Your marketing is boring and it’s killing the business

It’s almost the end of 2019, and there are still a lot of marketers out there that are too afraid to pour some personality into their strategies. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones who created and made “corporate speak” a category.

It’s those who tweet or post on LinkedIn using language that the board or some lawyers reviewed first, so it ends up sounding like all things to all people, or like nothing at all, failing to commit to a storyline.

Sure, it de-risks the post and the company, but it also reduces the possibility of a standout, and in turn, long term success for the brand. That might make sense for a quarter to quarter focused team, but for those who want to play the 5-10-15 year game, it’s quite damaging.

Brands are a lot like people. They can be interesting or boring, on a sliding scale, with 00s of shades of grey. You know an interesting person when you see them – they stand out using a few simple traits – loud voice, strong facial expressions, specific clothes, specific/expert/passion topics they speak about, clear attitudes, strong beliefs. All those flavors define them and help them show their inner uniqueness. The boring one will be the polar opposite – low voice, no facial expression, traditional, conservative clothing, talks about the weather, their commute or some other mundane topic that’s low risk, equivocal attitudes, weak or no beliefs they hold/show.

Obviously, no one is 100% interesting or 100% boring. Sometimes we are both at the same time, depending on the audience. For example, when I speak about cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence or quantum computing around my wife, she tunes out, and tells me outright that I’m boring her and I should change the topic. When I do it with my Romanian IT group, people listen and engage with me on those topics, and soon 2 hours pass without changing the subject.

Interesting people, like interesting brands, are deeply interesting to their target audience and uninteresting to the rest. It keeps the conversation clean – only the ones who care should engage with you and your brand. The rest are time wasters, better have them focus their time and energy elsewhere.

There’s tons of literature out there about how to best do this as a marketer, so I won’t get into that. The problem is not reading it, but putting it into practice, especially in an organization that is inherently risk averse and there are non-marketing gatekeepers on how the brand should materialize externally.

As marketers, we need to let go of our fear of being too out there, too forward or too bold. That fear is what keeps us from being interesting, same as in our personal lives. Sure, there will be people who don’t like the message. Sure, you will make mistakes along the way, and some may argue that this is a sure way to get fired. Not letting go of the fear is the best way to get fired, and not just from the company, but from the entire industry and practice.

Boring marketers have a special place in the world, and that’s not on any top or podium, but in the “looking for a career change category”.

Photo by Faris Mohammed on Unsplash

Robinhood Cash Management – daily tap, tap, go program

I don’t usually post about referral programs, but this one has to be the best I’ve seen in a while. Remember those early mobile games where to you had to frantically tap your screen to get more points or win the game? Guess what, product managers and UX designers at Robinhood did, too.

They launched the Cash management waitlist where you tap to go up in line. You can only tap for about 1,000 times per day, it seems. Pretty crazy, right?

Here’s what they did.

They launched Cash management, an added feature to Robinhood Financial LLC brokerage accounts. The Annual Percentage Yield (APY) paid by Sutton Bank is 2.05% as of October 8, 2019, and can be changed at any time. If you’re interested, use my signup link and we’ll both get rewarded.

Previously, they tried this thing before with savings accounts, but regulators shut them down, since they didn’t ask for approval beforehand. Hopefully this time it’s more legit!

Don’t forget to tap daily after you sign up!

Take the meeting after doing due diligence for VC expertise

I wrote an extensive article on how to choose the right VC as a founder after a few very direct and intense experiences and significant research. Recently, I have been advising a few founders and one of the most important topic they bring up is raising money. They have to go out and talk to VCs all the time, if they want their startups to grow. Sure, they could build and scale organically, and kudos to the ones that do, but for deep tech, more often than not, you need deep investments.

The first rule of VC meetings as a founder should be: don’t meet everyone who wants to meet with you. It’s the same as reaching out to VCs, not all of them will want to talk to you. And that’s ok.

Let’s say you are in the fortunate position where VCs reach out to you and ask for meetings. This is the way I would structure the due diligence process from the founder/CEO perspective:

  • Does the VC have experience investing in the market(s) I’m building for or with customers I want to have?
  • Does the VC have successful exists or meaningful M&A activity?
  • Does the VC have partners that have specific, hands-on industry knowledge that can benefit my business? (n.b. hands-on can mean operator, but it can mean a good track record as a VC in that space)
  • If you are deep tech, does the VC have deep technical expertise – like for NLP, blockchain, biotech, self-driving cars, manufacturing etc.
  • Is the person who reached out / who I’m supposed to be meeting the right person in the VC to meet?
  • Does that person have deep experience in my space – industry and technology?
  • Do they agree to take a 15-30 min phone call to discuss their questions?
  • Do they ask the right questions during that call that reflect industry and tech expertise?

If even one of these is a no, then you would be better off passing the call. They might be fishing in the wrong pond or just gathering market intelligence. It won’t likely lead to you getting investment from them.

If this is useful, please share with your founder peers.

unsplash-logoHelloquence

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)