Grateful and Glad: What the TopRank Marketing Team is Most Thankful For

What the TopRank Marketing Team is Most Thankful For in 2019

For centuries, American families and friends have come together on Thanksgiving Day to feast and give thanks for all of life’s beautiful gifts.

But I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again—Thanksgiving isn’t limited to one day in the TopRank Marketing realm. Every day, I see attitudes of gratitude.

To date in 2019, our team has typed the words “thank you” in Slack communications a whopping 7,737 times, and “thanks” 4,113 times.

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As is TopRank Marketing tradition, I’ve asked team members to share what they’re most thankful for in work and in life. Here’s what many had to say.

What the TopRank Marketing Team is Most Thankful for in 2019

Lee Odden

CEO

The B2B marketing industry brings together an amazing collection of disciplines, technologies and people from the analytical to the creative. When marketing works to connect people with the right solutions, it really can have a positive impact on the world.

I am very thankful to be a part of that industry and especially to be a part of the team at TopRank Marketing. The level of talent, focus and professionalism as well as awareness, empathy and curiosity amongst our team is something I am truly privileged to experience. The frequent kudos from our clients, influencers and community I hear about the work that our content, influence and search marketing teams are doing is a constant source of pride.

I appreciate the opportunity we have as a team to create meaningful experiences that inspire others in so many ways and look forward to our focus on creating impact in 2020. 

Annie LeumanAnnie Leuman

Content Strategist and Project Manager

I feel very thankful to work with amazing colleagues, clients, and mentors. I truly believe I work with and for some of the best marketers in the game, and we’re constantly elevating our skills. 

Whether it’s learning from each other or learning from experience, we’re growing our agency into a hyper-specialized team of marketers and I feel so lucky to be a part of it. I’m also thankful to TopRank for allowing me to spread my wings and take on new responsibilities. We’ve learned and grown a lot together in this past year and I can’t wait to see where we go in 2020.

Keith Widerski

Account Manager

I’m very thankful to be surrounded by the brightest minds in influencer and B2B marketing – and learning from these folks every single day. We have such an incredible team here at TopRank and I consider myself very fortunate to be a part of it. I cannot wait to see what 2020 has in store!  

Josh NiteJosh Nite

Senior Content Marketing Manager

I’m thankful for the team that makes sure the work gets done: All our project managers, Annie on task management, and Caitlin on team management. There’s nothing more draining at work than a pile of unprioritized, vague tasks. I love having order, organization and direction in my workday, and that’s all due to their hard work. 

On a personal note, I’m thankful for my wife, Jess. My best friend, best co-parent, and best partner in crime.

Ashley Zeckman

Senior Director of Digital Strategy

I’m thankful for many things, both big and small.

Professionally, I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to walk in the doors of TopRank Marketing each morning, where I’m given the space to learn, challenge the status quo, and collaborate with an amazing team to create meaningful experiences for our clients, their customers, and our stellar group of influencers. 

I’d also like to give a special shout out to my mentors, clients and marketing friends, who have always given me something to aspire to, and provided me with so much more wisdom and direction than I would have ever been able to manage on my own. Thank you especially to Lee Odden, Ann Handley, Judy Tian, Garnor Morantes, Chris Penn, Tim Washer, Robert Rose, Michael Brenner, Cathy McPhillips, and Katie Martell. You’re all amazing. 

Lastly, I’m thankful for my amazing boyfriend who is always my number one supporter and my misfit troop of naughty dogs (and cat) that always keep life interesting. 

Birdie Zepeda

SEO Strategist

I am thankful to have joined the TopRank Marketing team in early 2019. I get the opportunity to work with so many amazing clients. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome to the Midwest. 

Jack Fitzpatrick

Influencer Marketing Strategist

I’m thankful for Instagram phasing out “likes”. I’ve had my fair share of “like-envy” in the past, and it is never a great feeling. It was a bold decision of their leadership to remove such an integral feature, and I’m interested to see if it fosters a healthier culture on the platform.

I’m also thankful for my newfound hobby of making bread. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but the bread-making process, in particular, makes me feel more in touch with nature and the food I create.

Tiffani AllenTiffani Allen

Associate Director of Search & Analytics

I’m especially thankful for the search team at TopRank Marketing. We have such amazing opportunities to work with awesome clients, and really push the boundaries when it comes to strategic search marketing that gets serious results.

But, of course, we couldn’t do any of it without the support of the entire TopRank team; a team of super smart marketers that we have the privilege of working with are a constant source of support and inspiration!

Elizabeth Williams

Senior Account Manager

I couldn’t ask for more from a workplace. I’ve been surrounded by such amazing mentors who have supported me and helped me stretch myself professionally. I think 2019 has been one of my biggest years for professional growth. Thank you!

In my personal life, I am most thankful this year for the lifestyle transformation our family has made. From prescriptions to essential oils and homemade tinctures, and from hefty meat-eaters, to organic, to vegetarians—and onward to veganism! I’m so thankful for the improved health and energy we’ve all gained! 

Debbie FriezDebbie Friez

Influencer Marketing Strategist

I’m thankful I have I fully embraced emojis this year, because they make my writing pop with visuals, which also makes me thankful that we have a fabulous design team at TopRank Marketing (because I would be an awful designer).

As I reflect back on the year, I am reminded how important it is to stop and smell the roses, and take time for work-life balance and professional development. I’m thankful for an organization that realizes this is a priority.

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Lane EllisLane Ellis

Social and Content Marketing Manager

In 2019, I’m especially thankful for my wonderful family, friends, and associates.

Celebrating 18 years of marriage with my amazing wife Julie Ahasay tops my thankfulness list, along with the joy of having my parents Konnie and Bob in my life, as well as my astounding and always-inspiring 102-year-old grandma Lilly Haldorsen.

I’m thankful for over 35 years of using the Internet, which recently turned 50 as I wrote about here. I’m thankful to still be able to run, mountain bike, and ski the beautiful trails of Duluth, and for our three kind cats — ZuSu Pitts, Phineas Faustus, and Kukla Francis Oliver.

Now is the time to reach out and give the world and its endless opportunities a warm autumnal embrace, so here’s a big virtual hug to all of you I’m lucky enough to know, lovely family and friends. Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving From the TopRank Marketing Team

Thank you clients, influencers, followers, and team members for coming together to drive personal, professional, and brand success.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sincerely,

The TopRank Marketing Team

TopRank Team Boat Day 2019

Why California’s New Data Privacy Law Matters to Marketers Everywhere

There’s No Time Like the Present to Lock Down Your Data Privacy Practices

Be compliant or be complacent. These are the two options facing brands and marketers today, as data privacy laws continue to increasingly take hold.

For those paying attention, it’s been clear for some time that Europe’s GDPR regulations were only the beginning of a global effort to formalize and enforce protections for internet users and their personal data. But with California’s landmark privacy legislation, CCPA, set to become enforced in 2020, data privacy is no longer a distant foreign concern for American businesses, if it ever was.

Be compliant or be complacent. These are the two options facing brands and marketers today, as data privacy laws continue to increasingly take hold. @NickNelsonMN #dataprivacy #digitalmarketing Click To Tweet

What is the CCPA?

At a high level, the purpose of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is quite similar to that of GDPR: It’s about giving people transparency into, and control over, how their personal data is used by companies. 

As the epicenter of technological advancement in the United States, California is a logical launch point for this type of legislation. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in summer of 2018, and after a period of back-and-forth amending, it’s slated to officially go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

To cut through the complexities and narrow it down, the CCPA includes three primary mandates. Starting next year, residents of California must be able to:

  • Access their personal information (what’s been collected, by which companies, and why)
  • Request deletion of personal information (via, at minimum, a toll-free phone number)
  • Opt-out from having their personal information sold (via link on home page of company website)

Now, it bears noting that there’s a fair amount of specificity in the CCPA. For example, the companies that fall under its scope must satisfy certain thresholds in terms of annual revenues, amount of data possessed, and percentage of revenue derived from the sale of consumers’ personal information. 

The new law is also ostensibly localized in one state, although that’s a bit misleading: Any company doing business in California is subject to CCPA’s guidelines. The International Association of Privacy Professionals estimates more than half a billion U.S. companies will be affected.

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Plus, as Len Shneyder writes at Marketing Land, the Golden State is hardly alone in pushing for data privacy laws: “Bills in New York and other states are making their way through legislatures, all with similar yet nuanced provisions, protections and, in many cases, breach notification requirements.”

