Pull marketing is the science of demand generation—of attracting interest in products and services that leads to sales. It means getting customers to seek out your product or service through an active, exploratory process. Pull marketing allows us to harness the power of influence, attraction and engineered serendipity. It enables us to achieve sales goals in less time, for fewer dollars, and with greater impact than ever before possible.

Push marketing, on the other hand, refers to many traditional and mass marketing approaches. It refers to activities that take your product or service directly to customers, such as product displays and direct sales. It refers to traditional advertising and direct mailing approaches. While both push and pull marketing and sales approaches are valid and important in driving revenue, pull marketing has emerged as an increasingly powerful approach due to changes in consumer behavior and the rise of digital and social media engagement.

The Future of Marketing is Already Here

To paraphrase William Gibson, the future of marketing is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed. Compelling examples of the power of pull marketing are increasingly common. The success stories grow daily:

  • Promoting savvy, engaging content that connects with certain customer segments in just the right way, fueling their interest in a brand and it’s products and services.
  • Strengthening customer relationships by providing content that builds trust and establishes thought leadership—as well as demonstrating a keen interest in the customer’s interests. (What’s the most common attribute of interesting brands? They’re interested in you.)
  • Understanding the buying cycle of each customer segment through customer intelligence, lead management, lead scoring and lead nurturing.

Push marketing activities often begin with forecasting and planning. The challenge with this approach is that it’s increasingly difficult to forecast and plan how and when to reach customers at the right time and place—when interaction is timely, relevant and convenient. And, it turns out that this matters a great deal to customers. It’s not unusual to see response rates that are ten times higher for these type of timely and relevant offers compared to offers that are sent through direct marketing. Customers will no longer respond to interruptions. According to Mike Volpe, Chief Marketing Officer of HubSpot, 86 percent of consumers skip television ads, 91 percent unsubscribe, and 200 million say “do not call.” Their collective message to marketers is clear.

The Power of Pull

Pull marketing places the customer solidly at the center of all marketing activity. Rather than the traditional marketing funnel concept, pull marketing accepts that customer engagement is more like a non-linear lifecycle. And, it accepts that the customer is in control rather than the companies marketing to them.

Success in pull marketing requires fresh thinking and new approaches in four critical areas.

1. Content

Content is king” – Bill Gates

Online success comes from thinking like a journalist and a thought leader.” – David Meerman Scott

Effective content reaches the right people at the right time with information that is useful. This type of content sometimes includes what may have been withheld in the past and protected as valuable intellectual property. Effective content gives some of that intellectual property away for free. Creating great content isn’t easy. It is difficult to provide information that is helpful via articles, white papers, podcasts, blogs, videos, etc. The good news is that this content can be reused and re-purposed for maximum benefit.

2. Technology

New marketing technologies support pull-based, inbound marketing activities. They help streamline the processes involved, decreasing the marginal cost of marketing. They help store content and make it’s effective reuse possible across multiple channels and interactions. They help marketers score leads and nurture leads. They make it possible to seamlessly blend lead generating marketing activities with direct sales engagement at just the right time. And, perhaps most importantly, they make it possible to measure the impact and revenue results of marketing investments.

3. Authenticity

Customers are increasingly savvy and particularly attuned to corporate marketing speak. They respond best to an approach that is more like a telephone than a megaphone. They desire authentic engagement that listens, respects, and treats them as unique individuals. Social media has created an environment where word of mouth is important—and much more effective than ever before. Marketing can promote a company and its products and services in the best possible light. But sooner or later the truth comes out—and faster than ever before. Successful pull marketing is based on brand promises that companies are able to keep. Authenticity in marketing is not optional.

4. Learning

Pull techniques work best in uncertain, rapidly changing environments which is why they’ve become so prominent in the digital and social era. Pull means learning faster and applying those insights to materially improve results. And, increasingly, small changes can lead to big results. This means that the cost of testing is lower because lower-cost tactics are being tested—not complex, expensive endeavors. Many of my clients tell me that they are unprepared to introduce new changes rapidly. However, this is usually because they are thinking in terms of projects and product releases, rather than small, incremental changes to content, search engine optimization, A/B testing, etc. With pull marketing approaches, the learning loop often resembles the diagram below.

While the benefits of pull marketing are substantial, the path forward won’t be easy. Change never is.

Our number one task must be making sense of the changes around us and moving forward in an unfamiliar landscape. Like all things in marketing, the best place to start is always with the customer. Who are your customers? What personas best represent each important customer segment? What interests your customers? What are they talking about online? Where are they interacting and engaging? What are they passionate about?

The power of pull marketing is clear. How will you respond to the new opportunities it enables?

In their book, Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined the phrase “the tyranny of OR.” They describe how choosing between seemingly contradictory concepts—focusing on this or that—often leads to missed opportunities. Breakthroughs, they argue, happen at points of integration: art and science; form and function; creativity and technology.

Today, a new type of professional has emerged: the “hybrid.” Hybrids combine concepts that have traditionally been considered separate, distinct and sometimes contradictory into their education, training, job roles and leadership. As a result, they are helping organizations benefit from digital disruption, creating new models for change, and bridging functional boundaries. The path they’re charting may well be a new model for professional development and leadership roles of the future.

