The Future is Faster

How smart marketers stay agile, experiment and lean into what’s coming next

We're sick of reading about self-driving cars. It's not because this topic isn't real; we definitely believe it's going to happen on a large scale soon. However, there's so much hype around the future that sometimes separating what to focus on versus what's just noise is tough to do.

We're sick of reading about self-driving cars.

It's not because this topic isn't real; we definitely believe it's going to happen on a large scale soon. However, there's so much hype around the future that sometimes separating what to focus on versus what's just noise is tough to do. The future has gotten much faster lately and the need to cope with it certainly applies to every marketer that thunder::tech works with.

Right now, there's so much changing for marketing and sales teams that it's tough to wrap your arms around these opportunities daily, let alone, get ahead of them. Consider for a moment these points:

  • According to McKinsey, by 2020 half of the workforce will be made of millennials. Ask yourself if who you are selling to today will change much over the next few years. If your marketing doesn’t already address that future audience, it’s time to get ready.
  • Over a year ago, YouTube announced that it surpassed one BILLION hours of video watching per day. Consumers are all over it, so are you at least dabbling in video?
  • Is your brand still not serious about social media? Think about this, last year 78% of U.S. Americans had a social media profile, representing a 5% growth compared to the previous year.
  • Or what about the powerful computers we are all carrying around in our pockets and purses? Process that 72% of the U.S. adult population uses a smartphone, and that is up from 44% only in 2012. This stat is not just about the device itself, it's about what your brand is doing to adapt more quickly to this reality of an always on, always present web.

For most middle-market brands, increasing staff is very difficult. Budgets continue to be tight and business models are still evolving to fit changing markets. You're fighting daily to figure out the best way to raise brand awareness, attract new customers, prove ROI, serve existing customers, be a steward of your community and take care of internal communications. The key to balancing all this is to stop expecting someone to tell you how to deal with these daily project issues and start discussing how to proactively manage the future.

These are some of the methods that we've observed with clients who are ready for each change in the communications landscape because they've prepared ahead of time:

  • A content marketing approach built upon C.O.P.E. (Create Once Publish Everywhere).
  • Experimental budgets specific to learning and testing opportunities and big ideas.
  • A new, iterative approach to web maintenance.
  • Performance marketing strategies that allow brands to be agile based on data-driven results.
  • Expansion of the definition of traditional methods to get more out of the practice, such as how influencer marketing has evolved from PR.
Furture is faster graphic

For Kristine Buyers, the Creative Services Team Leader at National Food Group, headquartered in Novi, MI, creating a plan is one thing. Getting there can be another challenge all together.

Buyers explained her brand’s approach to marketing automation: “We launched a brand new marketing platform last summer and it took us over six months to implement. This phased approach was critical to the success of our project. Each of our three sales segments had very different requirements, so we were able to work with each team individually to ensure quality, efficiency and overall buy-in to the new processes and requirements. In turn, our sales teams were rewarded with much higher levels of actionable lead and sales generating data that has given us new insights to our customers’ likes and preferences with our communication and our products in general.”

Another area that is compounding clients’ to-do lists is the rise of content marketing. Creating content sounds straightforward enough, but acting like a publisher is anything but. Customers want more information prior to, during and after the sale and don't even ask you directly for it anymore. Instead, they ask their most trusted friend, Google.

We asked Shannon Thomas, Director of Marketing at the Columbus-based Ohio History Connection, which is the state's curator of historic landmarks, the state museum and official archive, how her team keeps up with the ever-increasing appetite of content and news from fans. She said, "We are always adapting and refining our content strategy, and right now we are working to expand our team of content writers to include more staff in the organization. If we have more staff creating content, this benefits the organization in two ways. First, it unburdens the core content creators with knowing everything in the organization, and second, and most importantly, it empowers the people doing the work to share it, which makes the content more engaging and authentic."

Besides managing the need for more and better content, it's critical to experiment with new methods and channels to keep up with the way people consume information. Thomas says, "We often try smaller tweaks to what we’re doing rather than global changes. For instance, we have a very strong audience on Facebook who consistently responds to good content about Ohio history but doesn’t respond well to event promotion. For the last six months we’ve been experimenting with digital advertising, sponsored posts and organic posts on Facebook to grow our audience for very specific special events (author talks, movie nights, etc.), while not losing our core audience. This has led us to rethink our social media strategy as a whole."

We often try smaller tweaks to what we’re doing rather than global changes.

Media relations is another area that is changing quickly and that Kayla Ott, Director of Marketing for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, TN, is redefining in terms of reach versus traditional media hits. Traditional PR and practices like blogger relations are limited to traditional definitions of those channels versus a new approach of influencer marketing. As Ott shared, "The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum mainly cares about reach. We don’t care if it’s Instagram, a blog, a podcast, Snapchat, etc., as long as it reaches the right audience with the right message at the right time." This has allowed her team to think about reach in different terms than just looking for traditional media hits. Instead of piling on more and more siloed public relations tactics, thinking about the end goal allows this brand to evolve with the channels that resonate best with the preferred audiences.

As every modern marketer is now responsible for a growing amount of MarTech tools and their marketing stack, Mike Conley is leading the way for his organization in dealing with change before an opportunity is lost. Conley is Vice President of Digital for the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise and has helped lead the organization to be recognized as one of the most technologically proficient teams in the league, and not by simply throwing more budget and resources at the situation.

Conley dealt with the challenge of finding time to stay on top of the latest technology trends while being proactive enough to recognize the “next” thing by assigning the review of emerging technologies as a formal responsibility to one of his team members. This team member then scores new technologies against organizational priorities to assess how closely these align with internal and external goals, and from there opens the applicable information to all lines of business.

Conley has also found a mix of approaches to be successful in managing long-term change and short-term needs. For technical projects, he says that they use a "mix between Scrum and Kanban [development methods], where Scrum provides long-term iteration while Kanban allows them to continuously improve through managing and enhancing workflow with explicit policies." This ability to adapt quickly in the present, but also plan and build toward the future is the new marching order for all marketers.

So is the future going to be faster? Of course. However, it's up to every marketer to separate the noise and hype from the reality based on knowing what customers expect today and what you can anticipate them wanting tomorrow. Whether that involves a self-driving car or not, the creativity that you and your team possess will dictate how you deal with these changes and your successes.

Learn About More Tips and Tricks Dealing With Changes in Marketing on This Podcast Episode
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