Monday, March 6, 2017

Top Three Ideas to Consider for Your 2017 Digital and Marketing Plan

By Paramita Bhattacharya
Director, Integrated Marketing
Hitachi Data Systems

Back in July, I attended Frost and Sullivan’s 17th annual Digital Marketing Conference as a member of their Digital Advisory Board and a thought leader. It was an exciting opportunity to participate in a small gathering of executives and marketing professionals from companies spanning technology, industry, manufacturing and financial services.

We spent two days tucked away in beautiful Asheville, amid the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina - exchanging ideas, insights, best practices and lessons learned around how best to lead marketing’s revolution in this digital transformation age.

As we came to the close of the event, and I sat on the panel to weigh in on the top takeaways in what turned out to be a very passionate and an interactive forum, I realized there were a few ideas that grabbed everyone’s attention more than others. It’s worthwhile to consider the implementation of the top few.

For the last year or so, there has been a lot of buzz around Customer Experience. And very rightly so. To be able to orchestrate a meaningful and friction-less experience for your buyers is extremely valuable. The impactful ROI it generates is undeniable. Of course, what you create depends on your company’s business goals and marketing landscape and maturity, but here are a few thoughts, especially for those in the B2B space. 

  • Multi-Channel Digital Connection: More and more buyers are starting their purchase journey digitally, even decision makers in traditional B2B. Having a presence on the digital channels is therefore critical, but what is more important is to begin a multi-channel connection and to rethink how to map that. How does your website page link to your digital ads? How does your SEO impact your PPC efforts? How does your social media advertising impact your digital advertising and account based marketing? And is it a single experience that connects all or is it a progressive one?

Interestingly, what drives your success and results with this integrated journey with digital is that you can employ an iterative process. Launch quickly, expand and then optimize as early results pour in. That is in stark contrast from when a long lead-time of many months is spent just preparing to launch. An IBM case study presented at the conference demonstrated how they rolled out a global digital campaign and brought a new offering to the market place in just 45 days.

  • Physical Channel Presence: Don’t discard your physical channels. Now that you are investing and focusing a lot of your spend and time on digital, it becomes ever critical to continue to focus on targeted events, trade shows, round tables, live-seminars, and communities/user group meetings, where you continue to increase your customer and prospect engagement beyond and alongside digital – to help with your long purchase cycle of B2B.   
  • Non-Traditional Channels: Don’t be afraid to take a leaf out of the B2C world and break into non-traditional channels. Perhaps it’s a brand engagement with an entity that helps you expand your business storyline in an unique manner; a syndication opportunity with a publisher that can excite your customer base; a webcast series embedded with synergistic platforms providing a fresh perspective; and a thought leadership initiative at an industry level with peers, experts and analysts that can drive strategic conversations and build ongoing engagement. 
  • Seamless Yet Tailored Experience: Your buyers are reaching everywhere and are on devices that are always connected, always on, so how can your customer experience initiatives be limited or fragmented? Deliver consistent but relevant experiences across multiple platforms and devices including mobile, website, communities and social, but your success is dependent on how you tailor for device, message, design and interaction along with target audience consumption and behavior. 

Now, do we think that a B2B buyer goes on this journey in a linear fashion? Instead of thinking of this as a linear funnel, we need to evolve our experience map into a multi-dimensional matrix and most importantly target for group decision-making for B2B, which is often no less than five persons.

Creating a breakthrough digital experience requires plotting it like a story arc along with visual delights and language to evoke emotion, and then to spur your buyers to take action by solving their challenges, anywhere from cloud delivery issues to big data applications. It was not surprising therefore to hear Content Marketing still dominate so many conversations at the conference. Based on one of the Think Tank sessions around how to build fast, iterative and smart content here are a few key nuggets that you may consider implementing in your Content Marketing strategy.

  • Personas and Themes: Personas continue to carry weight and importance. But instead of trying to build perfect ones, develop open-ended personas as well as broad story lines and themes with available research, what you know of your customers and marry that with data culled from your various data sources.
  • Agile Content Framework: Build an agile content framework where you have the ability to rapidly create and react to market forces. For e.g. add to your open ended personas based on new information from sources internal & external; update content with new insights based on your buyers’ interaction in the channels; tweak and revise as you gain usage feedback to formats & mediums; and evangelize expert and influencers content from inside and outside your organization.
  • Big Ideas: Creative concepts hold the key to differentiation and success. But don’t be remiss in evaluating creative concepts and content to ensure they are strategically and organizationally viable. Whether you are considering a mobile roadshow, a social media contest, or an interactive series led by luminaries -- make sure to establish a set of questions that help you determine success. How will you communicate to your decision makers? How memorable is this idea?  Can this idea be implemented with existing resources or do you need to onboard new talent? Is the execution timeline too long? And most importantly, how will it work in the context of larger marketing efforts?

Data and Analytics was the other third area dominating the conversation. While the MarTech landscape is teeming with tools and platforms to enable different aspects of data capture and customer insights, regardless of where you are with infrastructure and systems, there are few fundamentals that I think are crucial towards improving upon your organization’s data-driven decision making in reaching the omni-channel buyer and driving real business value.

  • 360-Degree View: Building a 360-degree view of the buyer for B2B marketers is key. Use big data and its applications in alignment with your sales, product and marketing teams to create an in-depth framework around customer insights and uncover new opportunities. This can drive significant impact as the GE keynote demonstrated where GE Power connected IoT with digital tools to deliver a tangible experience that created one of GE’s fastest growing businesses, rethinking products beyond the traditional use cases. 
  • Value: Demonstrating value, whether you are in an emerging or a mature B2B business is fundamental to your omni-channel buyer experience and building ROI. Based on your data, segment your audience, personalize your communications with valuable information, and enable it across multiple channels -- connecting dots between data gained from each and rethinking how to address their non-linearity and progress through the experience. This becomes a good basis for not just vast net fishing, but targeted execution of Account Based Marketing (ABM). 
  • Step Ladder Measurement Approach: If you are serious about executing on the omni-channel buyer experience, start with building a discipline of measurement in the organization. Set up dashboards with primary, secondary and tertiary KPIs that behave like a step ladder to broader goals and functions as intelligence tools to continue to provide data around buyer needs and wants as well as outlining your progress to the broader organization. Each measurement metric has a role to play. Your PPC impressions can ladder up to awareness KPIs which form a core of your buyer experience and that in turn ladders up to your business goals such as market share or pipeline goals of MQLs and SALs.  

Needless to say, there were many other Digital Marketing topics discussed that marketers and organizations are focused on as well. I would love to hear thoughts around what you are considering to be your top areas for 2017.