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A 4-Step Guide to Aligning Content Marketing and ABM

content for account based marketing

Content marketing is already a well-established tactic for B2B companies. According to Content Marketing Institute, 88% of B2B marketers are using content marketing. And most marketers already understand how content fits into a demand generation strategy: you create great content, promote that content across channels, encourage people to fill out a form in order to download high-value content, and then deliver those leads to your sales team for follow-up.

But this system only works for inbound marketing. According to a study by SiriusDecisions, more than 60% of B2B marketers plan to implement account-based marketing (ABM) within the next year. And with ABM, you don’t want to cast a wide net to capture all the leads you can, as you do with inbound marketing. Instead, you want create content that captures the attention of specific accounts, or accounts in specific industries, to help sales initiate conversations with those accounts. But if you’ve focused primarily on inbound marketing in the past, how do you combine your existing content marketing and new ABM initiatives? Start with these four steps.

Step 1: Agree on ideal customer profiles and an account list

Before you even begin thinking about content, your first step is to determine your target market segments and agree on your ideal customer profiles (ICPs) within those segments—working closely with your sales team, of course. Think about who your most successful customers are now. Think about who your most profitable customers are now. What industry, company size, location, or other variables do these customers have in common?

Use these profiles to compile your list of target accounts in the market segments where you have the most opportunity for success. The accounts, industries, and personas you pinpoint will be used heavily when developing your content going forward.

Step 2: Conduct a content audit

The next step is to audit your existing content. It can be as casual or as formal as you make it. No matter how you go about it, ask yourself, “Do I have content for each account, industry, or persona we outlined?” Then go deeper and ask yourself, “Do I have content for them for each stage of the buyer’s journey?” Even in an ABM strategy, content is a critical component of your prospects’ research, consideration, and evaluation stages. Different mixes of content (videos, blog posts, eBooks, case studies, etc.) with different levels of depth will be needed at each stage.

As you complete this audit, you’ll see some gaps in content for different audiences and different stages. You may even come across some stale, outdated, or ineffective content. These are the places you’ll want to address first.

Step 3: Create content to fill gaps

Now you can begin creating content to fill these gaps. Make sure that you are leveraging your sales team as a resource for learning more about the accounts, industries, and personas you are targeting. The sales team is on the front line in these target markets, and they can share the challenges their prospects face, and the goals that they have. They can share customer anecdotes, success stories, and cautionary tales that will help you create relevant, compelling content.  

An additional benefit of involving the sales team is that they will already be on board with the content you are producing, and will be looking forward to sharing content that they already know will resonate with the prospects they speak to.

Step 4: Distribute to relevant accounts or personas

The last and probably most challenging step is to distribute your content. This challenge exists for all content marketers, but it’s particularly difficult for ABM because the content is applicable to a much narrower group of people. You only want to reach certain accounts, industries, or personas, otherwise you will be wasting your acquisition dollars on irrelevant people. Here again is where your sales team (that is already bought into your content) will be valuable. You will rely on them to distribute it to the right people at the right moments in their conversations.

Additionally, advances in technology have allowed for better targeting across the web. This applies to the obvious tactic to reach people on the internet (advertising), but it should also apply to your website as well. With website personalization, a person on your site should not need to dig for an eBook or blog post that will be relevant to him. Instead, the site can deliver it to him immediately. Personalization allows you to give him only content that would be relevant to his industry, to his stage in the buyer’s journey, and to his function.

For example, if a visitor from the healthcare industry lands on your site and, assuming healthcare is one of the industries in your ICPs, you can immediately deliver an experience specific to healthcare and recommend a relevant eBook or other asset.  

Final Thoughts

Content marketing has historically thrived in inbound marketing strategies. But account-based marketing strategies must leverage content too. If your business is getting started with ABM, or transitioning to a hybrid ABM/inbound strategy, you can follow these steps to ensure that your content marketing is on the right track.

And don’t forget that transitioning to an ABM strategy doesn’t mean that you need to create brand new content. You can get the right content that you’ve already created in front of your target accounts, industries, and personas with by effectively leveraging key channels and personalization!

Paula is VP of content marketing and programs at Evergage, responsible for driving thought leadership, brand awareness and conversions. She has 25 years of experience developing and managing content marketing and go-to-market strategies at leading tech firms including Brainshark, Dragon Systems and Lotus Development. Paula earned an MBA from Babson College and a BS in management from Boston College.

Lenders: Use The Buyer’s Journey to Deliver Valuable Content

finance buyer's journey


Synchrony Financial understands that those big buys in life often don’t happen on a whim. Behind every major purchase are real people weighing up their options and deciding to part with their dollars to fulfill different needs based on their individual situations. For lenders, it’s important to understand this buyer’s journey so you can better guide potential customers down the path to purchase (using your dollars).

Synchrony has done an excellent job outlining this journey in their Fifth Annual Major Purchase Consumer Study. The study looks holistically at the journey customers take when deciding on purchases of $500 or more—looking far beyond the financing portion. It outlines important statistics like the fact that 85% of buyers start their research online, 70% of people visit a store to research, 56% consult with friends, 38% check out online reviews, and 28% return to the store for more research.

All of this happens BEFORE the customer researches financing options. In addition, more people are making online purchases (18%, up from 13% in 2015) versus visiting a store to purchase.

Synchrony Bank buyer's journey


Combine the Buyer’s Journey with Context

This is some great information about how these consumers shop. But what should lenders do with this information? Lenders have the opportunity (and imperative) to get on consumers’ radars sooner and provide content that matches up with their particular position in the buyer’s journey and delivers value. This will help to begin building trust between the buyer and the lender’s brand, and buyers reward companies that build trust with them.

To deliver valuable content to these potential customers, you must add real-time knowledge of the buyer’s situation to your knowledge of the buyer’s journey. You must understand the situation and context for why your customers will purchase your products if you want to create content that motivates them to act. Applying for a loan or line of credit is rarely a standalone job—it is one small job that plays a role in a much larger goal, such as buying a home, getting engaged, or repairing unexpected damage to your car. Understanding these specific situations allows you to create relevant content and deliver it to your buyer when and where it will be most useful to her.

What Relevant, In-the-Moment Content Looks Like

A young couple in a new home may not be aware that they can finance that bathroom remodel to get rid of the pastel pink tile. Lenders should consider how to reach these price-conscious shoppers earlier in their journey, rather than waiting until just before the purchase. This could include finding consumers in your target market that have recently purchased a home and are googling for things like “cost of bathroom remodel” or pinning numerous photos of bathroom ideas on Pinterest. These individuals are probably gathering information in the early stages of their journey. You could serve them some display ads about how to afford your new bathroom.

Lending companies could also consider mining social media data to find those buyers that are talking about economic bathroom remodels or finding reasonably-priced contractors. These individuals are probably a bit further along in their journey, evaluating their options. With this information, you could provide content right there on Facebook or Twitter about how to afford your new bathroom or questions to ask when selecting a contractor. Perhaps you’re a local lender that could even make specific contractor recommendations. Of course, you need the right data and technology ecosystem to deliver this highly contextual content.

Whatever the tactic is, the key is to combine what you know about the buyer’s situation with her spot in the buyer’s journey to contextualize the content and provide real value—in the moments that it is most useful to the buyer.

Applying for financing or making a major purchase doesn’t tend to happen in vain. As the Synchrony study shows, this is typically a well-researched and extensively thought-out decision, so when engaging major buyers, it’s important to think about the entire buyer’s journey – not just the purchase. The fact that people like to self-educate through the decision-making process gives you more opportunities to provide them with content that adds value, helping them to learn and build trust.

You may also want to check out my post on how MetLife is adding value throughout the buyer’s journey. In addition, Harte Hanks CMO Frank Grillo has written a great piece on how to capture more buyers earlier in their journey. Please get in touch if you have any questions!

The World is NOT Your Oyster: How to do Market Segmentation

There are only a few products in the world that are designed to meet everyone’s needs equally. For the most part, if you think the whole market is your opportunity, you’re wrong.

You may have a distinct opportunity in each segment, but best-in-class marketers make sure they’re targeting the audiences with which they have the greatest opportunity and best chance to succeed.

If you have not done any market segmentation or it wasn’t done correctly, your marketing efforts will be wasted. The best marketing in the world will not work if the message does not resonate, or is not meaningful to the audience (not something they are interested in or not a job they are looking to complete).

Ultimately, it’s about optimizing budget—very few companies have unlimited money to spend on marketing. Where do you focus your efforts? Prioritizing segments where the biggest opportunities exist is crucial in determining where to focus marketing, persona, and content spend.

So, have you done the hard, introspective work to determine where to put your marketing dollars? If not, here’s how.

How To Define Your Market Segments

Phase 1: Identify Optimal Sub-Segments

In the first phase of market targeting, you’ll start with your total available market and progressively drill down to identify your optimal sub-segments.


  1. Outline your total available market—your entire universe of customers.
  1. Determine which segments best align with your GTM strategy. Where is the best fit for what you offer? Where is your message most likely to resonate?
  1. Determine whether you’re likely to succeed in these segments. Are there any significant limitations to your success? Do you have the capabilities you need to address these consumers’ needs? What is the competitive landscape? Are there macro-economic trends you should be aware of?
  1. Determine your addressable market. Identify what these sub-segments spend on what you offer. For example, if you are a management consulting firm, how much do these targets spend on management consulting?


how to do market segmentation with strategic gameboard 1


Phase 2: Use Game Board to Identify Top Targets

In this phase, you’ll plot your target sub-segments from phase 1 on the Game Board to determine which offer the best opportunity.


  1. Assign each sub-segment a score on a 1 to 5 scale for both of the following:
    1. Alignment with your GTM strategy (there is a degree of art here)
    2. Likelihood of success (based on your current capabilities, competition and macro-economic trends outlined in phase 1)
  1. Based on your scores, plot your target sub segments on the game board.
    1. Y axis = alignment with GTM strategy
    2. X axis = likelihood of success
    3. Size of the bubble should be based on total potential addressable revenue
  1. Remove the obvious sub-segments that do no align (those that fall the Avoid section).
  1. Re-plot the remaining sub-segments relative to each other (this step may need to be done more than once!).
  1. Use the Game Board key to prioritize which sub-segments you will target.


how to do market segmentation with strategic gameboard 2


Market Segmentation in Action

We recently executed our own market segmentation exercise of the retail vertical at Harte Hanks, and this is what it looked like.

Our Game Board:


Harte Hanks Market Segmentation Strategic Gameboard
Our results for mapping sub-segments of the retail industry on the Strategic Gameboard



Based on this market targeting exercise, we have determined which retail sub-segments offer us the most opportunity and where we are most likely to succeed—which allows us to optimize our marketing spend. We’ll keep our eye on the growing potential of some other sub-segments in the retail vertical as we move forward.

Of course, we have repeated this exercise for each of the vertical industries we play in. Learn more our approach to bringing human interaction back to marketing through the 5 Pillars of Best-in-Class Marketing, including market segmentation.

Personas: The Next Step after Market Segmentation

Once you have determined your best targets, it’s time to get to know them—far better than any traditional demographic persona. Here are some resources to help you get started:

Buyer Personas are NOT Customer Segments: What You Need to Know

How to Use Buyer Personas to Improve B2B Customer Experience


Buyer Personas Are NOT Customer Segments: What You Need to Know

buyer personas are not just customer segmentations

Let’s pretend you’ve just moved homes. You probably expect to receive a few postcards from local retailers congratulating you on your new move and welcoming you to the neighborhood with a coupon for things like new dishes and towels. You’re a “new mover,” so that makes sense, right?

But what if you moved because a storm wiped out your home, or your family situation changed,  and now you’re downsizing to an apartment or temporary living? “Congratulations on your new home” doesn’t sound like the best message anymore, does it? Or what if you just got a big promotion at work and are moving to a significantly bigger home in a nicer neighborhood—do you want new towels, or would you be more interested in bigger ticket items like new furniture?

Your mindset, context and urgency for your path to purchase would be very different in these two examples. Furthermore, the items you might be interested in buying would be different, too.

This is an example of why traditional segmentations often get it wrong when trying to understand who a buyer is and how to engage with them in a relevant manner in the buyer’s journey.

Customer Segmentation vs. Buyer Personas

It is easy to confuse personas with the traditional segments we use to define groups of prospects and customers. They sound very similar. But customer experience practitioners need to clearly understand the differences between these powerful marketing tools and use them to their fullest advantage. These definitions should clarify the distinction between traditional segments and personas:

  • Customer segmentation is the practice of dividing a customer base into groups of individuals that are similar in specific ways relevant to marketing, such as age, gender, interests and spending habits. Customer segments help us at the campaign level and are used to select people to market to, or to define categories to put them in. A female buyer between the age of 30 and 40 who shops our category 6 times per year is an example of a customer segment.
  • A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. When creating your buyer persona(s), consider including customer demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals. The more detailed you are, the better. Buyer personas take into account the situation and role of the buyer and the job they are trying to do in the buyer journey. For example, a recent mover to a smaller place due to change in familial situation, looking to buy the basic necessities quickly without spending too much, is an example of a buyer persona.

Related content: how we build useful personas

The easiest way to keep them straight is that segments typically rely on demographics and transactional data as the defining characteristics to define one group vs. another. Personas take into account the real-time, real-life situation of the buyer. What is the person trying to accomplish right now? And what is their emotional state as they go through the buying process? Think about it as marketing in the moment.

We had a group in here the other day claiming that the buyer persona at a big box home improvement chain is those who repaint their house every year. That’s not a buying persona; that’s a segmentation. ~Frank Grillo, CMO, Harte Hanks

Put the Person Back in Personas

We are living in the Attention Economy, or what Forrester calls, the Age of the Customer. Forrester explains that “Today’s customers reward or punish companies based on a single experience — a single moment in time.” Going back to our “new mover” example, a recent divorcee would probably be pretty alienated by your direct mail piece that welcomes him/her to the neighborhood with a coupon for a cheery set of dishes. The consumer may be so alienated that he/she never wants to buy from you again.

