Someone raised the question on Quora a month ago: Would most users rather have content delivered to them based on interests or by their social connections? Then Arnold Waldstein started a Conversational Rant a few days ago on his blog, pointing out that he would like to “parse my world by conversations, by topic, by trusted connections daily.” Then Romain Goday of Darwin Ecosystem laid out five different approaches to content curation:
- Expert approach: curators
- Crowd approach: popularity
- User behavior approach: personalization
- Relationship approach: social graph
- Patterns approach: emergence
We all agree there is so much information available today that we need new methods (or new combinations of methods) to quickly, reliably and cost-effectively find the information we need. It’s a critical problem, compounded by the multiplicity of separate communities where information is shared, voted on, and reviewed. We are left with an uneasy feeling: what are we missing? That’s why we need content curation, a filter that helps us find what we want quickly, reliably and cost-effectively.
Finding the right filtering method can be complex. Some observations based on the foregoing sources and my own research:
- What we want to do will determine which filters are acceptable. For instance, if we want to assess raw information about “what’s going on” in order to draw our own conclusions about what’s coming next, filters subvert our efforts. Alternatively, if we want to know a good restaurant in town, we’ll seek the filter of connections whose restaurant recommendations we trust.
- How quickly we want the answers will also shape the relevant filters. Crowd sourcing, for example, takes time.
- The importance of comprehensive results also matters. If we need full confidence that no stone is left unturned, we won’t rely only on trusted connections. As Alex Clemmer noted on Quora, “It is inevitable that most of the interesting content in the world is discovered by people you don’t know.”
- Why we want the information matters. At work, the priority may be to stay up to date on what the boss looks at each day or the activity stream related to a particular project.
Factors such as trust and the need for serendipitous information also play a role in the filters that best meet our needs.
So what does this mean for selection of the right content curation platform for your business? Here are three principles to consider. First, curators who understand the context you need in your curation are essential because machines don’t have the discernment needed. The curators must be equipped with technologically sophisticated tools that make their work quick, easy, and reliably executed. Second, even the best curators won’t be spot on for all users all the time. Users must be able to select which parts of the curated content will be delivered to them. Faceted search, a robust taxonomy, and optional use of additional filters (e.g., popularity, recommendations of trusted connections) enable the precision needed in this selection. Third, ongoing discovery of new sources must be a priority because topics evolve, new experts emerge and sources change their emphasis. What other principles are relevant?
A salesperson who is face-to-face with a prospect can vary his or her dialogue to accommodate the prospect’s needs and interests. The salesperson knows the company size, location and industry as well as the prospect’s role and stage in the buying cycle. She can assess the prospect’s level of knowledge and fill in gaps. Most importantly she can use the prospect’s responses to guide the discussion.
Today the salesperson doesn’t get a face-to-face meeting until much later in the buying cycle. It is the marketer who must keep the attention of the multiple buyers at a multiple companies through the early and middle stages of their buying cycles. In order to keep each buyer’s attention, the marketer’s provision of information must vary in the same way a salesperson’s approach varies.
Yet the marketer isn’t sitting across from a single prospect. He is tracking and analyzing demographic and behavioral information about prospects, developing hypotheses about intent, gleaning insight from current customers, and mapping responses to prospect behaviors to move them to the next stage in the buying cycle.
Today’s marketers need to:
- Sharpen core marketing skills, including: knowing customers and prospects, understanding the processes that are affected by a product or service, mapping the buying cycle and buyer information needs, clarifying differentiation, and developing evidence-based value propositions.
- Get comfortable experimenting, acting on partial information, and adjusting course as they find new information.
- Put repeatable processes in place to leverage knowledge gained.
- Select and properly use appropriate technology.
- Collaborate fully with sales and lead the company into social business where “everyone is a marketer”
- Draw insight from customer interviews, analyze data, demonstrate accountability…
…the list goes on. Yes, businesses hold marketers, and marketers hold themselves, to a higher standard today. Leadership matters. Strategy and management matter. Evidence tells the story.
It’s a lot more and a lot more fun.
Pawan Deshpande’s post on Crafting the Perfect Content Curation Strategy raised the important issue of how one chooses the right topic for a content curation initiative. The topic choice drives actions and investments. Moreover, the topic lays the foundation for engagement and becomes the focus for reputation building. Pawan points to three factors to consider in selection of the right topic: competitors’ content strategies, the volume of content on a subject, and audience interest. These three are definitely important. But some refinements are in order.
