Having sat in most of the chairs in marketing over 27 years, from CEO to marketing head, ad agency and PR and content agency, I have observed a large and persistent marketing problem facing bosses as we head to 2019:
It’s not about technology, inbound, social or experiential, or PR or digital first, or authority marketing – it’s about the quality of conversations you have with your customers and team.
Founders, CEOs, business owners and marketing decision-makers (let’s call them all bosses) are right to be shaking their heads at the Balkanisation of marketing. It’s not the World Cup, so why must we have separate teams for social media, BoFu, content, PR and advertising, plus an experiential team and an “influencer agency”? And why is the sales team excluded from the conversation when it is in the trenches every day with customer services?
How much of your marketing impact and business success is leaking through your funnel? Are you leading the conversation, or are you being led by a plethora of marketing suppliers, each with a subtly different specialty?
The answer lies in setting up the correct structure and systems for an informed conversation – with your staff, with customers and with your wider industry and consumers.
Why the disconnect?
Ever played the game with friends where one person picks a word or a phrase and passes it on with a whisper? By the end of the game everyone is ROFLOL because inevitably the word and meaning is massively distorted.
Today’s bosses suffer the same effects in briefing all the marketing support teams and then sales too. Something has to give. Usually it’s the implementation, with the message having been hopelessly diluted and everyone working towards a different objective.
Why do you need to brief so many people? Who takes responsibility for results and success? Why don’t these people talk to each other or even speak the same language (why do they, too often, see each other as competitors)? Why are sales and customer service excluded from the conversation?
To solve these problems and drive business results, I’ve put together some ideas for bosses on how to utilize conversational marketing:
1. Structure precedes strategy.
Marketing by committee does not work. You end up with a diluted end result. Trust one experienced person and a small tight team of experts to drive the overall strategy and have the right conversations, be accountable and achieve results. The #4dayweek conversation, which has so far reached over 3.1 billion people in 32 countries and influenced the trade union agenda in the UK, began with this structure; an entrepreneur knew what he wanted and trusted his PR and in-house teams to work together and advise on the integrated marketing aspects. No dilution, no compromise. There is no substitute for having a simple, accountable marketing structure. Are you getting led by the nose from one marketing distraction to another without achieving cut-through? You may need to look at your structure.
2. Achieving authority is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s critical.
You can’t beat authentic deep interest in a subject and the ability to tell a story. Most bosses who develop authority in their field over a long time are good at starting and leading conversations. They live, eat and breathe their subject, and while they tend to tell the same story repeatedly to different audiences, they add unique perspective depending on who’s listening, and keep adding to their story based on current events and perceived future trends. They research their topics thoroughly and talk with experts and other leaders in their field to hone their knowledge. They also know that having an opinion opens them up to criticism. What is the subject on which you can make a difference? Are you willing to feel lonely in your opinions for a while, or to take a contrary or controversial stance? Can you back it up? Then you are ready to be the authority in your sector and start attracting opportunities. If it doesn’t come naturally it can be “worked on”
3. No substitute for aligned teams.
So many businesses are still operating in silos. Successful bosses create a culture of personal accountability and conversations that add value for customers between operations, sales and marketing, accounting etc. They create defined means of measuring accountability. If the best way to improve your culture is through new systems, do this. Many businesses create leads that lie unconverted on fallow ground because sales is not plugged in. Other businesses have great services teams but struggle to create new customer leads. A good solid marketing team can assist you to understand the buyer journey, create personas of ideal customers and help create a content strategy that help convert all your prospects to delighted customers.
4. A case study on conversational marketing.
By way of evidence I share a current case study which started a conversation that at last count has reached 3.1 billion people from our little Kiwi rock in the South Pacific, and is not slowing down.
The #4dayweek conversation has been the subject of more than 2,700 media articles, 9,500 social media posts and countless opinion pieces in 32 countries from interested parties such as CEOs, doctors, lawyers, accountants, city planners and worker rights advocates. There has been significant engagement among business and political leaders, media commentators, management, employees, business owners and organisations, unions, and government and non-government organisations. It’s also a discussion that is much more about the premise of flexible working principles, and the larger social and economic benefits of these, than simply about a shorter working week.
5. Thought leadership is a gateway to talking about products and services.
It’s not about a product or a brand but a problem that most companies face – how to raise productivity and maintain a positive culture. It’s also about stress in the workplace, work-life balance, family imperatives, career progression and pay parity and many other real issues close to our hearts. As a result, many people are interested to hear about Perpetual Guardian and its founder Andrew Barnes’s bold experiment around paying staff for five days while they work four standard days a week. If staff are cared for then customers are generally cared for. At the same time there are many opportunities to discuss important fiduciary concepts such as the importance of having a will, understanding trusts and EPAs and other mission-critical conversations. This is a game changer for his company and the wider business sector – but could equally change things for other sectors. The pillar content four-day week landing page has been a critical resource for regional, national and global media as well as academics and company bosses around the world. Andrew is now a sought-after keynote speaker locally and internationally. It has not happened by accident.
6. Never stop learning. Andrew Barnes claims to be “dangerous on planes” because long flights are his opportunity to read deeply into subjects and develop new business ideas. We never stop learning. The web has expanded access to knowledge and there is no substitute for travelling and talking to people. How do you create a structure of continual learning within a heavy schedule? Some leaders squeeze in podcasts on the run or read at the gym. What will work for you?
What can bosses do?
Recalling my time in the ad-agency world, with Hunt Lascaris TBWA nearly 20 years ago, the progressive agencies did not focus on above the line advertising (TV, radio, magazines etc) or below the line advertising (point of sale, direct, experiential etc) but went Through the line (TTL) so they could fully deliver to their client’s needs from media to production, direct marketing and experiential.
As we walk a path lined with shiny marketing acronyms into 2019, content agencies talk about BoFu, MoFu and Tofu (bottom, middle and top of the funnel) as if they are all separate, but in fact the lines are blurred between owned, earned and sponsored media. Battle lines are drawn between digital and print. Instagram (now fully owned and operated by Facebook Inc) is calling.
Bosses need to ensure that:
1. The structure of marketing is optimised (that can be a combination of outsourcing and having the right skills in house)
2. Empower a small team to drive your marketing conversations and outcomes.
3. They have a strategy but focus on implementation where most marketing teams fall down.
4. They have an opinion that resonates with customers and key markets and fixes a problem- its not just about products and services.
5. They give enough space for the conversations to breath and not focus only on short term gains alone.
6. They achieve built in alignment between marketing, sales, operations, IT and customers.
Progressive marketers are agnostic as far as media and platform and content form:
1. It’s about defining the right structure in the company, having the right conversations and empowering a small integrated team to act on your behalf and move in an agile way.
2. It’s about developing an integrated strategy that will create meaningful differentiation in the marketplace and result in benefits to the company and brand reputation.
3. Most importantly, It’s about agile implementation with intelligent learning through conversations and adaptation along the way.
4. Measure and tap into the conversation regularly to adjust the strategy.