Digital transformation is a concept that has taken hold in all kinds of companies from Wall Street to Main Street. The promise of technologies is great: elastic cloud computing, AI/machine learning, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and Edge Computing enjoy great expectations from senior business leaders for their potential to transform the energy supply chain.
Advertas has just completed a white paper and e-guide for a major industrial automation company that has re-cast their offerings in terms of Digital Transformation and the benefit potential when applied to large operating facilities, such as offshore platforms, refineries, and petrochemical plants. Upstream from refining operations where hydrocarbons are discovered and developed, geoscientists and engineers cite applications of machine learning to large seismic data volumes, 4D reservoir simulation, drilling, and oilfield optimization.
Whatever the business or technology offering, we are advising clients to rethink their positioning strategies in terms of how their offerings fit on the landscape of this nascent I.T infrastructure, which is not a fad and will not fade with time. Specifically, some key questions to ask as you contemplate how to go to market:
In 2018, Advertas conducted a market survey of the“Millennial” age group, targeting ages 22 – 35(ish), to gauge how this demographic sought information on new technology, particularly machine learning applications. Perhaps not surprisingly, this demographic was found to use Social Media outlets early in their searches for suppliers, not as a source of technical information, but as a quick view of the vendor’s activities. There were a few other surprises from the market survey. The point, of course, is going to market knowing vs. not knowing, at least to the extent practical.
If you struggle with the last question, you’re not alone. Our clients have great technology, but some are challenged to demonstrate that their offerings provide a dramatic improvement over the status quo. In their book “Zero to One”, Peter Thiel and Blake Masters propose that “As a good rule of thumb, proprietary technology must be at least 10 times better than its closest substitute in some dimension to lead to a real monopolistic advantage”. We second that notion. Fortunately, in B2B applications, the business value of the offering can often be quantified using good financial analysis. However, the market is demanding and offering greater business value alone will not be sufficient if no one knows about your product or service.
The technologies referenced above, supported by the major cloud vendors, promise large step-changes in performance and usability, along with new capabilities to tackle difficult technical problems. Unfortunately, the wholesale expansion of capabilities are occurring so rapidly with cloud computing and applications of AI that product planning and marketing strategies are highly uncertain, but neither can they be ignored. Knowing your market while being ready to change remains sound marketing advice. And, most importantly, consider the application of Digital Transformation on your own marketing outreach.
Hal H. Green is a marketing executive and entrepreneur in the energy industry with more than 20 years of experience in starting and managing technology companies. His particular focus is business strategy, effective selling practices, and field marketing. He has a diverse portfolio of achievements, which span all areas of the hydrocarbon supply chain – from upstream exploration through downstream refining & petrochemical.
Mr. Green attended Texas A&M University, where he received a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering. He later earned an MBA in Information Management from the University of Houston. As Director of Manufacturing Systems for Setpoint, an advanced process control firm in Houston, Mr. Green effectively managed the P&L of this consulting practice. After Aspen Technology acquired Setpoint in January 1996, he continued as Director of Business Development for the Information Management and Polymer Business Units. Throughout his career, Mr. Green has been a proven thought leader, publishing articles in major industry journals.
In 2004, Mr. Green founded Advertas, a full-service marketing and public relations firm serving clients in energy and technology across the energy supply chain – upstream, midstream, downstream and power. In 2009, Geophysical Insights retained Advertas to be their outsourced marketing and business development functions. Dr. Tom Smith, President/CEO of Geophysical Insights, appointed Mr. Green as Director of Marketing and Business Development, in which capacity he still serves today.
