Who Should Own Marketing Technology?

Marketing technology is becoming increasingly important in organizations as online marketing becomes a larger part of the overall marketing strategy. Yet getting anything done for marketers in many of these organizations is becoming increasingly difficult. Marketers typically do not have insight into the technical underpinnings of the systems they rely upon and the IT department is tasked with other projects and simply do not have time or staff to support the marketing department. So what is the solution?

Scott Brinker is the CTO of Ion Interactive and a self-described marketing technologist. In his blog, Scott calls out the the pain point for organizations and proposes that many organizations should consider instituting a new department of marketing technology, complete with its own C-level delegate, the Chief Marketing Technology Officer. When you consider the political struggles within large organizations, its not a bad idea.

Meanwhile, a recurring theme at the online marketing conferences, are solutions for marketing teams to work around IT. Tealium and Enisghten for example, provide a tagging management system, whereby IT only needs to be requested to drop a single JavaScript tag into the footer of a site, and marketers can then login to a management system and add the tags for whatever else they want such as 3rd party analytics packages. And while the solutions provide obvious appeal for marketers, many people on the IT team rightfully resist these solutions as ‘trojan horses’, citing poor and excessive choices by marketers as to what all to include once they have the ability to do so, not realizing the effect on site performance.

Then there is the reality of the evolving online medium itself. Only a couple years ago we were talking specifically about websites and search engine rankings. Now, brand management has moved outside of organization’s website and to the social sphere (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn); even the physical media by which we consume online media is changing with the ever increasing prevalence of mobile and alternative devices such as iPads. All of these things require technical facilitation. To build a simple Facebook app isn’t so simple any more with Facebook now requiring even the most trivial customizations to be run through an ‘app’ and registered in its developer’s center. Mobile requires sophisticated device-specific applications. Meanwhile the changes are just beginning and the past of change areas such as eCommerce looks poised to explode with innovations such as eBay’s X.commerce platform and where.com’s Geo IP fencing technologies.

The more I’ve pondered this dilemma, the more I’m inclined to agree with mr Brinker’s thesis that organizations now require a dedicated department for marketing technology. All of these challenges are entirely outside of the scope of support and fields of expertise for both traditional marketers and IT. When you look at what’s happening with technology, its no longer an entity separate from the marketing message; the technology is becoming the expressive media itself! Imagine a songwriter who cannot play an instrument, or a skilled pianist who doesn’t understand music theory – neither one is going to be effective at composing good music. What’s really needed is a group of people who are both analytical and technical; they sit somewhere in the middle, and right now, there is no room for these individuals in the normal corporate structure, so they typically go to work for advertising and digital agencies instead!

So, instituting an online marketing department seems a natural direction that corporations will evolve, particularly those doing a lot with online marketing. In the meantime, the optimal solution for many organizations may simply be to partner with an agency capable of bridging this gap. These agencies can take ownership over marketing technology and operate at a more organic level, creating the types of solutions not capable within organizations who require solutions such as tag management to succeed.

Waterfall or Iterative Methodology?

A debate has been raging for the past few years about the right way to build software products.  There are essentially two schools of thought and the two are pitted against each other with as much conviction and animosity as a presidential election.  And much like a political or religious debate, neither side seems to be much interested in influence from the other.  Despite what you’ll hear from zealots on either side however, they both have their strengths and weaknesses, and each has circumstances in which it is a better choice.  The goal of this blog is to compare the differences and guide decision for what might be best for your business.

Waterfall Methodology

Stage-gated processes such as Waterfall emphasize completion of one task before proceeding to the next.  For example, a business stakeholder must perform due diligence and complete requirements documentation before passing the project on to the technology leads to perform technical analysis and the designers to implement a graphic design.  Upon completion of the technical analysis and graphic design artifacts, the project is ready to be implemented by programmers.