There was a time when conventional career wisdom was to choose an area of focus and work hard to develop expertise, reputation and relationships within that domain. Young people in their 20s fretted if they hadn’t yet found this focus, worried that their career prospects might not shine as bright. Workers in large companies developed their careers within organizational silos, rising through the ranks of functions like finance, marketing, operations or IT. Pundits cited the “10,000-hour rule”—the idea that this amount of time was required to reach meaningful expertise and success in any field. As a result, many knew a great deal about their specialty but few knew about—or even expressed interest in—other areas.

However, events occurred that caused some people to re-evaluate this model. These included a faster pace of change, disruption resulting from rapid adoption of mobile, social and digital technologies, and increasing customer expectations. Companies that wanted to survive and thrive in this environment needed to focus on innovation and change. And, breakthroughs in innovation and change often benefit from the integration of seemingly contradictory concepts. Professionals with deep expertise in functional areas were still badly needed, but something was missing. Enter the hybrids.

Who Are Hybrids?

Hybrid professionals have emerged over time, often driven by curiosity and emerging needs. They developed expertise in one area early on but, for various reasons, diverted some of their energy, time and attention to learning another area as well. The knowledge they acquired, the relationships they developed, and the nature of their work all began to change as a result. In some cases, hybrid professionals honed their skills across disciplines because of a formal training program, such as corporate leadership programs that rotate participants through brief stints in various functions. However, in many instances, people grew into hybrids as a result of a shifting landscape that required and rewarded the integration of and collaboration between disciplines. Hybrids typically stand out in organizations. Consider the case of a former entrepreneur who is now leading internal innovation in a Fortune 500 company. Or the case of a marketing professional who now seems to know as much about technology as the IT guys and gals. Often referred to as generalists or multi-specialists, hybrids bring value to organizations that is only now beginning to be better recognized, understood, encouraged and rewarded.

Characteristics of Hybrids

The most obvious characteristic of hybrids is that they have expertise in more than one discipline. However, there are several other traits that many hybrids seem to share.

  • Collaboration – Hybrids enjoy collaborating with others and bring a team-oriented approach to their interactions. They tend to have a mindset of WE instead of ME. They assume positive intent when dealing with other teams or departments.
  • Curiosity – Hybrids are often very intellectually curious and have broad interests in other disciplines. They enjoy learning new things and growing through new experiences. They share an intense interest in other people and value backgrounds and experiences that are different from their own.
  • Intrinsic Motivation – Many hybrids are motivated by purpose more so than money. They gain satisfaction in their work through a degree of autonomy, a freedom that allows them to learn about and participate in other disciplines. They are more concerned with the results of their work than with who received credit or traditional notions of who does what.
  • Rebelliousness – A little rebellion against the status quo every now and then is not such a bad thing. Hybrids aren’t afraid to cross organizational and functional boundaries. They have less respect for “the way its always been done” and tradition, and they have the capability to deconstruct behavioral norms and ossified patterns.

Hybrid Examples

Examples of hybrids are increasingly easy to find. Hybrids are emerging in multiple industries and geographic regions. While a comprehensive list of examples would be very long, there are several examples that have become more common in recent years.

Marketing + Technology

As I’ve written in previous blog posts (e.g., Why Marketing Technology Is Set To Explode), marketing is going through the most significant, technology-fueled transformation in its history. Direct, digital relationships with customers are now more critical to company success than ever before, and marketing technology is driving much of this. All of a sudden, CMOs are spending almost as much on technology as their CIO counterparts. In fact, Gartner predicts that CMOs will have larger IT budgets than CIOs by 2017.

Not only is technology much more important to marketing than before but it is also more complex than ever before. In recent years there has been an explosion in marketing technology options from both startups and established players. Vendors have released major advances in lead generation, lead scoring, web analytics, marketing automation, CRM, etc. And, the ever increasing number of digital interactions between companies and their customers has resulted in massive volumes of data. For example, Google says that 90 percent of the world’s data was generated in just the past two years.

This environment has given rise to the marketing technologist. Marketing technologists are hybrids who bring deep expertise in both marketing and relevant marketing and digital technologies. CMOs are rapidly hiring “Chief Marketing Technologists” and “Marketing Operations Leader” roles. Thought leaders in marketing, such as Jay Baer, Scott Brinker, Laura McLellon, Paul Roetzer, and Mayur Gupta, have chronicled the rise of the marketing technologist, the talent gaps that exist, and the need for more hybrid professionals in marketing. The July issue of Harvard Business Review is devoted to the new basics of marketing and includes an excellent article, “The Rise of the Chief Marketing Technologist,” by Scott Brinker and Laura McLellon. They describe the evolution of this role and make the case that the future of marketing belongs to the generalists, the hybrids.

Big Company + Startup

In big companies projects have to scale and Lean Startup help us to do it” – Beth Comstock, CMO of GE

Another example of hybrids is in the combination of entrepreneurial, startup expertise with big company innovation expertise. As large companies pursue innovation and respond to digital disruption, many of them are looking to startup models and former entrepreneurs for help.

Startups create something new and of value under conditions of extreme uncertainty. Now, many people are adapting startup practices, such as Lean Startup, within large companies in order to accelerate innovation. The Lean Startup approach helps companies use both money and human creativity more efficiently and effectively. Rapid iterations and feedback loops allow teams to test their earlier hypotheses of customer value. Customers provide feedback and teams observe and gather data around customer behavior, usage, and experience. The knowledge gained through this process allows teams to adjust and pivot in order to maximize value.

