Every year, we chat with a group of forward-thinking marketing and sales executives and poll our larger community to find out what’s on their “must have” list for the upcoming marketing year. We always bring our own list to the table to get the conversation started. While there was some consensus, most surprising was what was added to the list during our discussion.

We chatted with

Kim Martin, Vice President of marketing from Aspect,
Lisa Lovas, director of marketing at Hewlett Packard Enterprise,
Dan Fox, field marketing of Interactions, and
Gordon Littley, managing director of sales at Verizon.

These marketing pros had a very rich discussion and shared some surprising insights…keep reading for the highlights.

Top 10 Marketing Must-haves–The First List
Here’s the list we came up with to get the discussion going.

1. Go-to-market research is first on our list. Research, as we all know, is the foundation of successful marketing and as such, should be performed prior to developing any marketing plans or messaging.

2. Account-based marketing (ABM). ABM has recently grown in popularity, especially with our clients, which it isn’t surprising considering 80% of marketers who measure ROI, say that ABM outperforms any other marketing investments. I’m curious to see if that’s your finding too.

3. Content marketing. Content marketing, of course, can take many shapes and sizes, but ultimately we know now that it’s not about more content, more content, it’s really the more your content helps people, take a step closer to their next goal, the more opportunities your organization will have to reach and connect and nurture.

4. Video. So of course videos are a component of content marketing, but since they have such an effective outcome on engagement and conversion, really can be used in multiple ways. We did feel this initiative has a place on its own in your budget going forward.

5. Search engine marketing or SEM. Most SEM strategies include a healthy mix of search engine optimization and pay per click advertising, and this area is changing drastically all the time, so it’s important to stay visible, stay present, and stay invested in your search engine marketing efforts. It’s on our top 10 list.

6. Events. Even in this very digital age, executive events continue to generate some of marketing’s highest return, and as we just saw on our poll, we did see a lot of people are still doing events, perhaps in different ways than they used to, but events are still in the top 10.

7. Webinars. Webinars, as we know, in this day and age of engagement is that place that is the perfect blend of live in-person connection and online digitization time delay. So webinars are ideal for positioning your brand as an industry leader and doubles as a platform to uncover new prospects.

8. Social media. Social media, of course, is a great way to promote your content and extend your content reach and not only is it for promoting content, but you can engage your followers. Everyone in our poll has been doing social media in years prior and we definitely see it taking a big role going forward.

9. Public relations. So we might think public relations is a lost form, but actually it’s more important than ever before. In addition to press releases, public relations initiatives include interviews, speaking opportunities, sending submissions for awards on behalf of your client and the organization itself. Other things that help make your company visible and credible, so important.

10. Councils and associations. This hit our list because councils and associations are helping professionals, leaders across all industries gain access to a community of peers and to network and to share best practices in a way that catapults those participants to the next level of leadership and success.

Reflecting back on the last year, what produced the greatest return for you?

When we polled our community at large with this same question, we found that content marketing, search engine marketing and events were the top producing marketing initiatives.

But our panel of experts had a slightly different set of top three. Read on to find out.

Kim: I was surprised to see that Account Based Marketing (ABM) wasn’t ranking very high in the poll, and like you said, this is gaining in popularity. It’s kind of the new buzzword. We did a lot of research into ABM looking at the year ahead, and there are pieces of it that we’re all doing already. We all know how hard it is to look at our data, have clean data, accurate data on our customers and our prospects. So from a customer perspective, it’s about knowing what products they already have, where our prospects are engaging with us, and using that to be more targeted in how we perform our outreach and what vehicles we use to do that.

On top of that, ABM really is going to grow because there are all these new great tools we can use that are getting better all the time. So predictive analytics, being able to really understand the intents that people have when they’re searching on various topics and using that to truly get more segmented. And we’re all really stretched thin, so the more that we can be targeted and get the right message to the right person, the better our marketing performs. So that’s my number one for next year.

