Welcome

Thanks for visiting the Superfluity blog - we'd love to hear your feedback and thoughts so do feel free to comment.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Why Content Marketing, Marketing Automation & Marketing Orchestration Is Like Making a Hollywood Blockbuster

By Fahima Miah

We're living in a society where films are already becoming the new face of content marketing, without consumers even necessarily realising it. We've blogged previously on this subject [see: here] in terms of how Lego have used their brand to manipulate consumers into viewing their own gated content through the release of The Lego Movie earlier this year and this just goes to show how content marketing already has a presence in the film industry. In fact, even TV advertising is becoming more and more “contenty” as old media desperately tries to jump on the content marketing bandwagon. This is something else we blogged about too [see here] not so long ago. 


Straight to DVD fodder
This blog – written by our new content marketing intern Fahima - is a bit of an observation piece really which focuses on how the process of executing a successful content marketing campaign using marketing automation and marketing orchestration is uncannily similar to the process of producing an Oscar award-winning movie.  It’s actually a really interesting and incisive analogy from Fahima on what we actually do here at Superfluity Towers and why we're the difference between being an agency who creates The Godfather and those who create straight to DVD fodder like that on the left! 

As with many things marketing - and film making - there is usually some sort of roadmap to success – a blueprint if you like. Likewise, there are certain similar stages that come to mind when one embarks on making a movie or a content marketing strategy, including:

 


1. The ideas stage (the script)
2. The planning stage
3. The production stages (pre-production, production, post-production)
4. The distribution elements
5. The tracking and measurement of the outcomes (the sequel)

We’ll cover each in turn:

(1) The Ideas Stage

When directors conjure up an idea for an amazing new movie, they will generally have a rough idea of what the theme is going to be.  For example; if the film is going to be geared towards children then there’s no point creating an 18 rated horror movie. If the film is going to be geared towards 18 – 35 year old males then a rom-com is probably not the right way to go. They’ll have their fingers on the pulse of what movie goers are actually looking for (and this can be equated to some extent with SEO and SEM).   

Similarly, in the planning stages of a content marketing campaign, content marketing specialists like Superfluity  will usually have an idea of what kind of market the content will be targeted at. This will be done using the information gleaned from the client's bespoke customer persona's created by Superfluity which gives us a clearer idea of what sort of person/company the client is looking to attract - and engage with.  The persona's help create an end product that is designed with the individual in mind.  


Superfluity - The Michael Mann Of Content Marketing
So, with both film making and content marketing -  the theme must be appropriate for the ideal customer segment. Some content will be designed to be what Hollywood describe as having four quadrant appeal (i.e. it appeals to males and females, young and old), especially if it’s demand generation content aimed at a broad audience. You could call this the Michael Bay approach. Other content will be the equivalent of an arthouse movie because it is intentionally niche and specific. You could call this the Lars von Trier approach. Most content though will be somewhere in the middle – relatively broad in appeal but very, very high quality production values and an intelligent script. This is the Michael Mann approach.

"@SuperfluityUK are the Michael Mann of #ContentMarketing & #MarketingAutomation. It's about script, production values & smart distribution"

TWEET THIS

(2) Planning Stage

At this stage, the Superfluity team starts to really plan and map out the key features of the content.  This is a crucial part of the process because professional marketers and film makers alike both aspire to create content that will capture the audiences imagination through the art of storytelling.  


Superfluity Content Marketing - As Good As 3D AND With Atmosphere!
Conducting research in the film-making industry includes many things such as location scouting, finding the ideal format for the movie (digital, traditional film, hand-held etc.), costume design, speaking with subject experts etc.  For any director, finding the best location to shoot the movie is also imperative.  Shooting 'The Lego Movie' on a hand-held camera in the middle of the deepest, darkest, woods "Blair Witch Style" would be entirely inappropriate for both the audience and the theme. The same goes for a piece of content.  Good content marketers like Superfluity know from experience where the best locations to place any piece of particular content. At Superfluity, we know that if you're on a train and you open up a chunky PDF on your iPhone then you're probably not going to view it. In this situation we would instead maybe send an infographic or a meme since they’re both optimised to be more consumable from that location.  At Superfluity, we believe that content, context and format must always flow in unison. It's probably the same with a movie. Would you prefer to watch Gravity in 3D either at an IMAX or with BlueRay on a 70 inch LED TV or would you want to struggle to watch a tiny pixelated version of it on your smartphone?

"
@SuperfluityUK we believe that content, context & format must always flow in unison #contentmarketing #marketingautomation #orchestration"
TWEET THIS


Given the complexion of our clients – many of whom are in the cloud/IT/technology sector (and thus often have highly technical products and services) – research really is a key element of what we do at Superfluity because our aim is to always create killer content no matter how complex, niche or technical the subject matter. It’s quite an art actually and is something that most agencies fall down on (by creating fluffy content that serves little or no purpose). However, given our unrivalled experience and our unique approach then it is something that we have proven to be tremendously good at - whether it’s writing content about Citrix XenApp hosting, creating guides on the environmental benefits of Microsoft SharePoint or demonstrating how Desktops-as-a-Service using VMware is the next big thing! We never forget too that you cannot sugar coat marketing content as content marketing because that’s the equivalent of a film that is absolutely littered with product placement!

