Marketers are suffering from Innovation Overload, and what we can do about it

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Change Ahead signFor a long time we’ve been hearing about information overload due to the exponential growth in content available on the Internet and coming at us daily via email, social media, hundreds of TV stations, newspapers and magazines (physical and digital), instant access to almost any book, movie or piece of music, etc.

I believe that marketers and companies are suffering from a similar malady that I call “Innovation Overload”.

Over the past 20 years, since the introduction of the Mosaic browser and the brochureware website, the innovations in marketing have been staggering and, if anything, the pace of innovation is accelerating. Today marketers have many options when selecting, implementing and managing such diverse technologies and channels as customer relationship management software, email, online advertising, SEO, search advertising, marketing automation, Web content/experience management, content marketing, analytics, social media marketing, mobile, predictive analytics, and programmatic ad buying.

Scott Brinker has assembled a 2014 marketing technology landscape supergraphic that contains 947 companies in 43 categories. And he says that it was already incomplete when published and that there are many more companies and products – and even categories — than represented here.

Marketing Technology landscape infographic

No one person, and few companies, can keep up with that in a meaningful way. And as marketing technologists continue to innovate new ways to create mobile apps, gamification, wearables, devices for the Internet of Things, immersive interfaces and more, many marketers have simply stopped trying to keep up.

Here are a few examples:

HubSpot calls this “Marketing Technology Paralysis“. Adobe calls this “digital distress”. They report:

  • Only 48% of marketers feel “proficient” in digital marketing; most don’t have formal training and 82% are learning it on the job. Only 48% of digital marketers themselves feel “highly proficient”, and they don’t think any more highly of their colleagues.
  • Only 40% think that their company’s marketing is effective.
  • About 30-35% of marketers think it is “extremely” or “somewhat” easy to prove ROI to management – a higher percentage of respondents said it was “somewhat” or “extremely” difficult to do that

And remember John Wanamaker’s famous quote that half of his marketing dollars are wasted, he just didn’t know which half? Highly trackable and optimizable digital marketing should be the solution to that, but only about half of those surveyed by Adobe think that their digital marketing is working.

In short, marketers are feeling overwhelmed. This is a word cloud that came out of interviews in a parallel study.

word cloud with largest word being Overwhelmed

This may be in part because of “the paradox of choice” – that when people have too many options, it’s harder for them to decide and they may even opt-out of making a choice altogether.

And this isn’t surprising. I’ve worked with many billion-dollar B2B companies that weren’t scoring leads, sending every form-complete over the wall – to the complete annoyance of sales. They had websites lacking in even the most elementary SEO, and undertook search marketing campaigns that lasted just a few weeks, funded with a few thousand dollars of end-of-year dollars, rather than using search marketing as an important, always-on channel.

I don’t agree with what these companies are doing (or, more to the point, not doing). I know from the companies I’ve worked with that do thoughtfully implement, manage and optimize marketing technology and digital marketing programs that it can produce huge returns. Huge. Enormous.

So what’s the problem? Well, there are several. Some are with the software vendors and marketers, and some are with the people in the companies.

The problem with the software

Software developers often put a premium on adding new features in a new release over improving the user experience (or, if you prefer, “usability”). I once saw a software company introduce a new release with this chart:

Graph showing number of features against percentage used

In other words, the more features that a package has, the lower the percentage of them that people are actually using. (What percentage of Microsoft Office features are you using?) So that company’s new release was not adding a lot of new features; the focus of that release was on making their package easier to use.

Software companies should be asking what will improve the outcomes for their customers more: a new feature or improvements in ease of implementation and use?

Secondly, companies can insist on implementation as part of their offering; this is especially easy for a SaaS software company. At Magic Hour, the company that I owned and sold in 2009, for the last several years our service was the design and development of websites with our proprietary SaaS CMS. We realized that many clients would not be able to build an attractive, successful website if we just gave them a shell, so part of our service was building part of the site with their content, both so they would have well layed-out top level pages, and also to give them a sample of what the rest of their pages should look like. And, of course, we trained them and had operators standing by to provide support.

In part our motivation was selfish: we knew that since our “product” was websites, ALL of our work was available for the world to see. And in part we did it because we wanted our clients to succeed. Win-win.

What brands need to do

However, many of the problems with implementing and managing digital marketing software and programs rest with clients. The customer, it turns out, is not always right.

An ideal way to implement a digital marketing program is by developing a strategy, gaining buy-in at the C-level and a commitment that cuts across silos. As Sun Tzu wrote, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Enterprise strategy approach

This top-down, comprehensive approach begins with internal and external research. The internal research includes cataloguing all current marketing program, staff, content, budgets, staffing, KPIs, etc., as well as interviewing internal stakeholders to learn what they ideally would like to do, and the goals and metrics they would use.

A thorough process includes:

  • Develop the governance policies to implement, sustain, and measure the marketing program
  • Develop personas. Each persona will have different needs, may be reachable through different channels, and will respond to different messages and offers
  • Create a customer journey map for each persona
  • Create a media plan to reach each persona across all of the digital and physical channels, knowing that multiple impressions across multiple channels will produce stronger results
  • Develop messages, content and offers for each persona and part of the customer journey
  • Create analytics for measuring success and optimizing
  • Determine what new technologies (social listening, marketing automation, predictive analytics, etc.) need to be implemented and how data needs to be fed to and from each
  • Launch the program with a strong commitment to constantly testing and optimizing, including moving budget dollars to the most effective programs and away from those that don’t work.