There’s a big reason that large companies need to innovate and act more like startups—those that don’t aren’t likely to be around for long. According to the consulting firm Innosight, the average lifespan for a company in the S&P 500 dropped from 61 years in 1958 to 25 years in 1980 to 18 years today. What’s even more astonishing is that, at the current churn rate, 75 percent of the S&P 500 will be replaced in 25 years. This background provides the context for understanding why executives in big companies feel tremendous pressure to innovate.

More and more brands are creating innovation labs, often staffed with former entrepreneurs, and traditional companies are starting to embrace entrepreneurship as a core competency. Innovation lab models vary—some are located within corporate headquarters while others often located in outposts such as Silicon Valley or other hubs of digital and tech talent. Beyond driving innovation, these labs also serve as a recruiting tool by helping to shape the image of large companies and attract digital talent.

Hybrids in this space typically have some entrepreneurial background or startup experience. In some cases their startup was acquired by the larger company. In other cases, they have built and sold a successful startup and pursuing innovation in a large company is their next career challenge. To be successful these hybrids need to blend their entrepreneurial experience with the realities of working within a large company. Selling their ideas, building relationships and support, and navigating a complex corporate environment are all skills they master in order to be effective.

Form + Function

Have you noticed how easy and enjoyable many smartphone apps are to use? How intuitive, sticky and user-friendly cloud-based applications such as Evernote and Salesforce have become?

With the rise of cloud-based, on-demand software, more and more software offerings are designed to cater explicitly to the needs of users. They typically require little or no training, are intuitive and easy to use, offer simple designs and feature-sets, and provide much more enjoyment. In the past, vendors could get away with ugly, cumbersome, difficult-to-use software. Today, they simply can’t. In fact, Net Promoter Scores for software vendors are more correlated to customer experience than product performance.

At Evernote, a maker of a free application that helps you remember everything across all of the devices you use, the company has made a radical shift in it’s approach to building software. As Phil Libin, Evernote’s CEO, describes it, they went through a very intentional effort to make experience and design the focal point of their process. In the past, Evernote followed a traditional software development approach that can be described as “feature first.” Several years ago, Evernote changed their approach from “feature first” to “experience first.” They now start with the design and allow everything to follow from there. They recognized that they had talented designers on staff, but they needed to include designers earlier in the process and invite them to all the key meetings.

Design is not just what it looks like, design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

These designers are hybrids who have blended expertise in both form and function. A concept popular within modernist architecture and industrial design circles, marrying form and function requires designers who can optimize the attractiveness (the “form”) of their designs with usability and usefulness (the “function”). Many of these hybrids started out as web or software designers with a focus more akin to graphic designers, designers primarily concerned with the presentation of text, images, colors, and other creative elements. However, as more websites became interactive and more attention was placed on software usability, these designers shifted into hybrid roles. They began to develop expertise in user experience and human-computer interaction. They developed skills in ethnographic research and other approaches to developing deeper user understanding and even empathy with their users. By combining these disciplines, hybrid designers create beautiful interfaces and websites that are also intuitive, easy to use, simple, and enjoyable.

Humanist + Technologist

One of the most interesting examples of hybrids in recent years is the combination of humanist and technologist. There is growing awareness of the need for this hybrid focus and role, increasingly so in a digital era that includes the Internet of Things (IoT) and continued automation of processes and traditional roles. One of the ironies of the digital age is that even as the importance of technology increases, the first priority of organizations should be to humanize their interactions with their customers. In the words of uber-research analyst Ray Wang, “The constructs of B2B and B2C have changed to People to People (P2P). Contextual relationships, trust, transparency, and value exchange are the key pillars.”

While many people would still consider the phrase “humanist technologist” to be an oxymoron, there are a growing number of these hybrids who focus on both humanism and technology. They bring several priorities to their work:

  • Ensure that technology is people-centered and driven by deep understanding of users and their goals;
  • Bring focus to the role of trust in customer relationships and ensure trust is maintained through company behavior, customer privacy, and relationships; and
  • Keep the human face of a brand in focus and alive in interactions and experiences.

In many cases, these hybrids have backgrounds and expertise in technology but developed interests in disciplines like Design Thinking and Customer Experience (CX). Some have educational backgrounds in engineering, science, math and technology as well as in art, literature, or social work. They enjoy helping to use technology in ways that enhance enjoyment, interactions and relationships between people. They care about the nature of being human as well as the nature of technology and actively work to reconcile the two. In other words they focus on technology in service to people—they maintain that while technology is responsible for connecting people, it’s always people that matter.

Your 90 Day Plan

Given the current environment and pace of change, the ranks of hybrid professionals are likely to continue to grow. The value they bring to organizations is now better understood, encouraged and rewarded. However, there are still many barriers that make hybrid roles more difficult to pursue and introduce in organizations. As companies consider evolving the way they think about traditional roles and hybrid roles, here are a few recommendations to keep in mind.

