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The Marketing Ecosystem

By Burkey Belser
March 6, 2013
The Marketing Ecosystem

We’ve watched marketers in every field—professional services, associations, corporations, consultancies, etc.—struggle to make sense of all the technological tools promising to help in their day-to-day work. We’ve seen more confusion than clarity; more head scratching than aha! moments. No one really, honestly knows what technology to buy. Everyone makes claims about features and performance, even us, but how in the world can you know you’ve found the right tool? Bottom line: people have to make decisions sooner or later; it’s critical to have some tools in place to maximize our resources—or to use a popular word today—to optimize our resources. When we started to think about this, we were stuck by these startling insights:

1. Lost in the wilderness. Not only do we not know what to buy or necessarily recommend to our clients, at the time we didn’t even know which tasks should or shouldn’t be automated. In other words, it wasn’t clear to us at all what the landscape was or should look like.

2. Feature overload. The second insight was that we found our clients were confused about how much technology to buy; i.e., how robust the solution should be. Interactive is a great example of this. Firms bought terrific CRM technology, but it’s so overwhelming it rarely gets fully used or used at all, even after the hefty purchase order is paid.

3. Uncooperative partners. Buyers fail to take into account the cooperation required from partners in a law firm for the technology to have any value. If partners tend, as they do, to keep their rolodexes close to the vest, then a much simpler system than interactive is more sensible. But the disconnect of partners from marketing technology is as troubling as the disconnect of IT from marketing.

4. Ready, Fire, Aim. Without knowledge of scope, marketers buy what their colleague in the next firm over has bought. It’s that easy to be seduced by sexy features. Add to this the confounding nature of technology itself in, O, so many ways and you have an unsettling picture of marketing technology today.

The Marketing Technology Landscape
Is the holy grail one integrated solution? In the past, when office technology was dominated by a single player—Microsoft—we would have said yes. Back in the day, Microsoft Office suite was a magnificent answer for businesses transitioning from manual, isolated activities. Today, with innovative technology coming from startups as much as from industry monoliths, we no longer require all these tasks be provided from a single source.

In fact, we no longer believe the holy grail is the megasystem—it’s the ecosystem. So, we’ve begun to ask: Is it possible to choose technologies that play nice together? And if not, should I make that a demand of the manufacturers? If not, what’s the best I can hope for? And, hey, what are the questions I should ask of providers? Are differences in scale (small firm or large firm) meaningful in terms of a technology decision (Mini Cooper or Humvee)?

The result of these questions was this research, which we constructed as a poster. As it unfolds, you learn along the way our methodology and the questions we chose to ask. Our goal was to map the marketing ecosystem and find best-in-class technologies that support each element of what we have chosen to call the Marketing Ecosystem.

Methodology
Our initial direction was pretty simple: begin with the visible part of the brand, the marketing communications you have to manage. Then, map those to the technology solutions that support them. As we see it, your marketing communications require a set of technologies to manage the following:

• the brand
• employee data
• the content mother lode
• proposals
• experience
• client relationships
• events
• email
• website effectiveness
• search engine optimization
• social media


Our goal was to reach beyond the professional services industry. We scoured the Internet for tools used by other businesses, including corporates, associations and consulting agencies. Understand that this is secondary research, not primary research. We did not begin by asking marketers what tools they used because our experience with so many clients all around the country told us we know, more or less, what tools you use. Those tools went on our list right away.

We sought independent verification of findings to justify inclusion of technologies. This was the tricky part. (Do I need to say, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet?”) Our search was exhausting and, we believe, exhaustive. We began with sources we have, over the years, found reliable. We then tried to do as much investigation as seemed reasonable about each. We also considered the source. For example, Greenfield/Belser has a content management system we believe is spectacular, but you should take that recommendation with a grain of salt. As much as possible, we’ve tried to stand back without injecting our financial interests into the mix in order to give you an unbiased set of recommendations.

We stop short of recommending a single best tool out of the software we discovered to be the best. It’s important you do your own research. Our goal was simply to map the landscape, not lay claim to it. We believe we have identified the central question you should ask with each piece of technology.

We asked ourselves a series of questions we felt were crucial to determining the best technologies. In the balance of this article, you’ll learn the questions but not the answers (for the most part). You want the research? Call us; it’s free. Meanwhile, enjoy learning how we built the framework of the Marketing Ecosystem.

Sustain the Brand Without Brand Police
Question: How can I give widely distributed sales and marketing teams a way to create, customize and deliver brand-compliant marketing materials easily on demand? Brand standards, intranets and extranets have served large firms and marketing functions for 10+ years. Can far-flung offices access templates for brochures, ads and announcements? Can they access the media library with approved images or image styles? Software solutions have a wide variety of features at various price points. Clearly, your choice will reflect your values.

Update Constantly Changing Employee Data
Question: How can I integrate our HR database with our website, proposals, events, etc.? Yes, the HR database needs to be integrated with web and other content systems for the sake of efficiencies and your sanity. But you won’t find a system to do that. You’ll need smart, multilingual programmers to build a pipe for your HR data to communicate with your website so you can use that information online and in proposals. We do want to emphasize how important it is, however, to have good, clean HR data.