Marketing managers of growing companies look at their team, see the gaps and recognize what they need help doing. However, there’s a delicate balance as you grow — bringing the right people on board to grow the business without out-spending cash flow. Each HR decision must be carefully weighed against the revenue side of the equation. Making this transition is critical to growing from a small business to a market contender. Looking into an agency can have several advantages:
You cut the time required to locate, train, and manage dramatically.The right agency knows your industry, is well-steeped in the buying values of your customers, and can quickly understand your product and go-to-market strategy. Finding an individual who has the skills and expertise that you require, together with the industry experience, can be a rather daunting and time-consuming task. You will always be the subject matter expert, but the burden of hiring individuals and getting them up to speed is much less than when dealing with an agency who specializes in your industry. If a new skill is required, it’s the agency’s job to hire and train the new employee, so you can focus on the things you do best.
Access to a team of expertsThe marketing skills gap is very real. Addressed by Harvard Business Review and the New York Times: “A skill gap is the difference between the skills required to complete a task and the actual skills possessed by an employee.” Marketing covers a multitude of fronts, each facet with its own challenges, best practices, and required technical expertise. In order to have a fully-formed, optimal marketing program, it’s necessary to have a team of experts. Digital marketing / SEO, event execution, marketing automation, lead generation, creative content, social media, technical writing, graphic design, strategy, project management — the list can be extensive. Rather than keep each of these experts full-time in-house, an agency can be the answer to the biggest “bang for your buck”.
Scalability and Financial FlexibilityIf you experience fluctuations in sales at all, you will benefit from an “as needed” relationship with an agency. Perhaps there are busy seasons — trade shows or a product launch — for which you bring them in. No need to carry the overhead of a full staff 12 months out of the year. Scale up when you need to without the commitment of permanent growth, and scale back as needed. A good agency should be able to accommodate you at every stage of your business.
Stay ahead of the latest technology and trendsAcross the marketing landscape, both tools and best practices are ever-evolving. It takes commitment and time to stay abreast of these developments, but that investment is required to stay competitive. Your own employees can sink much productive time into investigation and education, but an agency shoulders this burden and presents to you the best fit for your business, saving your team time and energy for directly revenue-generating activities.
Get an outsiders perspective“Siloed” or “myopic” thinking plagues even the best teams. Corporate culture, even in small companies, can dictate a particular vision or approach. One of the benefits of an agency is a team of people from diverse backgrounds and skill sets, all applying a fresh perspective to address your business needs. Perhaps it is a new outreach plan or a new twist on a value proposition to more specifically speak to a customer’s challenge. A good agency is working for your best interest, is vested in your success, and provides creative solutions that could only come from an outside voice.
Conclusion Growing your team one full-time employee at a time can be an arduous task. Retaining a marketing agency can eliminate many of the hiring, training and managing burdens, as well as give you a ‘leg up’ when competing with the marketing departments of much larger firms.
Laura Cuttill Practice Lead
Laura A. Cuttill is a strategic and operational leader with a demonstrated ability to fuse business, financial, and technology interests into streamlined, profitable operations. Armed with a degree in marketing from Texas A&M University, Ms. Cuttill began her career in the Schlumberger Information Solutions department, working on identity management roll-out projects for Chevron and ExxonMobil.
In 2004 she joined Hal Green as a co-founder of Advertas, adding her organizational, analytical, and creative problem-solving skills to the team. In 2010 she left Advertas to co-found the identity management software company, 2FA, Inc. As COO / CMO for 2FA, she helped lead the company from concept to a 75% market share in target verticals for two factor authentication in four short years. After selling the business to Identity Automation in 2016, she returned to Advertas, continuing to support clients in the energy and process industries. She serves her clients with a unique vision of using cutting-edge software and marketing practices as a foundation to drive business growth.
You hear your market clamoring for a tool to fill a gap. Or, perhaps, you see the gap and have the foresight to know how to solve a problem and provide an incredible amount of value in the process. So, you start with a necessary function or objective. But yet, the design of elegant technology and artwork have similar creative processes and objectives. The entire UX design process can sometimes be a delicate balancing act among Form and Function, Features and Aesthetics, Development cost and Ergonomics.