This approach has some benefits. The business team is forced to gather all of their requirements before production begins and that can be a fantastic incentive to get the business stakeholders to prioritize the effort and complete the document.  Otherwise, business stakeholders might be inclined to do a half effort, pass along a requirements document lacking a lot of details and expect technologists to begin designing and building the product. Everyone will be frustrated in the end, when the product is late, and doesn’t look or act as was desired.  Waterfall is very good at solving this type of problem.

Waterfall can also be a significant advantage from the perspective of budgeting.  When working with external vendors or even service units within a larger enterprise which are driven by strict annual budgeting, there can be little tolerance for wasting money. By practicing a Waterfall methodology, business stakeholders get everything in place to be maximally efficient with the use of technology and design resources before engaging them, thereby reducing capital waste.   And, the vendor can also deliver on a fixed-cost or fixed-timeline, which helps overcome trust issues that can be a problem otherwise working with external vendors who bill by the hour.

Iterative Methodology (Agile & Lean)

Iterative methods such as Scrum, Extreme Programming and the Rational Unified Process (RUP) rose to prominence in the 1990s, in direct response to the perceived short-comings of Waterfall and other Stage-Gated approaches.  In 2001, the Agile Manifesto was written to unify these efforts and as a result the Agile Method was born. The key issue they collectively seek to address, is the waste of building the wrong product or features.  Whereas Waterfall in particular is great for reducing the cost of production, it is slow to produce results (since planning must be 100% complete before implementation begins) and outright terrible at discovery and responding to user feedback.  Proponents of iterative methods would argue that while stage gating methods such as Waterfall make efficient user of capital and resources to develop a product, it is only efficient in creating something that nobody wants!  This is a real problem for startups and new products, in particular.

The Agile method focuses on software development and includes several sub-processes such as Scrum, Extreme Programming, and Adaptive.  Collectively, they provide tactical guidance and frameworks for implementing iterative development process within an organization.  The Scrum sub-process for example emphasizes face-to-face communication and requires a daily meeting between team members to provide updates and social accountability, as well as align everyone around the common goals and challenges.  It also recommends that all members of the team work together in a single office without walls (called a “bull pen”) to facilitate open and organic communication.  The idea is that the team can be more reactive and ultimately agile and responsive to changing business requirements this way.

Agile also mandates that delegates from each business unit be an active part of the process, every step of the way.   Each iteration is typically 1-4 week time-boxes and while developers are implementing the design for the current iteration, designers and business stakeholders are creating the requirements for the next iteration, to be completed at the same time as implementation of the current.  When the current implementation is completed, it goes to QA to test, while development codes the next iteration, and so forth.

In this way, design and functional requirements are being created just shortly before they are implemented.  This allows for a tight feedback loop in which product designers quickly realize flaws in implementation and business stakeholders can quickly perform user testing and correct any flawed assumptions as for what is actually being built.

The Lean method is similar to the Agile method as it is iterative in nature, though the focus is product-market fit and less upon product implementation.  Whereas Agile provides a feedback loop for internal discovery among business units, Lean focuses more upon customer feedback, discovering product-market fit and optimization details such as conversion rate and landing page optimization.

Comparison

So which is a better option for your organization? It depends.  Waterfall has been beat up a lot by those who reject it in favor of iteration, but it is actually a better fit when working with external vendors, since cost-control is often a key issue. Agile can be a great choice internally within organizations that are product focused and which foster an open enough environment to allow for communication and inter-departmental cooperation.  A lot of organizations realistically do not have the culture to succeed with Agile however.  I use to work at one organization in particular which had a known policy that business stakeholders were not even allowed to enter the Engineering wing!

The nature of the project is also important.  If you are working on creative or discovery-driven projects such as analytics-driven optimization or are simply charged with increasing revenue by whatever means, iteration is the only option, since you need to make changes, test, and respond systematically.  Conversely, if you are performing a systems integration project with very specific requirements that are not going to change and require no discovery, Waterfall will likely bring more success.

