On Funnels and Flywheels

There’s a lot of jar­gon around mar­ket­ing fun­nels, and recent­ly about motions and fly­wheels. Here’s what you should know.

4 min read


Actual flywheel
An indus­tri­al fly­wheel at a defunct Beth­le­hem Steel plant

There’s been a lot of talk late­ly about fly­wheels.

Every year Hub­spot holds its user con­fer­ence, Inbound. I should pref­ace my next com­ments by say­ing, I’m a fan of Hub­spot. I’ve used their prod­uct for years and I’ve spent a lot of my career doing mar­ket­ing for com­pa­nies at the size Hub­spot is opti­mized for. One of my favorite growth blogs is For Entre­pre­neurs which is run by David Skok, an ear­ly investor in Hub­spot.

Basi­cal­ly, I have a bias in favor of Hub­spot on most things.

Hubspot announces the death of the funnel

In Sep 2018 at Inbound, Hub­spot founder Bri­an Hal­li­gan gave a keynote in which he announced the retire­ment or death of the mar­ket­ing fun­nel in favor of a new con­cept, the mar­ket­ing fly­wheel. I’m shar­ing a YouTube link to his talk below. And you can read more about this on the Hub­spot blog.

I get it. Fun­nels are SOOOO last year. Mar­keters every­where should stop what they are doing, do not pass go, and imme­di­ate­ly make the fol­low­ing change.

Hubspot Funnel to Flywheel Graphic

WTH? Real­ly?

This raised eye­brows for me.

I get it. The fun­nel mod­el might not encom­pass every­thing about the cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. It’s essen­tial­ly a pro­duc­tion line with cus­tomers as it’s out­put.

Maybe that tempts mar­keters to ignore the val­ue of exist­ing cus­tomers, to pass them off as client suc­cess’s prob­lem now, and to miss out on some of the val­ue to be found in an avid cus­tomer base.

But look at the fly­wheel graph­ic. Where in this mer­ry-go-round do cus­tomers actu­al­ly get on?

The usefulness of the funnel

How did we get the fun­nel metaphor in the first place?

While prob­a­bly in use in some form or fash­ion for years, one of the best-known artic­u­la­tions of the fun­nel is the Sir­ius­De­ci­sions Demand Water­fall. (A new dia­gram was intro­duced in 2017, but an exam­i­na­tion of the changes will have to wait for anoth­er post.)

Siriusdecisions Demand Waterfall 2012 marketing funnel

This intro­duced many of the con­cepts now ubiq­ui­tous among mar­keters and pop­u­lat­ing Sales­force oppor­tu­ni­ty pipeline stages every­where. Con­cepts like inbound vs. out­bound, mar­ket­ing qual­i­fied lead, and closed won oppor­tu­ni­ty.

There’s a lot of util­i­ty in view­ing the cus­tomer acqui­si­tion process as lin­ear.

The cus­tomer sto­ry has a begin­ning, a mid­dle, and an end. You can exam­ine each step in con­text of the one that came before and the one that should come after.

I saw Hal­li­gan’s fly­wheel mod­el, and asked, how can I exe­cute a CRO strat­e­gy with that?

While not exact­ly sim­i­lar, this struck me as rem­i­nis­cent of anoth­er fal­la­cy that gets a lot of play with mar­keters. The cost of retain­ing a cus­tomer.

The cost of retain­ing a cus­tomer, so the say­ing goes, is 6x (or 5x or 7x) less than acquir­ing a new one. Heav­ens to Bet­sy, we should all aban­don our new cus­tomer acqui­si­tion efforts and stop wast­ing all that mon­ey!

As I explain this in my book, Pil­lars of Inflec­tion, cost isn’t the only con­cern mar­ket­ing has. What about the impact on rev­enue? It turns out new cus­tomers have an aver­age of 12x the impact on rev­enue that exist­ing cus­tomers have (accord­ing to a study con­duct­ed by Eric Shulz).

customer retention vs customer acquisition cost and revenue
Image Cred­it: Pil­lars of Inflec­tion

You can­not retain your way to growth in cus­tomers or sales.

You can­not retain your way to growth in cus­tomers or sales. #fly­wheel #CAC #CAM #cus­tomer­ac­qui­si­tion #mar­ket­ing Click To Tweet

Suf­fice it to say, that I was uncon­vinced that Hub­spot had artic­u­lat­ed some­thing tru­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary about how mar­ket­ing was chang­ing, and ought to be done.

I had writ­ten fly­wheels off as only so much ephemer­al mar­ket­ing puffery.

And then…

The latest on flywheels from Jim Collins

Then, I caught Jim Collins’s inter­view with Tim Fer­riss on the Tim Fer­riss pod­cast.

I am an unabashed fan of Jim Collins. I’ve read all his books. Good to Great, Built to Last, How the Mighty Fall, Great by Choice—you name it, I’ve read and deployed tac­tics from these books.

Collins has released a new book. Well, not a book exact­ly. He calls it a mono­graph.

I had to look that up. It’s a short­er, more direct writ­ing, and tied inex­tri­ca­bly to a con­cept from his pre­vi­ous and best-known book, Good to Great. The title? Turn­ing the Fly­wheel.

And I was forced to revis­it the idea of fly­wheels for mar­ket­ing and for grow­ing com­pa­nies in gen­er­al.

Turn­ing the Fly­wheel was a very good read. I par­tic­u­lar­ly enjoyed Collins’s descrip­tion of how relent­less exe­cu­tion in step A, cre­ates a cer­tain inevitabil­i­ty in step B. For exam­ple, if you con­tin­u­al­ly exe­cute on your well-defined sales and mar­ket­ing motion, the imped­i­ments to scale reveal them­selves. You hire more sales peo­ple. Or, you invest more in your proven cus­tomer acqui­si­tion chan­nels.

Why?

Because you can’t ignore that these are the next nat­ur­al and inevitable step in your growth. Your com­pa­ny is out­grow­ing step A and demands the next action to ser­vice it’s pro­gres­sion.

On funnels and flywheels

I’ll be hon­est, I had a pre­dis­po­si­tion in favor of fly­wheels.

Left: Medieval kick­wheel-style pot­ter’s wheel. Right: the mod­ern ver­sion of the same tech­nol­o­gy.

Here’s a pic­ture of a medieval and mod­ern kick­wheels used in mak­ing wheel-thrown ceram­ics. In col­lege, I used one like this.

To oper­ate it, you kick the wheel. Just like an indus­tri­al fly­wheel, it gains momen­tum with each kick. Once it’s up to speed, the fly­wheel turns almost on its own with small­er kicks now and again to keep things going.

So, should I drop the tried and true fun­nel metaphor and focus on the fly­wheel? Or should I stick with what I knew and dis­miss the fly­wheel as a fad that was just hav­ing a good sea­son?

At the end of his mono­graph, Jim Collins deliv­ered the answer. In his con­clu­sion, he summed up lessons from all of his pre­vi­ous works in a sin­gle prin­ci­ple. One key that sep­a­rat­ed win­ner com­pa­nies from losers, cham­pi­ons from also-rans, and sur­vivors from fail­ures.

What was the key? Dis­ci­pline.

Dis­ci­pline to make dif­fi­cult choic­es, to con­front bru­tal facts, to avoid look­ing for res­cue in any­thing but exe­cu­tion. Dis­ci­pline to eschew dis­trac­tion, but open­ly test the mer­its of inno­va­tion.

And I think that’s what’s required here.

The fun­nel isn’t dead, nor has its use­ful­ness seen its day. It’s every bit as use­ful to mar­keters as it always has been. But so too is the fly­wheel. There are some beau­ti­ful lessons in the fly­wheel mod­el.

Savvy mar­keters don’t need to pick. This isn’t a boolean OR func­tion, it’s an AND.

Fun­nels and fly­wheels can coex­ist, and I think should coex­ist in the high­est func­tion­ing of mar­ket­ing teams.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the com­ments below.


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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

Two types of SEO

After spend­ing a year going from zero SEO to a sig­nif­i­cant source of inbound leads and a healthy num­ber of first-page results, here are my tips.

6 min read


SEO Zen Ideas

SEO can be baf­fling, espe­cial­ly if you’re new to it.

If you’re con­fused by duel­ing SEO pros on Twit­ter or Red­dit, won­der­ing if you should hire some­one (despite the bad reviews), unsure where to start, etc., this is for you.

The com­pa­ny I lead mar­ket­ing for was built with­out a heavy focus on SEO. They had con­sis­tent high-qual­i­ty low-cost lead vol­ume from oth­er sources, so SEO was not a top pri­or­i­ty.

In 2018, how­ev­er, we had some aggres­sive growth goals. I was con­vinced we need­ed some focused con­tent cam­paigns which would rely on SEO as a crit­i­cal part of the con­tent pro­mo­tion. The results? Our growth was enough for the com­pa­ny to rank as the #4 fastest grow­ing com­pa­ny in a state with a cel­e­brat­ed busi­ness and start­up ecosys­tem. Our SEO efforts got page one SERP for the small clus­ter of top­ics and key­word phras­es we tar­get­ed. This includ­ed many num­ber one results and even cap­tur­ing the cov­et­ed Google Fea­tured Snip­pet for a few.

I’ve includ­ed a sam­ple of our results below.

Google Search Con­sole report on one of our main key­word phras­es.
Note how our spot­ty intro­duc­tion even­tu­al­ly evened out with a page one aver­age using basic SEO tech­niques.

Our team does not yet include any­one ded­i­cat­ed to SEO, nor did I hire any SEO con­sul­tants. If you’re just get­ting start­ed with SEO, here’s what I’ve learned.

Do you need Olympic-grade SEO, or just enough to not be SEO-foolish?

SEO can be super com­pet­i­tive.

Like cut­throat, mon­ey­ball, Fight Club com­pet­i­tive.

If you’re new to the are­na, that can make it pret­ty intim­i­dat­ing. (Lurk on Black Hat World for a bit to see what I mean.) It’s not uncom­mon to see experts lock­ing horns over which advice is gold­en and which is trash.

Moz is great! Moz is for suck­ers.”

Neil Patel is awe­some! Neil Patel is a sell­out. Neil Patel is only for nubes.”

What I learned is SEO is a crap­storm.