(3) Production

During the pre-production stage, film makers begin to think about the cast that they want to feature in the film.  In content marketing terms, casting relates to the tools, techniques and resources we may use in order to achieve the desired results. For example, what marketing automation software will we use (e.g. Eloqua or SilverPop or Hubspot)? It's all very well paying £20m to have Sylvester Stallone in your movie (think Marketo) but if you're making a niche film which requires actual acting and a stellar, multi-layered performance then isn't it actually better to cast someone like Christian Bale for a tenth of the price (think Act-On Software)? Big and expensive is often not better.   

Film makers (the producers) then start to think about hiring an experienced, successful director suitable for their movie (along with other key team members like cinematographers).  They will look for directors who can give their film the right kind of look and feel in line with their vision for the movie and this is just the same for businesses looking to outsource elements of their content marketing because, naturally, they will always wish to retain experienced content marketing firms like Superfluity who can produce high quality, high impact content that fits seamlessly with their own brand.  


Superfluity: The Martin Scorsese of Marketing Orchestration
Production wise then, just like a movie, it’s rarely one person who does everything and the production will also need to have a solid start and finish date – deadlines for movies are just the same in the content marketing world! Depending on the content, the actual production team may straddle several areas – from someone working on the creative design to another person building the assets to frame the content (like landing pages and forms) to someone else creating the main content piece and then someone working on all the social media messaging. Like a movie production though, there is always someone who directs and oversees everything so that their vision is achieved. The vision must match or exceed the expectation of the films financial backers who, in Superfluity’s case, are the clients. Some film backers wish to remain at arms length and just trust the production team to create the movie with little or no involvement from them while others prefer a more collaborative approach. It’s just the same with us and our clients and we’re comfortable working either way. 

There’s no point making a Gandhi (which used something like 300,000 extras alone) if what you really need is a cost-effective yet incredibly successful film like Slumdog Millionaire so production budgets are very important too. We excel at making the most for yours and we really work hard and focus on the detail so that your movie looks like it has Avatar level budgets and production values even if it only cost the same as The Kings Speech. 

In terms of post-production, once the content is completed (i.e. the film has been shot) then the tools we use, like marketing automation, allow us to edit the content into its final format and really fine-tune the movie so that it’s ready for multi-channel, omni-directional distribution.  One of the greatest things about our overall "Mission Control" approach to content marketing, marketing automation and marketing orchestration is that - given our unparallelled experience of filming and releasing more ‘’blockbuster movies’’ than anyone else in Europe – we can produce superb quality films faster and probably better than you ever could yourself because we have all the kit, all the hard fought-for best practice, all the crew and all the bleeding edge technology already in place.

(4) Distribution

When it comes to distribution, film makers have to think about whether they want their movie to hit all the big screens or if they'd prefer it to go straight to DVD (or even just exclusively through something like Netflix). Should the movie only be released in certain countries? Is it some kind of viral, guerrilla movie that’s only going to appear on social media? Will it be showing on the screens of every multiplex or at just a handful of key locations? 


The Wolf Of Wall Street
Content marketers like Superfluity think just like this about how and where your content should be released. We consider different time zones, different geographic markets and locations, different formats for different audiences and we always look to optimise the content distribution across all the right channels (including email, social media, watering holes, SEO, websites and mobile). We even think about whether we spell words the English or the American way depending on the audience. We also have to consider things such as the buying cycle because we get the fact that customers at different stages of the cycle require different types of content if we’re going to help them efficiently move through the buying process with velocity.  

Although trying to package marketing content as marketing content is a no-no, there’s still a place for calls-to-action once you’ve got the viewers attention so we always ensure that our movies are 3D i.e. that they are interactive. Think of it as all the popcorn and sweets you buy at the cinema.

(5) Tracking & Measurement

Ultimately, there’s no getting away from the fact that everything boils down to the number of leads created and converted or, in movie parlance, how many bums on seats did we achieve and what was the box office take?

After successfully releasing the film/ the content, we always start planning ahead for the sequel. Marketing automation technology allows content marketers like us to know: 

a) Who looked at the movie trailers/adverts
b) Who walked into the cinema (and what their contact details are) or whether they saw the content through another medium (device) 
c) Precisely what they thought of the movie/the content 
d) All their behaviours and attitudes before, during and after the film
e) Whether they told anyone else about the movie – and then whether they saw it
f) Where that viewer ranks in the food chain (lead scoring)


Superfluity - Wowing Audiences With World Class Content Marketing
In fact, every single thing we do is 100% measurable and all of this tracking information is scrutinised, absorbed and then used to help shape the next piece of content i.e. the sequel. Best of all, demand generation, lead nurturing and drip marketing using our marketing automation and marketing orchestration allows us to drag precisely the right audience into see the movie and ensure that the movie is totally personalised towards them in terms of their needs, their sensibilities, their preferred viewing habits and their previous behaviour. We effectively make hundreds (or even thousands) of versions of the same film which are all optimised to the individual viewer. This is just one of the reasons why people queue to see our "movies", it’s why they virtually never walk out or complain, it’s why they tell their friends and peers about it, it's why they visit the movies website and it's why they can't wait for the next instalment.


