Artificial Intelligence – the Hottest Topic of 2017

ai20172017 has just started and already there’s a lot of voices in the market placing Artificial Intelligence at the top of predictions and reports from Forrester Research, Gartner, Tractica and venture capitalists alike.

In one GeekWire piece, three of the five venture capitalists quoted about 2017 trends mentioned AI on their list. That’s remarkable for an industry that has not yet reached maturity but has demonstrated it is ready for widespread adoption. 2017 is likely to be the year we see significant uptake in practical applications for artificial intelligence.

We are after all in a perfect storm of data, computing power and algorithms that fuel these applications both at startup and at corporate level. And I’m not talking about the all knowing AI, but something way more practical:

The promise of artificial intelligence is ubiquitous and often portrayed in Hollywood as a calculating robo-nemesis, disguised as a friend or personal assistant (just see Her, exMachina, and Westworld). Yet, there are few areas better suited for an AI-powered transformation than enterprise & business functions.

Mikhail Naumov, President & CSO at DigitalGenius – Human+AI Customer Service

As a bonus, Udemy is offering their AI/ML course at a 95% discount, an easy way to get in on the machine learning growth wave.

3 MUST Focus Areas for Growth Managers

There is an increasing amount of noise out there about what a growth hacker or a growth manager (please don’t confuse these two!) should do to drive 10x growth in organizations. I’ve seen a lot of tactical suggestions, examples and strategies, ranging from PPC, A/B testing, to branding and sales organization setup, but very few talk about the WHYs, the reasons behind all the tests and the activities, the larger picture, the strategic intent. Sure, you can argue that it could be all for growth.

startup-photos

Growth for growth’s sake is not sustainable and is a bigger danger to a company than not having growth in the first place!

Here’s my take on it. Every Growth Manager who is building a sustainable oranization must focus on the following 3 elements:

  1. Product Marketing
  2. Business Development
  3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

1. Product Marketing

The Growth Manager needs to understand the customer and be able to work with the product & sales teams to develop benefit statements and compelling stories.

They own the message, the brand and the marketing strategies, channels and budgets and are responsible for lead generation, PR, thought leadership, influencer relationships and all other brand building activities. They own the paid, earned , owned media mix and drive brand awareness both industry-wide and to customer segments.

Here’s a very good definition given by Openview Partners:

Product Marketing also focuses on understanding the market and market needs, but with an emphasis on understanding the buyer of the company’s products and services. Product Marketing is responsible for developing positioning, messaging, competitive differentiation, and enabling the Sales and Marketing teams to ensure they are aligned and work efficiently to generate and close opportunities.

Deliverables: Product Marketing Strategy, Marketing Assets (website, branding, PR, messaging), Marketing Campaigns

2. Business Development

If a Growth Manager focuses on just the first point, then they are effectively a Product Marketing Manager. However, given the moment a growth manager joins the organization, they are required to step up and step in the business development process, as well as the marketing process.

That way, they learn two important things – first hand customer feedback on product marketing messages and materials that sales teams need in order to be successful. The feedback is very useful in refining and iterating on product benefits, narrative, angle, story, case studies, customer success showcases.

The materials needs assessment feeds into creation of product sheets, pitch decks, videos, websites, communication campaigns, email marketing, automation flows, lead nurture campaigns – any activity that the sales team needs “air support” for in the process of moving leads down the funnel to opportunities and active customers.

Deliverables: Business Development Strategy, Sales Funnel, Sales Pipeline Management, Sales & Marketing Collateral (white papers, product sheets, videos, presentations, nurture campaigns)

3. Investors & Other Key Stakeholders

To ensure healthy and sustainable growth, the last piece of the Growth Manager puzzle is resource & stakeholder management. They must always think two steps ahead of the game, making sure the team is ready to raise the next round, ready to bring in the right people to expand the team and ready to present itself in front of customers.

Growth Managers need to figure out how the company should look like, what it needs to become, in order to grow into that picture piece by piece. It can be the way the branding is portrayed, the way the website is designed and structured, the way you handle recruitment & employer branding and how all of these are externally perceived by stakeholders other than customers – i.e. investors, partners, future employees, peers.