The unfor­tu­nate truth is, with­out SEO, you’re leav­ing a LOT on the table. But it’s con­fus­ing. How can any­one make sense of it all?

Well, I now break SEO into two cat­e­gories.

  1. Entry-lev­el SEO
  2. Advanced SEO

Not know­ing which camp you fall into can cause prob­lems.

If you decide to out­source your SEO. What lev­el of SEO are you expect­ing to get? What lev­el are you pay­ing for? Are you and the con­trac­tor clear on the results you expect? It’s hard to know what advice applies to your sit­u­a­tion. (Note: there are MANY more con­trac­tors capa­ble of Entry-lev­el SEO than there are who can tru­ly com­pete at Advanced SEO.)

In the end, how do you know you are spend­ing the right amount of mon­ey, man­pow­er, and time for the results you want?

Which type of SEO do I need?

Here’s a secret: most com­pa­nies do lit­tle if any SEO.

Which means for a lot of mar­ket­ing teams, tack­ling SEO at the entry-lev­el is going to deliv­er the ini­tial results you need.

Think­ing you need to do advanced SEO if you don’t can be drain­ing, over­whelm­ing, and make you think SEO is impos­si­ble. I’m con­vinced that many mar­keters new to SEO wait too long to tack­le SEO cam­paigns and ini­tia­tives.

This isn’t real­ly sur­pris­ing. For the unini­ti­at­ed, it’s like step­ping into the octa­gon.

There are times that I’ve been that mar­keter.

But not every place online is a dark alley with SEO nin­jas hid­ing around each dump­ster and fire escape.

Many web­sites, com­pa­nies, and key­word phras­es don’t have much com­pe­ti­tion at all. Or the pre­cise key­words for spe­cif­ic prod­ucts and ser­vices. I’m not just talk­ing about long-tail key­words either.

To tell if you’re swim­ming in an SEO blue ocean, start by Googling your com­pa­ny, your prod­uct, or your cat­e­go­ry five or six dif­fer­ent ways.

What do the results look like?

Lots of Fea­tured Snip­pets and spon­sored ads? Do you see your com­peti­tors or ads with your com­pa­ny or prod­uct name in them?

Wel­come to the octa­gon.

competitive red ocean SEO octagon

Only a few? None at all? One or two com­peti­tors? Then you can prob­a­bly make a TON of head­way by incor­po­rat­ing basic, sol­id SEO tac­tics on your site.

The good news? These SEO tac­tics are not a secret.

If I just need the basics, where do I start?

If you tru­ly need Advanced SEO help, seek out an expert. Look at before and after results from oth­er clients. Ask them to brag.

Then ask them to tell you about clients they have lost, and go inter­view them.

There are some awe­some SEOs out there. Expect that they will be expen­sive.

Entry-Level SEO Resources

Here are some resources that have served me well and which will cost you noth­ing:

Go to the source and make sure you’ve read about SEO from Google.

If you use Word­Press as your CMS, your first step should be to install the free Yoast plu­g­in. (This will be rec­om­mend­ed by most of the resources below, but deserved its own men­tion.)

Next, I love Austen Allred’s no B.S. approach to action­able mar­ket­ing insights. His arti­cle SEO is not Hard is a great resource if you’re start­ing out.

Also, despite dis­agree­ment about the qual­i­ty of many SEO gurus, there’s more or less unan­i­mous kudos for Bri­an Dean at Back­linko. His arti­cles What is SEO, and Why Should I Care? and The Defin­i­tive Guide to Key­word Research are great places to start. And in 2019 he released his SEO Mar­ket­ing Hub—a great free resource to brush up on core SEO top­ics.

@cmo_zen rec­om­mends dig­i­tal mar­keters spend some time get­ting famil­iar with @backlinko’s SEO Mar­ket­ing Hub https://backlinko.com/hub/seo #mar­ket­ing #SEO Click To Tweet

Using tips from these authors, I was able to build an SEO check­list used before pub­lish­ing any­thing relat­ed to the top­ics we want­ed to rank for. In no time, these core basics were baked into every blog post and web page tem­plate we used.

That’s all we need­ed to start get­ting con­sis­tent, page one SERP results for our rel­e­vant key­word phras­es.

As a bonus, going through the exer­cise of nail­ing down your basic SEO puts you in a much bet­ter posi­tion if you end up hir­ing an SEO pro onto your team or look­ing to out­source.

So, what do you think? Are there resources you’ve used to step up your SEO game? Where did you start with SEO? I’d love to hear more about your expe­ri­ence in the com­ments below.


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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

Staying Worthy of the Customer’s Trust

Consumers are losing confidence in big brands when it comes to their privacy. What’s causing this erosion and what can marketers do about it?

5 min read
Privacy: are big companies doing enough to protect it?
Could­n’t we all use a lit­tle more pri­va­cy?

Are big com­pa­nies doing enough to pro­tect our data?

A recent arti­cle by Angel­List cites a Pew study which sug­gests that only 24% of Amer­i­cans believe they are.

You may think that sto­ries like Face­book’s elec­tion scan­dal with Cam­bridge Ana­lyt­i­ca (and sub­se­quent reports) are behind this low esteem in the pub­lic eye. These sto­ries seem com­mon­place when it comes to pri­va­cy.

But I don’t buy it.

Not as the cause for a low pub­lic image about cor­po­rate stew­ard­ship over pri­va­cy. 

Espe­cial­ly in Face­book’s case.

The real rea­son?

If you ask me, it’s failed per­son­al­iza­tion.

Mistaken identities feel like SPAM

Mar­keters ded­i­cate resources and effort to per­son­al­iza­tion because it has been shown to be effec­tive.

In a recent sur­vey, eight out of ten mar­keters saw an uptick in results after per­son­al­iza­tion in their cam­paigns and 73 per­cent of glob­al mar­keters cite a per­son­al­ized cus­tomer expe­ri­ence as a key to suc­cess. This is where seri­ous cus­tomer data comes into play to help seg­ment your buy­ers and tar­get your cus­tomers with bet­ter-per­son­al­ized mar­ket­ing. The more detailed feed­back and nuanced seg­ments, the bet­ter.

Mar­ket­ing tech­niques don’t exist in a vac­u­um. And they aren’t infal­li­ble. You can screw up per­son­al­iza­tion, and when you do it isn’t pret­ty.

In our office we chuck­le at exam­ples of failed per­son­al­iza­tion.

You’ve prob­a­bly received an email with an incom­plete per­son­al­iza­tion token refer­ring to you as “fname” or even the wrong name before.

But more insid­i­ous are emails that nail all my details, but miss in their assump­tions about my beliefs, pref­er­ences, or per­sona.

These miss­es don’t even have the sil­ver lin­ing of being fun­ny and enter­tain­ing. They just tell me that the brand does­n’t get me.

In the worst cas­es, these emails might even be offen­sive if the mis­tak­en beliefs or pref­er­ences are close­ly held, part of my iden­ti­ty, or oth­er­wise very impor­tant to me.

Quot­ing a con­sumer study, the DMN web­site states that con­sumers scan­ning their inbox­es have devel­oped high­ly tuned spam detec­tion abil­i­ties. To them, “e‑mails that are not per­son­al­ly rel­e­vant are Spam.”

Emails that are not per­son­al­ly rel­e­vant are SPAM. @cmo_zen #email­mar­ket­ing #mar­ket­ing­pro­tips #mar­ket­ing Click To Tweet

Relevance equals trust

Tru­ly rel­e­vant mes­sages feel like advice from a friend.

Per­son­al­iza­tion can low­er bar­ri­ers and skep­ti­cism, increas­ing the sig­nal to noise ratio so a gen­uine­ly rel­e­vant mes­sage can land. On-tar­get mes­sag­ing nails both rel­e­vance and per­son­al­iza­tion. When that hap­pens, all the mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy, process, and intent for the cus­tomer become invis­i­ble and the recip­i­ent believes that these mes­sages are sent from a source they can trust.

Peo­ple trust oth­ers with sen­si­tive and pri­vate infor­ma­tion all the time.

It can be so use­ful to do it.

And Face­book and oth­ers who are fla­gel­lat­ing them­selves over their poli­cies regard­ing third-par­ty data providers—reducing the val­ue of their prod­uct for both con­sumers and adver­tis­ers along the way—are miss­ing the key insight that their prob­lem is less about secu­ri­ty than it is about mar­ket­ing.

Con­sumers don’t know the dif­fer­ence between the laun­dry list of pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty mea­sures in place at one com­pa­ny ver­sus anoth­er. But do you know what they do know? They know who they trust.

And trust is gold.

Tribe also = trust

Seth Godin intro­duced us to tribes. Peo­ple who share our beliefs about some impor­tant facet of the world.

Seth Godin deliv­er­ing his TED talk on tribes.

Tribes form around sports teams, pol­i­tics, and brands.

Tribes are the lines we draw cre­at­ing ingroup and out­group psy­cho­log­i­cal frames of ref­er­ence.

Failed per­son­al­iza­tion sig­nals that we aren’t real­ly in the same tribe. It sig­nals that we don’t real­ly share the beliefs that make us feel part of the same ingroup.

And are there­fore left to view the attempt with sus­pi­cion.

For brands, trust isn’t a one and done kind of thing. There are real­ly two parts: gain­ing trust in the first place, and then con­tin­u­ing to inspire trust by keep­ing promis­es, remind­ing of shared beliefs, and deliv­er­ing val­ue.

Addi­tion­al Read­ing: The Essen­tial Guide to Trust in Mar­ket­ing, 30 things you can do to inspire trust.

The Crazy Egg Blog

Critical takeaways

Con­cerns over pri­va­cy, espe­cial­ly with the big tech com­pa­nies like Google and Face­book, are not real­ly about secu­ri­ty. Sure, data breach­es, sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to hack­ers, iden­ti­ty theft and plain old unwant­ed dis­clo­sure of per­son­al infor­ma­tion are real con­cerns and keep­ing the tech top notch is expect­ed. But that isn’t where the heart and soul of pub­lic opin­ion is made or bro­ken.

marketers need to focus on trust

No, it’s about some­thing sim­ple but essen­tial. It’s about trust.