Other content marketing agencies - the DVD bargain bucket
At the end of the day, if your business wants to ‘make movies’ (i.e. deploy content marketing) then of course - you can do it yourself. However, audiences have a voracious appetite for content and you may either just not have time to keep up with demand or even have the right tools. If that's the case then we can help you to “top up” your content on top of what you already doing yourself (and even re-task old ‘movies’ that you’ve made to suit a contemporary audience). Alternatively, you may just want the viewers and outsource the whole process to us for a very economical price. Maybe you need help on distribution and want to leverage our pioneering watering hole marketing techniques or social media expertise. Either way, it's absolutely essential for any business to employ the right content marketing specialists with the right tools. Not doing so is often the difference between you winning an Oscar and smashing all box office records or having your movie go straight to DVD (and end up being stuck at the bottom of the £1 bargain bin at your corner shop!). 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Why Not Identifying & Engaging With Unknown Website Visitors Is Commercial Suicide

Imagine your website was a plush high street store. You’ve spent the time building it and you have invested a relative fortune in its construction, its layout and its valuable inventory. Furthermore, you’ve spent a wad of money making sure that your store can be found by your potential customers (think SEO, PPC, email marketing, social media and even the url’s you litter across all your sales collateral). So you’ve done all the hard work and shoppers walk into your store…




Wouldn't it defy commercial belief that in this scenario you would ever even dream of not having any staff in your store to welcome visitors, observe their buying behaviour and take their contact details before they walk out the door (so that you can then engage with them and encourage them to purchase either then or at a later date)? Okay, so you may have Google Analytics but that’s not the paragon of virtue since it’s the equivalent of just having a little bell on your shop door that merely lets you know an anonymous person has walked in - and walked out. You even may have something like Lead Forensics, Wow Analytics, Ruler etc. but they at best only tell you, in a percentage of cases, if a particular company has visited your website. While these products are fantastic (and we use them a lot in conjunction with other tools and techniques plus our automation platform allows us to track unknown visitors anyway) that is sometmes not ideal because they can only identify company level visitors (which some would argue they do in a non-permissioned way). How useful is that information in terms of you being able to drill down to the actual person who came into your store to spend money with you? Not much unless you can stitch that together with other individual level data (like we do). Web-help style pop ups that allow visitors to speak to someone online, there and then, are great but often (especially when ‘shoppers’ are in research mode) they expressly want to avoid direct contact with a human being (although facts show that they are usually happy to leave their contact details in exchange for getting the information they came looking for - exchanging their credentials for content).



Carrying on this analogy, what if the person keeps coming back into your store and you still don’t know who they are? What if they go to your other trade outlets and you keep blanking them? Worse still, what if they came looking for information - information that you readily have available and could send by email perhaps - but they couldn’t find it so just left to go to one of your competitors stores instead? Do you think you would be in business long? At best you certainly aren't maximising your profits and potential. What if your competitors do have the tools to do what you're not doing?

They're taking food from your table...

Also, there are different types of shoppers who all need to be treated differently depending on where they are positioned in your buying cycle. Should tyre kickers be given the full personal shopper service while the big spender standing impatiently at the till with a cheque book in their hand is ignored? If someone has visited your shop several times and you’ve observed them look closely at your pricing and other key areas of your store - areas which indicate genuine buying behaviour - then wouldn't you want your staff to make sure the customer was immediately given relevant and personalised information that helped tip them over the edge? Think case studies, testimonials,
special offers etc. (marrying content with context).


So what’s the solution? 


Professional marketing automation and marketing orchestration dovetailed with harmonised, omni-directional content marketing is the only sure-fire way to put in place all the mechanics to identify, track, lead score and proactively engage with your online shoppers and do so regardless of device or channel. The contemporary techniques, technology and tools used by Superfluity for our clients allow us to turn an ever increasing percentage of your unknown digital visitors into known visitors and then ensure that you can not only track and lead score them but that you can immediately pull them into lead nurturing and drip marketing programmes and/or contact them directly by phone, email, social media etc. In doing so you can then pull these opportunities through your sales funnel with higher velocity, higher conversion and higher spend. You wouldn't believe the impact we could have on your business in this area and many others.

Superfluity specialise in bleeding edge, cross-channel visitor identification, lead nurturing, drip marketing and customer relationship marketing. We’re also experts in making sure new customers come to your store in the first place and that all your online outlets are linked and working in completely harmony. Why not book a short and friendly Discovery Call with us below and we’ll show you precisely how it all works and how we can completely change the game for you when it comes to social, digital, automation and orchestration – and how we do it economically and with agility.

BOOK NO-OBLIGATION DISCOVERY CALL

No matter how big or small your website and no matter how low your current visitor traffic is; don’t be the person who runs a shop with no customer facing staff. Speak to Superfluity and get the equivalent of the worlds best digital and social concierge who will also drag customers into your store who are ready to buy at a rate of knots that will blow your socks off. At the very least, even if you're not ready for the full suite of marketing automation, do get some basic website visitor tracking technology onto your web site quickly and begin the process of using that kind of technology to turn some of your unknown visitors into knowns.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Sorry To Break The Bad News But BANT is Dead...

Remember how fashionable the acronym BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timescale) became a few years back in sales and lead generation?

Remember how everyone jumped onto it as the saviour of lead gen?

Well, after a long and painful illness, it’s dead. It's deceased. It's non-living. 


Sorry. 