This means that every interaction your brand has with a customer must deliver some value to the customer based on their reality. You just can’t do that with demographics-based segments. You must go further to be able to speak to each customer in the moment in which they are situated.

As an article by Mark Evertz states, it’s time to “put the person back in personas.” When you walk into a store and begin to browse, it’s likely that a salesperson will ask you a version of “How may I help you?” to figure out your individual situation and needs. He would be able to find out if you are furnishing a new home. If you’re budget-constrained or looking for top-of-the-line items. If you’re happy or sad. If you have never shopped for a set of pots before in your life but need something basic now. If you’re pressed for time or leisurely browsing. All of these things make you the buyer you are and make up your persona—and there’s no way to know them ahead of time. You must figure them out in the moment.

The associate would not only hear your verbal response; he would also see you lean in or cross your arms or shake your head. He would be able to adjust the conversation and his recommendations to your cues.

These human responses—both explicit and implicit cues—have not disappeared now that we operate in a more digital environment. They are still there, but we need to find them and pay attention to them to behave in a more human, relevant way with each customer interaction. THIS is the key data, the small data, that we need to uncover to drive our personas.

Bring the Human Back to Marketing

An understanding of the customer’s situation (rather than just demographics), layered with his or her current spot in the buyer’s journey, allows us to create messaging and content that actually delivers value to customers in the exact moment that they need it. In other words, understanding customers in this way allows us to interact in a more human manner—exactly what our customers are asking for.

Stay tuned for my next post on HOW to get at this contextual information you need for effective buyer personas.

Learn more about our approach to bringing human interaction back to marketing and developing useful personas.

Do You Really Need that Survey? Better Ways to Improve CX

improve customer experience in financial services

In a recent interview with Quirk’s Media, Nancy Vogt, VP of Customer Experience with Zions Bank, discussed the implications of an important factor in market research: survey fatigue.

She explained, “In recent years, as we’ve become ever more cognizant of survey fatigue, we’ve had to think long and hard about our priorities when designing a survey, considering each question to decide whether it is just ‘nice to know’ or whether the response will be actionable.”

It is important to recognize that we do need actionable data to improve the customer experience, but survey fatigue is real and plagues our customers. It is therefore important to incorporate other less intrusive ways to collect data, optimize the customer experience and ensure customer satisfaction to maintain a customer-centric approach. Here are a few places to start.

Recognize the Data You Already Have

1. Interaction History

Personally, I greatly dislike talking on the phone, which should be obvious since I have only ever interacted with my bank digitally (I will do anything I can to avoid talking to a real person—any extent of Google searching, emailing, webchat, etc.). My parents, however, call their branch directly when they have concerns or questions. This type of interaction history should inform how our banks communicate with us.

For example, I really appreciate that my credit card company has analyzed my spending and communication habits and denies unusually large purchases—while immediately sending a notification text to confirm or deny the validity of such a purchase. I can easily respond via text without having to answer or make a phone call. My parents, however, should get a phone call to communicate with them in the channel of their preference and optimize their experience.

2. Social

Now more than ever, customers are interacting with banks digitally—via social, for example. Data from effective social support programs can be used to identify points of customer dissatisfaction, as well as trending support issues. Proactively mining this data can help banks to identify common problems and address rising concerns promptly, limiting negative impact and satisfying social customers.

@ChaseSupport does a great job at supporting customers on social. From difficulties with credit card applications to opinions about ATM locations, Chase customers are letting the bank know how they feel. And Chase responds! My colleague recently tweeted to @ChaseSupport about a problem with her mortgage held by Chase. @ChaseSupport looked up her account, reviewed the history and conversations with phone support, and added the social conversation to her customer profile. They weren’t immediately able to solve her problem, but they did assure her that it had been escalated appropriately.

By using social channels to engage with customers, banks are able to receive candid and real-time feedback—no survey necessary. They’re also able to improve the overall customer experience for those that prefer to interact on social media. Note: it is crucial that these interactions be associated with the individual’s customer profile to ensure a seamless experience across interaction channels (e.g. make sure the customer service agents answering the phones also have the social conversation handy for reference).

3. In-Branch Technology

Another option is to mine satisfaction data from non-intrusive technologies that also facilitate customer experience improvements. This article from The Financial Brand explains how credit unions have implemented technology like lobby trackers that allow them to track wait times, desired services, transaction times and more. This data provides insight into the customer experience and allows banks to optimize the experience they provide to their customers through efforts like increasing staffing during peak times. In addition, banks are deploying service kiosks that invite members to easily provide feedback by clicking a range of happy, neutral, or sad face icons, which members happily interact with (about 4,000 responses per month).

Take Meaningful Action on the Data You Collect

Your customers are trusting you with all of this data they’re giving to you. A good way to break that trust is by failing to use it effectively and continuing to bombard them with requests for feedback. For example, if a customer signs in with your lobby tracker upon each branch visit, yet consistently has to wait over 10 minutes for service, he’ll start to wonder why he has to bother with the lobby tracker—it’s not providing any improvement in his experience. When you approach this customer with a survey, he will probably ignore it, believing that it also will have no effect on his experience.

To avoid what can feel like a one-sided relationship, customers need to see value in providing data or participating in surveys when they are necessary. Recognize and make use of the data you are already getting from your customer interactions and customer journey, and these customers will be happier to respond to your occasional survey.

You may also want to check out: MetLife Marketing is Focused on Providing Value—You Should Be, Too

Did Micro-Moments Ruin My Buyer’s Journey Maps?

Google indicates that mobile had a 20% increase in market share, while time per visit declined 18%. eMarketer predicts that by 2020 mobile will represent 74% of digital ad spending. These and similar findings led Google to conclude that mobile consumers move through their journeys in spurts rather than sessions, and that the “micro-moment” is the new battlefield where brands achieve success or failure.

As is true with any new business idea, operationalization lags innovation. Statements from Google like “you’ve got to anticipate the micro-moments for users in your industry” provide a noble call to action, but they lack specificity. Are all micro-moments equally relevant? Which contextual facts surrounding a given micro-moment are pertinent to a business? And, what is the precise definition of a micro-moment?

The micro-moment finding upends how we think about the buyer’s journey, which is traditionally pictured as a sequence of steps leading to a purchase. Do micro-moments replace buyer journey steps? What happens to omni-channel marketing if we have one set of buyer journey maps for mobile using micro-moments, and another set of maps for the remaining channels using the traditional steps toward a purchase?

In this article I describe how Harte Hanks integrates the wisdom of the micro-moment into the discipline of mapping the buyer’s journey. The result is a blueprint for becoming more competitive in a mobile-driven, omni-channel world.

Old Maps

The traditional buyer’s journey consists of a sequence of stages toward a purchase. These stages can differ somewhat by industry, but follow a general sequence as pictured in Figure 1.


Traditional Buyer's Journey Map

Figure 1: Traditional Buyer’s Journey Map


These buyer journey maps have helped marketers examine what is happening during each stage of the buyer’s journey. Perhaps most importantly, they have encouraged us to place the buyer and their needs at the center of the company’s universe. In other words, buyer journey maps help us be customer-centric.

New research on buyer behavior across multiple disciplines (e.g., economics, psychology) and sponsors (e.g., Google, Forrester) tells us three important things. Buyer movement through their journeys is often sporadic. Buyers make progress with a spurt of activity, and then there are lulls of inactivity. Second, buyers are opportunistic during their journeys. Some of this relates to the time pressures of modern life: some buyers want to make quick progress in their journeys whenever and wherever they can because they don’t have a lot of time. But it is also a fundamental assertion that they are in charge. Today’s buyers are often highly self-directed. They are going to shop their way and don’t care whether suppliers envision a logical sequence of steps for them to follow.

The third finding is that buyers are often emotional rather than linear and methodical. Numerous writers, perhaps most notably Daniel Kahneman, call attention to the emotional dimension of buyer decision-making. This side of human behavior moves quickly and instinctively. It is not concerned with slow, careful, logical analysis. It is impulsive or spur-of-the-moment and is easily swayed by emotional triggers such as fear, anger, joy, sadness, etc.

Traditional journey maps imply buyers move in a straightforward, linear progression from one stage to the next and that there is no skipping around. Obviously, the traditional maps do not align with new buyer behavior realities. So, we need new buyer’s journey maps.

New Maps

We at Harte Hanks are on a mission to update buyer’s journey maps so that they more closely approximate actual consumer behavior. We think the map in Figure 2 is a closer approximation of reality. The map shows six outer circles or stages in the buyer’s journey. Each stage is pictured as barely engaged in the buyer’s journey by a small overlap with the inner circle. This figure captures a starting point. It says the company is ready to engage with the buyer at each stage of the journey, and makes this known through their website, advertising, and so on. So, the buyer can initiate engagement in any one of the six stages if they choose to do so.


Modern Buyer’s Journey: The Starting Point

Figure 2: Modern Buyer’s Journey: The Starting Point


Once the buyer chooses to engage with the company, the buyer’s journey map changes. In other words, the map is dynamic. Each stage or outer circle moves more deeply into the buyer’s journey according to the buyer’s behavior. Ideally, the company has data that tracks buyer behavior in each stage. The data then provides an estimate of how deeply the buyer has engaged with the company on each stage.

Take an illustrative female consumer who is thinking about their summer vacation in the mountains three months into the future. She starts her journey with a price check on several leading backpack brands, including the one she bought three years ago. She has not yet given serious consideration to whether it is suitable for the upcoming trip. In fact, she doesn’t want to do that yet.

At this point in the journey, this buyer only wants a rough estimate of whether a full-scale backpack review will result in the painful conclusion that they can’t afford a new one. The only recognized problem is affordability, and emotional pain avoidance is the driving theme at the start of the journey. She wants to make a rough estimate of whether she can emotionally afford to start a more engaged buyer’s journey. The start of this journey is pictured in Figure 3. The Recognize and Search stages are pictured as lightly engaged because only one problem is recognized yet (affordability), and her search only includes a few price points. In contrast, the Evaluate stage is deeply engaged and the whole journey at this moment hinges on this assessment.


One Buyer’s Journey: Initial Pain Assessment

Figure 3: One Buyer’s Journey: Initial Pain Assessment


Figure 3 provides a conceptual approach to mapping this particular buyer’s journey. The starting position of each stage is set as the baseline, indicated by the dotted lines. Then as a stage becomes more engaged in the buyer’s journey, it moves in toward the center. The metrics implied by the dotted lines are “outcomes.” Borrowing from the jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) framework, an outcome is an actionable need statement. When the buyer seeks to achieve an outcome, the associated buying stage moves further into the buyer’s journey. Outcomes are explored in more detail later in this article.

Without knowing the full story behind the buyer’s journey, we cannot draw an accurate map. The traditional linear view of the world for this buyer tells us to draw a map something like the one in Figure 4.


Figure 4: Incorrect Map Based on a Linear World-View

Figure 4: Incorrect Map Based on a Linear World-View


The linear view assumes that every buyer seeking price information has already completed the Recognize stage, has moved on to the Search stage, and is not yet in the Evaluate stage. The linear model leads us to the wrong conclusion. It misses the possibility that this buyer is making a quick but serious evaluation. Figure 4 does not fit the actual story unfolding from the buyer’s perspective. In other words, the linear view is disconnected from the context surrounding the moment.

To meet the needs of today’s buyer, companies must avoid making false assumptions about the buyer. This means they need an approximately accurate description of the buyer’s journey for a given moment in time. Such a definition drills down through three levels:

  1. The problem the buyer wants to solve (e.g., avoid long journey with no purchase)
  2. The job that is active in the buyer’s journey at this particular moment (e.g., assess affordability)
  3. The micro-jobs the buyer wants to complete in the micro-moment (e.g., find a few price points).

The only way we can accurately describe the buyer’s journey on the three levels is to access comprehensive contextual data for this buyer surrounding this moment in their journey. For example:

  • Do we have a purchase record for this buyer? We should, since they purchased a pack from us previously.
  • When was their last purchase from us? They purchased a pack from us three years ago, but they may have purchased other items from us between then and now. If so, what and how much did they buy?
  • What previous steps did the buyer conduct on this journey? For example, did they come straight to our site, or did they arrive via a search on something like “best backpacks?” Did they visit our site within the last several days or week?

Even if we have full contextual information, it is hard to make heads or tails of it without something called “personas.” Personas are like buyer segments, but there are critical differences. Traditional buyer segments focus on demographics, and they are thought to summarize that person’s personality and buying behavior over time. In contrast, a persona is a temporary behavior pattern. It fits the person well, but only for a single journey, or perhaps for only part of a journey. Individuals can assume one persona when purchasing item “X” and another persona for item “Y.” The active persona depends on what they are buying and what problem they are trying to solve in the moment.

Companies conduct segmentation analyses of contextual information to find personas. Once the personas are defined, they are used to make hypotheses about specific buyer journeys and what the buyer might want to do next. In our backpack example, say we previously identified two generic personas: the “quick price assessor” and the “detailed evaluator.” Then we would want to know if this buyer engaged in any recent Recognize or Search activities. If our best guess is that this is their first step in their journey, then we might hypothesize that, for the moment, they are in the “quick price assessor” persona.

Once we select a persona, what are some viable strategies? First, we can anticipate the needs of the quick price assessor persona by featuring entry-level prices with phrases like: “as low as” or “starting at.” The objective is to encourage this persona to continue the journey.

We can be ready for the possibility that a buyer in this persona will jump to a new but related persona such as the “speedy purchaser” persona. But it is also entirely possible that our backpack buyer may later slow down and become a “detailed evaluator” once they conclude a backpack purchase is feasible. So, we need to treat personas as temporary hypotheses rather than as fixed personality traits.

