As a marketing leader, you’re tasked with turning potential customers into revenue. To drive bottom-line growth, you’re ready to create a strategy for attracting, engaging, and converting prospects across all of your marketing channels. But do you have the right technology to achieve your goals?
As you evaluate your martech stack, you might realize that you need to do more than use the right technology — you need to optimize it. Optimization science is harnessing the full potential of customer-facing technology. It’s both a methodology and a mindset — and it’s about squeezing every ounce of value from your new solution.
To optimize your technology solution’s impact, you need to think beyond features and functionality. Specifically, you need to think about how you want to leverage your new platform to influence customer associations, perceptions, and behaviors to align with your strategy. In other words, you need to take a holistic approach to technology deployment — and that encompasses your customer’s brain.
Getting started with a few simple steps
The martech landscape is dotted with a cornucopia of solutions. According to Scott Brinker, VP of platform ecosystem at HubSpot, there are 9,932 martech solutions on the market — a 24% increase from 2020. With a seemingly overwhelming number of options from which to select, where do you even start? Also, how do you navigate the waters of social psychology within your organization while setting the stage for triggering behaviors among the potential customers who interact with your technology?
To get started, let’s take a look at the following three steps:
- Selecting the right technology platform.
- Understanding integration constraints.
- Configuring for optimization.
1. Selecting the right technology platform
Yes, the first step might seem a little elementary; but such is the nature of initial steps. How many times did legacy thinking affect decisions at your place of work? How many times did existing relationships or power dynamics influence an important decision? Behavioral norms and social psychology often play an outsized role in technology deployment. As you evaluate your options, forget about the relationships and biases of your co-workers (and expunge your own biases to the extent that’s possible) — and select the technology that can deliver optimal results.
Selecting the right technology involves foresight and a laser-like focus on your audience. After all, you’re deploying a system that allows your organization to interact with your customers to achieve tangible benefits. As you attempt to assess your technology options objectively, now is the time to start considering your customer’s brain.
2. Understanding integration constraints
There are more questions to ask before you embark on your journey. Perhaps most obviously, how does the platform fit within your current martech stack? Do you see a sea of messy code over the horizon, or do you see a fluid integration in which data flows easily from one system to the next?
Although you don’t want to be completely beholden to legacy systems, you do need to consider how your new marketing technology integrates with current, and quite possibly, future systems. Failure to look closely at integration at the beginning could end with an Odyssean voyage home, leaving you alone to fend off Scylla and Charybdis as you navigate the seas of cognitive dissonance.
3. Configuring for optimization
A good marketer will create a messaging strategy that focuses on benefits instead of features. Still, you need to harness the full set of features to reap the greatest number of benefits from your marketing technology. As a result, you likely need to configure your new platform to utilize various features. To get the most out of your technology solution, start thinking about the solution’s full capabilities early in the process.
Imagine a scenario where your initial goal was to capture leads via chat online. You’re happy because you implemented a conversational chat platform that accomplishes the initial task perfectly. It even connects to your CRM and your analytics dashboard. Tragically, however, you didn’t dedicate anyone on your team to create automated conversation flows before your go-live date to qualify leads after-hours. That would be a colossal failure — no matter how good the technology.
How does the brain respond to your technology?
You’ve selected the technology solution that works best for your organization. But how does it interact with your customer’s brain? The human brain processes an enormous amount of information—most of which occurs below the level of consciousness. When your customer looks at your system, for example, the eyes dart rapidly across the user interface, triggering a cascade of neurobiological activity that can affect everything from thoughts and emotions to desired behaviors such as downloading white papers and liking your social media posts.
As your customer’s brain re-constructs the visual world in front of your technology, you have an incredible opportunity to shape the associations linked to your brand. And you can do this while influencing the behaviors you find most valuable to your organization. As such, you need to think beyond the framework of traditional deployments and start thinking about how to facilitate behaviors that align with your goals.
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Activating aesthetic appreciation in the brain
Is the user interface aesthetically pleasing? Yes, it’s an odd question for a technology deployment; but your customer’s brain does odd things. If you’re looking to optimize your new system’s effectiveness, you need to think about how you create an aesthetic experience for your customer. This is important because the brain responds favorably to aesthetic experiences, as you can read here.
According to Anjan Chatterjee, MD, a neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Oshin Vartanian, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto, aesthetic appreciation emerges from an interplay among different systems in the brain, which encompass “sensory-motor, emotion-valuation and knowledge-meaning” areas.