If you’re still relying on the BANT acronym then you’re essentially like the people who still say “wazzaaaaaaaap?” off the back of the annoying Budweiser adverts from about 10 years ago [tweet this]. Despite this, most lead generation providers - including half those agencies now desperately trying to superficially reposition themselves as marketing automation providers - are still trying to peddle BANT as the paragon of virtue behind the scenes. At best, they’re possibly using a bit of basic marketing automation to maybe add in some lead scoring but that’s about it - BANT remains the lead gen mantra. In today’s multi-device, always-on, connected world - a world where different buying behaviours and non-linear purchase journeys are the norm - they’re selling something antiquated that just doesn’t work anymore and we're unsure if it ever really did (although it was better than nothing).

It is true to say that if you or your lead gen agency fortuitously stumble into one of those needle in a haystack situations where you/they just happen to catch someone who is ready to buy - and who is also prepared to answer honestly - then BANT probably still has some latent ability to at least identify that a prospect is in buying mode. It’s more by fault than by design though. In reality; most BANT responses provided by prospects - who usually only squeal because they’ve been cornered and browbeated into providing answers to leading questions - is inaccurate, misleading and frequently incorrect.

So what are the biggest problems with BANT? 

Well, BANT generally presupposes that you physically speak to the prospect but with salespeople today having just a 9% chance of even getting a prospect on the phone - let alone “pitching them” - then it’s excruciatingly limited. Besides, in today’s digital landscape, assuming your prospects even want to be sold to over the phone is at best nostalgic and incredibly assumptive. 


Secondly, aside from just not being an engaging, contemporary or even sustainable approach; BANT completely ignores behaviours. That's the sword to the heart right there folks. There’s a hell of a lot more to qualifying leads and opportunities than just kettling potential prospects into answering abstract and leading questions. Observing and stitching together granular, observable and multi-channel behaviours and interactions of prospects is what really matters and it’s this (coupled with the fact that it’s almost impossible to get genuine answers from telemarketing-led lead generation) which holes BANT under the waterline. As way of an example on just how tenuous and counter-productive BANT really can be, let us give you a true example of how an agency we consulted with not so long ago were happy to class a lead they’d generated for a CRM company (which they actually then sold to several other CRM companies too at around £350 a pop) as being sales ready based on the BANT scale.

We’ll paraphrase the call recording for you: 


Agent: Are you the budget holder?
Prospect: No
Agent: Ok, does the business have a budget for things like this?
Prospect: No
Agent: Well, if everything stacked up then I’m sure it’s fair to say you would somehow find the budget yes?
Prospect: Yes I guess so.
Agent: So you’d at least be able to speak with the budget holder for us, great. Now are you the decision maker for this type of thing?
Prospect: No, that would be the MD
Agent: But you’re a decision making stakeholder right?
Prospect: What does that even mean?
Agent: Well, I mean it’s fair to say that you must talk to the MD and can make recommendations?
Prospect: Yes
Agent: Brilliant so you are a stakeholder in the decision making process. Now we’ve talked about the fact that you, at sometime in the future, may potentially be interested in maybe implementing a CRM platform for your business. Would you thus say you have an active CRM project in place?
Prospect: Errr, no.
Agent: Uh, well, ok, but can we say that you’d be happy to at least look at the solutions that are available - even if it’s just to satisfy your curiosity and see how it could help you?
Prospect: Yes
Agent: So there’s definitely a potential project there, that's good...
Prospect: Ah well I didn't say...
Agent: Let's just move on as I know you're busy...if everything stacked-up in terms of price and suitability for your business and if at the appropriate juncture you decided as a business that you did want to buy it then is CRM something you could feasibly make a decision on within say the next 3 months?

Prospect: It’d have to blow our minds but yes, feasibly. 
Agent: Fantastic, that’s great news.


And, incredibly, this (and many others of a similar nature) was classed as a "sales ready lead"! They said “the guy sounded really positive and polite” and they argued that the vague responses he was coerced into providing following their leading questions still checked all the boxes in terms of the clients minimum criteria (even though that was clearly because they coralled him into saying yes to certain things). They knew full well that even if their client accepted their well positioned lead pack and their "abridged" call recording" that the lead was highly unlikely to actually buy but they still felt like they’d done their bit. More importantly, because they sell pay-as-you-go style leads (and they thus don't get paid until they get a prospect over the line as a qualified opportunity) then they look to shoehorn everything into becoming a lead because the onus is always on them to do so. Once they do, they can then charge £350 for the lead (and then secretly spin it to 3 or 4 other CRM companies). It’s no wonder they spend half their business lives sat round a table with clients arguing over what was and wasn’t a lead - and constantly trying to collect payments!

As professional users of marketing automation and orchestration then for us this would simply never happen. If buyers aren’t ready – based on their actual empirical behaviours and not misleading sales tactics – then there’s no need for us to ever force square pegs into round holes. We simply put them into back into then nurturing pot and strategically drip and nurture them until they are ready to buy.


People often can’t (or more often won’t) answer BANT questions accurately or honestly which is a major flaw in the lead generation/interruption marketing model. Prospects often don’t know the right answers to BANT because they are either too early in the buying process (in which case drip marketing and lead nurturing becomes essential) or because, like most businesses, they are fluid by nature and have constantly changing timelines and budget priorities. Only 20% to 30% of purchases are now pre-budgeted* and 70% to 80% of buyers obtain approval for their expenditure after they have evaluated whatever it is they are purchasing*.  Worse, if the prospect is indeed in buying mode then insisting they state the obvious to BANT questions simply irritates them! 