  • Change Recruiting Practices. Hybrids are difficult to recruit. Not only are they hard to find, traditional recruitment practices often overlook them. Because they don’t fit neatly with traditional job descriptions and have more varied backgrounds, recruiters tend to pass them by. To hire hybrids, most companies will need to significantly revamp their recruiting and hiring processes.
  • Create New Role Definitions. Companies will need to work with their senior leaders to proactively understand hybrid needs and define new roles. New roles, such as “Chief Marketing Technologist,” are critical to many organizations, but it takes time to define and recruit for these types of roles.
  • Encourage Collaboration. Hybrids thrive in environments where collaboration and communication are the norm and are rewarded. Because they work at the intersection of disciplines, they need to have strong relationship-building and teamwork skills. Recruit professionals with these traits and reward this type of behavior.
  • Pursue Purpose. Purpose is a much stronger, more sustainable motivator than money, especially for hybrids. Pursue a purpose that your organization can rally around and engage hybrids who share excitement for your mission.
  • Build Leadership Support. Communicate the value of hybrid role to senior executives and encourage their support. Executive understanding and leadership in supporting hybrids is critical.

Omnichannel marketing is an natural evolution of marketing practices that have advanced beyond multichannel marketing. With multichannel marketing, companies invested to ensure that they were engaging with customers and prospects on all key channels. They took steps to ensure that their activity was customized and optimized for each channel. Multichannel marketing itself is a significant undertaking and many organizations are still focused on getting this in place.

However, many companies that were leaders in multichannel marketing have now advanced their capabilities into what has been termed omnichannel marketing. So, what’s the difference between multichannel and omnichannel? While the emphasis with multichannel is engaging customers and prospects on all key channels, omnichannel makes the leap to coordinated activity and interactions across channels. Each channel is aware of interactions that have occurred on other channels.

The omnichannel experience is quickly becoming what customers want and expect. Customers now insist that their interactions on one platform are reflected in their next interactions, even if on another platform. In other words, they expect a seamless experience.

Customers often engage with a brand dozens of times between inspiration and purchase. According to a survey conducted by Endeca Technologies, 50 percent of customers interact with an average of two touchpoints to research or purchase products, and 36 percent engage with an average of three. Technology is driving much of this. Customers are rapidly adopting new devices and new digital touchpoints, such as Pinterest. Technology has turned our customers into moving targets.

Another trend behind the push for omnichannel is “showrooming.” Showrooming is a trend where customers shop and research products in brick and mortar stores but then purchase online at lower prices. Participation in showrooming is increasing, and many traditional retailers have taken notice. A recent Harris Poll revealed that 43 percent of U.S. adults have participated in showrooming. Most who engage in showrooming use their smartphones to comparre prices, and Amazon.com is the most popular destination for their eventual purchase.

Companies are responding to customer expectations for an omnichannel experience and the rise of showrooming in different ways. Here are three examples:

Cartwheel by Target

  • Target is partnering with Facebook
  • Offering deals that customers can only redeem in stores on their mobile devices
  • Strategy is to get smartphone-carrying customers to visit and purchase in bricks and mortar Target stores
  • Response to showrooming


  • New stores equipped with mobile point of sale devices
  • Top salespeople given iPhones to contact customers
  • Significant investments in IT to ensure online experience matches in-store experience
  • Company has integrated inventory and fulfillment for stores, the Internet, and mobile devices


  • Disciplined, consistent approach to Starbucks brand across all channels
  • Leveraged robust IT platforms to launch new loyalty program
  • Loyalty program users can join the program and also make purchases using their phones
  • Now coffee can be purchased directly with a smartphone

The Omnichannel Experience

The experience that customers have across channels matters a great deal. Recent research, such as the chart below, has highlighted the critical connection between experience and company financial performance. Companies have higher levels of engagement and loyalty when their customers engage with multiple touchpoints. In fact, Forrester Research indicates that omnichannel customers are worth five or six times more than those who interact on a single channel.

Making It Happen

Enabling Omnichannel marketing requires investment, discipline, and coordination. Common barriers include:

  • Organization: Many companies place emphasis on single channels. Managers of each channel pursue success metrics based on optimization of that channel alone.
  • Data: Customer data and customer interaction data is typically spread across many different data “silos” in the organization.
  • Technology: Legacy technologies prevent scale or integration required for omnichannel.
  • Analytics: Many companies lack the ability to conduct cross platform digital ROI and understand a comprehensive view of the buying cycle.

In order to move forward with an omnichannel approach, companies must address these barriers and focus on a truly cross-functional approach. Success requires coordination and collaboration across marketing, IT and customer service.

Will your company make the leap to omnichannel marketing? Companies with omnichannel strategies are still on the leading edge of common practice. However, the rewards are considerable. They include improving overall experience, attracting the most valuable customers, and combatting showrooming. Given these benefits as well as the complexity of implementation, now is the time to begin crafting an omnichannel approach and roadmap. Customer expectations won’t wait.

The way consumers are researching and buying products has shifted significantly in recently years. Consumers have taken control of their purchase process. With websites, blogs, Facebook updates, online reviews and more, they use almost twice as many sources of information to make decisions as they did in the past. They know what they want to purchase, when they want to purchase it, and they resent any attempt to force-feed them messages. Because of this dramatic shift, the traditional marketing funnel paradigm is being replaced.

