Digital transformation…..where to start?

Digital disruption the acceleration of business change

Digital is the main reason just over half of the companies on the Fortune 500 have disappeared since the year 2000.” – Pierre Nanterme, CEO Accenture

In my line of work I’m fortunate to hear from a global audience from all walks of life. Through these connections I get the opportunity to soak up experiences and tap into their expertise and knowledge in an open and collaborative way. Whether its over a Skype call, email, LinkedIn, and if fortunate in-person over a one-on-one, the conversations surface the balancing act of business and marketing transformation from the physical (or traditional) to an online or connected path towards digital nirvana.

I’ve found a growing trend of people tasked with building a passage of digital transformation. It’s driven from either the business is forced as a result of new market disruptions, or catch-up to the evolving customer journey in how individuals connect, or new ways to enable the supply chain to drive efficiency and new scale.

It’s often never a one-size-fits-all reason, and every business has their story of what’s driving this transformation. But at the end of the day it all points back to building better value – which seems to be the new normal. Continue reading “Digital transformation…..where to start?”

Re-invent CX to shift your business

How has the marriage of big data and the CX (customer experience) evolved the relationship between your business and customers?

Disruptive leaders and trail blazers tend to have a common success trait – grow and re-invent business maturity by embedding CX at the root of almost all things business.

The CMO’s and CTO’s behind these leading businesses have a keen sense to look at the halo of data available across the business, and its underpinning link that drives the evolution in business and marketing transformation. Continue reading “Re-invent CX to shift your business”

Operationalize for Effective Content Marketing

marketing transformation and a content marketing strategy

Transformation has been the theme with CMO’s the last few years, and will likely continue over the next few.

This marketing transformation we keep hearing, appears driven from the rate of change in customer behavior, and the deep insights now attainable from the wealth of data DNA available in their digital environment.

We’ve seen this DNA trail of an individuals digital behavior give rise to numerous new technologies at marketings fingertips, which never before has provided marketers so much understanding and insights into the customer and deliver marketing effectiveness at a level never witnessed before.

In my past experiences helping leading transformation in marketing, I’ve uncovered a guiding theme that often determines success or failure. Marketing leaders seek to truly make the leap, it begins with evolving the culture within marketing, and across the organization.

The transformation begins with shaping collaboration; instill agility and empowerment, marketing teams with technical skillsets (marketing technologists), and a data-driven mindset across an organizations cross-functional structure (marketing, product, sales, customer service, etc.).

The transformation journey embeds digitalizing the cornerstones of the marketing mix, an integrated marketing technology stack, and cross-pollinating these new tools with marketing technologists across a holistic environment between marketing, IT, sales, and even customer service.

So what does this have to do with effective content marketing? Everything. Continue reading “Operationalize for Effective Content Marketing”

Design rewarding customer experiences

customer centricity focus in digital marketing

Did you know there is a close link between the degree of digital acumen that CMOs display and the financial performance of their business? A survey published by IBM shows that among over 4,000 CMO’s and c-levels surveyed, 43% financially outperformed their counterparts who are considered Digital Pacesetters.

Not all marketers are the same. Predominantly among the enterprise level there are 3 types of senior marketers among CMO’s and Marketing Directors. You have your Traditionalists, Social Strategists and your Digital Pacesetters.  Each one is on a different path to digital nirvana, but which one is on the right financial path?

There is a HUGE gap between c-level aspiration, and action. And differences in those who financially outperformed their counterparts in IBM’s survey is not academic.

The difference is the journey of experience and application in the digital world, among the speed at which you move in the evolving commercial landscape. There is a direct relationship between the speed of leadership, and the speed of your business or organization.

The attributes among these 43% that drove financial performance could be themed around emphasis on the customer experience at all points in the customer online journey. And at the root of this, it’s summed up to having the right Digital Pacesetters among their team of Traditionalist marketers who understand and deliver on…

  1. Using data analytics to get a much deeper understanding of the customer; individually as well as collectively.
  2. Designing rewarding customer experiences.
  3. Capitalizing on new technologies to provide those experiences in a smart way, and efficiently.

Most senior Digital marketers and CMO’s will agree, there has never been a time like before where a microscopic lens is needed on customer experiences. The market landscape has changed rapidly over the years for both BtoB and BtoC where the customer lifecycle (article: are customers killing your business?) has changed.

customer centricity focus in digital marketing

To many traditionalist marketers haven’t caught up to this epiphany yet, but sink or swim they will get pulled into the reality marketing has shifting from being just a cost-center, to now include it as a revenue-center. The need for outperforming in a marketers financial performance will be based on how will they can get hyper-personal with customers, and create experiences for them along their decision-making or buying journey.

In the digital world, never has businesses been forced into such transparency. Customers will move their business, and as a result of how digital channels can influence business growth….not to mention the transparency social media provides to keep business values and ethics firmly grounded.

The wealth of information and real-time access customers have on a business has divided the share of mind among the market, among the share of wallet in the competitive landscape.

The behaviors and actions customers take across the digital landscape, among available technologies, has also opened a new paradigm of getting to know the customer.

Customers are no longer just an account, or a profile. We can capture and understand their behaviour across multi-channels and touchpoints (article: influence conversions in multi-channel touchpoint), their firmographics and ultimately what makes them tick to influence their decision-making…and the profit of the business.

As a result of this pivot in how customers in both B2B and BtoC landscape conduct business, its created a compelling challenge to better define and understand the customer to deliver consistent positive experiences. And the goal should aim to accomplish this on the hyper-personal level.

The hyper-personal understanding of customers is a major aspiration among CMO’s today, which is probably why we see more and more marriages (or dates) between the CMO and CIO. Marry the marketing needs with the technology and data to drive value.

The reality today is there still exists a major gap or digital divide among both small businesses and enterprises to address the customer experience. Everything from UX-centered product design, data-driven insight, analytical and quantified marketing performance, and even brand.

Addressing these areas is just the beginning to deliver on the CMO’s aspiration of treating customers as individuals, to build stronger relationships with those customer via digital channels and make wiser decisions informed by hard evidence (think marketing sex with data).

The challenge among CMO’s and senior marketers is not necessarily the understanding of all of this, but the experience and know-how to accelerate this path to transformation. I endorse the fact that to accelerate the transformation among the right people, is exploitation of new technologies that focus on customer experiences, a solid understanding and usage of data and analytics, among other tools and teams to deliver automation in marketing across the entire customer journey.

Connecting the dots for marketers to accelerate the path to designing rewarding customer experiences in the digital space is not easy, especially in attempts to quantify it to calculate ROI across digital influence points of engagement). But the right small tribe of people within your business to own this area, and drive the change through test and learn methodologies is a great start.

So where do you start? At the forefront of connecting the dots begins with mapping the customer touch-points, and determining how to consistently connect each dot across channels to deliver the best customer experience.

Presumably many CMO’s and senior marketers have placed too much emphasis on social media to deliver the customer experience. The realization of their investments into social over the years has finally come to light to stop attempting to tame social. Between monitoring brand voice, and a realization that social monetization has dropped in priority (and right so!), the epiphany has shaped marketers priorities to embed social as a channel in the overall customer experience.

It’s important to understand that the big picture of designing rewarding experiences for customers isn’t a social strategy effort.  The value in social is finally being realized as a means for positioning and a customer engagement channel or tools for building awareness and forging connections, among monitoring brand voice. Monetization – while some businesses can, it’s among the lowest against other digital channels as Search and Email.

Creating a transparent supply chain and managing customer relationships through designing rewarding experiences should be the pre-occupation among businesses today. Just think how the customer lifecycle has changed, and how you can create value for your customers at every step on their customer journey. And again – don’t just think “social”!

creating customer experiences within the customer lifecycle

The customer has a voice. And only when you have the appropriate tools to facilitate or listen, and support to take action, can the customers voice be heard. Relinquish control of the brand to listen. Do you do that today?

In order to get to there; look at your digital marketing framework to determine if you have the infrastructure in place to extract those actionable customer insights. Know what data you have available (and don’t have) and integrate this with the intelligence from other sources (ex. hook the website experience into your CRM). It’s the first step in constructing a customer-centric and customer-activated business culture, and it starts by embedding analytics into your day-to-day routine.

Next, pop open the hood to map the customer lifecycle and the customer journey among each stage, and begin testing your designs of customer experience. But before you do, absolutely ensure you make the experiences quantified. An understanding of what works, and didn’t work, is how you’ll formulate the most rewarding experiences for customers, and cementing the relationship with your customer even stronger.

Don’t just think about closing the transaction, focus on the relationship. You do the same today in your personal love lives, so why wouldn’t you do it in business…after all, your customer is not a brand or a number. He or she is you.

Those CMO’s or Digital marketing directors or whoever is at a level of influence in your business to drive digital, will find that the Digital Pacesetter, by contrast to the Traditionalist and Social Strategist, is much farther down the road to digital nirvana and financial outperformance.

But in the end, like your customers, not all businesses are created the same. The power resides with those who have the capability to actively put the resources required to operate as a fully integrated digital enterprise, and regularly uses analytics (advanced analytics) to generate insights from customer data.

The digital landscape is a living and breathing eco-system.  If you’re to be a big fish in this pond and own your eco-system, then you must bring the experience and know-how to survive. Without this, the eco-system will reject you, and accept the next big fish behind you waiting to take your place.

Brand strategy & engagement: 3 secret-sauce ingredients

McDonalds brand reality vs. perception

Far to often when attending planning, campaign or strategy sessions, I’ve often found there is a very loose understanding of brand strategy. The various perceptions and interpretations tend to result in spending money in all the wrong places, or a blind optimism where and how brand should be delivered.

Its common knowledge the web has upended how consumers and businesses engage with one another and can impact a businesses survival. It has already transformed the economics of business and marketing, and making obsolete many of the traditional strategies and functions in the old structured marketing department. The old way is simply unsustainable by today’s practices.

Trying to interpret and understand brand strategy today, I often find its lost in translation or miss-understood among – similar to explaining what I do as a career to family and friends (their understanding is “oh, you work on computers”).

In similar context, I’ve been asked the same to describe brand strategy, and why should you care. I’ll aim to keep this to a 20 second elevator-pitch, as the concept or idea of brand strategy can easily be lost in its depth and translation.

I view a fair description of brand is anything of value that connects or bonds you (as an individual) to a product, company or person in a unique way. Whether it’s a brand that shapes your lifestyle (ex. Lululemon or Nike), or your own personal brand inside the office, or outside in your personal life.

The simplicity in this actually hit me when I took my daughter to a certain golden-arches restaurant that I had not been too in years. Only after ordering, sliding into the booth and unwrapping her secret-sauce experience, I tsunami of experiential memories flooded me. Numerous memories as a child and teenager swarmed me of the personal experiences I had at this chain of restaurants with my family and friends over the years.

The impressionable experiences I had at this place with those people is the value that bonded me to this brand in my own personal, unique way. So too does the athlete in all of us that bonds us to Nike through the sports we play, and the personal gratification or fulfillment we get out of it.

This is what any brand strives for, but fails either at conception or execution (likely the latter).

When I think the strategy side of brand, I define it as the framework for the ingredients (secrete-sauce ingredients) of how, what, where and when the brand value is delivered, received and repeated.

Done (20 seconds).

Putting a lens on the above, I’ve summed up the above understanding of brand + strategy to the following secret-sauce ingredients, and pointers of where to strategy can begin:

  1. Hyper-personal
  2. Contextual value and meaning
  3. Ecosystems and tribe playgrounds

In my world of digital marketing and business strategy, I hear far to much emphasis on the tactical ingredients of the overall brand strategy. Banners, mood boards, photography, fonts, primary/secondary/tertiary colours, storytelling, etc. This is not brand nor strategy.

These brand elements do not deliver any real value to me, but does help one to interpret the brands perception, among vast other aspects as the brand voice. It’s how the brand connects and engages consistently and holistically with me that will bond me to the brand.

To align the strategy side of brand (and its success) to execution, I view its as the intertwined threads across your businesses DNA, and the 30,000 foot view to see and understand the holistic experiences that matter, which gets delivered to your audience. The whole (of the brand) is greater than the sum of its parts.