And bad per­son­al­iza­tion is a great way to lose trust. So is send­ing irrel­e­vant con­tent which will be seen as SPAM. The key is to use effec­tive and accu­rate per­son­al­iza­tion (don’t lump cus­tomers togeth­er too glob­al­ly or you’re sure to miss with a bunch of them) and make sure your mes­sage is rel­e­vant so it can nev­er be SPAM.

Beyond rel­e­vance and per­son­al­iza­tion, build a sense of tribe around beliefs you share with your cus­tomers.

Look at one of the worlds great­est brands. What’s Apple’s approach to secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy? It’s not an inane dis­cus­sion about secu­ri­ty pro­to­cols. It’s about mar­ket­ing a shared belief when it comes to pri­va­cy.

It’s this demon­strat­ed belief that pri­va­cy is impor­tant that get’s Apple labeled as a cham­pi­on of pri­va­cy.

They under­stand that their brand is about trust with­in their tribe.


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P.S. You may also enjoy How to Avoid Being Seen as SPAM by View­ers.


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

How to Actually Use the 4 Ps of the Marketing Mix

Using the 4 Ps of the Mar­ket­ing Mix as a prac­ti­cal guide to nail posi­tion­ing, rather than just a list of ingre­di­ents for cre­at­ing a prod­uct.

6 min read

the marketing mix for startups

You’ve no doubt heard of the mar­ket­ing mix.

Back in 1960, Jerome McCarthy added to the con­cept of the mar­ket­ing mix by call­ing out four Ps.

He described how com­pa­nies could con­sis­tent­ly artic­u­late and posi­tion them­selves, their brands and their prod­ucts along four dimen­sions: prod­uct, price, pro­mo­tion, and place.

The mar­ket­ing mix has become a sta­ple of aca­d­e­m­ic mar­ket­ing ideas. Ubiq­ui­tous in mar­ket­ing cur­ric­u­la along­side Michael Porter’s Five Forces and the Lav­ige-Stein­er Hier­ar­chy of Effects Mod­el, the four Ps of the mar­ket­ing mix and their descen­dant vari­ants are spread in uni­ver­si­ties from hith­er to yon.

And it’s most­ly taught and talked about all wrong.

Click To Tweet

The marketing mix

Before we go any fur­ther, we need work­ing def­i­n­i­tions for each of the four Ps.

Product

Is your prod­uct the best? Does it deliv­er the ben­e­fits bet­ter than com­peti­tors? Is it com­plete in terms of under­stand­ing the cus­tomer’s job to be done?

Price

The sim­plest of the four to describe. Are you priced low­er than the com­pe­ti­tion?

Promotion

Are you bet­ter at sell­ing than oth­ers? Are there ben­e­fits to your dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el? Do you deliv­er ancil­lary val­ues as cus­tomers buy from you that sur­prise and delight them? Do you lever­age the psy­chol­o­gy of sales, events, free gifts, add-ons, and deals? Do you make your cus­tomer feel smart by let­ting them learn and play a game of BOGOs, rewards, loy­al­ty points, coupons, Google Ads, or Monop­oly spaces?

Place

Do you win at dis­tri­b­u­tion? Do you have stores, vend­ing machines, pow­er aisles, or web­sites placed in the most con­ve­nient or ubiq­ui­tous loca­tions so your cus­tomer can get your prod­uct when and where they want it?

Since the orig­i­nal, addi­tion­al Ps have been pro­posed, strech­ing the num­ber to five, sev­en, or even eight Ps.

I’m going to include the fifth, peo­ple.

People

people in the marketing mix

There’s an argu­ment to be made that the val­ue-add from your peo­ple can be lumped in with one of the oth­er four. For instance, if you train your employ­ees to give out­stand­ing ser­vice, isn’t that just an exten­sion of your Prod­uct? Or, if you depend on a cadre of high­ly skilled sales­peo­ple, isn’t that the same as Pro­mo­tion?

All the same, I like includ­ing peo­ple as a fifth P because there is a human com­po­nent that I don’t think can be sim­ply boiled down to one of the oth­er four. Ulti­mate­ly mar­ket­ing is human beings talk­ing to oth­er human beings about trans­ac­tions that make our lives bet­ter. I think the so-called war for tal­ent among tech com­pa­nies shows a recog­ni­tion of this at some lev­el.

It’s some­what pop­u­lar to add Process, and Phys­i­cal evi­dence to bring the total to eight Ps. An argu­ment can be made for exam­ple that com­pa­nies like Ama­zon or Wal­mart are more com­pet­i­tive due to their fanat­i­cal com­mit­ment to process effi­cien­cy.

The Process cer­tain­ly con­tributes to how these com­pa­nies deliv­er their val­ue to the cus­tomer. But I’m not con­vinced that Process is actu­al­ly a main dri­ver for why cus­tomers buy from them.

Adding a bunch of extra Ps takes a core prin­ci­ple and turns it into fash­ion. Self-con­grat­u­la­to­ry mar­keters look down their noses at the poor folks still using last year’s 4 Ps mod­el. In actu­al use, I find very lim­it­ed util­i­ty in adding process and phys­i­cal evi­dence because they seem to be tak­ing the focus from mar­ket­ing artic­u­la­tion of val­ue to the cus­tomer, and focus­ing the mod­el intro­spec­tive­ly to how the com­pa­ny is run—and the four Ps mod­el is not about oper­a­tions, it’s about psy­chol­o­gy.

So, I stick with 5.

From @cmo_zen, “The mar­ket­ing mix is not about oper­a­tions, it’s about psy­chol­o­gy.” #mar­ket­ing #mar­ket­ing­mix #posi­tion­ing Click To Tweet

Posi­tion­ing 101

I said most peo­ple teach and talk about the four Ps all wrong.

That’s pre­cise­ly because the four Ps are most use­ful when we think about them in terms of psy­chol­o­gy. Posi­tion­ing is a strat­e­gy as native to psy­chol­o­gy as any­thing else we do in mar­ket­ing.

You don’t want to posi­tion your prod­uct in the mid­dle of an axis or along a spec­trum. The best posi­tion­ing is bina­ry; it’s at the poles.

The ora­cles of posi­tion­ing, Al Reis and Jack Trout taught us that posi­tion­ing means describ­ing your­self and describ­ing your cat­e­go­ry in terms where you are #1.

It’s in the extreme ends of the spec­trum that posi­tion­ing poten­cy lives. Sri­ni Rao took this one step fur­ther in his book, Only is bet­ter than Best.

The 4 Ps are not a frame­work for artic­u­lat­ing the attrib­ut­es of the thing you sell. They are a chal­lenge for you to com­mit. They beg you to aban­don medi­oc­rity and the inde­ci­sive mid­dle by going all-in to deliv­er max­i­mum val­ue in just one dimen­sion of the mar­ket­ing mix.

You can­not win at all four.

You must pick one for your main com­pet­i­tive advan­tage.

For exam­ple, it’s easy to tell which P these com­pet­i­tive retail­ers have decid­ed is their core posi­tion­ing strat­e­gy.

Wal­mart: price
Kohl’s: pro­mo­tion
Tar­get: prod­uct

It’s easy to get con­fused. Often price and prod­uct play tug-of-war and in the mid­dle is a match for the cus­tomer’s sense of val­ue.

In fact, any exam­ple you pick has ele­ments of all four.

How can you label Tar­get as “prod­uct,” you say, when they also run pro­mo­tions and often com­pete on price? All three of these retail­ers has thou­sands of stores. Clear­ly they’ve made a com­mit­ment to “place” as well.

But it’s pre­cise­ly in the “mix” that we can lose sight of where the com­pet­i­tive dif­fer­en­tia­tors are. That’s where the temp­ta­tion to avoid com­mit­ting lies.

You can’t win a posi­tion if you don’t take one.

Begin­ners try to pick many at once, usu­al­ly start­ing with price.

Com­pa­nies are focused on build­ing prod­ucts rather than brands. A prod­uct is some­thing made in a fac­to­ry. A brand is some­thing made in the mind. To be suc­cess­ful today, you have to build brands, not prod­ucts. And you build brands by using posi­tion­ing strate­gies…

—Al Reis, Posi­tion­ing: the Bat­tle for Your MindSac­ri­fice, com­mit­ment, and get­ting it right

Look­ing at the mar­ket­ing mix as a recipe for your go-to-mar­ket strat­e­gy is actu­al­ly a recipe for medi­oc­rity. Sim­ply adding a lit­tle of this and a lit­tle of that until you have a unique blend will get you nowhere.

The main thing with the Mar­ket­ing Mix is to decide.

To com­mit.

There is a flip side to mak­ing a com­mit­ment. Sac­ri­fice.

By choos­ing one ele­ment of the mar­ket­ing mix as your fron­trun­ner, you are by default also choos­ing three oth­ers that are not. You have sac­ri­ficed mak­ing the oth­ers your main thing. Mak­ing a choice pre­cludes mak­ing dif­fer­ent choic­es.

And that is the main thing.

Com­mit­ting to one dimen­sion of the mar­ket­ing mix cre­ates con­trast which is at the heart of posi­tion­ing.

@cmo_zen says com­mit­ting to one ele­ment of the mar­ket­ing mix to the exclu­sion of oth­ers cre­ates CONTRAST which is the essence of posi­tion­ing.  #posi­tion­ing #mar­ket­ing #mar­ket­ing­mix Click To Tweet

I hope you found this use­ful. What are your biggest chal­lenges with the Mar­ket­ing Mix? Post them in the com­ments below.


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P.S. You can read more about the prin­ci­ples of com­mit­ment and sac­ri­fice from Scott Bed­bury in his clas­sic, A New Brand World.


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

5 Tips for Hiring Great Copywriters

If a marketing team’s job is to do anything, it’s to communicate. That means we need people who put our message into words; and they need to be good at it. So how do you find and hire great copywriters? Here’s how.

11 min read

how to hire copywriters

Here’s some of the best advice for hir­ing great copy­writ­ers.

It’s com­mon for mar­ket­ing lead­ers to be pret­ty good writ­ers. That’s not always good.

A decent writer can hood­wink them­selves into think­ing that they don’t real­ly need to hire writ­ers. I’ve made the mis­take of wait­ing before myself.

This delay can thwart the mar­ket­ing team’s abil­i­ty to scale and real­ly impact rev­enue growth in a way they oth­er­wise could. That’s just unac­cept­able.