As a marketing consultant and UX designer, I consistently see engineers enamored with features. Yes, the things we can do with technology can be awesome. However, users will choose ease-of-use over a list of features nearly every single time. In our schedule-packed culture, users don’t have time to learn how to use a piece of software. It has to be intuitive.
In truth, it is an excellent practice to run every form of technology design through a creative artwork process for aesthetic purposes. However, the technology that people love to use begins with the end user in mind. The technology that revolutionizes our lives sets out the UX design and allows that to define the functional requirements of the application.
Take the origins of the iPad – an iconic example of great design: Steve Jobs asked his engineers for a multi-touch tablet with no keyboard or stylus, and he got one six months later. What started as the iPhone, eventually became the iPad. But before this 21st-century example, major buildings, automobiles, and consumer electronics of all types were initially conceived in a visual form.
By focusing first on the way users will interact with your technology, the work of the developers is better supported by having a clear target that documents and graphically depicts how the application will work. This practice is routine for cloud solutions, but still is in its infancy when it comes to technical desktop applications.
When evaluating the cost of a design-driven development process, Ralf-Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover put it best when he commented: “If you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.” It’s true – bad design, or one that was hastily thrown together to meet a deadline, always costs exponentially more in terms of lost revenue, increased support costs, and customer goodwill. An investment on the front end in great design pays dividends throughout the life of the product.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind when planning your new product design:
A great product manager is not always a great designer. Neither does a great graphic artist make for a great software designer. The best UX designers have an eye for looking at the way people use a tool and can demonstrate making something feel natural.
Sometimes a great idea will carry through the design process. But sometimes you have to be willing to try new things for true innovation to occur.
Pictures are worth a thousand words, but often words are required to express an idea thoroughly. Graphic artists have a certain way of looking at the world and developers often have a different way of seeing things. For the most effective collaboration, it is imperative that communication happens through a variety of formats. Design isn’t just about images – it’s telling a story. If you ensure that the story is told thoroughly, and with different audiences in mind, it minimizes the inefficiencies due to lack of clarity.
There is a defined stage of the UX design process for validation, (or as this designer likes to call it – “User Testing”) but often it’s glossed over. There are a good many tools on the market for tracking a user’s interaction, including MouseStats, Usabilla, or TryMyUI. Some things you thought were intuitive, may not be at all. Also, keep in mind that a global user base can present different challenges for a uniform tool. Those insights aren’t readily apparent without some amount of user testing.
The design and development process can be an ongoing, ever-changing beast to wrangle. As new features are added, the design team is challenged to incorporate those into an already-static wireframe. Having the UX designer as a key stakeholder in the project from the beginning (#1) helps in this process. However, it’s necessary to continue to work hand-in-hand with development, throughout the product lifecycle.
In decades past, the cycle of technological advancement typically involved old tech being replaced by better, new tech. However, recent years have shown that technology is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance; it is becoming more and more advanced and adding entirely new tools to the landscape. Undoubtedly, this rapid pace will not only likely continue, but accelerate. With Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), the use of Big Data, and more, it is becoming increasingly difficult for companies to remain nimble in an ever-changing environment and make the best use of what is currently available, but also anticipate what is to come. Central to this is making technology work most efficiently for marketing, branding, and PR.
A study conducted by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism tackled just this issue by surveying 2,100 CEOs, PR professionals, and PR students on their thoughts regarding technology’s place in PR, marketing, and communication. Based on the information in this study, several key themes have emerged which highlight the need companies have for a team of seasoned marketing professionals who are knowledgeable about new tech, know how best to use it, and can remove potential confusion, alleviate stress over the unknown, and free up resources.