Second, within SEM, SEO, search engine optimization is at the very top of my list because what the data shows me for our organization at Aspect is that we have higher converting leads off of search engine optimization. We talk about return on investment, it’s very inexpensive to work on search engine optimization, but the leads convert much higher, especially when you’re looking at long tail keywords. So you know someone is searching on a specific topic, you can get them to the right content, and a lot of times they’re a little bit further along in the buying process. So that’s my number two.

And then my number three is content because having great content is the foundation, like you said, for everything, including video and that’s what we use to fuel all of our programs and to engage people in meaningful ways.

Then we asked Lisa to give us her three top most important for next year and why.

Lisa: I’m going along with the crowd in the survey responses here and hitting on the top three that you’ve seen in the poll responses. The top really is producing good targeted digital content, so content but digital content. Because it’s all about knowing how do we really use the analytics, target our markets, and get the ROI. It makes sense to start with the most cost-efficient channels and then move up the spectrum. So I would say digital content, and I would include in that very targeted blogs and sites that we can drive our potential customers to that are very industry targeted and content specific.

And then, moving up the spectrum I’d say account-based marketing would be number two, but in a very targeted way. And then between that, I would say webinars, more importantly, events like you’re doing today, which are live, interactive podcasts that are very specific from an industry point of view as well as a targeted from a content point of view.

Next, we turned to Dan, who brings a different perspective–that of the field marketing organization. If you’re a field marketer, you have a unique vantage point because you are very close to the sales organization yet you’re still deeply anchored in with the marketing and strategic messaging and everything that goes on in marketing.

We asked Dan to tell us his three most important must-haves on a marketer’s list for the coming year.

Dan: We have a very targeted market that we’re going after. So in terms of opportunity creation, that’s really where outbound marketing can really excel. When we’re looking at outbound marketing, I have to agree with Kim and Lisa, account-based marketing has been really strong for us, and of course, it does represent more work in looking at the specific prospects and what it takes to generate buzz with them, but as Kim referenced, the more activities that you put in, the more time you’re saving by being able to create a targeted message that hopefully leads to a shorter sales cycle. So that means knowing the pain points of these customers, knowing the trends or changes that these companies are facing, and especially knowing how your solution addresses those points. So for us, account-based marketing is very strong from an opportunity creation aspect.

Second, we prioritize events. Events have been a strong strategy for us to help target specific accounts that we’re looking to generate opportunities with in terms of being able to create a really well-tuned event strategy that’s relevant to the conversations that you’re embarking on today. So for us at Interactions, that means being a voice within the customer care conversation, but also making ourselves known at artificial intelligence events and other places where it may not be your core market but it’s important to have your voice heard at those opportunities.

The third aspect would really be from the marketing side, which is more awareness. So although we do have a very specific target market, the value of awareness from a marketing perspective is extremely valuable. And from a field marketer’s perspective, public relations has actually been really effective for us. So we do work with a PR firm and they really help us and our small marketing team identify great opportunities for us with articles that we can be mentioned in, speaking opportunities, any of these relevant conversations that we should be a part of, and more. They’ve really been kind of another arm of our marketing team to help us generate that awareness.

Finally, Gordon, representing a sales leader’s perspective shared his three most important must haves on your marketing team’s list for the year ahead.

Gordon: In order, account-based marketing is a big focus for us, then events and then councils and associations where you have the opportunity to create those one to one relationships.

Our primary focus right now is account-based marketing and that’s part of what we are calling our outcome lead delivery where we’re focusing on the specific outcomes within an enterprise. And the only way you can do that is to have intel around that. And so we’ve got a big effort around account-based marketing and driving productivity and market penetration in that regard.

What do you think should be added?

So, okay. We’ve done this work. We’ve come up with the top 10 and asked other marketers to weigh in. We’re pretty excited about this list but there’s always something else, isn’t there?