Share Stage

A new type of buyer’s journey stage is presented in our map: Share. It encompasses the buyer’s need to share their purchase and use experiences with others. Our intent here is to capture the buyer’s needs to not only assess product performance as an owner but to also share their experience and conclusions with others.

Humans have been talking about their purchases since the ancient days of barter. Humans are social animals. We need to talk about a lot of things, and a big one is our latest purchase. Social media is full of humans talking about their buyer and user experiences. We can now capture, track and analyze sharing behaviors thanks to digital social media. Before, it was much less visible to suppliers, but it was still highly relevant nonetheless. In the old days, “word of mouth” was the important social behavior, but it was very hard to measure. If we don’t explicitly capture the post-sale social dimension of the buyer’s journey in our maps, we are essentially burying our heads in the sand.

Companies are scrambling down the learning curve to stay abreast of consumer behavior as it relates to social media. Should we pay attention to whether our buyers make Facebook posts about us? Should we encourage them to post reviews of our products on our own site? How much effort should we make to get our customers to post reviews on independent sites? Is there a useful role for us to play in highlighting the full range of benefits we offer so that they do not get lost in the shuffle of experiencing a problem here and there? These questions are answered by observing what buyers need to do during the Share stage of their journey. The mantra is: help the buyer do what they want to do during every stage of their journey.

Affiliate Stage

Another somewhat unique stage we include in buyer’s journey maps is Affiliate. Here the timeframe shifts to the long-term. Humans have a need to make their lives easier, and this has a direct tie to our need to identify with brands. The Affiliate stage reflects the buyer’s desire to determine whether they want a deeper relationship with the supplier. This includes a decision about the likelihood of repurchase, but also taps into the buyer’s possible intent to affiliate with the supplier and be loyal to them by visiting their website more frequently, exploring other products and services they offer, etc.

From the supplier’s perspective, the Affiliate stage is also concerned with customer retention and profitability. In the long-term, these issues are important to both the buyer and the solution provider, and it is relevant to both B2C and B2B purchases. Again, it is important for companies to know what their buyers want to accomplish during this stage so that they can be ready to assist effectively when the buyer is ready.

Jobs-To-Be-Done and the Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s experience throughout their journey is critical to every company’s future. Marketing must take a lead role in driving quality and profitability throughout the buyer’s journey. To do this, marketers much grasp, in exhaustive detail, exactly what buyers want to accomplish during their journeys. We have adapted the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) concept to meet this challenge and give specificity to buyer’s journey maps. This is a highly reliable way to describe exactly what buyers want to accomplish during their journeys. It also helps us define what a company must do to meet buyer needs at each stage of the journey.

We recently commissioned a study with Strategyn (the leader in JTBD methodology and application) in 2016 to study and define buyer journeys for home furnishings, transportation, health products and clothing. The jobs-to-be-done across these retail purchases are provided in Figure 5. These 18 jobs have broad application across many types of buyer journeys.


Jobs-to-be-Done During the Buyer’s Journey

Figure 5: Jobs-to-be-Done During the Buyer’s Journey



Buyer journey mapping can be aligned with micro-moments by identifying the “micro-jobs-to-be-done” for any given job. These micro-jobs are also called outcomes because they reflect how buyers measure success. The outcomes from our research on the first stage, Recognize, are listed in Table 1.

Stage Job Outcome (“Micro-Job” or
“How can we help the buyer …”)
Recognize 1. Determine whether to resolve a problem 1.     Minimize the time it takes to determine how frequently the problem is occurring

2.     Minimize the time it takes to determine if the problem will recur if it goes unresolved

3.     Minimize the time it takes to determine how long the problem is expected to last/occur

4.     Minimize the time it takes to determine if waiting to resolve the problem will create additional problems

5.     Minimize the time it takes to determine the costs associated with waiting to resolve the problem

6.     Minimize the time it takes to determine if the problem is affecting others who are important to you

7.     Minimize the time it takes to determine how quickly the problem should be resolved

2. Define specifics of the problem 8.     Minimize the time it takes to determine what functional issues are contributing to the problem, e.g., struggles in completing a task, etc.

9.     Minimize the time it takes to determine what usability issues are contributing to the problem, e.g., difficulty in using a product, etc.

10.  Minimize the time it takes to determine what aesthetic issues are contributing to the problem, e.g., unhappy with look, color, feel, etc.

11.  Minimize the time it takes to determine what financial issues are contributing to the problem, e.g., wasting money, etc.

12.  Minimize the time it takes to determine what emotional factors are contributing to the problem

13.  Minimize the likelihood of failing to correctly define the problem to resolve

Table 1: “Micro-Jobs” or Outcomes for the “Recognize” Stage


Outcomes describe what success looks like in the eyes of the buyer. Companies can convert each outcome into a question. The phrase “How can we help the buyer …” can be inserted at the start of each outcome. For example: “How can we help the buyer minimize the time it takes to determine how frequently the problem is occurring?”

Each outcome has implications for how to design the customer experience. The seven outcomes for the first job provide numerous clues about how to improve the customer experience. For example, if I make in-home coffee/espresso machines, can I help the buyer minimize the time it takes to determine how frequently the problem is occurring by:

  • Adding web content such as a YouTube video on “How to determine whether my current coffee maker is meeting my needs?”
  • Designing an interactive mini-web survey on “satisfaction with my coffee maker,” including a personalized comparison to prior survey responses?
  • Offering an interactive chart using prior survey responses to plot current coffee maker satisfaction versus the likelihood of buying a new coffee maker, and allow a user to enter their level of satisfaction and see how likely they might be to purchase a new machine?


If marketers want to own the customer experience, first they must exhaustively define every potential outcome across the entire buyer journey.


During our research we found well over 100 micro-jobs or outcomes for the retail buyer journey. Once these outcomes are defined, it is possible to:

  • Define the importance and satisfaction of each job in the buyer’s journey.
  • Identify the greatest opportunities for enhancing customer experience.
  • Segment buyers by job importance, satisfaction and opportunity.
  • Craft personas around key buyer segments.
  • Identify which touch points can be reengineered to yield the greatest profit impact.
  • Align content strategies with targeted buyer segments.

For more information about the buyer’s journey, please get in touch.

Social Hijacking of St. Patty’s vs. Mardi Gras: Global Beats National

Is there a winning formula for brands looking be part of social buzz during major events and holidays?

Nick LaBran, my fellow social intelligence guru at Harte Hanks, and I hypothesized that both national and global events would raise significant interest from brands looking to “news-jack” the use of social channels and insert themselves into conversations taking place.

To test this hypothesis, we took two adult-friendly calendar favorites—New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and Saint Patrick’s Day—and analyzed their surrounding social activities. Both are very good reasons to party with friends, irrespective of where you’re from, and offer plenty of brand associations. 

Mardi Gras

As February came and went, Nick and I were surprised by how little effort they saw from brands during Mardi Gras. Southern Comfort was the exception, understandably, with high levels of activity. It seems they created content once (and repeated everywhere) but only on Facebook did it earn any significant engagement.

social hijacking of mardi gras 1social hijacking of mardi gras 2

The brand was probably heavily invested experiential but missed a trick, or two, by not streaming live or taking advantage of posts being shared by attendees.

For a notable non-alcohol brand, NBA made the most of All Star Weekend being in New Orleans by sponsoring a hashtag and posting films of their stars decked in costumes.

It seems such a specific location-based event doesn’t offer much scope for global brands and therefore nobody thought much beyond beads. Meh!

Saint Patrick’s Day

As always, this global excuse for a party was mercilessly news-jacked and––whether the brand had a valid voice or not. Guinness and Jameson both worked the day for all it was worth. From our social listening, we can see both appeared more regularly than any other brands.

The whiskey brand hosted an interview live (with their Master Distiller) from their Distillery in Ireland, as well as offering a trip to Dublin for Paddy’s Day 2018. They released a limited-edition bottle in international airports and generally “owned” the liquor space on March 17.

The world-famous “Black Stuff” took their connection to Ireland’s Saint’s Day to another level. They encourage drinkers to get involved in their campaign for #StacheForCharity … to share moments of them wearing their “Guinness Moustaches”. Many pieces of user-generated content later, they clearly won the activation gold medal with something memorable that’s true to their product experience.

Notable mentions from around the world of brands include McDonald’s Limited Edition Shamrock Shakes (as regular now as Green Beer). Dunkin Donuts offered Green Glazed Doughnuts. Hard Rock Café tailored menus to cater to the (rare) Friday night crowd. Starbuck’s even got involved with a cute apron post.

All in all, mentions of Saint Patrick’s Day outnumbered Mardi Gras by 2:1 … and the number of brands getting involved was exponentially higher. ­­So why would that be? Here are some reasons why Nick and I believe global beats national every time. 

#1: Heritage Counts

Meeting friends and having a drink (or two) is universally a good idea that any alcohol brand can take advantage of.

But clearly there are more global citizens with Irish heritage than with New Orleans ties. It also helps your brand be more authentic with more people who’re either Celtic; or married to one; or has a great friend show is; or likes to think they are! Brand Ireland has propagated the world with its charm.

New Orleans is awesome and the people are amazing, but it’s cultural influence is somewhat the reverse of Irish culture because of its colonial history. Many cultures and ethnicities co-exist in the South but they all concentrated into a relatively small geographical area … French, Spanish, African, Native Americans and so on.

Music, food, architecture all play their part in their charm for a visitor, but does it travel well? Any brand associated with Mardi Gras will always feel confined to a smaller moment in time.

#2: Keep It Simple, Shareable

Beyond a limited-edition product or two, the biggest opportunities came from image-based associations with Irishness. Shamrocks, foamy mustaches, green anything!

Images create an instant visual connection for someone scrolling through their social feed. Images are transcreation-able (let’s add that one to the dictionary). And the relatable and translatable moments that are captured, in one day a year, are global. Anyone can bundle down to their local pub and take part in #SPD. You probably should travel to New Orleans to really enjoy #MG!

#3: Get Community Involved for Real Reach

SoCo did a reasonable job of creating a bank of content around Mardi Gras but didn’t create ways for their fans to really participate. Watch and (maybe) share was really the extent of involvement. No effort was made to encourage dialogue or to share their own stories for instance. They also didn’t interact with anyone or any other accounts who were talking about Mardi Gras. Therefore, their feeds don’t look too different during the festival than they do any other time of year. Southern Comfort should be owning Mardi Gras and taking the essence of the event and translating it into something we can all celebrate while consuming their liquor.

Guinness did far more to involve their fans. We’ve talked about Stout Mustaches and we’ve seen how Jameson broadcast live to create larger reach. And there’s always the potential for a global event like Saint Patrick’s Day to have a local activation component, as well. It offers the best of both for brands. Activate an omnichannel campaign for a condensed amount of time and people will want more and more to enjoy that moment and positively associate your brand with the experience.

So, there you have it. If you’re a brand and want to be part of a conversation around a cultural event, pick something with global appeal and find ways to draw people into your branded experience in a meaningful and relatable way. You’ll win the hearts and minds of your fans for another year.

How to Inoculate Your Brand from Political Backlash: Interview with Elsie Maio

air bnb ad
Airbnb Super Bowl ad promotes certain values. Does the company live by them?

Elsie Maio is on a mission – to empower high performing businesses to profitably align with the wellbeing of humanity. Since 1994, she has been touted as a practical visionary in the field of high performance brand strategy – helping clients get ahead of emerging global trends in business and society, long before it became fashionable.

I interviewed Elsie for her take on how brands can protect themselves during a time when politics can be risky business.

The President has disparaged a variety of brands online, leading to instant drops in stock prices (for Boeing and Nordstrom, for example), as well as immediate negative brand sentiment on Twitter as his millions of followers join in the conversation.  Have brands ever faced such a risky political environment in the past, or is this something new to contend with?

Stock prices have always reacted to negative news that comes from a civic or political context, but I don’t know that we’ve ever had a public figure pointing a finger at companies and shaming them with the suddenness, randomness and reach that’s happened recently.

Sure, in the past, we’ve seen public opinion turn against businesses – which in turn was followed by legislative action. The tobacco industry, for example.

And when an egregious fault has been associated with an industry or company, meaning it has been hurtful to human beings, we’ve seen stock prices drop and sometimes companies brought to their knees.

What’s different here is two things: the apparent randomness, and the sting of a celebrity politician singling out a company that challenges his agenda, as Trump has done. It’s like a personal attack on the character of the company when its patriotism is, in a way, challenged by The White House.

What, if anything, can brands do to prevent this type of unwanted political attention?

Companies cannot prevent attention. But there are two ways corporate leaders can deal with this risky political environment:

1. As a reluctant citizen.

These are extremely fraught times for companies, and those who find themselves in the crosshairs appropriately call in their crisis management folks to do whatever they can to minimize damage and quietly patch things up.

The ‘reluctant citizen’ is in the old paradigm: the business of business is business.  The old paradigm response rests heavily on communications to either set the record straight or to distract and recast your image as sympathetic to a particularly emotive public issue. Maybe you will even invest in inspiring advertisements like the ones we saw at the Super Bowl and the Oscars. Or, you will double-down on your lobbying in Washington.

2. As a generous, generative citizen.

To stop there, with traditional crisis management programs, in reacting to Trump tweets or whomever else, is foolish. It’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The underlying vulnerability is more fundamental that any one issue they may accuse you of: the damning insinuation is that you are not carrying your weight as a modern, responsible citizen.

You really do need to build another boat, and smart companies are doing this.

Don’t get me wrong; if you get caught flat footed in a tweet storm, engage the best crisis communication team you can find. But, in another watery analogy, don’t confuse caulking the foundation in a floodplain with relocating to higher ground.

Define your brand of citizenship, or have it redefined at political whim for you.

It’s the trend; you might as well look at this period of White House volatility as an opportunity hop on it now and have it fuel the company’s growth and employee happiness. Companies will be held to this standard by Millennials soon enough. Not only are you girding yourself for defense on the field today, but you’re also creating brand advantage by defining the play.