The Customer Lifecycle

The new paradigm for marketing is the customer lifecycle that places customer needs, not business needs, at the forefront. The customer lifecycle considers the overall experience that a customer has with a brand and how that contributes to loyalty (or not). It also better reflects the ability of each individual to influence the purchase decisions of others to an unparalleled extent. The lifecycle illustrates the fact that the consumer journey is not a linear path. Today, consumers flow easily across stages in an iterative cycle.


In this stage, consumers discover an unmet need. They begin to think about a relatively narrow set of products and services that might meet this need. Most consumers start their decision process with brands they are already familiar with.


In the next stage, consumers begin to actively explore and evaluate their options. The consumer is intent on purchasing. They begin to explore on the Internet, research options, read reviews, and pay closer attention to advertisements and promotions. In this stage, it is critical for brands to ensure that review and comparison information is widely available.


The third stage of the process involves the consumer’s decision and actual purchase. Consumers tend to make their purchases in the most convenient channel.


In the Engage stage, consumers engage with the product or service they’ve purchased. The experience that consumers have during this stage determines loyalty and whether positive or negative feedback is shared via reviews and social media. They may also engage with customer service or a user community to receive support. Consumer activity during this stage can also help companies identify other potential needs.


During the Advocate stage, consumers share their experiences of the product or service with others. They may do this through reviews, social media or direct word of mouth. Companies can encourage this by providing invectives to consumers to provide reviews.


What do Pandora, Netflix and Amazon all have in common? All three are world-class “segmenters.”

– Brian Halligan, CEO and Co-Founder of HubSpot

Another significant change in marketing is a growing understanding of how consumer behavior is increasingly varied, even within the same demographic segments. This has given rise to the concept of microsegments. Microsegments represent a more precise slice of a market and are typically identified through advanced technology and analytics techniques. Microsegments contain fewer consumers which allows for highly personalized predictive analysis and marketing optimization.

For years, marketers used demographic segments–not because this was the optimal approach but simply because demographic data was the only data readily available. Today, digital touchpoints provide much more information about consumer behavior, and this data can be combined with demographic data to create microsegments. For an example of the limitations associated with traditional demographic segmentation, see the illustration below comparing two individuals with similar demographic profiles.

Customer Analytics

Once marketers have defined microsegments, they can use quantitative and qualitative analysis to understand how each microsegment behaves at each stage of the customer lifecycle. Marketing investments can be allocated where they will have the greatest impact.

For example, consider the hypothetical case of a company that has made significant investments in its website and website content updates. By using data to better understand its most valuable microsegments, the company finds that only a small percentage actually visit the website during the customer lifecycle. Instead, the company finds that these consumers tend to visit online review and comparison sites during the Explore stage. The company is then able to shift resources from the website to content provided to comparison sites. Better product images, information and reviews have a significant impact on the purchase decisions of these microsegments, and the company experiences a near-term revenue increase.

One of the most powerful ways that data and analytics can be used in modern marketing is in helping marketers define microsegments and then analyze the behavior of these microsegments during each stage of the customer lifecycle. The insights gained from this analysis provide a strategic overview and roadmap for marketing that guides activities and investments and helps deliver significant financial results.

I recently re-read an excellent post by Jeanne Bliss, The Power of Suspending Cynicism in Business, and it served as a reminder of the importance of energy and energizers in both business and innovation. Jeanne shares examples of the benefits that result when businesses decide to trust and believe in their customers and employees. Research confirms that there are specific behaviors that energize others and fuel creativity, innovation and results.

Energy and Networks

Several years ago Rob Cross, a professor at the University of Virginia, conducted ground-breaking research into social networks. He was curious to understand why some groups thrived and produced great results while others struggled. By mapping the social interactions among individuals within organizations, Rob was able to visualize and analyze these networks. The research revealed what many wise business leaders had long suspected—that energy plays a key role in who is effective at work and why.

Our Behaviors Energize or De-energize

Rob and his team found that energy and the ability to energize others isn’t rooted in personality. One doesn’t necessarily need to be outgoing or charismatic to energize others. Rob found that quiet, soft-spoken individuals could also be energizers. The key to energy, they found, was rooted in behaviors.


Much of Rob’s research is described in his book, The Hidden Power of Social Networks, which he wrote with Andrew Parker of Stanford.

Developing an Innovation Environment

So, what should leaders do if they’d like to energize others and foster an environment conducive to innovation? Here are a few simple things to try.


“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.” – William James

Every organization has an abundance of good ideas. Yes, right now, within your own organization, synapses are firing, conversations are happening, creative brainstorms are occurring. Will these ideas ever see the light of day? Will people feel comfortable sharing them, confident that they can make a difference? Or, will they be withheld? Will their originators feel rejection and criticism? Will they fear the “corporate black hole” into which great ideas flow and never again emerge?

Having a great idea doesn’t amount to much if you’re unable to motivate others to take interest, believe in the idea, and take action. Energy plays a substantial role in generating those ideas and making it possible to implement them. Armed with this insight, how will you energize others and encourage innovation in your organization?

Photo copyright: bellemedia / 123RF Stock Photo

Gemba is a Japanese term meaning “the real place.” It means the place where things happen. So, in police work, gemba is the crime scene. In the case of manufacturing, it’s the factory floor. And, in the case of your customers, it’s where they interact with you and use your product or service.