Be Compliant, Not Complacent

Whether through the proliferation of state-level laws like CCPA, or the eventual enactment of a similar federal legislation, it’s only a matter of time before data privacy regulations are in place across the United States. For marketers and brands doing business in California, compliance is no longer optional. And I’d suggest the same is true for all others, because the alternative – complacency – is only going to set you back while putting customer relationships at risk.

We’ll have to wait and see what kind of specific penalties are levied for those who violate CCPA, but companies running afoul of GDPR regulations have already felt the sting — Google was fined $50 million earlier this year for failing to disclose how data is collected across its various services and platforms. British Airways and Marriott are also among the companies to receive fines under the new law

Incurring financial penalties shouldn’t be the only motivation here, though, and maybe not even the primary one. As I wrote here earlier this year, when addressing the growing trend toward data privacy legislation, “brands everywhere should take a hard look at their own customer data practices, not just because of these looming legal implications but even more so because it’s plain-old good business.” 

We’re all wise to aim for the kind of transparency and control mandated by the CCPA. Responsible data handling is essential to building trust in this evolving digital world. Microsoft is among those leading the charge on this front, pledging to “honor California’s new privacy rights throughout the United States.” 

How to Get Compliant with Data Privacy Practices

By no means would I advise that marketers stop collecting and leveraging user data. This information is often necessary to form accurate customer insights as a basis for resonant marketing programs. But we do need to ensure we’re being very up-front about the what, why, and how. Complacency just ain’t a good look.

By no means would I advise that marketers stop collecting and leveraging user data… But we do need to ensure we’re being very up-front about the what, why, and how. @NickNelsonMN #dataprivacy #digitalmarketing Click To Tweet

As a starting point, here are some general advisable practices when it comes to transparent data privacy:

  • Ensure you’re making very clear — on your website and any other applicable digital properties — what information you’re capturing from visitors and how you’re going to use it. This is crucial.
  • Collect only the data you need, and nothing more.  
  • Make it extremely easy for your audience to opt out of everything. Consent is king (that’s how the saying goes, right?).
  • Implement multi-layered security measures wherever customer data is stored — especially in cloud-based services.
  • Make data privacy a central and persistent talking point in your organization. Everyone involved should be part of the conversation.

Meanwhile, getting specifically compliant with CCPA and its core principles will put virtually any business in a good position going forward. To that end, here are some helpful resources:

You’re also welcome to reach out to our team at TopRank Marketing if your organization is looking for a partner that understands the data privacy landscape. We’ve been working with several clients under GDPR guidelines since its inception, so we’re no strangers to its scope and implications.

Trick or Treat: The Spellbinding Marketing Sweets the TopRank Team Can’t Resist

Spellbinding Marketing Sweets the TopRank Team Can’t Resist

Admit it. On Halloween night, the fierce competitor within you sprinted from home to home to claim as much sugary bounty as your pillowcase could carry. But the loyalist and purist in you was on the hunt for a specific candy treat. A treat that put all the rest to shame; a treat that always hit the sweet spot.

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For me, that coveted treat was: the Almond Joy. Sweetened coconut. Crunchy almonds. Smooth milk chocolate. Devilishly delicious, but ghoulishly elusive amongst a sea of KitKat- and Snickers-purchasing households. (Here’s to you, organic reach on Facebook.)

As marketers, we all have our favorites. From tactical techniques that sweeten our marketing mix to the integration of marketing elements to tantalize our audience’s taste buds, the TopRank Marketing team weighs in on both fun- and king-size marketing treats they can’t resist.

Our Favorite Marketing Sweet Treats

Josh NiteJosh Nite

Senior Content Marketing Manager

My favorite candy is black licorice. Black licorice doesn’t appeal to everyone. That’s a quality I like in candy—and in marketing, too. It’s easy to make something bland and sweet that everyone tolerates—like, say, Necco Wafers—but that’s not how you get raving fans. I’ve never met anyone passionate about Necco Wafers. Conversely, I’ve never met anyone who “kind of liked” black licorice. You love it or you hate it.

Good marketing takes a bold stand, with personality and purpose. It draws in a target audience and excludes the rest. Love or hate black licorice, it’s a perfect reminder that great marketing doesn’t aspire to blandness.

Elizabeth Williams

Senior Account Manager

Baby Ruth: My favorite part about Baby Ruth bars is they’ve got a little bit of everything—nuts, nougat, caramel, all with a chocolate coating. And, flavors all work so well together! To work well, good marketing must parallel Baby Ruths: A diverse yet integrated mix so that we can reach our audiences whenever and wherever they are and with a consistent message that resonates with their needs.

Nick NelsonNick Nelson

Senior Content Strategist

Skittles. These bite-sized bursts of fruity flavor remind me of social media marketing. The bright colors reflect the vibrant imagery that stands out on feeds, and the many different flavors and colors represent the diversity of voices and viewpoints you can find across various networks.

Annie LeumanAnnie Leuman

Content Strategist

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Two incredible ingredients in their own right, come together to make an irresistible combo—kind of like SEO and content. Content is the peanut buttery center, and it’s wrapped in the perfect amount of chocolate to delight it’s consumers’ senses (and leave us all asking for more).

Ashley Zeckman

Senior Director of Digital Strategy

I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker for Starbursts. There are so many different delicious flavor varieties—from tropical to classic to my all-time personal favorite: All Reds. Much like the industry experts and influencers we partner with, the different flavor profiles add punch and pizzazz to the content palette. 

Tiffani AllenTiffani Allen

Associate Director of Search & Analytics

Twix. To borrow from Saturday Night Live’s Stefon: This candy has everything. Chocolate. Caramel. Cookies. A clever marketing strategy. Everything, people. 

The combination of three complementary, yet distinctly different flavors reminds me of a well-integrated digital marketing mix of search, content, and influence. While each discipline on its own is delicious, it’s the mix of all three that produces a truly crave-worthy treat. 

Lane EllisLane Ellis

Social Media and Content Marketing Manager

From the 1850s until the 1920s my great-great-uncle Henry H. Ellis, and later his son, ran a confectionery and bakery making homemade candies. The business started first in Janesville, WI and then from 1867 on, moved to Cheyenne, WY, so I suppose my fondness for sweets runs in my family.

I love marzipan and adore chocolate, so as a child over Halloween, when a particularly generous and creative woman placed a wrapped chocolate-covered marzipan candy in my sugary goodie bag, I was overjoyed.

Decades later, the two mingling flavors are still a favorite, and remind me of a type of marketing nirvana in which two already excellent practices meld together to form something truly rare and beautiful, akin to when a favorite professional comedian takes over the social media channels of a company you’re a longtime fan of.

Witch Way to the Candy?

Sorry. Bad pun. Moving on … Regardless of where your loyalties lie in the marketing sweets realm, perhaps the nuggets above will encourage you to reach into the candy bowl for a new variety.

What marketing sweet is at the top of your trick or treating list? Tell us in the comments section below.

Q3 Wrap-Up: What’s Changed For B2B Marketers & What’s Ahead in 2020?

QQ Digital Marketing Recap Standing Businesspeople Image

We’ve now reached the end of the third quarter of 2019, one filled with many significant B2B marketing changes and several surprising twists and turns that will combine to affect how the industry moves forward as we enter Q4 and push forward to 2020.

Q3 saw numerous exciting shifts in new directions, and a few seemingly slight changes in course that are nonetheless poised to make big impacts in 2020.

We’re always working to bring you the most relevant B2B marketing news, including over 180 weekly industry news videos, hosted by Tiffani Allen, Joshua Nite and others here on our blog and on our TopRank Marketing YouTube channel.

Each quarter we reflect on what’s happened in digital marketing and look ahead with key trends. Let’s examine both the challenges and opportunities the quarter’s top B2B marketing news has brought our industry.

The Digital Marketing Sights and Sounds of Q3

When It Comes to Digital Marketing Spending …

Forecasts from the third quarter showed that global digital advertising spending is expected to continue to rise. In the U.S. alone digital ad spending grew to $28.4 billion for the first quarter of 2019, up 18 percent from the same quarter a year ago. (ClickZ)

IAB 2019 Ad Spend Chart Image

What Else?