What does it mean to be a generative citizen?

Being a generous, generative citizen means embracing purpose and looking beyond financial gain and shareholder value.

We have been expecting since the late 90s that companies will be held more accountable for their participation as global citizens. They’ll need to reorganize around the fact that the shareowner is not the only constituent to address anymore. Generating more and better financial returns alone is just not going to do it.

This is becoming increasingly popular through entities like B Corporations— companies committed to benefit society as well as their shareholders. Legally, they will not be sued by shareholders for including things like social impact and environmental impact in their decisions that might reduce profitability. This is one opportunity to not only inoculate the company from risky political situations but also to put a stake in the ground as a modern corporate leader.

Philip Kotler and Christian Sarkar talk about brand activism in a recent article in The Marketing Journal.  Look at how Patagonia and Unilever are changing the game. These companies are generative citizens. They’re solving real problems in the real world. And our own work spells out how such leaders, like Unilever, are doing it.

Speaking of moving, emotional advertisements, there were several big brands that aired “culturally significant” ads during the Super Bowl, such as AirBNB, Coca Cola and Budweiser. AirBNB CMO Jonathan Mildenhall argues that ads like this aren’t political statements; they’re social stands that “doing what’s right by humanity.” Is it possible to make such a distinction in the current political climate?

Several Super Bowl ads did make a statement and were emotionally inspiring. But here’s the thing: the values implied in the ad must reflect the true soul of the company. There’s no way around this except to be authentic and tell the truth. If you have a strong inclination as a company to stand up for your values, do so, but don’t pretend to do so fully unless you are demonstrably on that path.

That does not mean don’t talk about your truth and what inspires your people even if you are not living it 100% yet. For instance, they could say, At Airbnb, we recognize the value of inclusiveness, we’re all in this together, and we’re beginning to integrate these values into everything we do. Beginning to integrate. Then you need to demonstrate with proof points how you’re doing that. Articulate your purpose as a profitmaking corporation or organization that’s cognizant of social purpose or social impact and match your proof points.

Don’t say it in your ad unless you have the proof points to demonstrate it. And then, demonstrate it consistently. Where company behaviors conflict with the inspiring messages they put out is where the trust rupture begins.

How does a brand go about making the transition to a generative corporate citizen?

You could consider the first phase of this transition to be, Know Thyself.  Audit all your employees and stakeholders to discover their values and what citizenship means to them.

The next phase in this transition is to actually operate in that way you might later describe in your ads. What is your real purpose and how are you embracing it? How are you capitalizing on that in your company? We’re so good at creating experiences and communicating our brand promise that it’s disconnected from our corporate operations. Having marketing operate in a silo is one of the biggest problems we have. We have dug a big hole between the expectation we created and what we’re actually doing. Instead, you must knit the CMO’s activities with the COO’s activities and make sure that they’re walking hand in hand. If you don’t, you’re vulnerable to every kind of attack—and you should be.

How will acting in this generative way help companies to protect themselves from political turmoil?

The spotlight of political criticism is swinging in an arc, somewhat wildly these days. There’s no protecting from the vagaries of random public attention. The best way to ‘inoculate’ your business against negative effects of the 4-am-presidential-tweet is to strengthen your immune system from the inside out.

Let’s be clear: CEOs cannot inoculate their companies from attention, nor from criticism. But they can be prepared to turn that spotlight to their advantage.

There is really only one way to inoculate from the negative effects of criticism about not being a contributing citizen. That is to be a contributing citizen in the way that matters. To try to protect ourselves from random tweets by deflecting with clever marketing communications is just digging a deeper hole. You should react, but don’t put your energy there. Put your energy where there is growth and energy and optimism.

That means that all employees and stakeholders have a clear sense of organizational purpose and are delighted with the tangible, measurable wellbeing it generates for and with all stakeholders. This is the model of the enlightened companies we are watching—and have been supporting for two decades already.

What might that look like?

There are really three key pieces.


This is confidence in knowing who you are, your strengths, your vulnerabilities, and the humility to do what it takes to meet the higher purpose of your organization. That could look like knowing when to partner, when to ask for assistance, when to engage with ‘the crowd’ as a resource, crowdsourcing innovation, for example. And nourishing that confidence with conscious governance systems.


Just as the most effective leaders are those who are ‘in service’ to their constituents (servant-leaders is what Peter Senge has called them), so too the leading organizations experience themselves as ‘in service’ to the greater good, to their communities, and to the customers whom they support in thriving collectively. They contribute to individuals because they see how the health of the communities they serve is part of their business model.


Such organizations are moved by values that go beyond the P&L statement.  They are enduring values that bullet-proof companies from the trust-deficit that is so prevalent today.

In my work, we use a process called soul-branding to help forward-looking companies align their behaviors with explicitly human, motivating values that nourish their collaborative, generative relationship with all stakeholders.


Elsie Maio has guided leaders in the Fortune 100 for over 25 years to achieve specific business goals by managing their corporate brands holistically. She is an alumna of McKinsey & Company, Institutional Investor, and several premier corporate identity firms. She is a Board Member of Ethical Markets Media. Since 1997 Elsie helps CEOs prepare for what she then identified as “the coming tsunami of corporate accountability.” This holistic work has guided clients to list successfully on the New York Stock Exchange, reposition multibillion dollar product brands, and generate demand in customer communities by leading with employees’ unique set of social values. Her firm Humanity, Inc integrates three consulting disciplines:  business strategy, brand experience and human-values alignment. Its mantra is Business Brilliance for Social Good. 


Personalization Across the B2B Tech Buyer’s Journey

Imagine that you’re a marketer currently researching a new martech solution for your team. At the beginning of your search when you land on one company’s website, what are you looking for? If you’re like me, you want to understand what the company does and whether the solution is relevant to your current needs — as fast as possible. You don’t want to wade through pages and pages of website copy and other content to make this assessment.

But as you progress in the buyer’s journey, your needs will likely change. Maybe you want to understand more about the specific features of the product. You may want to read customer testimonials to ensure that the company has experience in your industry or specific use case. Eventually, you could decide to sign up for a demo. There’s a good chance that you don’t want to have these materials shoved in your face the second you land on the site. Instead, you may want to find them when you’re ready — at some point during your first visit, or even on later visits to the site.

planning for customer centricity in the B2B tech buyer's journey

Content for different needs

It should be clear from that quick example that prospects for B2B technology products and services have a variety of different goals at different points in their journeys. From the research and evaluation stage, to purchase, to adoption and ongoing usage of the product after becoming a customer, the needs of each person will vary.

The good news is that if you’re a marketer of B2B technology products or services, you probably have a lot of existing content that is meant for those different stages of the buyer’s journey and customer journey. You have already put together the high-level blog posts and eBooks for the early stages, the case studies and customer testimonials for the middle and end of the buyer’s journey, and the help content and documentation for your existing customers. The trick is to make sure that all of this content is consumed by the right people or companies when they need it.

Personalization helps ensure that no matter where a prospect or customer is situated in his journey, you are providing him with the resources he needs when they are relevant to him. And that relevancy is important, because according to Demand Gen’s 2016 Content Preferences Survey Report, 51% of B2B buyers rely more on content now to research their buying decisions than they did a year before. You need to make sure that those buyers find the right content to influence their decisions so they ultimately decide to purchase (and stay) with you.

Identify the criteria, personalize the content

To personalize each stage of the journey, you need to identify the criteria to use to personalize and the content or messages to be personalized across each stage of the journey, both pre- and post-purchase. Let me walk through an example of what that could look like.


Assume that I am an executive researching the type of product or solution your company provides. When I first land on your site, I need to determine whether your business serves my needs. Using an account-based marketing (ABM) approach, you can personalize this first page to my industry or company so that I see relevant headlines, images or introductory copy to help me immediately assess your solution’s relevance to me.

To help me learn more about your solution — either in that first visit or in later visits — you can offer videos, eBooks, webinars, and more based on my persona and my “in-the-moment” intent. One of the most impactful ways to do this is to offer progressive CTAs to guide me through consideration and evaluation. This means that you can begin with a CTA to offer me a high-level piece of content in specific areas across your site, and then progressively swap out those CTAs with additional content as I continue to engage with your site and you learn more about me. In addition to CTAs, you can provide content recommendations based on my unique preferences and stage of the journey with machine-learning algorithms. Ultimately, you will want to ask me to sign up for a free trial or a demo – but only when the time is right.


After I become a customer, you can identify my company, use case, industry and/or persona to provide the most helpful tips to onboard me as a user. You can continue to leverage my engagement level with the product (as well as monitoring for the features I haven’t used) to provide real-time tips, encouraging me to get the most out of your product.

You can also use my behavior to time upsell or cross-sell messages appropriately. Finally, you can identify whether anyone in my company is a power user and reach out at the right time for reviews and referrals.

Final Thoughts

You already have specific content, messages and CTAs to share with your visitors at various stages of the buyer’s journey to help them along to the next stage. But their unique industries, personas, use cases, content preferences, etc. dictate what information will be most relevant to them. Personalization allows you to tailor your experience to each buyer’s unique needs and stage in the journey.

Katie Sweet is the Content Marketing Manager at Evergage, focused on crafting relevant content and maintaining the Evergage blog. When Katie isn’t meeting challenging deadlines, chasing blog contributors, and driving content at Evergage, she is constantly reading, homebrewing, traveling, and trying adventurous foods.

How to Use Buyer Personas to Improve B2B Customer Experience


align buyer personas to the buyer journey

Customer experience marketing is a proven antidote to the complex buyer journeys that characterize the B2B sector today. The goal is to serve highly relevant content to buyers in the right place at the right time, enhancing lead nurture and conversion to deliver better revenue growth.

Progressive firms are achieving this via intelligent one-to-one, in the moment marketing. Others are struggling to make the shift from product-centric to customer-centric approaches. How can they address this fundamental issue?

The good news is that persona research can provide many of the answers. I’m not talking about traditional personas rooted in demographic and firmographic data with an occasional sprinkling of psychographic insight. Persona research in the digital age needs to take account of buyers’ real-time situations, the specific tasks they need to fulfill and the challenges they encounter. This give a richer context to help shape the development and application of marketing messages and assets.

1. Understand the Buyer’s Situation

An understanding of the backstory and current problems or ‘jobs to be done’ should form the cornerstone of a buyer persona. There could be dozens of reasons why a buyer is in the market for a given product or service. Marketing activity achieves better resonance and engagement when it acknowledges and addresses these reasons.

For instance, the needs and challenges of a fast-growing start-up relocating to new premises could be entirely different to those of an established business that is opening a new office, and different again to a firm that is having to scale back its operations due to a difficult climate. Each of these scenarios could create a need for new technologies, furnishings or equipment, but there will be huge variations in buyers’ attitudes, emotions and priorities.

To obtain this level of buyer understanding, it can be helpful to talk informally with existing customers and establish the sequence of events that led them to require your services. Ask what actions they needed to complete during the buying process, and find out which caused the most aggravation.

These conversations can reveal valuable insights. They can form a strong foundation for persona-led marketing that cuts to the chase and addresses specific problems buyers are trying to solve, particularly those that are not met by competitors. Segmentation can also become more sophisticated, enabling marketing spend to focus on personas with a higher propensity to convert.

2. Gather Relevant Data

Once the various need-drivers for a product or service have been established, it’s possible to identify relevant ‘digital breadcrumbs’. These are key indicators of a buyer’s current situation and their stage in the buyer journey. Digital breadcrumbs can include Google search terms, social media comments or open source information related to pertinent issues.

The collection, organization and analysis of such data facilitates context-led persona development, unlocking the capability for one-to-one in the moment marketing. This enables marketing spend to be prioritized more intelligently, with activity aligned to the specific needs of individual buyer journeys.

For instance, at some point in the purchasing process, buyers look at the logistics of how and when a solution will be delivered. If persona research reveals that this is a bugbear for a target group, marketers can develop content that counters this, then deploy it strategically.

This approach can be augmented through analysis of data surrounding buyers’ digital and human exchanges with your brand. Interactions with your website and marketing automation platforms, sales conversation records and CRM tracking can all provide additional insight to enrich personas.

3. Align Buyer Personas with the Buyer’s Journey

Traditional personas – pen portraits rooted in demographic and firmographic data – played an important role in their day. However, in 2017 demographics and firmographics represent the finishing touches of a persona, not the core substance.

Today’s B2B buyer’s journeys involve multiple, convoluted steps, from ‘defining the specifics of a problem’ to ‘defining criteria to evaluate solutions’ and ‘determining where to acquire the solution.’ Each of these steps is associated with various needs and required outcomes. For marketers to navigate this environment and provide buyers with relevant assets that add value, persona research needs to give the full picture. That means understanding the buyer’s current situation, where they’re trying to get to, and the jobs they need to complete to get there.

It follows that B2B marketing strategies need to be rooted in fundamental contextual information about the buyer. Persona research must be strategically aligned with the buyer’s journey and leveraged intelligently via appropriate content and omnichannel tactics. While demographic and firmographic tailoring is important to achieve surface-level resonance, contextual insight enables buyers’ deeper needs to be addressed.

When marketers understand buyers’ situations and how they quantify success, strategies can be developed to help them complete tasks more quickly and easily. Intelligent persona research, effectively leveraged, can unlock whole new ways of working, enabling marketers to add tangible value to buyers in the moments that matter.

How to Capture More Buyers Earlier in their Journey

Capture more buyers earlier


McKinsey and Company recently published an article called The new battleground for marketing-led growth that explains in detail why marketers need to “win attention for their brands at the very beginning of a shopper’s journey.”

McKinsey’s research shows that, for shopping-driven categories (like cosmetics, personal computers, autos and financial services), the ratio of initial consideration to market share explains more than 60% of the variance in growth of market share.

So how, exactly, can we make sure we’re getting more attention early on in the buyer’s journey? Let’s explore.