Control the Content Mother Lode
Question: Are relationships and corrections easy to make? Do they populate across a rich site (without killing load time)? Managing the creation, assembly and distribution of your business narrative is where so much time and angst is spent: service descriptions, biographies, the firm’s experience, thought leadership, events, news—all these things comprise the business narrative. Because all of these are so interconnected one with the other, the biggest challenge is not housing the information; the biggest challenge is managing it. A CMS must power your website, be reliable, flexible, intuitive, expandable and play as nicely as possible with your other software. Why not just use Drupal and Joomla? Many buyers are concerned about buying proprietary software, so Drupal and Joomla seem attractive because they are open source. But here’s the catch: once your site is up and running on either platform, its features are static unless you build on them. Read: no longer free.

Grease the Proposal Machine
Question: Can I leverage current IT investments, access them from anywhere and collaborate without working in HTML? Is reporting versatile? Is the platform extensible?
Managing proposals is challenging. There are many pieces of data that must be pulled from different sources. Here’s where industry-specific software really makes sense. Since buyers consistently seek the same information, you need a solution to assemble the information, deliver and track it quickly and easily.

Simple website assembly solutions like Greenfield/Belser’s eBriefcase are enough for some firms but do not match robust second-generation solutions that make the proposal process easier. First-generation proposal management systems help leverage public-website content, but they require players to work in HTML, which is neither user-friendly nor compatible with collaboration. Match the solution to your needs.

Leverage Your Firm’s Experience
Question: How can we sort experience by client, date, industry, location, value, service area, etc. and create a beautifully designed table of relevant experience? What have you done and for whom? That’s the question executive buyers of professional services want answered. Marketing data float like spores around your firm. Experience management goes hand in hand with managing the content mother lode and proposals. Here is information that absolutely must work together with your website and proposal manager.

Is it Possible to Manage Client Relationships?
Question:
How do I manage client relationships effectively? Oh, the wicked promise of a CRM! The good news is that the software exists. The bad news is that it is excruciatingly hard to wrestle contact information loose from professionals. These systems are built for a sales force (thus, the eponymous leader, SalesForce). It comes down to the data plan you get: you pay for features and access. Otherwise, the CRMs, they tend to match each other feature for feature.

Manage Events Like Shiva
Question:
What can do everything to manage events? Wouldn’t it be nice to have time to actually attend to the event itself rather than manage the details? Many of the programs automate online registration and follow-up. Choosing the right one depends on the volume and complexity of your events.

Manage Your E-Mail Campaigns
Question:
Where do I find easy-to-use, easy-to-learn software that works seamlessly with our CRM?  E-mail marketing is still underappreciated by professional service marketers. Of all the digital tools in your arsenal, email wins hands down. Smart marketers now create campaigns and adjust on the fly by tracking who opens email, which links are clicked and if mail is forwarded through social media. Ease of use and efficiency is key. Clearly, email management software must work seamlessly with your CRM. Law firm marketers are essentially ignoring email as a sales tool, accepting its role as a distribution tool instead.

Just Launch It; We’ll Worry About Website Effectiveness Tomorrow
Question:
How do I convert visitors to leads? Analytics provide data, not insights. We invented a category called “web effectiveness” because we believe your site should be constantly reviewed for its effectiveness in converting visitors to leads. There are a host of options providing analytics, including the best known—Google Analytics. Respected pundits say you need a range of tools, not one, to assess your site. The important thing to understand is your site is not dead. Keep tweaking it to improve results. Listen to what users say. Test different designs. No site launches fully grown up (although we’d love to think so). We’re making adjustments to our site almost weekly.

Search engine optimization is a chore but you have to make your bed every day!
Question:
Will SEO software crawl the site frequently, alert us to issues we need to fix and tell us how to do it? Will it make on-page specific recommendations? If you want to get found, find a consultant. Software can help, but the rules of the game change so often that you simply must have an SEO consultant on contract. Did you know that Google changes its algorithm approximately 330 times a year? We don’t believe a full-time staff person is your best investment.

None of us have any idea what social media fully is, can do or will be
Question:
What do I need to manage my distribution across social media channels? We think that social media is part of the permanent marketing landscape. But remember, it’s only five years old, so expect the software to grow and change alongside social media. Many players offer a centralized way to source contacts, distribute campaigns and measure/monitor.

A system does not share the same characteristics as its parts. A car doesn’t run without the wheels but the wheels have no particular value without the car. Knowing that leads us to search for deeper answers to today’s marketing problems in today’s marketing environment. For too long, we have been thinking in pieces. Ecosystems are composed of living things and non-living things interacting as a system.

Think about that; it’s important to understand your role and the role of other… things in the system. Things change, including technologies, client needs, internal and external demands. The marketing ecosystem is dynamic. We understand our research to be out of date the moment it was published. But who else is framing the landscape? Who else is taking part in this conversation? Glass of wine and cheese? We’re buying.

This article was published on ConsultingMag.com. To read the original link, click here.