Companies have lots of data about their customers. They have purchase data, research, segmentation, customer feedback, multiple listening posts, etc. Most business leaders I speak with believe they know a lot about their customers. However, in my experience, that’s rarely the case. Most companies have a cloudy picture at best of their customer’s wants and needs, their experiences, and their similarities and differences.

Going to gemba means getting out of your office and sometimes getting out of your comfort zone. It means talking directly with your customers. Observing them as they use your product or service. Asking questions. Watching and listening so that you create empathy with your customers.

Last year, I heard the designer Deborah Adler speak at a TEDx conference. Deborah described her work partnering with Target to create the ClearRx prescription packaging system. She spent lots of time watching and observing people as they interacted with their prescriptions. She noticed that some elderly couples were prescribed the same medicine but in different doses. As you might imagine, mixups were common. Deborah used her insights gleaned from going to gemba to design something much better. Deborah created a new prescription package that is much easier to read and color coded for each person in the family. The results were remarkable, and illustrate how small changes can have a big impact.

The best approach to modern marketing may look something like a sine wave. Going deep into gemba to observe the customer and coming back up into the data to explore the hypotheses generated by observation. The wave repeats with the continuing dance between empathy and logic. This is the best way to get the most out of the volumes of data and analytical horsepower now available.


If you aren’t thinking about all the interactions customers have with your company, all their touch points, and all of their experiences using your products and services, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity. By thinking of these interactions and experiences and by going to gemba, to observe and listen to customers, your company may also be able to identify some small changes that can have a big impact. Modern marketing doesn’t just require data and analysis. It requires empathy and understanding as well in order to create results that truly matter.

Agile marketing is a hot topic. But, what exactly is agile marketing? And, why is the concept suddenly en vogue? It turns out that there are some very compelling reasons to consider agile marketing.

What is Agile Marketing?

Agile is a discipline picked up from software developers and it’s being applied to marketing and product development teams. Agile teams follow core principles that shape the way they work. Those principles include:

  • a bias toward action;
  • responding to change;
  • emphasis on collaboration (people and their interactions); and,
  • iterative work cycles that deliver something of value.

Many agile software teams work with the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). A MVP defines the minimum set of features and functionality that allows the product to be deployed and the concept validated, and no more. MVP is a strategy that allows for the rapid and data-driven testing of a new product or product feature. Some marketing teams have adapted this concept and created what they call a Minimum Viable Brief (MVB). The MVB focuses on insights that can be gleaned from “real time” digital tools, focuses on multiple ideas and options, and provides room to evolve as customers provide feedback. The MVB allows marketing teams to iterate and test campaigns.

Agile marketing is also a multi-dispicinary approach. Individuals on agile marketing teams have diverse backgrounds that span marketing, creative and technology skills. Agile breaks down silos between functions that often lead to miscommunication and needless delays.

So now that we’ve described agile marketing, let’s turn to the most compelling reasons for marketers to pilot and adopt this approach.

Top 5 Reasons to Consider Agile Marketing

1. Speed is a competitive weapon

In order to move at the pace of the digital and social era, marketing teams must move at blazing speeds. Technology has created a quantum leap in how fast we receive customer feedback, campaign results, and questions from the CEO. Companies that complete rapid cycles of test, learn, and optimize gain competitive advantage. The definition of success is increasingly speed based, and agile marketing provides a way to operate at this pace.

2. Almost all modern marketing is technology-enabled

Agile marketing is largely a consequence of the trend of marketing and technology to intersect and move towards each other. Software is at the heart of all modern marketing—campaign management, content management, listening systems, web applications, text-based analytics, display advertising, etc. Agile marketing borrows ideas and practices from technology and allows marketers and technologists to collaborate—as part of the same team.

3. Digital marketing allows for measurement and empirical decision making

Digital has the ability to be an increasingly measurable and accountable medium. It allows focus on what really, really matters. Agile marketing allows teams to deliver customer experiences that matter, evaluate real time data about how customers respond, and adjust as necessary

4. Agile marketing emphasizes responding to change

Anyone involved in marketing in the past few years can attest to the changes impacting work, marketing opportunities, and customer expectations. Major changes occur weekly or daily rather than monthly or quarterly. Agile marketing techniques, with the emphasis on responding to change, help address these needs.

5. Agile places the customer at front and center

One of the most compelling reasons to move to agile marketing is that the customer is given top priority. Agile teams work on “stories” that are described from the customer’s point of view. This keeps teams focused on what matters most—making incremental improvements that advance customer goals and optimize the customer experience.

Summertime is here! As the pace of work slows a bit and you escape to the beach or the mountains, it can be a great time to catch up on reading.

So, what will you bring with you? Here’s a list of fantastic business reads for the digital and social era. Some are classics. Some are new. Some are edifying. Some are inspiring. All will help shift your perspective and bring new insights to you and your organization.

Enjoy your downtime. You deserve it. And, happy reading!


by Bob Lord & Ray Velez

Over the course of their careers, Bob Lord and Ray Velez have had a front row view of the convergence of marketing and technology. As CEO and CTO of Razorfish, a large, global digital marketing agency, they provide their unique perspective on how to succeed in the digital and social era.

Bob and Ray make the case for close collaboration between marketing and IT departments and provide a blueprint for culture and business process change. They explain the new landscape of customer expectations and dive into technologies such as interactive marketing, cloud computing, omnichannel commerce and ubiquitous computing.