Understand the buyer’s journey to capture more buyers…earlier.

In McKinsey’s Loyalty Loop, the buyer’s journey starts off with the consumer considering an initial set of brands.


McKinsey says to capture more buyers at the consideration stage of their Loyalty Loop.


The loop approach is certainly more viable than a traditional funnel. However, we believe that marketers need to back up a bit. The consumer does not start a journey by considering a set of brands; the consumer starts a buyer’s journey by identifying a need to fill or a job to complete.

The most effective framework through which to understand the buyer’s journey is therefore through Tony Ulwick’s Jobs to be Done theory. As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” People buy products and services to get jobs done; and while products come and go, the underlying job-to-be-done does not go away.


As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.”


Looking at the buyer’s journey through this Jobs to be Done lens, there are 5 overarching stages:

  1. Problem Recognition
  2. Information Search
  3. Evaluation
  4. Purchase
  5. Post-Purchase Evaluation

Within each of the 5 stages, there are specific goals a customer is looking to accomplish on the journey to solving his or her problem.


Stages of Buyer's Journey


To capture more buyers early on in their journey, we need to find them in their problem recognition and information search phases. We can only do this by understanding our personas: who our customers are and the situations that cause them to enter a buyer’s journey.

Personas—way more than demographics.

When was the last time you walked into a store and the sales associate asked you your age, gender, income and location? Never. So why do we start personas this way? A human sales associate would ask, “how may I help you?” to figure out your individual needs. Demographics-based personas cannot speak to an individual, and they cannot provide context.

We need to look at the real indications that we have a ready buyer—the small data. It’s our job to determine what an interested buyer looks like—and if there are some data points in that description that we can’t easily get to, it’s our job to figure out how to get them. This often means breaking down walls inside the organization to share information at a human level rather than at a channel or interaction level. It can also mean bringing in third party enhancing data that help you understand who the buyer is.

In this case, we need to determine what physical and digital breadcrumbs (or small data) indicate that a buyer is considering solving a problem with a solution that we can provide to him—and then start tracking these indicators in real time. We can do this by understanding what situations may lead to the consumer having this problem in the first place.

For example, why might a consumer be in the market for a new smart phone? Well, he may:

  • Be frustrated with his Android phone
  • Need to have newest technology
  • Be buying as a gift
  • Have a phone that doesn’t hold a charge
  • Be up for service contract renewal

Someone that’s frustrated with his Android phone may Google for feature alternatives in other phones. Someone whose battery doesn’t last may search for ways to improve a phone’s battery life. These types of behaviors and data points help you to pinpoint potential customers early in the buyer’s journey for a new smart phone.

Once we see a buyer appear early in the journey, and we know what situation drove him there, we can provide content that’s relevant to him in the moment, adding our brand to his list of those to consider.

It’s all about the job.

Remember, it’s all about the job. A consumer does not start considering a set of brands for no reason. Each individual that is considering your brand is doing so for a specific reason in a specific context or situation. Learn to recognize these reasons and situations, and it will be easy to speak relevantly to more prospects early in their journey.

You may also want to check out a related piece I wrote, CMOs: Where Our Heads Need to be for Success in 2017.

MetLife Marketing is Focused on Providing Value—You Should Be, Too

Esther Lee, CMO of MetLife, admits that for most financial services companies, marketing is typically equivalent to sales support. When she arrived at the company in 2015, she found that many of her marketers were just “brochure ware people.” Standard volume-based strategies weren’t cutting it.

Lucky for Lee, MetLife was in the middle of revamping their business model, so marketing had the opportunity to grow into something more. Lee jumped at the chance to reinvent marketing from a volume- and sales-driven organization to a value-driven organization.

According to Javed Matin, Marketing and Sales Consultant, this was a good move. He explains that successful businesses are built through consistently creating and delivering value. Matin says, “This requires an organizational design and alignment that puts the customer at the center of the universe and aligns all its functions towards creating, delivering, and realizing customer value.”

Javed Matin value mission

To Add Value, Be More Human

Customers are demanding that marketers like Lee are more relevant to their needs—more human. To bring the human back to marketing in a digital world, we must understand who individuals are and speak to them contextually, one-to-one, in the moment in which they are situated. Matin says, “Value realization is a journey that involves a continuum of every touch point between the customer and the vendor.” In other words, each interaction must deliver value back to the customer.

“Value realization is a journey that involves a continuum of every touch point between the customer and the vendor.” -Javed Matin

Lee has made clear strides toward the foundational elements for more human marketing with her market segmentation and persona activities, explained in the video link above. However, her team also needs a thorough understanding of the buyer’s journey to provide true value at each step of the journey.

Understand the Buyer’s Journey through Jobs to be Done

While it may seem to be, the buyer’s journey is not randomized. There are distinctive and quantifiable steps consumers go through on their path to purchase. The most effective framework through which to understand this journey is the Jobs to be Done Theory. As Theodore Levitt said, “people do not want a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” People buy products and services to get jobs done; and while products come and go, the underlying job-to-be-done does not go away. Therefore, to deliver value at each stage in the buyer’s journey, you must start with understanding the job the customer is trying to do.

Looking at the buyer’s journey through this Jobs to be Done lens, there are 5 overarching stages. Within each of the 5 stages, there are specific goals a customer is looking to accomplish on the journey to solving his or her problem.

financial services buyer's journey stages

Let’s imagine that our buyer, Chris, has a neighbor that dies in an accident with no life insurance. In the problem recognition stage, Chris witnesses the grief, stress, and financial burden his family goes through. Although he has significant savings and investments for retirement, he decides he also needs to ensure his family’s security should he pass unexpectedly.

In the information search stage, Chris finds out that life insurance is available through his benefits at work; however, he does not have a qualifying life event to update his benefits and must wait until open enrollment in July. He does some Google searches to find other options that he can purchase on his own in the meantime. He determines he can speak with his auto and home insurance provider and get quotes from other companies online.

He evaluates the different plans, rates, and payment options and discusses the different possibilities with his wife. This is the evaluation stage.

Chris chooses an affordable policy that he feels will sufficiently cover his family’s needs in the event of his unexpected passing that he can pay monthly and cancel any time. He purchases this policy in the purchase stage.

Finally, Chris moves into post-purchase evaluation. If he is satisfied with his purchase, he can continue with the purchased policy or change his payment plan to a quarterly or yearly for a small discount. If he is not satisfied, he can cancel and switch to his employer’s policy come open enrollment. He may also share his experience with his network.

Map Content to the Buyer’s Journey

Each step of the journey informs the type of content the customers desire at that time. With a real-time understanding of where Chris sits in this buyer’s journey, insurance companies can provide him with the most relevant content in the moment that he needs it.

Imagine that Chris is already selecting a provider through which to acquire his policy, and one provider sends him a direct mail piece explaining the different types of life insurance. This is not the information he needs at this step in his journey, and the mail piece is irrelevant—it provides no value. However, if the provider were to send Chris a direct mail piece explaining the ease of their application process, they would be providing him with relevant information (value) to help him make his decision.

See the Buyer’s Journey in Action

David’s Bridal executed an email campaign to women that had just recently signed up on the website.

The company separated recipients into four groups:

  1. Did not receive an email
  2. Received promotional messaging that alerted buyers to sales
  3. Received emotional messages that focused on beauty and sophistication
  4. Received trends and tips on the wedding experience

Which campaign resulted in the greatest revenue impact?

The group that received trends and tips on the wedding experience was the most successful. At this stage in their journey, brides wanted information to help them decide on a wedding dress, a high-involvement product. They were looking to start the process with company with which could build trust. The company needed to offer them the rationale for why they should invest in a dress.

Which campaign resulted in the lowest revenue impact?

You may expect it to be the group that did not receive an email. However, the group that received promotional messaging about sales was the worst performing campaign. No email outperformed the wrong message at the wrong time. The lesson here is that marketing to the buyer at the wrong time generates worse results than not marketing at all. Failure to understand the buyer’s journey results in lost revenue.

It’s Time to be More Human

No matter their industry, age, or size, a growing number of firms are finding traditional marketing inadequate. It’s time to bring the human back, and this means delivering value through contextually relevant interactions. Esther Lee agrees and has started MetLife down that path. When will your team make the move to value-driven?

2017 Super Bowl Ads: Stranger Things Happened Than the Pat’s Comeback

No football team had ever come back from such a large deficit. No QB had ever won five rings. No Super Bowl had every gone to overtime. The Patriots became, arguably, #GOAT late on the 5th in Houston. No wonder millions took the 6th off work and school!

Super Bowl commercials can also become historically significant, like Apple’s 1984 spot, yet most are only relevant for a moment or two, then disappear into the dusty record books. Sunday’s spots saw the usual mélange of mayhem and fun; movies and celebrities; and messages of purpose.

To help work through the laundry list of multi-million dollar commercials, I drafted my family to help separate the touchdowns from the touchbacks! I used emojis to indicate their reactions.


Tide managed to run interference on viewers with Terry Bradshaw’s ketchup-stained sideline snippet. This one goes down as clever audience insight: “the internet” loves to troll and are often distracted by minutiae.

Happy emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

Intel’s Drones were more technically clever but, wow, didn’t they work well as a backdrop to Gaga’s epic opening rooftop sequence?! 300 drones all meticulously choreographed with color and location…stunning visually and technologically.

Nerdy emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

But the winner of this opening quarter was National Geographic’s teaser for Genius, their upcoming anthology on Einstein. Creating a spot that could only have run after a Gaga Halftime Show, Albert plays Bad Romance on the Violin … simply but impeccably filmed and completely unexpected.

Surprised emoji for 2017 super bowl ads


Buick’s celebrity tie in with Cam Newton was trolled mercilessly on Twitter, given his SB50 performance, but nonetheless was a hit around our TV. Slapstick; embellishment on a theme; an homage to grass roots sports; it had it all!

Amused emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

Mr. Clean was my wife’s favorite spot of the night. The brand icon re-imagined as a CGI dancing domestic deed doer. Covered top to toe in a tighty-whitey onesie, he certainly was a hit with the ladies. He kept the fun going on social media too, though the engagement figures suggest there was less second-screen brand interaction that authentic audience reaction to be had this year.

Kissy emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

Our winner was undoubtedly the Kia Niro spot featuring Melissa McCarthy. Personally, I felt it was one gag too long, but the unexpected opening hit our wannabe Eco Hero took, set us up for a rip-roaring success. Casting an SNL favorite for your big game commercial is hardly groundbreaking thinking, yet it works spectacularly well here. Hit the spot in every way.

Laughing emoji for 2017 super bowl ads


From hits to fails. A few spots just didn’t follow through on their pre-game promise. Snickers put an awful lot of effort into an awfully dull live commercial. Skittles gave the game away too early online to have any spontaneous reaction that night. And Wix, who featured ass-kicking duo Gal Gadot and Jason Statham, should have spent more money on their airtime than their A-listers—the 2-minute online version was vastly superior to the 30-second spot. Cut down, it was too visually confusing to follow.

Mixed emotion emoji for 2017 super bowl ads


THE most discussed type of commercial was from brands who tackled the current sociopolitical challenges being faced in the country today. Hyundai ended the night with a near-live spot, featuring live virtual reality broadcasts of military families watching the game with deployed love ones. Technically and emotionally challenging with purposeful use of real-time broadcasting and editing, this spot stood out for all the right reasons.

Surprised emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

Another group—that included Google, Coca Cola, Audi, Budweiser, 84 Lumber, and the NFLall touched us with messages of diversity and unity. It seems they, and the others, felt that the big game provided them with a platform. Brave indeed. Some were more forceful than others. 84 Lumber drove millions of viewers to their site to watch the unbanned and full story of Mexican mother and daughter as they seek entry to the USA.

Emotional emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

The standout in the category, though, was Airbnb. Their message of acceptance blew up the second screen social scene. What’s more, this spot felt like an extension of the company’s tone of action … after they offered refuge to those most in need. Up to 100,000 will be helped … “To help people around the world facing displacement, we’ll work with our community of hosts to find not just a place to stay, but also a place to feel connected, respected, and a part of a community again.” The commercial itself was simply constructed and sensitively handled. Made us all stop and watch in silence.

Emotional emoji for 2017 super bowl ads


Another established grouping are commercials teasing the release of blockbuster movies. Now though, new shows tend to get into the action too. And boy, did we get some excited reactions in our family! Ghost in the Shell, Transformers, The Fate of the Furious, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and more all had their time—but too often they were reworked versions of already-released clips. Not so, though, for the Stranger Things 2 trailer!

Starting with an eighties commercial for Eggo, before quickly spooking everyone out with fast-cut scary snippets of the stories to come, including the kids in Ghostbusters outfits and a glimpse of a very red, very angry looking Upside Down! We clapped, hollered, high-fived and generally couldn’t contain our excitement—until we saw it’s not coming until Halloween 2017. Seriously Netflix, what’s with that!?

Angry emoji for 2017 super bowl ads

Sadly, I don’t think any of these spots are entering the Hall of Fame along with the Patriots this year—just not enough timelessness, as the zeitgeist was favored often. Nonetheless, they added to the spectacle that was Super Bowl LI for our family and millions like us.

The Magic Question: What’s as Important as Baseball?


First, a case study from Dr. Karl Hellman (Co-founder, Resultrek) and then an analysis by Frank Grillo (CMO, Harte Hanks).

Case study from Dr. Karl Hellman

In our 3-second attention span world, social media marketing often grabs attention with dramatic discounts: 30% off or more. But discounts erode profits and detract from brand equity: “Thirty percent off? What’s wrong with this product?”

A better way to grab attention is to borrow interest from a topic your target is already passionate about. When I need to find a way to grab attention fast, I ask myself, “What does the target customer care about as much as kids care about baseball?” Here is why.