*DemandGen

Sticking too closely to the BANT formula can have additional negative effects. It can cause you to ignore other potentially high impact leads, especially if you are overly conditional and prescriptive with the qualification criteria. Things like budget, need and timeline can and do change dramatically at any given moment so being reliant on a prospects responses from one single moment in time – while ignoring (or not even seeking to observe) their actual behaviours before or after – is acutely short-sighted. Any salesperson worth their salt will prefer to be engaged with a prospect before they’ve become too fixated and rigid on things like budgets and timescales because they want the opportunity to influence and guide those areas (and help their client establish buying criteria which is favourable to them). Remember too that it often takes a fair period of time and multiple interactions for a lead to even qualify on the BANT scale and if you (or your agency) are ignoring all those targets who are genuine buyers but who are just not ready to buy on the spot then you really are being short-sighted. Prospects no longer follow a linear buying path and you have to nurture them and respond to their needs. Being too prescriptive with things like BANT only serves to actually extend your sales process and worse still; if your competitors are working parallel to you they may have much easier criteria. While you ignore an opportunity because it didn’t meet your inflexible criteria, they swoop in. BANT is almost an anti-sales strategy designed to stop you speaking to anyone who doesn’t represent the dream customer [tweet this].


Modern tools and techniques like marketing automation considerably mitigate the limitations of BANT and traditional lead generation because it incorporates buying behaviour. Rather than someone giving you incorrect or misleading BANT information off the back of interruption marketing (usually done to avoid being inundated with further sales calls), they are far more inclined to engage with you and provide accurate information when they are trying to access content that they are interested in - especially when they feel like they have sought it out themselves. Inbound marketing will always trump outbound. The simple fact of the matter is that until a prospect chooses to engage with you then decision makers will always care more about their own problems and challenges than they will ever care about you. Bashing them over the head with BANT criteria just because it suits you is doomed to failure because prospects who aren’t truly engaged with your brand could really care less about ticking your BANT boxes. Why on earth should they? It is essential therefore that, using content marketing among other things, you first crystallise your expertise in a unique way – a way that actually helps your potential customers do their jobs. In doing so you will respond to their business problems and earn the attention of your audience (instead of assuming you will just get it through a traditional, scattergun, interruption marketing approach). Once you better align the modern buyer journey then you will quickly find that BANT just isn’t necessary because you will clearly observe from their behaviours and interactions when they are ready to buy and customers will naturally open up to you with honest responses.

In summary, we think it’s time to change the acronym of BANT to the following:

Behavioural tracking
Automated marketing & orchestration
No interruption marketing
Triggered communication 

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

10 Tough Questions You Should Ask Any Outsourced Marketing Automation & Content Marketing Agency

10 Tough Questions You Should Ask Any Outsourced  Marketing Automation & Content Marketing Agency
10 Tough Questions You Should Ask Any Outsourced
Marketing Automation & Content Marketing Agency
There’s no question that content marketing and marketing automation are some of the biggest buzzwords in sales and marketing right now so it’s no surprise that numerous agencies and third party providers have jumped on the good ship automation to offer outsourced solutions. Given the fact that many internal marketing automation projects fail (see our blog on that very subject here) then if marketing automation is something you are considering then it does make complete commercial sense to seriously consider using a professional and credible provider to outsource some or all of the solution for you. Whether that’s to help you adopt and fully manage an automation platform, whether it’s just to offer you professional advice and best practice on your implementation or whether it’s to simply top up your content output and extend your distribution channels then a quality outsourced partner can prove to be an astonishingly powerful asset.

Diametrically, if you’re not careful, you could end up choosing a provider who, instead of empowering you to fully align all your sales and marketing across every channel, ends up shackling you and consigning your brand to enduring a commoditized, painting-by-numbers approach to marketing automation and content marketing. Worse still, you could end up handing over control of something that should be central to your business to a junior account manager, fresh out of university, who is trying to juggle two dozen other accounts (many of whom may even be your competitors). Do you really want to pay a third party to just churn out fluffy and formulaic content in Microsoft Word?

When deployed correctly with a high quality agency - and we are certainly not the only agency who fit that bracket – and when deployed in an omni-channel, multi-directional way; marketing automation and content marketing have the potential to revolutionise your business in an extremely cost-effective way. Deployed incorrectly; it can not only be an expensive and flawed exercise in futility but can end up being incredibly damaging to your brand - and hinder your sales efforts. 

Outsourced Marketing Automation & Content Marketing - The Truth
Outsourced Marketing
Automation - The Truth
Superfluity recommend that you do look at outsourcing some or all of the marketing automation implementation and management process to a professional agency as, in most cases, the agency will then afford you incredible agility, scalability and economies of scale (among many other things). Picking the right partner can give you access to all their hard fought-for best practice and allow you to enjoy price points that you would unlikely be able to replicate yourselves. 

Our competitors won’t thank us for this (but hey, we’re certainly not known for being scared to speak our mind and be brutally transparent) but it’s clearly an important decision and we want to help ensure that you do end up picking a partner that’s right. You should ask any potential provider questions based around the following 10 areas:


(1) When it comes to the various marketing automation platforms available - is your potential partner genuinely supplier neutral?

