According to the Get Elastic blog, the report from Adobe Summit this year includes an RIP to the marketing funnel. You know, this thing:
I beg to differ.
No, I’m not Adobe’s chief Digital Index prognosticator, nor am I a data analyst, but I am a digital marketer and I know people.
And even before it was cool to say the marketing funnel was dead, before a 3D spatial map was proposed to take its place to reflect all the data points in the complex customer journey toward the conversion goal, there was still that bit about human psychology and reaching people where they are mentally and emotionally on the buying journey.
Which is why the funnel still works, and why it still matters.
Step one in the funnel is awareness. A potential customer has to know you and your product exist.
Step two, once they know you exist, is where that 3D spatial map may become relevant as a way to visually chart the choppy navigational waters of interest/consideration. This is certainly true in the long B2B buying cycle, and now with cross-devices, multiple channels, and the complexity of modern marketing and the utter complexity of marketing attribution, it’s true of the B2C market as well.
But killing the funnel is silly, because how you market to people has everything to do with where they are psychologically regarding your product, service, or brand.
Saying the marketing funnel doesn’t matter is divorcing the message and medium from the audience’s psychological location. It’s saying that because we touch people at multiple points on multiple devices, it doesn’t matter whether or not they know about us or are ready to buy. It doesn’t matter if they’ve bought and whether they’re happy. Or whether they’d come back or share our stuff with their friends.
And it does matter. Of course it matters. We have to frame our connections with people not just on the medium we’re using, whether it’s Facebook or email or text-to-win promotions, but on their stage of the journey.
So maybe the marketing funnel should be amended, with a 3D spatial engagement map layered on top and a complex, algorithmic-driven marketing attribution model coming out of it. But it’s certainly alive and well, and as long as people are driven by emotions and not marketing channels, it always will be. As long as the percentage of people who move through it gets smaller and smaller, like nearly every real-numbers sales funnel in the history of ever, it will be.
Perhaps the funnel needs a redesign, a re-envisioning, but until we stop looking at individual people at their individual places in the journey, I vote to spare its life.
For the past two years, my kids have jumped on the bus at 7 a.m. sharp. At their old school, they didn’t leave till well after 8, so this was a big change for all of us. I’d just come out of the years of babies–nursing, night wakings, ear infections–all those things that exhaust a working mom and make her feel that 7 a.m. is “early.”
Now? The early morning is my best friend. I love getting up first, slipping into my home office for at least an hour of uninterrupted productive time, or into work for the same. By the time everyone else is stirring or stumbling in, I’ve already accomplished the biggest, hairiest task on my to-do list.
And having that–the biggest, hairiest task–finished before anyone else has even walked through the door is how I’m able to work a full-time job in three days a week, and run my own business on the side.
What do most people do when they wake up? You know the answer. They check email, sometimes even from their bed. Or they get on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t do that. You’ve just wasted your sleep and your productivity.
Before I leave the office or before I finish my work-at-home day, I plan the next day out. I keep a calendar and a task list, and I order my tasks by priority, Steven Covey-style only without the big bulky planner. The biggest, most intensive, most dreaded, most brainpower-needed item on the list goes first. And then? Then I mentally gear up for it.
I know I have about an hour and a half to make some major headway on this item before the day begins for everyone else and meetings start. I know that at 9 a.m. my reward for making major headway on this item will be to break for a cup of Trader Joe’s Irish Breakfast tea and an almond biscotti. I know that when this thing is done, no matter what else happens or how crazy the day gets, I will not be stressing at the end of it because I couldn’t manage to finish the most important thing I was supposed to finish that day.
Some super-productive people also squeeze in a workout in the morning, but I save mine for later in the day. When I’m working at home, it’s just about 2 p.m. when the energy flags, so I move my laptop over to my TrekDesk and jump on for an hour or two. At work, I don’t have an opportunity for working out unless I run outdoors for awhile, but usually I sacrifice exercise for cute shoes at the office and work out in the evening when the kids are in bed.
You know what the real secret is to getting up at the crack of dawn and loving it?
Getting enough sleep.
