He’s one of those social media connections I’ve never met in person but have known for about a decade. If you’re into the technology marketing scene, chances are you do too – because he’s everywhere.
After working on the in-house side of marketing and learning what he liked and didn’t about working agencies, he hung out his own shingle. He’s been an independent consultant since 2006 and helps B2B companies with online marketing.
He is Tom Pick and he’s my guest on this, the 29th edition of the month Off Script Q&A series. Each month Off Scripts interviews someone with a fresh perspective on marketing – details on how to get involved are at the bottom of this post.
1) What has changed the most about marketing over the course of your career?
There’s no way to answer that without dating myself, but…okay. I started my career (though just barely) in the pre-Internet era. Advertising was extremely expensive. As a marketer, I wrote articles for trade magazines and did a lot of direct mail. Buyers relied heavily on salespeople for education.
It’s been fascinating to watch that evolution, from information scarcity and limited, expensive distribution channels to information over-abundance and limitless, virtually free distribution. Early on, I worked at a printing technology company where we had a big poster on the wall that said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” Now, anyone can “own a press” in the digital sense.
The best change, though, is that marketing has gotten better as a profession, in two important ways.
First, it’s more authentic and transparent now. In the early days of the Internet, the same sorts of shady characters who’d been advertising in the back of comic books and mailing out dodgy catalogs moved online and began emailing mass quantities of spam and manipulating search engine results with tactics like keyword stuffing, “white text,” and link farms. That nonsense no longer works, so today, the good people in marketing – the ones who focus on sharing knowledge and producing high-quality content – are winning.
Second, almost everything is now measurable. Trying to tie print ads or direct mail directly to sales, for a high-value, long-sales-cycle B2B product, was a nightmare. Now we’ve got incredibly powerful and granular measurement and analytics tools that tie together all our online efforts and increasingly account for offline efforts as well.
2) What hasn’t changed about marketing?
The biggest constant is, it’s still all about people, right? People don’t buy product features; they buy from someone who understands their problems and articulates a compelling solution. What’s changed is that communication, that storytelling used to be about one-third marketing and two-thirds sales; now those shares have flipped.
A second constant is messaging. It’s still essential to be able to communicate your value proposition and brand differentiation very succinctly. Pre-Internet, that was because print ad space was so costly. Now it’s because attention is scarce.
And one more key element – the importance of live events. Event marketing, at gatherings like annual customer meetings and trade shows, was huge in the 90s. Then it went through a down period in the dot-com tech bust era, and especially after 9/11 when no one wanted to travel. Marketers thought it could all be done digitally. Webinars became a big thing.
But interestingly, today, events are often the single biggest expense in B2B marketing budgets — and that spending is growing. The more information we push through digital channels, the more people crave, and value, face to face communication. Plus, modern event technology and management platforms open some amazing data collection opportunities.
3) Do you think marketing has gotten harder or easier in the last 10 years?
I could argue “both” I guess. On one hand, the bar has clearly been raised: The C-suite expects measurable ROI, and sales prospects won’t even notice content that isn’t top quality and precisely targeted. But at the same time, we’ve got much better tools to work with, to help meet these more demanding expectations.
But on balance, probably a bit harder because buyers have gotten more difficult to reach. The technology that was supposed to set us free has done something quite different. People are no longer tethered to their desks for 8-10 hours each day; instead, they are tethered to their phones and laptops for 12-14 hours. Who’s got time for needs analysis, solution research, buying committee meetings, discussions with salespeople, price negotiations…and then implementation once the deal is signed?
Plus, as technology has made it easier to produce and distribute brand messages, it’s also made them easier to ignore. Corporate email systems filter out most externally originated messages, commercial or otherwise. Ad blockers render online promotion invisible. And if your company doesn’t outright block access to Twitter and Facebook, it is certainly, at the very least, monitoring precisely much time you spend on those platforms.
4) What do you think the business side appreciates the most about marketing?
Leads. Sorry, that was too vague: MQLs.
That’s not a bad thing, that’s just the way it (most often) is. GM produces cars, marketers produce leads. Of course, GM does many other things as well: replacement parts and accessories, GM Finance, and then that whole OnStar remote diagnostics/communication/control technology thing.
Marketers do lots of other things too but are known for leads. Year after year, in every survey, the top priority, challenge, and metric for success is leads.
See these related interviews:
Key Considerations in Choosing a CMS; Off Script #28: Matt Garrepy
The Evolution of Event Marketing; Off Script #27: Mark Granovsky
Confusion, Technology and Talent in Marketing; Off Script #26: Frank Pollock
5) What value does marketing bring that you think generally goes under-appreciated?
Building relationships. It’s not always obvious to others in the organization but is so important.
Relationships with customers, of course. But also, with industry analysts, people in the trade media, bloggers and other influencers, brand advocates, channel partners, technology partners (vendors going after the same market but with complementary rather than competitive products), suppliers, outside consultants and agencies, and others.
These relationships help us make connections and get our content, our messages and stories, in front of the right people. Which leads to…leads.
6) Are there any emerging skills you think marketers need to consider developing?
The most popular answer would be to learn technical skills, particularly around emerging areas like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, and how those will impact marketing. And it’s certainly not a bad idea to gain some knowledge and understanding of those technologies.
I don’t think, generally, that marketers need to take this to the extent of becoming data scientists or learning to program. It’s more likely that increasingly powerful analytical capabilities will be built into easy-to-use tools.
I’d frame this a different way, I guess, and advise marketers to focus on honing the craft of marketing. As an analogy, no one says someone is a great carpenter because he or she really knows how to use a saw or is great with a hammer. Being an exceptional carpenter (or marketer) involves the skilled use of tools, of course, but one is ultimately judged by output –what are you able to create?
For example, one newer tool I really like is PaveAI. It basically scans through your Google Analytics data looking at 16 million possible correlations. Then it shows you which results stand out. Of course, some of the correlations it finds are spurious, or coincidental, or just not important. But some area. It takes a skilled marketer to know which results actually matter and to have the creativity to know what actions to take based on those.
7) Is there a question I didn’t ask, but you wish I did? (optional)
We’ve sort of covered this, but maybe a question about what’s coming, or what’s next for marketers?
I wrote a piece recently titled Will a Robot Take Your Marketing Job? It points out that while AI and automation technology are getting increasingly powerful and sophisticated, and will enable marketers to do their jobs better, technology really isn’t very good at some important things, like creativity, collaboration, or empathy.
Brian Carroll has done some interesting work lately on empathy in marketing, and Babette Ten Haken has written some excellent stuff on collaboration and professional development. Those are skills, along with judgment and perspective, are developed over time. The most effective marketing teams will be diverse in terms of age as well as in other respects.
8) Just for fun; fill in the blank:
- One marketing tool you can’t live without is…Google Analytics.
- One person you recommend following on Twitter is…Shelly Kramer.
- One publication or blog you read regularly is…Michael Brenner’s Marketing Insider.
- If you weren’t doing what you do now you’d be…fishing.
- If you suddenly got 10% more time to spend on marketing, you’d spend it on…experimenting with more marketing tools.
* * *
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like:
Without Marketing You’re Just the Business…Off Script #25: Steve Olenski
Photo credit: Unsplash