The Marketing Strategist:

Embracing the Digital, Agile Future: Key Takeaways from ITSMA’s Marketing Leadership Forum

June 10, 2016

  • Commentary


ITSMA’s annual Marketing Leadership Forum provides a great opportunity for senior marketing executives to share ideas about the incredible changes washing over the B2B technology and services marketing landscape. Last month’s Forum in Napa, CA, was certainly no exception.

Marketing Leadership Forum 2016

Marketing agility was the core theme for the event, and the 60 participants at the Forum agreed overwhelmingly that their organizations had to accelerate their transition to more agile ways of working.

At the same time, we had some great presentations and discussions about a number of other critical topics, including digital transformation, thought leadership and content marketing, customer experience, and big data.

Here are my key takeaways:

Agile Marketing: Being vs. Doing

ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz presented new research showing that the vast majority of B2B marketers see agility as a key to future success but most of us are at the beginning of the agile marketing journey (see Accelerating the Move to Agile Marketing for details).

Mona Charif, head of marketing for Dell Services, provided a case study on the move to agile in her organization and the successes they have had shifting marketing campaigns to a scrum-based approach, incorporating multiple short sprints. Rather than spending months planning, developing, and finally executing major campaigns, Dell’s agile approach highlights micro-campaigns with constant review, iteration, and adjustment for improvement.

Some firms, like Dell, are borrowing techniques from agile software development, but others are doing just as well with homegrown approaches. What really matters, as Julie highlighted during the discussion, is leadership focus on “being agile” – emphasizing agile attributes such as collaboration, experimentation, transparency, continuous measurement and adjustment, and “learning fast.” (Check out our recent Viewpoint with Scott Brinker for more on agile.)

Digital Transformation: All-Encompassing… and Now 

Maintaining focus on a few core strategic priorities is really difficult amid the tyranny of the urgent and the constant churn of new tools and tactics. Indeed, even though Forum participants agreed that agile is clearly one of those strategic priorities, there was some concern that the move to agile itself poses a risk of getting too caught up in the process of rapid iteration and losing sight of longer term objectives.

But there is no risk at all that marketing leaders will lose sight of the scope and urgency of digital transformation. This is literally all-encompassing for marketing, including both how we operate and what we bring to market.

Melissa Lemberg, global partner with IBM’s Interactive Experience group, outlined three essential challenges that marketing (and all business) leaders face in working for digital transformation:

  • Prioritizing, designing, and executing compelling digital experiences
  • Integrating new technologies and data quickly, cost effectively, and securely across the organization to emphasize actionable insight and responsive operations
  • Finding and developing expertise in the new ways of working internally and across increasingly complex and fluid partner and customer ecosystems

Thought Leadership and Content Marketing: Simple in Theory, Difficult in Practice

These two interrelated topics remain clear priorities for virtually everyone in the room. The challenge, of course, is doing this effectively in markets already flooded with content and characterized by increasingly complex buying and decision processes.

In theory, most of us understand what’s required: High quality, compelling content that differentiates our brands, demonstrates our expertise, and speaks directly to buyer challenges, opportunities, and requirements throughout the buyer journey. In practice, well, that’s a different story altogether!

Jonathan Copulsky, CMO of Deloitte Consulting and Chief Content Officer for all of Deloitte, provided several of the most memorable takeaways in this area:

  • “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” Don’t just add to the noise and “never yield when it comes to quality,” which certainly isn’t easy amid the constant demands for quantity, coverage, and speed
  • Focus on a few “big ideas” with long-term campaigns to build reputation, lead share of voice, and provide ongoing support for strategic opportunities and relationships
  • Test and learn with creative, channels, and partners. Deloitte has had success, for example, with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on 3D printing, journalistic-style podcasts, and a collaborative data visualization initiative with the MIT Media Lab and Data Wheel.

(See our recent interview with Jonathan for more on Deloitte’s thought leadership program.)