    • Digital advertising spending was up nearly 20 percent in the second quarter of 2019, according to study data that also highlighted the comparatively greater number of small-to-medium size firms using digital versus traditional formats. (Broadcasting & Cable)
    • Digital advertising expenditures in the U.S. increased by 18 percent year-over-over from the first quarter of 2018, hitting $28.4 billion, with paid search comprising some 40%, according to IAB report data. (ClickZ)
    • By 2021 global digital advertising spending is predicted to increase by 47 percent from 2019, with ad expenditure growth up by 5.3 percent, according to Zenith. (MarketingProfs)
    • Amazon cut into Google’s advertising market share during the quarter, garnering ad revenue growth of 53 percent for sponsored brands and 102 percent for sponsored products, while Google spending growth slowed from the prior quarter. Microsoft’s Bing also saw desktop ad spending growth, its strongest since 2016. (MediaPost)
    • Revenues from advertising on social media and messaging platforms climbed 26.2 percent year-over-year during the first quarter of 2019, but at a slower rate than last year. (Mobile Marketing Magazine)
    • Forrester Research released a report looking at the strong growth of Amazon ads and how the company’s rise is affecting an array of rivals from Facebook to agencies and ad-tech firms. (Marketing Dive)
    • Mobile advertising within apps saw impressions increase by 26 percent in the second quarter of 2019 compared to last year, and in-app mobile video is increasingly driving ad spending. (MarTech Advisor)
    • 73 percent of B2B senior-level executives use more sources when researching and evaluating purchases than they did last year. (MarketingCharts)
    • By 2021 podcast advertising is expected to top $1 billion in annual revenue, IAB predicted. (The Verge)
    • Digital video advertising spending has seen continued growth according to IAB study data, with the average survey advertiser projected to spend $18 million in 2019, up from 2018’s $14.2 million. (Adweek)
    • 63% of B2B companies plan to moderately raise spending on email marketing, with top goals being increased engagement, conversion, and lead generation, some of the trends of interest to digital marketers among forecast data released during Q3 by GetResponse and Ascend. (MediaPost)
    • Some 65 percent of marketers see high-quality data as the most important element for campaign success, while also estimating that roughly 21 percent of marketing spending goes towards poor quality data. (MediaPost)

Read more on this topic:

When It Comes to Search Marketing …

Q3 saw the release of data showing that for the first time most Google searches don’t yield subsequent clicks, with 50.33 percent ending on the search giant’s result page, and 45.25 percent of searches resulting in organic clicks and 4.42 percent in paid advertisement clicks. (SparkToro)

2019 September 20 MarketingCharts Chart

What Else?

  • Google gave content creators the ability to incorporate multiple thumbnail images from the same video, which will all appear in search results linked to various spots within a video, using custom markup code. (TechCrunch)
  • Audience targeting is the top search marketing technology affecting search engine marketing strategy. At 86 percent, audience targeting topped keywords, which came in at 83 percent, and re-marketing, which had 76 percent, Q3 survey data showed. (MarketingCharts)
  • Google has made new image tracking data derived from recent changes to Google Image Search available in its Search Console feature, including an array of swipe-to-visit image analytics and other mobile AMP-centric features of interest to marketers. (Search Engine Journal)
  • Jumping up a single position in Google search results can boost click-through-rates by over 30 percent, and online content containing questions within page titles saw 14.1 percent higher CTR rates — two insights from a Google search result analysis published during the quarter. (Backlinko)
  • Google rolled out playable podcast episodes that appear directly in search results, presenting both new visibility opportunities along with attribution and analytics challenges for marketers and brands. (Engadget)
  • Facebook began offering more advertisers options for inserting ads within search results on its platform, including new news feed campaign options for marketers. (Search Engine Journal)
  • A Q3 Marin Software survey showed that paid search accounts for 40 percent of digital ad spending, with paid social just under 20 percent. (ClickZ)
  • Digital marketers using Bing search advertisements got new insights from Microsoft Advertising, which added to the metrics data available including those relating to impressions and “prominence metrics.” (Search Engine Journal)

Read more on this topic:

When It Comes to Content Marketing …

During the third quarter report data showed that B2B marketers see in-person events, content marketing, traditional e-mail, and paid social as the most effective B2B marketing channels. (MarketingCharts)

2019 August 16 Marketing Charts Chart

What Else?

  • Facebook began testing the elimination of “like” counts in news-feed posts, a move echoing a similar shift from tests conducted with its Instagram property — aimed at placing greater focus on content and less on like counts. (TechCrunch)
  • Among senior B2B marketers, a sizable 82 percent viewed content as important for achieving marketing goals, however only 48 percent believed their content was only somewhat effective — or even ineffective. (ClickZ)
  • 80 percent of B2B buyers expect a B2C-like experience, while 47 percent read between three and five pieces of content before initiating sales contact communication. (Webbiquity)
  • YouTube video content was the subject of a Q3 Pew Research study that examined popular channels with 250K or more subscribers. Among them, just 10 percent produced 70 percent of the content, the research showed. (Social Media Today)
  • Facebook announced new features aimed at helping creators monetize content, including several new placement choices for video advertisements, brand collaboration enhancements, and Creator Studio additions. (Marketing Land)
  • B2B marketers see their websites as an effective method for building awareness, however the sites often fail to offer compelling content and directly answer top questions, according to Q3 research from Forrester. The best sites engage using interactive visuals, useful tools, and experiences that demonstrate a keen audience understanding, the study revealed. (MediaPost)

Read more on this topic:

When It Comes to Social Media …

Q3 saw a number of reports detailing the health of social media and how marketers, brands, and consumers use various platforms, and the technology as a whole.

Liking posts topped a Q3 list of how people interact with brands on social media platforms, at 51 percent, followed by 31 percent who leave reviews, while millennials are more likely to purchase due to social ads. (Social Media Today)

2019 August 9 Marketing Charts Chart

What Else?

  • Twitter is foremost a “look at this” social media destination, YouTube is primarily a learning target, while Instagram and Facebook fall into the “look at me” category. (Adweek)
  • Consumer conversations about brands share very little crossover from social media listening and offline discussion, according to study data released during the quarter that looks at real-world and social media interaction differences and similarities. (Marketing Land)
  • 60 percent of regular emoji users like brands using emojis that match their own personality, and 51 percent are more likely to comment on social media posts from brands that use emojis. (MarketingCharts)
  • 56 percent of Gen X consumers find too much advertising on social platforms, and 42 percent don’t like brand social interaction. (eMarketer)

Read more on this topic:

When It Comes to Influencer Marketing …

Implementation of B2B influencer marketing continued its growth during Q3. Influencer advertisements were also seen to have generated 277 percent more emotional intensity and 87 percent more memory encoding than traditional television ads, according to Q3 survey data that also examined the varying effectiveness of macro, micro, and celebrity influencers. (eMarketer)

2019 July 12 SmallBizGenius Chart

What Else?

  • Global spending for influencer marketing will top $5 billion and could reach as high as $10 billion over the next two years, during which time 57 percent of marketers expect to add the practice to their marketing activities. (Social Media Today)
  • Influencer marketing spending in the U.S. and Canada has seen 83 percent year-over-year growth, accompanied by second-quarter spending of $442 million. (The Drum)
  • 70 percent of U.S. consumers who use social media platforms and follow at least one influencer say they trust the opinions of influencers at least as much as those of their own friends, with 78 percent trusting influencer opinions over those presented in traditional digital ads. (MediaPost)
  • Pinterest and LinkedIn (client) are increasingly seeing social influencers utilizing the platforms, and finding new audiences and success with online video. (CNN)
  • Micro and niche-influencers are forging stronger target audience connections and boosting long-term loyalty, while the use of traditional paid influencers among marketers has seen rising associated costs. (eMarketer)

Read more on this topic:

When It Comes to The TopRank Marketing Team …

The team at TopRank Marketing has had a busy, exciting, and productive Q3, and here are just a few of some of the team’s highlights in the press during the past quarter:

  • Lee Odden: “B2B Doesn’t Have To Mean Boring To Boring” [Podcast] (B2B Marketing Exchange)
  • Why Experience Matters [Video] (The New Economy)
  • Eight Colors That Will Brightly Grow Your Personal Brand (Forbes)
  • What Customer Experience Management Means For Today’s Business Ecosystem [Video] (Adobe Experience Cloud)
  • How To Build A B2B Influencer Marketing Strategy For 2020 (Demand Gen Report)
  • How to Build a B2B Influencer Marketing Strategy for 2020 [Infographic] (Social Media Today)
  • The Stranger Things In B2B Marketing: 5 Ways to Avoid The Upside-Down of ABM (Engagio)
  • Augmented And Virtual Reality: The Latest Engagement Drivers In B2B Marketing (Demand Gen Report)
  • The Guide to B2B Influencer Marketing for CMOs [Infographic] (Social Media Today)
  • A Shark’s Perspective – Episode 147 – Lee Odden [Podcast] (A Shark’s Perspective)
  • 5 Crucial Ingredients for a Tremendous Content Marketing Strategy [Infographic] (Social Media Today)
  • 5 Easy Ways Your Brand Can Use Twitter Video for More Engagement (Social Report)
  • The Top B2B Influencer Marketing Trends for 2020 [Infographic] (Social Media Today)

Goodbye, Q3. Hello and Welcome, Q4.