P&G had a small regional soft drink called Sundrop which was facing a dire situation: No promotion funding in the face of low market share and intense direct competition (Mountain Dew) in a crowded category—think Coke and Pepsi. This lemon-lime flavored soda was sold only in the Southeast and had come to P&G in the 1980s as part of the acquisition of Orange Crush. As a regional product with no plans for rollout, Sundrop had a miniscule advertising budget. The brand manager’s challenge was to build share and volume for this tiny brand with no budget. She decided to focus on one geographic area where Sundrop had good distribution: rural North Carolina.

Sundrop’s major product characteristics were its sweet flavor and caffeine fortification. Early research showed that the product had particular appeal for 10 to 14 year old kids. With this in mind, the P&G team asked themselves what was really important in the lives of youths in these geographic areas? The answer they came up with was Little League baseball.

The core of the attention grabbing, promotional program the product management team developed was simple. Kids (and their parents) would collect Sundrop bottle caps and exchange them for Louisville Slugger baseball equipment – bats, mitts, gloves and balls. To stretch the Sundrop budget further, the brand manager persuaded Louisville Slugger to support a cross-tie promotion. The baseball company would donate the equipment, and in turn get invaluable (free to them) advertising and goodwill.

Next, the brand manager approached the local Little Leagues and convinced them to break their non-commercial tradition and endorse the cross-promotional program. The Little Leagues mailed letters to all their teams in the Sundrop territory describing the program and encouraging parents and kids to participate.

The program was successful beyond anyone’s wildest expectations. Whole communities participated in order to equip their local teams. As the success mounted, Louisville Slugger asked for financial assistance in fulfilling orders. Sundrop was delighted to respond; they had tripled their market share and sold thousands of gallons of soda as a result of the promotion. At that point, they could justify additional promotional expenses.

When you’re looking at a particularly difficult challenge of breaking through information clutter and overload, think about why those kids in little towns and farms all across North Carolina chose Sundrop over Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola or Pepsi. You can invoke this attention-grabbing rule: Build promotions that support values customers care about as strongly as kids care about baseball.

Analysis by Frank Grillo

The Sundrop case illustrates beautiful integration of multiple aspects of effective promotion. Each component is closely linked, like a Jenga tower where every block seems stuck to the others. It is hard to imagine this promotional home run without Louisville Slugger as the partner, support from the regional Little League organization, and so on.

The case highlights the value of testing: start small, try something new, and expand from there if successful. Tests can be very low cost, which makes them an ideal tool, especially when budgets are tight. They can help “money appear out of nowhere” because smart money tends to gravitate toward high-return marketing programs.

As is so often the case, market targeting and persona definition play a central role in the development of effective marketing programs. But the unique Sundrop situation forced the brand manager to apply them in innovative ways.

1. Market Targeting

Market targeting or segmentation is the process of dividing a market into smaller pieces. This helps marketers tailor their programs for greater impact. Today we like to talk about “markets of one” but this can offset program effectiveness.

Using a Strategic Game Board, we can imagine that Sundrop could justifiably anticipate a high ability to influence a small regional market. These markets are often ignored by the larger brands. Because of low market share, however, the best Sundrop could hope for was a moderate degree of success. When its market share tripled, everyone was surprised because this was a low probability outcome.

By accurately characterizing the chances of success as moderate, the brand manager could see a need to borrow equity from another brand. Shooting high, the brand manager went for Louisville Slugger. It made the bat swung by legends such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Lou Gehrig. Every Little Leaguer wanted to be a slugger, and some of this brand’s affinity would hopefully rub off on Sundrop.

2. Personas

The unique lesson about personas offered by the Sundrop case is its multi-dimensional application. Personas were nailed for kids, parents, local community groups and regional organizations. Each persona embraced little league baseball. Each resonated with Sundrop as an underdog brand as well as with Louisville Slugger as a champion’s brand. The task of collecting and submitting bottle caps was readily translated by all personas as “stretch but achievable.” Further:

  • Kids were willing to collect those bottle caps. They were motivated by the prospect of playing with new, “Slugger” equipment.
  • Parents were willing to buy Sundrop six-packs every week or so. In fact, it is easy to imagine a parent buying a six-pack of Sundrop and surreptitiously pouring it down the drain just so their kids could sleep at night but still have a good haul of bottle caps for the day.
  • Coaches were motivated to remind kids and parents about the promotion and the need for new equipment.
  • The co-sponsor was willing to donate free equipment because they saw the very real possibility of making life-long brand alliances.
  • Communities were willing to support the promotion, perhaps by making Sundrop available at social functions, or maybe even in school cafeterias. Perhaps they created collection centers to facilitate bottle cap counting and mailing.
  • The Little League organization was willing to make an exception and be more commercial for a higher good: support those oft-ignored rural communities and get them some badly needed new equipment.

The brand manager’s ability to find and focus on themes that were clearly important within her target market can’t be over-emphasized. It is nearly impossible to simultaneously characterize so many personas with such accuracy. But, it will never happen if you don’t try. That is the key lesson here: look for multiple personas throughout the distribution channel. Pinpoint the overlaps and tie-ins: these offer key opportunities for connections, synergy and market share growth.

Retailers: What You Need to Learn from Holiday 2016

For years, retailers have been told that to compete in the new ecommerce world, they need to have a well-established omnichannel organization. The 2016 holiday season proves that the time has come—and it is not going away. Retailers that do not have a solid omnichannel strategy that lets customers shop whenever and however they want to shop are going to be left in the dust.

How do I know this? Let’s look at the evidence.

Role of the physical store has changed

December store sales were down 10.7% and saw a 13.4% decline in shopper traffic. However, the average transaction value and sales per shopper metrics were up significantly (5.6% and 3%, respectively).

holiday 2016 lessons learned

First Data’s Holiday 2016 SpendTrend report found that overall consumer spending growth increased 4.7%. Whether using a PC, tablet or mobile device, Americans continued the recent trend of making their holiday purchases online as retail ecommerce transactions grew by 12%. Additionally, more than one fifth (21.3%) of all holiday spending was conducted online, a substantial increase from 15.4% last year.

This sends strong signals that the role of the physical store has changed. In this digitally-empowered era, consumers will shop for a specific subset of products in brick and mortar stores: fit products. These are higher value products that shoppers want to try out or try on in the actual store location. For items that are less expensive, commodity, or that they’re already familiar with, they’re buying online.

This indicates the need for a clear omnichannel strategy to take advantage of brick and mortar strengths and maximize opportunities.

Pressure to acquire customers through promotions

According to analysis by DynamicAction, retailers were holding on average 12% more inventory by mid-December than they were in 2015. This led to big pressure to discount to acquire more customers and move inventory. Retailers were therefore promoting much more heavily in 2016 than in 2015. Overall promotions were up 34% overall and 52% specifically within the holiday season.

The combination of too much inventory with too many promotions provides a mixed bag of results. As a retailer, you might have to promote what you were already promoting just to move it off the shelf. However, if you instead have a clear understanding of the buyer’s journey and an omnichannel strategy to support it, you know how customers are going to buy and can properly inform your inventory levels.

Black Friday lost its crown

Historically, Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year in terms of people that visited and purchased at a physical store. However, Black Friday was dethroned in 2016 by Christmas Eve Eve (December 23rd).

The biggest reason for this is that About 10 million more Americans shopped online than in stores over Black Friday weekend—it was a large weekend, but people were shopping online. Similarly, Target and Kohl’s reported record online sales on Thanksgiving. Again, this issue is not that people aren’t shopping; people have just changed how and where they are shopping, and retailers must understand and react to that reality.Holiday 2016 lessons learned

Omnichannel: The time is now

Holiday 2016 retail performance is proof that the role of stores has changed. Brands are converging their digital and physical touch points into a singular, seamless shopping experience—driven by a thorough understanding of the buyer’s journey. Successful brick and mortar stores are right-sized in footprint and located in high-trafficked areas, staffed optimally around peak traffic hours, and focused on brand awareness, customer acquisition and value-added services, complementing the long-term cultivation of shoppers through various digital touchpoints.

Omnichannel, omnichannel, omnichannel. You’re been hearing it for a while. Now is the time to act.

A Powerful, Reliable Way to Cut Through the Marcom Clutter

First, a case study from Dr. Karl Hellman (Co-founder, Resultrek) and then an analysis by Frank Grillo (CMO, Harte Hanks)

Case Study from Dr. Karl Hellman

We live in a cluttered marcom world: thousands of messages bombard us every day. Here’s how a professional services firm cut through and grew their business.

Stu Kahn, head of a major accounting firm’s litigation accounting practice, built a multi-million dollar practice in New York City the old fashioned way—by nurturing relationships with litigators, doing excellent work, and earning referrals. But as they looked for new clients, the partners in other cities found it impossible to get appointments with their local star litigators. To solve this problem, Kahn’s first step was to improve his understanding of these unavailable litigators by conducting a survey.

The first survey finding was that star litigators were too busy to be surveyed. Most interviews had to be completed before 7 a.m., after 6 p.m., or on Sundays. The survey incentive that finally worked was a contribution to the charity of the litigator’s choice. The second finding was that litigators almost never think about litigation accounting. To them it is a detail. They are the stars; litigation accounting is the supporting cast.

When the surveys were completed, Kahn found that most respondents had answered the question, “What is the most important issue you face?” with the answer, “Growing my practice.” Kahn then designed a promotion to address the star litigator growth challenge by surveying the very clients they hoped to reach: corporate counsels. He used the findings from this second survey to create a beautiful, graphic-rich presentation which described best practices for reaching corporate councils. Kahn coached 10 of his partners from around the country to deliver the presentation as if they were at the partner meeting of their top prospects.

The offer of a presentation on corporate counsels was so enticing that Kahn’s partners accessed every law firm they targeted. They were especially effective in gaining an invitation to speak at partner meetings. This allowed Kahn’s partners to meet all key decision makers in a single presentation. Importantly, there was only one slide about Kahn’s firm. This page reported that among corporate counsels, Kahn’s litigation accounting services had the highest quality ratings.

By gaining access to the senior members of their target accounts, Kahn cleared a major hurdle. Now his partners could rely on their well-established relationship-building and practice development techniques: bid and win small projects, execute them with excellence, bid on larger assignments, continue to deliver value, maintain strong client relationships, and seek referrals to other law firms.

Kahn’s program illustrates five points about strategy-driven B2B promotions:

  1. The more specific the better. Kahn didn’t ask his program to do everything. He had a specific gap in his strategy that needed to be filled, a specific barrier that needed to be overcome. And he narrowed his target to star litigators—a very specific and identifiable group.
  2. The more creative the better. Kahn didn’t revert to the old standbys—“cut the price” or “create a brochure.” He thought outside the box and used education, information, and market research as the program.
  3. The more client-centered the better. Kahn stood in the shoes of his prospect and thought, “What does my prospect really care about that I can appeal to?” i.e., borrow interest from?
  4. The more measurable the better (number of invitations received, number of introductions resulting from presentations, number of trial projects sold). Whether the program was working—or needed a course correction—was never in doubt.
  5. The more supportive of brand image the better. The knock on promotions in the B2B world is that they often erode brand equity. For example, a price promotion raises the question, “What’s wrong with this product that it needs to be discounted?” Kahn’s program built brand equity, putting his partners in the role of “expert presenter.”

Analysis by Frank Grillo

This case study from Karl Hellman provides a wonderful example of how to cut through the marcom clutter. It outlines how to: (1) define the target market; (2) identify what these customers care about; and (3) find creative ways to communicate with them.

Traditionally, professional services organizations like Kahn’s rely heavily on B2B sellers to do everything from educating customers to answering questions about customer bills. Conversely, a new wave of B2B companies have swung the pendulum far to the other direction: expecting websites and social media to handle it all—even providing forms to document inquiries.

If sales results prove disappointing, the finger pointing may be directed to either the sales force or the social media marketers. Yet, the real culprit is more likely the lack of integrated marketing, in which the strategic marketer identifies and acts on the need for strategy-driven programs designed to break down the barriers to customer purchase.

B2B product strategy must include a clear definition of target markets, points-of-difference from competitors that are compelling to customers, and proof that makes its claims credible. Stu Kahn’s firm had all of these strategic elements—but still could not expand their business.

B2B companies need to pinpoint exactly why potential customers aren’t buying their products. Then they can develop specific programs to overcome these barriers. Success is maximized when we examine the challenge from the customer’s viewpoint.

The starting premise is always this: The marketing process that matters most happens inside the customer’s head. Therefore, any successful B2B strategy must align with the customer as they move through the mental process of having a need – but perhaps not even knowing it – all the way through to being a loyal, repeat advocate for the firm and its products.

There were three essential steps to success in this case, and each can be tied to a basic marketing principle.

1. Market Targeting

The first step toward success for Kahn was to realize that their New York practice thrived on strong relationships with star litigators. But this realization was not enough. Kahn also needed to determine whether this model could be replicated in other cities. At Harte Hanks we use the Strategic Game Board to assess the attractiveness of a potential target market. We look at the ability to influence and the likelihood of success in a two-by-two matrix. While star litigators offered tremendous opportunity for Kahn’s firm, they had low ability to influence them. This problem was preventing success in other cities.

2. Personas

The survey of top litigators revealed essential components of what is called a persona, or the most prominent drivers of purchase behavior for a target market. Star litigators were extremely busy, uninterested in accounting, motivated by revenue growth, and intensely focused on serving corporate counsels.

The star litigator persona provided the “eureka moment” in this case: Kahn could greatly increase his firm’s ability to influence star litigators in other cities by discovering what motivated corporate counsels. If Kahn gained insight to the concerns of corporate counsels, he would have something of high value for star litigators across the country. In effect, Kahn defined personas not only for his immediate target market—star litigators—but also for his customer’s customer: corporate counsels.

3. Buyer’s Journey

Kahn targeted partner meetings as the best venue for presenting his findings on corporate counsels. This insight may seem obvious in hindsight, but can be quite difficult to discover without a structured and comprehensive approach. The buyer’s journey concept is a powerful tool for exploring the hundreds of small jobs that must be performed as the customer moves through their purchase journey. It also helps you find the key leverage points for differentiation.

