanjay Dholakia (Marketo CMO) and Salman Khan (Founder and Executive Director of the Khan Academy) were probably the most inspiring speakers at Summit. If you don’t know about the Khan Academy or their mission, you need to find out.

To sum it up, all the Keynotes were incredibly inspiring and Marketo really knows how to fuel the Marketing Nation.

Edit: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that John Legend also made an appearance, and gave us a micro-concert as well as his inspiring account of his rise to stardom. He seems like a real dude, and I’m a fan now. He’s proof that compassion is one of the most important skills we can learn.

The Expo

There was a fantastic mix of exhibiting partners at the Summit, a few of which I can’t wait to talk to more about how we can fit them into our business. My only problem now is how to deal with packing all the swag…

The App

The Summit mobile app was great for a number of reasons.

First, it was a HUGE help in choosing which sessions to attend, and then exporting all that info into my calendar. When it was time for a session, I got the notification automatically to remind me what room the session was in and to start heading that way. I love things that keep me on point!

Second, the app afforded the marketing nation an easy way to make connections. I came to Summit alone, and out of 6,000 marketers, I knew exactly zero. By playing around in the app a week prior to Summit, I met a number of talented marketers at all levels of experiences in a variety of roles. We formed VERY strong professional and personal bonds (#mykrewe plans on making a major splash in the updated Marketo Community site). Not only did this make Summit more fun, but it really can’t be stated just how many beneficial conversations were had about our jobs as marketers, whether they concerned our marketing automation efforts or not. It also didn’t hurt that we had our own little entourage at all the parties and networking events. I really branched out with other marketers at Summit, and the App played a huge part in that.

The meh

The Marketo Certified Expert Exam

I would love to see some metrics around what the pass rate was for this exam. In all fairness, becoming certified as an expert shouldn’t be a walk in the park; it should require some learning and experience. But the training materials that were provided compared to the actual exam were about as similar as penguins and eagles. In my personal preparation, I scored 100% on the practice exam and was assured that the real thing was comparably difficult. In reality, the final exam seemed to test more about my knowledge of Marketo jargon than my actual ability to set up and use the tool. I’m just saying that if I can impact over $3M in opportunities in 6 months through our marketing automation programs, and have our Marketo consultant tell me I’m more than adequately prepared for the exam, there shouldn’t be such a high failure rate. Anecdotally, it seemed like for around every 7 people that took the exam, only one passed. That’s a just a best guess based on conversations I had this week, so it’s definitely not a scientific assessment. I’m looking forward to how Marketo responds to the mass public outcry at this exam, though.

The Venue

Moscone is a great place to put on a show, but the Marketing Nation was just too much for it. With only 10 minutes between sessions, cutting a swath through an endless sea of bodies and getting a seat in time was always a challenge. The silver lining here, though, is that next year Summit will be in Vegas. I’m sure that will make the venue much more accommodating to the swelling ranks of the Marketing Nation!

The Verdict

Was Summit a total success? For me, yeah– it really was. Obviously, the above mentioned meh-factor are both minor concerns compared to what Summit really offered. The sessions were informative and engaging (with only one exception in my case, but I think it had to do with a panel member not being available last minute), the networking opportunities were out of this world, and I was inspired by all the great messages Marketo aimed at me through the keynotes. If you’re still on the fence about attending next year, consider this:

The marketing world is always changing, and Summit is an opportunity to learn how thousands of other marketers with the same basic tools are adapting to those changes. The expense and time given to attend are more than worth what you get back in return, anyone who says you shouldn’t go is stupid (um… probably don’t lead with that last bit).

PS: I took that header shot above early one morning with the wonderful Ande Kempfe (@ande_kempf). How beautiful is San Francisco, right?

Top 5 Sessions I’m Looking Forward to at Marketo’s SUMMIT 2015

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Whether you use Marketo as a marketing automation platform or not, there’s a ton of good juju surrounding the 2015 Marketing Nation Summit. There are over 115 sessions spread across two days, which means for all of us attendees, planning is paramount. Knowing I’m going to have to wait for the recordings of 92% of the sessions to become available for post-show consumption has caused me quite a bit of heartburn. I think there’s a lot of value in experiencing something live versus just listening to the recording– not unlike a concert versus a CD.

I’ve poured through the sessions and made my agenda several times over now, so I thought I’d share what I consider to be the top 5  sessions to attend at SUMMIT. None of these sessions conflict with one another, so if you like what you see, please feel free to join me!

Top 5 Sessions to Attend at Marketo SUMMIT

1. Marketo Pro Tips Episode II: The Token Strikes Back

In Marketo, tokens are most often used to personalize data, such as someone’s first name in an email greeting. However, as the title may suggest, they can be a lot more than that. In my organization, we use a complicated series of tokens to control our lead scoring on a platform-wide scale. This session promises a few key takeaways that shouldn’t be passed up:

  • Making global changes to your instance in a few keystrokes
  • Build program templates even your non-technical users can master
  • Cheating the WYSIWYG and landing page editors
  • Common traps with tokens and how to avoid them

2. The Secret Sauce in Your Content Barbecue

Ann Handley of Marketing Profs fame is delivering a best practice/tips session based on a simple idea: while content is certainly a cornerstone to a great marketing strategy, you don’t necessarily need more of it… it just needs to be better. I think this makes perfect sense, and I can’t wait to hear what more Ann has to say on the topic. I’ve been a huge fan hers for long enough to know that her common sense approach is going to leave everyone feeling extremely grateful to have been there.

3. The 3 Stages of Content Marketing

This session is a great catch-all for content marketers like me. The premise is that a good content marketing strategy is simple, but should be like a book, with a defined beginning (content ideation and creation), middle (experience and engagement), and end (demand gen and reporting). I’m keenly aware that I could use a little coaching on how to best write the ending to my book, so this one promises to be worth a look.

4. Marketo Product Roadmap and Customer Love 2015

Okay, I know this one isn’t really a session, but… As a dedicated Marketo user, this one makes the list because of how this roadmap may affect our strategies in the long-term. I wouldn’t advise anyone to ever wait for a new whiz-bang feature to be implemented before doing something that could positively impact their business today, but knowing what lies in store is empowerment itself.

5. 5 Use Cases of Predictive Marketing

This is a “Champion” session, put on by a few well-versed Marketo veterans. If that level of expertise doesn’t say enough for you, let me describe this in the simplest way possible. Do you want to do any of these things?

  • Improve conversion rates
  • Perfect personas and personalized messaging on your website
  • Identify new target markets
  • Evaluate marketing campaigns

If you said yes to any of those, you need to go to this session.