I go to bed early, and before that, I quit looking at screens of any kind for at least an hour before bed.
Well, that last part isn’t strictly true. Last night, for example, I watched Breaking Bad right up to bedtime. And guess what? I couldn’t sleep.
The other thing we do is eat early, like 5:30 or 6 p.m., and no snacking post-dinner. The kitchen is closed, and I’m not awake all night digesting that huge bowl of ice cream.
The Foundation teaches you to spend the first hour of every day performing revenue-generating activities. Stellar advice for business owners and entrepreneurs. As a digital marketer, I will advise you not to justify wasting that hour on Facebook as “engagement.”
If you’re not a business owner, you can still think like one. Ask yourself this: What is the most important thing you have to get done today that will help move a project forward? That will keep you from being a bottleneck? That will help your company be wildly successful?
You’re not a cog in a wheel. You’re an early-morning rockstar.
I was reading the Chief Markteting Officer Insights report from IBM/Digital Doughnut this morning, and while the report is no surprise overall, I was really interested in the graphic that showed Digital Pacesetters–those who are ahead of the digital marketing curve–tend to invest far more heavily in analytics during every phase of the customer cycle.
That last phrase is telling, because usually organizations progress like this:
- We don’t know how to measure.
- We measure defaults in Google Analytics but don’t understand what they mean, so don’t report.
- We measure defaults and know what they mean, but the numbers aren’t great so when we report, we massage the data or redefine it to make it look better.*
- We measure beyond defaults but it’s always done post-campaign, and we haven’t integrated the analytics-driving-action process into our campaigns as they’re taking place.
- We are measuring throughout the campaign, but didn’t set analytics goals based on campaign goals at the beginning that would inform, drive, and help define the campaign itself.
- We didn’t set goals because we have no idea what they should be, and there don’t seem to be good benchmarks available. So rather than setting a low goal, as Avinash Kaushik advocates as a starter measure, we don’t set one at all.
Finally, there are those organizations who define analytics from the start and use them throughout the campaign to guide customers most efficiently through the customer lifecycle or marketing funnel.
That’s the way to do it, because you get the best analytics and, more importantly, the best results.
But there are a couple of obvious barriers to this approach. One is that many large organizations and agencies lack the training and tools needed to execute campaigns this way. Another is that, while the ROI is obvious, spending so much extra time in the campaign analyzing and optimizing is a foreign concept to organizations used to “flip it and forget it” scopes of work.
On the other hand, with barriers comes opportunity for those who can and will measure campaigns holistically to get in front of their competitors. This is true for companies and for agencies as well.
The only thing I’m waiting for to achieve campaign-measuring nirvana? A sophisticated reporting tool that integrates all this siloed data into a beautiful, clean reporting dashboard. As far as I know, beyond enterprise and custom solutions, this tool doesn’t exist yet.
*There’s nothing I hate more than bogus analytics. If you start at the top, define the campaign goals, define how to measure it, set benchmarks, and optimize throughout, and–most importantly–communicate all of the above to whomever you’re reporting to, there should be no need to report bogus and half-figures like “We had great success on AdWords campaign with 374,962 impressions.” or “Our website visitors spent a total of 4.67 years browsing the site.” or “Our banner ad clickthrough skyrocketed compared to last quarter with a 214% increase.”
The past few months, I’ve been on contract filling in as digital director at Shelton Group, the nation’s leading marketing agency focused on sustainability and energy efficiency. Besides the fact that the work they do is a natural fit for me, being that I’m one of those attic-insulating, Energy Star water heater-purchasing, composting, fast-food-avoiding people who nerds out on programming my thermostat and triumphantly declaring eggs, coffee, and wine to be better for you than Oreos and soda, I’m also way into digital marketing.
Digital marketing is my perfect space, where everything’s changing and there’s constant learning and growth. I love helping clients navigate these new and opportunity-filled waters with what amounts to plain old good marketing: figuring out goals, and using digital marketing as a means of meeting those goals.
Because in the end, marketing is marketing, and digital just happens to be this new, fairly inexpensive, measurable way of doing it. Doing digital marketing well is simply doing marketing well, with the added benefit of being able to measure what you’re doing and react nimbly to how consumers are taking it, with adjustments, tweaks, and reworks as needed to make magic in real time.