Penny Delgadillo Valencia, SVP of Global Audience Marketing at SAP, complemented the thought leadership session with a useful outline of a comprehensive, integrated communications framework to address the increasingly complex, business buyer-driven decision process for most technology solutions today. Highlighting the rise of the business buyer with more and more technology solutions, Penny stressed three essential points:

  • Segmenting and understanding audiences both by business role (e.g., heads of marketing, sales, service, finance, etc.) and by vertical industry
  • Creating meaningful content for all of your audiences throughout their often circuitous buyer’s journeys
  • Ensuring that all this messaging and content still represents one overall SAP voice to the market

Wayne Cerullo, founder of B2P Partners, added valuable insight on why and how to find and market to the champions within our customers that are typically necessary to orchestrate buying decisions.

And John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co., reminded everyone that in-person events remain among the most effective content marketing tactics even amid the digital revolution.

Customer Experience: Yes, It’s Marketing’s Responsibility

Another valuable discussion at the Forum explored the centrality of customer experience and customer success amid the increasing shift to subscription and as-a-service business models. While Melissa Lemberg from IBM stressed the importance of marketers creating compelling digital experiences for customers, a panel discussion with marketing leaders from Amdocs, Cisco, and Oracle dug into the details of why and how to shift to “experience-based marketing.” 

As Steve Pinedo, vice president, Oracle Global Cloud Customer Success, noted, the shift to the cloud is driving dramatic changes in customer expectations for technology based solutions, with new demands for immediate and frictionless support and value at every stage of the relationship. From a marketing perspective, this puts customer success front and center, and makes reducing customer churn the number one KPI.

Chris Williams, head of marketing for Amdocs, echoed the customer success priority, noting that marketers should help lead the way in shifting from measuring things like solution performance and service level agreements to a new focus on business outcomes and value received. That’s easier said than done, of course, but essential nonetheless.

Caroline Robertson, head of services marketing at Cisco, highlighted the importance of customer experience from the very first point of contact. For marketers, she suggested, a useful question is this: “What are you doing to make your services easier to buy?” Given that most of us obsess about making services easier for our sales forces to sell, it’s a subtle but potentially profound shift in thinking.

Big Data: We Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

My final takeaway is about big data. It’s certainly not a new topic for marketing; we’ve talked for years about the opportunity and need for marketers to capitalize on big data and analytics for more targeted, insight-led, and predictive programs and initiatives. A short history lesson on big data presented by Dr. Charles Stryker, founder and CEO of the Venture Development Center and one of the world’s leading experts on big data, however, was eye opening with regard to the opportunities we can still barely imagine.

As Stryker noted, the entire history of computerized information being used for business decision making is less than 50 years old. Before the shipment of the first browser in 1993, about 1 billion gigabytes of data had been created and stored to describe consumer and business behavior. By 2003, with the rise of the Internet that total had increased to about 5 billion gigabytes. Today, we collect and store more than 25 billion gigabytes of data about business and consumer behavior every day!

The explosion of big data for business has literally overwhelmed the capabilities of businesses to manage it, and the biggest question we face as marketers is as simple—and hard—as what do we want? The answers are all there waiting to be discovered. We just need to know what questions to ask. Do we want to analyze all available data to determine ideal buyers? It’s possible. Do we want to know where our ideal buyers are traveling, what apps are on their phone, and how often do they use Amazon at home. That’s possible, too. Monetizing the existing and new data from our customer activities? Privacy issues to consider, but doable. Integrate multiple data feeds in real time from public and private sources to optimize service delivery? Sure.

What do we want?

Final Thought

Balancing the art and science of marketing remains as important as ever. Yes, big data and new marketing technologies create tremendous opportunities for us to understand, target, track and support customer and prospects in more precise and automated ways than ever before, but the art of strategy, thought leadership, collaboration, and creativity are just as critical to success in our fast and wildly changing markets.

What do you think? Add your takeaways from the Forum or thoughts on mine in the Comments below.


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