B2B marketers, we hope that your Q4 is filled with plenty of success and innovation, and hope that you’ll join us each week and keep up with the latest industry news, trends, and opportunities in our Digital Marketing News Roundup, with highlights and video commentary from Tiffani Allen and Joshua Nite.

*Disclosure: LinkedIn and Adobe are TopRank Marketing clients.

Tales from the Trenches: How to Transition from Marketing Doer to Marketing Leader

I was roughly five years into my marketing career when I began managing my first direct report. It was the biggest challenge I faced yet. I was now being evaluated on the actions, successes, and failures of another person—and I also knew it was my responsibility to give them the support and tools they needed to have more successes than failures.

I felt as if I didn’t know how to influence, motivate, or persuade another person. But I was given the opportunity to try and to learn. I had a great group of bosses, mentors, and peers giving me advice, listening to my concerns or wins, and allowing me to make mistakes.

Quite a few years (and many direct reports) later, today I have a much better handle on how to manage a team. And as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that my job isn’t just to manage people, time, projects, or priorities, my job is to lead.

But it can be hard to make the transition from a “doer” to a leader. And the stakes are high. In fact, a recent study from TINYpulse found that nearly 50% of employees have quit a job because of a less than stellar manager. In addition, those who don’t feel recognized for their work are two-times as likely to be job hunting.

Whether you’re stepping into your first management role, moving onto middle management, or you have your eye on the CMO office, as a leader it’s your job to inspire, motivate, and grow a happy and high-functioning team. The insights below are designed to help guide you down a successful path to a fruitful career and happy, supported, and motivated employees. 

Tip #1: Understand the landscape

Whether you’re managing one team member or an entire department, you’ll be setting goals and playing an integral role in setting the marketing strategy your team is responsible for driving results with. But to do that, you must understand the broad and niche context in which your organization, department, or service line operates. This means getting to know your customers, prospects, and competitors more deeply, so you thoughtfully can guide and educate your team:

  • Seek out opportunities to hold monthly or quarterly one-on-one calls with your priority customers. Ask them what they value most about your organization or product, as well as where you can do better. 
  • Regularly research your competitors. Subscribe to emails, follow them on social media, and attend industry events where they might be speaking. This will give you unique intel that you can bring back to your team.
  • Get out of the marketing silo. Brainstorm with the sales team. Talk to your customer service team. These teams are intimately familiar with the challenges your customers and prospects face.

Tip #2: Set goals … and exceed them

Yes, you’ve probably be setting goals at all stages of your career. As an individual contributor, your goals were likely focused on what you could individually achieve. In a leadership role, you’re likely responsible for setting goals for your team that will ladder to corporate goals. If you are new to a leadership role, achieving goals that map directly to the success of the company, can be a quick win to build trust within leadership and grow your team and influence. 

  • Keep your goals top of mind. Discuss progress, roadblocks, and wins with your team, your boss, and other leaders. The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. 
  • Incentivize if you can. Big and small incentives can keep your team motivated to achieve their goals.
  • Make it a number. In my experience, setting and achieving a numerical goal has more impact on the organization and is generally more impressive than an accomplishment-based goal. For example, make the goal double MQLs, instead of rolling out a new marketing automation system. The marketing automation system is a stepping stone to reach the goal, not the actual goal. 
  • Set goals quarterly. Ninety days is long enough to achieve something big-ish, but short enough to keep you focused. We’ve found quarterly goals helps us track for the year and keep the team more motivated. 

The more discussion around goals, the more likely you and your team are to remain focused and accountable on achieving them. @Alexis5484 Click To Tweet

Tip #3: Focus on scalability

Once it’s time to step out of day-to-day execution and supervision and into leadership, you should focus more on optimizing and solving issues on a systematic basis, rather than local basis. When I was a new manager, I found myself constantly on the run putting out fires as they would pop up, instead of focusing on why it started and how to prevent it going forward.

  • Create make-sense processes. Identify the things your team does over and over again such as campaign launches, attending events, or adding new content to the website. These are replicable events that you can create process around and then optimize for efficiency, results, and so on.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stick to the status quo. Just because the marketing team has always had six copywriters, two content strategists, and an analyst, doesn’t mean that’s the ideal structure. Document the needs and functions of the organization and then map out the most make-sense roles to those needs. For the sake of the exercise, take the current situation out of it. You can employ a phased approach to get you from current situation to ideal. 

Tip #4: Shift the spotlight to your team

As you’re moving into leadership, you’re likely trying to build trust and show value to upper leadership, and it can be easy to lose focus on serving your team. Fostering a happy, well-functioning team is your top priority. Not only can you not do your job without them, but it is one of the best indicators of success to your boss and your boss’s boss. 

  • Shift how you find personal value from work. Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve, rather than the work we did ourselves. 
  • Clear obstacles. Be transparent when you can; have your employees’ backs. These things build trust and create a secure, happy, and productive team. 
  • Cultivate the next round of leaders. Understand what your team wants to achieve personally within their careers within the next five or 10 years, and help them do that. As leaders, we should always be identifying and growing the team members who want to move to the next round in their careers. 

Most of us have moved into leadership, after being highly successful individual contributors and supervisors. As leaders, we must find more value from the task, result, or project we helped someone else achieve. @Alexis5484 Click To Tweet

Tip #5: Stay fresh on the job

At all levels of my career, I’ve found the best way to build trust with a team is to help them solve a problem. The more you understand your team’s job function, the more able you will be able to help them solve problems, innovate, and provide feedback to improve the function of their performance. 

  • Stay fresh. I find the best way to do this is to jump in and help execute from time to time. So, write a blog post or create the tactical plan. This keeps you from getting rusty, but also helps you empathize with your team and the challenges within their roles. 
  • Ask questions. Sometimes you won’t understand the details of what they’re working on, particularly if you’re leading a cross functional team. But ask questions. Help them look at the problem critically, and it’s likely you’ll guide them to their own answer. 

Tip #6: Be the leader

One of the toughest transitions from individual contributor to leader, is owning your role as the leader. For the first few years that I was managing a small team, I was more likely to be found deep in the weeds, doing the tasks I did in my previous job titles, than actually doing my work as a leader.

There were a couple reasons for this. It was comfortable doing the work; I already knew how to do it and I was good at. I also felt like I was most helpful to my team if I was helping them get the work done by actually doing the work. 

This was not true. See tip No. 3. You (and I) are most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. If you’re always in the weeds, all you can see is the weeds. 

You’re most helpful to your team when you’re solving systematic problems, optimizing workflow and production, and creating a happy and secure work environment. @Alexis5484 on being a #marketing leader Click To Tweet

Tip #7: Keep learning

The leaders I am most inspired by inside and outside of my organization are probably the most voracious learners. Continuous learning through a variety of mediums will help you continue to evolve your skill set, bring in fresh ideas, and help you be inspired to test something new. Here are a couple of the resources that I go to:

  • Read: HBR is a go to for great content on how to lead, manage and shape a business. 
  • Listen: Dear HBR has a great Q&A format about navigating workplace challenges. 
  • Attend: Industry events are great for providing outside perspective, networking with other leaders and inspiring the evolution of your tactics. MarketingProfs is a great event for marketers.

Take Your Place at the Leadership Table

Each stage of your career offers a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The way in which you handle those situations—tackling them head-on or leaving them for someone else—has the potential to make or break your success in that position… and the one that may or may not come after. Keep these pieces of advice in mind as you work to build your team, your organization, and career as a leader.

Looking for more tips on how to inspire, motivate, and build a more effective marketing team? Check out our tips for getting your marketing team to work better together.

Trust Factors: Why Your Brand Should Take a Stand with Its Marketing Strategy

Earlier this year, Salesforce made waves by announcing a policy that compelled retailers to either stop selling military-style rifles and certain accessories, or stop using its popular e-commerce software. 