When the whole of the brand is greater than the sum of its parts, there are countless ingredients (some more impactful than others) that make up the brand pie. But unfortunately in most cases, only 2 or 3 ingredients of the brand strategy are addressed, and brand strategy ends up failing.

In agency and corporate worlds, the brand matrix are the brand ingredients that make up the brand strategy pie, which typically includes brand architecture, identity, measure of equity (accountants love this), messaging and voice, engagement integration, consistency/re-call and emotional connectivity, parity, brand trust and flexibility, and of course the multi-channel touch-points in its delivery – experiential, social media, crowd-source, traditional, medias, internal customer facing teams, etc.

But as much as I prefer simplicity and a translation to something that is more meaningful to me as an individual, I take a view point that the brand ingredients are simply all the actions you do to over-delivery repeated impactfull and memorable experiences.

Brand matrix

The key word here is “all the actions” you do, because in business the brand strategy is not limited to just a few things. It’s not just your website, or your customer service. Its all the strands in your business DNA that deliver on a consistent and harmonically unified experience to the person as an individual.

If you look at brands who have hit home-runs with you in their brand strategy, it all boiled down to the relationship you personally have with them, which takes time and investment. My golden-arches experience above is a testament to that (although my intent is to share similar experiences with my daughter that I had – but also create new experiences when those brand experiences begin to degrade.

The same holds true with your own personal brand, its perception and influence on our social or professional circles.

But in the business world, whether you play in the consumer (B2C) or business (B2B) playground, the brands that win show simplicity in how they can anticipate their audience needs, wants and desires, and become interesting to them.

Brand strategy across social media that works

The rewards of this tend to grow your tribes of loyal fans, followers and customers who endorse your voice through amplifying within their personal or professional inner-circles.

Does it take millions to do? In some cases, yes. But for those like me, small entrepreneurs, start-ups, small businesses and even national brands can still reach and connect with their audience better than the big box office companies.

Just keep the high repeated experiences a top priority as you scale your growth and reach.

If this sounds like you, then you can make an impact on your personal brand without the millions of dollars invested, as you hold the ace-card of agility and flexibility for nimbleness and responsiveness to your audience and individual needs.

Where I see companies fall flat is when they spread themselves too thin and don’t prioritize the meaningful experiences as they the business grows.

It’s an attempt to tackle too many channels with brand positioning, or get to broad in their segmentation where they end up shouting rather than listening, or not speaking to the right individual with something of meaning. These companies cannot deliver the high-touch experience – the secret sauce – that connects best with the individual.

Brands can begin the journey to make-good on their brand promise by focussing on the fundamentals of brand strategy and on the core channels where your most important audience, or tribes connect already. (sorry, were you expecting to hear its about a logo, colour or style guides?)

You will know you are failing in your strategy strategy if you’re not seeing improvements in how you measure equity in your brand. Are you buying more customers than organically acquiring them?

Did you increase word-of-mouth customers, conversion rates, engagement activity, extend the customer lifetime value or reduce churn. Perhaps you increased share of wallet with customers or see X times lift in organic referral rates. You define how you want to measure KPI’s within your business, and personally.

I get it is difficult, and almost impossible for individuals and small businesses to tackle the gamut of brand ingredients. Time and money are the evils, and you chase what provides the best short-term value on the books and hope those incremental gains add up over time.

But let’s say if you are willing to commit to just to two or three aspects of your brand strategy over the next 6 to 12 months that provides the biggest impact, or to see if you can move the dial and build gains on your brand goals.

If you commit to this approach, I’d place my wager on the following three areas of brand strategy over the next 12 months to deliver lift on your overall brand equity and impact on revenue.

And as I view one of the most important aspects of brand strategy is experiential, and the influence experiential delivers; then an over-arching approach to brand strategy would be baked around cross-channel pollination of user engagement.

1. Hyper-Personal

Let’s be honest. Aside from your front-line customer service people, when was the last time your brand created an experience with an individual? And if you did, how was the information and data from that interaction captured to better understand what makes them tick…or their personal preferences?

We’re talking a real-person. Not a group, segment, or persona. While I’m sure we’d all wish this was feasible, the reality is in most cases it’s not done.

But there are ways we can capture certain interactions and preference of that individual, and aggregate this information to build a unique profile so we can know about him or her, grouping them into a bucket or segment with a few generic assumptions.

Some have labelled this as hyper-segmentation, taking a defined segment and getting to a granular or micro-level understanding of that one individual in the segment.

This is perhaps feasible to know and manage with your top 5 customers, but unrealistic across the rest of the business unless you have the means to aggregate all the interactions of the customer to create one long profile record of that individual – just think what Facebook and the CIA are doing.

Not to dwell into the details of hyper-segmentation, but the over-arching message here is to begin thinking about how you can build a master profile of a more complete picture of the individual, and then pull on the context of this data to build a more meaningful experience and interaction.

Think sex-with-data. Get your customer behaviorial data (website activity?), profile data (CRM data?), business demographic data, financial data and X data in bed and working together.

Strategy: Where to begin?
I worked with a framework of weaving the various engagement and transactional technologies (email, web analytics, marketing automation, social API’s, customer service, revenue, CRM) together into a central home or repository or data-warehouse to aggregate this data.

Then through applications that specialize in this area, the ability to map a profile of individual customers that was accessible to all. But the bigger challenge is once the framework is built, having the right business intelligence talent to pull meaning out of the data and bake this with marketing and sales to create and deliver programs or campaigns that deliver meaning and an experience. If it doesn’t deliver an experience, think again why you’re doing it.

It’s not easy. Start small. Keep it simple and as you see the value grow from it, then built it out to scale.

2. Contextual Value & Meaning

If there is any weight in making things (ex. content) ‘contextual’, look no further than Google’s major pivot towards ‘contextual search’ and how they deliver personal relevancy to what you’re seeking.

When you think of the deliverables in your brand strategy, what aspects can you apply a more contextual experience that provides something of meaning and value to that individual?

The tone of this is creating something compelling to the point that it connects with the person on an individual level. The output of this in is a contextual content strategy that delivers a meaningful experience or value through various formats and across platforms.

In a later post I’ll go into the digital marketing strategy framework and details of a UX-centric content strategy, but the important point to answer before going down this path is can it be executed to its fullest.

Delivering a content strategy is probably one of the most topical challenges marketing faces today. The reason why typically boils down to resources and time and linking it back to measures that are meaningful to the customer experience, and revenue.

It would be naive to think by simply build it that all your goals will be accomplished – lift in engagement, increased referral rates, lift in multi-channel values, revenue, etc. Again – execution is key. Contextual only ‘tells the experience” to the user, but they don’t feel the experience until they connect with you on multiple levels.

You can hire an agency (costs money), build an in-house team (time, available resources and expertise), try to crowd-source (like making something go viral – it’s a stretch) or a combination from all of the above (my preference).

However you go about it, the content strategy must deliver value and meaning.

The latter point I described around hyper-personal can provide you all sorts of data about what makes the person tick. The data on an individual-level is crucial, but it’s not the answer to the value you seek. It’s taking this data-driven insight, and delivering a meaningful experience (perhaps through a content strategy) that creates the biggest challenge.

Strategy: Where to begin?
Start with putting your audience under the micro-scope, use the hyper-personal or hyper-segmentation approach to gain the insights.

You may even take alternative approaches to this by leveraging an audience management application, or embarking on a social listening research exercise to listen-in and understand what those micro-audiences or tribes are talking about in the online space (ex. frustrations, problems, experiences, etc.).

However you approach it let it be the driving force behind a content strategy. It starts with the individual and your tribe(s).

Next, look at what you’ll deliver, and how. What content would give the most meaningful impact. Bet on one or two areas, and test and learn and repeat.

Define what is feasible in-house and external to support the creation of the content. Again, this is a feat on its own and no simple answer.

Leverage your distribution channels, or a content aggregation application, to seed the content across your audience’s playground(s), among multiple mediums and channels.

Lastly, engage. Monitor and respond to any and all dialogue and conversations where the content made an impact. And let’s be honest, not all content will make an impact out of the gates. You need to test, test, test and optimize from what you learn.

3. Eco-system & Playgrounds

Among your entire online eco-system where your audience will connect and play – website, micro-site, social brand properties, forums, mobile, customer-service (phone, in-person, chat), sales, the ceo’s social and communication actions and interactions, etc., what are the top destinations your community will visits, engages, shares and consumes knowledge?

Once you identify this (and there will be more than one), take a view if the platforms that embraces and facilitates the opportunities in your tribes playgrounds (for visitors, leads, customers, evangelists) allow a means to connect and engage. Get creative.

If you’re thinking ‘online’ and research a few websites for opportunities, keep in mind that most websites are simply product catalogues and content dumping grounds. In other words – little to no value.

Similarly the same traditional approach ‘dumping-ground’ approach is embossed on numerous social brand products like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. where organizations simply push everything and anything, including product and transactional content.

These are distribution channels or outlets where a brand is creating more noise than embracing the channel to stoke conversations or a form of positive engagement.

Look at this in the same light as entering a room full potential or existing customers, or on a personal-level entering a room for a speed-dating event.

You enter the room and start yelling above the crowd about yourself…how great you are, all your features and best qualities, and the latest thing you just did. Doubtful it’s compelling let alone engaging or of interest to those in the room when you’re trying to speak to the masses in the room, let alone anything of interest to say thats meaningful.

Take another approach, you enter the room, make eye contact with an individual (not the masses) and engage in a meaningful dialogue, where you’re listening more than talking. Others will over-hear and chime in, or that person will be so compelled that they will share the information or experience with others. And of course there will be others where it’s irrelevant at the current time…which is ok.

Only when you have something meaningful and compelling to say that connects on that personal level, are they ready to listen and interact.

The same can be said in your approach to the conversation and listening you do across the social platforms. Let others converse, and listen. Chime in where relevant and where you can provide something meaningful to say.

Having one or two destinations in your online eco-system where your community will meet, converse and learn from one another provides both value to your tribes, and equity to your brand.

Strategy: Where to begin?
Define your digital eco-system lay-of-the-land. What does it look like and what brand properties (Ex. website, social, forums, portals, etc.) do you have available that can be evolved into a destination platform with content that facilitates and encourages conversation.There are plenty of tools available to facilitate this, but apply those that only provide the core value to begin.

When you think to yourself “well, that’s Facebook or Twitter”, then take into account what you can do to build this on a property you own. There is nothing wrong, and much to gain, to facilitate this over the core social platforms, but what most don’t get is the equity being built is being done on a 3rd party – ex. Facebook. So whose brand equity are you really building? Facebooks, yours or both? Perhaps think how your approach can be more integrated.

American Express OPEN Forum is an interesting pilot of a brand venturing out to personify their brand through building and cultivating a community around meaningful content for small businesses.

They could have easily have approached this directly on a social platform like Facebook, but instead, inject where applicable the social platform tools to encourage the audience to share and amplify the conversation.

3 + 1 more (Bonus)

Ok, I said three areas to bet on to deliver the engagement ingredient of a brand strategy over the next 12 months, so let’s wrap this is one up to a bonus ingredient as its just as important as the above three, and makes the above very difficult to deliver without it.

For a brand to systematically deliver a brand strategy through meaning and experiences in the online world, has not been limited to the lack of data on your tribes.

It’s never been the case of a business having an average understanding of the customers’ needs and wants, the behaviour phases they go through in their decision making, or appreciation of the micro details that make your personas tick.

Perhaps it’s been the lack of content, or the lack of formulating the latter into content that is meaningful and connects? But I still wouldn’t put the blame on just this alone, as across a company or organization, the shared knowledge and insights among employees; customer service, marketing, product, c-level, etc.  combined would address this one.

If often found it is the culture and enablement that is at the crux of it all. Having solutions that allow accessibility and empowerment for company culture to connect, publish, and engage quickly is key….obviously with the appropriate guidelines and parameters in place. Just like one of mother natures eco-systems, there are natural rules and boundaries that define what can and cannot be done, and how…..but also enough empowerment and flexibility to tackle issues and make decisions (learn and adapt to mistakes made) to help the collective grow.

The flat organization with an empowered culture across all lines of business that encourages and drives experience aggregation across multiple sources wins.