You may not know this but most outsourced providers are completely tethered to a single automation platform. While there’s nothing wrong with having a preferred platform (we certainly do - Act-On Software) nobody likes a Hobson’s choice. Your partners chosen platform may not prove to be right for you because different platforms have different benefits depending on a whole range of factors (not least industry, business size, budget, primary channels etc.).  While marketing automation should be bleeding edge and outside the box, most providers have built a box inside a box and are refusing to come out…

Is your partner "vendor agnostic"?
Is your partner "vendor agnostic"?
Really? Are you sure?
Ask yourself whether you should be coerced into committing to a particular automation platform just because that’s the one your chosen agency is embedded with (likely the one they get the most kickbacks from) and for which their staff have probably only ever had exposure to? Does your vendor claim to be vendor agnostic with one hand while banging the drum for a particular platform with the other? Is your provider busy running timeshare-style sales presentations and seminars with one automation software partner while recommending you then pay them to assess the different platforms on your behalf? Are they really likely to be objective? 

You must assess the alternatives and you must do so independently. Be exceptionally cautious in paying a provider to do your due-diligence and your platform selection for you because more often than not they will have vested interests. Our advice is that before you commit to any platform - either directly or via a partner - be sure to personally check out at least half a dozen of the alternatives yourself, even if you think you will never be using it directly. Feel free to ask us for a full list of the platforms you should look at (but if you want a good spread then we immediately recommend you look at Act-On, Hubspot, Oracle Eloqua, IBM Silverpop, SimplyCast and Salesforce Pardot).

If you find your partner is being intransigent on you using/purchasing their preferred marketing automation platform and if you find yourself being pressured and over-sold into going with that choice then it’s a simple option… just go find another partner who won’t straightjacket you!

(2) What’s the partners position on knowledge transfer?

It’s worth stressing that outsourcing your marketing automation and/or content marketing to a professional agency can allow you to mitigate many of the costs usually involved in its implementation – especially in terms of expensive training plus the overall speed to adoption.

Superfluity Knowledge TransferOne day though you may wish to pull things back in-house - either entirely or at least in phases. It’s vital that you clarify, very precisely, what your partners position is on knowledge transfer. Many agencies intentionally keep their clients at arm’s length and as far away as possible from the marketing automation platform the client is paying for. Why? Because not only can they maintain a level of mystique about what they do for you but because they are locking you in by making themselves completely indispensible. There’s nothing particularly sinister about that (and it’s a completely understandable yet short-sighted tactic from a commercial perspective) but marketing automation is a long-term and sustainable approach to sales and marketing so it is essential you take an over the horizon view on it. Ultimately you will need to be completely comfortable using your own platform, even if it’s just to benchmark the value you are (or aren’t) receiving from the provider.  Don’t ever let a provider raise barriers to you receiving long term value.

At Superfluity we look at it this way - if we keep doing a tremendous job for clients and if we keep delivering them incredible value then there is no reason why a client would ever wish to walk away. So why would we ever want to prevent our clients from really getting underneath their marketing automation platform? We take the time to expose them to every element of it and we train them - for free – not just on the platform but on our overall Mission Control approach to marketing automation, inbound marketing and content marketing. As a boutique agency we have found that providing a structured knowledge transfer programme to our clients means they end up becoming even more committed to our commercial relationship than they otherwise would have been. Why? Because they visibly appreciate the remarkable value of what we do an awful lot more and they are able to fully quantify our output across every area. To not do so is, in our humble opinion, incredibly avaricious and myopic. Over time we aim to help our clients become more strategic via knowledge transfer while we become more tactical. This leads to more collaborative relationships where we are not just a provider but a partner.

Never forget that whatever your agency creates and deploys for you and whatever the level of knowledge transfer; all of the output and IP is yours – the content assets, the data, the personas, the analytics etc. It’s your brand. Be sure to understand how easy it is for you to take control of that output if ever (and whenever) you wanted to. What's their roadmap should you ever wish to extricate yourself from the relationship.

(3) Who is actually creating/writing/designing/deploying your content?

Marketing automation is a voracious consumer of content and creating engaging content that works is far from an easy task (plus it can certainly be time-consuming – not least to create but also to correctly deploy). Having an experienced provider on hand who can completely take care of it for you (or at least supplement your own efforts) can really liberate you in this area and allow you to focus on the more important things. Retaining a quality agency is a smart and usually highly cost-effective move. Problem is that there’s a huge spread out there in terms of quality between the different agencies...

Do agencies with slides & ballponds create better content?
Do agencies with slides & ballponds create better content?
First there are the more classic creative agencies who are generally able to craft incredibly beautiful and innovative looking content. The key issue is this content can frequently be style over substance with the actual meat of the content being fluffy (maybe because it is often written by purely ‘artistic’ types with little or no real world commercial experience). If you need your content to ultimately drive sales – and you probably do – do you want vanity content or do you want something that actually drives revenue? The two are not (and should not be) mutually exclusive but, sadly, for some agencies they just are. And remember too that just because your ‘quirky’ agency has beanbags, ballponds and grass carpeting in their office; this will have absolutely no impact on the ROI of your outsourced marketing automation and content marketing campaigns!
  