For a massive brand like this to take such an emphatic stand on a divisive social issue would’ve been unthinkable not so long ago. But in today’s world at large, and consequently in the business and marketing environments, it’s becoming more common. This owes to a variety of factors, ranging from generational changes among consumers to a growing need to differentiate. 

But, like so many other trends and strategies we see emerging in digital marketing, I think it mostly comes back to one overarching thing: the trust factor.

In this installment of our Trust Factors series, we’ll explore why and how brands and corporations can take a stand on important issues, building trust and rapport with customers and potential buyers in the process.

The Business Case for Bold Stances

Executives from Salesforce might suggest that it made such a bold and provocative move simply because they felt it was the right thing to do. (CEO Marc Benioff, for instance, has been outspoken about gun control and specifically his opposition to the AR-15 rifle.) But of course, one of the 10 largest software companies in the world isn’t making these kinds of decisions without a considerable business case behind them.

Like many other modern companies, Salesforce is taking the lead in a movement that feels inevitable. As millennials come to account for an increasingly large portion of the customer population, corporate social responsibility weighs more and more heavily on marketing strategies everywhere.  

A few data points to think about:

  • Research last year by FleishmanHillard found that 61% of survey respondents believe it’s important for companies to express their views, whether or not the person agrees with them.
  • Per the same study, 66% say they have stopped using the products and services of a company because the company’s response to an issue does not support their personal view.
  • The latest global Earned Brand Report from Edelman found that 64% of people are now “belief-driven buyers,” meaning they will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on its stand on societal issues.
  • MWWPR categorizes 35% of the adult population in the U.S. as “corpsumers,” up by two percentage points from the prior year. The term describes “a brand activist who considers a company’s values, actions and reputation to be just as important as their product or service.”
  • Corpsumers say they’re 90% more likely to patronize companies that take a stand on social and public policy matters, and 80% say they’ll even pay more for products from such brands.

(Source)

What Does It Mean to Take a Stand as a Brand?

Admittedly, the phrase is somewhat ambiguous. So let’s clear something up right now: taking a stand doesn’t necessarily mean your company needs to speak out on touchy political issues. 

When Dave Gerhart, Vice President of Marketing for Drift, gave a talk at B2BSMX last month outlining his 10 commandments for modern marketing, taking a stand was among the directives he implored. Gerhart pointed to Salesforce’s gun gambit as one precedent, but also called out a less controversial example: his own company’s crusade against the lead form. 

I think this serves as a great case in point. Lead forms aren’t a hot-button societal issue that’s going to rile people up, necessarily, but they’ve been a subject of annoyance on the consumer side for years. Drift’s decision to do away with them completely did entail some risk (to back up their stance, they had to commit to not using this proven, mainstream method for generating actionable leads) but made a big impression within their industry. Now, it’s a rallying cry for their brand

From my view, these are the trust-building ingredients, which both the Salesforce and Drift examples cover:

  • It has to matter to your customers
  • It has to be relevant to your industry or niche
  • It has to entail some sort of risk or chance-taking on behalf of the brand

Weighing that final item is the main sticking point for companies as they contemplate action on this front.

Mitigating the Risks of Taking a Stand

The potential downside of taking a controversial stand is obvious enough: “What if we piss off a bunch of our customers and our bottom line takes a hit?” Repelling certain customers is inherent to any bold stance, but obviously you’ll want the upside (i.e., affinity and loyalty built with current customers, plus positive attention drawing in new customers) to strongly outdistance the downside (i.e., existing or potential customers defecting because they disagree).

Here are some things to think about on this front.

Know Your Audience and Employees

It’s always vital for marketers to have a deep understanding of the people they serve, and in this case it’s especially key. You’ll want to have a comprehensive grasp of the priorities and attitudes of people in your target audience to ensure that a majority will agree with — or at least tolerate — your positioning. Region, age, and other demographic factors can help you reach corollary conclusions.

For example, our clients at Antea Group are adamant about the dangers of climate change. In certain circumstances this could (sadly) be a provocative and alienating message, but Antea Group serves leaders and companies focusing on sustainability, who widely recognize the reality and urgency of climate change. 

Not only that, but Antea Group also employs people who align with this vision, so embracing its importance both externally and internally leads to heightened engagement and award-winning culture

As another example, retailer Patagonia shook things up in late 2017 when it proclaimed on social media “The President Stole Your Land” after the Trump administration moved to reduce a pair of national monuments. In a way, this is potentially off-putting for the sizable chunk of its customer base that supports Trump, but given that Patagonia serves (and employs) an outdoorsy audience, the sentiment resonated and the company is thriving

Know Your Industry and Competition

On the surface, Salesforce taking a public stand on gun control seems quite audacious. The Washington Post notes that retailers like Camping World, which figured to be affected by the new policy, are major customers for the platform. What if this drives them elsewhere?

However, peer companies like Amazon and Shopify have their own gun restriction policies in place, so the move from Salesforce isn’t as “out there” as one might think. When you see your industry as a whole moving in a certain direction, it’s beneficial to get out front and position yourself as a leader rather than a follower. 

Actions Speak Louder

Empty words are destined to backfire. Taking a stand is meaningless if you can’t back it up. Analysts warn that “goodwashing” is the new form of “greenwashing,” a term that refers to companies talking a big game on eco-friendly initiatives but failing to follow up with meaningful actions.

According to MWWPR’s chief strategy officer Careen Winters (via AdWeek): “Companies that attempt to take a stand on issues but don’t really put their money where their mouth is, or what they are doing is not aligned with their track record and core values, will find themselves in a position where the corpsumers don’t believe them. Fifty-nine percent of corpsumers say they are skeptical about a brand’s motives for taking a stand on policy issues.”

Be Transparent and Authentic

One interesting aspect of the aforementioned FleishmanHillard study: 66% of respondents say they’ve stopped using the products and services of a company because the company’s response to an issue did not support their personal views; however another 43% say that if company explains WHY they have taken a position on an issue, the customer is extremely likely to keep supporting them.

(Source)

In other words, transparency is essential. If you fully explain the “why” behind a particular brand stance, you can score trust-building benefits with both those who do and do not agree. 

Where We Stand at TopRank

At TopRank Marketing, we have a few stances that we openly advocate. 

One is gender equality; our CEO Lee Odden noticed many “top marketers” lists and editorial collaborations were crowded with men, so he (and we) have made it a point to highlight many of the women leading the way in our industry, both through our content projects and Lee’s annual Women Who Rock Digital Marketing lists (10 years running!).

Another is our commitment to serving a deeper purpose as a business. Of course we want to help our clients reach their business goals, but we also love working with virtuous brands that are improving the communities around them. We strive to also do so ourselves through frequent volunteering, donations to causes, and charitable team outings. These include packing food for the hungry, renovating yards for the homeless, and our upcoming Walk for Alzheimer’s participation.

The Worst Stand You Can Take is Standing Still

Trust in marketing is growing more vital each day. It’s not enough to offer a great product or excellent customer service. Increasingly, customers want to do business with companies they like, trust, and align with. Those brands that sit on the sidelines regarding important issues are coming under greater scrutiny. Meanwhile, those with the guile to take bold but strategically sound stands are being rewarded.

To learn more about navigating these waters without diminishing trust or eroding your brand’s credibility, take a look at our post on avoiding trust fractures through authenticity, purpose-driven decision-making, and a big-picture mindset. Or check out these other entries in our “Trust Factors” series:

The Future of Marketing As Seen By Randi Zuckerberg #DSMPLS

Randi Zuckerberg Speaks at DSMPLS

“Technology is changing the way we do business.” 

Said everyone, ever. 

Marketers know technology is changing how we interact with our audience. But knowing it’s happening and doing something about it are two very different things. 

Randi Zuckerberg is no stranger to technology and its effects on business, daily life, and social structures. As the founder and CEO of her own media company, Zuckerberg Media, and a former marketing leader at Facebook, Randi has a unique vision for the future of marketing and how today’s marketers can adapt. 

Explore that future with her insights below from the floor of Digital Summit Minneapolis

We’re Afraid to Fail

We’ve been talking about the evolving state of marketing for years. But maybe we as marketers haven’t changed all that much. Why?

Well, as Randi pointed out in her keynote, we’re afraid to fail. It’s only human to be fearful of putting your whacky, ground-breaking, oddball ideas out there for everyone to see—and critique. 