We asked our panelists what should be added to this list.

Here’s a summary of our experts’ best advice:

  • Deliver immediate value, at every touchpoint. “What should be added,” Lisa Lovas said, “is the ability for customers to get immediate value out of what they’re doing, out of what they’re coming into in your site. For example, what we’ve been able to do in the customer experience space is move some self-service evaluation tools out there to our clients which enabled them to come in and actually see where they are in benchmarking their operations specifically in CX on a customer experience maturity index with other organizations against best practices.So they come into the site and they actually do a little evaluation tool that helps them to navigate further through our digital content. It’s kind of the idea of self-service but very targeted, and we’re doing that across the board for security products, for business process, for transformation to cloud, and it’s working really well. As we all know in the digital economy, everyone wants immediate value. So I think I would add kind of a digital self-service marketing tool to the list if I had to pick anything, and I think it’s working really well.

  • Integrate marketing into the new customer experience. “If you’ve heard the phrase that the customer experience is the new marketing,” added Kim Martin, “one of our big efforts for marketing this year is on customer experience because we spend a lot of time trying to get these great prospects through the door, but then they pick up their phone or they send an email, and what’s the experience that they start to have with the company? And that’s really important because we worked too hard for those prospects to go away because they’re not getting a great experience. And then the same thing on the customer side, there’s so much opportunity to continue to sell to your customers and to sell a new product that we need to make sure that they’re big fans.”
    So one example from what we’re doing is we’ve got a program called “happy customer,” and it seems super basic, but it’s helping. And what we do is we work with customers when they’re going live with a product. So a lot of times in the contact centers, they’re taking a new customer live. We work with the supervisors and help them plan a celebration, and it’s just as simple as having a cake made, bringing some trinkets for the agents, having some of our people there, and it not only increases the awareness of your company within the customer company, but it creates a lot of goodwill. We start to form relationships with our customers, because a lot of times, marketing doesn’t get to have that relationship. That’s just one example. There are many things we’re doing, but I think it’s really important to think a little bit about what’s the overall experience that people are having with the company.”

  • Create a proper marketing ecosystem. Gordon offered this excellent insight. “For us, it’s ecosystem development. If you think about the customer experience space and if you think about not just one part of the customer life cycle, but the entire customer life cycle engagement strategy, we need a lot of tools to manage that. And there aren’t a lot of companies that can offer all of those tools. So having that ecosystem is critical to the offering. Also if you leverage the ecosystem well enough, that ecosystem starts to feed itself with opportunity and business growth because you’re solving more customer outcomes. So ecosystem development is an area we’re very focused on at this juncture and I think that would be a strong number 11 out of your list.”

  • Leverage Research for Marketing Content. Dan Fox shared an example of how this can work very well. “We’ve always found syndicated research as a really strong way to push out content into the market. So earlier this year we partnered with Boston University on a study about customer experience, and we’ve done these studies multiple times over the past few years. This year we decided to partner with Boston University, and we have just squeezed out so much content from this one study. There’s an opportunity to extract data and spin it in so many ways, take out bold statements from the study and push out a press release, identify trends in the research and write a white paper or a blog.

We’re now actually doing lunch and learns around the country with the doctor who led the study for us, and of course, being able to have that bold research gives your salespeople a message that they can lead with both in sales presentations to reaffirm their perspective or maybe in just the emails that they’re pushing out to sales prospects by being able to quote findings from this research. So research is a very strong one that we’d recommend.”

We particularly love this last idea. In fact, we have an entire group at Frost & Sullivan devoted to conducting research that is then leveraged over two dozen ways to generate credible visibility for your brand. When you can deliver insights in ways that make them useful, relevant and timely, you’re really seen as a partner in delivering value to them consistently.

To summarize, account-based marketing is a clear winner according to our panel of experts and across everyone we polled, events of any kind take the trophy.

Let us know in the comments below—what is your must-have for the coming year in marketing?

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