Digital Relevance – An Interview with Ardath Albee

There is never a shortage of marketing books to read. However, when you find a book that shares essential bits of information to help improve your marketing, case studies that share valuable insights and practical solutions to maintain relevance, that is a rare gem. See what author, speaker and CEO of Marketing Interactions, Ardath Albee had to say about her newest book, Digital Relevance and why marketers need to constantly stay on their toes to remain relevant.
Digital Relevance

Q: What prompted you to write your latest book, Digital Relevance?

Albee: The best way to answer this question is with a brief excerpt from the introduction of the book:

“I wrote Digital Relevance for the marketers, corporate communications professionals, consultants, and entrepreneurs faced with the need to build relationships with elusive buyers whose context can change in a nanosecond. Technology was billed as the answer. But it’s only confused the issue because the strategy is lacking. Marketing has changed—and changed fast—leaving marketers adrift without the foundation, mind-set, and skills they need to master the dynamics of digital engagement when faced with shrinking attention spans and the increasing noise and velocity of content publishing. Meanwhile, the pressure for accountability builds every day with marketers unsure how to prove what they do matters. Yet matter it does.”

Read the full introduction to Digital Relevance here.

Q: What’s the number one reason relevance is so difficult for B2B marketers? What’s the first step in trying to remedy this?

Albee: The biggest reason I see is the lack of true understanding of and knowledge about buyers. Nearly tied with this reason is the lack of strategic approach. The first step to remedying irrelevance is to go do the work to learn about your buyers. I help clients do this with personas. But not those flat one-dimensional demographics-based personas that I see so often. And not based on only internal thinking. You need to interview your buyers and customers to understand their perspectives, work environment, challenges and goals. And, in B2B, you need to gain clarity about who else is involved with the decision, as well as how they interact with each other.

I’m often approached by companies that want me to just develop content. They don’t want to take the time to do the work or spend budget on personas because they don’t understand the value. But, my question to them is always; “How do you create content that’s highly relevant, will address the correct context and make connections with these people if you don’t truly understand what they need or care about? It’s kind of like trying to carry on a conversation with someone who has a bag over his head. You have no way to tell if anything you’re saying is resonating.

Add this limitation to a lack of strategy and you can see the problem. Relevance doesn’t just happen. You have to apply concerted effort to achieve it. And, relevance isn’t static, so it takes a continuous improvement approach to maintain. With buyers in control, a lack of relevance will just widen the gap between companies and their buyers and customers.

Q: We know B2B marketers are struggling to connect with their buyers today…but what are they doing right? Are there any areas that we are getting better at?

Albee: I see pockets of brilliance all the time. So there is improvement going on. I see companies creating centralized content agencies within the enterprise to achieve consistency in the brand story that’s being told across divisions and product lines. These are huge change management efforts, but very worthy undertakings that help to scale content marketing, as well as relevance.

I see commitment to nurturing programs designed across the continuum of the buying process that are producing conversion to revenue based on the ability to sustain engagement over the longer term through content that helps their prospects visualize the bigger story.

I see creative approaches by companies to support their industries without pitching their products, but by telling bigger stories and building community involvement.

I also see instances of marketers working hand-in-hand with sales teams to execute fluid transitions in conversations held across the buying process, generating outcomes that are truly inspiring.

There are definitely some great things being done by marketers, but the thing that continues to limit overall success is the pockets (or silos) of brilliance. Until the entire marketing organization can work together collaboratively, interweaving their various programs and keeping the buyer at the core, there’s work to be done. Until we can sustain engagement across the entirety of the buying process rather than pushing out one-off short term campaigns based on what we want to say, marketers won’t achieve the level of relevance they need to become seen as a profit center worthy of becoming the respected conductors of experiences that contribute to business growth.

Q: Can you create relevant content without buyer personas?

Albee: That’s leaving a lot to chance. More than $40 billion is spent producing and using custom content in marketing programs each year. Do you really want to make that spend based on a hope and a prayer? You know what they say about assumptions…

Q: Where does strategy fit into Demand Generation?

Albee: Strategy is the core of demand generation. Demand generation in B2B companies can span years. It’s nearly impossible to engage a single buyer, let alone a buying committee, over the longer term without a strategy.

A demand generation strategy sets the baseline for:

  • Who you will engage
  • What you want to help them choose to do or learn at each stage of the decision to build momentum in their consideration of solving the problem
  • How you will engage them (content, channels, context)
  • How you will measure success, as well as to identify areas for refinement along the way

And, it should include collaboration with the other marketing teams in relation to how their programs will touch this audience to ensure consistency in messaging with every touch point—although, admittedly, this is most likely a future state. In many companies I’ve seen that one marketing team actually has no idea of who else is touching or interacting with the buyers they are pursuing. It’s important to understand this to avoid saturating your prospective buyers with too much information and the possibility of conflicting messages that lessen relevance and irritate your audience.

Q: What one piece of advice would you share with marketers looking to make an impact in their organizations?

Albee: Don’t try to bite off too much at once. If this is new to you, create a pilot that you can run in isolation to prove the concept to your organization. This way you can test it out, gain some quick wins and understand what kind of organizational change needs to happen to enable higher relevance with buyers across the enterprise. But do make sure that any pilot you create includes the related sales team. Getting buy-in from Sales will ensure your pilot has a chance at success. Defining a pilot will also require that you create a strategic plan that will enable you to prove impact and gain approval for expanding the program.

I’ve had many clients who have had to create pilots with just one persona to prove the value they bring to a content marketing program’s success. In all but one case, we’ve been able to gain approval for expansion when the results come in.

*Digital Relevance is available via Amazon.com.

Author: Erika Goldwater CIPP/US @erikwg VP of Marketing, ANNUITAS