Another consideration is the composition of your team.  Agile is often preferred among the more big-picture and senior members of a team, who have the competence and visibility of overall business objectives to be effective.  And in fact, it is good to engage such people and allow them the opportunity to work with Agile and Lean methods, since they will likely get bored and not be challenged by having every detail spelled out to them in a Waterfall style requirements document.  Conversely though, junior team members often need the structure and oversight of a more structured environment and might not perform well on an Agile team.  Agile has also been implicated as non-effective on larger teams.  If you have more than 20 people on your project team, the overhead of managing rapid-succession iterations might overwhelm your effort.

Finally, consider stepping back from all of the details of what Stage Gate and Iterative methodologies are, and simply ask this question:  does your business benefit more from a large-batch or small-batch approach? Stage Gating is much like an assembly line and assumes you have all of the answers and are not making any strategy mistakes.  If the answers are known already or discovery of the answers within your organization is not going to be tolerated,  then large-batch is the way to go.  If you are an early-stage company or are intro ducting new products or trying to optimize user engagement or monetization of those products however, small batch is the right choice, since you need to build a little bit, test, get feedback, and take the next steps based upon feedback.  If retaining top intellectual talent is core to your business, Agile provides more latitude and will allow you to keep your best minds engaged.

 

The following lists provide a quick comparison of waterfall and iterative pros and cons.

Agile Considerations

» Creative and Discovery-driven projects
» Seeking Product-Market Fit
» Team typically on-site together
» Responsive to Changing Requirements
» Responsive user feedback loop
» Requires a senior team
» Quick initial product release
» Intensity of iterations can lead to burnout

Waterfall Considerations

» Transactional Projects (black & white requirements)
» Precise control of time and cost
» Mission Critical system development
» Clients with external vendors
» Remote teams work well
» Large teams (20+)
» Teams with junior engineers
» Better documentation

Landing Page Optimization #3 (Testing & Analysis)

This is now the third in a series of three blog posts, providing a comprehensive overview of landing page optimization.  The first post discussed laid out the 5 tenants for effective online selling.  The second applied those concepts to design, marketing and implementation best practices. We are now ready to discuss how testing analysis form the basis of a on-going optimization methodology.

Even though there are known landing page optimization best-practices, and heuristic models for usability that guide us, testing is still at the heart of any effective optimization campaign.  It’s a process.  And the truth is that all of rules of thumb are just like any other advice in life – half true at best. At best you could argue that these rules are true some or most of the time.  No matter how great of an expert one is at site optimization, even the best minds in this space often find themselves surprised at what’s working, as evidenced by the success of sites like WhichTestWon.com, industry experts come to socialize and guess which landing page will win.

Thus what truly separates an expert from a novice is the systematic methods by which they arrive at an optimized page, more than anything else.  Think in terms of what a build > Measure > Learn feedback loop in which you build a landing page using best-practices to begin, then test it against a few other variants, and analyze the results to uncover what’s working. 

Based upon this effort, you not only determined which of your variants was stronger, hopefully you’ve revised your knowledge of what works for your target demographic, so that you can build upon it for the next batch of variants that you will test.  This process repeats until you’re convinced that you’ve optimized sufficiently, or that the law of diminishing returns catches up with you.

To setup your own testing process, you need to properly instrument your site with Analytics tools, and site optimization tools.  Let’s discuss each on of these:

Analytics
The first step is to properly instrument your site with Analytics, so that you can perform behavioral analysis after a test has run.  There are number of tools such as Google Analytics and Adobe Site Catalyst (aka Omniture) that will suffice and allow you to see who came to your page, what keywords they may have been searching how long they stayed, and where they went from there. You can pass tags also to identify campaigns and thus attribute conversions accordingly.  Goals can be defined as well that you can track against your attributed campaigns to uncover the cost of customer acquisition and return on ad spend (ROAS).