Known as the aesthetic triad, the involvement of large-scale systems underscores the magnitude of an aesthetic experience. And what’s most important for you to know is that your technology interface can trigger an aesthetic experience.
Considering that an aesthetically pleasant experience can activate brain parts associated with perceptions, emotions and behaviors, you need to think about the user interface in terms of aesthetic appreciation. As such, let’s take a look at aesthetic considerations for a couple of marketing solutions, including:
• Conversational chat technology.
• Email marketing software.
Conversational chat technology
Your new chat platform is everything you imagined. But is it everything your customer imagined? You already did the hard work, configuring the system to capture leads online when you’re offline (unlike the scenario discussed earlier). You even created thoughtful conversation workflows that underscore how well you get the nuances of automation and conversational chat. But how does the customer’s brain process the visual appearance of the chat window?
Sure, it matches your brand colors. But does it create an aesthetic experience for your customer? What does your bot avatar look like? How do the shadows and lines affect subconscious associations? If you want to optimize the deployment of your chat platform, you need to think about every little visual cue that your customer’s brain might process — and then optimize accordingly.
Email marketing software
You feel confident that you selected the right email marketing platform. You’ve integrated it seamlessly with your tech stack and configured it to achieve your goals. You’re particularly pleased about how you can connect with your audience with robust automation sequences. But what does the email look like to the user?
When deploying a new email marketing platform, ensure that you’re creating a truly aesthetic experience. Often, this involves using a visually appealing template or creating a custom design that connects your audience to your brand. Whether you need to outsource design work to an agency or leverage your in-house team, you need to go above and beyond to ensure your email looks good.
Triggering dopamine spikes
The brain likes aesthetically pleasing stimuli, but that’s only part of optimizing your solution. When it comes to influencing action, you need behavioral prompts spread strategically across all of your marketing channels — and that starts with dopamine.
Dopamine facilitates goal-directed behavior. As I described in my previous article, the largest dopaminergic spikes occur during moments of anticipation of a reward. With this in mind, let’s take a moment to consider a scenario in which your consideration of the customer’s brain early in the process helped you make the right technology selection and configuration.
Video hosting solution
You plan on launching a series of videos. The good news is that you already know what type of content your audience likes. You also know the behavior you want to trigger. You want each person to provide an email address to watch a video. But did you know that different platforms allow you to gate your content differently?
How do you use optimization science to ensure you capture as many emails as possible? If you’re looking to optimize your conversion rate, you need to trigger a dopamine spike right before asking for an email. How do you do that? You need to provide content that creates anticipation.
Since you want to create anticipation before asking for an email address, you want to avoid gating the video before the user starts watching it (which is the traditional approach). Instead, select a solution that allows you to gate the content right before the moment the user is at the most elevated state of anticipation during the video. If you do this, you can elevate the amount of dopamine in each customer’s brain to exchange email addresses for content at a higher rate than you ever thought possible — while also playing on the concept of loss aversion, which you can read in one of my previous articles.
The above scenarios only represent a few considerations about which to think. After all, you can facilitate a variety of complex behaviors in your customer’s brain that extend far beyond what’s mentioned in this article. The key takeaway is to think about marketing technology adoption in terms of optimal effectiveness. As a marketing leader, you can launch your metrics into the stratosphere when you approach technology adoption with the customer’s mind. And that starts with an understanding of optimization science.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This
When a brand creates a new content marketing or content strategy team, they often ask, “What function or department should the content team report to?”
My answer? “Yes!”
Now, I’m not trying to be a smart aleck. (Well, I am a little bit, do you even know me?) But seriously, my yes comes from years of helping implement content teams in dozens of businesses. My affirmative response indicates the most important thing isn’t to whom content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business.
When it reports into a function, such as brand, marketing, sales enablement, demand gen, PR/comms, or even (yes, really in one case) finance, the business acknowledges content marketing is a real thing with real responsibilities, power, and capabilities to affect business outcomes.
“What outcomes?” you might ask.
Well, that depends on where content marketing reports.
Now you have the real conundrum.
You can’t figure out where content marketing and content strategy should report without knowing the expected business outcomes, and you can’t know the business outcomes until you know where they’re reporting.