Do you want kids writing your content?
Do you want inexperienced kids writing content for you?
Next there are what we not-so-politely label the mutton-dressed-as-lamb, sales lead generation/telemarketing agencies who are all about just accumulating clients and who have only recently jumped ship into low-level content marketing and marketing automation as a vehicle to dress-up and differentiate their pay-as-you-go leads. Vital as leads are; there’s a whole lot more to marketing automation and content marketing than leads alone and it should form part of an overall business strategy designed to supercharge your investments in everything sales and marketing orientated. These lead generation agencies tend to really only use marketing automation in a very linear and closeted way so as to pay lip-service to their clients and mask what is still just basic email and interruption marketing. In our experience, their content is usually designed by interns or kids fresh out of university so there tends to be a glaring lack of commercial acumen and/or creative sensibilities in their output. Content created by these providers can often be prescriptive, derivative and dull - at least after the first piece of ‘showcase’ content has been created. Worse - it may have been re-spun or plagiarized from other content they’ve either done themselves for another client or worse - just ripped from the web. Lead generation agencies have a nasty habit of reverting to type i.e. abandoning content marketing and marketing automation sensibilities to just go for the short-term, route one approach.

Superfluity Quality
Finally there are the small handful of dedicated content marketing and automation agencies that are actually any good! We’re not afraid of saying that there are surprisingly few with good all-round capability (but ask us who and we'll tell you!). Offering proven and harmonised services across every channel and digital discipline is (and should be) important. You should look very carefully at your provider across a number of benchmarks. Look at their existing content in terms of its complexion, aesthetics, innovation, interactivity and commercial appeal. Look at what marketing automation platform they use (and how they use it). How harmonised are they across every channel and technique? What is their own social media prowess. You should also carefully examine the individual commercial experience of the team who will be directly working for you - easily done these days via LinkedIn. Does the collar match the cuffs in all the areas that matter to you? Will their team be able to write and design compelling content for you - no matter how complex or technical your product or service is?

(4) Does the agency re-spin content (and even data) between competitive clients?

Too shocking a question to even ask? Think it’s a rare scenario? 

It’s not as rare as you’d hope….

We know of more than one agency who not only churn out the same pieces of clich├ęd content in more-or-less the same format for half a dozen competitive clients but who are also happy to take the top responding data from one clients managed marketing automation instance to use with new clients they’re onboarding to give themselves a successful headstart - at the expense of their existing customer. They even serve the same hot leads from one client to several others so they can maximise their yield from pay-per-lead pricing elements. 

Is your partners team overworked
Is your partners team overworked & are they cross
contaminating with others in your industry?
This is, thankfully, an extreme case and it’s certainly unethical but it’s the kind of worst-case scenario that you will definitely wish to avoid. Interrogate your potential provider carefully on which clients they’re working with and how they ringfence not just your competitors but all of their accounts. If they claim dozens of automation clients then, unless they have a seriously large global team, how many staff do they actually have and how many of them actually create content? If they only have a few marketing automation and content marketing centric staff versus a large claimed client base then it’s of course inevitable that the person(s) managing your account will not only be overworked (and far from dedicated to your project) but they may well also be cross-contaminating with others in your industry either intentionally or not. It’s such a problem for some agencies that they often claim headcount that doesn’t even exist! 

As a business, we limit our team to working on no more than 3 non-competing clients each. When we onboard new clients we simply scale our resource and we never distribute ever-increasing workloads across the same headcount because that means every other client would get a poorer service. Does this approach cost us more? Yes. Do we believe that our own business growth should be a positive factor to clients, never a negative one? Yes.

(5) What’s their profile like on social media?

Social media is a crucial but at times under-utilised or overlooked area of marketing automation. We’re not just talking here about the ability to send Tweets or Facebook posts – anyone should be able to do that. We’re talking about using social media to truly engage with – and grow – your audience. Using it to dovetail and add value to everything else such as SEO. Using social media to proactively generate inbound leads. Using it to listen. Turning it into a high performing sales and CRM channel for your business.  

Social failWhile there are some incredibly talented agencies out there across social media (and we’re not afraid of giving you a list of the various ones we admire – just ask) there are many who position themselves as automation and content marketing experts who really couldn’t tell the difference between a tweet and a loaf of bread! We were looking at an agency yesterday who we rate very highly in terms of their client list and also in the general quality of their content. They have good marketing automation experience and are entrenched with an automation platform which happens to be one of the best out there for social media. We were thus very surprised to learn that, for an agency who are self-proclaimed experts in content driven social media marketing, they only had a handful of Twitter followers and had posted the same one line tweet over 140 times this year alone (accounting for over 90% of their Twitter activity)! If we were a client then no matter how good their content was and no matter how great their MA platform; their lack of social media credibility would not give us any confidence in their ability to deploy anything socially let alone in their ability to fashion unique content. 

Social media should be a key channel alongside email, watering hole marketing and syndication so it has to be treated seriously by any prospective partner. Anyone providing any kind of managed marketing automation or content marketing service is B2B by design so check them out on Twitter and LinkedIn to see what their own profile is like. Are their tweets engaging, timely and contextual or are they just auto-tweeting statistics and generic flannel? Are they thought leaders with thousands and thousands of followers or are they just tweeting to the ether? If they’ve not got a credible presence - and if they are struggling to position themselves socially - then ask yourself how good a job do you think they will do for your brand?

(6) What do they create their content in?

What does your agency use to create your content?
What does your agency use
to create your content?
Sound like an obvious thing? We see (and enthuse) over seriously stunning examples of world class content every day from many of our peers. There are some exceptionally talented people out there. 