The number one factor in selection of a topic for a content curation initiative is what is compelling to your target audience. A close second is relevance to a point of view held by your company. Don’t bother if your topic doesn’t meet these criteria. (Also don’t bother if you haven’t already set clear objectives about how a content curation initiative will achieve the business results you are seeking and how you will measure success. That is the subject of another post.)
In selecting a topic for a content curation initiative consider the following:
First and foremost, think about what is compelling to your targets. What information do they need to do their jobs? Where are major changes underway that will affect their success?
Secondly, look at your answers to those questions through the prism of your company’s products or services. What is the storyline that connects your products or services to either the information needed to do their jobs or the actions they will need to take to respond to important changes occurring in their business?
Thirdly, scan the topics competitors have staked out. Is their overlap with topics you now have under consideration? Drop from further consideration those topics that competitors are addressing well.
Fourth, reflect on your brand. How will leadership in a topic support your brand promise? Drop topics that are incompatible with your brand.
Fifth, consider the significant information sources. How are they perceived? You’ll be citing these sources frequently so their reputations will be associated with your company.
Sixth, consider the issues associated with the topics under consideration. Will exploration of the issues provoke rich discussion? A discerning perspective on controversial views will draw more attention and offer more opportunities for engagement.
Seventh, consider the research you might undertake related to each topic. How might you provide an ongoing service to your targets through research-based thought leadership? You may find some topics are more suited to original research than others.
Eighth, take stock of the scope and depth your experts can reasonably address. Will your internal experts be able to successfully engage in discussion of the issues? Engagement of customers requires the involvement of internal resources.
These are the factors I counsel my clients to consider and urge you to reflect upon before committing to a topic. What other factors are relevant? How difficult have you found topic selection to be in your content curation initiative?
MIT Sloan Management Review (Spring 2011) published new research on CRM in an article titled, “Why CRM Fails and How to Fix It.” This is fantastic reading; truly an energizing piece pointing to down-to-earth advice. The four key insights that the authors drew from their research are equally applicable to marketing automation. They are (verbatim):
- “If the appropriate marketing capabilities are not developed, little or no return will be generated from investments made in CRM.”
- “The rate of organizational learning, rather than the size of the company’s CRM budget, determines how rapidly companies can change the way they relate to a consumer, which, in turn, is linked to the length of the consumer purchasing cycle.”
- “Top management can provide the money, software and authority to create a CRM program, but such investment must be informed by cycles of learning from consumer insight….an organizational culture that tolerates experimentation will be more successful at building new CRM capabilities.”
- “Hard work and commitment are what it takes to develop marketing capabilities…far from being a black box (marketing capabilities) can be developed through conscious, goal-directed learning by those responsible for CRM.”
While some scoff at my contention that today’s marketing is harder than ever before, these insights from the research support that view. Enough of the left brain/right brain argument. Enough of the data/experience fuss. Enough of the processs/technology discussion. It takes them all…along with leadership and courage. I’ll say that again: leadership and courage.
Back to the article. The authors display a matrix with four marketing activities (demand management, creating marketing knowledge, building brands, customer relationship management) on the left and three marketing relationships across the top. The marketing relationships between companies and consumers are: transactional (from the 1970′s), one-to-one (based on the long-term relationship focus of the 1980s ) and networked (flowing from online networks, the company supply chain and consumers).”
The latter (networked relationships) is characterized by “co-creating value with a network of consumers,” marketing knowledge coming from “key network participants and shapers,” consumers encouraged to “access a networks capabilities,” and consumer self service. How different is this from where your marketing is today? How does this vision apply to your marketing? How will you go about building the capabilities to succeed in this networked relationship between company and consumer?
Don’t be stuck in in the 1990s. Please read the article and let me know whether it made you want to cheer also…
(Back to marketing automation: Today’s ClickZ piece on Marketing Automation…Far from Automatic opened once again the discussion of why so many marketing automation implementations fail to deliver expected results. It makes good points but doesn’t go far enough into a meaty topic that I’ve covered frequently.
In a recent survey conducted by Patricia Seybold Group and the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (Survey on Data-Driven Marketing, March 2011), more than 100 marketers reported what types of marketing data most interested heads of other departments. Customer data was the hands down winner, recognized as the top choice by CEOs, COOs, Business Unit Leaders, and Service Delivery Leaders. The findings (see below), while not statistically significant, do raise some questions worth pondering.
|Type of Data||Top Choice For:|
|Customer Data||CEO, COO, BU leader, Service leader|
|Sales Accepted Lead Data||Sales leader|
|Markets Data||CTO (2nd choice for CEO)|
|Marketing Programs Data||CFO|
|Competitor Data||None (2nd choice for Sales, Service, CTO)|
|Contacts Nurtured by Marketing||None (4th choice for Sales)|
Consider first, the kinds of data needed to understand sources of future growth (markets, competitors, customers) and the kinds of data needed to understand short term opportunities (customers, competition). Then consider what is needed to forecast short term success (sales accepted leads, contacts nurtured by marketing). Finally, what is needed to allocate budget dollars (marketing programs data).