Is it a recipe for chaos? Absolutely!

But there is beauty in chaos. The real discoveries come from chaos. It doesn’t need to come at the expense of a lawless society or culture within the company.

Put in enough parameters and governance that keeps the idea empowering to others (and give them the tools to do it), among enough agility that it’s not giving rise to bureaucracy that kills intent and learnings.

Governance and policies are simply the rules of the game in which everyone must play, but make the rules simple enough that it allows everyone to play…. play to their best abilities, at good speed and to grow through failing fast and smart.

Customers killing your business?

Which half of customers are killing your business? You’ll know the answer once your customer lifetime value is understood. Customer lifetime value, better known as CLV in marking jive, is one of the top metrics your business should understand, and a key driver in the strategy decisions you make.

This customer metric provides you the understanding of what value you should place on each of your customers over time. It places the lens on meaningful insights on where and how you should conduct your digital (and integrated) marketing strategies.

If your start-up is still smelling like baby powder as you just launched, or you’ve pivoted your product a few times and finally achieved adoption and on the path towards growth, you should already be thinking how to measure CLV.

Make it your goal to build a sustainable business for the long haul vs. short-term gains, unless of course you’re aiming for trajectory growth and revenue for inflated valuation to make a quick exit. But even in that case your investors or buyers will be, or should be, looking to see how sustainable is your business. Your CLV will guide your strategic decisions to reach that long haul by surfacing the most valuable customers who bring the benjamin’s to the table (and the low-value customers who could be killing your business).

The topic of CLV tends to first come up in marketing conversations when the spotlight is put on retention. And retention becomes the hot rookie more times than most when the product or business is arching towards its plateau (and by then its probably be too late).

Customer lifecycle value aligns with customer retention as it’s the heartbeat on how healthy your business is long term. The key takeaway is how much do you invest into retaining each valuable customer, or nurture mid-tier customers into valuable customers, or how to avoid spending the dollars on those who provide little value to your books. I mean, look no further than Vegas to see how they invest into their most valuable whales. They know your value you bring them, and they personally tailor the right mix to keep you coming back for more.

You cannot get to that point nor make any intelligent decisions without first calculating your CLV and retention rates.

Calculating and analyzing these two KPI’s, you can place a decent value on each customer and begin to categorize them into customer segments that each have different meaning to your business. You’ll seek to identify how each should be treated, and whether or not if you should even continue trying to keep them. Even customer churn is not a bad thing…as long as it’s those customers that bring little to no-value that drive your costs.

These metrics alone will also help you make those budget decisions on where and how to invest on finding, winning and keeping new customers that portray the similar behaviours as your customer segments.

How to calculate your CLV

There are a few different ways you can measure CLV and retention….some extremely complex, while others just keep it simple.

calculate customer lifetime value

I’m a believer that simplicity is the art of sophistication, so I prefer to get the get the general picture before finding the hot spots to drill in for deeper analysis and understanding versus over-complicating the situation.

But an important caveat you should understand is that you’re ranking customers on the basis of revenue or profits they’ve contributed to your business.

Obviously this is important, but don’t neglect those who may portray the traits of a high value customer, and on the cusp of their revenue contribution to join the high-value club. Or any customers who are low to mid-level, but are strong advocates and influencers to drive referrals which is a separate KPI to understand. They may not bring the dollars directly, but they may be your best ally and advocate to assist in reaching your high-value guys. For example, in your digital strategy, think of your affiliates performance and who drive referral quality vs. quantity, and the converting referrals and revenues earned.

There are a few inputs into any CLV formula you’ll first want to know. But remember, as there are a number of ways to calculate CLV, the following points are among the most common ingredients to your CLV pie.

  • How long is your customer relationship? Meaning what is the lifespan of your customers?
  • What is your profit margins, and average spend per purchase?
  • How many purchases are made per year, and the estimated revenue?

And as I write this and think of the different ways I’ve seen CLV calculated, I’m staring at my Starbucks (an Americano with white mocha) and thinking here’s a brand that gets it!

Starbucks retention efforts are solid. They treat me in the special way I deserve (and damn well better considering the portion of paycheque I spend with them). So let’s look at Starbucks method of calculating what my value is to them (Starbucks employes 3 approaches).

1. Simple Customer Lifetime Value

Formula: 52 X average customer value per week X average customer lifespan

Inputs: Average customer value per week = expenditures X visits

2. Customized CLV Equation

Formula: Average customer lifespan X (52 X average customer expenditures per visit X number of visits per week X profit margin per customer)

3. Traditional CLV Equation

Formula: Average gross margin per customer lifespan X (customer retention rate / 1 + rate of discount customer retention rate)

Each approach to understanding CLV will provide you three different amounts. So to get to just one solid figure to give you guidance, just average all three.

It sounds simple but CLV calculations can, and may, vary among organizations. There is no one perfect way to perform this, just as there is never just one path to reach a goal, but the results can be the same if not similar.

But if you prefer a more sophisticated way to refine the CLV numbers, try the Harvard Business School customer lifetime value calculator.

Alternatively, if your organization has a Business Intelligent team (BI), they should be (or they better have been) thinking how to extract the data from the warehouse to model and deliver a CLV, and provide your  leadership team they necessary information for more actionable insights about your business and customers.

If you attain this, how do you share the insight through cross-function teams, including delivery to your high-touch points of customer contact (ex. website, client services, sales teams, etc.).

I’ve got my CLV and retention rates, now what?

Deer in headlights moment, right? The simple answer is to just make sense of the numbers and take action.

Start with grouping or segmenting customers based on their business value and mapping all the various touch-points you do (and don’t do) today.

For example, you may be surprised to find your churn rates are high because you’re barraging and pissing off your high-value customers with too much email from various teams who all have something to say. All this digital noise can hurt business, and its even more critical for digital and ecommerce businesses as the email address should be considered as gold.

The CLV approach I prefer the majority of the time is the segmentation and application of a RFM model to each group.

RFM if you’re not familiar with it is a way of modeling customer buckets or segments by looking at their activity and behaviours around Recency, Frequency and Money value. For example, if you’ve defined your high-value customer, then how do they look when you evaluate the recency in which they’ve conducted business (yesterday or 6 months ago). How frequent do they conduct business with you – daily, monthly, once a year? And then how much money are they parting away with into your coffers? Do they spend $1,200 once a year, or $100 every month?

As a next step, look at all the various ways your business engages or touches each segment.

I’ve been surprised to find at times how some brands send over 15 emails per month to the highest value customers. If you consider an email address as gold (and it may be the lock and key to them doing business with you), then a value should be assigned to touching that customer if each team or channel in your organization shares that customer in their campaigns.

For example if your marketing and metrics are truly integrated, then the campaign launched from your product department in Toronto should be visible in your CRM to your Client Services in North Dakota. Not only does it give a timely talking point for Client Services when the lead or customer phones in, but it also allows to flag if the lead or customer is not interested (thus don’t hit them with a follow up email) or opportunity to harvest additional information that may trigger a cross-sell or up-sell opportunity from your product team in Vancouver. Alternatively 1/2 of your top 10 customers may even not want to hear from you and gets the high-touch treatment from an account manager. There are countless scenarios here, but the point is that most companies have little to no grip on how many times a customer, let alone a high-value customer, is being touched and its impact on them continuing to do business with you.

But back to your new customer segments….once your customers are grouped and you have an understanding, and better yet you have control over all the touch points, only then should you determine how best to engage them.To understand this you’ll seek to know more about them beyond just their purchasing activity.

Perhaps you can cross-profile them with other product channels, or your CRM or as some brands who get it nowadays, connect their CRM and customer accounts with the primary social media platforms customers user to extrapolate and cross-pollinate your customer accounts with personalized demographic and psychographic information that is all sitting available in the vast social media ecosystem about your customer.

Does your top-tier customers enjoy yoga, in what city or suburb do they live, how old are they, do they have a close circle of friends who resemble a similar profile, is their anniversary approaching, kids, hobbies, etc.

Building an enhanced profile around your customer segments can then provide the octane for your customer retention programs to deliver meaningful impact with your various customer segments and ultimate retain the high value guys and cultivate the mid-tier guys to join the high value club.

Understanding this will open up a ton of great questions you’ve likely often sought answers too, such as what behaviours does each segment exhibit on our website, does a particular piece of content or tool attract high value or low value customers, are there assist channels that provide strong lift to a last touch channel of a high value customer, where can get the most lift and return on my annual marketing spends, and in which channels and ROI did I get from them….or overall lift by channel and effort, etc. etc.

50% of your high-value customers hate your offer

Well, maybe not half but your key customer segments may not want to hear from you, or feel you deliver noise and agitate them…which may be why the left or not purchasing at the frequency or recency you desire.

How do you know? Define your CLV and test, learn, optimize.

Test and track each effort you do with each segment and have framework to measure what impact (both good and bad, and online and offline) your new personalized highly-segmented campaigns have with the customers. Understand its impact on not just your goals and lift in revenue, but also how it moved the gauge of the customers overall behavior and their even their customer value.

This approach applies not just with retention, but any investment made into understanding and growing each customer segment.

And like many aspects of digital marketing, you cannot lift CLV or grow lucrative customer buckets until you test, learn, optimize and repeat.

Like this topic or hate it? Post your comments below and share with others how you’re calculating CLV in your business, how’s it used and what results you see from it. Drop me a line below.

The attribution effect, calculating digital influence

Multi channel attribution in Google Analytics

One of the greatest ongoing divides to reach digital nirvana is the understanding of the value and financial return that attribution plays in a multi-touch point customer journey world.

This is among one of the top marketing transformational challenges CMO’s face to understand and capitalize on the omni-channel customer journey, among the need to grow digital maturity built upon an integrated marketing technology stack that bridges marketing, sales and IT together to drive strategy and operations.

Thanks to the ‘big data’ evolution, the marketing department is in a front-and-center role to drive a data-driven approach into reaching exceptional customer outcomes, and within everything they do to deliver a truly customized omni-channel experience across all touch points in the customer journey.

Starting with marketing technology stacks that are fully accessible and integrated, and marketing technologists to drive them, is a deciding factor if an organization can leverage the wealth of data scattered throughout the organization to achieve deep customer insights across the business.

Marketing Technology Stack: Web Analytics, Marketing & Email Automation, BI data warehouse, Content Management System, CRM system, Lead Scoring Apps, Social Media Management, Predictive Lead Scoring and Modeling Apps, SEO Management Platforms, Demand-side Platforms (DSP), etc. (not inclusive).

I admit it is easier said than done, but marketing (and IT) must orchestrate the technology around the customer, and proactively synthesize the technology into strategy and operations to really achieve brilliant marketing, which is about attaining a customized customer experience across the multiple touch-points in the buyers-journey.

This might look like a customized (not personalized) experience from a data-driven customer segment campaign to influence conversions or increase CLV, or a customized experience on the website to influence the buyer-journey stages, or valuing in-between touch points that assist pipeline lead quality.

Why is all of this important?

Because sadly the customer-journey is not as linear as previously understood (actually its quite asymetrical), which creates a flood of questions around what and how to value the omni-channel journey, especially in the B2B world.

Various studies have confirmed a shift in the buyer journey where a typical B2B prospect is 57 % of the way through the buyers journey before contacting a sales person. Even Forrester Research found that the potential customer has completed as much as 90% of the buyers journey before reaching out to a sales person. Just take buying a car as an example and how much of the buying process has changed over the last 10 years.

Bridging and empowering marketers with the above, needs to drive strategy that is embedded across all operations with sales and CSRs. But I’ll leave the details of the marketing technology stacks and trifecta relationship between marketing, sales and IT (technology) to another post, and get to the root where a black hole exists today among marketers in the customer journey; understanding, measuring and valuing the attribution channels and multiple touch-points in a prospects buyer-journey.

Traditionally sales and marketing have an understanding there is an attribution effect between when a prospect is first found (ex. trade show or cold call), and the closing of the sale.

These first and last touch events, channels or touch points have become the measurement stick in how valued certain marketing channels are viewed, and where strategy investment is applied. Every touch point in-between that provided a degree of influence or attribution in the journey towards closing the sale is traditionally neither understood, let alone measured.

