Labcast: The Top Challenges Facing High-Tech Marketers in 2013

With marketing technology and tactics constantly evolving, for many marketers it’s a race to get one step ahead or risk being left behind. Here are the top challenges the best will have to scale in the coming year.

top high-tech marketing challenges for 2013

In this week’s Labcast, Jonathan Kranz, principal and chief copywriter for marketing communications and content creation firm Kranz Communications, shares his insights gleaned from research conducted with high-tech marketers on the biggest hurdles they currently face. From grappling with data and ROI to implementing marketing automation to developing a cohesive content strategy that converts, these issues make up an essential to-do list that should be tacked to the wall of every CMO’s office heading into the new year.

Labcast 93_ Jonathan Kranz Outlines the Top Challenges Facing High-Tech Marketers

Kevin: Hello, and welcome to this edition of Labcast. I’m Kevin Cain, and today I’m joined by Jonathan Kranz to talk about some of his research into the top challenges facing high-tech marketers. For those of you who don’t know Jonathan, he’s the Principal of and Chief Copywriter for Kranz Communications, a marketing communications and content creation firm here in the Boston area. Jonathan recently undertook some research independently to investigate the challenges high-tech marketers are facing, and we’re really anxious to talk with him about it. Hey, Jonathan, thanks so much for joining me today. How’s it going?

Jonathan: It’s going great. It’s a pleasure to be with you, Kevin, and I’m looking forward to it.

Kevin: The origins of this conversation that we’re going to have today is really some research that you recently did, talking to a variety of marketing folks in the high-tech industry. Can you give us a sense of what the background of that was? How did you connect that research and what was it that you were trying to find out?

Jonathan: Yeah, I’d be happy to. Well, Kevin, I would do exactly what you do in OpenView, which is to before starting out in any kind of content initiative is to do a little investigation to find our what does this audience want to hear, or want to learn, or what are they interested in. For my own interests in developing content, I knew that I wanted to target enterprise-level high-tech marketers. And so I drew together a list based on one, my clients, and number two, from LinkedIn. And I have to say, in the six or seven years that I’ve been on LinkedIn this is the first time I’ve actually found a use for it. I don’t know, have you ever found a use in LinkedIn in any of your investigations for content?

Kevin: Well, it’s certainly a great resource to see what people are talking about. I definitely use it in that capacity.

Jonathan: Well, it turned out to be a great thing. So, through those two lists I identified 26 likely people, sent them out invitations, and miraculously I managed to get 8 or 9 interviews, which is a really high conversion rate. And what’s important to understand is, I didn’t come at them with a questionnaire. There were really just two open questions on my mind. One is, I wanted to get their sense of what the segments are in high tech. But more importantly, I wanted to find out, well, what makes you sweat? What keeps you up at night? What are the unresolved marketing issues of greatest concern to you?

Or another way of thinking about it, what would you like to know that would make you more effective, more powerful, a better marketer? And I left it open. So, I didn’t ask them pointed questions like, are you using content marketing, what are you doing with social media, tell me about big data. I wanted it open to let them dictate the terms of the conversation.

Kevin: So, what kind of trends emerged from that conversation, if any? Did you see any patterns in the answers you got?

Jonathan: Oh yeah; and that’s what was so interesting. And that’s why I’m so glad I did leave it open, because patterns did emerge. And in fact, I saw four really big over-arching themes. The first one would be integration. And by integration I not only mean integrating various communications in marketing efforts, but even integrating marketing with sales, marketing with public relations, marketing of product development, etc. So, as you can imagine, the bigger the enterprise, the bigger the issue this is.

Kevin: Sure.

Jonathan: I’m sure you won’t at all be surprised by the second big issue that came up; a data measurement and ROI, which is that everyone wonders if they have enough information, the right kind of information, how are they measuring their success, and most important for them is how can they demonstrate that success to their colleagues or the people they report to. The third one was a surprise to me. This issue of marketing automation came up very frequently. I hadn’t anticipated that. And these are the platforms like Eloqua, and I never pronounce this correctly and hopefully you know how it’s pronounced, Marketo.

