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MOps leaders as psychologists: The modern mind-readers

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MOps leaders as psychologists: The modern mind-readers

This four-part series presents a framework that describes the roles and responsibilities of marketing operations leaders. This part discusses MOps leaders as psychologists, in addition to their roles as modernizers (see part 1) and orchestrators (see part 2).

Exposure to marketing during my early educational journey was limited. With a heavy math/science background, I chose the “easy” path and majored in engineering. I struggled in advanced engineering classes but thrived in electives — communications, business, organizational behavior — which was a sign for my future in marketing.

Because of my engineering background, I was fortunate to get an opportunity to join GE Healthcare through its entry-level leadership development program. There I was exposed to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). 

MRIs had become go-to diagnostic devices and subsequently were used in neuroscience. I was fascinated by their eventual application in fMRI: Functional MRI. These extensions helped us understand the most consequential medical mystery: how (and why) people do what they do.

fMRI uses the same underlying technology as conventional MRI, but the scanner and a medical contrast agent are used to detect increased blood flow in response to a stimulus in what is commonly referenced as “hot spots.”

fMRI reveals which of the brain’s processes “light up” when a person experiences different sensations, e.g., exposure to different images in common studies. As a result, we now know what parts of the brain are involved in making decisions.

1665035104 966 MOps leaders as psychologists The modern mind readers

Successful marketing ‘lights up’ customers’ brains

Traditional marketing campaigns and measurement left gaps in understanding how and why people choose to buy. We were dependent on aggregated data. 

With digital channels, we gain first-hand insights into an individual’s response to a stimulus, i.e., content. Here’s where the comparison picks up: 

  • We can observe nearly anything and everything that customers or prospects do digitally.
  • Most customers know that we can track (almost) everything that they do.
  • Because of that knowledge, customers expect contextual, value-based content, forcing marketing to provide more value in exchange for the permission to track.

Our goal as marketers is to make our customers and prospects “light up” with pleasure or satisfaction at each interaction. And, we now have the technology to track it. We are effectively reading minds — just as if it were an fMRI scan.

Here’s an overview of three of the primary psychology “tactics” that every marketer should know: 

  • Priming is the attempt to trigger a subconscious reaction to stimuli that influences our conscious decisions. The most common application is in branding and first click-through impressions. If a customer continues their journey, then the use of aspirational product or service images in content are common priming approaches.
  • Social proof is perhaps the most common example, given the impact of word-of-mouth influence. It is commonly seen in product reviews and ratings. Content marketing often relies on case studies and customer testimonials to hear from “people like us.”
  • Anchoring refers to marketing’s role in pricing and discounting. Most decisions people make are relative to the initial set of information they have received.

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MOps leaders manage the mind-reading stack 

MOps leaders are modernizers that now manage the mind-reading martech stack. We then lead the orchestration efforts to analyze the response (the “scan” data) and “prescribe” the next steps of the campaign.

Two catalysts spawned the emergence for martech applications:

  • New channels that delivered stimulus (content) and collected responses: search, social media, retail commerce channels, etc.
  • Tools that organize and manage all of that response data, from foundational CRM platforms to marketing analytics and data enrichment.

These developments led to the new psychological skills that have become essential to the role of MOps leaders. 

Processing and interpreting intent data is an example. ZoomInfo illustrates how B2B marketers are accessing this capability. The company now provides buying signals to marketers based on their customers’ behaviors, in addition to the basic contact information that was the origin of its business. 

MOps leaders as psychologists The modern mind readers

Intent data is already in widespread use. Six in 10 companies responding to a recent survey said they had or planned in the next year to implement intent measurement data solutions. 

The top challenges for effective intent data utilization fit squarely in the role/responsibilities of MOps leaders include:

These trends support the conclusion of the first three parts of this series — that MOps leaders should aspire to be: 

  • Psychologists who elicit responses (i.e., “light up” the brains) of customers and prospects and interpret those signals for the business. 
  • Modernizers who adopt the technology that enables the activation of those signals.
  • Orchestrators who are cross-functional project managers and business partners with IT, legal and compliance.

Next time, I’ll complete the framework with a discussion of how the role of MOps leaders includes being a scientist, constantly testing and evaluating marketing efforts with teams of analytics specialists and data scientists. 

Editor’s note: This is the 3rd in a 4-part series. In case you missed them, part 1 (Modernizers) is here and part 2 (Orchestrators) is here.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Why marketing operations leaders have become modernizers

Milt is currently Director of Customer Experience at MSI Data, an industry-leading cloud software company that focuses on the value and productivity that customers can drive from adopting MSI’s service management solutions.

With nearly 30 years of leadership experience, Milt has focused on aligning service, marketing, sales, and IT processes around the customer journey. Milt started his career with GE, and led cross-functional initiatives in field service, software deployment, marketing, and digital transformation.
Following his time at GE, Milt led marketing operations at Connecture and HSA Bank, and he has always enjoyed being labeled one of the early digital marketing technologists. He has a BS in Electrical Engineering from UW Madison, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.

In addition to his corporate leadership roles, Milt has been focused on contributing back to the marketing and regional community where he lives. He serves on multiple boards and is also an adjunct instructor for UW-Madison’s Digital Marketing Bootcamp. He also supports strategic clients through his advisory group, Mission MarTech LLC.

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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