IMHO this results in marketers throwing budgets blindly at channel strategies (or combinations thereof), without a means to measure beyond the last touch conversion or sale. Look no further than the investments marketers make in social media strategy to support acquisition programs. Sure there is some value – but at what cost versus not just other channel as Search, Display or Email, but more importantly the combination of these channels, and how they all play together within the buyers journey. At the end of the day, a marketer should seek to understand what path(s) to conversion are most profitable and valued….and why.

The lack of strategic priorities for an organization, or marketing altogether, to gain visibility or insight into the channels or touch points that assist towards a conversion or sale is surprising….especially knowing that somewhere between 60%-90% of the buyers journey is now done before the prospect even reaches out to a sales rep.

The massive shift in the buyers-journey thanks to the web and ‘big data’ needs prioritization within marketing. How else will you know where to best invest marketing dollars to gain the highest ROI, or best quality leads to fill the pipeline or how to find more of your top 2% whale customers ?

There are solutions and tools within the marketing technology stack to give insight into the performance of multi-channel attribution (mostly from a first-touch and last-touch view), and some solutions to the extent of providing ROI or even lift. But when you catch a glimpse of how other marketing channels play together and influence conversion paths, or how attribution plays a role in your digital strategy performance, then like most data-driven marketers you’ll want to place a microscope on how they’re valued, and the financial or lift value it delivers against leads and sales.

Why is this important? Most organizations and startups today evaluate digital marketing performance and conversion KPI’s from a last-touch or first-touch view. There is zero value applied to all the touch-points in the customer journey that assisted or helped influence the user to convert on the goal(s), irrespective of which channel provided the most influence.

Multi channel attribution in Google Analytics


I find it surprising that businesses struggle with valuing attribution or assist channels today, but yet its at the front-and-center priority to anyone who follows team sports.

If a business viewed marketing investments in the same manner that a professional sports team views player investments (players = marketing channels / sources), then a business would be in a better data-driven decision making position to know where, how and the optimum combination of channels to invest to score customers or leads…..or the one or two channels that play the strongest influence role in the customer journey.

For example, lets look how Manchester United invests in their players. Are the highest paid players (marketing channel investments) given to those who provided the most value and overall performance?

Goals scored in a football game rarely ever follow the same first and last-touch path every time. But if you took an evaluation over the last 100 or 1000 paths towards each goal (or sale), and you’ll see patterns arise.

Similar to leads and customers coming through your front door, or converting online, rarely is the same combination of cross-channel paths taken each and every time…although patterns will become very apparent. A combination and mix of each marketing channel plays a part to get found by a lead, influence the lead and convert the lead to a customer, and even cross-pollinate the customer with to influence them on up-sell and cross-sell opportunities.

The question is understanding which “combination” of channels or touch points provides the highest-quality of leads, lowest friction points to acquire, and the most profitable customers.

Let’s run an example: Keep in mind, the ball is the prospect.

Does defender Rafael Pereira da Silva (lets’ call him the Social Media channel ex. LinkedIn) take the ball (the prospect), and passes it up (first touch) to midfielder Shinji Kagawa (channel = Paid Media or Display).

Shinji then passes the ball up (second touch) to forward Rob van Persie (channel = Search Organic), then abandons the anticipated ‘forward’ path of momentum to conversion (the sale), and instead passes it back (third-touch) to midfielder Marouane Fellanini (channel = personalized re-targeted Display), and now passes the ball forward again (fourth touch) up to striker Wayne Rooney (channel = Search Organic or Direct), who is the last-touch channel to score the goal (conversion of prospect to a MQL lead (marketing qualified lead).

Evaluate over time each and every path the ball took up the field, or your paths to conversion, before the goal was scored.  Trends will arise and you’ll see if the ball (prospect) touched Marouane Fellanini (channel = Display) +50% of the time, then you can begin to understand the weighted value this channel plays in your marketing, versus others. Just imagine if you understood this journey of your top 2% whale customers, you’d better understand their behaviors, where more can be found and how best to influence them.

Perhaps Rooney (channel = Organic or Direct) scores 80% of the time when Marouane (channel = Display) is involved in the play, and scores only 20% when Marouane is swapped for another player, or neglected all together.

This is why measuring the value of your last touch is just as important as measuring the assists and influencer values. I’ll demonstrate this influencer value below to help show how this can be calculated.

How to Calculate Attribution

Note: I’ve retained a simplified scoring approach to attribution, but there are other ways to score and measure attribution and assist value.

Multi-channel soccer gameBlue Player

  • Scored 5 goals/conversions as the last-touch
  • Scored 0 goals/conversions as first-touch
  • All 5 goals were assisted from other players. Without any other player (or multichannel) influence, we’ll assume he would have scored 0 goals for this demonstration.
  • White player assisted directly in 3 of his 5 goals
  • Red player assisted in only 1 of his goals
  • Influencer value: 0
    0 (first-touch) + 0 (assisted) = 0
  • Direct value: 5 (last touch goals scored)
  • Total value: 5
White Player
  • Scored 1 goal as the last-touch
  • Scored 0 goals as first-touch
  • Assist in influencing 5 goals with the Red Player and Blue Player
  • Influencer value: 5
    0 (first-touch) + 5 (assisted): 0
  • Direct value: 1
  • Total value: 6
Red Player
  • Scored 3 goals as the last-touch
  • Scored 0 goals as first-touch
  • Assisted in influencing 5 goals with the White Player and Blue Player
  • Influencer value: 2
    0 (first-touch) + 2 (assisted) = 2
  • Direct value: 3
  • Total value: 5
Yellow Player
  • Scored 0 goals as the last touch
  • Scored 0 goals as first-touch
  • Assisted in 2-levels deep in 5 goals
  • Influencer value: 5
    0 (first-touch) + 5 (assisted @ 2nd level) = 5
  • Direct value: 0
  • Total value: 5
From this example, the strongest influencer value of 5 came from the Yellow Player and White Player, and a total value awarded to the White Player (not Blue Player) for its total score of 6. Again – this is a simple demonstration how influencer value, and total value, can be determined, with a much deeper understanding around the influencer touch-points for your top-tier clients, and those that also influence churn reduction.
This understanding of the value awarded to assist channels must play a significant role in dictating where budget or investments should be made to influence the user journey.
Once you get there to identify those channels, then begs the question is how much value do you place on each one? Some organizations simply apply an even split value for each assist channel. It’s a fair start, but then so would be paying each player the same salary regardless of who provides the greatest influence on winning the game. But keep it simple to begin.

My intent is to start you down the path of consideration to help you get there, and begin determining what tools are available to help. And once a few solutions or tools are discovered, then the challenge begins on demonstrating to budget owners how the solution will provide its measurable return; such as the efficiencies it can deliver and the return on the investment. (feel free to steal my football analogy in your deck).

There is much economic gain from this once you scrape the surface. In my experience with a global entertainment brand, the digital strategy I led against a marketing automation strategic unveiled how just one (or many) touch points in the marketing strategy was not only influencing 30% of conversions, but was driving over 50% of revenues. It was not a first or last touch channel, but a significant channel that played a major role in the path to sales conversion.

Letting data sell itself, the one channel functioned as both a major influencer for both conversion and retention objectives. You could just imagine how much top-brass support I received after showing the revenue and CLV impact.

Now beyond the economic gains to be had with an attribution solution applied to your digital mix, the intangible gains can be viewed similar to the advantages attained from your web metrics solution, such as Google Analytics, Omniture or other enterprise web analytics.

For example, what wins and efficiencies have been gained from deeper insights obtained from your data warehouse, or CRM analysis, or web analytics to gain greater confidence around data-driven decisions and practices? And is all the data produced from each lead and customer amalgamated into a central data-warehouse to get the full 360 degree view on how your leads and customers are behaving across inside and outside your business?

But as a start, you’ll find the low hanging fruit with the enhanced accuracy gained in marketing investments from filling in the gaps of your first-touch and last-touch measurement methodologies, lead gen. scoring and leads online behavioral foot print, and/or the confidence gained on channel path performance.

How you justify the need to your boss is best left to your personal approach, but the leverage you can gain from presenting the data instead of taking a gut decision can be best left to providing an understanding of its investment return in your pitch, so consider these points to understanding the value of the attribution channels in your customers journey.

  1. Harvest the key inputs: There are roughly three to four sound values necessary to calculate the attribution ROI, including digging into your historical figures for the following:
    A) Ad Spend (AS). What is your ad spend for the marketing channels on which multi-attribution modeling will be included?
    B) Conversion Volume (CV). What is the volume or quantity of conversions you attributed to those channels? A bit of estimating on the conservative side may be required.
    C) Sales Value (SV). What is the total sales figures you assign to those channels.
    D) Gross Margin (GM). What is the average gross margin you assign to your sales
  2. Calculate the value:
    A) First, understand the gain of your marketing spend GMS, calculated as (SV x GM) ASB)
    B) Next, calculate the average gross margin of a conversion (AGM). Ex. (GMS)/CV . But you may have your own methods for calculating the value of your conversions, so you can use that too.

customer journey in multiple channels

Let’s run a simple example:

You have an ad spend of $1M (AS) that generates 100K in conversions (CV). This produced $5M in total sales (SV) with a gross margin (GM) of 30% (GM). This would produce a gain on marketing spend (GMS) of $500K, and an average gross margin per conversion $5.

This aims to provide a more clear picture of the marketing climate with no attribution applied.

But now lets look at the value after you launch an attribution solution.

There is no crystal ball to tell you the true value of an attribution solution after its been implemented, but you can provide a somewhat sound estimate of the potential gains in conversions attained from leveraging the benefits of attribution…and all while keeping your media spend the same.

The same could be said for the ongoing optimization your team applies to Paid Search, and the efficiencies and gains you achieve. Did the spend increase? If the answer is no, then you either reduced it and/or reinvested it to continually optimize the channels efficiencies.

The same could be said or Display Ads, and optimizing prospecting campaigns through a re-targeting model….or the conversion optimization you digital marketers employ to test, learn and optimize your conversion funnel. There is only efficiencies to be gained to drive down the cost and investments into each activity – and in the case of attribution modeling – driving (and exploiting) the costs you invest into each marketing channel.

So how would your return look if you invested into an attribution solution after its implemented?

Scenario: Based on the above scenario, let’s say you introduced attribution into your KPI’s and you saw conversions lift of 10% (assuming media spend is equal). The lift value from this on average would run 10% to 35%, assuming no performance differences by organization or industry (which is likely not the case). If you want to get a more accurate picture, you can test media spend exclusively in channels that impact your sign ups and conversions, and use the performance gains as a gauge for this metrics.

In the example above, the number of conversions (CV) was 100,000, meaning post-implementation it will be 110,000 (CV * 10%) at the same $1M media cost (AS).

Add the same historical average conversion value of your AGM, and these 100,000 conversions will go on to produce a significant gain on marketing spend after the implementation of attribution (GMS*).

Noting too, the gains you make will, or should, increase over time as your digital strategy and programs grow. Albeit, be sure to factor in the total cost of your attribution solution in your calculations.

Now aside from all the ROI number crunching, remember an important caveat to winning over the boss to invest into an attribution solution. The biggest barriers to investing into an attribution model solution is the political will and the organisational buy-in to make the necessary changes necessary to benefit from the opportunity.

It’s important to engage with someone who is knowledgeable on the holistic view of digital marketing and attributions role in winning new customers.

And if you do manage to win over the boss with an investment into attribution modeling and tracking, you’ll soon have a solid perspective and possibly unique position to influence data-driven marketing decisions.

Do you use attribution modeling in your mix? Just starting or if you’re an guru, share your questions and insights and comment below..

Influence conversions in multi-channel touchpoints

multi channel attribution

Every week I try to get out to my sanctuary for an hour or two; the soccer pitch. Its the few places where I can unplug from the daily stress and routines of life and work.

The other night our team had a solid game …rather a blow out of a 11-3. Almost everyone on our team had put the ball into the net. This got me thinking what worked extremely well that evening to pull it off.

My intention wasn’t to analyze this to determine the goal scoring MVP, but instead understand the touch points in the game that influenced scoring each goal.

For example, in those paths we took the ball down the field, who touched the ball, in what order, on what side of the field, etc. before the last person touched it to score.