Favorite Quotation:

“The villain throughout this book is the silo.” – tweet this


11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra

by Nilofer Merchant

By now, much has been written about the impact of social media on business. Most of this has focused on opportunities to leverage social media from a marketing or customer service viewpoint. Much less, however, has been written about how social media changes more fundamental aspects of business. How will social media change the way we approach strategy? Will it impact the structure of firms? How will it change how people work together as well as corporate culture? And, how will social media help unlock more of the talent that exists within each individual?

In her book 11 Rules for Creating Value in the #SocialEra, Nilofer Merchant addresses these topics, exploring emerging themes and raising new questions for us to consider.

Favorite Quotation:

“Anyone can, but not everyone will.” – tweet this


Outside In

by Harley Manning & Kerry Bodine

As two of the most prominent thought-leaders in customer experience, Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine couldn’t have chosen a better time to write their book, Outside In. Businesses across many different industries are recognizing that creating positive, compelling experiences for their customers is more important than ever. Leaders in customer experience have superior financial performance and sustainable success.

However, customer expectations are increasing every year, and the proliferation of digital, social, mobile and physical touch points makes creating consistently great experiences very challenging. Harley and Kerry offer practical advice and share success stories from leading firms.

Favorite Quotation:

“You need your customers more than they need you.” – tweet this


The Pursuit of Social Business Excellence

by Vala Afshar & Brad Martin

Vala Afshar and Brad Martin assert that the digital and social era provides businesses with the tools to extend their values, core beliefs and guiding principles to their employees, customers, and partners. This creates an unprecedented opportunity for social and cultural transformation.

Social collaboration—with mutual benefit for all involved—is the key to true connection and requires the ability to listen, learn, share, engage and add value in a way that’s scaled and amplified like never before.

Vala and Brad argue that the transformation to a social business requires technology, but technology should not be the focus. To truly benefit from the opportunities of the social era, businesses must focus on culture and people first and foremost.

Favorite Quotation:

“A social business simply cares more.” – tweet this



by Jay Baer

Jay Baer is one of the most widely-recognized thought leaders in marketing today, and he’s working to turn traditional marketing upside down. Instead of marketing that’s needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers. It is marketing that is useful, helpful, personalized and provided for free. It is the key to building long-term, trust-based relationships and customer loyalty. And, it is very effective in cutting through the clutter of the advertising and marketing that’s bombarding people every day. It is pull marketing, that which is desired by customers, rather than push marketing, that which only interrupts and annoys customers.

To win attention these days, marketers must start with a new question: “How can we help?”

Favorite Quotation:

“The difference between helping and selling is just two letters.” –tweet this


Return on Relationship

by Ted Rubin & Kathryn Rose

Ted Rubin and Kathryn Rose make a very interesting observation in their book, Return on Relationship. The social and digital era has brought focus and attention to developing relationships with customers and nurturing them over time. This, oddly enough, almost takes us back full circle to the “before mass advertising days” of traditional, face-to-face selling.

Ted and Kathryn encourage business people to drop efforts to tie social investments to traditional Return on Investment (ROI) metrics. Instead, they advocate thinking about the true value of social strategy in terms of Return on Relationship (ROR). ROR is a back-to-basics measurement approach to assessing how well you’re developing true engagement with customers.

* Oh, and one more thing, Ted wears cool socks, which you’re sure to discover if you follow him on Twitter.

Favorite Quotation:

“Relationships are the new currency.” – tweet this


The Epic Collision of Marketing & Data

by Dave Birckhead

I’d like to round out this reading list by humbly adding my own eBook. I wrote The Epic Collision of Marketing & Data to serve as a conversation starter to explore how marketing, technology and data are coming together in rapid and powerful ways. The purpose of the book is to: cut through the clutter and hype surrounding big data and marketing; provide clear, straightforward descriptions; and present ideas and concepts that can immediately be put into practice.

The book is also published on a new platform called Snippet that makes it an ideal beach read. Snippet is available via a browser, iPhone or iPad and has totally re-shaped the reading experience to allow better navigation and social interaction while reading.

I hope you enjoy the book!

Favorite Quotation:

“Marketing is going through the most significant, technology-fueled transformation in its history.” – tweet this

It’s no secret that marketing is going through a lot of changes these days. It seems like you can leave your desk to grab a cup of coffee and by the time you’re back another social platform has emerged, a must-have technology is promoted, or an acquisition is announced.

Marketing is going through the most significant, technology-fueled transformation in its history.

Consider these recent developments:

Rapid shifts in consumer behavior. In recent years, most people have changed:

  • how they watch television (on-demand; NetFlix)
  • how they communicate (social media; Facebook; Pinterest)
  • their adoption of smartphones and tablets (iPhone; Android; iPad)
  • how they shop in stores (“Showrooming” and buying it cheaper online)
  • what they expect in terms of service and experience (based on experiences with Apple, Amazon, Trader Joes, etc.)

CMOs have increased responsibility for technology and technology decisions

  • Gartner predicts that CMOs will have larger IT budgets than CIOs by 2017
  • CMOs are rapidly hiring “Chief Marketing Technologists” and “Marketing Operations Leader” roles
  • Companies are developing or hiring “pi-shaped” talent—folks with strong collaboration skills, interest in other disciplines, and deep marketing and technology expertise.