And because the smart, proactive, creative people at Shelton Group are really good at providing insights about what consumers say, think, and do when it comes to energy efficiency, utilities, and sustainability via the top-notch research team, and because they’re really good at taking those insights and applying them to clients’ business goals via smart and beautiful marketing campaigns from the agency team, I was thrilled when they asked me to come on permanently as the digital marketing director.
So if you need sustainability and energy efficiency insights, marketing, and strategy, come see us at sheltongrp.com. I’ll be working hard in my energy efficient office to create sustainable campaigns for our clients (see what I just did there? Sustainable campaigns? Yes? Ok, never mind.)
Anyway. Here’s the Twitter version of this post:
Now Digital Marketing Director at @sheltongrp. We do #sustainability research and strategic #marketing campaigns. Sheltongrp.com
I’m a big fan of Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Cain, an introvert herself, makes the case for quiet time, solitude, time to think, to create, to innovate alone instead of collaboratively.
As a bona fide introvert, I’ve always needed time alone to do my best work. I meet and interact with clients all the time, but I can’t come up with concepts on the fly or sit down with them to work out a website model. I do better talking, asking questions, taking notes, and then going to the solitude of my office to think, brainstorm, and work out the details and present them in their best, polished form–even if that means collaborative revisions afterwards.
(An introvert, by the way, is not at all the same as a shy person. Introverts get their energy from being alone, while extroverts get their energy from being with people. So an introvert can be bubbly and fun at a party, but have to crash after. An extrovert working from home might have to go to Starbucks just to avoid the deathly quiet of the ticking clock.)
A 2012 article about the book in the New York Times says recent studies suggest that influential academic work is increasingly conducted by teams rather than individuals…but that the teams who collaborate remotely appear to be the most influential of all.
Why? Because the combination of solitude and idea exchanging is a catalyst to creativity and innovation.
I use this concept with my clients all the time. We talk about goals, then separate, each with a to-do list. I might come up with a proposal, while my client does a brand definition exercise that will guide the project.
Put them together, and we’ve made some magic.
I’m doing a project right now where I’m talking to the owners and marketers at urgent care clinics about their biggest marketing challenges, which I can sum up succinctly.
- Is what I’m spending money on working?
- What do those reports really mean?
Number one is the perennial marketing problem: “I know half of my marketing works, the problem is in knowing which half.” This problem has improved since the Mad Men days with analytics that border on creepy measuring your every move online (and perhaps off as well). Most things are fairly easy to measure, if imperfectly.
Number two is not so easy, because reporting comes down to the marketing agency providing it. I think when you live and breathe click-through rates, conversion rates, visits per page, and other marketing metrics, you tend to forget that your average client is busy living and breathing the running of their business. HR issues. Customer satisfaction. Regulatory headaches and the competition down the street and overhead and making budget and reporting to corporate and all those things an average client has pressing down on his shoulders every day. That the reason you even have an average client is because he or she is depending on you not only to use your expertise in spending his marketing dollars, but in interpreting the results.
Interpreting the results: this is where we marketers always fall short. No CEO wants to read through your keyword groups reports and marvel over your awesome clickthrough rates. They want to know if the $10K they put into AdWords this month made a bump in sales. Period. You may be measuring intermediate goals in the sales funnel like newsletter sign-ups and white paper downloads, but your client wants that bottom line, and they want marketing spend interpreted in context.
You may not have that context. You may not be able to say that revenue increased XYZ percent due to the latest Facebook contest. But you can give some kind of context to your pretty numbers, and you can always give recommendations to make what’s working even better.
Let’s take an AdWords campaign: you provide the data. Keyword groups by performance. The ads themselves, the impressions, clicks, and click-through rate. Now go a step further: make a recommendation. Suggest dropping the bottom three performers and bumping up the top three in an A/B test. Check Analytics and provide some context to performance, even if it’s simply how the ads performed compared to other types of traffic.