It got me thinking that soccer, like many other team-based sports, it is not much different than the outcomes I deal with in digital strategies I’ve led for various brands who rely on multiple marketing sources and channels to drive demand, leads and customers.

In the game, every player walks onto the pitch with a common vision, performs a specific function in their position, and plays together as a team with one common goal; put the ball in the back of the oppositions net.

Similar to digital strategy, our teams of experts and the online channels they specialize; Search, Affiliate, Social, Online Display, Paid Search, Business Intelligence & Analytics, Email, UX Designers, Developers, and even the team of offline channels, all work together toward a common goal.

But in the real-world, they often work in silo’s and valued much differently.

Similar to the soccer game, all eyes are typically on the MVP who scored the most goals, and neglect those key influencers who assisted in the MVP to score.

So in your business, who manages the marketing channel MVP (last-touch channel) that scores the conversions and sales? Is it Search, Email or is it direct? Is it the digital channel that first touched the sales lead, or the last-touch channel that converted him to a customer?

Sadly many brands still measure marketing value with the viewpoint of last-touch channel wins. This short-sighted view just shows what is lacking in the Marketing and Sales functions in an organization. They lack the need or will or know-how to look at the customer journey of their business, and determine where and how each marketing channel plays a role, and its value to influence and assist the customer in his or her journey.

customer journey in multiple channels

This view unfortunately tends to drive budget investment, which is a out-dated practice that needs disruption. A first step towards change, is the understanding and analysis of the various customer touch points that may influence and lead to a conversion.

Think about professional sports where there is significant effort to play together as a team to win. The team salaries (budget investment) will vary, but is balanced between the value each player (marketing channel) provides. This is why some players who rarely score (convert) get such high investment.

So why do numerous businesses invest the majority of their budget on those first-touch and last-touch channels? What about those channels that play a significant role in assisting the visitor towards the converting channels? Email is a great example of an under-utilized and under-invested channel in most digital eco-systems.

Whether businesses and marketing teams are limited by budget, technology or frankly expertise, to understand how best to allocate budgets towards those valuable assist channels, one only needs to first understand and measure how each channel influences the other.

I admit that visibility into the attribution each marketing channel provides can be limited by technology and know-how, but tools are available (Google Analytics, Converto, Omniture) that can give you a glimpse into your online business’s attribution model.

When I think of the soccer game the other night, I wasn’t thinking about who touched the ball first, or who scored the goal, but instead the patterns within the multiple plays and which players contributed or assisted in those plays, the most that led to the converting on our goals.

Every online and integrated brand doing business on the web will have their own online and offline attribution model that they should seek to understand.

But if you already have insight into what channels influence or assist others, aim for an attribution model that is as accurate and actionable as possible. It should cover the full spectrum of digital strategy that influences your customer lifecycle.

And this shouldn’t stop at the final goal conversion. It should extend into the full customer lifecycle journey through to retention, loyalty and win-back of churned customers. If it costs less to retain than win a customer, and you obviously have X% churn, then what channel and/or activities work together to reduce churn, and win-back lapsed customers?

Marketers who employ data-driven decision making as a foundation or influence to help build a digital strategy or program, need only to poke around the metrics to give them this insight. And these insights are derived from a combination of multiple online channels; Search, referrals, direct, social, email, etc.

Whatever your online strategy, it likely leverages multiple online, and offline, channels to build awareness, create demand, drive leads or convert and retain customers. Whichever combination of channels you employ, your decision to use it within your strategy should follow three simple, yet crucial tasks:

  1. Measurement
  2. Attribution
  3. Optimization

Any business, whether it a start up seeking adoption or witnessing high-growth, or larger enterprises evolving into the digital eco-system, each will monitor KPI’s relevant to their objectives.

And the standard KPI’s as site traffic, attrition, conversion funnels, churn, revenue, CPA by channel or customer type, etc. a granular view on the touch-points that influence online purchasing decisions and conversion needs a deeper measurement than just last-click attribution.

How your customers flow through various online channels, both online and offline, an understanding is needed of the entire user-path to conversion, and how each digital asset places a role to affect the customers decisions to convert.

In order to get these understandings of the associated customer touch-points, greater decision confidence can be made.

You really need to know which channels and devices really influence the customer in their journey, and the triggers to make that final purchasing decision, rather than looking at those touch-points as individual silos.

Does the most valued customer find you from Search on mobile, then influenced via thought-leadership discussions via niche social platforms, then re-inforced through re-targetted behavioural based Display on desktop, and finally arrives to your site via Search produced by social SEO?

Remember, only greater-decision making confidence can be attained when you have the capabilities to associate the various touch-points in your business. Not to mention the greater ROI, lowest CPA and biggest performance lift.

When you have visibility across digital channels it gives you the ability to assess the influence of each. Now similar to my soccer game, understanding which players (channels), and combination of players (paths) led towards more goals (conversions), the similar applies in a digital strategy.

And in some games where those plays or players drop in performance, you as the coach need to make new changes to test and optimize the performance of those channels.

Don’t place just one priority to a channel. Spread the investment across and seek to measure and optimize each to understand the optimum conversion paths. Unfortunately its typically the case that organizations and agencies focus on one or two channels, and buy new customers through Paid Search, or employ a small piece of an inbound marketing content strategy to optimize Search (SEO) or Social.

But when you employ multiple channels, and aim to understand the value of each, any change or optimization in one channel can and will affect another. For example, a change in your Paid Search program or SEO may alter the efficiency of your email program.

I’ve led digital strategy where the online path to purchase is as clear as day. In one example, after an average of 6X exposure in an Online Display prospecting program, it would lead to a 95% post-impression influence on those customers who then converted from organic Search and direct. But for those 5% who converted through on post-click in Display, 74% converted from desktop and 26% from mobile. Knowing not just the channels that your customers travel, but also devices is just as important in some digital eco-systems.

This is why knowing the path-to-purchase is important for any online or integrated businesses, as there isn’t necessarily a direct correlation between an ad or marketing message and purchase. Albeit, that message may still pay dividends in ensuring the company is top-of-mind when the consumer decides to pull out his credit card.

If you’ve followed my analogy between soccer and digital channel influences, you’ll get realize that evaluating cross-channels, and optimization of these channels, is a necessity in order to attribute value to almost any channel investment, or media buy.

This will help you understand what media outlet or channel drives the most sales, and most effectively and efficiently. It will help not just understand which channel provides the most value, but also where to optimize to maximize spend efficiencies to lower the overall cost of customer acquisitions.

If you want to try this today and have access to Google Analytics, it will provide a decent high-level understanding of your websites multi-channel touch-points, and the chasnnels value. But for brands who have the money to invest into marketing as a revenue-centre vs. service-centre, there will be a need to store greater amount of data, both customer and marketing data, to decipher the cross-channel touch-points.

This plays into evolving a data warehouse strategy (talk to your Business Intelligence Director), who will help drive the CMO’s needs to optimize marketing across all channels leading the online paths to purchase.

Key Takeaway

To wrap this up, aim to understand your customer paths and the attribution that influences the touchpoints that lead to conversions, even across multiple devices – mobile and tablet. It will be a massive catalyst of change in your marketing decision making to know how your customers use different channels, and those channels across devices with your business.

When you understand this you can shift budget investments to the strongest channels (and devices) to drive down your CPA’s and drastically improve marketing ROI and customer CPA. Not to mention you’ll look like a rockstar in your team!

Got a question or experience to share in understanding cross-channel value? Comment below, and knowledge share with others.

Trapped in an online filter bubble?

Content Filter Bubble

Recently using behavioural intelligence and look-a-like profiling to lead an online Display program, I found it reminiscent of a recent TED talk show I saw by Eli Pariser: Beware online filter bubbles.

What strikes me about Eli’s presentation is the timing of this video, and how I realized I’m part of those influencing this filter bubble.

The strategy I employed accessed the unique power and intelligence of building and online behavioural, look-a-like- and content profiling  data sets for audience discovery and modelling in a Display program to build reach with a matching audience profile…and drive them down the funnel through selective re-targeting. The result of this created of one of those filtered bubble for the audience that was at the basis of the strategy.

You see, audience targeting was founded upon the build-up of data sets containing the ideal profile of the prospect we wanted to target in the strategy. This was performed through the harvesting of data-sets that showed audience insights such as user interest, behaviours and intent from tracking their online behaviour across the web.

As a result of the deep dive into audience ‘stalking’ as I call it, profiles were built across  users activities, interests and behaviours. This contributed to a filter bubble creation of those users who were exposed to the online ads, and who demonstrated the characteristics of the data collected from converting online prospect and customer.

Yes, the strategy was successful with very promising CPA’s and ROI, but the end result imprisoned these users such as yourself into the content category bubble I wanted you in.

So overall, it was good for me, good for the clients brand, but potentially bad for you as the end user.

Why is it bad? The corridor theme of services my client brands solicits, are now tagged to your profile, and the content you search for may now be filtered everywhere you go and slanted to the brand. The content you’re exposed to throughout the web stretches across Search, news and potentially your favourite media outlets.

This is bad for you as it can cause to filter out all the other important, valuable and interesting information and knowledge you may have discovered if it were not for the case of trying to tailor the content. And here I am putting content in front of you that I think you want to see that tries to match your personal tastes…thus excluding you from potential bias, better or comparative content or solutions.

That is the unintended consequence. You get trapped in a filter bubble and don’t get exposed to information that could challenge or broaden your world view, or in the case of business the comparable options of solutions or services that can help remedy your needs.

Watch the TED talk video of Eli Pariser who covers a more depth and insight into the filter bubble.

B2B marketing maturity, a mindset explosion in a customer humility strategy

B2B marketing - listen to the little things that matter

I have been fortunate to experience humility personally, and within the culture of business only after having sat and played on each side of the table – B2B, B2C, tactical and strategic.

Regardless of agency-side or corporate side (where I sit today), or the level of organizational digital maturity, I see a consistent model in the form of the customer narrative that has seen B2B marketing evolve from its days of crawling to a stumbling and face improving walking pace.

Within the context of the end user (customer in this case), there is a hell of a lot of noise across B2B and B2C with marketers. You won’t get it out of a book or theory at another lecture, but perhaps only through time and energy invested the fog begins to clear and you see clarity in the vision of the customer and his journey.

Foremost, to put the debate to bed, yes there are some clear distinctions between the markets of B2B and B2C. Whether it’s the demographics, firmographics, user-journey’s and buying cycles, the differences do exist.

But while clear distinctions remain between the business-to-business and business-to-consumer markets; buying cycles are typically longer, and the purchase motivation is different, there are fundamental ways in which the marketing lines of B2B and B2C are blurred and overlapped.

How so? A B2B buyer are maturing in the digital space, becoming just as empowered as their consumer counterparts. Yes, B2B was slow to the game, and perhaps this is partly due to the change in view of risk-tolerance, innovation or new blood reaching the c-level with a refreshed mind-set.

It shouldn’t be unknown that like the B2C marketplace online, the B2B space is a rapidly evolving marketplace that is evolving at unprecedented speed. It’s essentially a living and breathing organism within its own eco-system. To see B2B marketing evolve to more mature levels in the digital space, may be the realization that traditional marketing efforts are simply not enough to stay competitive.

Business maturity changeTo excel in this B2B space, every marketer must relinquish old ways of thinking and doing, and expand their existing models to the data-driven decision-making that can complement years of experience. The traditional, linear marketing funnel is experiencing a rapid death. To survive, they must shift their lens to focus on continuous interaction through relationship connectivity, and with singular meaningful dialogue…not just ‘communications’.

The ultimate goal is not summed up to ‘engagement’. Engagement is simply the context of what needs to be performed. The meaningful outcome out of all of this is to achieve the individuals’ goal of the moment.

How do you do it? An easy place to start is to begin departing from what makes you comfortable. Take risks. Look no further than mainstream personal brands of Mark Cuban or Richard Branson. These serial entrepreneurs got to where they are today through constantly stepping out of their comfort zone, making qualified failures, and applying the new found knowledge.

To make this leap in change, and realize that humility, just become the customer. If your strategy or campaign or assignment does not have a goal to understand the customer, and how you plan to engage and measure the success factors of that engagement, then stop.