There are still other complimentary analytics tools that may make sense at times. For simple landing page optimization, you might also consider looking at CrazyEgg.com, as it provides a simple heat map to indicate where the mouse went on your page, thus indicating areas of focus.  If you’re looking at site wide and conversion optimization, a lifecycle analytics tool such as ClickTale  allows you to track (anonymously) the entire session on your sit, in detail.  Careful study can help you to uncover bottlenecks in your sales funnel that can be corrected for significant gains in profit and ROAS.

Always Be Testing
Separate from analytics tools, there is another class of tools that specifically manage systematic testing of content variations. Tools such as Google’s Website Optimizer (GWO),  Adobe’s Experience Management, Unbounce and others, enable you to  systematically test variations of a page and graduate the winner of a test to primary status.

A/B Testing provides a simple approach to compare different versions of a page whereas Multivariate Testing (MVT) testing variants of specific tagged elements within a page, such as swapping out a headline, image, or button.  Internet marketing companies that are really great at this stuff, make variant testing a regular part of their process and it is not uncommon to be running a dozen or more variants at any given time in these organizations. Internet marketing companies who excel at this stuff, are regularly testing as a matter of process, and it is not uncommon to be running a dozen or more variants at any given time.

Conclusion

So there you have it.  After three lengthy blog posts, you now have a fairly complete overview of landing page optimization.  At a very high level, the goals are to provide a simple and consistent user experience and to remove barriers from achieving our goal, such as opportunities for distraction and trust issues.  To execute on these goals, do research to better understand your demographic and the nuances of exactly what they’re looking for.  You can then respond with more effective marketing copy and improved design that takes advantage of layout for focus, and images to invoke emotion.

Be aware of implementation issues that could handicap your success such as load time, relevance, and SEO accessibility, particularly if dealing with Google AdWords.  And above all else, instrument your site with analytics to gain visibility into what “is* on your site, and make testing and incremental refinement a matter of process, to discover what *could be*.   If you can follow these steps and make a commitment to testing as a matter of process, then congratulations – you’re already well on your way to seeing double, possibly even triple digit gains in returns on ad spend.

Part 3 of a 3-part series on Landing Page Optimization

AARRR Customer Lifecycle Model

Dave McCLure  gave a speech at Seattle Ignite where he introduced what he called his “AARRR” customer lifecycle model. The goal with this model is to illustrate the various segments of the funnel that a business must acknowledge and master.  The 5 stages are as follows:

1. Acquisition – Think about how you’re obtaining those initial customer introductions. Typical methods would include SEO, PPC, Press Releases,  etc. This is an area that can be improved upon with marketing optimization techniques such as SEO keyword targeting, etc.

2. Activation – Once you have people at your site, what could you do to better improve their experience and ensure they actually signup for your free trial?  A/B testing and landing page optimization can be helpful here.

3. Retention – Once the user is signed up, what are you doing to incubate those relationships?  Many email marketing houses now provide fairly sophisticated auto-responder options.  Marketing automation programs can take it to the next level. Inbound marketing such as blog content and Facebook fan pages can further the cause.

4. Referral – What are you doing to assist your existing users to spread the word about your business? Contests, badges and widgets they can put on their website all help incentivize them to spread the word, which reduces acquisition costs.

5. Revenue – Finally at some point, there must be a monetizable transaction that justifies all of the effort.  Think about what it is and what could flow naturally given the above statements. A typical example would be a SaaS product that provided a free trial in the activation segment of the funnel, and when the 30 day trial is up, or when the user needs additional functionality, they choose to signup.

At the end of his presentation,  he suggests your business needs to be instrumented with the proper analytics and intelligence by which to make decisions.  Suggests you need a tool for each of the following purposes:

  • Quantitative – Traffic analysis & user engagement
  • Qualitative – Usability Testing & Session monitoring
  • Comparative – A/B & Multivariate Testing
  • Competitive – Monitoring & Tracking competitors

Here is the slideshow for anyone interested in further detail: