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Don’t Limit Audience Data to a Legal Concern

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Don’t Limit Audience Data to a Legal Concern

Sound the alarm a little.

Marketers at product and services companies fail with first-party data, yet it could be their biggest contributor to growth in the coming year.

Do you know who doesn’t fail at first-party data? Media companies. But I’ll come back to that.

It’s coming on five years since the EU’s GDPR privacy legislation put the proverbial content, marketing, and first-party data soup on the heated stove. Next month is the third anniversary of Google announcing, and subsequently punting many times, the death of the third-party cookie. (It’s currently set to die in 2024.)

First-party data could be the biggest contributor to growth in 2023 if marketers do it right, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

But let’s be honest – few know what either means.

Oh, you know these challenges have something to do with privacy, personally identifiable information (PII), and how businesses use that data to optimize their marketing.

But what is anyone doing about it? In 2018 and 2019, most marketing organizations – thinking they should do at least something about visitor data – leaned on their legal and technology teams to help deal with privacy compliance. The conversation went something like this:

Marketing: Help. We need to comply with first-party data acquisition and cookie notices.

Legal: OK, can you identify all the places where we store customer data?

Marketing: Are you kidding me? We don’t even have logins for most of those systems.

Legal: Uh, OK. What about all the cookies we set for tracking and analytics?

Marketing: Hey, tech team, what’s up with all that?

Tech: Theoretically, we could tell you. But that will take A LOT of time.

Legal: Great, here’s what we’ll do. We’ll create a big legal pop-up that says we track you. It also will say that by using any of our sites, the visitor agrees to be tracked, that we may or may not give this data to other people, and that if they want a copy of their data, they have to stuff a physical letter typed on pink notecards into some post office box or something.

Marketing: What happens if they don’t accept? Can we NOT track them?

Tech: Theoretically, we could do that … But that will take A LOT of time.

Legal: Don’t worry; we’ll word it so that it doesn’t matter what they do; we’re covered legally.

And that conclusion is where marketers still stand in 2023. Now, to be clear, I’m not smart enough to know what constitutes legal “consent” and whether you really need it. Nor can I advise whether that should be a pop-up window or a thin banner at the bottom, or even if you should have one (though I have strong opinions about all of them).

Most pop-ups are nonsense. They literally load the page and set (usually) multiple cookies on the user’s browser, and then present the visitor with their “consent form.” In other words, you probably ran afoul of your policy before asking for consent.

But that’s only a small piece of a first-party data approach.

Stuck in data status quo

Despite the volume of digital ink spilled in the name of data acquisition, marketers mostly operate as they have for the last decade. First-party data – the data given directly by audiences – sits siloed in different systems like marketing automation, CRM, and custom databases. Separate teams manage it.

Marketers still acquire second-party data – data obtained from partnerships, such as events and webinars. Sure, they signed the I-promise-we-won’t-add-this-to-our-database agreement, but they did it with a wink and a nod. Then, they added the data tagged as “leads” to their email marketing database (which often also has first-party data). And marketers still purchase data streams from third-party providers to “triangulate” or enhance the data they have.

Now, if all that sounds relatively complex, it’s because it is. It’s not that marketers don’t know how to improvise in a clever way. Quite the opposite. Because you have goals to meet, content to target, and leads to generate, you’ve literally become the professor from the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island. You’ve built electric generators, sewing machines, and even lie detectors with coconuts and twine. But, somehow, you’ve not thought about building a boat.

You’re still stranded on the island.

Some perceive all the increases in privacy innovation, legislation, and policy make it harder for marketers to do their job. The narrative says these things are designed to protect the public’s safety because businesses can’t be trusted to do it.

But that’s not necessarily true. None of the fundamental activities I mentioned – storing and using first-party data, leveraging second-party data, and even triangulating third-party data – are inherently evil.

In fact, leaning into first-party data acquisition should be a defining, differentiating marketing approach in 2023. It isn’t a conflict. Just take a lesson, once again, from media companies. They have a different approach to data acquisition.

Media companies provide a path forward

The first-party data challenge placed existential pressure on digital media companies in the last few years. Many stepped up to the challenge. They invested in the people, processes, and technologies to get a better handle on audience-centric services built from the acquired data:

  • Vox Media developed a centralized view of its audiences across its publications, including New York Magazine, Vulture, The Strategist, and Grub Street. Reports say the company recently expanded its use of first-party data to drive personalized experiences and provide a unified experience across its newsletters, websites, and social media profiles.
  • The New York Times developed a first-party data analytics solution to serve better advertising without using third-party data or cookies. It helps them support audience targeting and inform the content and ads served across websites and mobile apps.
  • Trusted Media Brands, the publisher of Reader’s Digest and smaller publications, built first-party data tools for cohort analysis. The valuable insight into their audience led the media company to double its average ad deal size.

It’s time for you, as marketers, to step up. Strategic management of first-party data is a content, design, and marketing challenge. It is not a legal or technological challenge. Media companies see how they use first-party data as a business investment, not just a way to comply with a law or become more efficient.

In 2023, you can tackle this challenge head-on, and it may provide the leverage for growth in a year where uncertainty abounds.

It’s about trust

Taking a different and thoughtful approach to first-party data acquisition should top your data concerns. I’ll leave with these random ideas on how to do that:

Connect subscription experiences

If a visitor has to sign up for your blog, then sign up for your email newsletter, then register for your resource center, and then give their email address again to download a second white paper from your resource center, you have a data project to tackle.

Imagine the more powerful insight you could draw if a central dashboard lets you see your audiences tagged with relevant attributes, such as “subscriber,” “lead,” “webinar attendee,” and “customer.”

Ask what you really want to know

Too often, marketers default to “identity” when gating a blog, learning library, or some other content. You point every single audience member to the same registration page and ask for their name, email, address, etc.

What if you asked what you really wanted to know? In other words, you weren’t going to treat someone accessing that visionary white paper as a lead. So, why not ask, “Why do you want this white paper?” in the registration form. Their answers will provide more valuable insight than their email address ever could.

Reflect on why – not how – your audience gives their data

Some people claim “zero-party data” is the new gold standard – data shared intentionally by the consumer. But zero-party data isn’t a thing. It’s just first-party data given with a different motivation. Media companies continue to thrive because their business is built upon audiences providing data willingly and trustingly, with the expectation that, in return, they get a valuable experience.

If your continued expectation is to ask for data with the implied expectation that any data given will be used to “sell,” don’t be surprised when the data is inaccurate. Count the number of [email protected] in your database to get an idea of just how prevalent that is.

Only one thing is worse than getting no data – getting inaccurate data.

One thing worse than getting no data from your audience – is getting inaccurate data from them, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Stop waiting on the data bench

Most marketers sit on the sidelines as media companies evolve and lament the difficulty of placing paid media bets that work. You continue to rent the markets of others and use third parties to measure yourselves by how successful you make them.

Media companies quickly figured out that content-as-product output can be an extraordinary marketing vehicle to help them become product companies. Some product-forward-leaning companies, like Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, Nike, and others, made this same discovery.

As my good friend and CMI founder Joe Pulizzi says: “Today, the media business model and the product business model are exactly the same.” I would change that only slightly. Neither media nor product companies are in the media business. We’re all in the audience business, and first-party data acts as the engine that powers it.

We are all in the audience business, and first-party data is an engine that enables it, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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