The overlap of where B2C and B2B marketing blends together, is that both begin and ends with the users wants and needs, and addressed by understanding the intent of their behavior. Empathy plays a major role in this to pivot the mindset of marketing “to a customer”, to market by doing something “with the customer”.

It may just start by inducing to your marketing vocab sharing, helping and conversing. This mindset shift to move away from driving the point home about how great your product is, only resonates with you and your internal team. The end user doesn’t care, and its just more noise that dilutes the core message that is meaningful to them.

Your customers do not care about your product, rather they care what it does for them and how it helps them accomplish something meaningful, or a solution to a problem at the moment it matters. Thus your B2B marketing should focus on content (broad term) that connects on how it helps the customer today, and better and faster than the next guy.

When you consider the users buying-cycle, and their behavioral intent they exhibit at each stage, the foundational goal you’ll be faced with is how to gain the users trust….trust in that they’re making not just the right decision, but the best decision for their needs at that moment.

If you focus most your efforts on how a customer can get the most out of your business, then that is becomes the foundation to plant your marketing pillars. That foundation looks like your mass potential customer base can immediately understand and feel you’re providing value to their business. Deliver that, and you’ll build the trust.

B2B marketing - listen to the little things that matter

When I wear the digital marketing gloves, and open up the hood of a brands objectives and components of what makes it work today, I’ll spend some immediate focus on the digital marketing framework and get an understanding how mature the brand is with the core pillars of the framework.

One of the pillars of this framework is the infrastructure and assets. In other words, do the players on the team (marketers, product, business units, etc.)  have responsive technologies and tools that allow them to listen….and respond, to the customer across the omi-channels customers will travel.

Lets assume now that you’ve built trust with your B2B market and audience. What next?

The next step will vary depending on your goals. Rather instead, look at this not necessary as to “now here is what we need to do next”, but rather as a signal to cement and build that relationship. Look at the big picture. What is your roadmap over the next 12 to 24 months to build the relationship with your audience?

Leads and revenues keep the lights on, I get that. But there are tactical pieces to build leads and revenues in the short term. There is even greater value and impact to build leads and revenue by not focussing on just the volume, but the overall lift in your meaningful measurements in how you build that relationship, which is a long term path. Think of one-off sales versus recurring and amplified advocacy from your one customer.

The wakeup call in B2B is where marketing (and product) is the necessity to marry themselves to the customer, and make the relationship the best it can be. And just like marriage, there is complexity in the relationship between the customer and marketing/sales/product. To help simplify this complex marriage, understanding the human element within marketing/sales/product will help better serve the customer in a personal and meaningful way.

Now here’s the shift in mindset (mind explosion 😉 ) The relationship between you (the marketer) must be built across the full customer journey, and not just in one operational silo.

The measurement of your customer relationships across online (and online) will be solely determined by the meaningful experiences in the moment that you deliver across marketing, sales, product, and service. The relationship is not just transactional. Like your childhood friendships or your marriage, your story is built over time through meaningful experiences and continuous conversation.

The short term gains will lay the foundation to win the long-term power of that customer relationship. And you’ll know when you’ve reached that meaningful point when you get the first sale, second sale, referral or a their voice to evangelise their trust and experience….like my wife does with her Facebook status, BBM status, What’s App. status, and Tweets.

Simply put, for B2B marketing focus what you want that cohesive story to look like with that customer and either begin to set the stage, or take it to the next level, or knock their socks off.

Like B2C marketing, the B2B marketer might think the answer is then about personalization. Yes, it’s a start, but it goes far beyond personalization. If you can anticipate the customers wants before they ask, you’ve hit the grand slam in the world series.

Unless you have Nostradomous as a marketer on your team, then the next best opportunity is what you already have, but likely not using. Data.

Baking data into your mix will help B2B marketers get to the next level of that relevant connectivity to deliver ‘at the moment’ the customer engages…and even before. For example, Groupon shows this by understanding I like Sushi, I live in Vancouver, and like many couples and families, will eat out on the weekend. So its no surprise to see on a Friday afternoon an email arrive to my Blackberry from Groupon about a timely deal on a fine dining sushi restaurant.

The magic to the short-term wins, such as conversations, is in creating that trust and loyalty in the long-term. Simply reflect on your own personal relationship stories and you’ll find similar context.

The beauty in marketing today is the wealth of data at their disposal. Between transactional data, CRM data, web analytics data and hooking into 3rd parties for the external data (ex. hooking into LinkedIn to append the customers business profile, and Facebook for their personal profile), will help you achieve Nostradamus capabilities to deliver predictive insights that can drive intelligence actions to foster and nurture the relationship.

This data-driven approach to a customer’s activity and behaviors will go well beyond what you see today in your CRM customer account profile. Think what data you can extrapolate to unveil churn events, price sensitivity, up/cross sell opportunities or timely re-buys during personal ‘moments’.

When I’ve talk with other businesses about this, a common thought they all seem to feel is ‘I can’t afford it. I need to buy more tools or software to do that.”.  Yes, some tools are needed but there are plenty of free options on the web today to help. But regardless of the cost, first think about the approach and support. Don’t just throw money at new technologies to solve problems, as you’ll soon realize you’ve bought the car, but don’t know how to drive it, let alone get the optimum performance from it.

I’m a huge advocate of data-driven marketing because I’ve found its much easier to prove the value of B2B (and B2C) marketing investments, when I can demonstrate the impact on spend and return. But even when it’s easier to “sell on the numbers”, the challenge still exists to solve or improve the issue when the immediate outcome is not a transactional sale. But those who have the mind-set and understanding of the relationship-value, you will get buy-in much easier.

Marketing, and in my case primarily digital marketing, must be spread through the value-chain of the business. The strategy and platform to drive this is only 50% transactional (ex. ecommerce sales or online conversions). The other half is transformational growth to “get in bed” with the customer.

Within the digital strategy, as a B2B marketer your goal will be to shape the digital eco-system so that it can cohesively become a component of sales, service and product, and deliver connectivity across all platforms – channels, devices, etc.

To accomplish this however it requires companies to accept the challenge from the above c-levels. They must embrace the opportunity to transform the business to reach the customer ‘in the moment’. I’ve often found it’s easier said than done, as this business transformational voice from above is often challenged to support their words with the investment to prove the gains. The tunnel-vision short-term view is a disease.

With the right organizational structure (and technology, data and opertions) that works within the business “for the customer”, and a c-level mindset to make this marketing pivot “for the customer”, will help knock down the silos in the business, and apply success measures for each area against the customer relationship.

You’ll find more acceptance and action for this among those nimble businesses whose business model holds a primary footprint in the online eco-system.

B2B customer relationships - listen, don't speak till spoken tooSo where to start? I’m sure there are over two dozen places a B2B marketer could begin this transformation. But I believe at the core of it all is within you and those who influence change in your organization. So it’s a mindset shift from above that is a first place to start.

Your challenge is understanding if they’re willing to listen and accept change? If you can win them to your way of thinking before the customer does (which means it probably too late), you’ll get less friction to begin the dialogue to make small, incremental, but impactful changes.

I prefer the old adage of the half cup full, or half empty. You can probably see what is working for your business, but play the advocate and ask what are you doing that is not working.

Starting there can work to get the issues on the table and spark the conversations, but it should never stop there. This change in mindset is long term, and what I like to consider an ‘evolution’. It’s something that doesn’t stop, and shouldn’t stop.

Digital is a living and breathing thing. So is your customer. Create a marriage with them and your business. Nurture and foster it like your grandparents did over their 60 years of marriage. How did they do it? Conversation to get understanding, empathy and anticipate the others needs and wants. The end result is relationship that is priceless.

Entrepreneurs delusional optimism

Daniel Kahneman - Delusion optimism

A refreshing reminder to share for founding entrepreneurs, and one that is far to common of a twin trait among why many startups fail.

Perhaps its more of a virus than a trait, but the truth in Kahneman’s short video is a message to startups and any small business.

He describes how a blurred vision blocks out key warnings from who matters most – your customer, peers, and employees. It’s a direct result of delusional optimism where the founders idea or product is considered the next best thing or a must-have.

Does the idea or product solve a meaningful problem, is enough scale or an audience to will depart with their $$$, are you chasing the startup dream and neglecting the fundamentals of a business?

Kahneman video on Making Smarter Decisions based on his bestselling book Thinking, Fast and Slow, touches on how people, or entrepreneurs in this case, should overcome the cognitive biases and errors that can affect decisions that can sink or catapult a business.

10 Startup Founders Share The Best Advice They Ever Received

Advice from entrepreneurs for startups

A good post from Mashables worthy of a share to you start-up founders and entrepreneurs.

When you’re thinking about starting a company or first in the entrepreneurial trenches, any nugget of advice you can get from someone who’s been there before is like gold.

But as time goes on, you’ll realize that some of those tips are better — and more applicable to your business — than others.

So, to get you started on the right foot, no matter where you are in your startup journey, we asked 10 founders to weigh in on the absolute best advice they received as they built their companies. Take note of these (sometimes surprising) lessons for your own venture.

Other related startup posts you may find of interest:

Continue reading “10 Startup Founders Share The Best Advice They Ever Received”

The digital divide of a digital marketing strategy framework

Over the years I have observed and tested the principles that makeup successful digital-focused teams and organizations, and have witnessed a digital divide in the context of strategic business framework to reach a level of digital maturity. I’ve observed 4 pillars that are a foundation to an organizations digital marketing framework, and a criteria against measuring the health of its maturity, and the currency it provides.

Yet I often find a mixology of viewpoints and theory on what defines a digital strategy, and baseline framework in which the strategies can be built on and align to both the big picture, and the short term.

In many cases I find a misleading conception of strategy definition as either their strategic frameworks address only tactical aspects of strategy and more appropriate to campaign planning, or the over-arching approach to execution, or multi-directional go-to-market planning.

I’ve yet to find or experience a strategic approach that fits every organization. However I have built a guiding framework that digital strategy that can be built upon, which can be rooted into almost any organizations hierarchal eco-system. Continue reading “The digital divide of a digital marketing strategy framework”

Want to work for a startup? Start something first

why work at a startup

Conversations I’ve had with a number of entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are reflective of the type of personalities, mentalities, and overall fit that it takes to either launch a start up, or work for one.

Whether you’ve ever applied to a startup to jump on the next latest great idea, have a love for the startup culture, or have your own ideas in incubation dreaming to get financing and launch full time, this post touches on a few key areas of the type of ‘fit’ the startup cultures seek and cultivate.

Steve Blank, one of the fathers of the Lean Startup revolution, defines a startup as lean organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. And what does that mean? Well, that the company either doesn’t have a working product, it has a working product that no one will buy (meaning cannot get past the first barrier of market adoption), or it has a product that sells but can’t figure out how to market and sell the product profitably.

Translation: Working at a startup is nothing short of chaos. You’re trying to make something from nothing (at worst) or trying to fix all of the things that exist but that aren’t working (at best). Oh, and ideally before you run out of money.

Given all of this insanity that goes on, how do you prove to a hiring manager at a startup that you have what it takes? How will he or she know that you’re the kind of person who understands the highs as well as the lows and who can push through the dips that you’ll inevitably experience working at a startup?

It’s pretty simple, actually:

Start something first.

Starting something is hard work and pretty thankless most of the time.

Starting something is hard work and pretty thankless most of the time. You’re building stuff, you’re trying stuff, and most of this stuff won’t work the first —or second, or third — time. Talk about discouraging.

But that’s exactly the point. If you’ve gone through the process of starting something meaningful, you’ll know how it feels to try things, fail, bang your head against the wall and try a few more things that will probably also fail. (I know, maybe I should change my pen name to Debbie Downer.)

So, if you haven’t experienced the fear, stress and frustration of starting something, then get to work. There is no better way to build up the mental toughness that’s needed to succeed at a startup.

Not sure where to start? Here a bunch of ideas for you so you can focus less on the idea and more on the getting started:

1. Start a Networking Group or Meetup

With platforms like Meetup, it’s easier than ever to organize a group around your area of interest, whether it’s cooking, coding or college basketball. Of course, organizing is the easy part. Recruiting people, running meetings or events and promoting the group is hard work. And you might fail. But that’s the whole point of this, isn’t it?