Deliverables: Marketing Collateral, Investor Relations Collateral (decks, website, marketing and sales assets), Employer Branding Strategy & Collateral

If you are a Growth Manager today or planning to become one, you must keep your actions focused on all three of the elements to ensure consistent, sustainable results delivery. Hey, one day you could be the CEO of the company.

When do you need a Growth Manager?

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expansion

I won’t quote the Harvard Business Review article that decisively said that every company needs a growth manager because I think that’s a wrong approach. Only businesses that have a strategic goal to grow need a growth manager, all others need a manager that can maintain the status quo, the market share, the profit margin, the shareholder returns a.s.o. The latter companies will suffer from having a Growth Manager as will the Growth Manager suffer from being in such companies, because growth does not come without pains or changes.

If you don’t leave room for some pain in order to grow towards the reward, you will never get to the reward.

Another article I’d like to mention here is the Intercom piece about the bullshit that is growth hacking and how bad it is for an organization to turn it into a strategy. Sure, it’s scrappy, lean, works for a while, but the price you pay in the long run is a lack of foundation for the growth you hacked your way into. That foundation is done with investment in tools, strategies, deliverables, templates, methods, people, offices that don’t deliver right away. Hell, they may even push your organization at the very edge, stretching the runways, cash flows and giving the C-levels some nightmares. But the ones who choose to grow this way are the most likely to reap the rewards in the long run.

One of the best places and times to hire a Growth Manager is when the company is opening up a new office in a new geography. The founder / C-level / co-founder that is in charge of opening this new office should first hire the growth manager to essentially build infrastructure for operations, sales, recruitment and marketing and benefit from their network and expertise, especially regarding process design and management. Without this person to drive the new office growth, the pace will be significantly decreased due to the lack of bandwidth of the person opening the office alone.

It’s here that the redundancy rule stands very strong – have at least two people in the company with overlapping skills, that way if one gets hit by a bus or goes on vacation, the other can keep running the shop.

Hire a Growth Manager that is curious, hungry, that has built at least several other projects, managed business units or functions from zero to regional if not global impact. Give them resources and freedom to act, trust them to build the infrastructure which will enable the product-market fit startup to grow, the established company to expand and the team to specialize and move from a learning – jack of all trades type of roles to production focused, quota focused, ROI, KPI focused machines that will deliver the results for your next round or the IPO or the results you will need 3-4 quarters from now.

Remember, it’s not just about the 10x growth requirement or the go-to-market readiness that needs a Growth Manager. The best companies hire one before that so he/she will have time and resources to build the vehicles to be used in the future growth process.

SEO doesn’t work without branding

Even though TechCrunch now has gone tabloid, they still nail it from time to time. This week, I was reading an article on how the digital marketers decided to skip school, reinvent the wheel and discount all strategic management tools to go directly to instant gratification tactics and/or hacks.

My fight to pick right now is with the SEO. It doesn’t matter if you have a good SEO ranking if you are an unknown brand. As a corollary, SEO strategies are not effective in building brands if they focus solely on the SEO factor and not on the mix of PR & branding impact.

Just look at the A(wareness) I(nterest) D(esire) A(ction) model, a simple tool from the corporate marketing world. I, as a potential customer for your product, need to be first aware of it, then be interested in it, then desire it, in order to click and buy. If I’m not quite there, then what I will do is click to see if I’m interested, if I desire and then maybe buy. But the SEO article has to deliver, in this case, interest and desire, which, sadly, not many of them do. This is because the SEO people rarely work together with the PR people and they just run bland content, which doesn’t incite much interest, let alone desire. They focus more on action and on the link juice and that’s where they lose points.

The right way to do it is to link the PR, content marketing & overall branding strategy with the SEO by placing articles that are engaging, interesting, exciting and brand aligned on SEO properties to generate conversations, shares, social proof alongside the ranking increase. Hey, in the end, all those social signals end up actually boosting SEO.