I know, I know: we’re afraid to do that, because we don’t want the client to think they’re spending too much. To which I say, if the numbers don’t look good, recommend a campaign adjustment. Give them some more context. And don’t be afraid to make bold recommendations. Part of the art and science of digital is that you can be nimble. You can adjust almost instantly. This isn’t a magazine ad, full color, with a 3-month lead time and no real feedback on ROI. It’s digital, it’s real-time, it’s crazy easy to adjust. So do it.
Because I hate cringing when I hear “My marketing guys give me fancy numbers but I still don’t know what works. All I know is when I decrease my ad spend, I get fewer patients.” and “We mostly measure by gut feel.”
To riff off of the classic speech techniques,
- Tell ‘em what you’re doing.
- Tell ‘em what you did.
- Tell ‘em why you did it.
- Tell ‘em what you’re doing next.
I live in a world where people optimize websites. Where call to action buttons are dissected and A/B tested. Where infrastructure is simplified and overhauled to meet the demands of Google. Where landing pages are best-practiced and copy is a delicate combination of emotional triggers and long tail keywords. This is the startup world.
And then I also live in an alternate universe where changing a call to action button would involve a year-long discussion with a committee of eighteen stakeholders, who in the end will decide that the change violates brand guidelines and therefore cannot be implemented even as they unanimously agree it would be an improvement for the site. A universe where adding a single page to the site involves six months, sixteen drafts, and twelve new drafts after deadline and after the final-final-final draft has been approved–twice. This is the corporate world.
There’s also the small business sphere, where my clients often have slightly-outdated sites and they know it, and they want an update but don’t have the budget or talent to DIY. Sometimes they don’t know their site is outdated because it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because they’re still doing great business.
And that’s the irony about digital marketing: I want the entire world to have a top-notch optimized website with conversion-focused elements that are measurable and tweakable. And yet, the vast majority of companies just…don’t. That first world, the startup world, where everything is optimized and people are nimble, is where I spend most of my time, but not where the rest of the world spends their time.
You never know how well a business is doing behind a website. It’s simply no predictor of the business beneath.
So while you can make a site prettier and make your brand image better, while you can optimize for search engines and make better landing pages to get people to take action, in the end, it always comes down to the company behind the website and how good it is.
I take comfort in this fact when I work with a client who doesn’t have the budget or technology or understanding to invest in a better site, and also when a corporate client simply cannot accomplish what should be accomplished on the site because there are too many entrenched stakeholders who don’t understand the mission.
I live for creating a great customer experience on the website. But if the customer experience off-site is great or terrible, the website experience just doesn’t matter.
The other day, I was on the phone with a client. He remarked in passing, “Digital marketing is such a narrow niche. How do you stay so specialized?”
Excuse me while I chuckle fondly. Because digital marketing and advertising is growing, both in reach and scope.
Techcrunch shows that online ads will be a quarter of all ad spend by 2015 with more growth to come. So there’s the part about needing to be a master in Adwords, retargeting, banner campaigns, affiliate marketing, Facebook ads, Instagram branding campaigns, sponsored Tweets, and more.
Social media is not only the hot brand engagement tool, but some platforms are actually social signals to Google that your website should rise up in the search engine page results. Other platforms like Pinterest and Tumblr give great backlinks. So put that social media expert tool in the toolbelt.
Websites are like fashion: in style for five minutes and then yesterday’s news. Not only does the design constantly need to be updated, but the user experience and optimization for conversions is an art all its own. Add web design, coding, user experience, and testing to the list, plus wireframing and content organization and presentation that follows best practices for meeting company goals and current thinking in conversion-focused design.
Now, let’s discuss email. Crafting autoresponders, drip campaigns, transactional emails, marketing emails, segmentation, and marketing automation oh, my!
Everyone wants their own app, so interface design, user testing, and software development management are more digital marketing skills to acquire.
Analytics is its own beast: setting up analysis tools that measure your businesses’s KPIs, which are developed from your overall business goals? Yes, that. Looking at a web analytics tool and performing analysis to make further business decisions? That, too.
We haven’t even talked about conversion-focused copywriting, content marketing, website information architecture and seo optimization, backlinking strategies, competitive analysis, ecommerce, or lead gen.