So if you’re in that boat, need­ing to hire copy­writ­ers, here are some of the best tips for get­ting it right.

1. Decide what you want

Not all writ­ers are cre­at­ed equal, even the real­ly great ones.

Before you start look­ing, you owe it to your­self to be clear about what it is that you want from this hire. For exam­ple, is your team large and you need addi­tion­al band­width for a pro­gram that is large­ly devel­oped and run­ning? Or, is your com­pa­ny small and you’re look­ing for some­one who can wear mul­ti­ple hats, is skilled at many types of writ­ing, and who has the poten­tial to man­age a team in the future?

hire the right copywriter

What­ev­er your needs, set them out clear­ly first. Lau­ra Seri­no of eCom­merce Fuel says, “Before you can hire a great writer, you’ve got to know what you want them to write… Make a list of the pri­or­i­ties your intend­ed copy­writer will take on once they get the job. If you have a clear idea of the types of con­tent you need cre­at­ed, you’ll be able to bet­ter nar­row your search.”

As you con­sid­er the writ­ing you need done, is a spe­cial­ist or a gen­er­al­ist required? For exam­ple, do you need some­one who is a savant just at direct response email writ­ing? Or do you need a writer who can move seamless­ly from blog posts and print col­lat­er­al to case stud­ies and e‑books? What is the bud­get? Are you look­ing for top-dol­lar senior-lev­el skills, or will a more junior entry-lev­el writer do?

When can­di­dates come through the door, look out for match­es between the work you need done and their inter­ests. Annie Pilon writ­ing for Small Busi­ness Trends says, “For some copy­writ­ers, their per­son­al styles and pref­er­ences can make a big dif­fer­ence in how much care they put into their work. So when vet­ting copy­writ­ers, con­sid­er ask­ing them about what types of sub­jects and for­mats they enjoy the most.

2. Find those most likely to succeed

In What Does it Take to be Cre­ative? 7 Tips from David Ogilvy, the authors at Choco­late and Caviar tell this sto­ry: “William May­nard of the Bates agency said that “most good copy­writ­ers fall into two cat­e­gories. Poets. And killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.”

Poets and killers. Which is right for you?

David Ogilvy said, “If you are a killer and a poet, you get rich.”

The fields of cre­ative work are full of peo­ple who tend to express a more dom­i­nant pref­er­ence for either the cre­ative or the ana­lyt­i­cal. In How to Build a Mar­ket­ing Team: Start­ing with the CMO, I point­ed out a sim­i­lar dual­ism all the way at the top of the orga­ni­za­tion with artists and sci­en­tists, or a leader focused on brand or demand.

Sonia Simone of Copy­blog­ger says if you’re already a poet, “You’re lucky—the strate­gic part is much eas­i­er to learn than the poet­ry bit.”

Easy or not, some artists are none too keen to gain the skills of a killer.

Lau­ra Seri­no in The 7 Secret Steps to Find, Hire & Keep a Killer Copy­writer (iron­i­cal­ly) says, “Don’t Ask a Writer About Con­ver­sion Rates. Or ROI. Or A/B test­ing results. Or any­thing else ana­lyt­i­cal. Copy­writ­ers write – they don’t ana­lyze data.”

She’s specif­i­cal­ly talk­ing about free­lancers here, but if you need some­one who is both poet and killer, you should know that there is a seg­ment of writ­ers who don’t believe in doing both. In How to Find a Writer Who Won’t Kill Your Con­tent, Chris Gille­spie goes a lit­tle deep­er when he says “most writ­ers fall into three broad cat­e­gories:” He describes these three as,

Jour­nal­ists, who write well and are good at the dis­ci­pline of doing research, meet­ing dead­lines, and writ­ing pro­fes­sion­al­ly. They some­times strug­gle in mar­ket­ing because being sub­jec­tive and per­sua­sive can go against their jour­nal­is­tic ethos.

Copy­writ­ers who get writ­ing for mar­ket­ing, but some­times lack the artistry with words, the finesse, or the fact-check­ing scru­ples of jour­nal­ists.

Nov­el­ists who are pure­ly artists that write for mon­ey. They sup­port their writ­ing habit by tak­ing paid writ­ing jobs. Notably, Gille­spie says, “I’ve nev­er found one who cut it as a con­tent writer. That’s not to say they can’t be found, but they are rare.”

So who is right? Are you bet­ter off as Simone sug­gests find­ing a poet who can be taught the killer skills like SEO, ana­lyt­ics, and key­word research? Or as Gille­spie implies, steer­ing clear of pure artists and “seek­ing some­one with expe­ri­ence as a copy­writer or a jour­nal­ist and help­ing them devel­op any skills they lack”?

I’d say steer clear of poets who are unwill­ing to gain the skills of a killer, or in Gillespie’s par­lance a nov­el­ist who views mar­ket­ing skills as dis­taste­ful and a qua­si “sell­ing out” of the pure artistry they want to be mak­ing.

Hir­ing great copy­writ­ers means find­ing some­one who either has both skills or who is hun­gry about learn­ing the parts they are miss­ing. Ulti­mate­ly you want to avoid hir­ing a writer who puts out bad con­tent. The world is already awash in con­tent lit­ter­bugs.

Avoid hir­ing a writer who puts out bad con­tent. The world is already awash in con­tent lit­ter­bugs. #con­tent­mar­ket­ing #mar­ket­ing­writ­ers Click To Tweet

3. Hire for strengths

I think it’s impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between skills and abil­i­ties.

A can­di­date has skills if she can exe­cute the things right now. She has abil­i­ties if she can learn to do a thing in the future. And you need some­one with both. You need exe­cu­tion ASAP, plus the abil­i­ty to grow and work around your needs in the future. In the pre-inter­view screen­ing, you should keep in mind whether what you are see­ing is a skill or an abil­i­ty and whether you need this skill now, or can devel­op an abil­i­ty into future skills.

It’s also a good time to remem­ber that you want some­one bet­ter than you, and to do that you need to hire for strengths, not lack of weak­ness. In If You’ve Nev­er Done the Job, How Do You Hire Some­body Good?,author and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Ben Horowitz says,

The more expe­ri­ence you have, the more you real­ize that there is some­thing seri­ous­ly wrong with every employ­ee in your com­pa­ny (includ­ing you)… As a result, it is imper­a­tive that you hire for strength rather than lack of weak­ness… Hir­ing for lack of weak­ness just means that you’ll opti­mize for pleas­ant­ness. Rather, you must fig­ure out the strengths you require and find some­one who is world class in those areas despite their weak­ness­es in oth­er, less impor­tant domains.”

Screening resumes

The cor­po­rate blog for Raven Tools sug­gests these five things to watch for when screen­ing writer resumes:

  1. Mis­takes. Osten­si­bly this job is impor­tant enough to the can­di­date to proof­read for spelling and gram­mat­i­cal errors.
  1. Style. If you are look­ing for a cer­tain style in your writ­ing, be wary of can­di­dates who focus on some­thing wild­ly dif­fer­ent.
  1. Lack of expe­ri­ence. This is kind of a gut-check on whether they match your senior­i­ty needs from Tip #1 above.
  1. Poor fol­low-up. Do they reply quick­ly and are their answers pre­cise and accu­rate.
  1. Lack of effort. Have they done their home­work on your com­pa­ny, you or your senior man­age­ment team? Do they show that they care about where they will be work­ing?

Interviews

There are lots of lists of ques­tions out there. Annie Pilon rec­om­mends “Head­lines and calls to action espe­cial­ly can make a big dif­fer­ence. So put spe­cial empha­sis on those in your search for copy­writ­ers.”

hiring the best copywriters

Favorite inter­view ques­tions from Lau­ra Seri­no include (com­ments are my own),

  1. Have you ever come up with a line/story/headline that you thought was bril­liant but the com­pa­ny you worked for didn’t love?
  1. How did you get into copy­writ­ing? Let them tell their sto­ry.
  1. What’s your favorite brand for copy inspi­ra­tion? This helps you get a sense of how they con­sume their craft. Ask­ing about books they’ve read recent­ly can also shed light here.
  1. Is there a prod­uct cat­e­go­ry you pre­fer to write for? This informs the bridge between what they would write if they were just doing it for them­selves, and what they will write for you.

She also clev­er­ly rec­om­mends request­ing before and after drafts of port­fo­lio pieces.

Accord­ing to Raven, “These three sim­ple ques­tions will serve as a basis to help you iden­ti­fy can­di­dates with the appro­pri­ate busi­ness writ­ing skills.

  1. What is the dif­fer­ence between imply and infer? This type of ques­tion enables you get a han­dle on a candidate’s under­stand­ing of gram­mar and usage.
  1. What edi­to­r­i­al ref­er­ence guides have you worked with? If a writer has busi­ness expe­ri­ence, she should be famil­iar with pub­li­ca­tions such as the AP Style­book and the Chica­go Man­u­al of Style.
  1. Describe three impor­tant SEO copy­writ­ing prac­tices. Search engine opti­miza­tion is a crit­i­cal com­po­nent of con­tent for web pages, blog posts, online press releas­es and HTML ver­sions of white papers and brochures. If your writer doesn’t under­stand the fun­da­men­tals of SEO copy­writ­ing, kiss your rank­ings good­bye.”

They also rec­om­mend you feel con­fi­dent writ­ing can­di­dates can,

  • Meet dead­lines.
  • Take crit­i­cism.
  • Work on teams.
  • Fol­low direc­tion.

4. Take a test drive. Moving beyond interview questions.

You can’t tell how well a can­di­date will do just from review­ing port­fo­lio writ­ing sam­ples. “To eval­u­ate can­di­dates, just look­ing at their past work won’t do. Always ask them to write a test arti­cle,” says Gille­spie. And again from Brad Shorr, “The best way I’ve found to screen copy­writer can­di­dates is to give them an actu­al assign­ment.”

So what makes an effec­tive test assign­ment?

You want to see how the can­di­date will work with your com­pa­ny process­es, so make the assign­ment as real as pos­si­ble. Accord­ing to Shorr, “When an assign­ment is ready, the copy­writer needs a prop­er cre­ative brief.”

By prepar­ing a cre­ative brief as you would for any oth­er assign­ment, you’re increas­ing the real-world nature of the test assign­ment.