Kevin: Yeah, I say Marketo.

Jonathan: People volunteered that they have it and don’t necessarily feel completely comfortable with it, and I thought that was very interesting. And then the fourth one, and this is something I think is on everyone’s mind, this push versus pull marketing. I think other people call it outbound versus inbound. And marketers in high tech are thinking about how they make that transition from push to pull. So, those are the big four.

Kevin: Those are some interesting topics, and pretty diverse. Why don’t we spend a few minutes breaking some of them down? I think the first one you mentioned was integration. And certainly, that’s not a new issue. I think we’ve heard a lot about sales and marketing integration over the last few years, and integrating team and all sorts of aspects. Why do you think it’s still such a big challenge?

Jonathan: Well, I’ll take a queue from the people I interviewed. First of all, we’re not all speaking the same language. I think in one of the most interesting interviews I conducted someone said, “You know, the first thing we do is we go to the white board and actually define our terms, because what you call a lead and what I call a lead may be two different things.” So first, there needs to be clarity of what exactly we’re talking about. We talk about a lead, a conversion, a sale. What are these things?

So the first difficulty, especially in a large organization, is vocabulary. Are we all talking about the same thing, or is all the stuff getting obfuscated and confused because we’re talking about different things, even though it has allegedly it’s the same English word in front of it.

And then just the traditional stuff, Kevin, and you’ve heard this a thousand times before. You need to align the interests, right, among PR and the person responsible for SEO, and the person responsible for social media, and the person responsible for sales. Another big concern that came up among marketers is this anxiety about how much influence do they really have in the market. So there’s this desire to look beyond the lead generation and pass off the lead to look at the entire [model] and say, what is marketing’s involvement with ultimately the end result, which is the sale and then the sustaining of the relationship with the customer.

Another big one, when you’re talking about the difficulty and complexity of integration, is mergers and acquisitions, because obviously, that’s one of the major strategies in a large enterprise high-tech people is buying a company rather than developing a product. But when you do that, not only is the complexity of integrating the actual products and services, but how do you integrate these sales teams? How do you integrate the marketing? Suppose, for example, you pick up by acquisition a company with a famous brand name product. What do you market then? Are you going to market your overall umbrella brand, or are you going to market this sub-brand, or are you going to do both? It’s all very tricky.

Kevin: It sounds like it’s really an issue in a lot of ways in communication and just knowledge gaps, with people not really knowing how to communicate with each other, and perhaps not being confident about what the other party’s doing.

Jonathan: Yeah, my guess is that it’s a lot of it. And I also think, too, at the enterprise level we’re always talking about politics. I think it’s about creating a culture of mutual confidence, where people can trust each other and believe that it’s in their mutual interest to collaborate and work together.

Kevin: So then, the next issue that you raised is with this whole idea of data measurement and return on investments. And you know, it seems to me that a lot of that’s really focused on people trying to get credit for what they do, which isn’t always easy, admittedly. But, do you really see that as an obstacle, or is that really more of a self-serving desire that these marketers are having?

Jonathan: I think they are profoundly interrelated, because if you think about it, let’s take that self-serving portion where someone says, gee, I want the numbers to assign us the appropriate credit. Well, it’s not just self-serving, because as you know, those numbers will often have a great impact on budgets. So, if the work that you’re doing doesn’t get credit you risk losing budget, and ultimately you could risk losing your job, and even in a situation where you feel safe you risk losing access to successful tactics that don’t necessarily show results on the radar screen.

So I give these people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think it’s merely self-serving. I think there’s a genuine concern that meaningful activities don’t necessarily reveal themselves in the numbers. Let me give you a couple of examples, Kevin.

Kevin: Sure.

Jonathan: One of [inaudible 00:09:19] came up is simply quarterly reports. And the numbers come out every quarter, but as you know, you may do something, initiate something this November [inaudible 00:09:32] but where do you assign that then? Is it this last quarter of the year for 2012, or is that a first quarter in the calendar year of 2013? So, that’s a simple one, but here’s a more complicated, sophisticated example of a problem.