Rise in marketing complexity

  • Explosion in marketing technology options from both startups and established players.
  • Advances in lead generation, lead scoring, web analytics, marketing automation, CRM, etc.
  • Massive volumes of data. Google says 90% of the world’s data generated in just the past two years.

Increases in C-Suite expectations

  • CEOs and CFOs are demanding an investment-like discipline in marketing approach.
  • Upside is that many organizations are sitting on volumes of cash. CMOs who use data to tell a compelling story of how to increase revenue are generally rewarded with increased budgets.

Cloud model for marketing technology

  • Many marketing technology offerings are now available as software-as-a-service (SaaS) via the cloud.
  • On-demand model often means little internal IT integration and speeds adoption.
  • SaaS model is disrupting the traditional pricing model for enterprise technology vendors and driving down costs.

Market growth

  • Many companies are investing in upgrades and expansions to the enterprise marketing technology stack.
  • We’re only partially through this phase of growth, with much potential ROI left to realize.

As evidence of this transformation and the growing importance of marketing technology, one need look no further than the markets. Enterprise technology giants are quickly responding to the demand for more integrated marketing technology platforms by acquiring pieces of the puzzle. For example, in the past 18 months, Oracle, IBM, Salesforce and Adobe have acquired over $20 billion of marketing technology companies. The most recent of these was just announced this week. Salesforce is set to acquire Exact Target for $2.5 billion.

As CMOs respond to the transformation of marketing and drive more and more technology decisions, they must also develop deeper partnerships with their CIO counterparts. While many marketing technology services can be set up quickly via SaaS models, a good deal of integration is still required. To upgrade and expand their enterprise marketing technology stacks, CMOs must balance the need to move quickly with the need to improve effectiveness, which will required integration and coordination.

Direct, digital relationships with customers are now more critical to company success than ever before. Responding to this opportunity and challenge will require a new level of leadership to set the vision, listen and learn, execute with discipline, and collaborate across (and beyond) the enterprise.

Buckle your seat belts. This is the new normal, and we’re in for an incredible ride.

As we move through 2014, we expect the pace of change in marketing to only continue to accelerate. It seems like you can’t leave your desk these days to grab a cup of coffee without coming back to another change–a new marketing software entrant, an acquisition announcement, a major shift in consumer behavior, or an advance in marketing analytics. However, there are a few broader trends and patterns that have emerged. Here are 5 trends I believe will continue to have a significant impact on digital marketing in the new year.

#1 – Rise of Marketing Technologists

CMOs will increase hiring of marketing technologist and marketing operations roles.

The growing importance of software to almost every facet of marketing is giving rise to a new role in many companies: the Chief Marketing Technology Officer. A cross between the traditional Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Technology Officer roles, the CMTO provides strategic guidance to how to best take advantage of the growing number of marketing technologies. These include traditional technologies such as customer relationship management as well as analytics, marketing automation, mobile marketing and social media marketing. Marketing technologists and marketing operations pros bring technology and analytics skills as well as deep marketing skills.

#2 – Trust and the Social Era

Businesses will invest in ways to measure and increase levels of trust with their customers.

In the past decade, behavioral economists have changed the way we look at consumer buying behavior. The image of the consumer making unfettered “rational” choices has given way to a greater understanding of economic activity and the many “irrational” factors that influence purchase decisions. We’ve learned that economic life is pervaded by culture and also depends on moral bonds of social trust. Today, companies with strong brands are winning in the marketplace because they understand a simple yet profound truth: that the social capital represented by trust is just as important as physical capital. In the Social Era, cultivating trust is one of the most important activities that companies pursue.

#3 – Advanced Marketing Analytics

Progressive firms will invest in predictive analytics, prospect scoring and defining customer lifetime value. 

The world is quickly being divided into the “haves” and “have nots” of marketing analytics. Firms that have moved toward data-driven marketing will continue to develop and advance their analytics capabilities. In 2014, we’ll see more marketing organizations move beyond traditional web analytics and into true marketing analytics and marketing intelligence capabilities. This will include advances in the ability to predict responses, understand customers, and quantify the lifetime value of different customer segments.

#4 – Marketing Agility

Marketing organizations will shift a greater portion of their budgets into “test and learn” and agile marketing tactics.

Agile is a discipline picked up from software developers and it’s being applied to marketing teams. Agile teams follow core principles that shape the way they work. Those principles include:

  • a bias toward action;
  • responding to change;
  • emphasis on collaboration (people and their interactions) and,
  • iterative work cycles that deliver something of value.

Companies are finding that the best way to approach the integration of creativity and analytics is through agile marketing techniques. Many are investing 30 percent or more of their marketing budgets into these types of “test and learn” tactics. With agile marketing, teams of creative and analytics pros work together to create ideas and then use data to inform and test as they are introduced.

#5 – Smarter Content Marketing

Marketers will improve their content marketing programs by using data to target content to specific segments and evaluate content effectiveness. 

Content marketing will continue to be a focus for many marketers in 2014. However, many will turn their attention to improving the quality of content rather than creating more and more of it. Central to this effort will be the use of data and analytics to better target specific content and to evaluate how well each piece of content is performing. Marketers will improve their ability to provide the right content, at the right time, via the right channels to the right customer segments.