Customer-Centric Content and Search

Last month, I attended the C3 2017 Conference in New York City, which is becoming one of the best annual digital marketing conferences around. The conference has a specific focus on both SEO and content marketing, which makes sense given that the event is sponsored by Conductor, one of the leading technology platforms in the space.

What struck me – besides the wealth of great digital marketing talent on stage – was the lack of discussion around the latest Google algorithm updates. There was little, if any, mention of the impact of the latest Panda or Penguin updates. Instead, the focus was on creating great user content and great user experiences, and how Google’s application of machine learning has ushered in a new era of search marketing.

Gone are the days of SEO as a stand-alone discipline, often with the singular goal of obtaining high search rankings regardless of content value. But that strategy no longer works. Google’s AI has become incredibly adept at determining how much users are satisfied by the content they find via search, and in rewarding great content with high rankings. Conversely, if users are bouncing back to the results page and not engaging with your content, Google understands this and will penalize those sites that continually disappoint users.

Conductor’s CEO Seth Besmertnik kicked off the event with the theme of “Your Customer is the Algorithm.” SEO practitioners focusing on technical optimization may have been able to “game” the system in an earlier era, but no longer. Truly understanding customer needs – and delivering content that answers their questions and solves their problems – is the only certain way to achieve search marketing success.

Perhaps my favorite speaker was Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive, who delivered the morning keynote on day 2 of the conference. He expanded on the customer-centric theme, and shared a personal anecdote that illustrated his theme of “People First vs. Google First Search.” For years, his agency ranked #1 for a highly coveted keyword (i.e. “SEO agency”) that generated exactly zero revenue for his firm. Why?  Because he didn’t understand that virtually all users searching for that term are looking for a local resource, not a national firm such as Seer.

The main takeaway for me from this year’s conference is that SEO and content are inextricably bound together. Search is more than simply keywords and rankings. It is the voice of the customer. It is the connective tissue between your customer’s intent and your ability to understand them, and then use that understanding to engage their hearts and their minds.

Building Personas to Improve Engagement

Storytelling is a large component for modern marketing campaigns, as content creation has become a critical element for the buyer’s journey. Not only are marketers developing relevant content to help audiences make more informed decisions, they’re also positioning their companies as valuable resources in the digital space.

On the other hand, developing content that’s timely and relevant can be challenging and time consuming. Strong content strategies are built purposely with specific audiences and needs in mind. We must first learn more about the audience, and we must take some time to identify and distill the key messages that will resonate with these audiences.

Defining Marketing Personas

Customers and potential customers take their own buyer’s journey based on distinct needs, interests, habits and trends, so it’s important to consider those unique experiences when developing content. Some folks are ready to make a purchase, others are still considering options, and some haven’t even found your content yet.

Learning more about your audiences can help you tailor content for those critical moments when buyers express interest. This can mean the difference between converting leads and missing potential sales. Leveraging marketing personas is a great way to creating stronger content that fits specific audience needs.

Personas are fictionalized characters based upon data gathered from customers and potential audiences in a number of categories. The data is analyzed and reorganized to describe and reflect the attributes of real people in your audiences. Some categories can include:

  • Demographics
  • Attitudes
  • Media habits
  • Buying preferences
  • Interests
  • Behavioral patterns
  • Job description
  • Career experience
  • Education level
  • Pain points/Motivations
  • Job keywords
  • Product/Service needs

Used to personify your character, this data helps marketers and salespeople gauge customer drivers, beliefs, backstories, personality traits, fears and more. Here’s an example:

The information here is gathered through qualitative and quantitative research. A mixture of focus groups, interviews, polls and surveys can be used to collect details from defined audiences. Then it’s a matter of comparing results to identify trends, insights and similarities that can be applied to a single persona that represents a specific audience.

Applying Personas to Marketing Automation

Content needs will look different from persona to persona. The example above indicates Charlie Seasweet is concerned with overall profitability and missed growth opportunities, thus putting pressure on each department to prove ROI.