2. Start Blogging

Contrary to popular belief, blogging is hard work. It’s one thing to write a couple of posts a month on a blog using a vanilla theme. It’s another (and much more challenging) thing to post good content consistently, add custom features to your blog, perform search engine optimization, and systematically improve it so you attract more readers and followers. Think a startup would be impressed if you did all of those things? Yep.

3. Build an App

Got coding skills? If there are specific startups you’re targeting in your job search, see if they have an API that you could build a Web or mobile app around. Then, show up to your interview with a working prototype, and expect to raise some eyebrows in a good way. If you don’t know how to code, don’t let that discourage you. There are lots of great sites for resources as CodeAcademyTreehouse where you can learn to code at your own pace.

4. Write an Ebook

Writing a good ebook requires commitment and lots of effort and that’s before you even publish it, when you need to get down to business marketing and selling it. I’ve gone through this process myself, having written an ebook about careers in venture capital. If you think you might take this path, check out the things I wished I had known before I wrote my ebook so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.

5. Teach a Class

Everyone is an expert at something. So, pick your subject and use a platform like Udemy or Skillshare to teach a class on that topic. It’s a challenge to create compelling content and recruit students for a class, trust me, because I’ve done it myself. Aside from helping you build the tenacity that you’ll need to start your own business, teaching a class is also a great networking opportunity and positions you as an authority within your area of expertise. Bonus points for sure.

6. Throw Ideas @ The Wall

One of my own I’ve added to John’s top 5 list, is don’t fear the limitation of money or time to test your concept. Take the basics of your idea, and throw it at the wall to see if and what sticks.

Look at the global talent pool of designers, programmers, accountants, virtual assistants, business advisors, and even lawyers that offer exceptional and affordable talent (yes, it does exist), to bring your MVP or beta concept to life to validate its potential. (I’ve had a lawyer who worked enterprise contracts for Pepsi, hired for legal contract reviews for less than $300).

99designs,, and others are a few good places to start to search for the talents you need. Or perhaps you’re seeking more sweat for equity to bring aboard the right partner, then consider founders2be. Yet if you don’t have the next best social 3.0 idea and want to go more traditional, browse around and connect with suppliers on

Now, what are you going to start?


Credit and republished from John Gannon, author of The Daily Muse.

Key learnings from Startup School 2013

key learnings from starting an online business

Y Combinator put on a solid performance on October 13th where thousands of programmers, engineers, designers, marketers and entrepreneurs joined a line up of amazing speakers at the Flin Center for Startup School 2013.

Having had my run at a few startup ventures, much of key takeaways from mentors hit close to home. These are the key takeaways.

Phil Libin, Found @ Evernote

  • His 3rd company before hitting it big with Evernote
  • ‘Let’s build something we LOVE!’
  • Cultivate a group of cofounders early
  • Don’t even make friends with people you wouldn’t start a company with!
  • Being your own boss (while consulting) sucks! You aren’t creating long-term value
  • Don’t be clear with structuring. Be innovative with your product
  • Not fun day to day, but fun month by month
  • No exit strategy. Build something you don’t want to sell
  • Make something for yourselves

Dan Siroker, Founder @ Optimizely

  • 2005: Time from start to first paying customers
  • 2010: We had our first paying customer before we wrote a line of code
  • Every candidate: Are they better than the mean?
  • Bottleneck: A/B testing requests a developer
  • Hard to prioritize 1, 2, 3, if you aren’t the market
  • Asking good questions > giving advice
  • Repeat tight feedback loops
  • Entrepreneurs write the algorithm (to success)

Ron Conway, Partner, SV Angel

  • Invest in people first
  • 40% of startups in SV Angel go out of business.
  • The founders who iterate until it works are the unsung heros
  • Never argue with the metrics
  • Find investors who add value
  • Social apps. change the way people communicate
  • If the product takes off, it’s a good product
  • Move quickly. One term sheet = forcing function
  • Follow up to get agreement on paper
  • Product focus = crucial
  • Be decisive
  • Hire fast. Fire fast. Even if its a cofounder
  • Recognize deficiencies
  • Recent change code < design

Chris Dixon, Partner @ A16Z

  • Good ideas that look bad, look for the sweet spot in the middle
  • You need to know a secret. Something you know that most people don’t.
  • Draw from your experiences
  • To us, it was as obvious as this bottle of water
  • Unbundle functions
  • Powerful people will dismiss it as a toy
  • People vote with their time. Did it start as a hobby?
  • Does it challenge social norms?
  • Best indicator: Domain expertise

Diane Green @ VMWare

  • We had a big vision
  • Don’t fix up the office
  • Find a small milestone that adds value
  • Keep your options open
  • With the right people, a board is invaluable
  • Having a deadline helps with almost everything
  • Make people’s lives easier!!!

Balaji Srinivasan, Founder @ Counsyl

  • Let’s talk about exits…
  • Voice / stay and make a difference VERSUS Exist / leave and try somewhere else
  • Exist gives VOICE its strength. People leaving makes voice an option.
  • Silicon Valley is reinventing every industry. The backlash is beginning.
  • Show people what a world run by Silicon Valley would be like, without disrupting.
  • Opt-out. Mobile makes EXITS less risky.

Chase Adams, Founder @ Watsi

  • Do good + Do well.
  • Do you think all the startups TC wires about are this secretly crappy
  • Earn trust
  • Worst part of being a non-profit: nobody says no.
  • Make the world smaller = make the world better
  • Find something to work on that you care about more than yourself.

Jack Dorsey, Founder @ Twitter, Square

  • Ware are not here to do what’s already been done. Don’t worry about rejection.
  • Don’t build someone else’s dream.
  • Praise > blame
  • Do the hard things when it’s going well.
  • Small details matter
  • Create a note called ‘Daily’. Check it daily. Add do’s and don’ts. It will help you focus.
  • You. You’re the future. You have the ideas. That’s your task. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But it’s up to you to make what you want to see the world.

Mark Zuckerberg, Founder @ Facebook

  • I built stuff I wanted
  • We didn’t realize we were going to be the ones.
  • We cared more. For everyone else, it was a hobby.
  • Be determined
  • I know nothing when I started
  • That mistake cost me billions…but it’s fine.
  • When hiring: Would I work for that person?
  • I never believed startups were glamorous
  • Throw yourself in. What’s the worst that could happen?
  • Pick the #1 thing that matters.
  • When a problem arises. Lockdown!!!

 Nathan Blecharzyk, Founder @ Airbnb

  • You’ll fail more than you succeed
  • Everyone experience should be addictive
  • Choosing partners: Most important.
  • Something positive happened (a sign)
  • Work through it.
  • After a couple of beers, I agreed…
  • Motto: 3 clicks to book it
  • Before you quite, give it 100%
  • Lifecycle of a startup…Shoot high, low, low, low, low, flat, low, blip, low, adoption and the skys the limit.
  • It looks really easy. Persevere.
  • Do thins that don’t scale.

The above is a repost summary from Gregory Koberger @

B2B marketing with LinkedIn

LInkedin business marketing

If LinkedIn is new to your B2B digital marketing arsenal, then like most you’ll kick-off with the begging question “Is LinkedIn right for my business?”.

As more brands dive into the social space developing out their marketing fit in the social media eco-system, you’ll soon find the multiple opportunities each relevant social platform offers your business.

In the case of B2B marketing, I’ll introduce you 5 tips to begin to build a B2B LinkedIn strategy and ways to use integrate LinkedIn into your marketing and sales plans to support your lead acquisition, and retention programs.

Understanding the expectations around SSM (social media marketing), similar to investing in the markets, achieving long-term sustainable success takes time. The same applies to your social media strategy and any platform or media you get involved with. The same applies to a LinkedIn strategy.

Building a LinkedIn strategy, an understanding of where, and how it plays a role in your holistic digital strategy is important. What I mean by this is how does Linkedin align to your business objectives, especially for startups core roots is typically market adoption and growth?

Remember, LinkedIn is not a strategy, but a platform or digital playground where your audience connects for various reasons; professional engagement, peer education, research, etc.

It just so happens that this audience are those who have giving up a different kind profile data (vs. Facebook profile data) on their profession, and built a network around those who provide value, influence or relevance to their professional and relationships.

Like your own reputation, both personally and professionally, it takes a long-term commitment to build up equity. From this you harness unconsciously the value that comes with it. Same works for a LinkedIn strategy. To deliver and sustain results, a long-term commitment is required. Time will be to manage, test, learn and optimize your Linkedin strategy to get back the equity it offers.

And like all things to reap its rewards, first start with evaluating how much time, resources (people), and budgets you can invest to support your LinkedIn, and social media strategy.

Now that you’ve checked those off, let’s get into 5 LinkedIn marketing areas that your business can integrate into your holistic digital marketing program.

#1: Build an Optimized Company Page on LinkedIn

Plant the first seed and set up your brand page that is optimized for your audience and Search. The user-experience you dictate in throughout your digital strategy should convey the similar used-based experience in the content you publish in your LinkedIn page. Yes, optimize it for Search, but first view it from your audience perspective.

Does your LinkedIn company page articulate the same bullsh*t mission statement and text-book vision that a conversation with legal counsel once put it so eloquently….”fluff”.

Your Linkedin marketing page should speak the same language and tone and translate all the UX principles you put into your digital presence. You already did that, right?

Nevertheless the reason I put building a LinkedIn company page as a #1 item here, is that almost the entire arsenal of marketing opportunities available through this business platform, all links back to your company profile. Consider it an extension of your brands visibility in the marketplace of Linkedin, and central voice on Linkedin to showcase your business, services and products.

Build Follower Connections

Tie the virtual threads to your LinkedIn company page and invite your clients, employees, vendors, affiliates, partners and peers to follow your page. There are numerous organic ways to build Linkedin followers from pull tactics, but for those seeking an injection to build them today can consider LinkedIn’s targeted advertising feature.

If you use LinkedIn’s paid advertising program, ensure you establish the value of a follower, just as you assign a value to a leads email address (you do quantify the monetary value of your leads and customers email, don’t you?)

Consider also the KPI’s of obtaining a LinkedIn Follower to quantify the value of the investment. Value meaning the value of what a follower can bring your business, vs. value and ROI from other mediums and channels of your marketing investment, especially if you’re bootstrapped B2B start up.

Advocates from Recommendations

Encourage your followers and Linkedin contacts to endorse and advocate your company page through LinkedIn recommendations. These recommendations display on your LinkedIn company page for others to see, and you can serve them up as endorsement fuel that may help build brand credibility, but also consider the possibility how Google and other key partners may use your company pages recommendations as a social indicator to dictate your business influence in the search results or other ways your business can be served to get found.

Targeted Content Curation & Syndicate

The growth in your follower base contributes to the growth in reach you can curate your content for greater brand visibility and top of mind.

It’s an effective way to syndicate your meaningful content to those who see value in it, as you can segment your audience and target the most relevant updates, and in turn amplify its visibility with them through social share features.

#2: Groups

LinkedIn groups are like private (or open) conference rooms within LinkedIn’s playground where individuals with similar professional interests can connect and engage.

Collaboration in niche groups is an effective piece of a social strategy as it helps attract the selective audience you may need to connect with, influence or simply get on their radar.

I don’t want to say groups are a way to become a thought leader. But it can help drive thought leadership and position you as an expert. Just because someone or business can post a semi-intelligent or stimulating conversations that give the perception of an expert, doesn’t make you or your brand an authority in that space. Thought leadership is earned through time and experience.

Thought leadership comes with experience and innovation, and often by those who are disruptive in a particular space or elevated themselves to the top through success and highly sought after. So unless you’re another Richard Brandson or Steve Job, you and your brand are an expert, and the Linkedin groups are best to build creditability and reputation.

I dissected this distinction to help you understand the difference and the expectations that come from others who need you to drive the social conversations through not just Linkinin, but any social platform, whether it be Linkedin groups, the blogosphere or a co-author on a major industry media partner.

