Posted by Michael Dowd

The term “clickbait” has negative connotation because it implies that the payoff – whether that is a product, information, or an experience – doesn’t match the sales pitch. But there’s nothing wrong with enticing someone with winning messaging, backed up by compelling content, and no medium is better equipped to deliver upon that promise than paid search.

My distaste for platform-side metrics like clickthrough rate and cost per click runs deep, and any company that holds these up as end-game success metrics is selling you snake oil. Clickthroughs can be manipulated with lousy messaging. CPC can be manipulated by relegating yourself to non-competitive niches. Neither option says anything about how good that medium is at driving your business goals. This is doubly true for B2B companies, where sales cycles can take years and engagements can last a lifetime. Your company mission is to show that you understand your customer’s business intimately, and a botched landing page experience can express an ignorance or irrelevance that persists in the mind of the customer. Fortunately, paid search provides all the foundation necessary to create a meaningful relationship with those customers.

Paid search marketing is the most personal medium available to B2B advertisers. Social media often gets this title because of its potential for informal, back-and-forth communication, but it is also clouded by trolls, complaints, and agendas. Paid search is pure. At its core, it’s an individual asking a question – implicitly or explicitly – and presenting brands with the opportunity to reply. How well you are equipped to answer that exact question in that exact moment separates a sale from a missed opportunity. To position your brand with a winning response, you need to properly interpret that user’s question and provide both a compelling hook and content that supports your claims of authority. The latter is where too many brands fall apart.

The language of paid search is the keyword. In isolation, it’s a single request, but aggregated over time and matched against site-side data, they reveal how customers think, search, and interact. This “machine learning” aspect of search is beautifully illustrated by Google’s Knowledge Graph – the snippets of concrete information that Google serves up in response to implied search intent. These can be anything from Wikipedia definitions to structured data containing the height of a celebrity. This is the bar against which all content-driven campaigns should measure themselves. While Google is the expert on many topics, you are the expert on your own customer. Are you equipped with the content, technology, data, and campaign structure to respond directly and convincingly to the questions that your customers are asking?

These keyword-driven conversations shape the way that we respond to customers – not just within search, but across all media – because search is the only medium in which we are able to capture the entire conversation from customer intent to company response to customer engagement. We learn from the successes and apply that messaging to other campaigns. And we learn from the missed opportunities, where intention is not met by value, and we build new experiences around it on-site and across campaigns. This isn’t easy, and it requires departmental coordination across IT, marketing, design, and finance, but in a B2B world where single engagements can lead to thousands or millions in lifetime value, you simply can’t afford to disappoint the customer at any point in their journey.

There are many delicately balanced components in this holistic customer conversation, but they all rely upon a solid foundation of campaign structure and tactical execution to ensure that the bait comes with a comparable reward. In our new white paper, Maark explains how to execute well-structured campaigns using best-in-class technologies to drive qualified traffic toward meaningful conversions.

Michael Dowd is the Executive Director of Digital Strategy at Maark, where he coordinates new product development and execution for our clients. Mike brings with him eleven years of experience in agency-side digital marketing, during which he provided guidance on marketing technologies, platforms, and strategies for more than a dozen Fortune 100 companies across the B2B, retail, and automotive industries.

Download our new white paper, The Search and Social Advertising Playbook for B2B Marketers, to learn how to stop participating in search and social, and start converting.

Download Playbook


Photo credit: Edho Pratama

Posted by Jason Ocker

You did it. You have a well-defined strategy. And you built a tightly developed and vetted story around it. You’re already ahead of most B2B marketers.

But now it’s time to start mercilessly changing that story. Like what George Lucas did to Star Wars.

Starting in the 1990s, in time for the 20th anniversary theatrical re-release of his trilogy, creator George Lucas took advantage of the latest digital technologies to make a galaxy of changes throughout the three movies: Greedo shoots first. Hayden Christensen is ghosted in at the end of Jedi. Entire characters are removed. New characters and lines of dialogue are added. Ewoks blink. The Sarlacc gets a beak and tentacles. Darth Vader’s eyebrows are removed in the unveiling scene at the end of the trilogy. Scores more.

And that’s exactly what I’m suggesting you do for your audience. Remove Darth Vader’s eyebrows.

If a story isn’t resonating with your audience, change it. If it’s not driving sales, change it. If it’s not positioning your company as thought leaders in the industry, change it. If it’s working perfectly, well, don’t change it. That’s being a little too much like Lucas. But B2B marketing stories shouldn’t be static, and they should never have a “The End.”

Wait. But weren’t/aren’t people angry at Lucas for these revisions?

Yes, yes they were/are. But the difference here is a crucial one.

Aside from the fact that this Star Wars analogy is closer to a business changing its product (since the Star Wars story in this case is the product and not technically a path to one), Lucas’s changes seemed mostly whim-born and internally motivated. They certainly weren’t based on any objectively interpreted data.

And that’s exactly what should dictate changes to a B2B marketing story. More specifically, immediate data culled directly from your audience. That’s how you find out if a story is resonating or driving sales or positioning your company or solution appropriately.

