What Can a Marketer Learn from a Researcher?

I joined FocusVision in May of last year. I have 20+ years of editorial, PR, communications and marketing experience in Technology–with the bulk of my career spent in the backup and recovery market. Five years ago, after becoming very frustrated with Marketing dashboards that looked like everything we were doing was failing, my team and I started on a journey to transform our marketing strategy. Digital marketing, content marketing, data-driven marketing was starting to dominate marketing conversations but there was no blueprint. We decided to start with data. We were collecting data in our Marketing Automation platform–things like email opens, clicks, interest indicators based on digital body language. We were collecting data in our CRM, Salesforce.com, like website visits, tradeshow attendance, webinar participation and content syndication downloads. And, we were collecting data in Google analytics like time on site, repeat visits, number of pages visited etc. We were collecting data in silos.

We decided to pull all of that data together and take a look at what marketing actions people were taking with us to see if we could see what was working. What we saw from that data was that our customers were taking many many marketing actions with us before they entered our sales pipeline and continued to take part in different marketing campaigns until they became a closed/won deal and then, of course, when they were a customer.

This was revolutionary. In our ego-centric world, we Marketers believed that all we had to do was push out one “campaign” which was three emails and a landing page with gated content; or invite someone to a webinar; or scan someone’s badge in a tradeshow booth; and then pass these “leads” over to sales and then they could call and create business. And, if we gave Sales 100 names to call and at least 25 didn’t want to buy, we had failed and the “campaign” didn’t work.

So when we realized how stupid we had been–and yes, I’m perfectly comfortable admitting that that was just plain stupid—we decided to start all over and build a data-driven, digital-first content marketing strategy that touched every part of the buyer’s journey. We created and placed different types of content across different tactics to engage the prospect first then convert them to a lead when they either took enough actions to be considered engaged or came as an inbound lead and asked to meet with a salesperson. And we were successful. I even won an award for it and talked about it in front of 3500 of my peers at the biggest Marketing conference of the year.

Now fast forward if you will to last year when I started at FocusVision. FocusVision is the only insight technology company focused on getting our customers close to their customers to have a full understanding of how they think, act, and feel–close enough to see what we call their “Customer Truth.” It was a new market for me, much different than backup and recovery obviously. I wasn’t worried, I hadn’t spent my entire career in backup and recovery, so I knew I was capable of learning a new market. What I didn’t know what that I was going to learn so much about Marketing too.

My new team now included two researchers. I had never had researchers on my team and truth be told had never done much research to neither enrich nor inform our marketing strategy. To be honest, no one I had ever worked for before ever did so I never even thought of doing it. We built personas, messaging strategies, content, and campaigns without ever doing any research. How, you wonder? Before the big data project I described earlier, we asked product managers who were supposed to be SMEs, met with salespeople, listened to executives. The only person we never really asked was the customer.

The product of this was positioning, messaging and campaigns built on other people’s opinions and interpretations, gut and instinct and a lot talking to each other. And when you start your Marketing platform on such a shaky foundation, it never stands up against opposition from sales, execs or anyone else who has an opinion of what we should be saying and doing. The result is bifurcation of messaging in the organization, constant changes, inconsistencies throughout the organization and with every customer interaction. And in the worst situations, and I’ve been in them, a full out war between sales and marketing and distrust in the CMO from the executive suite. It’s no wonder why CMOs normally last less than 4 years.

Then I met Zoe. Zoe Dowling holds a Ph.D. and is the SVP of Research. Her background was in academics and in market research. She’s spent the bulk of her career studying people and why they do what they do. She has worked with major brands to help them understand their customer, to gather insights to inform product development, go to market strategies and brand identity.

When Zoe and I started working together, I shared my vision for Marketing. How I wanted to build a digital-first, data-driven, always-on Marketing strategy that was designed to engage our customers, not collect leads, so we could create a digital relationship that would lead to them wanting to talk to a salesperson because they believed we could solve a problem they have and then, in a perfect world, buy from us. In essence, I wanted to create a content marketing strategy that got the Market to respond to us because I had built an experience that helped them learn and then addressed their needs. And I was ready to go fast because I had an anxious CEO, a demanding Board, and a Sales team who was literally screaming for “LEADS.”

Zoe took this information and what she brought back to the table was the right questions:

  • Who are we selling to?
  • How are buying decisions being made?
  • What are our customers trying to figure out?
  • Who’s involved with the overall research strategy and who’s part of the buying team?
  • What can we say to get them to respond?
  • And so much more.

And then, she started formulating a research strategy to figure out those questions.