It comes as no surprise that the rate at which technology is changing and new technologies are being added has drastically ramped up in recent years. Fred Cook, Director of the USC Center for Public Relations, sums it up well when he says, “Today, technology changes so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Every day, a new app, device or platform is piled onto the growing tech stack available to media, marketers, and communicators.” Gone are the days when Windows 95 was simply replaced with a tweaked and more streamlined operating system. Because of this, small and large companies alike are at risk of falling behind in a short amount of time. Outsourcing the task of keeping up with and properly utilizing the tools likely to materialize due to this exponential growth can not only help ensure that a company stays current and effective, but free up resources to focus on other components of a business.
According to those surveyed, social media is a “double-edged sword”; it can quickly spread the information you want to reach a mass audience, but can also quickly sour your brand based on only a handful of negative tweets or posts on Facebook. To combat this, having an experienced social media manager is key so that your company’s voice is carefully curated, not drowned out. Additionally, hiring a firm which specializes in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can ensure your company’s website garners visibility from potential customers researching your company, product, service, or industry. SEO management is an ongoing effort and requires experience; something not all companies can afford to do in-house.
A majority of CEOs surveyed in this study would prefer that new technology and communication mostly be focused on sales, while PR/Marketing professionals rank “data analytics to gain insights” and defending the brand as their top priorities. This is to be expected, but in-house marketing teams run the risk of sacrificing the use of new tech to essentially become salespeople. But a firm with many years of experience working with a multitude of companies can be more adept at balancing the obvious need to increase sales with knowledge and expertise utilizing data analytics, SEO, social media, and brand awareness.
59% of individuals surveyed indicated that video production, more traditional use of technology, as a skill necessary for a company to succeed. At the same time, 43% indicated that predictive AI technology was as well. Being able to excel at both of these seemingly disparate uses of technology is not an easy feat for a typical marketing team which may be stretched thin or lacks experience in one or the other. However, considering seeking help outside of your own company can help pick up any slack so that neither old nor new marketing tools languish, as both serve important purposes now and will in the future.
Technology of all varieties is only as good as the people who implement it, interpret it, and use it. There is a definite art to properly utilizing any data gathered, streamlining marketing automation, creating effective mass customer contact, and many more elements of marketing. It is easy to get bogged down by too much information, too much to do, differing objectives, and a lack of experience. With the knowledge gathered over many years by working with an array of companies, services, and products, the right team will have honed its skills and most likely intuitively know how to best use not the only technology available today, but what is to come.
Justin graduated from the University of Houston with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Master of Arts in Public Administration with a concentration in public policy and analysis.
Prior to joining Advertas, he gained varied experience in management as well as government/nonprofit policy and contract administration working in the legal department of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. In his role at Advertas, Justin serves as a part of the technical writing and analytical backbone of the marketing team. Justin is a specialist in technical writing and research, communicating the client’s value proposition in every piece of content, adept at writing for both the human reader as well as search engines.
New Year, new objectives and new growth targets! For any B2B company, a solid sales pipeline starts with a solid lead generation program. Advertas has been helping technology companies grow the quantity and quality of their leads for 15 years. Over that time, we’ve found that the lifeblood of a sustainable effort is the marketing database. Let’s assume for a minute that a.) you keep a marketing database, and b.) you actively maintain it. If that’s not the case, that should be Task #1 on your things-to-do in the new year. There are several CRMs on the market that do a fantastic job of enabling collaboration between sales and marketing, together with marketing automation. (FreshSales, Hubspot, Marketo, and Salesforce, to name a few.)
With that, here are some building blocks to help you formulate a successful plan for 2018:
Be diligent about capturing leads from conferences and tradeshows.
We’ve seen companies from the very large to the very small all fall victim to not getting the full value from a tradeshow. They spend a small fortune on booth space, construction, and services, talk to people, exchange a few business cards, and then come back with a handful of “leads”. Remember that tradeshows are a great opportunity to reach members of the industry that may never attend events you host or open an email you send. Think about your booth in terms of being a tool used to drive traffic. in terms of driving traffic to it. Skip the cheesy throw-your-business-card-in-a-bowl trick, and instead opt for a draw of more value to your customers. Promote and give high-quality presentations. Invest in the show’s electronic badge scanners, where it’s available, to make sure you capture each person who comes by the booth.