It occurs to me that marketing has started its measurement activities in the area of least value to the company (marketing programs data). It is, fortunately, moving higher in the food chain to using contacts nurtured by marketing to forecast revenue. But still that is mechanics — can’t be ignored but not the source of the real value to the company. It is time for marketing to set its sights on growth and provide credible information to the rest of the organization on customers, markets, and competition.
Approach this like any other project — understanding what other departments are trying to accomplish and then providing information that helps them do that better, faster, more easily, more expertly. Providing credible marketing data to the rest of the company requires organizational outreach – crossing departmental lines, understanding needs, communicating effectively, and building relationships that foster mutual achievement.
That said, it is not all about the rest of the organization using the data…it is also about marketing’s uses of data to find new opportunities and capitalize on known opportunities. Be just as disciplined about the needs analysis for the marketing department. Afterall, you are/should be leading the charge.
A March 2011 survey conducted by Patricia Seybold Group and Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found a correlation between leadership in data-driven marketing and increased sales productivity as well as improved market share over a two year period. Pretty exciting results!
Digging deeper into technology factors affecting their success, we found that more than half the data savvy marketing organizations have had a technology strategy and roadmap in place for more than a year, compared with only 12% of the other marketing organizations in the survey.
We also found that the data savvy use more kinds of marketing data in more ways. Significantly, the uses achieved through the capabilities of marketing automation systems, such as determining which leads are sales ready, predicting campaign effectiveness, and segmenting markets for targeting campaigns, stand out among those that the data savvy use but others don’t use. We see this finding as further validating the importance of marketing automation systems in driving improved business results.
Look for the survey report later this week at the Patricia Seybold Group site.
Every B2B marketer should read Arnold Waldstein’s thoughtful post entitled, “Context, not content, is king.” The context he describes is exactly what B2B marketers need to provide in their content curation. He points out that, “Few of the curation platform players seem to understand that content without dynamic context is really neither interesting nor that valuable.”
Waldstein talks about, “finding groupings around information needs” and the tremendous opportunity for business to invigorate new groupings relevent to its products/services. This is the challenge for the B2B marketer: pick the topics/issues that keenly interest a particular audience and provide a point of view that keeps bringing them back. The point of view adds the value.
Marketers who use curation to establish a thought leadership position can’t stand on the sidelines, just aggregating and selecting relevant content. That’s like saying, “I know what’s going on.” By contrast, being a thought leader means you are saying, “I know what’s going on, what’s coming down the road, and here’s what it means to you.”
A lot of Waldstein’s post refers to the role social voting is having on curation: if a lot of people like something, some consider it more valuable. He doesn’t. Neither do I. Social (i.e., friendships) can’t provide the context that adds value.
In today’s B2B buying environment, marketing can not be effective in driving demand, building brand, or charting strategies for future growth without technology. There are hundreds of reasons why marketers should invest in technology but I am more interested in what marketers report as their reasons. So, in a recent survey conducted by Patricia Seybold Group and ITSMA, I asked.
First a few details on the 107 survey respondents:
- Large B2B companies (half over $1 billion in revenue)
- Half from companies that primarily sell services; half from companies that sell products and services
- Marketers all managed one or more marketing functions in their companies.
The top four reasons these marketers invest in technology are to:
- Improve efficiency
- Make marketing investments based on data
- Hand better quality leads to sales
- Obtain greater understanding of prospects and customers to improve offers, products, services
Those who had made much more investments in technology for longer periods of time didn’t have significantly different reasons. In other words, the leaders haven’t moved on to focus on new horizons. They are continuing to invest to improve efficiency, accountability, sales productivity, and customer understanding.
If you are a marketer just beginning to invest in technology, you face a tough game of catch up. Data keep pouring in that correlate technology investment with data-driven marketing and correlate data-driven marketing with greater improvement in market share, lower cost of sales, and higher sales velocity. If you are just starting out you do have the benefit of learning from others’ mistakes…so take full advantage of the research on implementation success. There is no time to waste.