This was an AHA moment like I’d never had before. I’ve had AHA moments before but none that ever made me feel like I was a complete idiot before. Why didn’t anyone EVER do that in any company I ever worked for? I know the answer to that—because perception was that research cost a lot and took a long time. And in Tech, ain’t nobody got time for that. So we guessed. And we fought. And we changed it 100 times. And we were always at the mercy of the dreaded case study of one–which was an anecdote someone told about the last customer they met with.

As a B-to-B marketer, I always thought my B-to-C counterparts were more advanced somehow but what I’ve come to realize is that what they USED that we didn’t was research and researchers. I’ve learned from Zoe that research started with the knock at the door centuries ago and has continued on both the quantitative and qualitative side in all parts of business. And all businesses from B-to-B to B-to-C need to rethink and reinvest in their research strategy and insights resources. The world works at an amazing speed now and an always-on strategy has to support that rapid change for business to truly understand and connect with their customer.

And what we’ve come to realize in this past year working together is: everything is changing. We are in the crux of the Experience Economy and Digital transformation. Customer expectations have changed. Because of things like ad blockers, fast forward, streaming, social media, and ecommerce, the customer is more empowered than ever.

This Business Transformation requires a Transformative Marketer to lead the Customer Experience so that customers engage, buy, advocate and stay loyal to their brand. And the Transformative Marketer needs a Transformative Researcher to help the business understand why people do what they do, how they think, act and feel. Because when the business understands the why, it informs the how.

We’ve broken down our journey into three buckets. It wasn’t a linear journey but one that we bounced around in and here’s what we’ve learned:

Translate

Because I was under all of this pressure to prove value and get Marketing running, time was something I had very little of. But what I learned from Zoe was if we did some smaller, quick, studies we could get bite-sized data that we could use right away so we could start moving in the right direction while we figured out some of the bigger stuff. I needed initial data to get me started. I needed initial data to get me started and I needed it to be translated into top-line findings so I could make it actionable. It could not take 6 months to get research to create a strategy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t make it to my first anniversary.

As we continued to dive deeper with new studies, we repeatedly went back to existing research to make sure we used existing knowledge and built upon it.

Collaborate

After we got some initial programs into market to satisfy the immediate asks from the business, we set out to figure out big stuff. We’ve done three research projects on our customers. Plus, we do three trackers—a brand tracker, a CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) tracker and an NPS (Net Promoter Score) tracker. I’ve never had this anywhere else I worked. This research has been the basis of our messaging, personas, brand story, product positioning, and content strategy. These are the foundational pieces to a digital-first, customer-centric always-on campaign strategy. And it helps track how we are doing.

Our foundation is built on what our customers think and feel, how the market is behaving and not gut nor instinct. When presenting our Marketing strategy to the rest of the business, I had the insights and small data to bring the customer into the room. And because we built our foundation on what our customers think and feel and not what we think and feel, I believe it’s why I’ve gotten full support from our board, the executive team, and alignment between sales and Marketing is the best I’ve ever experienced in my career.

For Marketers, insights into your Customer Truth will actually save time and money AND help you connect and create experiences. When the foundational pieces of Marketing are informed by the Customer Truth, you’re not having an opinion-based argument with Sales or Exec or even other Marketers, Now, you can be unified because everything is based on Customer Truth.

Iterate

Even though we started with research that got us to our Customer Truth, reality is that we live in a rapidly changing world, so we need to continuously change with it. In fact, I had an existential crisis about a month ago, when I met with some salespeople and they completely put me in a tailspin for about three days. I thought I had done everything wrong—from defining my target audience to identifying my key personas to the content we wrote to how we activated the Marketing strategy. In my old life, that would’ve resulted in a complete teardown and restart. But in my new life, with researchers and research as my new superpowers, I was able to go back to the studies we did to define all those things. It was a relief because we had based our Marketing strategy on the customer and what they thought and wanted, and how they felt and acted. It wasn’t based on my gut or a guess, it was based on the small data straight from the customer themselves.

But just because we based the strategy on the customer, doesn’t mean we got it all right the first time. Big data from our website, email clicks, and downloads, LinkedIn data, etc, told us what our audience was responding to and to what they WEREN’T responding so we continue to go back to the small data and try new things. Bringing together the small data and big data helps us to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate and to refine our tactics to get people to respond.

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is that no Marketing department should be operating without Researchers ingrained in the workings of the department – it isn’t just about having researchers but those with a voice that are able (allowed to) see the whole picture and not just consulted on the study at hand. The Researcher finds the why to inform the Marketer’s how. And bringing the two together creates a very strong advantage for the business.

See what Zoe thought of her first year working with me in her blog: What Can a Researcher Learn from a Marketer?

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