One of the marketers I talked to said this, “Look, if I do an e-mail blast I know that I’ll see a [inaudible 00:10:00] in our banner ad click-throughs, even though these are not click-throughs directly from the e-mail itself.” So the numbers that come in for ROI will show how many times the e-mail was opened, it was viewed, was it click through, or links, etc. But it won’t show the psychological impact that the e-mails have, so I’ll make an e-mail, not act on it, but they go to the web and they’re surfing and they see a banner ad. Something about that e-mail may inspire them to follow through on that banner ad. How do you track that? How do you get credit for it?

Their superiors may be skeptical that this is happening, but those on the ground know, they can see that there’s a boost in these other things.

Kevin: Right.

Jonathan: There’s activity, even though that causal link is hard to demonstrate. So, you can see where this anxiety opens up. Think about it this way, it’s like when we do public relations work, we do speaking gigs, we do [inaudible 00:11:05] it’s awfully hard to measure the direct result of an article, the direct result of being present at an important conference.

If you say, Jonathan, what did you get out of going to Content Marketing World in September? I’ll say, look, I didn’t get anything per se right now, but I know that my presence at that event and others over time will be very profitable in terms of relationships developing, etc. Again, it’s difficultto track a lead, and I think a lot of marketers out there would like to find better ways of tracking and measuring performance and/or creating a culture in their organizations where efforts don’t immediately reveal numbers are still valued and appreciated.

Kevin: That’s great; I think you made some good points there. Why don’t we move on to the next issue that your research surfaced, and that’s marketing automation? To me, I question how valid a concern that is. To me it seems like that’s something that you put a lot of upfront effort into to get it set up and then after that you just enjoy long-term benefits. So, as long as you’re willing to make that trade off it shouldn’t be a problem. What kind of information do you hear from the folks that you talked to?

Jonathan: Well, Kevin, you’re right. That’s the way it should be, right? You get the stuff; you make the investment in making it work, and hopefully you also make the investment in training, so the people know how to use it. But that may be an overly idealized vision of the world. I think that what happens on the ground is organizations make the investment in technology without making the comparable investment in training.

As a consequence, what do people do? Well, people do like what I do with my Microsoft Word. How much of Word’s capability do I actually use? Probably about 5% of what it can really do, is what I do every day with it. And I think something like that is happening with these marketing automation programs. People open up the dashboards and they use the two or three features or functions that they really understand, and then everything else becomes background noise that they ignore, even though deep down they wonder if there might be some real potential if I leverage the stuff appropriately.

But they’re not leveraging the sophisticated stuff appropriately. And in fact, one of the persons I interviewed said, “You know what happens is that instead of being a sophisticated platform that integrates its marketing efforts and sets up a cascade of behaviors, triggers, new campaigns, further triggers, etc., it devolves to being simply the latest e-mail promotion tool.” So it replaces something like Constant Contact, or Outlook, when it could be a powerful marketing automation integration solution.

Kevin: Do you think that that issue really lies with the marketing automation solution provider, or with the teams that are implementing them and just aren’t doing so very effectively?

Jonathan: I just don’t know. I didn’t go into it deeply enough to know. My suspicion is that there needs to be work done on both ends. What I think is going on is that, like any other kind of sale, the sale is made, and then goodbye. It’s in your hands; good luck. And I think that if these marketing
automation people were smart they would say, it’s not enough. We’ve made the sale, but we’ve got to invest more in helping people get more value out of what they have, because if we don’t do that what’s going to happen is we’re going to create a lot of ill will and over time people are going to start abandoning these features and functions. Whereas, the alternative is if they are appropriately trained they actually buy further add-ons, etc., as they see increasing value from using the product in a more sophisticated way.

So, yes, the marketing automation people have some responsibility. Some of the responsibility goes to marketers themselves, or at least the people who are in charge of the marketing departments, for not investing their time and energy to learning more about how to use it effectively. And some goes to the heart of management for simply buying it and then thinking it’s a set it and forget it proposition, and it’s not.

