Marketing just turned IT upside down

Years ago, the CEO of a very successful client announced he was going to spend a week with the sales people and visit customers, prospects.

After the third day, he returned to the office and said he’d had enough. His reason, “They don’t like me.”

What he meant was they didn’t appreciate his technological breakthroughs as much as the folks who attended conferences where he often spoke to engineers who appreciated the elegance of his expertise.

Of course, they didn’t have to use his products day-in, day-out to get work done.

Fast-forward to today and not a lot has changed except that the engineers and marketers now have access to more data about their target market/customer so they can hone a better solution.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s their goal … move prospects from awareness through consideration to purchase.

The problem is today’s customers know more and can do their research faster/better so they are more in control of the situation.

By the time they enter the store or visit an ecommerce site, they have already done all their research online and collaborated with colleagues, friends, family.

When they enter the door, they usually know more than the sales clerk.

How do I know?

Three to four weekends a year I “waste” a weekend (my wife’s words) walking around stores just watching and listening to people who come in to purchase something.

As long as the consumer doesn’t ask too many questions, the clerk is fine. If they do, he/she will quickly move to someone else.

At trade shows, I stand for eight hours a day in the booth talking to/listening to customers.

Why did they/didn’t they buy?

What are they looking for, what are their needs – real/emotional?

After the first two days, I’m numb from the waist down; but still, I listen.

It’s interesting to learn up close and personal what the individual wants, needs and why.

I’m often surprised how many people will say, “I really like/respect your products but they’ve never purchased one.”

That would seem to defeat conventional marketing, which is to grab someone’s attention and move him/her through the process to a successful sale.

To compensate for not actually talking to customers, marketing folks have taken up the holy grail of Big Data.

More, More – With the amount of group and personal data people post and use as they traverse the Internet and Web, organizations are finding some highly useful information about large and small groups of people … right down to the individual.

The whole idea is to keep accumulating information into bigger and bigger mounds and then slice it and dice it to get better insight into consumer behaviour so they can develop better strategy and marketing tactics.

That will enable them to increase sales, sign-ups, registrations and ROI for their marketing efforts.

Then, they can start the process all over again … cool!

The problem is the standard route of grabbing a customer and moving him/her along the purchasing path doesn’t work anymore.

When marketing folks suddenly find themselves in an environment they’ve never experienced before, they use great words to describe the item like being bold, being disruptive.

But it’s the customer who is being bold because he/she is much more empowered and in control … and he/she knows it!

Taking on All Comers – Today’s consumer is extremely ambivalent about their loyalties, moving from website to website with little or no fear. They can inflict damage with just a few clicks of the keyboard and move before people even know they’ve been hit.

Today’s consumer bounces off social media sites, blogs, reviews and company sites with wreckless abandon; and if marketing is sitting there working on the trip plan, it’s pretty easy to get sidelined.

So how do you put together a strategy/plan to produce popularity for something like South Korea’s Psy or Duck Dynasty?

Don’t even bother telling me you saw those things coming!

To avoid as many surprises as possible, one company regularly has everyone in the organization pull duty on the sales and support desk.

The CEO said it enables everyone – including marketing, communications – to understand what the customers want/need and what they’re really saying.

He half-jokingly added that it’s not only a humbling experience but it also produces a more customer-centric team.

In today’s constantly changing environment, it’s pretty easy for marketing to try to do everything and hope it works but … hope isn’t a strategy.

Perhaps that’s why many marketers use Big Data analytics that incorporate consumer demographics, household/business characteristics, usage patterns, spending, attitudes and needs to justify their plans, their decisions.

Weighing Importance – Every customer has value but some are just worth more time, effort than others. Those who return again and again (especially with favorable comments) are the ones the company wants to encourage to tell/assist others.

Sure, it helps to determine how product should be marketed and which products deserve marketing support; but that’s not the same as developing the continued guidance, assistance relationship that consumers expect in today’s marketplace.

That’s developed over time by high-quality customer service/support throughout the organization and a simple guideline … deliver beyond expectations.

The same is true of advocate and influencer marketing activities.

Nothing builds a stronger cadre of company/product advocates like being able to test beta products (and influencing features) and being kept apprised of new products, services, plans.

The best counter to an aggressive advocate program was when a marketing person said, “Yeah but they’ll tell others before we’re ready and the competition will know what we’re doing.”


If your competition doesn’t know what’s going on then they need to get a better intelligence team.

If consumers hear about it before you’re ready, then you just validated that it’s the customer’s world … not yours.

The effort I find most disturbing is the idea of cranking up influencer marketing around product launches.

Spot Shots – Unfortunately, most companies only think about the key influencers when they are trying to roll-out a new product, a new campaign or something similar. Generally, at any other time, they ignore the individuals (O.K., almost everyone) and then they end up wondering why they aren’t loved.

By definition, an influencer is someone who is able to mobilize opinions, can create reactions when talking about a specific topic, has a large audience or base of followers and has a high degree of participation in a conversation on a given subject.

Don’t get me wrong, influencer/buzz activities are important; it’s just not something that you only pay attention to around a product launch.

We work with influentials in a wide range of product/application areas; but it’s with the view of a long-term relationship, not just around some product launch.

What we don’t do is pay influencers – yes we know companies that do – because as far as I’m concerned, that’s a shill, “paid spokesperson” and integrity/credibility can’t be bought.

Expectations – Influentials (individuals who are respected experts in their fields) want to receive the information first and with as much depth/breadth as possible. Most influentials won’t discuss/recommend a product unless they have had a hands-on test of the hardware/software to ensure the product/solution is “as advertised.” A few expect to be paid or want other professional/courtesy payment options to be considered.

Every influencer we work with insists on actually testing, using, evaluating the product/service.

The sooner, the better; and most know more about their business area than you do so they’re even willing to look at what we call “late beta” as long as they know what areas are being modified, corrected.

These aren’t young hackers who stand in long lines to be first in their group to get their hands on a beta product so they can tell you what to fix.

Some influencers expect to keep the product after their review/coverage, others may want it with a deep discount, others want to move on to the next great thing.

If the product stays, it wasn’t an expense … it was an investment.

And a damn good investment!

Other efforts that are appreciated include:

  • Receiving as much added information/content to help them produce their own content.
  • If they are speaking at a conference directly or indirectly about your products/services, offer to cover their expenses … it’s a thoughtful gesture.
  • Keep them generally informed, not just when you want a review or coverage.
  • Talk to them, treat them like honest, ethical friends because they are or … you’re doing it all wrong

Of course, if that doesn’t work you can always go back to pouring over your Big Data analysis and coming up with a better plan of action.


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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