But getting that data has traditionally been a problem for businesses. Normal methods of gathering it are painful sales and customer surveys and subjectively interpreted anecdotes from the field. Dinosaur stuff. By the time that sort of data comes in and gets synthesized into actions, the old, un-optimized story has been out there too long, especially in today’s fast-moving digital world. B2B marketers need more immediate, relevant data from their audience to adapt their stories effectively and quickly.

And the channels for that specific type of data? Paid search and social.

Like CGI for George Lucas, paid search and social are the most cutting-edge tools for B2B marketers looking for better data. Paid search gives you an immediate and direct insight into the way that customers think about an industry, their own challenges, and your solutions, down to the very language that they use. Social media is where the conversation is happening, where thought leadership is established, where brands are elevated or lowered, where opinions and reactions are circulated non-stop.

These digital channels are highly immediate and extremely relevant. This is where your audience lives and acts.

Today, many B2B companies flirt with paid search and social. It’s a check-the-box activity, one almost begrudgingly added because search and social is obviously such a force of modern culture. Most B2B marketers are far more comfortable with antiquated methods of promotion like print and banner ads, despite all the evidence against their effectiveness and the lack of return of any useable data. Also, admittedly, using search and social well in a B2B context is difficult.

It’s more than just hiring a social media manager. More than just opening an AdWords account. To be able to use those channels, you have to design and build an internal infrastructure that is able to access the search and social data and respond to it accordingly, to set up that cycle of ever-refreshing outbound content and inbound data.

But in today’s digital world, regardless of the difficulty, it’s vital for the success of any B2B marketing initiative. For all the reasons above, but also because that data doesn’t just change your story, it has the potential to change your strategy and the product or solution itself.

And if you can do it well, you’ll be a better George Lucas.

And then Disney will buy you.

Jason Ocker is the Executive Director of Creative Strategy at Maark, where he oversees messaging and story across marketing strategy, digital campaigns, and product design for a range of industries, including finance, technology, government, health, life science, and telecommunications. He’s an award-winning author of five books, and has been featured at CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.

Download our new white paper, The Search and Social Advertising Playbook for B2B Marketers, to learn how to stop participating in search and social, and start converting.

Download Playbook


Photo credit: NASA

Posted by Michael Colombo

Maark was born into a digital world. Back in 2000, the project that formed the company was for a home builder who was struggling to turn the process of making McMansions into something as repeatable and efficient as making Happy Meals. We believed the Internet held the answer. If we could bring every function of the business along with every customer and laborer into a single online system, then we could keep the whole operation on the same page in real time. At the time, the concept was incredible.

In the years since, it’s become obvious. Connectivity is ubiquitous. Nearly every activity, whether personal or professional, that we engage in involves the Internet in some way. The Internet has transformed us, and we are just now learning how to harness that transformation. As with most breakthroughs, the answer lies in the data. The activity of individuals and machines connected to the Internet is storable, parseable…even predictable. If connectivity was the first breakthrough, this Asimovian calculus on the Internet’s data is at the heart of the next wave of breakthroughs.

We already see this wave taking shape. While hype around big data, the Internet of Things, machine learning, and artificial intelligence is at a fever pitch, the surprising reality is that we are already seeing real-world execution. Enhancements in autonomous vehicles, AI-driven cancer diagnoses, industrial robotics, and, of course, advertising are just a few areas where we are glimpsing the future of data-driven automation.

For Maark, that’s an exciting shift. At our core, we have always wanted to solve the business problems that would deliver the biggest impact for our clients. And in the digital world that Maark grew up in, we have always solved those problems with creative thinking and technology innovation. A better story, a simpler interface, a new digital product or service, a more relevant brand, a better experience. Creatives and technologists working together – literally side-by-side – to make a real impact. This was, and continues to be, the vision.

Marketing, to us, has never been about ad-making - it’s always been about innovating. And yet, as we look at this next wave of data-driven innovation, we see a new paradigm emerging. Our clients have the opportunity to rethink what it means to run a digital operation in a world that’s gone from mobile-first to data-first. Nowhere do we see this innovation opportunity more clearly than, ironically, in ad-making.

In a data-first world, every advertising tactic should be judged in terms of its capacity for real-time measurement and improvement. Will it help you better understand your customer? Your story? Your solution? Can you connect it to the rest of your data to create a complete profile of your customer or to build a better mousetrap? If not, don’t do it.

That’s not to say that in a data-first world the creative “first principles” of marketing no longer apply. They do. A relevant brand, a narrative built rigorously and used consistently across all channels, and engaging interactive content are more necessary than ever to rise above the din of competing messages. However, the strategies for driving engagement with those messages should now have at their core the channels that deliver the best data.

A great story and world class creative that ends up in a glossy, where the best metric is ‘impressions’, represents spend that cannot be optimized. Whereas true digital channels – search and social media – combine the power of data-rich platforms with direct customer engagement to deliver better insights about segmentation, efficacy, customer intent, and corrective market feedback. Better data will lead to better outcomes in the hands of the real-time, analytics-driven marketing operation.

