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BMA Blaze Chicago round-up

By Fran Brosan, Chairman

Still decompressing from the massive, intense and highly stimulating BMA BLAZE conference in Chicago at the end of last month. ‘The biggest gathering of B2B marketers on the planet’ according to the PR.

So much to take on board that it’s been a challenge to garner it into some sort of consumable chunk, but I think I’ve managed it. Be interested to hear from other BLAZERs on how this compares to their own outtakes.

Let’s start with marketing. It’s not dead, but it sure is changing. Learning #1 from the two and half day sessions was just how much is going on in our space. So much that many of us are losing sleep over it according to the hot-off-the-press CMO research presented by Laura Ramos of Forrester on the first day.

Whether marketing is moving closer to sales, or it’s the other way around is unclear. But what is clear is that there is both the need and the willingness to work more closely together. This seems to be driven by the fact that marketing itself is moving further up the food chain. The Chief Marketing Officer title is significant, according to the great Philip Kotler, denoting the change from a service function to leading and participating in strategy.

Additionally, marketing’s increasing ownership of hard data which can be used not simply to supply leads but to identify purchase propensity and loyalty makes them a far more critical business partner than ‘the people who blow up balloons for events’.

The conference spent some valuable time looking under the bonnet of the implications for data on the marketing sector. We were treated to sessions on persuasive technology (people have a higher trust of branded apps which they download onto their handsets because it’s on their ‘trusted’ device. This level of branding is allegedly more powerful than display advertising.) We heard about predictive analytics and a great deal about the importance of managing the intersection between marketing, data and analytics. So learning #2 is that CMOs are at the epicenter of this – needing to work increasingly closely with their IT counterparts to integrate enterprise systems with data capture and marketing analytics.

Behind all that data of course sits the customer. It’s their behavior that we increasingly need to anticipate and respond to. And we may not know they are even there. As a number of different BLAZE presenters pointed out – at least 60% of the buying decision is made before we even know the buyer is in the market. Importantly too, the pre purchase process is often about trying to find solutions to problems. As Eduardo Conrado, CMO of Motorola advises ‘Customers need education, not to be sold to’. In this new world marketing’s role is about ‘driving customer relationships via an IT enabled landscape.’ In his view, this need to carve revenue from the insights created from online interactions with clients will have a huge impact – not just increasing the pressures on marketers, but reshaping agencies too. Lauren Flaherty, CMO of Juniper Networks agreed.

“There’s a storm coming. Better, faster, cheaper. Data drives all of this. Better insights is what our jobs are all about.”

That’s learning #3 then…

One of the other implications for this increasingly long sales cycle and the importance of building the relationship in the run up to sales, when clients are in consultative mode, is the importance of content. As Professor Neil Wrackham of the University of Cincinnati enjoined us: “How can you get in earlier in the marketing cycle. A vehicle for engagement is really important’. The answer is not, clearly, just corporate blogs, particularly in light of the fact that 85% of corporate blogs have 5 or less posts according to Joe Pulizzi, Content Marketing Institute.

The answer is to approach content in the same way that publishers do, with all the ramifications that has in terms of resource and skills. And not to think of content as ‘campaigns’. ‘Content is king’ as a mantra has been replaced by ‘content is continuous’. #learning#4.

Although there were several sessions on both social media and mobile technology, the prevailing view was that we need to move on from worrying about them – because they are now simply a given. Andrew Markowitz of GE put it succinctly: ‘Mobile is the given, not the what if.’ He also argued strongly that it’s not just about technology but also about the interface and the user experience. More learning (#5 to be precise).

It was an incredibly valuable couple of days. We learnt that there is no best practice, just next practice.

Which also explains why marketers are finding it so uncomfortable at present. As Kathy Button Bell – the new National BMA Chair – summed it up at the end of the conference.

Kathy Button Bell – the new National BMA Chair – summed it up at the end of the conference

“Growth and comfort never co-exist…”

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