In Kahn’s case, a buyer’s journey analysis could have determined that multiple partners would need to agree to adopt a new litigation accounting system, and that law firms often place professional development on their partner meeting agendas. Kahn could kill two birds with one stone: provide professional development to his target market, and favorably position his accounting services among the entire partner group.

How to Use Combinatorics to Generate Good Ideas


How do you get to the answer of determining how one agency sets themselves apart? In my experience in the agency world, most, if not all, advertising agencies talk like they are selling you the same thing: 50% creative idea generation plus 50% management and organization of those ideas so they can conjure up a truly innovative execution.

While it is critical for agency creative teams to do their homework to learn about what attracts and retains customers, it is not enough. Good agencies must incorporate a sound process or methodology for taking what they have learned to the next level to generate ideas and to be able to innovate on them successfully. Understanding where good ideas come from and how they come to life will help you evaluate which creative agencies stand out from the rest.

So, where DO good ideas and innovative executions of those ideas come from? One answer is combinatorics, a mathematical concept dealing with combinations of objects in a set.

How does math relate to creativity?

Creative ideas that lead to innovation is a process of recombinant search. Every creative idea that moves through an idea generation process can be innovated upon and turned into a realistic solution to a problem. This can be thought of as an assembling of a new combination of components, ideas or processes.

In other words, successful ideas and innovations are an output of recombination or blending of other ideas.

In his book Paid Attention – Innovative Advertising for a Digital World, Faris Yakob lays out a very simple creative process on how to have ideas, broken down into 6 steps. Recombination is the fourth key step. According to Yakob, creatives bring any and all ideas from various sources and blend them together to form new ideas by combining them in different ways.

For example, Yakob explains that using the elements of the brand behavior model, we can apply a simple application of combinatorics to these model elements to help serve as a solid starting point for generating creative ideas.

The elements of the brand behavior model include:

  • Product
  • Service
  • Action
  • Content
  • Tool
  • Advertising

Combinatorics says that we can simply pair these elements up in different ways to create new idea areas such as:

  • Content + Tool = Content Tool (e.g. tool that helps consumers to create content)
  • Advertising + Tool = Advertising Tool (e.g. tool to interact with the advertising)
  • Action + Content = Action Content (e.g. content that is reportage of a brand action)
  • Product + Service = Product Service (e.g. create a service extension of the product, or a product extension of the service)

These can in turn be recombined or blended in the following way:

  • Content Tool + Advertising = Ad campaign generated by using a content tool
  • Product Service + Content = Content that demonstrates the service extension, or shows people using it.

Anyone can create a simple combination engine by writing all ideas on separate cards, shuffling them and then laying them out on a table to see which old ideas can be combined to create something new.

While combinatorics is not the only approach to generating ideas and executions of those ideas, it is an elegant and simple (and innovative) way to getting the creative idea generation process going.

CMOs: This is the Year to Focus on Artificial Intelligence

execs focus on artificial intelligene

We all know by now that consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to marketing and the customer experience in 2017. To meet their ever-increasing expectations, we’ll need to get to know them at a deeper level than ever before and speak to them more contextually than we’ve dreamed possible.

I’ve put forth that in 2017, we will be challenged to completely rethink some of our long-held beliefs and restructure ingrained processes to cater to each individual, in the moment. We’ve established the need to think beyond one-to-one marketing, focus on the small data and provide return on attention (ROA).

The final key element that I believe needs our attention in 2017 is artificial intelligence.

Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI

Artificial intelligence is going to be hugely important in this process of getting to know our customers and speaking to them contextually. It will bring a whole new level of insight that we don’t have right now.

When we think about driving context with our customers, there is an infinite number of variables to consider. Currently, we have to test our own theories as to what is working and what is not. This is limited because we have to come up with and ask the questions in the first place. AI will help us to continually refine our data and our messaging by making our understanding of what’s working and why it’s working easier to uncover.

An AI engine can identify positive or negative trends or anomalies that we should pay attention to, give us the potential variables to test, and test them for us. Given behavioral patterns, an AI engine will start doing A-Z testing on its own. If you come up with some rule sets and let the engine apply and learn from them, you can get to a magical place. With an AI engine watching every set of conversations, watching everything that works and doesn’t work in those conversations, and applying the most appropriate content given the context, we can get as close as possible to personalized dialog with each individual in each moment.

This is crawl, walk, run. 2017 is the time to begin learning about artificial intelligence and planning for how your organization can integrate it beyond the simple efficiency efforts and process improvements it is currently used for.

What the Future Looks Like

Let’s bring this back to my shoe story.

If the retailer I had visited online had implemented the practices in this series of articles (think beyond one-to-one, look at the small data, provide ROA, use AI), my experience would have looked completely different.

When I visited the website and browsed for shoes, I may have received a single follow-up email reminding me about them (and possibly some similar shoes or complimentary items). If I didn’t interact with the email or visit again, the retailer would have read my digital cues that indicated I was only browsing and stopped contacting me. This would be the equivalent of picking up the shoes once in the store, declining to try them on, then leaving. Clearly, I’m not ready to buy.

On the other hand, if I visited the site multiple times and opened and clicked on the emails they sent me, I would expect a different response. This would be the equivalent of visiting the physical store and repeatedly picking up the same shoes over the course of half an hour. Or perhaps I return to the store on several occasions to look at the same shoes. In either instance, I would expect a salesperson to approach me again and ask if I am ready to try the shoes on. Similarly, I would expect to receive multiple, relevant communications from the retailer if I was actively engaged online.

Perhaps the salesperson in this story would also notice that I am dressed in business attire during my visit and tailor his recommendations to additional professional attire. Or he may notice that my young daughter is with me and that Easter is coming up and offer to show us some dress shoes for her Easter outfit. He may even notice the Runner’s World magazine peeking out of my bag and offer to show me the latest barefoot running shoes they just got in. All of these human cues are possible to distinguish and act on online, too—with the right in-the-moment data and the correct content and technology.

To be really good at this is not something and of us do overnight. It’s something we will build and then build on. And I’m more than excited to dive in head first in 2017.

Why Data-Driven Creative is so Powerful—and How to Use It

data-driven creative makes an impression on a mobile user

Data, data, data. It’s at the heart of just about everything today and getting cleverer by the minute. But what does that mean for creativity? Right now, data-driven creative is a much-discussed topic in the marketing world. And for decades, we’ve been marrying data and creativity to make amazing things happen. Here are just some of the reasons we champion the winning pair and some top tips for making it work for your business.

Data increases relevance and illuminates results

With people spending an average of four hours on mobile devices seeing countless marketing messages every day, they expect a whole lot more from brands. And that’s exactly where data can become your best friend. The days of posting ads and ‘hoping for the best’ are history. Insights drawn from data make creative more targeted and rewarding.

As Yahoo’s Chief Revenue Officer, Lisa Utzschneider, shares:

“Opening up some of the biggest opportunities in digital advertising today, data is becoming a currency all of its own. It allows businesses to better identify their ideal audiences and engage with them in a more meaningful, effective way.”

Insights gleaned from data provide focus, understanding, assurance. They give us a clear-cut and explicit view into audience behaviors, what they’re looking for and how they like to be engaged with. This offers brands the power to deliver the most relevant creative communications in the ways people want to receive them.

Insights also help to demonstrate the true value of creativity. Gone are the days of things just looking pretty. In an increasingly digital world, data uncovers results and plays an important role in confirming return on investment.

Emotion and efficiency

It’s undeniable that data holds great power. But as Stephen Beringer, Publicis Media’s Data, Technology and Innovation Chief summarizes, ‘an algorithm cannot come up with the perfect gift for your wife’ (not just yet anyway). That takes creativity. And when you bring the two together, you’ve got something special.

Creativity makes people feel and think. Data helps to ensure that they’re feeling and thinking the right things. It’s the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. The foundations that spark those eureka moments of inspiration. Using data to fuel your creative keeps you from taking a shot in the dark and enables you to efficiently deliver the right, most impactful messages.

Making the most of data-driven creativity

So, now we’ve established it’s not an oxymoron, how can you use data to better inspire your creative output? Here are three top tips:

1. Question before you analyze

With a plethora of data out there, it can be easy to fall into the trap of collecting as much as you can. But to really make the most of data-driven creativity, you need to be clear on the answers you want from data. Have specific questions in mind, and consider the small data. Do you want to know the competitors your audiences are interested in? Or, perhaps, the sweet spot of time when people are most likely to buy from you?

Having clear questions makes it easier to uncover what you need from the data and shape well-informed, insightful creative.

2. Make it actionable

It’s not just what you know, but how you act upon it. Utzschneider explains:

“Understanding your audience comes first, but using that information to devise more relevant, valuable, creative and empowering experiences is the path to greater business success.”

When we translate data into easily understandable insights which inform powerful creative, we unlock its true value.

3. Join the dots

Silos are one of the biggest barriers to data-driven creativity. The best results are achieved when data, creative and technology work together. We favor a collective approach here, with our data experts working collaboratively alongside creative teams and technology people, throughout the process to build on clever insights.

Want to see how data can inspire award-winning work for some of the world’s biggest brands? Check out our Creative Services page.

ROA: The Most Important Marketing Metric in 2017

Cashier provides ROA, the most important marketing metric

We’ve been discussing the importance of meeting customer demands for context and personalization in 2017. So far, we have established that we need to think beyond one-to-one marketing and focus on the small data to succeed in this Age of ‘Me,’.

The next area all marketing leaders must critically examine this year is content. Analyst Rebecca Lieb recently said,Context will be the foundation of the next phase of content marketing.” I agree, and context can be achieved by matching small data with small messaging.

Match Small Data with Small Messaging

We are living in an attention-based economy. There is real value to getting some of my attention, so you, as a marketer, better provide me something relevant and valuable in return.

This places a whole different obligation on marketing. Marketing itself has to impart value in the interaction separate from whether or not the consumer actually does business with you. This is a very challenging thought as a marketer. Once—and only once—you have shared value with the prospective customer, you can then start engaging in dialog about doing business with you. The point of content should always be first to inform, then dialog, then sell.

We call this providing return on attention (ROA) for the consumer. It’s the most important marketing metric, and it can only be achieved by matching the small data you’ve gathered to small messaging. Contextual interactions are achieved by understanding who your customer is in the moment (through the small data) and matching the exact right message to her needs in the right moment—or at least as close as we can get (small messaging).

Measuring Content with ROA

The success of our content therefore needs to be measured by return on attention (ROA). There are two sides to measuring ROA. The first is having an understanding of whether or not your content actually provided some value for those that interfaced with it. Second, did getting their attention get you a better, faster buyer? While it’s simply arrogant to think we can change a buyer’s individual journey to purchase, we can make the buyer journey more effective, remove obstacles, and accelerate the buyer down the path to purchase.

This is really new. We’re currently grappling with how to quantify and measure ROA, and it’s something we’ll continue to explore in 2017.

For more insight on ROA, check out this article by John Hagel on Then make sure to read the last post in my 2017 recommendations series next week: Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI.

Great Marketers Will Focus on Small Data for Success This Year

small data about your prospects paints a clearer picture

We’ve established that this is the year of the consumer. We’re living in The Age of ‘Me’, and that means that as marketers, we really need to understand who our customers and our prospects are—and we need to use that to speak to them contextually.

I started off my 2017 recommendations series by explaining that—rather than interacting contextually—marketing has been neglecting to seek out and react to our consumers’ cues as they provide them (like my experience with the online retailer and the shoes). The first step to remedying this is thinking beyond one-to-one marketing to one-to-one in the moment marketing. The next piece of the puzzle is looking at the small data for a better picture of your consumer, at a particular point in time.

It’s the Small Data that Matters; Stop Counting Everything

You don’t need to have a ton of information on me to understand what’s driving me. You need the right piece of information about me at a moment in time.

Robert McNamara was the Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War. He espoused the notion that for any problem, you should define objectives, make a plan and measure your success. In order to determine whether or not we were successful in the war, he measured what he had available to him: bodies. He concluded that, because we were killing more people than we were losing, we must be winning. Clearly, that was not the case.

In marketing, our vision is often clouded by the same mistake: measuring what is easy or readily available to measure at the expense of what is useful to measure. We rely on clicks, store visits and other single data points that don’t really tell us what is happening in any given situation. And we collect a whole bunch of this information. Another CMO I know likes to say, “I’m looking for a needle in a haystack, and you people keep throwing hay on top of it.” We count everything we can count, but we are counting things that don’t matter—or we don’t understand the information we have.

Instead of looking at all of the data that’s readily available and possible to collect, we need to look at the real indications that we have a ready buyer. It’s our job to determine what an interested buyer looks like—and if there are some data points in that description that we can’t easily get to, it’s our job to figure out how to get them. This often means breaking down walls inside the organization to share information at a human level rather than at a channel or interaction level. It can also mean bringing in third party enhancing data that help you understand who the buyer is.

Once we know what this buyer looks like, we can build algorithms to help us identify more buyers and a content engine that allows us to match the exact right message to the right person in the right moment—or at least as close as we can get.

For more insight on small data, see Martin Lindstrom’s article on

The Next Step is Content: Small Messaging to Match Small Data

The importance of that message and the content it’s contained in is the third thing we must rethink as marketers this year. Check it out in my next post next week.

Retailers: What You Need to Know to Win Against All-Powerful Amazon

Many retailers are beginning to feel like competing with a dominant force like Amazon is a losing battle.

In the recent article “Can your brand win vs. Amazon?,” CEO Mike Edwards examines the struggle for vendors and retailers to remain profitable in the shadow of the online retail giant. Amazon offers lower prices, convenience, a wide selection, product recommendations, a range of shipping options and a personalized customer experience. They’ve set the standard for customer expectations, and if you ignore that standard, you won’t succeed.