To overcome this fear and encourage unbridled creativity, Facebook sponsored a “hackathon” event where every employee was empowered to stay up all night and come up with crazy inventions and ideas. One of Randi’s out-of-the-box ideas was that at some point in the future, each person was going to have their own television network. So, she started a show and streamed it in real-time. It’s that idea and premise that became Facebook Live, which recently rolled out to 2 billion users. 

“I believe every person in here is sitting on that 2-billion-person idea. You just have to get over your fear of failure,” Randi told the audience.

The trick will be to give yourself and your employees the freedom to come up with and present them. Don’t kill projects and ideas that are different from yours, push them to the next step.

Everything Is Media

There’s been a dramatic shift in how audiences consume content. An example Randi used was Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner’s stratosphere jump. That jump was streamed on Facebook and broke records. 

“It begged the question: are they an energy drink? Or an extreme sports network?” 

Randi also shared that Coca-Cola has 100 million fans and followers across social media, which is more than every broadcast television network combined. 

This could have wild implications. As Randi put it: “Will there be a day when brands go to Coca-Cola to advertise their products?”

For brands to be successful in the future of marketing, they need to think like a media company. Treat your marketing like television programming. How are you going to entertain your audience today? How are you going to teach them important lessons? What makes your channel unique? 

A Collection of Personal Brands

TLC. Lifetime. Bravo. CNN. These channels have a brand. A personality. A niche in the marketplace. But so does their cast of talent, news anchors, and late-night hosts.

Every person, every employee in your company is an expert—including yourself. So, why not create your own personal brand? And encourage others at your company to do the same. 

“The advice I give to entrepreneurs hoping to start a brand is to be nice to yourself. Be authentic. And remember that this is hard.”

The advice I give to entrepreneurs hoping to start a brand is to be nice to yourself. Be authentic. And remember that this is hard. @randizuckerberg Click To Tweet

With a collection of personal brands behind your company, you’re expanding the audiences you can reach. You’re also going to see better engagement. Would you rather talk to a person or a company?  And finally, strong, personal branding helps you get noticed and stand out in the crowd.

It’s Showtime

Randi Zuckerberg had a lot of great advice to share (and one killer song).

Randi Zuckerberg Presenting at Digital Summit Minneapolis

But the lesson that stood out to me the most was that the future of marketing is really the future of media. They’re intertwined and becoming increasingly more connected as technology changes how we interact with the world. We might be marketers, but we’re also producers. Network executives. Actors. Showrunners. So, let’s give our audience a great show. 

For the latest and greatest digital marketing knowledge, keep your eyes peeled here for updates from Digital Summit Minneapolis (#DSMPLS). For real-time insights, follow @annieleuman, @azeckman, @dfriez, and @ElizabethW1057 on Twitter.

What Can Marketers Learn From the Children In Our Lives? Plenty

What Can Marketers Learn from Kids?

In my experience, most marketers fancy themselves as lifelong learners, taking pride in innovating their work and skill set to maximize their impact. We keep tabs on emerging trends, tactics, and tools. We follow industry leaders for their insight. We consult our internal teams and external partners for advice. 

But there may be one specialty group we don’t look to for inspiration enough: The kids in our lives.

As a parent of two adorable monsters who are growing up way to fast, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how far they’ve come. Of course, I’ve realized that I’ve come far too, as both a parent and a marketer. And I’d wager that most of us have kids in our lives who have the potential to teach and remind us of some important things that can make us better humans and better at what we do.

So, what marketing lessons can the little ones in our lives pass on? Here are a few that have been illuminated for me recently.

4 Marketing Lessons We Can Learn from Kids

#1 – Foster permanent curiosity. 

Lately, on the 20-minute commute to daycare, we’ve been listening to “But Why?” It’s a fantastic podcast by Vermont Public Radio. It’s just incredible. Kids from all over North America send audio clips of themselves asking the most unexpected, puzzling, and just plain fun questions. This week we learned why we laugh, why boys and girls are different, and why sugar is bad for you.

Curiosity is one of the simplest and most powerful lessons we can learn from a child. As a marketer, this makes me ask: What can we do stay curious against a backdrop of back-to-back meetings, tight budgets, and the unending barrage of emails? There’s a lot of opportunity for curiosity to creep in.

  • Professional Development: Can you carve out a little time each week to drink a cup of coffee and surf your favorite industry publications for the latest news? Is there a certification or training that’s been on the backburner?
  • Strategic Innovation: As you head into your quarterly or annual marketing strategy planning sessions, how deep have you dug into why you’re making your recommendations? Or better yet, have you considered other possibilities? A way to innovate? 
  • Reflection and Growth: We all experience our fair share of fire drills. We immediately spring into action, oftentimes without asking all the “why” questions. Furthermore, we may not take the time to look back to learn how we got there. What processes could be fine-tuned? What is the true cause of a marketing mishap? (Tip: I like to employ the Urgent Important Matrix attributed to President Eisenhower to help balance my day.)

#2 – Employ resilient trust.

When both of my babes were around 6 to 9 months old, they learned to jump into our laps, assisted by Mom or Dad’s hands securely around their waist. They were so proud of their amazing feats. And through repetition, they knew we’d always be there to catch them—even when they jumped unexpectedly.

Aided by their caretakers helping hands and guidance, kids learn new things and take risks, eventually without fear. Why? Because trust has been built.

In the marketing world, when trust is a focus, you can forge incredible bonds colleagues, clients or customers, prospects, and partners. And in a time when trust is dwindling among consumers, it’s more critical than ever.

#3 – Be coachable.

My persistent (and often stubborn) children throw puzzle pieces. They shriek or scream, sometimes when they’re seemingly unprovoked. They make mistakes. But their curious, trusting nature makes them incredibly teachable.

This magical trait is easy to lose once we hit the working world and get some experience under our belts. None of us probably think we’re perfect, but how well do you take feedback? If you want to get results for your company and your career, you need to be open to coaching.

For example, did your supervisor offer some constructive feedback? Rather than put up your defenses, open yourself up to the feedback. You can literally, open your posture (no crossed arms), face her or him directly, and show your listening. Even take notes if it helps!

Or did you get a string of bad customer reviews on social media? Acknowledge their concerns. Offer an opportunity to talk about it more in detail. Point them in the right direction to get help. This not only shows them that you want to create great experiences, but others can see your willingness to take feedback and work to make improvements.

#4 – Keep it simple.

My children never fail to remind me to simplify my life—and my marketing. Whether you’re a parent or caretaker, or you’re watching others raise their kids, we can all admit that parents over-think questions and scenarios all the time. What do I do when my kid asks me where babies come from? Why is that parent so concerned about a kid playing with a cardboard box? Am I a terrible parent for putting my kid in timeout five times today?

But the thing is: Kids often sees the world through the most basic lens. They don’t typically overthink things. They aren’t riddled with stress and anxiety.

This should be a reminder that we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff and that the simple answer is often the right answer. 

For example, you could spend 45 minutes responding to a curt email from a colleague or client, and then hours or days spinning as you wait for a response. Or you could ask the person in question to jump on the phone or huddle for a quick chat. This levels the playing field and limits the potential for misinterpreting signals.

As another example, if you’re in the process of launching a major campaign, can you integrate various tactics to minimize and streamline the work? (Certainly, hiring a trusted agency partner could help with that. Wink.)

Look to the Children

If you want to be a lifelong learner, sometimes you need to go back to basics. The children in our lives can teach us some incredible lessons about curiosity, trust, coachability, and simplicity that can improve our personal and professional lives.

What’s a marketing lesson that you’ve learned from a kid in your life? Tell us in the comments section below.

How to Power Marketing Presentations With Data Visualization & Win Over Your Audience

Data Visualization for Marketing Presentations

We’ve all been there. We’re five minutes into (what we thought would be) a riveting, data-driven presentation, yet a quick scan of the room reveals the audience is staring blankly at our data tables as we drone on. Or worse, someone asks a pointed question about what they do or don’t see and the discussion goes completely of course. Yikes.

Perhaps the best advice I ever received in this regard was so simple yet incredibly smart: “Try it as a line graph.”

I had presented a data-backed presentation and robust recommended next steps, but whether it was boredom or data suspicion that crept in, I failed to make my case. After the weeks I spent looking at a spreadsheet, I took that visionary advice. When the day came to remake my case, that line graph immediately won my critics over.

When done thoughtfully, data visualizations have the power to change perspectives, far more quickly than a spreadsheet or bullet points on a slide. Data visualization allows us to take complex or even simple data sets, and present them in a way that allows us to see context, make comparisons, and enable decision-making. 