Throughout keep your emphasis on the outcomes and metrics that really matter and how you can prove marketing’s contribution to revenue.

In a large organization this can take 6 to 12 months to develop, and it may require waiting for the next budget cycle to fully implement. As you’re doing this you may want to undertake a few quick wins – smaller digital marketing programs or enhancements that can demonstrate the potential value of your work and build support for it while you’re undertaking the comprehensive planning and implementation.

The departmental approach

However, this enterprise approach is not going to be possible in all organizations. Sometimes people at the highest level don’t get it and need to see a proof of concept first. In those situations, the above process gets carried out at the departmental level. Unfortunately, that’s the situation in too many companies and in many of those companies it never moves to the enterprise level.

Departmental approach to marketing strategy

The problems with an ad hoc, departmental approach include:

  • Different departments may implement duplicate or incompatible technologies
  • This “let a 100 flowers bloom” approach may be an extra burden on IT, which may result in less cooperation or slower implementation
  • There will be poor sharing of learnings across the organization, leading to poorer results
  • Lack of policies, training and always-on budgets will lead to uneven, sub-optimal results, including an inconsistent customer experience with holes in it
  • The company may miss out on economies of scale (discounts) in media buying
  • Etc., etc. etc.

This is not ideal by a long shot. The weaker returns and internal stress may even undercut the case for digital among the disbelievers. Difficult as it may be, try for the company-wide approach. Very large, leading brands have done it successfully.

A third way: Quick implementation of SaaS solutions

A third way, which can be part of the enterprise or departmental approach, is to implement some point SaaS technologies that require little support or training. For example, a full website personalization program may involve implementation or integration of a CRM, marketing automation, predictive analytics, etc. On the other hand, there are inexpensive website personalization programs such as Insightera, Evergage and Brightinfo that can be implemented very quickly. They report 10-30 percent increases in content consumed and form completes. They may not be as thorough as the more expensive solutions, but for some companies that’s what’s doable. 80:20.

New SaaS predictive analytics vendors such as Lattice and Mintigo handle the difficult, expensive data science with just access to your CRM and marketing automation data (if you’re using marketing automation). Relatively quickly they can prioritize leads for your sales team and develop predictive lead scoring for marketing to use in its nurture programs. These are being used by companies such as Dell, EMC and Staples who report significant Increases in opportunities and sales.

These, and other, SaaS programs may reduce or eliminate the stress on IT and are an end in themselves, and may also serve as quick wins during a comprehensive implementation process, too.

We’re all in the middle (or maybe just the beginning…) of the fastest, biggest change in communication in the history of humanity. Gutenberg developed the press (in the West; it had been developed in China and Korea centuries earlier) and it took 100 years for the first newspaper to be printed. Things are moving a little faster now. And change of this scale and pace is hard.

Marketers have the opportunity to embrace this and get it right, or to take a more ad hoc approach. The results of either approach will be measurable.

I’d value your thoughts on this.

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4 thoughts on “Marketers are suffering from Innovation Overload, and what we can do about it

  1. Jim Burns

    Louis, important points here.

    I think we all need to talk much less about tools and technologies and focus more on 1) strategy, 2) planning and preparation, 3) process, 4) execution techniques. Discipline is something I’m see missing with most clients.

    As one well known content marketing pundit admitted to me, “yeah, we (marketers) don’t do process well.” I have to add, innovation.

    As your study results above indicate, too many marketers aren’t keeping up with basics. This makes innovating virtually impossible.

    4 years after Salesforce.com announced at the Marketo Summit in 2010 they decided traditional marketing was dead and they needed to “completely blow up our marketing mix model,” most marketers aren’t even aware of this important assessment. http://www.toprankblog.com/2010/10/marketing-sales-alignment/

    1. Louis Gudema Post author

      Hi Jim – Thanks for your comment and posting that link, it’s a very interesting talk. It would also be interesting to see how this has all changed at Salesforce in the four years since that talk. For example, he’s kind of down on email but many marketers have found that, properly used, the house list is still a very effective nurturing and lead generation tool. This is such a fluid field that what worked a few years ago may be very different from what works today. That makes it exciting!

  2. david raab

    Louis, well said and I especially agree with your stress on importance of a comprehensive, enterprise-level approach. But I’m a little confused at your attitude towards SaaS as a “third way”. Certainly it allows quicker, cheaper deployment of point solutions. But that doesn’t change the need for the enterprise-wide strategy you describe. Isn’t SaaS deployment without the strategic platform just another way to create that “noise before defeat”?

    1. Louis Gudema Post author

      Thanks for your comment, David. Easy-to-deploy SaaS solutions should be part of an enterprise-side solution, for sure. But I think they also provide a way for companies to have quick wins, and for marketers to show the potential for digital marketing when they don’t (yet) have the C-level support needed for a comprehensive approach. If the company never gets past these point solutions then they still won’t reap the full, much larger rewards of the enterprise approach. That’s what I was trying to say, anyway

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