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5 Tips for Surviving and Thriving in this New Marketing Era

Jacques Pavlenyi - IBM

I don't know about you, but it certainly feels like there's plenty of negativity and change in the Zeitgeist to go around, particularly if you're a technology or B2B marketer. IBM is experiencing a lot of layoffs along with other Tech giants. Most developed (and many developing) regions are still slogging through a sluggish economy. And movie theaters are raking it in with dark films like World War Z this year, on the heels of last year's Dark Knight Rises, and Contagion the year before that.

As as I wrote about in my previous 3-part series for SoCal BMA's blog, the very nature of marketing is being radically redefined in this unsettled and unsettling era of social, mobile, cloud, and marketing automation.

I've been feeling a little sluggish myself over the past couple of months from all these buffeting tides. So when I was invited to write another post for SoCal BMA, I leapt at the opportunity to revisit my own thinking and give myself a little pick-me-up: if I'm struggling with all this change, why not write about that?  

And what makes for a better post than the top 5 ways I'm using to turn all these challenges into opportunity: an opportunity to position myself for not just surviving, but thriving as marketing professional in the next 15 years of my career.

#5. Stay flexible

Marketing, like all other professional fields, is undergoing great change. It's more critical than ever to stay curious about what new tools, trends and technologies can do to improve your game: cloud-based marketing automation software; social media measurements; the next Pinterest; customer data and social media data analytics; mobile marketing; etc. It's not about “getting there because everyone else is”. It's about staying just slightly ahead of  where your customers are going.

And on a purely personal level, learning new skills keeps our brains young, keeps our perspectives fresh, and even leads to higher levels of happiness and satisfaction.

What better way for your brand to stand out in a crowd by merging your existing offerings with a fresh perspective? What better way to enhance your personal brand by adding new techniques to your existing marketing professional toolbox?

#4. Zig when the competition zags

Don't copy or (just) react to the way your competition is marketing. There's an easy trap to fall into when things get complex. Remember, the ultimate goal is serving your customers, not beating the competition (if it's the latter, you probably should be in another professional than marketing).

If your competition is trying to serve the same audience by blanketing the market with Out of Home (OOH) ads, then don't ratchet up a war of billboards. Look to places where your customers are being underserved. Perhaps they congregate in an online community because the solutions those OOH ads are promising don't really deliver what the customer had hoped. That's when you can step in with subject matter experts who are ready to offer assistance through the online forum. And in all probability, your competition won't even know you're there until it's too late.

That's just one example among many. Avoid the trap of a direct attack and instead sidestep for success.

#3. Tell compelling stories

There's no doubt there's a competitive market out there. Globalization and technology mean no industry is spared having to compete with companies from halfway around the world. So knowing what your Brand stands for is doubly important, and how that Brand is different from anyone else. It's really hard to market what you haven't internalized, or don't understand, and even harder if what you have isn't easy to differentiate.

The good news is that no matter what you're marketing, it can be differentiated through compelling stories that communicate additional value in a captivating way. This timeless article from Brand Channel on differentiating commodities is still as relevant today as it was almost 10 years ago, and shows that even the most mundane products and services can be made compellingly unique. If after the hard work of defining that unique value proposition you decide what your value proposition or story isn't really unique, it's time to try again, or find something else your company can stand behind. Your customers usually figure that out before you do, by the way!

The same goes for your personal brand. In my own company, IBM, as a marketing professional, if I want to get ahead, I have to compete with literally thousands of other marketers in IBM across the globe, not to mention marketers trying to get a job with IBM. What's my story? What's my compelling differentiator? As a wise mentor once told me: you get ahead when you continue to have something unique to say, something your target audience wants to hear. If after all the hard work of the self-examined life you still come up short, it's time to try again. Everyone is unique, and your experiences undoubtedly differ from those around you, giving your a different perspective than everyone else.

#2: Learn to Collaborate

As Seth Godin has been writing about for several years, we've moved from the information economy to the artisanal economy. That also means moving from the safety net of a permanent employer to a riskier but more creative independent contractor environment.

This is nothing new for artists, of course. The multi-billion-dollar Entertainment industry has been using a model of structured project development for decades. Hollywood is a prime example of creating a project team (“film crew”) to build the product, which is promptly dissolved when completed. Those projects are supported through the Studios' economies of scale (distribution, promotion, financing), who in turn pull together free agents from across the spectrum – Producers, Directors, Writers, Actors, Editors, Sound Effects, Cinematographers, etc. – to actually create and deliver the film. Almost all of these craftsmen and women are free agents, very few of whom directly work as a full-time Studio employee. They rely on their portfolios to help them get hired for the next gig.

Don't fool yourself into thinking this could never happen to marketing. It already has started. Mid-level marketing managers increasingly manage contractors, part-timers and junior marketing resources from outsourcing and “in-sourcing” centers like Bangalore, Bratislava and Bucharest, as much as they do full-time employees in the same physical office location.

That reality means learning how to collaborate with diverse teams on short notice is increasingly a critical success factor in a marketer's career. Like that Hollywood craftsman, you have to rely on an extended project team of experts in different fields to work together for a short period of time. And you have to quickly learn how to collaborate with people you may not know all that well, and even if you did, don't work for you or for your “official” employer. My experience as an IBM marketer is that my primary success is a direct result of my ability to collaborate across functional areas not just in marketing (public relations, analyst relations, demand generation programs, category marketing, web marketing, etc.) but other functions as well (development, product management, sales, support, services, etc.).

I was talking to a hiring manager yesterday at a Global 100 media company. The trend for some time in the resumes he's been seeing are that they are longer, with a lot more employers and projects, versus the 10+ year stints at a single company he used to see more often. And he suddenly realized that that isn't necessary a bad thing. It doesn't show disloyalty, but rather an ability to quickly ramp up and apply new and existing skills in a new setting, with new co-workers.

And #1: Be Social

What better way to keep those collaborative juices flowing than to engage through social networks? How better to learn those new skills by reading from your peers what they've done that is, and isn't, working, through their blogs, forums, status updates, and online community chats? How else to truly internalize and understand how social is truly transforming marketing, if you don't participate yourself?

There's a reason companies large and small are encouraging their employees to be social. It works. It drives more engagement, which in turn drives more revenues. As I showed in my most recent presentation for SoCal BMA in May of this year, marketing tactics in IBM that leveraged the use of social subject matter experts and activities yielded outsized marketing returns – number of leads, conversion of those leads to qualified opportunities, and higher revenues – than traditional tactics. I can't think of anything more powerful to show to your boss, on your resume – a set of market-winning tactics and campaigns. And I can't think of a better way to share those successes than through blogs, LinkedIn, SlideShare, Twitter and other public social media.

I know I'm working hard on applying these 5 tips to re-ignite my personal engagement with my work in these challenging times. I hope they can help you as well.

Photo - Jacques Pavlenyi - IBM

Jacques Pavlenyi
Senior Marketing Manager - IBM Collaboration Solutions

Member, SoCal BMA


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