When assign­ing the project, Raven states it’s very impor­tant to:

  1. Pro­vide clear and ade­quate instruc­tions.
  1. Pro­vide the nec­es­sary back­ground.
  1. Give the same project to each can­di­date.
  1. Pro­vide a real-life dead­line. If the mate­r­i­al is sub­mit­ted late, it’s a deal-killer.

Test assignment part 2

After you have received the test assign­ment back, Seri­no rec­om­mends a thought­ful fol­low-up step. She says, “I’ve only ever had one com­pa­ny take this sec­ond step when find­ing a copy­writer. But it’s a step that will make all the dif­fer­ence.

Once you receive a com­plet­ed test back, offer feed­back on what they can do bet­ter. Have them go back to the draw­ing board and see how they can alter their writ­ing accord­ing to your sug­ges­tions.”

This sec­ond test is designed to high­light attrib­ut­es men­tioned in tip three. Can they take crit­i­cism and fol­low direc­tions? Can they work on your team? Are they col­lab­o­ra­tive about the job? Can they adopt your company’s tone and voice?

Note: Most experts agreed that if the work was usable in the wild, that the can­di­date should be paid for it even if you didn’t hire them.

5. Do your part to help them succeed

Final­ly, onboard­ing a new team mem­ber the right way can help you cap­i­tal­ize on the invest­ment you have made in them so far.

Some of the best sug­ges­tions are to get them out in the field with your sales team as soon as pos­si­ble. Shorr says, “If you have a field sales force, the very best train­ing for a copy­writer is to have him or her spend time in the field with your sales reps.”

Gille­spie gives the fol­low­ing advice for pro­vid­ing the pre­req­ui­sites for your new writer to thrive.

  • Buy­er per­sona research: The more your writer can get inside your customer’s head, the more pre­cise the writ­ing will be.
  • Access to your team: Most writ­ers do bet­ter work when they feel includ­ed. Invite them to the office to meet your team and set up ongo­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for them to com­mu­ni­cate with the team.
  • Access to your cus­tomers: For all writ­ers, even­tu­al­ly the well of ideas runs dry. Give them ways to get rein­vig­o­rat­ed, such as inter­view­ing cus­tomers. It breaks them out of their pat­tern and gives you a nev­er-end­ing foun­tain of fresh, authen­tic sto­ries.
  • Data: Con­tent mar­ket­ing writ­ers rarely see data on how their writ­ing per­forms. Sure, they might see the num­ber of shares, but they don’t get to track their engage­ment from piece to piece or A/B head­lines. Sub­scribe them to access per­for­mance reports in your mar­ket­ing sys­tem or Google Ana­lyt­ics.
  • Feed­back: Most writ­ers nev­er get more feed­back than “thanks.” If they don’t know how they did, they can’t grow. Always track and share edits in Microsoft Word. Even bet­ter, build a style guide togeth­er. It’ll save you both a lot of time.
  • Struc­ture: If every dead­line feels like an emer­gency, your con­tent qual­i­ty suf­fers.

He also strong­ly cau­tions against the mar­ket­ing team drop­ping the entire con­tent strat­e­gy in the lap of a new copy­writer or leav­ing writ­ers with­out clear direc­tion and strate­gic input. “Mar­keters who don’t offer clear briefs with sug­gest­ed out­comes, quotes, links, and sta­tis­tics to their writ­ers… shouldn’t be sur­prised when their writ­ers cre­ate some­thing dif­fer­ent than what they had in mind.”

If you’ve had hit or miss expe­ri­ences in the past, keep this list handy to increase your chances of hir­ing great copy­writ­ers for the future.


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P.S. Arti­cles cit­ed in this piece include details on places to find copy­writ­ers, and appro­pri­ate com­pen­sa­tion ranges.


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

How to Write Brand Positioning Statements That Don’t Suck

Writing brand positioning statements gets at the heart of your value prop and core messaging—it’s an essential skill for marketers.

4 min read

brand positioning statement

Sev­er­al years ago, I wrote Writ­ing the Per­fect Brand Posi­tion­ing State­ment where I laid out strate­gies I learned from Eric Schulz and which have served me well. This is a con­cise edit and update (for those daunt­ed by the more ver­bose orig­i­nal).

What the heck is a BPS?

A brand posi­tion­ing state­ment is an inter­nal­ly-fac­ing con­cise state­ment of your com­pa­ny’s who, what, and why.

Those three ques­tions form the build­ing blocks of a com­pelling BPS.

You may be tempt­ed to expand this list. Like any busi­ness rule, break it if you know why your sit­u­a­tion war­rants an excep­tion. Oth­er­wise stick with the rule.

Here’s the for­mu­la:

1. Who. For [ide­al cus­tomer pro­file] who [insert pain points],

2. What. [Your prod­uct] pro­vides [key ben­e­fit that com­bats the pain].

3. Why. That’s because [mag­i­cal qual­i­ty that forms the foun­da­tion of your posi­tion­ing in the mar­ket.]

You can’t skip steps one and two, but the third phrase is where all the action lives. It’s the pix­ie dust, the siz­zle, the sex appeal, the rea­son to believe. 

The first two are the who and the what. The third is the why. And all the com­pelling mate­r­i­al lives in the why. But you can only get there by first nail­ing the who and the what. (I know this sounds like that old three stooges skit, but bear with me.)

Here’s the “how-to”

Whether you’re found­ing a com­pa­ny, launch­ing a new prod­uct, or start­ing a job lead­ing mar­ket­ing for an exist­ing brand, it’s worth tak­ing the time to nail the BPS.

Step 1, the Who

Mar­keters some­times try to talk to every­body, and end up talk­ing to nobody as a result.

Get­ting clear on who your prod­uct is for (there­fore also who it is NOT for) helps you steer clear of this pit­fall. You can’t answer this ques­tion with­out putting the cus­tomer first. It should be nar­row, such as “For thir­ty-some­thing male adjunct pro­fes­sors with teen chil­dren” or some­thing equal­ly pre­cise.

Step 2, the What

Sec­ond is focus­ing on what ben­e­fit your prod­uct pro­vides.

Mar­keters some­times describe their prod­ucts in terms of what is impor­tant to the com­pa­ny, rather than what is impor­tant to the cus­tomer. At its essence, a prod­uct is some­thing that empow­ers the buy­er. With it, they can do some­thing they were unable to do before.

A prod­uct is some­thing that empow­ers the buy­er. With it, they can do things they were unable to do before. #pro­duct­mar­ket­ing #brand Click To Tweet

This is where the posi­tion­ing comes in. As Doug Stay­man from Cor­nell describes it in more aca­d­e­m­ic terms, this is where you include a point of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion among a frame of ref­er­ence.

Have an hon­est fea­tures vs. ben­e­fits con­ver­sa­tion and iden­ti­fy tru­ly what the ben­e­fit is that your prod­uct pro­vides. How does your prod­uct imbue some­one with myth­i­cal weapons with which they slay their own drag­ons.

Step 3, the Why

Simon Sinek made answer­ing this ques­tion famous.

It isn’t enough to just say, “we are bet­ter.” You need a rea­son why. This is the biggest thing most mar­keters (and advice-givers) miss. And the final piece is where the mag­ic lies.

At this point, your cus­tomers are either not inter­est­ed OR they believe that your prod­uct would make life bet­ter for them.

So, why don’t we stop there?

Because if we do, nobody buys.

What’s miss­ing? Prospec­tive cus­tomers need a rea­son to believe that your prod­uct can actu­al­ly deliv­er the promised ben­e­fit. The mag­ic hap­pens when you talk about the why.

The why is the thing that makes you dif­fer­ent, bet­ter, or spe­cial. What spe­cial ingre­di­ent do you have that allows you to deliv­er where oth­ers can­not. It’s what keeps you from being bor­ing, non­de­script, and indis­tin­guish­able. It’s what makes you rec­og­niz­able and unmis­tak­able.

A brand posi­tion­ing state­ment that does­n’t include your pro­duc­t’s mag­i­cal prop­er­ties is use­less. #brand­po­si­tion­ingstate­ment #brand­po­si­tion­ing Click To Tweet

What I hope you take away is this: do the work to nail the who and the what, but spend time and artistry craft­ing the mes­sage around the why. The why is where you land cus­tomers who are hap­py to open their wal­lets, because that’s where they start to believe that what you are telling them might actu­al­ly be true.

Informing your strategy and messaging

brand positioning statements inform your message

For­mal prod­uct or brand mar­ket­ing plans are incom­plete with­out the BPS. But the BPS is NOT cus­tomer fac­ing. It’s inter­nal. It informs your strat­e­gy but isn’t yet in the lan­guage that you will use with your cus­tomers.

Step 1 tells you who you are try­ing to serve. That is the first step in select­ing the right chan­nel to deliv­er your mar­ket­ing mes­sages through, so where that per­sona is your brand will show up.

Step 2 tells you what the ben­e­fit is and how to posi­tion against the com­pe­ti­tion. Now you need to learn to describe that ben­e­fit in the lan­guage your cus­tomers would use, prefer­ably in exact­ly the words they have used in inter­views, sur­veys, etc. In How to Steal Your Mar­ket­ing Mes­sage From Your Audi­ence, Ramona Sukharaj lays out some great exam­ples of just how to do this.

Step 3 is the com­po­nent (if not the lan­guage) that you should keep dri­ving home in your mes­sag­ing. It’s the rea­son peo­ple believe in your brand. It’s a promise you should make to your cus­tomer over and over again… and then keep.


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P.S. If you’d like to learn more about Eric Shultz, check out his brand con­sul­tan­cy.


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

3 Frameworks for Boosting Revenue

This back-to-basics look at how marketing teams drive sales can help energize your team and start winning at the only metric that ultimately matters, revenue. 

4 min read

Shaking things up

frameworks for more revenue
Frame­works can help you regain per­spec­tive.

At some point, every mar­ket­ing leader hits a slump.

It may be that the fre­net­ic exe­cu­tion of projects has forced you into the weeds too much and you need to step back and regain per­spec­tive. Or, you might find your­self in the dol­drums where, for what­ev­er rea­son, things just don’t seem to be mov­ing and the right direc­tion feels hid­den for you.