But there is reason for hope. In fact, as Edwards points out, smaller retailers, especially those with brick and mortar locations, have distinct advantages over ecommerce giants like Amazon.

Our research of five major brick and mortar retailers plus Amazon indicates that the natural advantages for brick and mortar stores lie in three key areas of the buyer journey.

The Buyer’s Journey

Traditionally, we’ve thought of the sales funnel as a linear process consisting of six steps: awareness, interest, consideration, intent, evaluation and purchase. But the buyer journey is not linear at all—it’s a very convoluted, self-directed path based on what the customer is trying to achieve. In order to understand the buyer’s journey, we therefore have to understand the buyer’s end goal.

Every CMO needs to first and foremost be asking: What job is the customer trying to do?

We have therefore defined the buyer’s journey through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done theory. With this approach, there are 15 steps through which the buyer advances to choose, acquire and use the product he wishes to hire to complete his job.

15 steps of the buyer’s journey

Brick and mortar stores are uniquely positioned to improve the experience for—and grab the business of—customers at following steps in the buyer journey:

  1. Product identification
  2. Product selection
  3. Returns

1. Product Identification

Product identification is the step in the buyer’s journey when the consumer is determining which solution(s) to consider to solve his problem or complete his job—and a retailer can help the consumer decide which products to consider. Brick and mortar’s have the advantage here because they are able to provide problem solving experts.

For example, if someone is going skiing for the first time, he may go into a store to buy or rent skis. He may not know that he also needs poles, goggles, boots, nice socks, hand warmers and more. The store expert can help this buyer make sure he has everything he needs to make his first skiing experience enjoyable. It is difficult to find a comparable problem solving experts online—looking at the “Customers also bought…” just doesn’t cut it.

2. Product Selection

This is the step of the buyer’s journey in which the buyer chooses the solution to acquire. There are some products that consumers really want to evaluate in person. Try them on, hold them, feel them, test them out or consult with an expert (e.g. Apple Genius) before selecting an item to purchase. Scott Neslin, Professor of Marketing at Dartmouth, calls these products fit products.

Brick and mortar retail stores have a distinct advantage when it comes to the selection of fit products. Customers can sit on their prospective sofas, try on jeans, ask questions about how their climbing gear should fit, etc.

The Samsung 837 store in New York does a wonderful job helping customers test out Samsung products. The store offers the opportunity to try out and play with the latest Samsung products without having to purchase them. It also offers customer care services with troubleshooting and workshops for new and existing users. Finally, the store has an impressive VR tunnel where customers can step into a virtual world and be transported anywhere—a studio, a kitchen, a playroom, a living room—all where customers can see how Samsung products would fit into their everyday lives. 

Samsung helps customers to picture products in their lives to win against amazon
Virtual reality in Samsung 837 store. Image Credit: Samsung

3. Returns

Unfortunately for retailers, returns are also part of the buyer’s journey. We all know that if the product a customer buys doesn’t meet his expectations (or satisfactorily complete the job he is hiring it for), he may return it. What our research discovered, however, is that customers are more likely to buy an item when the prospect of returning it seems easy and convenient. Repackaging and mailing an item back seems cumbersome, which is why retailers with a physical location have an advantage at this step in the journey.

Further, our interviews indicated that, while an easy return process increases propensity to purchase, it do NOT increase returns—most people do not end up taking the products back. Simply knowing that they can easily do so if they choose to makes them more likely to buy.

Retailers should therefore allow for—and even encourage—in-store returns and aim to make the process as simple as possible. The best return policies are those with no questions asked.  Kohl’s takes this approach: they have no time restrictions on returns, and they don’t care if you have a receipt. Athleta also has a great return policy. Unlike at sister companies Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy, you can return lightly used items to Athleta any time to receive a refund. The store offers a give-it-a-workout guarantee so that customers can try out the performance wear before committing.

good return policies help to win against amason
Athleta upstages sister companies with its return policy.

Find and Optimize Your Advantages

While it may seem impossible to compete with the likes of Amazon, what makes your business different may also make it better. As eBags CEO Mike Edwards says, “The biggest weakness of Amazon is they do not have stores or OMNI partnerships that make sense.” Forbes agrees. According to a recent article, “Retail companies with a physical store presence capture the majority of retail sales” (which is why Amazon has jumped on the bandwagon, trying to catch up to you).

We believe that understanding the buyer’s journey through the lens of the jobs-to-be-done model allows retailers to find their biggest opportunities to improve their customer experience—and compete against the giants like Amazon.

CMOs: Where Our Heads Need to be for Success in 2017

Marketing success in 2017

Reading through the many 2017 marketing predictions, there is one resounding theme: consumers are running the show. As Forrester says, all markets are on the move in response to consumer demands—even utility companies are launching customer experience initiatives.

We’re living in The Age of ‘Me’, and that means that as marketers, we really need to understand who our customers and our prospects are to speak to them contextually. In 2017, we will be challenged to completely rethink some of our long-held beliefs and restructure ingrained processes to cater to each individual, in the moment.

Let me start with a story.

I recently went to a retail website and looked at shoes. I liked the shoes, so I gave them my email address. That day, I got an email about the shoes, along with two additional emails. I didn’t open any of them. The next day, I got five emails; I only read one of them. They continued to send me five emails a day. After three days of being digitally accosted, I returned to the website and unregistered from email—even though I liked the shoes.

If I walk into a physical shoe store and pick up a pair of shoes, I might expect an associate to ask me if I need help with anything. But I would not expect the associate to ask me every five minutes for the next hour, “Can I help you now? How about now? Now? Still doing okay? How about now?” I also wouldn’t expect to hear, “What about shirts? Can I interest you in shirts? Or pants?” That is the human equivalent to the emails I received from this retailer. They hounded me even though I was just browsing and didn’t read their emails. They did nothing to react to my cues even though they had all of the information they needed to do so.

Ten years ago, the majority of the omnichannel marketing we execute would have been person-to-person. We would have been in the same room having sales appointments or talking with customers. We would have been seeing people lean forward, cross arms, shake heads…we would have adjusted conversations based on cues. Now these cues happen in a digital environment. Technology lets us see that these human cues ARE still there, but we need to pay attention to them.

Currently, marketing is obtuse and doesn’t think about the human cues. The whole marketing journey is bringing the human context back in, responding in kind to the person and how they’re acting.

In order to do that, we need to shift our mindsets and processes in several key ways:

  1. Think Beyond 1:1 Marketing
  2. It’s the Small Data that Matters; Stop Counting Everything
  3. Content: You Must Provide Return on Attention (ROA)
  4. Make the Move from Manual to Automatic with AI

Think Beyond 1:1 Marketing

One-to-one marketing is no longer good enough—even though we’re just getting there. It’s really one-to-one in the moment. While I’m always myself, there are things that make me behave differently, and there are different roles I play in my life. Contextually, I could be a CEO, a spouse, a father, a son. All of these are the same person, but the motivations behind buying something for myself versus buying something for my child that’s about to go off to college for the first time are very different. The things that are driving me to buy and the way that I behave are very much impacted by who I am at that moment.

As a marketer, you need to have the insights, as best you can, into who you are marketing to way beyond demographics and traditional personas. You need to know more than the fact that I’m Frank, a 51-year-old guy who lives in Denver. You need to know who Frank is in this moment. What parts of his personality are driving him?

To do this in 2017, you need to look at the small data, which I’ll discuss in my next post. Stay tuned.

How to Create Ads that Grab Attention—But Not at the Cost of Relevance


Attention has become more than simply an ingredient of advertising–it’s become the currency of success. In today’s digital age, marketers look to create ‘thumb-stopping moments’; unique periods of time where consumers see enough value in what they’re being shown to pause and fully absorb. Moments that deliver empathy-sparking cues; resonate with an individual’s humour or hit deep, emotional triggers hidden away in the brain’s hippocampus for years.

Understanding how these moments actually work, however, is a complex affair. Not least because they tend to be situation‐specific; with communication channel, messaging, sender, receiver, context all defining sometimes unique situations. What does it take to capture an audience and drive them towards a desired behaviour? Three key components, according to advertising psychology: content, persuasion and attention. The first two are relatively simple to achieve. It often isn’t until we get to attention, that we often discover the proverbial spanner in the works.

As advertisers, we approach getting ‘eyes on’ our content by either paying for an audience (e.g. through media purchases) or by earning it through organic activity (such as well architected websites, or sought-after video content). But getting an ad in front of someone is only the beginning. Duration is easy to track, but it’s a poor measure of true engagement. It’s the intensity with which someone views an advert that shows how interested they are as a viewer. We may drive an hour to work every day, but how engaged we are with what’s happening around us will vary greatly from day to day.

So with interest being the key to gaining attention, here are my top three areas to focus on:

1. ‘Reach’ on its own isn’t enough, relevance matters

With newsfeeds becoming increasingly cluttered, honing in on what an audience is looking for has never been more important. Paid media is now the norm so ads can be put in front of consumers with ease. But ensuring they resonate and are meaningful is what adds true value.

2. Minimum interaction for the maximum relevance

Repetitive. Forceful. Annoying. When the t-shirt you looked at once starts following you around every site you visit, you can quickly move from disengaged to outraged. Finding the triggers that sit in the key intersect between the interaction-relevance Venn diagram can be the difference between a browser and a buyer.

3. Respect what your audiences want

Actually getting someone’s attention is becoming increasingly rare, so when you do: respect it. A sales-focused message isn’t always right. Consumers don’t always want to be sold to – they want to be listened and engaged with. Creating a valuable message is just as important as defining the relevant channel to say it through. Get both right, and you’re on to a winner.

5 Powerful Lessons Social Media Marketers Can Learn from Trump. So Great!

We’ve been hearing a lot lately about Donald Trump’s tweets and tweeting behavior (like here and here and here). Dan Rather explains that this is because he is the first “social president,” just like John. F. Kennedy was the first “television president.” They were not the first presidents to use these media, but they were the first to use them effectively. Therefore, the tweeting is newsworthy.

Lucky for us, marketers can learn a thing or two from Trump about how to effectively use social. He’s provided us with both good examples and things to avoid as we build our brands on social media. Here are five of those lessons.

1. Stay on message.

While we’ve seen some rants and raves, Donald does an overall excellent job incorporating his main messages across his twitter feed. For example, we often see various forms of his campaign slogan, Make America Great Again:

Trump’s Twitter feed also shows a consistent message of media bias:

Whether or not you agree with his messages, one thing is for sure: Trump’s core messaging is consistent, and it’s easy to see what he stands for by following his feed. Brands should follow suit with their own core messaging.

John Deere does a solid job translating this best practice to the corporate world. The company is committed to those linked to the land, which comes across prominently in their Twitter feed. Their handle often tweets about supporting and engaging in conversation with a variety of different farming groups and associations:

2. Engage, share, reinforce – don’t just talk at people.

Trump loves retweeting people who share his views. Firstly, it makes his followers feel like he’s listening and is interested in their feedback. Secondly, it shows to a wider audience that people like him and believe in what he has to say. And you only have to look at TripAdvisor or Amazon to see how influential positive peer recommendations and reviews can be.

While not all brands have the multimillion-strong following of Donald Trump, engaging with followers and sharing their feedback can still prove very powerful. In a world rife with marketing messages, echoing positive customer comments is an authentic and effective alternative to self-promotion. Sharing’s caring, after all.

Like Trump, Starbuck’s also does a great job of retweeting their followers’ positive feedback, like the following:

3. Make the sentiment clear.

Headlines that affect very strong emotions—whether positive or negative—often get the most engagement. The same can be assumed of tweets. “Power words” also increase engagement. Trump consistently makes the sentiment in his tweets very clear, often adding descriptive exclamations at the end of his tweets.

This post shows both positive sentiment and uses power words (enjoy, great):

This post shows a strong negative sentiment and uses several power words (biased, funny, sad, worse):

For more engagement with your posts, try incorporating positive or negative sentiment, along with power words. To evaluate your social posts (or headlines), check out CoSchedule’s headline analyzer.

From a corporate perspective, Content Marketing Institute makes excellent use of power words with their brand account, but could use some work improving sentiment.

This tweet has positive sentiment and uses a whopping four power words (delay, exclusive, gain, secure):

This tweet also uses four power words (avoid, free, join, mistakes) but has a neutral sentiment:

While I’ve already mentioned them once, Starbuck’s deserves another pat on the back for their use of sentiment (all positive, in their case) and power words, too.

The power words here are beautiful and bliss:

Power words are like and gift:

4. Check your facts.

While The Donald is great at many things social, this could be considered one of his weak spots. For example, Trump was in Scotland opening a new golf course when the UK voted to leave the EU. He tweeted that Scotland was “…going wild over the vote. They took their country back, just like we will take America back.”

The problem was, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Trump was met with many less than favorable reactions to the mistake. To avoid this type of embarrassment and backlash, double check that the facts are on your side before posting on social media. And on a related note, make sure you’re not sharing fake news.

Delta was also caught and held responsible for sending inaccurate tweets. In this case, the company tweeted a message about the World Cup that was intended to convey a score of 2-1, USA versus Ghana. Unfortunately, Delta was quickly informed that there are, in fact, no giraffes in Ghana (an ironic geography lesson for a company that should know its geography). Be sure to check your photos for accuracy, too.

delta tweets inaccurate photo for world cup

5. The Internet is forever.

Trump has also been caught deleting contentious tweets in the past. While deleting a social post might remove it from your feed, the Internet never forgets. Fans and followers often screenshot favorite and/or contentious posts that later show up to haunt their authors. And, if enough time has passed before deletion, search engines index the posts. The lesson here? Make sure you want your post to live forever.

Many brands have also made the blunder of sending off offensive, racist, insensitive or otherwise insulting tweets, only to attempt to delete them later. As this article highlights, many of the posts live on to ensure continued embarrassment.

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