Rethinking the Marketing Automation to Website Interface

The Website <-> Marketing Automation Interface is Broken

Almost all marketing automation tools include the option to track user behaviour. The data flow is straightforward and unidirectional – the web tracker feeds data to the marketing system about user behaviour on the site. Data doesn’t flow the other way around, unless you deploy some real-time marketing tool like Insightera, and even then you need to hack the hell out of the system to achieve something close a true marketing-system-to-website data flow. Anyway, regardless of the tool you use, real-time marketing is something savvy marketers are starting to seriously think about, but it’s still far from being mainstream.

If you’re still asking yourself why you’d need that, here’s an illustrative use case: a newly registered lead revisits your website. You want to present her with a prominent early-stage content offer, like an analyst report that discusses her industry. But when she next visits the site, three weeks later, she’s already been converted by sales and an opportunity is being managed for her company. Now is the time to present her with more advanced selection-stage content, such as a product whitepaper or an offer to attend an ROI workshop.

lock-on-gateThis is either impossible or very difficult to achieve using current technologies and website content architecture conventions. By which I mean that in most B2B websites, something is deeply broken in the integration between what are arguably the two most important assets of the marketer: her website and her marketing automation system. And that leaves her locked out of the promised conversionland.

Why it even matters?

Well, as the use case above illustrates, the whole purpose of using dynamic content is to personalize and adapt the website experience to match user expectations. Which is a fancy way of describing one of the core tenets of online marketing, namely that you need to provide the user the information they need, whether they’re looking for it explicitly or not, preferably on their first visit to the site. Except, at least judging by my experience, most marketers still consider dynamic content as a way to match their own expectations, not the user’s.

Thus we find that even where a real-time dynamic content solution is deployed, its implemented use cases are far from sophisticated. For example, using real-time data such as the visitor’s geo-location in order to provide her a timely offer about an upcoming tradeshow; or to guess the user’s intention of leaving a certain page and pop up a proposal that he visits another, perhaps more relevant, page. Now, while these tactics actually work, in the sense that they do result in some engagement uplift, I contend that they’re all based on the underlying philosophy that it’s the marketer’s needs (of increasing conversions) that must be served first and given priority over those of the web visitor. I would like to further claim that as long as this remains the case, such tools will only deliver incremental benefits to the marketers that deploy them.

A better approach exists, at least in theory

First, a disclaimer. I’m no information architect or CMS expert myself, and most of my experience lies deeper in marketing funnels than the website. Still, I do have some ideas on how things should work on a B2B website, if we want to fix the website <> marketing automation complex. Three such ideas, to be exact. I will refer to them as principles.

Principle #1: Your visitors come first – you come second.

I know you want to showcase that awesome video you commissioned for $8,000 on your homepage by slapping it all over the fancy slider your web designer convinced you to use. Most of your visitors, however, have absolutely no intention, desire or the attention span to watch it. Same goes for that event promotion or sweepstakes; the latest product release announcement, and especially that consulting-firm-manufactured BS of a “mission statement”. The common denominator of all these? they represent what you (or your management or peers) want to say about the business, instead of what your visitors want – or need – to know about it.

Principle #2: try to anticipate and answer your visitors’ questions

Instead, what you really should do, is attempt to guess what questions are on your visitors’ mind, and design your primary homepage navigation and content elements as answers to these questions. A product video may be just the thing, but maybe not. The important thing is to go through that cognitive exercise.

Take primary navigation for example. In most B2B websites, the convention is to have a Product top menu option, then Services, then Resources, and so forth. But these titles don’t answer questions; they just state what content categories are available, and they’re quite arbitrary at best. What your visitors are asking would differ based on the nature of your business, and on the reason they came to your website in the first place. But it would always follow more or less this logic: I have a problem or a need or a certain question. Someone (Google, an ad, a colleague, etc.) told me to come here to find the answer for it. Now show it to me. That’s it. That’s the only relevant visitor logic you should consider. Everything else derives from it. Here’s how Dudamobile, a cool new multi-screen site creation tool, does it at the top of their homepage:

top-nav-example-duda

Principle #3: present content offers that answer your own questions about the visitor

Today, most information about visitors is collected via forms – this is the main mechanism for asking them questions and getting answers. In addition, marketing automation tools can help in figuring out visitors’ intentions implicitly by tracing their page visits and the path they took. Yet data collected in this process is presented to marketers in very raw form (e.g. lead activity logs in Marketo), and is always reactive in its nature, i.e. it’s collected after the fact. A better approach would be to use navigation links that cleverly mask the real questions that are on the marketer’s mind:
who are you: a potential buyer? an analyst? blogger? a student?
why are you here: to learn about a certain topic or problem? to research our solution for solving it? to buy it? to compare it with our competition?’
what would you like to happen next: to get contacted? to receive more information by email? to see a live demo?

Now, do something with all these smarts!