So stop being boring, work with PR people and look beyond the DA/PA/other metrics you might be using.

old-seo-new-seo

Photo taken from the Relevance Agency website

You can’t capture micro-moments just like that

Recently read about Google’s VP of Marketing saying that the advertising game is “no longer about reach and frequency”, but about capturing micro-moments. While the micro-moment focus is not news coming from Google, they’ve been at it for a while, the real deal here is the fact that a VP of Marketing is suggesting to drop demographics and identity to focus on immediacy and intent.

The author citing the Google rep tries to steer away from just micro-moments, suggesting to match customer data with context, but that’s still not enough. Let’s think about a use case:

Imagine you are searching for something you need, like money transfers or a sim card company for calling abroad.

Is it enough to stumble onto an ad?

What if that keyword group or market is saturated by competition and you see 10-15 different ads in a search result page?

How do you make up your mind which ones to click?

Then how do you make up your mind which ones to buy?

The short answer is that we don’t know for sure. But experience, past results and methodologies show that one person buying a product or service will go through several stages until they purchase. That’s AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action), in this example. A customer is unlikely to take action if they aren’t aware, interested or desire your product or service and to desire, they must first be interested and to be interested they must first become aware. While you can short-circuit the model with Adwords, you can do it only if the perceived risk is lower than the promised reward and that’s difficult to assess if there is no awareness of your brand, product or service.

To build that awareness -> interest -> desire flow of customers, you want to look at demographics, reach and frequency of interaction with your multichannel touch points – that’s PR, events, offline branding, content marketing, emails, search ads, display ads, social media, endorsers, referrals, reviews. This mix becomes critical when you have a trust barrier to overcome, like in financial services or healthcare, for example, where the lack of delivery is financially or physically painful. In that case, Adwords alone cannot do the job. I like to compare its impact to that of the weapons in the case of the hunter and the hounds.

The hunter can only shoot the prey which is her weapon range, so she has to spend a lot of energy going out and finding the herds of deer. There are others out there too, so she might find herself heading to the pack and shoot or scare the prey. So her best bet is to bring in hounds to find and steer the prey in her direction. That way, she doesn’t have to waste time and energy going towards packs or shooting from afar, with little chance of success, but rather have deers come to her, cased by the hounds, and making single sure shots.

Chasse_a_courre

Image credits: wikimedia.org

But what are the right hounds (channels) to go for? How do you choose them? That’s where the narrative, strategy, product USPs and experiments come in.

Is the world purposely allowing piracy for a greater good?

Yesterday I was listening to the Quartz authored podcast called Actuality (it’s amazing, you have to listen to it!). The topic I had hit was piracy, Popcorn Time and movie industry disruption. For those who don’t know yet, Popcorn Time is a torrent based streaming app that allows you to see torrented movies like they would stream via Netflix or Amazon Prime. They were talking about how this is similar to the software piracy explosion in the 90s, to the music piracy explosion in the 00s and how both waves sparked an overhaul of their respective industries’ business models. And how companies & governments have stopped pursuing the individual.

popcorn-time-netflix

Maybe corporations were becoming too strong and they needed a competitor, maybe music producers had too much power over what artists sell, where, how and for how much. Needless to say, now both industries have pivoted into different pricing models, different revenue streams (SaaS, cloud, consulting for the software industry, concerts, merchandising, special events for the music industry) and new businesses continued to emerge in both fields. The same is planned for the movie industry. Too long have we been fed the same Time-Warner, 20th century Fox, MGM, (insert corporation here) content and we have seen too little mainstream independent content (well, Europe is an exception, we like them independent ones here, thanks to Cannes, TIFF and other film festivals out there).

Or perhaps there is a greater good behind this, too. Imagine a world freshly liberated from communism (Central and Eastern Europe) or transitioning from military / religious dictatorships to more open societies (Asia, Africa) where there was an insurmountable wealth gap between the people there and the ones in Western Europe, North America, Australia. How could these people get close to the culture of the western world? How could these people connect themselves to the up and coming digital economy that’s based on software? How could they unite the world youth under transcontinental hits?

One word: access.

And by access I mean piracy. Today’s millennials (yeah, I hate this word too) are the result of two decades of free access to Windows, Adobe, Office, Internet Explorer, countless games, music and movies that helped them develop a global mindset, skills and attitudes that makes it easier for them to work together regardless of nationality, race, gender that their older peers.