Rather than say digital marketing is a narrow niche, I’d counter that it’s a case of jack of all trades, master as many as possible and intelligently outsource the rest.
Which is exactly what I do.
It’s that magic space when working doesn’t feel like work.
When you’re in your sweet spot, and you’re so good at it people pay you big bucks to do it…but you’d do it for free. You’d do it for free because it keeps your wheels turning, your mind fresh, and your creative synapses sparking.
For years I struggled to get in flow as a professional writer. I’m good at writing and people paid me to do it, but flow–or the muse, as I called it then–was hard to achieve.
So hard, in fact, I eventually denied its existence.
That is, until I discovered flow again via marketing. Marketing is my sweet spot, and digital marketing is my dark chocolate covered, sea salt sprinkled caramel heaven.
At home, my flow is in the kitchen, cooking, and in the mountains, hiking. At work, my flow is in planning the strategy and the details of a digital marketing campaign from the overarching goals to the exact pixel position of the call to action button.
Flow. It makes the world a better space.
In 2013, I learned a lesson so obvious it makes me laugh to think I didn’t know it before.
It’s so simple and so clear that I can’t imagine why I never thought of it.
But for that matter, neither do 95 percent of entrepreneurs.
Here’s how most businesses are started. We think of an idea. It feels good. We do the gut check, some market research, and above all, in this age of navel-gazing, make sure it’s something that makes us happy. A business we can live with for the long haul because it’s so much fun it’s not even like working at all.
And then 90 percent of us who do this fail.
I can count on several fingers the number of times I’ve done this. And failed. I’d always start with a Great Idea. “Hey! I bet retail wine stores could use a weekly newsletter. Their marketing sucks. I can totally commoditize it and make it better.”
So I start a website. I get a salesperson. I do what I consider to be a grand effort of market validation by visiting the one wine store where I shop and asking the owner what he thinks. When he says “Sure, it sounds kind of cool,” I hear “This is a fabulous idea and it will be super successful and all the stores will eat it up.”
What I should have heard was “I’m being polite. It’s not really what I need, but you’re my customer and you’re asking me about this but not really asking for actual feedback.”
What I should have done was twofold: talked to him about what he could use for marketing before coming up with a solution, and made sure what I came up with was something he would actually buy because it solves a real problem for him or makes him money or saves him time or whatever.
And that’s the counterintuitively brilliant way to start a business: to go into the market, leave your presuppositions and solutions behind, and find out what they need.
It was like this flash of amazing insight I’ve been looking for my whole life.
I’ve had a good run overall. I’ve been, in the last ten years since I went out on my own, pretty successful. I’ve managed to do high-level work on a part-time basis while raising my kids. I’ve had fun, learned a ton, provided awesome value to my clients, made a good living, and generally had a great go of it.
But all along as I was trading time for money, doing marketing and writing and digital projects for clients, I kept trying to launch other things. And they weren’t panning out.
Now I know why.
I never validated my idea with my market first. I launched it, and then tried to validate it.
That rarely works.
So I listened to everything I could get my hands on from the Foundation, from the Mixergy interviews to the live Google Hangouts Dane was conducting. It was all so brilliant, so perfectly timed as I struggled with my latest business, unsure whether to pour more time and money in or cut my losses and do it right.
I joined the Foundation. We are three days into 2014 and I can already tell it’s going to be the most amazing growth year of my business life.
The modules on mindset: how successful people feel and act, how to overcome the issues you have that hold you back, and how to write a “why I’m doing this” statement that’s so strong and visionary it will pull you through the darkest days…those modules alone have totally transformed me into a new person. I’ve looked closely and honestly at my flaws and faced my issues head-on. Issues like why I always quit in the dip, why I’m afraid to be too successful, and why I care too much about what other people think of me. Resolved.
I am in the middle of cold-emailing and cold-calling people in a market I’ve never worked with before. Two months ago this would have been inconceivable, but today it is an exciting challenge.
I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Here’s to 2014, the Foundation, and all the smart entrepreneurs who put their customers first.