Some­times these obsta­cles are too stub­born to be dis­lodged by short-term fix­es like

  • get­ting exposed to new ideas in a book or pod­cast
  • lis­ten­ing to the music that pumps you up
  • talk­ing to an old friend or men­tor
  • find­ing a way to inter­sect with new peo­ple
  • going for a walk or a work­out.

If you’re like me, these sce­nar­ios give me a full-blown feel­ing of imposter syn­drome. I feel an urgency to find new focus and a renewed uptick in my con­tri­bu­tion to the orga­ni­za­tion.

A reli­able tech­nique I’ve used is tak­ing basic frame­works and over­lay­ing them on where the com­pa­ny is now. Since the com­pa­ny is always mov­ing, it’s unlike­ly to look the same in this light as it did even just a few months ago.

Here are three of my favorites.

1. Three levers for growing sales

There are three, and only three, things that grow sales. They are,

Increase the num­ber of new cus­tomers. The key to growth is grow­ing the num­ber of peo­ple who buy from you. The ear­li­er your com­pa­ny is, the more that aware­ness is the key mar­ket­ing goal from which all oth­er objec­tives spring.

Increase the size of trans­ac­tions. This could be a pric­ing adjust­ment, add-ons, up-sells, and cross-sells, or recon­fig­ur­ing your prod­uct. Con­sid­er what does it take to make your cus­tomer hap­pi­ly part with more mon­ey each time they trans­act with you. In the B2B SaaS set­ting a good exam­ple of this is cre­at­ing neg­a­tive churn.

Increase the fre­quen­cy of trans­ac­tions. Is there some­thing that would make cus­tomers return more often? In a retail or e‑commerce B2C set­ting, you can cre­ate incen­tives for repeat buy­ing and loy­al­ty. In B2B SaaS this is about attack­ing cus­tomer churn (increas­ing the fre­quen­cy from zero repeat trans­ac­tions).

Think through the three levers and see if an idea for increas­ing sales num­bers does­n’t stand out to you.

The three levers for grow­ing sales are, 1. increase num­ber of new cus­tomers, 2. increase size of trans­ac­tions, and 3. increase trans­ac­tion fre­quen­cy. #sales #rev­enue Click To Tweet

2. Articulate your customer acquisition model

It can be com­mon for mar­ket­ing KPIs to focus on cus­tomer acqui­si­tion costs (CAC). What does it cost to acquire one more cus­tomer? But CAC lives with­in a larg­er pic­ture of the cus­tomer acqui­si­tion mod­el (CAM). The CAM is all the steps that occur to pro­duce a trans­ac­tion. It includes

  • phys­i­cal steps tak­en by the buyer—the Buy­er’s Jour­ney
  • psy­cho­log­i­cal steps tak­en by the buyer—such as the Lavidge Stein­er Hier­ar­chy of Effects upon which most mar­ket­ing and sales fun­nel stages are based. (e.g., Aware­ness, Con­sid­er­a­tion, Deci­sion, Pur­chase)
  • com­mu­ni­ca­tion steps tak­en by the sell­er (i.e., mar­ket­ing chan­nels)
  • how the cus­tomer actu­al­ly receives the prod­uct (i.e., dis­tri­b­u­tion chan­nels)
  • inter­ac­tions with the prod­uct itself (i.e., prod­uct mar­ket­ing and UX)

Ask your­self 1. are these steps artic­u­lat­ed? and 2. are there steps that can be improved?

3. Purchase volume grows when…

purchase volume I saw this frame­work illus­trat­ed by well-known VC and blog­ger David Skok and imme­di­ate­ly loved it. There are so many times that this is the men­tal mod­el I need to get back to the essen­tials.

The idea here is that pur­chase vol­ume boils down to, how much greater is the moti­va­tion to pur­chase than the fric­tion in the pur­chase process plus cus­tomer con­cerns about whether the prod­uct will actu­al­ly deliv­er what they need?

Fric­tion. How dif­fi­cult is it to buy from you? Great online com­pa­nies like Ama­zon or brick and mor­tar com­pa­nies like McDon­alds know how to move cus­tomers through the pur­chase process with as lit­tle fric­tion as pos­si­ble.

Con­cerns. Are your buy­ers get­ting the infor­ma­tion they need at the right time and right place? Is some fear hold­ing them back? Are they still unsure that your prod­uct will deliv­er on the brand promise that they real­ly want to be true?

A good exam­ple of address­ing con­cerns is when you have a tes­ti­mo­ni­al right next to the CTA, or reviews next to the Add to Cart but­ton. If the buy­er needs a lit­tle nudge to qui­et their fears, the third-par­ty trust of anoth­er per­son­’s pos­i­tive expe­ri­ence may be just what they need.

Do your sales scripts or auto­mat­ed mes­sages include key infor­ma­tion to address com­mon con­cerns?

Moti­va­tion. This feels more pure­ly mar­ket­ing-relat­ed and less about the process than the oth­er two. I mean isn’t the demand in demand gen all about moti­va­tion, desire, or want?

This is a chance to ask myself if we have prop­er­ly set the hook with our buy­ers. Are they con­vinced that our prod­uct will make their pain go away or deliv­er the promised land of val­ue where they need it the most? Moti­va­tion is at the root of the painkillers vs. vit­a­mins strate­gic ques­tion.

If your strate­gic vision has begun to resem­ble a deer in the head­lights, pull out one of these trusty frame­works and do the thought exer­cise of hold­ing it up against your com­pa­ny. I’m cer­tain this Immod­i­um-for-the-mind will dis­lodge the clogs of your imag­i­na­tion and unleash potent new cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing pow­ers. You’ll be back to mar­ket­ing nir­vana in no time.

If not, there’s always a new audio­book on Audi­ble.

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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

16 Ways to Get More Leads from Conferences

Is your marketing team missing out on more leads and revenue by not following best practices for capturing and converting leads from your conference and event marketing? Check out these tips for nailing your next conference.

9 min read
Event Marketing Lead Generation

Trade shows are often where busi­ness gets done.

Trade con­fer­ences (as opposed to B2C coun­ter­parts, con­sumer shows) are among the most effec­tive B2B chan­nels for your mar­ket­ing team.

Here are key tips to ensure your event strat­e­gy pro­duces ROI.

1. Find the best con­fer­ences and events. This real­ly starts with your ide­al cus­tomer pro­file (ICP). Who are they? Are there any trade asso­ci­a­tions or pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment events tar­get­ing that ICP? Often these events are small, incon­spic­u­ous to those out­side the tar­get audi­ence (we’ve often been the first to approach an event ask­ing to spon­sor) and less expen­sive than events that draw a big­ger crowd but which are less focused.

2. Pri­or­i­tize events that match to max­i­mize your bud­get. Regard­less of cost, you need a plan to max­i­mize the mar­ket­ing spend. To achieve the low­est cost per lead (CPL) for events, espe­cial­ly if you are just start­ing an event mar­ket­ing ini­tia­tive, rank events by how well they match your ICP, cost to attend per expect­ed attendee, and prox­im­i­ty to your HQ. Con­sid­er what will be required to exhib­it or attend (i.e., do you need to bud­get for trade show mate­ri­als or col­lat­er­al that you don’t already have)? Then start with the events that score the best for poten­tial ROI.

3. Pre-event strat­e­gy. Can you get a list of atten­dees before­hand to email or send a post­card? Event orga­niz­ers often have lim­it­ed per­mis­sion for ven­dors to send emails—if so, extend that per­mis­sion by using that email to not only invite con­tact at the event but to request an opt-in to email from you. Can you include an offer in that com­mu­ni­ca­tion to entice them to your booth? (Such as “men­tion this email for a dis­count, spe­cial offer, or gift.”) As you do more events, test the tim­ing, mes­sag­ing, fre­quen­cy, and chan­nel for this com­mu­ni­ca­tion. At GoRe­act, we found that email­ing the morn­ing of the event worked well. Atten­dees opened our emails along with mes­sages from the event orga­niz­ers and could take action imme­di­ate­ly, rather than remem­ber­ing to stop by our booth a week or more after open­ing our email.

4. Lever­age event orga­niz­ers. Talk with orga­niz­ers before­hand and dis­cuss ideas about how you can get the most from the event. You can often get a read on not just the canon­i­cal ven­dor par­tic­i­pa­tion, but also how recep­tive they are to cre­ative or guer­ril­la tac­tics. You’d be sur­prised how will­ing orga­niz­ers are to talk, and how few exhibitors ever lever­age the rela­tion­ship with them in order to max­i­mize the impact of their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the event.

5. Hold a pre-event strat­e­gy ses­sion. Before you show up at the event, try to antic­i­pate and plan for how the event will play out. Con­sid­er your exhib­it space and the event pro­gram. Are you in a spot with a nat­u­ral­ly good traf­fic flow? Are there oppor­tu­ni­ties to increase vis­i­bil­i­ty based on how your exhib­it will be seen? Will vis­i­tors be con­stant or will they surge between oth­er event ses­sions or activ­i­ties?

Are there gueril­la tac­tics you can use to direct traf­fic to your booth? (See 6 Rules of Trade Show Gueril­la Mar­ket­ing by John Greathouse.)

Are there com­pli­men­ta­ry ven­dors at the event that you can cross-pro­mote with? Will cus­tomers or oth­ers with whom you have an estab­lished rela­tion­ship be at the event? Can you find a way to lever­age them for tes­ti­mo­ni­als?

6. Pig­gy­back on event pro­mo­tion. Is there a hash­tag event orga­niz­ers are using to pro­mote the event agen­da? Make sure you are using it in your social media posts. (See Twit­ter Mar­ket­ing Strate­gies for Trade Shows by Mandy Movah­hed.)

Coach your event team to snap pics from the floor, cap­ture key events, and be seen on social chan­nels. I still go to events where I’m one of only three or four ven­dors that are active on social media, mak­ing it a great place to be found!

Are event orga­niz­ers hold­ing spe­cial prize draw­ings, con­tests, attendee pass­ports or oth­er games? Par­tic­i­pate! It’s usu­al­ly much cheap­er to get expo­sure by donat­ing some­thing to a draw­ing than it is to buy an actu­al spon­sor­ship at the event—something to keep in mind if your bud­get is small.