At first it was Kazaa, eMule and software download sites that were full of viruses, then there was the torrent revolution (Bittorrent, The Pirate Bay, Kickass Torrents etc), now there’s Popcorn Time with all its clones. Also, anons all over the world now have access to TOR, a hidden service that helps them protect their privacy when fighting against systems, governments and other entities.

What’s next? Which industry will go down? My bet is on the financial sector, with fin-tech and crypto-currency on the rise.

The European Communication Monitor 2014 in out and confirms that Digital is king in Europe

ecm2014Like we needed confirmation for that.

2777 professionals in the 42 countries made this study possible. It contains key results from the largest survey on strategic communication, corporate communications, communication management and public relations worldwide.

I went through all of the material and selected the best stuff.

They made this cool video about the results (see below). The only thing that’s missing from it are some numbers to take away after viewing or to facilitate the no-sound play that you might experience in an open-space office or a noisy environment. Simple UX tweaking.

But back to the important stuff:

  • We’re stressed – 73% of communication professionals feel pressure is mounting on them
  • 67.6% feel the obligation to be online 24/7 and available
  • more than 80% of communications professionals do overtime, with men working more than women
  • just 36.3% think that their work life balance is alright, that’s more than 5% lower than in 2010
  • 22.5% earn less than 30,000 EUR per year, with consultancies and agencies leading the crappy salary list
  • no surprise that 78% rely on networking, 71% on education and another 71% on employer shifting to get better jobs
  • the preferred media for networking is E-mail, with 38.1% share, followed by Social Media and Face to face, with 27% and 23%
  • 45% agree that the biggest challenge is to link communications activities with business strategies
  • 86% consider digital channels to be the most relevant for strategic communications, followed closely by face-to-face
  • but 40% do not plan to use mobile for strategic communication
  • Print media still has a 76.3% relevance in the instrument list, which is higher than TV and radio!
  • Social media gets only 63.2% relevance score and 6th place in the list, with mobile just in the 8th spot
  • companies that have an excellent communications function have a VP or Head of member of the board or reporting directly to the CEO

Social media communications suggestions for the stakeholders:

  • Information on events or crises that affect customers, so monitoring is key (70%)
  • CSR efforts (66%)
  • Current product and service information – so stop the non-commercial nonsense about social media posts. Of course people want to hear about your products.

Fun facts

  • Aged 60+ professionals prefer e-mail over social media (62% vs just 10%) for networking activities
  • LinkedIn is the undisputed leader in networking all-round (except in Russia, where it was beaten by Facebook!), with Twitter up next in Western Europe and Facebook in Eastern and Southern Europe
  • Organizational leadership is also viewed differently across the continent, with Western Europe valuing trust over innovation and quality and Eastern Europe valuing quality above all else.
  • But trust is the most relevant key issue in Eastern Europe, while the West focuses on linking business and communication strategic initiatives
  • Romania has the lowest satisfaction rating of all European countries, while Norway has the lowest ratings for people who consider internships relevant.

If you want to go trough the whole study, here’s the embedded slide deck.

Credits go to the team behind this huge research material:

European Public Relations Education and Research Association (EUPRERA), the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) and Communication Director Magazine, supported by Ketchum. Privacy is fully respected.

Research Team
Ansgar Zerfass, Prof. Dr., University of Leipzig (GE) & BI Norwegian Business School (NO)- Lead Researcher
Ralph Tench, Prof. Ph.D., Leeds Metropolitan University (UK)
Piet Verhoeven, Dr., University of Amsterdam (NL)
Dejan Vercic, Prof. Ph.D., University of Ljubljana (SI)
Angeles Moreno, Prof. Ph.D., University Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid (ES)

Advisory Board
Emanuele Invernizzi, Prof. Dr., IULM University, Milan (IT)
Valerie Carayol, Prof. Dr., University of Bordeaux 3 (FR)
Jesper Falkheimer, Prof. Dr., Lund University (SE)
Finn Frandsen, Prof., Aarhus University (DK)
Oyvind Ihlen, Prof. Dr., University of Oslo (NO)
Waldemar Rydzak, Ass. Prof. Dr., Poznan University of Economics (PL)

The only thing that will kill the print media in London

EconomistNo, print media in London is far from dead. Just look at the numbers I mentioned in a previous article – 45% of them haven’t even gone mobile properly. The truth is that they don’t really care yet, they don’t need to invest in expanding their online and mobile presences because they still have access to a captive audience.