The good news? Giving your data a visual identity is easier than you think.

The Case for Data Visualization

This is going to sound cliché, but we marketers really do have more data at our fingertips than ever before. And visualization is key in order for us to really leverage that data to tell a story and win over our bosses, colleagues, and customers.

Here’s a simple example. First, the spreadsheet version:

What can you take away from this example in just 5 seconds? 10 seconds? 30 seconds? July 2018 and December 2017 seemed to be big months. There was definitely some growth in the last two years. But how much? Is it consistent? How are we trending?

Now, let’s look at this data as a line graph:

Data in a Spreadsheet

Whoa! 2018 outperformed 2017 by quite a bit overall. However, 2017 traffic was on the up and up, and that momentum slowed in 2018. With the exception of a mid-year spike, 2018 traffic was flat, and dipped below year-over-year totals by the end of the year.

Data in a Line Graph

The beauty here? As we prepare to deliver the data to our audience, we can draw some pretty important conclusions at a glance, helping us quickly arrive at what we need to find out next: What caused that big spike in July 2018? Is it an outlier or did we have an effective campaign running? What did the tactical mix look like throughout 2017? What were the top pages contributing to steady growth? Did we make major changes at the beginning of 2018?

This not only helps us dig deeper into our data to understand trends and opportunities, but also prepare us to craft a narrative and answer the questions our bosses, colleagues, or clients will undoubtedly have about performance. After all, flashing a spreadsheet and then telling someone traffic is up year-over-year overall but flat month-over-month for the current year is not going to deliver much wow.

How to Get the Storytelling Started with Data Visualization

Creating a narrative, choosing your data set, perfecting your visualization, and adding context are essential for being able to persuade any sort of action or reaction with data. But whether you are using a simple Excel graph or a custom data visualization tool, here are some great tips to get started. 

Tip #1 – Start with your story and frame it for your audience.

Let’s say you’re presenting the results of your most recent marketing campaign to your internal stakeholders. It can be tempting to throw up any data point you can get your hands on, trying to see what sticks.

Don’t do that. Your boss probably doesn’t care about how many shares you got on that one blog post or how many seconds someone spent on a video. They care about new prospects, re-engaged prospects, or advocacy. 

  • Stay laser focused on your objective: What are you trying to achieve with this presentation? A bigger budget? A promotion? A shift in tactics internally? Every data visualization included should tell that story. Too many data points can muddy the narrative and reduce your impact. 
  • Use your audience’s lens: Focus on the data you know is most important to your audience. Think of previous presentations you’ve done with them. Was there a particular data visualization they loved or one they pushed back on? Edit accordingly. If it’s your first time presenting to this audience, then use what you know based on job titles or culture in your office. 

One mistake it can be easy to make as marketers, is slipping into marketing lingo (e.g. sessions, shares, click-through-rate, bounce-rate). One simple shift if you’re presenting outside of your team, is shift your language to focus on meaningful business metrics. For example:  Instead of saying visitor, say potential prospect. 

Tip #2 – Design for comprehension.

Data visualization is so awesome because it’s able to allow humans to quickly make comparisons and decisions quickly, even with a complex data set. 

So create charts with comprehension in mind. If your audience is staring at a graph trying to figure out what it means, they’re probably not listening to your supporting narrative. So make it easy for them to understand. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Label Everything: This seems straight forward, but nothing is worse than when someone pauses you mid sentence to ask you to clarify your data set. So, label your chart, axes, legend, and so on. Also include a note on time frame and data source. Make sure all labels are visible and not obstructed by other text. 

Chart Type: Choose the chart type that most efficiently illustrates your point:

  • Bar charts are best for comparing discrete values. 
  • Line charts are intended for a continuous data set.
  • Pie charts show the element something else is made up of, and are not ideal for comparing values.
  • Stacked bar charts are best to compare different items and show the composition.

For example, while the pie chart allows us to see a breakdown of traffic sources, the placement of legend, the close color families, and a similar proportion of the individual pieces make it difficult for a true comparison. With the bar chart, however, you can easily see how the traffic sources stack up next to one another. 

Data in Bar Graph

Color: Incorporating color to help tell your story can be very powerful, but can also lend confusion. A few practical things to consider: 

  • Don’t choose colors that are low contrast. Consider the fact that you may be presenting on a different monitor and the audience will be further away from the screen. 
  • Use the same color to represent data from the same grouping or data set (e.g. all points from 2018 are in green and 2019 in yellow.)
  • Be careful about using colors that have significant meaning on their own (e.g. bright red is always going to set off an alarm bell, whereas green tends to indicate something is good.)
  • Use accent colors to highlight really key data points. This can draw your audience’s eye immediately and increase comprehension. 

A couple final thoughts here: 

  • Add call-outs to your slides so you can help your audience understand a data set really quickly (e.g. Sales reached an all time high in June 2019).
  • Keep your data ordering intuitive such as ordering by value, time period, or alphabetically.

Tip #3 – Create for context.

We should always anticipate, any presentation we create, can and will be passed along for others to consume, without the benefit of our verbal narrative. So, it’s important that your data visualizations have enough context so the impact can be understood with or without verbal support. 

What do we mean by context? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Is this good or bad? What would you expect? This is definitely a frequently asked question from marketers as we are evaluating campaign or channel performance. One of the most important contextual markers you can add to a performance slide is a benchmark from previous data or third-party industry data. 
  • Why? Data visualization can help us understand the current situation, but they can also help us answer the “why” behind a data set. Context in this situation can reveal hidden insights, which can really change the minds of our audience. For example, let’s say you are charting MQLs over time, now plot that against another variables which may drive fluctuations in MQLs, like website traffic, paid investment or frequency of events. This might help you determine whether overall web traffic is irrelevant, but paid investments are critical.
  • What should we do next? Now that we understand the context for our data and what is driving it, the next question is what should we do next? Always include next steps related to your data visualization. 

Side by Side Bar Graph

Finally, looking at the same data as in our previous visualizations. This example dives into July 2018, with the added context of 2017. In this graph, we can easily see a spike in social caused our July 2018 increase. Now, we can add a call out to shout out to testing a paid social campaign or a contest that was running at that time. 

Tip #4: Be careful not to mislead your audience.

Data can be really powerful, if used wisely. But if we don’t understand or interpret it properly, it can also drive bad decision making.

So as a presenter, definitely do these things to keep your data representation free of misleading information:

  • Start your key at zero (and keep it consistent): It can be tempting to make that 3% increase look like 50%, but don’t change your scale unless it’s really pertinent to the data set, and then call it out. 
  • Understand your data: If you (or your team) is pulling data from a tool like Google Analytics or Hubspot, be sure you understand the nuance or context of your data points (e.g. what’s included in that site conversion rate, how you’re categorizing a new user, what is the criteria for SQL versus MQL.)
  • Include context: Be careful not to omit the context or drivers of the data set you’re aware of, even if they don’t necessarily fit your narrative. For example, if you had a great Q3 for leads, but the first half of the year was down, don’t omit that context, just to make Q3 appear better. That context will probably change your tactical mix, investment levels, and next steps. 

Show Don’t Tell

To be really effective marketers, we must review and analyze data in order to make our own decisions about a tweak in tactics or a strategy overhaul. Our ability to illustrate to our colleagues, bosses, and customers how data insights inform our decisions ultimately impacts our ability to move forward with our plans. 

So practice! Find that colleague who can review your latest graph and see what their first takeaway is. Do your presentation with a smaller group before you bring to your boss. See what they respond well to or question, and edit accordingly. 

Data is power. Data visualization is powerful.

Data is power. Data visualization is powerful. @Alexis5484 #datavisualization #marketing Click To Tweet

Many marketers aren’t using the data they have to its full potential. Set yourself on a path to better data and analytics utilization with these tips for overcoming common barriers.

Q1’s a Wrap, B2B Marketers: Where We’ve Been & What’s Next in 2019

Q1 Digital Marketing Recap

We made it, B2B marketers. Spring is finally in the air and Quarter 1 is officially a wrap. Take a moment to bask in your individual, team, and business successes—you earned it.

As is tradition, in just a few short months the digital marketing industry has experienced some newsworthy shifts—from a big Google algorithm update in March to a host of new targeting and advertising features across several platforms.

To build on the Q1 successes we just celebrated—and take full advantage of new opportunities—let’s take a look back at what 2019 has gifted us so far.