What that really means for our B2B clients is that, ultimately, the return on their marketing investments is determined to a growing degree by their success in these true digital channels. Search engines offer insight into the mind of the customer; how they think about their needs, and where they are in the buying cycle. And social media is the marketplace of ideas where every brand needs to compete for space in the minds of their customers. Getting these channels wrong means lots of wasted resources. It also means a wasted opportunity to make data mastery a core capability of their digital organizations.

That’s why we’re so excited to help them get it right. We want to help drive digital operations. We want to help make a big impact. By bringing together integrated strategy, creative, technology, advertising, and analytics SWAT teams, we want to help our clients create the engaging content that tells their story, distribute it effectively in the search and social channels, collect and interpret the data that matters most, and respond in real time to the market’s feedback. We believe this is the opportunity for our clients. Creating the operation that executes on this opportunity is challenging. It’s this type of challenge that created our business.

It’s the reason we’re here.

Michael Colombo is the founder and CEO of Maark where he oversees the overall direction and development of the agency as it continues to build its brand as a leading marketing and innovation engine for its customers. He has served as the executive lead in programs including corporate rebranding, solution marketing, sales enablement, digital transformation, and new product design for Fortune 500 companies around the world.

Download our new white paper, The Search and Social Advertising Playbook for B2B Marketers, to learn how to stop participating in search and social, and start converting.

Download Playbook


Photo credit: Paul Sableman

It was inevitable. But it still feels weird. According to StatCounter, the world is now officially accessing the Internet from mobile devices more than from desktops. We’re moving, folks.

As of October, the score is mobile and tablet: 51.3%. Desktop: 48.7%. StatCounter illustrated the findings with a chart that looks like a bird beak, wide at one end and pointed at the other. In 2009, it was almost 100% to 0% in favor of desktop.

Partly that feels weird because in the U.S. (and the U.K. and Ireland), it’s not true yet. We’re still a culture of desk jockeys. We spend 58% of our Internet life on a desktop, while the U.K. and Ireland spend 55.6% and 58%, respectively. However, we’re averaged out on this planet by emerging markets that have skipped the evolutionary phase of butts in Herman Millers and gone right to mobile devices being their primary—and sometimes only—Internet access point. India is at 75% mobile.

So what does this mean? That we’re out and about more? Not really. This category should more accurately be called “small device” than “mobile.” Phones are accessed as often from the couch as from McDonald’s. Plus, a laptop is mobile, but goes in the desktop category. Because it has a big screen.

What this really means is that we are experiencing the Internet (and life, some would say) predominately through small screens. That means the experience needs to take that into account. “Mobile-first” is a buzzword, but it really should be a rallying cray. Your brand, your product, your strategy, it all needs to mobilize. And that doesn’t it all needs to be optimized for mobile. It needs to be custom-built for it.

What happens next is uncertain. The English-speaking world is probably going to trend more mobile, although who knows if we’ll reach India levels. Meanwhile, the emerging world might yet go through a big-screen phase as their economies rise and they discover the joys of a great desk chair. Eventually, I hope, we will lose the two categories. Access to the Internet won’t depend on a type of device any more than a physical book experience does. We’ll have a whole new way of accessing the Internet and a whole new challenge of adapting our brand experiences to it.

But for now, if you’re not mobile, you’re not a factor.

I’m kind of in love with this LinkedIn post by Alex Kirk at Mediacom. In it, he traces out the battle lines for the impending Final Showdown between Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Spotify, and all their subsidiaries—basically everything we use in our online lives.

As we blissfully post Happy Birthday messages on Facebook or swap faces over Instagram or tweet our take on DC Comic’s movie universe-building skills, these platforms that we use so innocently…are trying to take over the world. Or at least the way we consume content and talk to each other.

I mean, we’ve been hearing this story for a while, although more as skirmishes for particular industries or outlets. Kirk, however, sees recent maneuvers by these companies as an escalation to Def-Con 6:

While years in the making, this is not business as usual. The events of the last few weeks and months show a far more cut-throat and ruthless approach from the major players. With such aggressive tactics in play, this is not a competition where a stalemate is a likely outcome. Rather, as a result of the great 2016 platform wars, 2017 is now more and more likely to be the year when we see casualties and champions emerge among those corporations that have defined the recent decade of the internet - and who will define the next one. Place your bets.

As much as I dig the idea in a kind of “watch Godzilla and Destroyah fight from afar” kind of way, I don’t know where to go with this idea. Part of me says, “As long as I have a place to post my selfies, I guess I’m okay.” The other part of me chills a bit over the broader fear of inherently untrustworthy corporations emerging as the “champions” of the war to control our public and private discourse…even as much of that discourse is commenting on surprise album drops and forwarding holistic eczema remedies. We hear stories every day of widely varying merit about this or that platform doing this or that icky thing with the information we’re getting and the data we’re giving.

We’re always debating Net Neutrality. And we can do that because the basic platform, the Internet, doesn’t have a dog in the fight. But if the basic platform or platforms that we use are inherently not neutral, it’s kind of a moot point. Which is the way it is right now, sure, but the only thing really protecting us is the number and variety of platforms that we have access to.

But the Platform War will, at least, be fun to watch until it isn’t.