The second-most effective strategy we’ve found to build a marketing database is to host events. Whether these are in-person lunch n’ learns, or online-only webinars, we’ve found that with every event we have, it not only provides value to our current database and keeps our name fresh, but they forward the
invite on to new people and we find the database grows organically with high-quality leads.
Create a culture of diligence among your sales and marketing team in entering their interactions with contacts in your CRM. If you can’t track and manage a lead, it often falls through the cracks in follow-up. Just because a contact isn’t in a buying phase right now, doesn’t mean they won’t be in six or nine months. Create drip campaigns of value to keep your name in their forefront of their minds.
89% of B2B sales start with online research. That’s a dramatic statement that has a litany of implications for your marketing program. However, in terms of building your database, that automated connection between your website and social media and your marketing database is crucial. When leads are looking and find you (which took some hard work to get to that point — congratulations) — don’t let those inquiries slide by.
So, you’ve got this great marketing database filled with just the right influencers and decision-makers. How do you distill out the most active leads? How do you best apply your time where it will make the most difference? This is where your marketing automation system really comes into play. By tracking which emails your audience is responding to, you can reach them with just the right messaging. By tracking web visits or downloads, you can immediately identify which contacts are entering various stages of the buying process. Using this intel, set up automatic, customized emails to cut through the noise, speaking directly to the challenge your prospect is facing.
The days of bombastic, long-winded marketing copy, stuffed full of keywords is over. Algorithms are smarter and buyers have less patience to wade through miles of copy. The best way to elevate your search engine standing and attract “hand-raisers” is to provide actual solutions to real problems. And it can’t all be for sale. Offer help or consultations for free. Become a trusted advisor. However, you choose to disseminate information to your database — whether it’s via webinar, ebook, blog posts, short videos — it should be short, to-the-point, and provide ample headlines, bullet points, and graphics to skim.
In today’s world of information overload, we can know a great deal about customers’ online behaviors. However, translating all the data into meaningful, useable information is the crux of knowing (and influencing) how those behavior translate into real-world decisions. Integrating the variety of tracking mechanisms you’ve implemented and understanding the resulting information is key. Many of the popular CRM platforms offer a “Lead Score”, which assigns points based on tracked activities (visiting web pages, registering for an event, visiting the booth at a tradeshow, responding to an email, etc.) and in this way, the more interaction a contact has with the company, the higher their presumed level of interest, and naturally — the better placed the sales effort is with them.
Establishing your corporate stakeholders as thought leaders in the industry – trusted sources of technology and process advancement provides less immediately-tangible benefits, but we’ve seen it consistently pay dividends over time. Your team is in the trenches with the problem and the technology. You, together with your customers, are best suited to address long-term needs and direction. It takes effort, but the time investment is worth it.
Develop papers for publications. Peer-reviewed publications, if it’s applicable, are always preferred, but any full-length feature article is “good ink”. Co-author with others in your industry — it gives your work more credibility and avoids a “sales-y” overtone.
Speak at conferences. The ‘call for abstracts’ usually goes about about six months prior to the tradeshow. Make sure you review the technical program for areas in which you may be a subject expert. If it’s the right show to attend, usually they’ll be at least one good fit.
Give webinars. Webinars are the quick-and-easy way to get good information to your marketing database, quickly. They are also the most lenient audience when it comes to product or company mentions.
Blog. If you’re anything like some of our clients, so much information resides primarily in the minds of those developing the technology. Blogging can be an easy way to share tips, tricks, and forward-thinking opinions, establishing your leadership team as thought leaders in the space.
Whatever the outlook for your 2019, give your objectives the best chance of success by equipping the plan execution with best practices. Educate yourself, identify gaps in your team, and secure the resources you need to generate more and better quality leads.