As a result, the most effective content strategy for reaching him should include short summaries, infographics and overview videos that provide enough information to cover the who, what and why – but not the how. On the other hand, a persona for department managers may prefer blogs, peer-reviewed articles and video presentations, as they want content with more insight.

While some audiences prefer detailed reports, others may only have time for bite-sized materials. The only way to understand these preferences is to create detailed personas for each target audience. Not only will you be able to implement more effective marketing strategies, you’ll also see improvements for your sales teams, as they’ll have a better understanding of audience needs and desires.

In our next blog, we’ll explain how personas fit into the sales funnel. For more information on personas, marketing automation or other marketing strategies, visit www.quell.com.

A Grumpy Guy for a New Age

Many B2B marketers will recall with fondness the old McGraw-Hill advertisement which featured the original “grumpy” decision-maker, seated in his chair with his hands clasped, asking a series of questions to the unlucky representative trying to sell him something…

“I don’t know who you are.
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s product.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
I don’t know your company’s record.
I don’t know your company’s reputation.
Now – what was it you wanted to sell me?”

The answer to all of these challenges was, of course, (print) business publication advertising.  And in 1958, when the ad debuted, that was the correct (and largely only) answer to the challenges of B2B marketing and sales.  The ad was named one of the year’s top 10 by Advertising Age and the hugely successful campaign was updated with new models in 1968, 1979 and 1996.

Mike, the CEO of The Quell Group, and I were having a conversation last week about this ad and how the fundamentals of marketing don’t change – but the channels and means of effective prospect engagement are in constant flux.  Print business publication advertising remains part of the solution for many B2B marketers, but those traditional channels account for a smaller portion of the marketing mix as emerging digital channels provide the immediacy and measurability that marketers are seeking.

One recent Forrester Research study showed that 62% of B2B buyers say they can develop selection criteria or finalize a vendor list based solely on digital content, without speaking to the company’s sales representatives.

From that conversation came the question – what would the customer journey for the “new” grumpy B2B decision-maker look like?  There wouldn’t be a single answer, but multiple opportunities to influence and engage the prospect at all stages of the marketing and sales funnel.  There would be no “silver bullet,” and the new B2B marketer would need to employ multiple digital channels to capture leads and nurture the right audience with the right content at the right time.  Hence, our “new grumpy guy” was born:

What is Marketing Automation?

q_marketingautomation_blog_121516

Many companies have heard that implementing a marketing automation solution is the logical next step in their demand generation capabilities.  Perhaps they want to move up from “batch and blast” email marketing or managing digital channel “silos” that don’t provide a comprehensive view of online customer behavior.  But what is marketing automation, and how can it provide a competitive advantage for those companies that adopt it?

Marketing automation systems like Marketo, Eloqua, Hubspot and Pardot provide a number of capabilities to streamline, automate and measure marketing tasks including lead management, outbound email campaigns, email database management, lead nurturing, and lead scoring.  All marketing automation systems are designed to integrate directly with CRM (customer relationship management) solutions like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics.  This integration creates marketing and sales alignment around lead generating activities and “closes the loop” between marketing activities and the customer revenue and sales pipeline generated from those activities.

Some of the specific functions of marketing automation platforms include:

  • Lead management – the ability to track real-time user behavior and data and aggregate prospect information across online channels (organic search, online display ads, PPC ads, email marketing, and social media), as well as offline channels such as trade shows, PR, print advertising and direct mail.
  • Campaign automation – allowing relevant emails to be triggered to deploy automatically or after a specific period of a time when a user takes an action, such as filling out a form on the company’s website, attending a webinar, or opening a previous email.
  •  Dynamic content – automatically populates emails with personalized content based on user information or based on segmentation parameters, such as vertical markets, industry segments, or even by specific named accounts.
  • Form design tools – allowing the marketing creative services team to develop website landing pages and registration forms that can be hosted on the company’s website, and can capture complete lead information across all channels in a single database.
  • Workflow – a visual framework for identifying future prospect engagement based on if/then logic, including forms, content, database updates, wait steps, and campaign execution.
  • Lead nurturing and scoring – provides a platform for capturing prospect information at an earlier stage by providing relevant, useful content, capturing the user’s interest in specific information, and predicting when leads are sales-ready.
  • Tracking and reporting tools – allows the marketer to see prospect engagement across all channels, including email opens and clicks, website visits, form submissions and event registrations, all of which can be used to determine marketing campaign effectiveness.

The end result, if implemented correctly, provides the right messages to the right prospects at the right time – resulting in vastly higher conversion rates and accelerated sales revenue.  All of these things are possible to do without a marketing automation platform, but technology becomes essential to do this at scale.  But like any other set of technologies, marketing automation requires a comprehensive strategy that integrates the right processes, people, content and prospect data to be successful.

The Quell Group provides a complete set of digital marketing solutions, including assisting with the selection and implementation of technologies that address your unique marketing challenges.  To discuss your company’s marketing technology strategy, contact John Fitzgerald, Senior Director of Digital Services at The Quell Group, at 248.519.2066 or jfitzgerald@quell.com.

Get in a Better Position

At The Quell Group, we are focused on assisting our clients to identify a market position that they alone can own. We argue that it is a far more valuable use of both time and budget to focus on the development of a bulletproof market position and supporting positioning statement. The delivery of your positioning—the channels, the words, the images—are secondary to the creation of a bulletproof position.

Position vs. Positioning

Your position is the set of things that you own: superior product quality, unmatched speed of product development, customer service that is unmatched, etc.

All market-facing materials will derive from the unique position you have claimed for your own. By virtue of supporting a true point of differentiation, your marketing activity will be more effective, more memorable and, most importantly, generate positive ROI.
A positioning statement is a definition of how a given product, service or brand fills a particular consumer need in a way that its competitors cannot.

Once a solid positioning statement is developed, the rest of your marketing activity will be natural. Your positioning statement will dictate the words used in your social posts; the way the receptionist answers the phone; the look and feel of your trade show booth; in short, all market facing elements.

Bulletproof Positioning Statements

A positioning statement is a one- or two-sentence statement that articulates your company, product or service’s unique value to your customers in relation to your chief competition. It summarizes, for all of your team, exactly what makes your organization, your product or your service the compelling option for customers.

It conveys the distinct position that only you can claim — the position that is unique and cannot be duplicated.

It should capture those characteristics of your company that enable delivery of your value again and again. It ought to look something like this:

To DECISION MAKERS, COMPANY’S PRODUCT/SERVICE is/provides UNIQUE REASON TO BUY, which results in BENEFIT.

Or, in ‘real world’ terms:

To engineering hiring managers, Acme’s Engineering Scorecard provides a 10-step process for evaluating candidates for engineering positions, which ensures that new hires scoring eight or above are 85 percent more likely to be successful.

Tag. Are You It?

At Quell, we find that many clients initially gravitate to a desire for a single line that is intended to communicate their brand position. This catchphrase, known as a tagline, is a short collection of words that is supposed to be a memorable summary of their value proposition. If you take nothing else away from this post, understand that a tagline is neither a position nor a positioning statement.

Unfortunately, what some clients fail to realize is that the most ‘memorable’ taglines are usually the ones supported by multi-million dollar advertising budgets. We didn’t know we were supposed to just do it; that a soft drink could make the whole world sing and a computer could help us think different. We were told: over and over and over again.

Here’s a challenge. Think back to the last three meetings you had. Chances are, you exchanged business cards. We’re willing to bet that you can’t remember the tagline that was almost certainly prominently (and proudly) featured. Without the constant repetition and the mega budget, the tagline is usually an artifice that is quickly forgotten.

Lessons Learned

Thinking about taglines vs. positioning and positioning statements, everyone knows and loves “Got Milk?”, right? Right. And that’s the problem. Everyone knows the campaign, but it didn’t result in increased milk consumption. In fact, according to a Huffington Post article, gallons of milk consumed per capita actually declined from 23.9 gallons to 20 gallons during the duration of the campaign. So, it’s a very memorable tagline (again, supported by millions in ad spend) that wasn’t effective.

Compare those results against a campaign that Quell conducted for a leading financial institution. After a careful analysis of its market position, Quell assisted in identifying a uniquely distinctive market position and accompanying positioning statement, leading to the development of a campaign which resulted in more than 16 million digital impressions and a significant increase in new account creation.

Was there a tagline associated with the campaign? Yes. Was it the main point of emphasis and the reason behind our efforts? No. The purpose of the campaign was to effectively position the client to its target market as THE preferred option and to increase new account sign ups.

We’re happy to develop creative and memorable taglines, but not at the expense of the less-visible but more important work of creating bulletproof market positions and supporting positioning statements.

Contact us to learn more.

Disputing The Death of Direct

mailboxWith all due respect to social media and its many flavors, it may be that the death of direct has been exaggerated. While it is true that using direct mail is more time-consuming and expensive than posting on Twitter or even sending an email campaign, the use of direct mail can be an effective complement to many marketing initiatives.

Don’t forget that direct gives you an opportunity to directly deliver your message to your target audience. No spam filter, no distracting web banner, no scroll bar, no ad blocker.

An interesting and attention-getting direct mail campaign will engage the recipient, on average for 3-5 minutes. Compare that to 15 seconds for the average web visitor, eight seconds for the average email, and less than five seconds for an online post (assuming, of course, you got them to look at your message in the first place).

We are not advocating that direct mail is the be-all end-all of marketing. Instead, we suggest that it be actively considered as part of a multi-channel campaign. It is merely one of the tools available in the marketing toolbox.

As has always been the case, the key to success lies in three areas:

  1. List management
  2. Frequency
  3. Recency

From the top, the absolute rule to success is using a great list. It has to be clean, checked and double-checked, and would ideally represent the work of your own internal team. While there is a place for purchased lists (generally as a way to supplement an existing house list or to get started building a list), the best source of all is your own sales team or in-house lead generation activity. Talk about what you know to who you know.

Regular use of attention-getting direct campaigns will solidify your brand in the mind of the recipient. Be sure to use consistent brand cues in your materials; consistency in logo usage, color palette, and creative theme lead to memorability. A multi-touch campaign leads to greater response than a one time drop.

Be sure to consider using a direct mail piece as a mental trigger for more effective sales follow up activities. The dimensional package that was received earlier in the week is much more memorable than the one-off email.

It gives a visual and tactile cue to the recipient that lodges in their memory and provides a ‘hook’ to which the salesperson can refer when they follow up and seek an opportunity to engage in conversation. Having this reference point is more impactful than trying to ask someone to remember an email-based offer for the free article or webinar invitation.

Again, we’re not knocking email-based content, webinars and lead nurturing. Each one of them has their own place in an integrated marketing campaign. There are simply times that a well-executed direct mail campaign is an effective and memorable way to get the attention of your target audience.
Give it some thought and give us a call to discuss how we can assist you in dragging direct away from death’s door.

CEOs Champion the Most Successful Brands – Inside and Out

 

headerimage

Strong brands are assets. And whether you believe it or not, the CEO has the greatest responsibility for delivering a brand to market and the greatest burden of proof for its authenticity.

Large publicly traded enterprises, privately held middle market operations and small local businesses alike all benefit when a brand is effectively defined and communicated. When done right, a brand attracts investors, partners and employees and drives profits, stock performance and retention.

To be clear, a brand promise is the statement that identifies for customers what they should expect from all interactions with your people, products and services. And for the brand to be authentic, customers must actually have the promised experience. It is not the name, logo or tagline – those elements represent only the identity portion of the branding mix.

For example, Dell Technology enables its customers to grow and thrive and actively celebrates their achievements with its brand promise “The power to do more.” If you’ve ever flown Southwest Airlines, you’ll likely agree that the promise of “lower fares, more flights and more fun” is delivered at every touch point.

Some key attributes of the brand champion CEO are a willingness to embrace the spotlight, leading by example, setting a path to the promise for employees to follow, and personally listening to what customers have to say.

Embrace the spotlight

More than just providing words on paper or a screen, the CEOs of Dell and Southwest, Michael Dell and Gary Kelly, aren’t afraid to step into the spotlight and champion the brand. They personally drive public relations, cement relationships with customers, communicate regularly via traditional and digital channels, and fight for what the company stands for – even under public scrutiny.

And that’s just what we see on the surface as outsiders looking in.

CEOs that successfully champion the brand must also instill passion and respect for the brand into the organizational mindset and daily routine for all employees.

Set an example and a path to the promise for employees

More than one man or woman at the helm, organizations are an entire ecosystem of leaders and employees doing the work the organization does. How will employees know what to do when the CEO is not in the room?

In addition to leading by example, publicly and internally, successful brand champion CEOs establish fundamental operating philosophies, structures and communication processes that support the brand, and reinforce the expectation that everyone must hold one another accountable for their part in delivering the brand promise. A “brand behavior” reward system might be worth considering.

Firing on all cylinders under the heat of the spotlight, and backed up by an engaged workforce that is traveling along the path laid out for them, the effective brand champion CEO can now rest assured the customers are having a positive and authentic experience. Right?

Well, not exactly.

To be an effective brand champion, the CEO must stay dialed in to customer sentiment, and the best way to do that is to stay personally engaged with the CMO and the extended marketing function.

Personally listen to the customer

Some best practices leading brand champion CEOs such as Dell and Kelly employ to stay connected to the customer experience include personally:

  • attending top-level marketing committee meetings,
  • participating in customer feedback sessions,
  • keeping a finger on the pulse of digital, and
  • commissioning and reviewing marketing reports, analysis and insights.

Traditional one-way brand messages broadcast to a homogeneous audience are losing effectiveness at a time of unprecedented consumer adoption of digital channels – from the web and email to mobile and social media. Digital paves the way for direct consumer relationships that in the past were the domain of sales teams alone. Customers ultimately decide now who wins and loses.

Customers are as much in control of brand meaning and its value in the market as the company itself is. As markets continue to change rapidly and customers continue to gain power, CEOs and marketers must operate as a tightly knit unit to rigorously defend the master brand and must be more adept at making the strategic connection between the corporate boardroom and the customer.

To learn more about how to Unknot, Align and Market a winning brand position, go to quell.com.

Quality UX For All…Even Decades Later

header

Our client called with an urgent request to fix their website. One of their most important customers was trying to fill out a form on their website, but it wasn’t working. This came as a huge surprise.

internetexplorer4

IE4 was released in 1997, pre-dating Google, the Bush presidency and the movie Titanic.

Before launch of the website, the Quell web team thoroughly tested the contact forms, along with all the other functionality on different browsers and operating systems as part of our NASA-like pre-launch checklist. Did an error slip through?

After more discussion with the client, we discovered that the user couldn’t fill out the phone number field in the contact form. We looked through the logs of site visitors, and the user in question stood out like a sore thumb. He was the only visitor still using the outrageously obsolete Internet Explorer 4, which originally launched on Windows 95!

In this extreme case, we ended up changing the way the phone number field is displayed, which allowed that customer to finish filling out the form.

Why Strive for Un-Compatibility

With the ever-moving target of browser compatibility, why not just aim as far back as possible? True, if we had planned for Internet Explorer 4 in the first place, this issue wouldn’t have happened. Ignoring 18 years’ worth of web design advancement would have been a disservice to 99.99% of visitors to the website though.

Take the phone number field as a brief example. In a modern web browser, the phone number field has a few tricks. As you type, it fills in with parentheses and hyphens to format the number. It also checks if it has the right amount of digits when you’re done. This cuts down on mistakes, which could be frustrating for the user and the website owner who would get bad data from the form.

That’s just one small example. Some other tricks in modern web design are things like animated graphics, in-browser video and designs that adapt to different window sizes, which allows for a website to be viewed equally on desktops, tablets and mobile phones. Modern touches like these are essential to get high search result scores, and more importantly, to provide a positive experience for your visitors.

The features mentioned above are currently compatible with 96.45% of web users, according to the website caniuse.com. Is that enough for your brand?

Achieving Balance: Align Tech With Target Audience

Your target audience is a major factor in determining the level of compatibility that we will attain on a web design project. As a general guideline, web design techniques are available to use about four years after they are first released. That’s enough time for the majority of web users to upgrade to compatible software.

There’s a little more to it than that though. Waiting for the majority of users to upgrade might not be important in every case. One of our clients has a web-based tool that they use for sales presentations on a select few employee computers. In this case, it made sense to use the best possible method to achieve the goal of the sales tool, and make sure the computers are compatible later.

On the other hand, a website might be used primarily by shop supervisors looking to order more industrial supplies. In that case, it might be difficult or even dangerous to update the computers there, due to worries about losing compatibility with hardware and equipment. In this case, it is wise to scale back on the technology overhead as a precaution against legacy operating systems and browsers.

As part of the web design process, The Quell Group uses a website planner. In it, we work with you to understand the goals of the website, the target audience, the scope, features, photography, and much more. Together, we will find the perfect balance between compatibility and a rich set of features that will make you stand out from the competition.

Hip to Be Square

By Aron Lawrence

Recently, a Minecraft player released images of an extremely intricate city scene he created solely with the default tools of the game. Even with access to today’s advanced 3D design programs, there’s a timeless appeal to creating something great out of simple pieces.

For some, the appeal comes from the effort it takes to work with a restricted palette. A photo-realistic cityscape can be made with Element 3D, a plugin for the popular motion graphics program After Effects, within a span of a few minutes. It’s technically impressive, and if handled correctly, it can pass for actual footage shot from a helicopter. On the other hand, it lacks the character and personality of a real shot. Creating a much more rudimentary scene block-by-block in Minecraft can take years. Looking at it, one can consider the attention to detail, the craftsmanship and the passion that goes into making such a piece.

For others, it’s more about nostalgia. In the early days of video games, character sprites were made of a few dozen blocky pixels. They were basic and almost featureless, but had charm and originality.

Today, the kids who grew up in beginning of that era are approaching 40.  Video gaming has become a widespread cultural phenomenon that spans generations. The work once considered crude and utilitarian is now regarded as an art form in its own right. The Flint Institute of Arts is currently exhibiting The Art of Video Games, which “sheds light on the prevalent and increasing nature of [the video game] medium within modern society.”

Digital art took decades to get to the point where artists could make whatever they could imagine. Photorealism is in the reach of many artists in the field. However, the minimalist appeal of a simple block- or pixel-based piece still captures the imagination of many. New video games are being released in classic pixel-based style for this reason. Posters and t-shirts with pixel designs are considered retro cool.

Despite its humble origins, pixel art has evolved into a respected niche. The art of video games has become part of Western culture, and will continue to influence mainstream art and design for years to come. At Quell, we stay on top of current design trends so that we can offer a multitude of options for our clients. From flat design to pixel art to 3D animation, our design team has the capabilities to make your brand’s communications stand out creatively.

by Aron Lawrence

Automated Marketing, inbound fuel 2015 marketing budgets

The next big thing for 2015 Marketing and Communications budgets (especially B2B). Lower the cost and time it takes to generate leads.

By Joseph J. Serwach

Automated marketing – done well – is the next “big thing” for 2015 marketing and communications budgets, allowing organizations (especially B2B) to lower the cost and time it takes to generate leads and customers.

A majority of tech companies already use automated marketing and inbound strategies to drive marketing, sales and customer relationship efforts. Adoption rates are soaring as the technology becomes cheaper and easier to use.

Automated strategies allow Amazon.com to accurately recommend books and movies you’ll want to buy. They’ve learned your tastes and interests through years of online relationship-building.