7. Plan to cap­ture atten­tion. In the sea of ven­dors vying for your cus­tomers, you need con­trast. You need a way to engage peo­ple and stand out. Here’s where you fire up your cre­ative juices. It might be a booth game, a mem­o­rable theme, foghorns, cre­ative tchotchkes (prefer­ably that hang around and relate to your prod­uct or ser­vice), Cirque de Soleil, what­ev­er will get peo­ple to your booth.

8. Logis­tics. Elim­i­nate wor­ries for your­self or your team once they leave the office. Pre­pare your team with event briefs, con­cise sum­maries of key logis­ti­cal details like trav­el infor­ma­tion, track­ing num­bers for shipped pack­ages, key goals and expec­ta­tions for the event, etc. I like these to be on paper as well as digital—if there’s any sit­u­a­tion where your smart­phone bat­tery will die, it’s trav­el­ing to an event.

9. Ask for the lead and the refer­ral. Remem­ber that you’re there to cap­ture leads. Estab­lish your on-floor approach before­hand. Refine your mes­sage to get the best response from prospects in per­son. Our team goes through a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion around what our Sales Lead dubbed the ADDS approach. These steps were designed for our spe­cif­ic prod­uct and cus­tomer, but the idea serves as a mod­el that can be adapt­ed to any com­pa­ny. It’s an acronym for,

  • Attention–both how we stand out, and how we are present with the prospect. Things like stand­ing out in front of the booth, mak­ing eye con­tact, etc. It’s about both get­ting and giv­ing atten­tion.
  • Discovery–Ask ques­tions and lis­ten. Be pre­pared with ques­tions designed to elic­it the key infor­ma­tion you need to under­stand in order to serve the prospec­t’s needs.
  • Demo–If dis­cov­ery is done right, you should be able to demo the prod­uct in a way that solves spe­cif­ic prob­lems for this prospect.
  • Steps–Establish clear next steps to con­tin­ue the rela­tion­ship and move the prospect towards a pur­chase. This is where you “close” the lead.

I’ve heard teams argue that it’s best to be selec­tive about leads cap­tured at events. In my expe­ri­ence that’s gen­er­al­ly not true, espe­cial­ly if the event audi­ence is already tar­get­ed. I’d much rather have a lead to nur­ture for a future sale, than dis­miss one on the floor of an event.

And don’t for­get to lever­age the con­tact by ask­ing for refer­rals of col­leagues, friends, and oth­ers. A warm intro is always bet­ter than a cold one.

10. Find and use the right mes­sage. Events are won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ties to refine your mes­sage. The con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is to build your mes­sage in plain-spo­ken lan­guage. Even adver­tis­ing god­fa­ther David Ogilvy famous­ly said,

I don’t know the rules of gram­mar… If you’re try­ing to per­suade peo­ple to do some­thing, or buy some­thing, it seems to me you should use their lan­guage, the lan­guage they use every day, the lan­guage in which they think. We try to write in the ver­nac­u­lar.

Which most peo­ple read as, the more ver­nac­u­lar the bet­ter.

But what I’ve found is that the pre­cise, indus­try-spe­cif­ic, high-con­text lan­guage used by insid­ers in any tribe or mar­ket can be very effec­tive depend­ing on where the prospect is in the fun­nel. Typ­i­cal­ly low-con­text every­man descrip­tions of your prod­uct or ser­vice are best high in the fun­nel. But as prospects move to mak­ing the deci­sion to buy, they want to know that you get them, their world, and their prob­lem. High-con­text lan­guage, even jar­gon, can sig­nal that you are an insid­er in their world and can be trust­ed. In the best cas­es, your mes­sage should be cast in actu­al words you have heard from your cus­tomers’ lips.

11. What­ev­er else, learn like a sponge. Some prod­ucts lend them­selves to being sold on the floor. If so, I say close them on the floor if you can. No point work­ing them from HQ if you can solve the prob­lem while you have prox­im­i­ty.

B2B Event Strategies
Source: Mar­ket­ing Charts

But when you can’t, at least learn some­thing.

The prospect is say­ing no and you’re going to lose this one. Ask about what they are using (com­peti­tor research), or what would make them pur­chase (problem/solution research), or how they would describe your prod­uct or mar­ket (mes­sag­ing research).

Face time with prospects is gold. Use it. Fill your uncon­scious with cus­tomer details that will sur­face lat­er when you need them.

12. Give cool stuff away. Do prize draw­ings, give­aways, or oth­er fun and mem­o­rable entries where the entries serve as lead cap­ture. I have a bias against elec­tron­ic lead cap­ture. Maybe it works for some and it is eas­i­er than sit­ting in your hotel room enter­ing leads man­u­al­ly into your CRM every night. But it’s so ster­ile and imper­son­al. Just like in an online set­ting, you should give peo­ple some­thing in exchange for your lead cap­ture or tak­ing your call to action, I think the same rule applies when you’re cap­tur­ing lead infor­ma­tion in per­son. A chance to win a prize, or a use­ful case study or white paper are per­fect. It should be rel­e­vant to the cus­tomer and match the type of rela­tion­ship you want to build with them.

13. Fol­low up. Let them know you will fol­low up, and then do! So often the expense and effort of cap­tur­ing event leads gets squan­dered by poor fol­low up. Don’t get lazy after you get home.

14. Include an opt-in in your lead cap­ture. Get them to opt-in to your mail­ing list so you can con­tin­ue mar­ket­ing to them. Be aware of CAN-SPAM and GDPR, but get them on your list. They may close 9 touch­es lat­er, which you won’t be able to do if you can’t mar­ket to them.

15. Mine the con­fer­ence pro­gram. If the event does­n’t pro­vide you with a list, small events are often designed as oppor­tu­ni­ties for your prospects to estab­lish them­selves as SMEs or thought lead­ers by dis­cussing their work, their writ­ings, serv­ing on pan­els, or oth­er­wise par­tic­i­pat­ing in the event itself. So the pro­gram can serve as a pre-per­mis­sion list that you can use to find prospects, influ­encers, part­ners, and oth­ers who can play a role in grow­ing your busi­ness.

It can also be a great place to lis­ten to how your prospects are describ­ing them­selves and their work, which you can then use to refine your mes­sag­ing. If you don’t have email per­mis­sion, con­sid­er start­ing your rela­tion­ship via direct mail, social media or a cold call. (You’ll be able to say that you saw them present at the event you attend­ed. Humans love flat­tery.)

16. Post­mortems. While it’s fresh, hold a ret­ro­spec­tive meet­ing to cap­ture what you learned from the event to inform your next year’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. An event can be a peren­ni­al tool with a lot of action over a few days, but val­ue all year long.

Thought­ful­ly look­ing at how to use events in your mar­ket­ing can gen­er­ate huge ROI, espe­cial­ly if you’re build­ing an ear­ly stage com­pa­ny. See if some of these tips don’t help you make more of your next event!


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@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

3 Risks To Watch Out For When Scaling Your Marketing Team

Premature scaling is one of the biggest reasons startup businesses fail. If you’re growing fast, how can you keep your marketing team from falling into some of the premature scaling traps? Here are three things to watch for.

4 min read

Risk #1 myopia

premature scaling
It’s pos­si­ble to get too big too fast. Same thing applies to mar­ket­ing teams.

Busi­ness­es (and mar­ket­ing teams) fail for lots of rea­sons.

I was struck recent­ly by the team dynam­ics described by for­mer LinkedIn VP and Google advi­sor Fred Kof­man in his inter­view with Sri­ni Rao on The Unmis­tak­able Cre­ative pod­cast.

Fred talks about inter­view­ing soc­cer play­ers about their objec­tives.

He says goal­keep­ers will tell you that their objec­tive is to pre­vent the oth­er team from scor­ing, specif­i­cal­ly by keep­ing that ball out of the net. The offen­sive play­ers will explain their role as almost the exact oppo­site. They are focused on scor­ing, on get­ting the ball in the goal.

Ini­tial­ly, it seems like these roles on the team are focused on dia­met­ri­cal­ly opposed things. Their task, their posi­tion on the field, their skills and strengths are all very dif­fer­ent.

But, that view is short­sight­ed. We have a cliché for it, not see­ing the for­est for the trees. Because the ulti­mate goal of both the offen­sive and defen­sive play­ers is to win the game.

Kof­man’s descrip­tion of soc­cer teams could just as eas­i­ly describe mar­ket­ing teams (or oth­er depart­ments) in a grow­ing com­pa­ny.

Depart­ments some­times view them­selves as sep­a­rate enti­ties instead of as spe­cial­ties on the same team. They see depart­men­tal goals as a com­pe­ti­tion between depart­ments for resources and acco­lades. It’s even com­mon to talk about depart­ments as teams or as made up of teams. But suc­cess is real­ly only achieved by the com­pa­ny as a whole.

This macro-phe­nom­e­non also applies to indi­vid­u­als with­in a depart­ment. Indi­vid­u­als may see their func­tion as a com­pe­ti­tion with oth­ers, rather than a holis­tic vision of win­ning togeth­er.

(There’s prob­a­bly an indi­vid­u­al­ist ver­sus col­lec­tivist root to all of this, but that’s for anoth­er post.)

Risk #2 scaling without accounting for increased marketing team specialization as you scale

Com­pa­nies are like economies. As they grow, they expe­ri­ence an increas­ing spe­cial­iza­tion of labor.

Com­pa­nies are like economies. As they grow, they expe­ri­ence an increas­ing spe­cial­iza­tion of labor… which can kill them. Click To Tweet

Mar­ket­ing teams func­tion the same way as they grow.

It’s not sur­pris­ing. Spe­cial­iza­tion is effi­cient.

For exam­ple, Aaron Ross in his book Pre­dictable Rev­enue (which has become the de fac­to play­book for B2B soft­ware sales) divides the sales func­tion into a min­i­mum of three spe­cial­iza­tions: sales reps, sales devel­op­ment reps, and cus­tomer suc­cess reps. He goes fur­ther and spe­cial­izes SDRs into inbound and out­bound teams. He report­ed that at Salesforce.com this divi­sion of SDRs alone was respon­si­ble for a 30% gain in effi­cien­cy.

In an ear­ly stage start­up, mar­ket­ing might be done by a very small team or even a sin­gle indi­vid­ual. One poor suck­er writ­ing all the copy, doing all the design work, build­ing out a nascent mar­ket­ing tech stack, the works. (I know because I have been that indi­vid­ual.) As soon as human­ly pos­si­ble, we aim to hire spe­cial­ists who can focus and bet­ter exe­cute spe­cif­ic func­tions.