Linkedin groups can be powerful to bring together relevant people who all have a similar alignment and common goals. One tip to help foster this is host a group on your subject matter that brings together your connections (employees, vendors, partners, etc.) around a common thread that is compelling enough to get their participation and contribution too. This organically will spread like the flu to their own networks, and help attain a strong impact on growing the visibility reach of your business.

#3: Paid LinkedIn Content Ads and Sponsored Updates

Studies support Linkedin paid ads, while still somewhat new and fresh, provide around a 3.6% referral rate to a business website among all other Linkedin channels that refer visitors.

Its important to understand this because a) this will likely diminish over time from user blindness, b) it’s a decent ratio compared to Google paid ads, and c) the CPA is attractive compared to Google’s PPC program.

What I like about Linkedin Paid Ads is the level of targeting it offers. Between targeting users by title/position, location, personalization and the multiple functions of pushing a poll or video vs. the standard contextual ad, the new bells and whistles are interesting.

Its place in the B2B space though may be limiting. There are far better ROI decisions to be made on your Linkedin marketing investments then in their paid ad. model, however its not a on-size-fits-all situation. Should you try the Linkedin paid ads, have your goals in mind, and a methodology to apply a Test, Learn, Optimize management approach. Similar to Google Paid search, it may take up to 3 months or more to optimize your campaign to achieve your target CPAs. And Linkedin paid ad channel is no different.

Linkedin paid ads and sponsored updates have their place in the B2B space, but how it’s used within your Linkedin strategy and how applicable it’s to your business, are answers you should seek before investing.

And should you find the Linkedin advertising has a place in your social strategy, then consider there 5 Linkedin advertising strategies:

  1. Increase awareness
    People can’t buy from your business if they don’t know it exists. And while I’m one for “awareness” as a vanity metric, consider the place for online display in the B2B space for prospecting and brand awareness. Online display performs +95% as an assist channel to influence and contribute to the next-touch channel to drive the user to towards your goals.  What this means it may take repeated awareness of your brand before it influences your audience behavior to connect with your brand.
  2. Support content marketing
    Curate your content as white papers, webinairs, articles, etc. that prospect new leads.
  3. Amplify media coverage
    Media coverage published through this when targeted to select media professionals can help to seed a viral effect for greater media amplification. Ex. target the specific editors of media publishing companies you otherwise don’t have a direct relationship with.
  4. Segment the market
    Segment those who you need to reach to make a bigger impact. Speak the same message and language your niche segment connects with.
  5. Persuade presales
    Persuasion through a video ad for prospecting? Yes, all possible with Linkedin paid advertising. Segment your audience and hit the right cords with your audience to warm them up and get their attention.

Sponsored updates on the other hand have shown decent performance promise. Sponsored Updates allow you to promote your message to others outside your company page following. At the same time, you can target who sees that message, so your marketing efforts can be focused on the right people.

The Sponsored updates are designed to boost visibility with your company page before your valuable message trickles down the users news feed and below fold and into blindness.

5. Linkedin Single Sign On (SSO)

If you’re a B2B company that has found value in Linkedin, then Linkedin single sign-on (SSO) is for you. SSO is similar to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus that allows a user to sign up or sign on through using their Linkedin account.

The convenience this may give the user for one username and password to sign-in to an account, the value to a B2B marketer is the profiling and data-mining it offers.

As many B2B marketers may find webinars or white papers a strong way to prospect and build lead gen, then incorporating LinkedIn’s SSO allows for greater convenience for the user to solicit their information in your online web forms to access the content.

While the convenience side is great and plays into the overall UX of your website strategy, what I like best about LinkedIn and other social platform SSO features is how they can be used to safely access and transfer user account data .

Think about how it allows you as a marketer to data mine the prospect to pull additional profile information from their Linkedin profile, and append to their account within your CRM. The ongoing tactics you can employ to build up a profile of the prospect is gold to the sales team.

An example of this is the promotion of a white paper through various channels on Linkedin, driving prospects to an optimize landing page with the option to register with one-click using their LInkedin account. As the X% users who perform this action, allows you to capture specific sets of profile data of the prospect, and maintains strong integrity of this data. Think how many times you’ve entered a fake email or inaccurate data in a form to download a white paper or webinar? Garbage data in gives the sales team little to work with, let alone your Demand Gen. team to target the appropriate lead nurture program .

The downside to SSO is it allows companies like Linkedin, Facebook and Google to also develop detailed user profiles to share with their partners and advertisers, and makes mining and selling customer data significantly easier.

Where we sit today, LinkedIn is a very powerful social platform in the B2B space with hockey-stock growth to help you reach more business and attract new customers. Regardless of what stage you are in with your business or product lifecycle, Linkedin presents some valuable opportunities to support your acquisition and retention strategies and stay top of mind, nurture, convert and influence industry advocates.

Got a question or comment to throw at the wall? Leave me your comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.

Roots of a Startup

Roots of a startup

Richard Branson, one of my more admired entrepreneurs, surprisingly never set out to be a businessman and instead followed his guiding-light as a teenager to launch a magazine startup that evolved into the Virgin empire we’re familiar with today.

Its a familiar story hearing of entrepreneurs who begun with similar beginnings. Those with a passionate vision in mind, a solution to a problem, or pursued the path of fulfilment vs. chasing the golden ladder and paycheque that many of use were bred to pursue.

Even my entrepreneurial DNA has led me down the path of the startup addiction, having founded a digital marketing agency, mentoring and coaching bootstrapped startups and fortune 500’s, to taking digital epiphanies from concept to market….with some kept warm on the back-burning similar to where’s path to success.

Build a business, not a startup

Reflecting on over 15 years of digital business adventures (and ventures), and looking at the successes and ‘learning experiences’ from a variety of clients and brands, I found a few common threads that were all too apparent in the make or break of a new digital business startup. And this is what I’ve become familiar with as the roots of a startup.

With most things in our ecosystem, both in life and business, everything that grows or advances into something bigger and better, requires foundation.

It’s a bit cliche, but still one of those basic ingredients I’ve found most often neglected by startups and entrepreneurs, and repetitious reasons for why many startups fail.

Don’t just take my word, the influential ancient Chinese book the art of war, is a masterpiece on strategy that can be applied to help startups build a strong foundation to win those small and large milestones and battles through their startup journey.

The simplistic takeaway from this is that a foundation for your startup is comprises of the following roots, which will help you provide the support to drive your new startup venture forward. And when vision gets cloudy or roadblocks and failures occur, the foundation is your support to fall on to revisit.

For any startup, its a healthy habit to revisit the foundation on a monthly or quarterly term. Not to re-hash or over analyze, but more of a check-in to ensure your startup strategy and team is still aligned. Think about it…just as in touring the country in a car, you check your GPS or map from time to time to ensure you’re still on in the right direction you mapped out…and if not, ask yourself or your team “why”…and ask it repeatedly if you’re to uncover the root cause that caused your direction or path to become miss-aligned. Again – build a business…one that solves a need or purpose…not a startup.

The Roots

Often I found lacking in many startups is a compressive foundation of entrepreneurship. Many venture down their path with cultivating a new spin on something old (or new), or as in the case of many computer engineers and programmers I’ve met, simply building something for the sake of the challenge or diving-in with tunnel vision…if I build it, it will be cool and they will come.

The startup foundation that appears to separate success from failure; albeit I’ve seen some really great ideas sadly fail from lack of foundation to drive any solid execution, where these foundational roots can be summed up to…

  • Vision and concept

  • Product development and viability

  • Targeted exposure and revenue

  • Adoption and scale

  • Distribution channels, and partnerships

  • Synergy, structure and business design

I’ll get into each one of these foundation roots in separate posts, but for now it gives you a 30,000 foot view of the typical roots that prevail in many successful startups.

Unfortunately many bootstrapped startups dive immediately into building and launching their ideas into market (which isn’t always a bad thing), but tend to neglect the startup roots as an after-thought.

Lets not forget the same roots apply to intraprenuership within the corporate world. Somewhat different approaches and control over each root, but nevertheless they are influential in an organizations growth – ex. think’s historical path.

There are no shortcuts to circumventing these roots…and yet why would you. But as the wicked cocktail of time, money and aspiration is drunk, those who venture down the startup path can learn and accelerate much quicker from the experience and validated learnings where many seasoned and successful entrepreneurs or advisors have already tried, failed, succeed and accomplished over the years.

To find advisors to help guide and steer you, just look around your local community for other success stories, network at key events or connect online through community portals that can help introduce you to advisors who want to give back and help…though sometimes at the cost of equity.

Consider the fast-track access to these validated learnings and experience through local or popular incubator programs. Incubator programs are designed to support and nurture the development of a startup through the functional roots described above, and can offer an array of support and services.

I’ve found the biggest perk is the exclusive access to a network of contacts most wouldn’t have an easy time accessing, such as face time with angels and VC’s, and those who have travelled and succeed down the beaten entrepreneurial path and won.

Those digital stars who get it, will invest in themselves for their startup through these incubator type programs. The whole point of joining is to access the services of the different startup ecosystems, and the knowledge to be applied. (Not to mention statistically the success of most startups is far greater from those who join these programs).

Not familiar with a startup ecosystem? A startup ecosystem is simply formed groups of people in their various stages of their business success, and various types of companies, all interacting as a system to help new startups.

Corporate world calls these as elite networks, consortiums, board directors, etc.

But in the startup world, consider these startup ecosystems via incubator programs or accelerator programs as a group where each focus on specific area of the business functions, and/or businesses at various stages in their development stages.

Water the Roots

When I refer to watering the roots, it simply implies taking risk.

The roots of a startup need investment of time and effort to grow. And to achieve this you need to take both small and larger risks.

I’m sure you’ve heard friends or peers pitch the next big idea, but only to fail to even start the journey down its path. Its either a lack of will-power, motivation or drive to take small steps to water the roots of their idea. Talk is cheap.

Watering the startup roots is the necessity to produce the failures, and the learnings from these failures to advance forward, pivot or even stop.

How else will you validate your product or idea, or know you’re targeting the right audience, or if you can monetize your concept, or continually pump time and money into something that will never be.

Watering the roots aims to tweak your startup towards the right direction, grow the business all while intelligently positioning your risk and exposure.

For example, take your startups product or concept. You’re bootstrapping with little to no investment, or maybe you were fortunate to obtain some seed capital for equity.

How you water startup roots of product development and viability will be viewed on how you can mitigate risk of financial investment and time to get your product into a viable product your audience is willing to part ways with their money in return for what you offer.

Do you spend months building the perfect product, thinking it will be a 90% perfect fit with your audience? Did you even talk with your intended audience and get their insights? But how can you if you’re spending 6 months to build your product?

Following this traditional failed startup path tends to lead to either a) folding up your business as you’re broke or cannot invest further time and money until you can get your audience to see the value in parting ways with their hard earned money, or b) you’ll seek further equity to buy you more time to validate the market fit.

In this scenario, watering the product development roots is where I advise the startup to engage in a product feedback loop to build only the basic acceptable product (BAP)….or popularized by the MVP (minimum viable product).

The BAP or MVP will help the startup quickly and efficiently build only the minimum requirements that the intended audience will find value and acceptance.

Then test this with various cross sections of your audience, and take objective views of the feedback and inputs.

This feedback will help become your guiding light on what do address next. Not that all feedback is good feedback, but the testing the BAP will provide you the crucial initial insights to either advance to the next round of development to move towards that market fit, or if a pivot is required.

A startup may realize their initial product idea or vision was blurred. But ongoing testing, learning and optimization will answer any doubts and questions.

And when a pivot is required (turning point), embrace it as many successful house-hold named startups are not where they are today without making a number of different pivots. Think Groupon, Angry Birds or Apple.

These pivots, or turning points, may be the product itself, or the target audience, or the business or monetization model or virtually any one of the roots described above.

A pivot of your product or vision will point you in a new direction towards the success market fit, while reducing time and money spent on something that was never meant to be.

And remember, the outcome of your BAP is to get as close to the “right fit” with your audience, where your market is willing to spend their time, money and evangelize your product or brand.

But for now I hope you find value in the sharing of my experience in the digital space and with startups. Where extreme uncertainty prevails in the startup world, take heart in the roots of a startup to help you launch or elevate your next digital business.

Be sure to share your experiences and tips with others and comment below. I’ll aim to respond and share back with others.