Kevin: So, one of the last issues that you talked about at the outset of this podcast was this whole idea of push versus pull marketing. I think you can call it a lot of different things. You can call it inbound versus outbound marketing; you can call it content marketing to a certain extent, which is a subject very near and dear to both of our hearts, I know. Based on the conversations that you had and the research that you did, what’s the real issue that marketers are facing here? Is it that they just aren’t on board with doing content marketing, inbound marketing? Or is it that they’re struggling to do so effectively?

Jonathan: I think at the very least they’re intrigued by it. I think many of them would like to be on board. I also suspect that many of them don’t really understand what content marketing is. They think it’s just about creating stuff, and putting it out there, and not understanding that, no, content marketing is about managing the intersection of your prospects’ interests and your expertise. And you’re taking that cross over, that intersection, and you’re filling it with meaningful materials that over time build confidence in you as an authority and expert in this field, and builds a deeper bond between yourself and these prospects, so that without knowing it, they are actually marching down a sales funnel, as they are meeting, as they are consuming the content.

Now here are a couple of things I heard from people. These are the direct quotes. One of them says, “The challenge is not [creating] content, but how you transition from outbound push to inbound pull.” So, from their point of view, yeah, sure, we know how to create a blog. We know how to make video. We know how to do eBooks and white papers, but that’s not enough.

It’s about how do we get out of this mindset that we’ve got to keep investing in print ads, and direct, and the e-mail blasts, and how do we get the body in and create a culture in which we recognize that by creating the right kinds of content and being aggressive in its effective distribution we are creating a marketplace in which people will continually stream our way; in fact, the best people, the most qualified. It requires changing mindset and it requires a change in the enterprise’s behavior.

Some of the difficulty, Kevin, I think is just the complexity of the issue.  I heard in one interview someone say, “In the old days it was simple. There were three channels. I had trade shows; trade magazines, print to advertise in, and I had direct mail, basically. And that was it.” But now you’ve got those plus all the social media platforms, and there seems to be a new one every month, plus all those different kinds of content, where it’s the blog, the podcast, media cast, the papers, etc.

And there’s a sense of being overwhelmed; and, Kevin, as you know as a marketer yourself, when people are overwhelmed they go to their default response, which is to do nothing, right? And I think we’re seeing some of that psychology playing out here. There are just so many choices, that people wonder, where do I even start? How do I bring all of this together? There is, however, recognition of how important it is to do this.

Another direct quote I found from somebody, and I don’t know where this person’s sourced it, but they said, “93% of buying processes start with
search. People want what they want, when they want it.” And I think that’s an important observation. And it’s really central to why you would do a content strategy in the first place. But again, what I see in high-tech enterprises struggling with is how do you get out of that old mindset of push, push, push the message, and into this new one where you’re going to attract people to you, because of the value people see in what you have to say and what you can offer them.

Kevin: Jonathan, this has been really interesting. I really appreciate your time today. Can you let our listeners know not only how they can get in touch with you, but what you’re going to do with all this great information that you’ve gathered?

Jonathan: Well, let’s take the easy part first. To get in touch with me, that’s easy. I have a website; naturally it’s, and you can go through there, and my e-mail is also there. I’d be delighted to talk with you.

The second part of what am I going to do with all the stuff, well I have a number of ideas. One of them is to do my own podcast, and I have a couple of other things I want to put together. I had a great conversation with Drew Davis a couple of weeks ago. He just wrote a new book called “Brandscaping” that I recommend to everyone. And I’m taking a few queues from that thinking about, who do I partner with to create a brandscape with content. So, I have a number of different ideas I’m pursuing.

Kevin: That’s great, and we look forward to seeing them come to fruition. Thanks again, Jonathan. We really appreciate it.

Jonathan: Thank you, Kevin. It’s been a great pleasure talking with you and I hope this is the first of many opportunities.

Jonathan Kranz
Jonathan Kranz
Principal & Chief Copywriter

Jonathan Kranz is the principal of and chief copywriter for Kranz Communications, a marketing communications and content creation firm, and the author of Writing Copy for Dummies. He also offers in-house writing sessions for companies that want their staff to create more compelling, results-generating content.
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