The commuter

You know what the key trait of London and UK is in terms of technology (or lack thereof)? Mobile signal strength and coverage. If you have ever commuted into central London, you have experienced one of the two situations:

  1. Bad service on the train, no real possibility to read the online news without losing your top while viewing the loading screen.
  2. No service on the tube (except the few portions where the trains run overground, but there you usually fall under rule #1)

Now think of these two situations, the fact that phone and tablet battery life is limited and precious and the fact that several morning and evening papers are available for free at almost all the tube stations. You should be able to understand now that only one thing can kill the London print media – better telecom infrastructure.

Imagine a 3G connection aboard trains and in the tube. Imagine how many people would rather read the news on their mobile devices than off that pesky, smelly, messy newspaper.

If I were a big online media company and would like to kill all London print media, I’d invest in mobile network expansion. Hell, they’d recover the investment just from selling the extra airtime, not to mention the more advertising they’d drive to their mobile media assets. #foodforthought

Digital Communications & Social Media as Investor Relations tools

1280px-Social-media-for-public-relations1There’s still one place where social media and digital communications have yet to take a central spot – investor relations. A Mediapost article shows that just over 50% of institutional investors surveyed said that social media was “not yet significant but growing in importance” as a professional tool, with 37% welcoming the new media types as ways to disseminate news and information, while 33% see them as useful for fast-moving events, like takeover bids or proxy fights. Forums still rank the highest, with Linkedin trailing just behind, while Facebook is down at the bottom.

Social media’s biggest problem is reliability, only 17% trusting it as a credible information source for investment.

However, there’s room for improvement. A NIRI survey shows that almost half (49%) of respondents who do not currently use social media for IR plan to reassess the issue within the next 12 months. The recent SEC guidance on the topic is a driving factor in determining reassessment. And that, my friends, is an opportunity for digital marketers such as myself.

My approach to IR strategy via social media & digital marketing channels:

I tend to go with a 3-step approach:

  1. Listen – track the conversations about your company. Believe it or not, people are talking about your business and you should at least listen to them
  2. Analyze – use that data that you tracked in the first place and look at it in a structured way. Use tools, draw conclusions, see trends, see potential or current problems and identify reactions to previous communications
  3. Do – Start with a direction, some communication pillars, an influencer list and some key messages, maybe a Q&A for your social media responsible and a list of DOs and DONT’s

And use some industry specific tools like:

  • Compliant Content: SEC/FDA-compliant pieces that align with yhr strategic communication objectives and that target the financial community.
  • Business announcements, financial disclosures and crisis communications, ensuring you are reflected in the best light and that all key stakeholders are quickly and properly informed through relevant channels.
  • Disclosure Postings – financial and company-related business news through social channels, aligned with SEC’s ruling in April 2013.
  • Influencer Identification & Engagement – Identify influencers in the investment community and directly engage them.
But how should you do it?

This is where I disagree with PR Newswire’s IR Blog that says basically that IR should not “engage” in social media, IR should not have interaction and dialog. Instead they suggest a broadcast approach – place the news into the stream broadly and non-selectively, which is fine. But you should also participate in conversations without selective material information disclosure. Answer questions, dispel rumors and talk to your investors.

What else can you do to communicate proactively through social media?
  • Tweet your quarterly results and other important news that has been disclosed via SEC/SEDAR/other regulated market tools
  • Post industry-related news from trusted financial sources without falling into the “promotional trap”
  • Announce partnerships, acquisitions, social responsibility activities and such
  • ReTweet and chat with your peers
  • Engage with Buy Side and Sell Side companies to create or complete your profile and become even more eligible for investment

A Linkedin blog post follows Howard Lindzon (CEO of Stocktwits, a specialized social space for investors) and his point on the fact that the majority of institutional investors are forming opinions based on social media pages. He says that investor relations needs to be closely integrated with brand activity on social media platforms. He advocates dialogue and pro-activity within social media platforms, but warns to be careful and link to regulated spaces for disclosure of material information.

