I've been to the TAG Geek Out for the last couple of years. Maybe I didn't go before because I thought I was too busy, or perhaps you get sick of the constant siege of technology and think you cannot face a day where you actually volunteered for that siege.
No matter, software continues to eat the world, and marketing continues its onward journey from being all art, to all science. Alternatively, science fiction right now depending on how much you are prepared to accept the succession of Machine Learning and AI. Marketing technology reduces everything to numbers, so before we discuss what I think I learned at this year's Geek Out, you should bear one thing in mind. As Hans Rosling points out in his highly recommended book Factfulness; "you cannot understand the world without numbers, but the world cannot be understood by the use of numbers alone." That being said here are three things we learned at the Geek Out."
Jeffrey Crow of PRGX presented a session on the importance of brand. Marvelously unconventional for a conference about technology. However, the point (which was well made) was that great technology is not a substitute for a great brand, and you cannot shortcut the thought that has to go into creating and maintaining that brand. Not a total surprise from Jeff, being as he is a branding guy having come up through the Unilever, Coca-Cola world. Branding used to be the domain of the larger companies, but in the age of the internet, social media and considering the difficulties with differentiation, all companies are visible 24x7, and so are their values and cultures.
We live in a world of crowded markets and lots of noise. Achieving differentiation is hard with so many similar products and services around. This is particularly true in marketing services and sales and marketing technology. It is essential to be clear about WHY you prescribe specific methods or techniques, not just WHAT methods or techniques you specify. The "why" of it is determined by your beliefs, values and guiding principles. These are all components of the brand. This is my interpretation, not Jeff's but his points regarding the importance of brand were well made.
The Verto Verdict - We don't see companies spending enough time and effort on this most intractable of subjects, and when they do they need to be more authentic (real) and less aspirational (unreal).
The second major point is the continuing belief in the 57%, or whatever the number is these days. 57% is the percentage used by those primarily in the digital marketing business to convince you that without the use of their technology (or services), your prospect will never find you. That prospect will invest in a product or service that you could have provided, but they remained blissfully unaware of you. The 57% number seems to vary. I thought it was 64% the last time I saw it, and the actual meaning seems to change too. Is it that 57% of those buying in your target market are some way through the "old" sales cycle before you realize. Alternatively, is it that some percentage of those buying in your target market are 57% of the way through the old sales cycle?
I don't know, and maybe the exact numbers and meaning don't matter much. We take the point that technology and the internet have enabled independent research by our prospects, and we must plan accordingly. Of course, the numbers do matter, just like words matter. We live in a world where we trivialize some while emphasizing others to fit a particular narrative. There are two points we think are important here:
If 57% of prospects are some way through the buying process before we know about it, that means 43% are not. So maybe you should be using some of the unfashionable prospecting methods, like tele, to "find them" rather than banking on them "finding you."
No one seems to know (or care much) where the 57% number originated. It appears to have taken its place in folk law now. Everyone trusts it, and no one asks the source. We think it was those reprobates at Sirius Decisions, but don't quote us. Does that mean we can believe this number with impunity? Not likely. If like many other statistics we have grown to know and love, it is flawed by the research method or the impurity of the sample. This 57% number that we trust so much could be way off.
The Verto Verdict - The best approach is to manage the risk (spread your bets). No matter what we label these activities and what the percentages are, you'll need both Inbound and Outbound. You'll need to find prospects, and you'll need to make it easy for them to find you. The challenge is coming up with the right formula – the right balance of activities to achieve the goals and for that, you'll need advice, your own judgment, and a little faith. But, hey…that's why you get paid the big bucks – right?
We mentioned the crowded markets earlier. This is no truer than in the MarTech and the Marketing Services world (MarTech solutions now number 6,829 according to Chiefmartech.com). The question was asked about the lines of demarcation. Where do the MarTech companies end and the Marketing agencies begin? Consensus seemed to be that this is up to the agencies to better define what they do and how they do it. Where they start and where they stop. It does revert to the brand of these agencies and them defining "who they are". Are they marketing technology companies, or are they marketing companies that use technology to achieve a certain outcome? Beware the "if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail" analogy. To a MarTech company, the answer will generally be "using their technology, now what's the question."
The Verto Verdict - Customers must take responsibility. We all like to use companies and work with people that we know and trust. That's where we go first to ask about another challenge, or service, or requirement especially when our own knowledge is limited. Naturally an incumbent agency will try to figure out if they can provide what you need, especially if it adds something to their portfolio. But YOU also must determine whether that's the best fit for your company…As usual, it's a trade-off. You must find a balance between what you expect from a current vendor, and what you'd achieve by adding a new vendor to the mix combined with your in-house skills.
So that was the "Geek Out." Compressed into half a day this year and well worth the time. We thank Scott Williford of vLinks and of course TAG for an all-round excellent job. Our last piece of advice is to find the time to go in 2019. I wonder what the over and under on MarTech solutions will be by then?