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The way prospects buy is changing. This truth has been identified by a number of studies. Even without such studies, each of us intuitively understands that our shopping habits have changed and continue to do so. Today, if we are in need of household items, we turn to Amazon. If we want to be entertained, we turn to Netflix. If we want to plan an amazing vacation, we turn to Tripadvisor or Google.
Empirically speaking, buyers research between 1 to 4 hours online before making any purchasing decisions. This was not the case a decade ago when Android did not exist and when the iPhone was just launched. Similarly, in a few years, the buying preferences of your target audience will undoubtedly have changed again.
This article is designed to help marketers prepare their marketing organizations for change. Even though we may not know what those trends will be, there are seven steps that any marketing leader can take to position their organizations for future success.
1. Embrace Data Science
Some of the world’s most successful organizations use a combination of data scientists and marketers to acquire more customers, improve customer retention, and reduce acquisition costs. The term “data science” can be applied to many different aspects of business, from software development to business operations, Marketing teams that embrace the principles of data science will be more successful because of it.
The Google Trends chart above highlights the growing interest among all searchers in regards to data science. When it comes to marketing and data science, mining datasets for customer insights can help organizations find the right answer much faster than by relying on traditional techniques.
Businesses like MailChimp, Uber and Amazon (among countless others) have all embraced data science as a way of uncovering hidden opportunities for many different business units, including marketing. As the VP of Product Management (and previously the Chief Data Science), John Foreman says, “The data science team at MailChimp leads from the back in this way — constantly finding ways to serve other teams and our customers using analytics and data-driven products.”
2. Create a Growth Team
Marketing teams responsible for fueling demand are essentially helping to grow the business. As a result of this focus, Growth Marketing has become a popular new trend used by companies like Hubspot, Dropbox, and Warby Parker.
Growth marketing teams are usually comprised of an eclectic mix of data-driven professionals. It is typical for growth teams to include a lead marketer who is supported by an engineer, product manager and data scientist.
When thinking about what skills a growth marketer should have, consider the “T” example shown here. The visual shows a “T” shaped skillset where growth marketers are knowledgeable about many different aspects of marketing, while also having deep knowledge about a few key areas related to growth. In this case, search engine optimization and pay per click advertising are key skills for the growth marketer represented by the diagram above.
Creating a growth marketing team will help your marketing organization to drive growth in a scalable and sustainable way, by incorporating growth strategies into many different areas of your business.
3. Measure Every Marketing Channel
The famous management consultant, Peter Drucker coined the phrase, “what gets measured gets managed.” It was true when his book The Effective Executive was published in 1967, and it is true today.
For marketing teams to be successful both today and in the future, it is important that key metrics are measured, tracked, and incorporated into company culture. Team updates should be centered around performance related to KPIs, as should individual performance evaluations.
Unfortunately, some areas of marketing—such as PPC performance or email marketing—are often over-measured while other areas are under-measured. Measurement of new social media platforms is the one facet that marketing teams should focus on, for example. After all, investing in an Instagram analytics platform like Owlmetrics can help your team get the most out of one of the fastest growing social media networks in the world.
4. Successfully Forecast Performance within a Few Percent
Being able to successfully forecast marketing performance is key when working in a data driven organization. Marketing teams that reliably forecast performance will gain trust within the organization, while also helping other teams understand what they should reasonably expect from marketing performance results.
This skill goes hand-in-hand with the idea that business will become increasingly data driven as analytics become more accessible. A great way to begin forecasting is by learning a simple exponential, or a double exponential smoothing model. This analysis takes past performance into account when predicting future performance. A double exponential model is a bit more sophisticated, as it weighs recent performance more heavily, making it perfect for organizations that are scaling quickly.
5. Set Skill Benchmarks for Your Team
The company that created telegraph infrastructure in the United States, now needs talent that is comfortable with computer programming and business intelligence. AT&T developed an expansive employee training program to bring current AT&T employees up to speed. This move allows the company to forgo costly recruiting expenses, while retaining people loyal to the company.
In a recent Harvard Business Review profiling this strategy, “AT&T estimates that, all told, 140,000 employees are actively engaged in acquiring skills for newly created roles.”
It is impossible to know exactly how marketing will change in the coming years. The only thing that is certain is that changes are coming. Businesses can prepare employees for these changes by investing in employee development. In doing so, businesses can avoid expensive recruiting costs, while retaining hard-earned on the job knowledge that can take marketing teams to new heights.