A Michigan example: Kalamazoo-based Goodbye Crutches shifted from paying people to click on their website (via online advertising) to an inbound strategy using marketing automation. They wound up replacing their ads with less expensive online brand-building  (establishing thought leadership with helpful content including blogs, social media, landing pages, ebooks, etc.).

The result: Goodbye Crutches saw its web traffic leap from 3,000 visitors per month to 52,000 visitors per month.

How marketing automation grows brand relationships

In mid-September, I was sitting near a pool in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, went to Google and typed “Myrtle Beach International Airport.”
Educate, Inform, Help
The first search result, courtesy of Google Flights, told me my flight home was delayed by two hours. Later refreshes told me the delay would be three hours. That information gave me three extra hours to enjoy the beach on a sunny, 85 degree day rather than getting stuck waiting at an airport.

Did such marketing automation make me love and value my relationship with the Google brand? Of course.

Any time your brand educates, informs or helps a customer or potential customer, you’re moving them from stranger to visitor or from visitor to friend or from like to love.

Relationships first, tech second

Relationships first, tech secondToo many early adopters focus on – or get apprehensive about – new technology even as marketing technology gets cheaper and easier to use.

Too often, businesses buy the new “latest thing” and then aren’t quite sure how to use it effectively or (worse) they put off buying it until all their competitors already have it.

The focus needs to remain on the classic brand-building and relationship building that really makes these new tools deliver powerful returns on investment.  The tool (the technology) simply speeds up the process.

PR, marketers are both chasing marketing automation

HubSpot, which dominates automated marketing and inbound, soared during its first IPO last week. HubSpot partners with strong agencies that make the technology work for client brand-building efforts, growing web traffic and online leads via inbound marketing.

Meanwhile, PR software provider Vocus, and others are also offering their own automated marketing products.

Top source of leads.

Top Source of Leads

The just-released State of Inbound 2014 report found 83 percent of marketers were practicing some form of inbound strategy this year (up from 60 percent in 2013) and a full 45 percent cited inbound as their top source of leads.

Inbound ties together a number of “owned media” digital tools including blog and other content creation, landing pages that convert contacts/leads into customers, webinars, social media, emailers, video, e-books, webinars and freemium trials.

In short, inbound is the traffic you draw to you – as opposed to outbound messages you send out. Both start with solid integrated brand communications.

Just this year, Mike’s Hard Lemonade joined Costco and numerous other brands by announcing it was replacing online advertising with a focus on organically building digital interactions.

Inbound replicates the Costco Strategy: Costco is famous for giving shoppers free samples and delighting them with new products and special deals. Inbound marketers, similarly, offer “free samples” of their expertise, educating and informing them and building relationships online. Amazon, for example, offers free sample chapters of most of the books it sells.

Opportunity? Beating most rivals to the punch

While a majority of tech companies already use marketing automation, the market is wide open in other markets:

Beat rivals to the punch

Imagine knowing all sorts of details about a prospect that your rivals have no clue about. Such details help you beat the competition every time.

How does automated marketing work?

Instead of having various people say you “need’’ this tool or that tool, automated marketing organizes the various tools together into one simple, digital hub.

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt notes there is more content created in a 48 hour period than there was between the dawn of time and the year 2000. For Google, that means 5 billion searches per day with 20 percent being for something Google has never been asked before.

For media, that means the 20th century introduced radio, TV, telemarketing and junk mail while the 21st century has (so far) introduced such new platforms as mobile SMS, pop-up ads, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, native advertising, etc.

Marketing automation sorts all that big data out and helps you personalize digital relationships giving every prospect what they need, learning about them, educating them and growing relationships.

Sales research shows that 80 percent of sales occur between the fifth and 12th time you interact with a prospect. You can’t call or email someone five days in a row without seeming annoying but it is simple to call one day, email another and use digital media to build the relationship, using marketing automation to track everything.

At the same time, 60-70 percent of the buying journey now occurs digitally as people use their phones, tablets and computers to look things up before, after (and sometimes during) your meetings with them.

The difference between marketing automation and no automation? It’s like the difference between driving at night and driving at night with your headlights on.