Mar­ket­ing sets a trend where growth is a tran­si­tion between gen­er­al­ist to spe­cial­ist team mem­bers. This is fol­lowed by the com­pa­ny as a whole. The more spe­cial­ized these new employ­ees are, the less com­fort­able they are cross­ing over into oth­er ter­ri­to­ries. I’ve hired many design­ers and writ­ers who specif­i­cal­ly ask me, with fear in their voic­es, if they will be expect­ed to do work out­side their spe­cial­ty.

The key here is to rec­og­nize that spe­cial­iza­tion cre­ates unspo­ken sep­a­ra­tion. As a mar­ket­ing leader, your job is to unite these dis­parate souls under the vision that we win as a team.

If you don’t the nat­ur­al lines of demar­ca­tion can under­mine your cul­ture, erode your effi­cien­cy, thwart employ­ee engage­ment, and ulti­mate­ly leave you with a team that (to drop anoth­er cliché) is not all row­ing in the same direc­tion.

In the absence of clear­ly-defined goals, we become strange­ly loy­al to per­form­ing dai­ly triv­ia until ulti­mate­ly we become enslaved by it.
—Robert A. Hein­lein

Risk #3 failing to constantly reevaluate as you scale

The only con­stant is change. Whether your mar­ket­ing team is still small and you need to inoc­u­late it from com­pet­ing against oth­er depart­ments, or you have mul­ti­ple dis­trib­uted teams that need to be coached to pull togeth­er, you need to con­tin­u­ous­ly reeval­u­ate the sta­tus of your align­ment behind com­pa­ny wins.

Take a Kaizen approach to align­ment across indi­vid­u­als, teams, depart­ments, and the com­pa­ny at large.

If your com­pa­ny’s over­ar­ch­ing goals are unclear, use your influ­ence as a mar­keter to artic­u­late some, test them across depart­ments, and when you have buy-in preach them. Mar­ket­ing has undue influ­ence in com­mu­ni­cat­ing com­pa­ny vision through­out the orga­ni­za­tion.


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P.S. Cours­es by Fred Kof­man around his theme of Con­scious Busi­ness are avail­able on LinkedIn Learn­ing (Lynda.com).


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.

Is Scrum the Right Way to Manage Your Marketing Projects?

Does the agile project management approach contain secrets for effectively managing marketing teams and projects? 

5 min read

Being Agile

scrum for marketing

The agile man­i­festo was born at a ski resort in my home state of Utah in 2001.

Ver­sions of agile and Scrum for soft­ware devel­op­ers are the obvi­ous default method­ol­o­gy. (Good luck find­ing a dev team still man­ag­ing water­fall projects.)

In 2007, I was the Direc­tor of Mar­ket­ing for web-based project man­age­ment com­pa­ny Work­front. That was the year Steve Jobs announced the iPhone, the TGV broke the world record for pas­sen­ger train speed, and the year our engi­neer­ing team adopt­ed Scrum.

We went all-in. Scrum and XP From the Trench­es became our bible. There were in-depth-train­ings, quizzes for employ­ees, and recog­ni­tion for those quick­est to catch the vision. Key employ­ees were sent off to cer­ti­fy as Scrum Mas­ters. And Jeff Suther­land, an orig­i­nal agile man­i­festo sig­na­to­ry, came and spoke.

It was­n’t just for devel­op­ers. The whole com­pa­ny was required to have a work­ing knowl­edge of Scrum.

On the mar­ket­ing team, I felt like the more tight­ly we mir­rored the cul­ture tak­ing shape in prod­uct, the more aligned we would be. So we imple­ment­ed Scrum for our mar­ket­ing projects.

Back then Scrum for mar­ket­ing was unheard of. Now I’ve been run­ning Scrum with my mar­ket­ing teams for near­ly 12 years and it has become vogue as agile mar­ket­ing or trib­al scrum.

What is this Scrum you speak of?

I’m going to assume you’re read­ing this because you are at least a lit­tle famil­iar with Scrum. If not, check out Scrum in Five Min­utes.

See you in five.

Okay, now that you know what we’re talk­ing about, you prob­a­bly have some ques­tions. What fol­lows should answer most of them.

First, it’s impor­tant to acknowl­edge that Scrum is not native­ly designed for the prob­lems encoun­tered by a mar­ket­ing team. It requires some adap­ta­tion.

What’s different?

Scrum in its pure form does­n’t assign sto­ries to indi­vid­u­als dur­ing plan­ning. The team picks up veloc­i­ty and effi­cien­cy because devel­op­ers pick items they want to work on dur­ing dai­ly scrums. It’s assumed the team mem­bers have rough­ly equiv­a­lent skills

Mar­ket­ing teams, espe­cial­ly in small com­pa­nies are often orga­nized in cross-func­tion­al cells where team mem­bers inten­tion­al­ly pos­sess dif­fer­ent skills (design, copy­writ­ing, ana­lyt­ics, etc.). This team make­up means there’s not the same egal­i­tar­i­an dynam­ic for grab­bing what­ev­er sto­ry is wait­ing to be worked in the sprint. While it’s pos­si­ble to have mul­ti­ple writ­ers or design­ers, team mem­bers have to more or less stick with­in their swim lane.

Draw­ing on the dif­fer­ent skills of team mem­bers means mar­ket­ing projects usu­al­ly have depen­den­cies and a crit­i­cal path; so sto­ries have to be com­plet­ed in a par­tic­u­lar order. Scrum itself does­n’t account for this—but as a Scrum mar­ket­ing team lead, you will need to.

With a few adap­ta­tions to fit mar­ket­ing teams, the fre­quen­cy of sprints and the iter­a­tive mind­set usu­al­ly win out in terms of out­put and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.

What’s the same?

Many of the key ben­e­fits agile offered to soft­ware devel­op­ers also apply to mar­ket­ing, which is why this is even a thing.

The car­di­nal virtue of deliv­er­ing short, func­tion­al iter­a­tions is per­fect for mar­ket­ing projects.

Scrum for mar­ket­ing: The car­di­nal agile virtue of deliv­er­ing short, func­tion­al iter­a­tions is per­fect for mar­ket­ing projects. Click To Tweet

One of my favorite con­ven­tions of Scrum is the writ­ing of sto­ries. Just the name bears the whiff of mar­ket­ing.

Sto­ries force both devel­op­ers and mar­keters to artic­u­late the scope of work in terms of units of busi­ness val­ue. “The user will be able to do X” or “Such and such will be live on the web­site.” This con­ven­tion makes for dis­crete deliv­er­ables, with­out ambi­gu­i­ty around what “done” means.

There’s also no hid­ing behind a smoke­screen of domain jar­gon. By artic­u­lat­ing sto­ries in plain lan­guage and a busi­ness val­ue per­spec­tive, cycles are not lost on projects with unknown or ques­tion­able val­ue to the com­pa­ny or client.

Mar­ket­ing teams exe­cute work in “sprints” typ­i­cal­ly last­ing any­where from one week to one month. Fre­quen­cy is deter­mined by how often the team gains val­ue from quick adap­ta­tion ver­sus the amount of plan­ning required.

burndown vectors
The orig­i­nal burn­down chart was based on air­craft car­ri­er land­ing vec­tors

Work­ing in sprints means sprint plan­ning meetings—Fibonacci Plan­ning Pok­er is option­al, the keep­ing of a pri­or­i­tized back­log, cal­cu­lat­ing time and esti­mat­ing work in sto­ry points. It means check­ing in via a dai­ly scrum, a Scrum board or Kan­ban board (Kan­ban is a bor­rowed term from Lean Man­u­fac­tur­ing and in its orig­i­nal form is dif­fer­ent from a scrum board, but many teams and Scrum soft­ware appli­ca­tions call their scrum boards Kan­ban boards). The board gives you what you need to cal­cu­late a burn­down chart.

Mar­ket­ing Scrum teams also ben­e­fit from the prac­tice of mea­sur­ing their veloc­i­ty, improv­ing their skill at esti­mat­ing sto­ries, ret­ro­spec­tives, pub­lic demos, and lab days between sprints.

Mar­ket­ing teams adopt the Scrum roles which pro­vide the essen­tial checks and bal­ances. There is a Prod­uct Own­er who owns the back­log, some­times called a Mar­ket­ing Own­er or an Agile Own­er for clar­i­ty if there is already an engi­neer­ing Prod­uct Own­er. There is a Scrum Mas­ter who keeps the process mov­ing and removes imped­i­ments for the team, and then the indi­vid­ual team mem­bers.

The checks and bal­ances inher­ent in each role are essen­tial. For instance, the Prod­uct Own­er can scope the work, but it’s up to the team mem­bers to esti­mate how long it will take.

Interested? Here are some resources to do it yourself.

Scrum can be done entire­ly man­u­al­ly, down to post it notes and a phys­i­cal Scrum board—if you keep a bul­let jour­nal, this might be for you. But there are some great soft­ware options avail­able. Espe­cial­ly if your team is dis­trib­uted this can be essen­tial.

Here’s a list of high­ly rat­ed soft­ware solu­tions. I per­son­al­ly like Piv­otal Track­er, Asana, Scrum­wise (when you’re just get­ting start­ed), and Trel­lo has a Scrum addi­tion if you’re already using the web’s favorite check­list tool.

Jira by Atlass­ian is pop­u­lar too, espe­cial­ly among devel­op­ers. Per­son­al­ly, I find their inter­face so clum­sy and user-hos­tile I don’t rec­om­mend it for mar­keters.

Final­ly, here’s a good look at how to deter­mine which is right for you.

Addi­tion­al Read­ing: Adopt­ing Scrum at Slee­knote, some exam­ples of Adopt­ing Scrum for Mar­ket­ing from Quo­ra, AgileMarketing.net, and Why We Trans­formed to an Agile Inbound Mar­ket­ing Com­pa­ny by Sprout Social.


Like what you’re read­ing? Sub­scribe to get more Micro Mar­ket­ing Med­i­ta­tions.


@cmo_zen is a blog of micro med­i­ta­tions for mar­ket­ing lead­ers, designed to help them find clar­i­ty and peace in the mar­ket­ing mael­strom.