With the previous three principles in mind, you need to roll your sleeves, sit down (or pay someone to do the same) and build out your marketing automation rules and workflows to collect, decode and convert visitor interactions into meaningful marketing data. It can be a behind-the-scenes thing, like a lead scoring model; an alert system to inform sales persons about important prospect behaviors; or a marketing touchpoint collection program that builds out the insights that will guide your future marketing activities. But it can also be a real-time mechanism that intelligently presents visitors with relevant, context- and profile-sensitive information.

Are you paying enough attention to your emails?

Oh, I don’t mean to your regular work emails, the ones that overcrowd your inbox and threaten your sanity, not to mention your zero inbox strategy. I mean the emails that you, as a marketer, send out to your audience.

It’s not your fault if you don’t, really. There are tons of other marketing activities you need to manage. You’re probably under-staffed and over-pressured. And the opportunities hidden in your email database are not always obvious.

This week’s content selections will (hopefully) make you rethink your approach to email marketing; give you some ideas based on what initiatives your global peers plan to do in 2014; and, finally, get you to reconsider the value of unusual copywriting to your email marketing efforts by exposing you to the emerging concept of content shock

That’s it, short and sweet.

B2B Lead Nurturing and Retargeting, or: Attack of the Deja Vu

It’s no secret that B2B lead nurturing has become almost synonymous with lead torturing. One signs up for a service or some trial, and sure enough those ostensibly automated emails start appearing in one’s inbox with the regularity of drug induced bowel movements and the inspiration factor of a home appliance user manual.

Wait, it’s not all bad, is it?

Don’t get me wrong: done right, lead nurturing can be a hell of a marketing engine. It represents a unique opportunity, granted to the marketer by the prospect’s gracious act of leaving her details on some website form, to actually prove to that prospect that she’s just stumbled on a rare piece of internet info-treasure island where much value can be had. Yet all too often, that opportunity is grossly mishandled and the prospect finds herself mired in a junk yard of scrappy information and rusty, useless and irrelevant content.

blow-out-1Seriously, take a look at your inboxes (I mean the promotions or updates tab, if you’re Gmail users) and tell me it isn’t true: 85% of the time, the marketers behind those emails you receive run such half-hearted lead nurturing campaigns that I won’t be surprised if at some point one of them saw a confirmation dialog from their marketing automation system asking if they really really want to send this crap to his prospects.

Now, consider this: what’s the advertising equivalent to lead nurture emails? you guessed it: ad retargeting. Everyone’s favorite thing on the web. And by everyone I mean of course all ad tech folks and ad agencies. As for consumers and web surfers, yeah, sure – who wouldn’t want the baker from that store they just left without buying anything to suddenly appear behind a rack of clothes at the fashion shop they entered, shoving a loaf of gluten free bread in their face? it’s a great advertising trick that works well because it relies on the majority of consumers being too info-saturated and ad-bombarded (notice my careful non-use of the pejorative here) to notice they’re actually being played.

So it’s Lead NurtuREmarketing or Lead RemarkeNurturing?

Now, imagine these two strategies combined. Are you ready for ‘Lead NurtuREmarketing’? I know I am, though not to that awful word. I’m ready because, again, done right, the combination of a well orchestrated email campaign with carefully placed banner ads that augment each other’s messaging has the potential to work massive wonders. Eloqua, through its joint offering with Bizo, shone a light down that road and it looks damn interesting. Enough to have Jay Famico from SiriusDecisions list it on his recent look-back post on the year in marketing automation. Though in all honesty, I see no reason for marketers who don’t use Eloqua to miss this particular boat. Just get your tracking and remarketing codes right, burn some grey matter to design a bunch of smart nurture flows, and you should be ok.

The flip side, of course, is that lazy marketers will take the easy neon lighted way out and simply brainwash their visitors to the point that they’ll sign up for whatever call to action they’re offered, if only to stop those damn recurring ads and emails from threatening their sanity.  But I know you, dear reader/marketer, won’t do that. Because you’re smart. Or because I’m sucking up to you. Probably both. I digress.

In conclusion, the combination of lead nurturing and ad retargeting is a potentially powerful addition to the B2B marketer’s toolbox and I expect to see some interesting case studies emerge in 2014, alongside much hype and general B2B buyer angst over being totally inundated by bland emails and horrid banners from marketers who don’t work with me. wink wink, nudge nudge.

the platformization of marketing systems continues

In yet another example of what I like to call the platformization of marketing automation systems, Bedrock Data announced the availability of new Marketo integrations. According to their announcement, in addition to all the standard and custom fields their integration supports, they have added the following custom data:

  • Last Visit Time
  • Last Visit Page
  • Total Number of Visits
  • Last Form Submission Time
  • Last Form Submitted
  • Total Number of Form Submissions

I find these data points especially useful for analytics purposes as they fill a clear and present gap in marketers’ ability to decipher their business’ “customer journey” when using Marketo. In several recent implementations, I’ve had to manually create custom fields to hold these data points and then use non-trivial triggers to update them. Obviously the analytics use case by itself is not enough, IMHO, to justify the minimum $99/month subscription plan listed on Bedrock’s website. But certainly if you need to combine data from Marketo and one or more marketing or non-Salesforce CRM systems, Bedrock’s data platform provides a productized approach for doing it that’s worth considering.