What’s new and worth paying attention to? What opportunities and challenges have arisen? And what do we all need to keep in mind as we move into and beyond Q2? Let’s dive in.

The Digital Marketing Sights and Sounds of Q1

When It Comes to Digital Marketing Spend …

CMOs are continuing to diversify their budgets to adapt to new trends, take advantage of opportunities, and overcome challenges. According to Forrester, CMOs will spend nearly $150 billion by 2023 on search marketing, banner and outstream advertising, instream advertising, and email marketing in the United States. However:

  • Paid search is expected to lose share to shopping and voice search;
  • Programmatic banner buys will retrench;
  • Television innovation will likely drive more instream growth;
  • And email will “woo B2B adopters.”

Should you do a complete overhaul on your budget allocations? No. But it’s worth taking a deeper look at the market conditions (e.g. increasing use of home assistants) that are driving these trends—and looking at your historical performance data to see if you can find opportunities or correlations with rising trends.

via GIPHY

What Else?

  • As the B2B buyer’s journey becomes increasingly similar to that of its B2C counterpart, the B2B e-commerce market is expanding rapidly—and expected to reach $1.8 trillion in 2023. (Demand Gen Report)
  • B2B brands are feeling the pressure to take a stand on values, as a new study reveals that 8 in 10 business leaders would end a business relationship based on the vendor’s failure to address high-stakes communications like data security. (Marketing Dive)

When It Comes to Search Marketing …

While Google always draws plenty of news coverage, it’s recent core update was a big attention grabber. According to Search Engine Journal, it was “one of the biggest updates in years,” focusing not on any particular signal or niche, but to make overall improvements.

In addition, mobile continues to be an area worthy of marketers’ attention for a couple reasons:

Mobile web traffic is dominating the search landscape, with Google releasing its first mobile-first indexing update last year and indicating that mobile-first will be an ongoing focus. As a result, this should be an ongoing focus in Q2 and beyond.

Beyond the search implications, mobile is essential to connecting and creating amazing experiences. In fact, according to a new Adobe* survey of 1,000 adult smartphone owners:

  • 89% of respondents agreed strongly that they need a device while on the go, while one-fifth of respondents said that they cannot live without their devices.
  • 50% of respondents said the ad offers they receive are just “OK.”
  • Less than 20% of respondents said the offers they receive are relevant.

The takeaway? Creating quality experiences—across platforms and devices—is only growing in importance, even for B2B marketers. This is not a passing fad, it’s the new era of business.

Creating quality experiences—across platforms and devices—is only growing in importance, even for B2B marketers. @CaitlinMBurgess Click To Tweet

What Else?

  • Updates to Google My Business now gives business owners the opportunity to share service areas and information via Google Maps and Search. (Google)
  • In addition, business owners can now respond to reviews via Google Maps on desktop. (Search Engine Roundtable)
  • Bing began piloting Custom Audiences, which would enable marketers to remarket customized messages to each customer segment (Search Engine Land)
  • Nielsen and Google announced a new partnership for mobile ad measurement. (Fast Company)

When It Comes to Content Marketing …

Content is the beating heart of digital marketing strategies. And Backlinko, with the help of their data partner BuzzSumo, recently analyzed 912 million blog posts to understand the current state of content marketing. Some interesting findings include:

  • Long-form content gets an average of 77.2% more links than short articles.
  • When it comes to social shares, longer content outperforms short blog posts. However, for articles that exceed 2,000 words, return diminishes.
  • Question headlines get 23.3% more social shares than headlines that don’t end with a question mark.
  • “Why” and “what” posts, as well as infographics, received 25.8% more links compared to videos and “How-to” posts.

For us, this reinforces the core principle of our approach to content marketing: Striving to be the best answer.

Your customers, prospects, and target audience are searching for answers—the best answers. They want in-depth, relevant content that makes it easy for them to gain insight and make decisions. This requires a thoughtful narrative, not just all the words. This should be top-of-mind for all marketers moving forward.

Your customers, prospects, and target audience are searching for answers—the best answers. This requires a thoughtful narrative, not just all the words. @CaitlinMBurgess Click To Tweet

Read more on this topic:

What Else?

  • The 2019 Edelman-LinkedIn B2B Thought Leadership Impact Study is out. It’s findings? Thought leadership content influencers the majority of buyers, but only if it’s done right. (Edelman)

When It Comes to Social Media …

We predicted that 2019 would bring a new age of “Stories-telling” on social media. Simply put, Facebook Stories for Pages and Instagram Stories have offered brands a new medium and style for reaching their audience.

And some cool stuff happened on this front in Q1. Most notably, Facebook confirmed in mid-March that it was testing a new feature that would let Pages archive and share Stories.

Why is this a big deal? Because it would allow users to help expand the organic reach of a brand’s content beyond its followers, according to Search Engine Land. And in a time when organic reach and engagement on social is dwindling for brands, it’s worth considering whether the Stories format fits in with your business and marketing objectives, your audience, and so on.

Read more on this topic:

What Else?

  • LinkedIn* launched its live video platform in January, giving organizations the ability to broadcast in real-time to select groups or the LinkedIn community at large. (TechCrunch)
  • Facebook announced that it would be updating its ad reporting, replacing its singular relevancy score with three new metrics: Quality ranking, engagement rate ranking, and conversion rate ranking. (Search Engine Journal)
  • Twitter announced it was developing new tools to make it easier for publishers to understand what type of content is resonating with their readers. (TechCrunch)
  • To avoid data privacy issues and get paid for its data, Twitter announced that it will start requiring app developers to submit their app for review if that app calls recent tweets or mentions a user more than 100,000 times per day. (TechCrunch)
  • LinkedIn announced a new partnership with Adobe to improve ad targeting. (Social Media Today)

When It Comes to Influencer Marketing …

Adoption of B2B influencer marketing continued to rise in Q1. From enhancing trust and credibility to reaching new audiences, more B2B brands are beginning to understand the many benefits of forming mutually beneficial partnerships with influential voices.

Just last month, TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden outlined five B2B influencer marketing trends marketers need to pay attention to:

  • Micro and Macro Influencers. A lot of marketing press has emphasized micro or even “nano” influencers over celebrities. There’s merit to that. But successful programs map the right “big and small” influencers to the right content within the buying journey.
  • Centralizing Influencer Operations. Disparate processes and lack of coordination can create real problems. But centralizing influencer marketing operations can create opportunities across organizations.
  • Always-On Influencer Engagement. Early on, many B2B brands are campaign-focused when working with influencers. But more advanced marketers and brands are focused on developing relationships and fostering advocacy with influencer partners on an ongoing basis.
  • Focus on Quality vs. Quantity Metrics. From influencer identification to brand vs. popularity, there’s a big shift happening in the way qualitative metrics are used.
  • Influencer Marketing Software Investment. As organizations begin to implement influencer marketing initiatives across departments and businesses, coordination in identification, engagement, and measurement needs to be a priority. And specialized platforms can help.

What Else?

  • According to Buffer’s State of Social 2019 report, 37% of survey respondents—marketers from across a wide range of industries—say their business has invested in influencer marketing. And 68% say their investment has been “somewhat” or “very” effective. (Buffer)

When It Comes to The TopRank Marketing Team …

We’ve been busy. And without going into too much detail, here’s just a quick recap of some of the team’s highlights:

We also added a special new member to our team: Laser Bear.

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Get to know him more by checking out Lee’s post dedicated to “Breaking Free of Boring B2B.”

Bye-Bye, Q1. Hello and Welcome, Q2.

To recap our recap, here are some core things to keep in mind as you move into Q2 and beyond:

  • As innovation accelerates and preferences changes, budgets are shifting. Don’t set and forget. Always be looking for opportunities to refine and optimize.
  • Mobile-first is the new mantra for improving performance and experiences.
  • Best-answer content will continue to rule as buyers continue to guide their own search for solutions and inspiration.
  • Social offerings are evolving in a way that benefits B2B brands. But before you jump in, do your due diligence to ensure you’re making an informed and strategic bet.
  • As more B2B brands adopt influencer marketing, sophistication is growing (and so is the competition).

B2B marketers, we wish you all the best in Q2 and beyond. Keep up with the latest industry news, trends, and opportunities by tuning in each week for our Digital Marketing News Roundup, with highlights and video commentary from Tiffani Allen and Joshua Nite.

*Disclosure: LinkedIn and Adobe are TopRank Marketing clients.