Examples of IR use of social media

And since we’re talking about Linkedin, Company Pages and Groups provide a natural fit for discussing corporate information with an informed, engaged and relevant audience. Statoil’s Energy Innovation Group, which is helping to set the agenda on energy futures, is a great example. Dunkin’ Brands, parent company of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, who use social media for announcements of new products or entering a new market are coordinated with investor events like roadshows, investor conferences, earnings calls, etc. Zillow, a real estate company, takes questions from Twitter and Facebook during its live earnings call. They also live tweet during the call, use infographics to help tell the story and have a corporate blog. This quarter, Zillow added live streaming video interview with its CEO immediately after the call via the Motley Fool. In addition, Zillow’s CEO is very active on social media and the company knows that many analysts and investors follow him. Jones noted that he frequently gets questions from institutional investors related to tweets from the CEO.

Other companies may choose to reach out to investors and increase the sell and buy-side coverage to attract desirable institutional holders. You can do that through social media by carefully targeting analysts and host virtual investor day meetings where you showcase your narrative, accomplishments and dispel myths.

Conclusion & Summary

Once in place, your social media program can be used to:

  • Increase company/brand awareness, loyalty and reach
  • Drive traffic to your investor relations website
  • Improve investor’s understanding of your business
  • Identify key industry influencers
  • Engage with investors
  • Generate media coverage
  • Clarify key messages
  • Minimize repetitive investor inquiries

P.S. Executive officers and other company representatives should be mindful of the issues that derive from online communications, as their private postings on public social networks might cause embarrassment to their companies and even make them liable in front of their shareholders.

How to build a digital marketing plan / road-map / strategy

content-marketing-strategy-to-support-the-buying-cycleAny marketer should be able to answer this question any day, any time, anywhere. But it’s more than just looking at the business objectives, translating them into communication objectives, setting the KPIs, choosing the strategy and the channels, planning, (testing &) implementing, monitoring and reporting, plus the evaluation at the end of a campaign. While this straight-forward approach works for experienced marketers, I’ve found that people who have little or no practice require a bit more explaining on each point of the matter, focusing especially on strategies, tools and channels.

This is why I put together the list of tools, strategies and channel choice approaches mashed up from 4 sources that I have curated:

  1. Mashable suggests that digital teams formulate their messaging based on the brand story, the consumer sentiment and perception and trigger emotional connections with the brand. They also look at platform choice based on customer research, focusing on the places where users seek information or buy the product you are selling. Mobile and differentiation are key in this stage. Then, they focus on engagement calendars and consistency of the communication to create digital habits.
  2. Inc.com focus on testing messages, channels and strategies as you grow, on a compelling story that is share-able, on the exclusivity factor and influencer outreach.
  3. Smart Insights uses a mix of offline & online, suggesting meetups, events, a consistent content factory and participation in trade competitions (startup competitions, for example). Although these points may appear to be free or low cost, you must take into consideration the time invested in both researching and in creating quality content for each channel & relationships with the said influencers.
  4. A Forbes piece talks about naming, content and Search Engine Optimization (the PR driven one, not the “get links at all cost” one) and about integrating paid marketing in your mix.
  5. Strategy-Business.com article focuses on 4 digital marketing models, capabilities and showcases practical examples from Coca Cola, Virgin, Walmart, P&G and Henkel. From their point of view, the CMO must create the right capabilities and activate them to run successful campaigns.

An this is why I linked 3 free different templates that marketers can use to create their own digital strategy:

  1. This Smart Insights plan – more like a checklist for planning, preceded by more of the same topics I’ve covered here.
  2. The Web Strategy Planning Template – a tool which helps you translate objectives into actionable items
  3. The Digitia guide to creating your digital strategy – road-map from market to results, with examples and suggestions for each step.

If that isn’t enough, take a look at Hubspot’s 20 slide marketer mash-up for more inspiration.

Image source