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Rethink Marketing: Staying Relevant in Changing Times

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Rethink Marketing: Staying Relevant in Changing Times

Written by: Kevin Bobowski | Act-On

Anyone who knows me well knows I am a passionate sports fan (Chicago Cubs, Michigan State Spartan). Broadway musicals? Not so much except, maybe, for “Les Miserables”. But I could not ignore this quote from one of today’s hottest musicals, Hamilton:  “Look at where we are. Look at where we started.” It’s an arresting overture, arriving right as the embattled politician himself (Alexander Hamilton) reaches a critical crossroads. It’s with me today as I consider all that has changed in marketing, and all that’s likely to change in the years ahead. Marketing has never been more exciting, or challenging, than it is today, and there’s no way we can look ahead at what awaits us without first looking at where we are today, and where we started.

In these times of rapid change – from new technologies to smarter buyers – you can either rise to the occasion or miss out on the next great opportunity. With how quickly change happens, how does the CMO – and the marketing team stay relevant?  What can be done to build a high-performing, sustainable marketing department that balances brand awareness, demand generation and customer marketing?

It starts with the customer experience

At one time, it was all about the brand — the Don Draper way: air cover was our mission, branding was broad and often lifestyle-focused, insights were minimal. And then, of course, the pendulum swung significantly the other way. Data became the rule, and demand generation the method. A lot of this is to digital marketing’s credit: it changed the game overnight, and forced us all to reorder our priorities. But a lot of this has meant the same bad habits of old have carried over. Maybe we rely too heavily on demand generation to support our businesses. “Sloppy growth” is widespread, and marketers everywhere are having to “rethink marketing” entirely.

Just as the competitive landscape changes, your buyers change too. Buyers have the power to research many choices and options, evaluate your offering, and reject you as an option without even contacting you. Because this is the modern buyer’s experience, it is more vital than ever to make sure that your messaging is consistent across every touchpoint and every channel from from their first brand contact to well beyond the sale. A great customer experience results in satisfied customers. And happy, satisfied customers build a brand. 

Simply put, marketers need to be thinking more about the lifetime value of a customer than just about the acquisition of the customer. The focus needs to be not just on getting people in the door –  though that definitely needs to happen – but also on making sure your customers are successful after they’ve passed through that door. That could mean how they are onboarded, or how they are successful using your product or service over time.

At Act-On, we were keen to find out just what marketers today thought about their discipline — the value they placed on brand, demand, and customer marketing initiatives, and the ways in which they allocated budget and staff across these three areas. Today, we’re pleased to publish our findings, in our report “Rethink Marketing,” which surveys more than 250 senior level marketers in the continental US. 

This report taught us several things. For one, many businesses have already cast wide nets in their marketing efforts; the majority of companies surveyed (87 percent in all) reported that they spent the bulk of their time in marketing functions outside of demand generation. For another, there may in fact be a real strategic value to casting those nets. Top performing companies (those that met or exceeded revenue expectations in the last fiscal year) spend less time on demand generation than underperforming companies. 

But most critically, this report showed us that in spite of this balance, many marketers have yet to apply marketing automation solutions beyond demand generation. Of course, it’s easy to understand why — marketers have long been partial to demand generation, and demand generation itself has been marketing automation’s primary use case for more than a decade. But it’s high time CMOs rethink these habits and take a long look at marketing automation’s relationship to the customer experience more broadly. 

It’s a technology with significant value to offer at every stage, from brand awareness to demand generation to customer retention and loyalty. The same segmentation, scoring, and nurturing capabilities you may leverage to acquire customers can be just as easily applied to other outreach efforts, well across the business — influencer relations (PR),, customer retention, customer activities. Act-On has accounted for this by enriching and expanding its own functionalities, to provide marketers an integrated workspace that supports their every brand, demand, and customer marketing effort. But such evolutions in technology can only go so far if marketers and executives aren’t willing to adjust their thinking and reframe their views. CMOs can’t allow themselves to only focus on demand generation. They need to see themselves as stewards of the brands they represent, and work hard to facilitate a consistent customer experience across the customer lifecycle. A CMO needs to make sure she addresses all functions of the marketing department – awareness, acquisition, and retention.

It could not be a better time to be a marketer.

Yes, it’s more competitive and fast-paced as ever, but the opportunities are endless. When your efforts are balanced across all of the marketing functions – building your brand, driving demand and expanding your customer relationships – you will deliver the kind of uncommon results not possible by simply focusing on a single area of marketing. Uncommon results are good. It means you are doing the best work of your career.

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