Content’s pervasiveness creates the challenge
Content as a strategic function in business affects almost everything. That pervasiveness means nearly any function in the business could “own” content as a strategy.
For example, we recently worked with a company about a year into its enterprise-wide digital transformation strategy. They have a content team, and we were to help them assemble a governance and operational approach for their website content.
When we determined the right operational processes, we got into trouble. A content team leader asked, “What if someone proposed a new AI chatbot as part of this digital transformation for the website? Is it a content project with a technology component or a technology project with a content component?”
The question isn’t semantics. Instead, the answer determines the process for development, the team owning implementation, and the measurement by which it’s deemed successful.
It’s not just a technology challenge, either. The company also wanted to create new brand content guidelines for the website. Is that a content team project informed by the brand team or a brand project in consultation with the content team?
Given content’s pervasiveness, you can argue it is part of any meaningful communications initiative the business takes on. But sales’ needs are different from marketing’s, and HR’s requirements are different from the demand-gen team’s. However, to achieve consistency in content and communication, it doesn’t make sense to let each function determine its content strategy.
To achieve the balance between an enterprise-wide content strategy and the unique needs of every function in the business, the leaders and practitioners must decide to whom content reports. Again, the agreement is important, not the where or what of the agreement.
3 key attributes to identify in the decision-making process
As you and the leadership ponder how to balance the enterprise content strategy and where it should sit, consider these three key attributes that play an essential role in success.
1. Develop a content operations backbone
I don’t care if you have two people and one blog and a website or a team of 50 who operate on 35 content platforms across multiple channels. A content operations infrastructure creates consistent success across your digital content experiences. Content operations is an enterprise-recognized set of integrated and shared systems (meaning technologies), standards, guidelines, playbooks, and processes to ensure reliable, consistent, scalable, and measurable content across the business.
Content operations acts as the backbone – the foundation – to ensure the content is created, managed, activated, and measured the same way across whatever audience and whichever channel the brand presents to.
2. Connect with the audience across platforms
You can no longer expect to create one optimal experience that makes up for a bunch of sub-optimal ones.No matter your size, it’s not good enough to have your blog subscribers separate from your marketing automation database and all that separated from your CRM system. This goes for all of your audiences – from new employees to external parties such as analysts, journalists, partners, vendors, etc.
In this approach, the goal is to engage, build, and develop relationships with audiences. Thus, connecting audience behavior with insights on how to communicate better is not a siloed functional need; it is an enterprise need.
3. Build an accountability framework
This attribute in one word? Standards (and a team to keep them.) In a truly fascinating way, one of the earliest activities in building a content strategy makes the biggest impact on larger businesses: Come to terms with what words around content strategy and marketing mean. What is a campaign? What is the difference between a campaign and an initiative? What is an e-book? What is an article vs. a blog post? How long should a white paper take to write? Most businesses assume these things or create meanings based on contextual needs.
At a recent client, one group expected the content team to produce white papers within a week of the request. Another group expected them to be delivered in six weeks at double the length that the other group thought.
An accountability framework – and its ongoing evolution – presents clear ownership and coordination of content standards (roles, responsibilities, processes, types) across the enterprise. This model should not detail the definitions and standards but identify how they will enforce them.
Start your content decisions by deciding together
Where should you begin?
Well, just like in the beginning, my answer is yes. Independent of where you start, the critical point happens in the deciding of the elements. To be clear, these are institutional decisions, not simply “what you think.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe the definitions, roles, or processes should be if the other parts of the organization don’t know, believe, or care.
A great first step is to create that accountability framework and make people care about its existence. At first, it might create a language of content that everybody in your business understands. When someone says, “I’d like to do a campaign,” or, “I think we should write a white paper,” everyone understands what that means and what it takes to do it. Then, the benefits of an accountability framework will start to become clear.
It makes the case for a team assigned to lead this consistency easier. And that enables the team to connect those experiences and audiences in a way that makes sense for everyone.
In the end, you have found determining the where, how, and what of a content strategy implementation isn’t the most important. The act of deciding is.
It’s a strange combination. In isolation, the reason for deciding seems straightforward. So why wouldn’t anybody want a clear definition of what a campaign is or a single source of the truth when it comes to the tone of your content?
But stacked together, those decisions feel like they are bigger than the content team and really should involve the entire enterprise. (Spoiler alert: They do.)
If you want any desired consequence, you had better decide on all the things that would help create it.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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