6. Experiment With Chatbots
Over 2 billion people use at least one messaging platform a minimum of once a month. The rise of social messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Kik (among others) is changing the way people communicate with one another and with brands. While in some cases, messaging platforms create marketing challenges because accessing analytics is difficult (which is why messaging platforms are called “dark social”), a few companies are already capitalizing on these new platforms.
Chatbots use either machine learning, or pre-programmed conversation trees that allow users to interact with brands through the messaging platform of their choice. Brands like Sephora and Lyft make it incredibly easy for customers to make purchases from most messaging platforms.
Sephora’s chatbot provides Facebook Messenger users with a free beauty consultation. Depending on how a user interacts with the chatbot, Sephora will recommend specific items based on that user’s needs.
Lyft also created a chatbot that works with Facebook Messenger and Slack. In just a few sentences, anyone can order a ride without even opening their Lyft app. In addition to text based messaging platforms, Lyft also integrates with Amazon Echo, so users can request a ride by voice as well.
Marketing teams of all sizes can get started with chatbots by working with a third-party software like ChattyPeople or Chatleap. Alternatively, they can outsource the work to developers that specialize in building chatbots. Marketing teams that are interested in providing a chatbot experience but would prefer doing so on a company website, can use a tool like Drift to get started.
7. Create an International Marketing Plan
Guess which country had the most people using the Internet last year. If you guessed China, take a moment to congratulate yourself. If you didn’t guess China, take a minute to educate yourself.
Over 700 million Chinese residents, which is 2.5 times more than the number of people in the United States, used the Internet last year. Similarly, over 400 million people in India used the internet last year, which is 1.5 times more than US internet users.
Marketing teams interested in scaling products to become billion dollar companies should realize that a great deal of opportunity exists internationally (regardless of where you are working as you read this article). Localization marketing can help brands access less competitive or more profitable markets while scaling customers.
Trello provides marketers with compelling evidence that highlights the effectiveness of localization marketing. Before being acquired by Atlassian for $425 million, Trello created a team of talented international marketers. These marketers helped the brand to acquire new users in markets like Brazil, Germany, and Spain by tweaking Trello’s strategy to suit local preferences.
Research whether or not a localization strategy can help your business scale more efficiently. If you find that it might be useful, consider building a team of international marketers with knowledge in the region you hope to target.
Marketing is sure to continue evolving as prospects change buying habits and uncover new pinpoints. For marketing teams to be prepared, it is important to focus on hiring individuals with data-driven expertise.
Businesses should invest in analytics platforms, and should ensure that marketing teams are capable of successfully forecasting performance. In order to truly prepare for the future, it is also a good idea to create some sort of training program to update current employees on the latest best practices.
What else should your business be investing in to empower the marketing team? Download the Marketer's Backpack to find out what questions and insights marketers should be pursuing in order to make the most of your marketing strategy.
About 12 months ago, I covered some content marketing trends to watch for 2017. I recently reread that post and most of the trends are very much in play for 2018 and beyond. Most enterprises are still working through creation of a true, living content marketing strategy for their organizations. Native advertising is still the gateway drug for many content marketing programs, and mobile is, well, it continues to be the flavor of every month as consumer use grows.
But some truly interesting events have occurred over the past few months that, I believe, begin to speak to the evolution of the content marketing practice itself.
Big bets on original content
Reports surfaced recently that Apple, the most valuable company in the world based on stock market capitalization, is planning to invest over $1 billion on original content. (Robert and I discussed this at length in the This Old Marketing podcast Episode 197.) Although there is talk about this move positioning Apple to take on Netflix, we believe this move is more significant than Apple just getting into the television show or streaming video business. Apple needs to stay relevant and consistent; valuable programming can grow its audiences and keep their attention (just like for any other company).
We also know that Google is purchasing original content from both brands and media companies (we’ve learned this firsthand), specifically to fill content gaps found through their search algorithms. And, not to be outdone, Facebook is spending significant dollars on original video directly out of the marketing budget. And don’t leave out perhaps the biggest buyer of original content, Amazon.
What all this means we don’t know yet, but one thing is sure: Consistent, original, and addictive content is all the rage. In some ways, we are seeing the golden age of a new television … it just happens on any and every device imaginable.
Consistent, original, & addictive #content is all the rage, says @JoePulizzi.
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How does this affect you? First, if your main competitor isn’t betting big on original content, it will be soon. The window for building a trusted and loyal audience is happening right now. Second, those who build new and trusted content brands will have multiple options to monetize that content, either directly from customers or prospects or secondarily from syndication through the Apples and Googles of the world.