Just as frequently though we see shocking quality content that has clearly been quickly cobbled together with no attention to detail and then packaged into maybe a basic pdf using MS Word. 

Many clients new to content marketing just haven’t yet got the experience or enough of a critical eye to tell the difference between great content – content that can help their business - and basic marketing content that has been sugar coated as content marketing (and then often poorly deployed out of context). If your partner can’t be bothered (or isn’t able) to even create a pdf in something as simple as Adobe In-Design then you should really worry. If they have to resort to using off-the-shelf packages like Piktochart to build you an infographic then they clearly have little or no in-house design capabilities. If you see a document that doesn’t have the basics encapsulated in it – be it tweetable quotes or working hyperlinks – they have no attention to detail. 

Bad content can be as damaging to your brand as interruption marketing.

(7) What’s their pricing model? 

The cost of providing managed services for marketing automation and content marketing is largely driven by time plus the cost of the marketing automation license itself (in terms of the number of contacts you have under management). 

If you’re paying several thousand of pounds a month (or possibly more) to a provider then you’ll probably be a little aggrieved if you then discover they’re only really spending a day or two a month on your campaign. Are they merely creating and deploying one or two pieces of original content for you and perhaps sending the odd tweet? Do they seem like the type of partner who will charge you on a unit basis for everything e.g. per lead nurturing programme? Seriously? On top of the actual services they are providing you with (demand generation, lead nurturing, drip marketing, RPM, SMM etc.), are they charging you anywhere near the listed price for your marketing automation platform i.e the price for the number of ‘contacts under management’ that they are managing for you? If so you are likely being enormously mislead because they should be passing on the massive savings that they are no doubt making for being an agency partner. Your partner should only be asking you for a contribution towards their real cost. Feel free to ask us for an opinion on any element of a quote you have received and we’ll tell you the real truth behind the numbers.

Pseudo Certification - It's A Con!
What hidden extras and premiums are there? Account management? Training costs? Get out of town! We’ve even heard of people being charged a premium just because their staff are pseudo “certified” on the automation platform they were press-ganged into purchasing. Staggering as it is to hear, there are one or two marketing automation platforms out there (like Marketo) who physically charge their customers/users to become “accredited” users of the platform. In this case, this type of accreditation is to be frank a complete misnomer and is a redundant, non-independent, made-up, non-certification that has no real value or credibility. It’s certainly not a badge of honour - it’s like a taxi driver in a Ford Focus charging you an extra fee just because they have a piece of paper from Ford saying that they are a Ford Focus driver!  Duh!

What are their upfront contract terms? If it’s anything more restrictive than an initial proof of concept over two or three months then think very, very carefully. Do they demand you pay everything upfront? Why? Think carefully about how you are being locked in and how you can extricate yourself should you ever need to.

(8) What are their content distribution channels?

Don't get sold snake oilWe’ve touched on some points relevant to this earlier so we’ll keep this one short. In addition to content driven email marketing then if you partner isn’t also absolutely all over every area of social media marketing, watering hole marketing, curation/syndication then ask why not. If they’re not also dovetailing and harmonising those channels with all the other important things like SEO, SEM and RPM then ask even more questions. If you’re buying into just emailing people and then either them or you following them up by phone then trust us – you’re actually not really doing content marketing and marketing automation. If that's what you want then that's fine - just don't be sold something as one thing that's actually another. 

(9) Do they provide a boutique or a commoditized service?

OMG! Does this customer actually expect me to assist her?
From a service perspective, how accessible is your partner? We know a couple who try and kettle their customers into only calling them after 5pm just to make their own lives easier!

How proactive are they with you (because they should constantly be giving you ideas and taking the initiative)? How flexible are they? Will they whip out your service level agreement every time you need something? How long does it take to just get things done? Since being pitched by one of their directors, have you been relegated to a junior thereafter? How easy are they to deal with on a day-to-day basis? Are they hassle-free?

From a product and solution perspective, how bespoke and specialised is it? Does it feel like an off-the-shelf, menu style, formulaic solution or do you genuinely get the impression they are working with you intimately and collaboratively to achieve common goals? Do they constantly push the envelope to craft innovative, outside the box content and campaigns across multiple mediums and channels or are they very prescriptive and rigid?

(10) Do their testimonials and case studies stack-up?

Lies, damn lies and statistics
We guess the same goes for most products and services you may ever buy but you'd be amazed by some of the false claims we regularly hear from providers.

While we won't say anything potentially litigious; we would urge you to carefully check case studies and client testimonials against what the end client says to you in person. Outsourced marketing automation is pretty new so did they really provide the service they claimed to years ago or have they just reinvented the narrative to suit the here and now? Was the customer really happy or have quotes been taken out of context (or even blatantly fabicated)?

And on that bombshell...


As we said, we're not afraid to say it how it is. We may do so in a tongue in cheek way but it's a serious subject. Are we perfect ourselves? Probably not but all of these issues were front of mind when we built Superfluity so we intentionally looked to eliminate them all at source. That's one of the reasons we developed our Mission Control approach, it's why we provide a genuine boutique service and it's shaped everything from our technology to our HR policy. Others have done the same - but not all. Forewarned is as they say forearmed so, hopefully, you'll take some of these tough questions and put them to your partner. Feel free to email us or comment on this blog and do let us know how you get on - we're happy to hear the horror stories but even better; we love to hear about what other providers are doing right (because maybe we can learn something ourselves).