Build trusted content brands & gain multiple options to monetize that content, predicts @JoePulizzi.
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Onslaught of acquisitions
Some will create, while others will buy. After we have brought this to your attention for years, the acquisition of content brands is now a major trend.
The acquisition of #content brands is now a major trend, says @JoePulizzi.
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Arrow Electronics, the Amazon of electronics components, purchased 51 (yes, that’s right) media properties from UBM and Hearst, and has created the largest media company in the B2B electronics industry. It now reaches 76% of electronic engineers and has a separate division running the for-profit unit.
In early August, Netflix made its first major media acquisition, buying comic book publisher Millarworld. This is yet another signal that Netflix is moving away from licensing other people’s content to create its own intellectual property.
The build-it or buy-it question is still in play, and from the current flow of money, it looks like both avenues are strong and growing in the content creation and distribution space.
Marketing as a profit center
Late last year, both Mondelez and Pepsi announced significant investments in the launch of internal content studios. Judging from the comments from the marketing leadership at both companies, a portion of these marketing arms will generate revenue and includes the possibility of for-profit ventures.
CMI believes that is the next iteration of content marketing – building multiple audience groups within the enterprise and monetizing those groups in dozens of ways. Eventually, some innovative companies, like Arrow and Johnson & Johnson (with its babycenter.com), will generate enough revenue to outpace expenses. The marketing department will become a self-sustaining entity.
Innovative companies will generate enough revenue from content to outpace expenses, predicts @JoePulizzi.
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As Robert Rose and I discuss in our new book, Killing Marketing, even if the marketing profit center isn’t possible in your organization, the process of wrapping your arms around the costs and benefits of content creation is critical. All senior marketing executives are curious about the creation and flow of content, especially since nearly every company is creating more content this year than last.
Content marketing budgets worldwide
A recent study found that getting proficient at content marketing is the No. 1 goal for marketers in Asia Pacific. In addition, our own research found that most U.S. marketers are increasing their content marketing budgets similarly to those around the world. (Here’s an interesting study from the Nordics.)
Getting proficient at #contentmarketing is the #1 goal for marketers in Asia Pacific via @thenewbase study.
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This is both good and bad. I’ve been in this industry for almost 20 years, and it’s amazing to see marketing departments committed to the practice of content marketing with real marketing dollars.
That said, I’m also concerned by the campaign nature of these budgets.
Recently, I met with a group of senior marketers at a large consumer-technology company. They doubled their content creation and promotion budget from 2015 to 2017 (which is great), but most of the investment was in projects (which is not great). These projects were three- to six-month video series or time-based native advertising programs.
Sound familiar? It should. Most brands still treat their content marketing like advertising. For content marketing to truly work, it must be differentiated and consistently produced over a long time (like media companies do). I’m afraid that most of these content marketing investments will go without bearing any fruit … and that’s why we still have a long way to go in our content marketing journey.
Successful #contentmarketing must be differentiated & consistently produced over a long time. @JoePulizzi
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Turf war is on
Over the summer, we began working with a large health-care company. Its content marketing results have been outstanding as it’s grown a number of content brands and audiences while slowly pulling away from traditional advertising. It’s been so successful that it caught the attention of the CMO and the entire marketing organization has content fever.
The unexpected consequence is a turf war and a disjointed strategy. PR and communications have hired their own content team members separate from the company’s official content studio. Social media roles overlap, and everyone and no one is in charge of the content marketing strategy.
We’ve seen this happen (it’s one of the reasons why we wrote Killing Marketing). Marketing leaders need to step up and give ownership to someone to lead the content strategy, which ultimately must be a mandate coming from the chief marketing officer (or higher). Practitioners, in turn, need to get together with other department leaders as quickly as possible and make sure everyone is on the same page. This is a difficult challenge, as some marketing leaders may think a content land grab is necessary (so they can save their jobs).
Marketing leaders need to step up & give ownership to someone to lead the #content strategy. @JoePulizzi
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Overall, I see this as the most exciting time in marketing, where we can build audiences directly and make a major impact in the overall business model for the organization. That said, this move will come with pain points and challenges as we see the deconstruction and rebuild of the marketing department as we know it.
Get ready for a wild ride.
Want some advice on how to handle the roller coaster that is content marketing? Subscribe to the daily email (or weekly digest) from Content Marketing Institute. (Even better news? It’s a free ride.)
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute