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The Ultimate Guide to Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

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The Ultimate Guide to Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

At many companies, it can feel as if there are 100 miles between sales and marketing. In a recent LinkedIn survey, 60% of global respondents believed that misalignment between sales and marketing could damage financial performance, yet there are a number of disconnects between the teams from strategy to process.

One of the most critical steps for aligning your sales and marketing efforts is creating a service level agreement (SLA). Traditionally, an SLA serves to define exactly what a customer will receive from a service provider. But SLAs serve internal operations as well, and sales and marketing agreements are among the most crucial.

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Ultimately, a service level agreement is designed to create alignment between two parties by setting clear expectations and mitigating any issues before they happen. With that in mind, there are multiple types of SLA depending on your use case.

1. Customer Service Level Agreement

A customer SLA is just what it sounds like: an agreement by a vendor to deliver a certain level of service to a particular customer. Here’s a fun example:

In the TV show The Office, the company, Dunder Mifflin, supplies paper to various organizations. They might have a customer SLA stipulating that Dunder Mifflin will supply [Company X] with 50 reams of paper per month, shipped every Monday to [Address 1] and [Address 2] by Darryl Philbin — with a confirmation of delivery sent to Jim Halpert. (Sorry, we had a little too much fun with the references in that one.)

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2. Internal Service Level Agreement

An internal SLA only concerns parties from within the company. While a business might have an SLA open with each of its clients, it can also have a separate SLA between its sales and marketing departments.

Let’s say Company X’s sales department has to close $5,000 worth of sales per month in total, and each sale is worth $100. If the sales team’s average win rate for the leads they engage with is 50%, Company X’s marketing director, Amir, can work with the sales team on an SLA, stipulating that Marketing will deliver 100 qualified leads to sales director, Kendra, by a certain date every month. This might include four weekly status reports per month, sent back to Amir by Kendra, to ensure the leads Kendra’s team is receiving are helping them keep pace with their monthly sales goal.

3. Multilevel Service Level Agreement

Multilevel SLAs can support a business’s customers or the business’s various internal departments. The point of this type of SLA is to outline what is expected of each party if there’s more than just one service provider and one end user. Here’s an example of a multi-level SLA in an internal situation:

Company X’s sales and marketing teams partner up on an internal SLA that delivers leads from Marketing to Sales every month. But what if they wanted to incorporate a customer retention strategy into this contract, making it an SLA between Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service?

After sales closes 50 new deals for the month, it’s Customer Service’s job to keep these customers happy and successful while using the product. In a multi level SLA, Company X can have sales director, Kendra, send monthly “customer friction” reports to Joan, the VP of service, based on dialogue the sales team has regularly with its clients. This helps the customer service team build a knowledge base that better prepares them for the pain points customers call them about.

You can learn more about customer service’s increasing role to business growth in the HubSpot Academy.

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Learn how to go from funnel to flywheel in a free HubSpot Academy video  tutorial.

What does an SLA include?

The details of an SLA will differ among internal and external agreements. Nonetheless, there are common building blocks that each SLA should include, whether the recipient of the service is your customer or your sales team.

Featured Resource: Free Marketing & Sales SLA Template

HubSpot's Free marketing and sales SLA TemplateDownload this Template

HubSpot’s Sales & Marketing SLA Template is the ideal resource for outlining your company’s goals and reaching an agreement between these two crucial teams. Download it now for free.

1. A Summary of the Agreement

The first item on your SLA should be an overview of the agreement. What service have you agreed to deliver to the other party? Summarize the service, to whom it’s being delivered, and how the success of that service will be measured.

2. The Goals of Both Parties

In external SLAs — those between a business and its customers — the goals stated in the agreement are primarily those of the customer. If this is your intention, work with your client to marry their needs with the abilities of your product, and come up with a measurable goal that your company can feasibly meet for the client on a regular basis.

Is this an internal SLA between your sales and marketing departments? Both teams should have their goals outlined in this section of the contract, while making sure that when Marketing hits its goal, Sales can reach its own goal as a result.

3. The Requirements of Both Parties

SLAs should include what each party needs in order to reach their goals. In agreements that serve a customer, keep in mind their needs might go beyond simply “the product.” They might need more than that to reach their goals — such as weekly consulting, reporting, and technical maintenance from you.

SLAs between sales and marketing teams should describe what they might need from the opposite department in order to help them hit their targets. Marketing, for example, might need weekly status reports on Sales’ pipeline so the marketers can adjust their lead-generating campaigns accordingly.

4. The Points of Contact

Who’s in charge of making sure each party’s goals are met? Sort out which team does what, and who talks to whom, in this section of your SLA. Is there a separate employee using the services, in relation to the employee who reports on performance every week? Make it clear who’s involved in the SLA, and how.

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5. A Plan if Goals Aren’t Met

You might not want to think about it, but there should be formal consequences when a goal isn’t met as part of an SLA. Don’t freak out, though — these consequences aren’t always business-ending situations. Include a form of compensation to the service’s end user for when the service doesn’t meet their agreed-upon goals. In external SLAs, according to PandaDoc, this compensation can come in the form of “service credits.” Grab PandaDoc’s free SLA template here to find out more.

For Sales and Marketing SLAs, work with your sales team to establish a plan for how any lost revenue is to be made up as a result of an unreached sales quota. You might settle on a strike system that holds certain employees — in both Sales and Marketing — accountable for diagnosing and resolving issues of low performance.

6. The Conditions of Cancellation

Under what circumstances will your SLA be terminated? Whether your contract serves a customer or two internal departments, you’ll typically find yourself putting the SLA on the chopping block when it’s just not working. Maybe your goals have gone unmet for the last three months, or the current agreement simply doesn’t have buy-in from everyone involved.

Come up with formal conditions under which you’d cancel the current SLA in pursuit of, hopefully, a better SLA.

Examples of SLAs

While an SLA will be unique to your needs, here are some examples and templates that can give you an idea of what an SLA may look like.

1. HubSpot’s Marketing & Sales SLA Template

Example SLA: Service-Level Agreement Example: HubSpot's Marketing & Sales SLA Template

As previously mentioned, HubSpot has a template for marketing and sales service level agreements. Instead of being overly complicated, the template provides straightforward, no-nonsense sections so that any party can skim at a glance.

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What we like best: It’s laid out in a two-column style to easily denote which team is responsible for which activities and metrics. Having them side-by-side like this further underscores the goals of partnership and alignment.

How to Implement This in Your SLA

Simplicity is the key to recreating this SLA template. Whether you use HubSpot’s offering or create your own, effectively implementing this type of SLA means resisting the temptation to list out every possible outcome and instead focus on the big picture of goals, initiatives, and accountability.

2. Hivehouse Digital’s Marketing & Sales SLA Template

Example SLA: Service-Level Agreement Example: Hivehouse Digital's Marketing & Sales SLA Template

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This sales and marketing SLA template focuses heavily on metrics, making it a great choice for high-performance teams. The design relies on tables for easy information input and even comes with prompts/examples to help you define the agreement.

What we like best: The document is organized step-by-step, making it a great choice for teams without a formalized SLA process (yet).

How to Implement This in Your SLA

Implementing the Hivehouse model for your SLA means leaning into its step-by-step strengths. By breaking down SLAs into smaller and more manageable steps, there’s less chance of you and your team getting overwhelmed.

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3. Lucidchart’s Marketing and Sales SLA Template With Examples

Example SLA: Service-Level Agreement Example: Lucidchart's Marketing and Sales SLA Template

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Instead of going through the process of creating an SLA, this template organizes sections by the marketing and sales process itself, from goals to lead qualification, handoff, and nurturing.

What we like best: The template takes a visual approach with columns for marketing, sales, and shared goals. This makes ownership of deliverables crystal clear throughout the process.

How to Implement This in Your SLA

Seeing is believing in this type of SLA template. While the nitty-gritty details are there, this approach uses color and shape to highlight important categories and actions. If you’re planning to take this approach to your SLA, use color psychology and graphic design principles to create a visually appealing SLA.

4. AT&T’s Small Business Service Agreement Example

Here’s a real-world example in the wild. Not all SLAs are between marketing and sales teams or even other internal departments. Here’s an SLA that lays out a service agreement between AT&T and its customers, setting expectations for the engagement. They make this SLA publicly accessible for all their users.

What we like best: The agreement is plain and simple, leveraging bullet points to make each detail clear and understandable.

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How to Implement This in Your SLA

AT&T’s real-world example highlights the importance of calling out what matters — in this case, by using bullet points. Applying the same approach to your SLA means distilling larger and more complicated outcomes into easily-understood snippets that don’t leave room for confusion.

Example SLA: Service-Level Agreement Examples: AT&T's Small Business Service Agreement

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5. Microsoft Azure SLA Example for Cloud Services

As a service provider, Microsoft Azure also makes its SLA for customers public. The SLA uses bullet points to clearly identify its offerings and customer promises, which are unique depending on the plan and services rendered.

What we like best: The SLA is organized with headings for quick navigation to the offerings that are most pertinent, and information is kept concise with an optional “View full details” link.

How to Implement This in Your SLA

In-depth SLAs are naturally complicated, making it easy to get bogged down in the details despite best efforts to keep things simple. Microsoft’s example offers a streamlined approach to implementation: Call out the key details and then provide links to the full SLA text.

Example SLA: Service-Level Agreement Examples: Microsoft Azure SLA for Cloud Services

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6. PandaDoc’s Multi-Page SLA Template

PandaDoc provides another option for provider/client agreements and is a great choice for more formal arrangements.

What we like best: This template makes for a clear and concise SLA with times, dates, and solid expectations.

How to Implement This in Your SLA

While this type of SLA leans more toward legalese with language like “whereas” and “therefore”, it has the advantage of a solid narrative structure to describe expectations. If you’re planning to implement something similar, consider using a template to speed up the process rather than starting from scratch.

Example SLA: Service-Level Agreement Example: PandaDoc SLA template

How to Make an SLA for Marketing and Sales Alignment

While SLAs are common between businesses and new customers, they can also improve internal alignment. When one exists between sales and marketing departments in particular, this agreement details marketing goals (like number of leads or revenue pipeline) and the sales activities that’ll follow and support them (like engaging leads that were qualified by the marketing team).

Both the sales and marketing departments use this document as a commitment to support each other based on concrete, numerical goals. And guess what? 87% of sales and marketing leaders say collaboration between sales and marketing enables critical business growth.

Now, if you don’t have a Sales and Marketing SLA in place, fear not: We’ve outlined how to create one below so that you can easily start aligning your sales and marketing teams.

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To draft your SLA, you first need to align your Sales and Marketing teams around a shared set of goals — or, as we put it before, the harmonious “Smarketing.” This alignment can then dictate the creation of a written SLA that reflects these goals. Here’s how to create an SLA with “Smarketing” in mind:

1. Calculate a numerical marketing goal based on the sales team’s quotas.

As a marketing department, not only should you have a concrete goal for each campaign you run, but you also should have a high-level numerical goal that aligns with the sales team’s operations. At the end of the day, that’ll mean qualified leads and actual sales from those leads.

Salespeople are driven almost entirely by their sales quotas — the numerical goals that correlate with their compensation and job security. If Marketing commits to a similar, related numerical goal, it shows that the team is being held accountable in a manner similar to Sales. The trick, however, is to make sure your numerical goal can effectively power the sales team’s numerical goal.

In order to calculate the marketing side of your SLA, you’ll need the following four metrics:

  • Total sales goal (in terms of revenue quota)
  • % revenue that comes from marketing-generated leads (as opposed to sales-generated ones)
  • Average sales deal size
  • Average lead-to-customer close %

Then, it’s time to do some calculations:

  • Sales quota x % revenue from marketing-generated leads = Marketing-sourced revenue goal
  • Marketing-sourced revenue goal ÷ Average sales deal size = # of customers needed
  • Customers ÷ Average lead-to-customer close % = # of leads needed

2. Segment your goals by specific intervals during the year.

It might also be a good idea to reevaluate the marketing side of the SLA each month, as a variety of factors can change the numbers used in your calculations over time. To do so, create a document that tracks your SLA calculations by month, which should include the following metrics:

  • # of marketing-generated leads
  • # of those leads that became customers
  • Revenue from those closed customers
  • Total revenue closed that month from marketing-generated leads only
  • Total revenue closed that month

You will also need:

  • The average sales cycle length

With the figures above, you can re-calculate the metrics you started with on a monthly basis, or at whichever interval suits your business — quarter, year, etc. Just make sure the same measure of time is used for both Sales and Marketing to maintain alignment. Have a look:

  • # marketing-generated leads that became customers ÷ # marketing-generated leads = lead-to-customer close %
  • Revenue from closed customers ÷ # of marketing-generated leads that became customers = sales deal size
  • Total revenue closed from marketing-generated leads / total revenue closed = % revenue from marketing-generated leads

You could also take it one step further, and incorporate quantity and quality into these metrics. The above calculations provide you with a quantitative volume goal of marketing-generated leads. However, we know that not all leads are created equal, and as a result, some may be considered higher- or lower-quality than others.

For example, a decision-making executive might be a more valuable contact than an intern. If that’s the case, you can do the above analysis for each subset of leads, and set up separate goals for each type/quality level.

Want to take it even further? Measure in terms of value, instead of volume. For example, a CEO may be worth $100, for instance, while a director is $50, a manager is $40, and so on.

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3. Calculate sales’ figures and their goals.

The sales side of the SLA should detail the speed and depth to which a salesperson should follow up with marketing-generated leads. When establishing this end of the SLA, consider these two sales statistics:

  • Salespeople who follow up with leads within an hour are nearly seven times more likely to have meaningful conversations with a decision maker on the other end.
  • However, only 7% of leads respond to a follow-up contact within five minutes after filling out a form.

Bottom line? Not all leads may be fit to send to sales immediately. They often need to meet some minimum level of quality, like reaching a certain activity level, which can only take place after being nurtured by Marketing.

Nonetheless, engaging a lead the short time after he/she converts is critical to maintaining a relationship with them — the question you have to answer is what that engagement should look like. Either sales or marketing should take action to start building that relationship, make nurturing easier, and set up the sales rep for success when she eventually does reach out.

Keep in mind this advice is futile if you don’t consider the bandwidth of your sales reps. Sure, in a perfect world, they’d make six follow-up attempts for each lead — in reality, though, they may simply not have enough hours in the day to do that. For that reason, you’ll also need to factor in the number of leads each rep is getting (based on the marketing SLA), how much time they spend on marketing-generated leads versus sales-generated leads, and how much time they have to spend on each one. If you’re looking to conserve time, some of the follow-up — email, in particular — could be automated, so look into options there.

4. Set up marketing SLA reporting.

Now that you have your SLA goals, it’s time to track your progress against that goal — daily.

To start, graph the goal line using this formula:

(1÷n x g)

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Where n is the number of days in the month and g is your monthly goal.

That should determine what portion of your monthly goal you need to achieve each day. You’ll want to graph that cumulatively throughout the month and mark your cumulative actual results on the same chart. We call that a waterfall graph, and it looks something like this:

Graph showing Marketing qualified leads on track to fulfill sales quotas

5. Set up sales SLA reporting.

For the sales SLA reporting, you’ll have two graphs — one monitoring the speed of follow-up, and the other monitoring the depth of follow-up.

To graph the speed of follow up, you’ll need the date/time the lead was presented to sales, and the date/time the lead received her first follow-up. The difference between those two times equals the time it took for sales to follow up with that particular lead.

Take the averages of lengths of time it took for sales to follow up with all leads within a particular timeframe — day, week, month — and chart it against the SLA goal.

Bar graph of monthly sales lead follow-up performance, as part of sales & marketing SLA

To graph the depth of follow-up — e.g., the number of attempts — look specifically at leads that have not been connected with, since the goal of the follow-up is to get a connection. For leads over a certain timeframe that have not received outreach, look at the average number of follow-up attempts made, and graph that against the SLA goal.

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Lead Attempts and Leads Worked Graphs

6. Communicate, celebrate, and address the achievement (or lack thereof).

Maintaining strong communication regarding how each team is performing on goals boosts transparency. If either team isn’t reaching their goals, addressing that confirms their importance, while celebrating hitting those goals can aid motivation.

If you’re not sure where to begin when it comes to setting these goals, check out our free Marketing & Sales Lead Goal Calculator, designed to help you determine and track the goals that will eventually become part of your SLA.

To ensure you’re getting the most from SLA creation, implementation and management, it’s worth aligning your efforts with industry best practices. Some of the most common include:

Define Realistic Goals

While promising the moon might seem like a good idea, things can quickly go off track when SLA outcomes aren’t met. As a result, it’s worth starting SLA creation with a brainstorming session that includes relevant stakeholders. Here, the goal is to define what you want to do, what you can do, and what you can reasonably offer.

Ensure Everyone is On Board

Next, make sure all relevant parties feel like their needs are being met with your draft SLA. Better to find out up-front that there are potential problems — and make proactive changes — than face pressure to scrap in-place service level agreements and start over.

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Get Specific

Specificity is what makes SLAs work. For example, if you’re an IT service company drafting an SLA about uptime, the number of “nines” — 99.999 percent, 99.9999 percent, etc. — defines exactly how much uptime you’re agreeing to provide. Using specific terminology reduces the risk of conflict around SLA expectations by removing ambiguity.

Pinpoint Key Metrics

While specific SLAs are a solid starting point, you also need ways to effectively measure the success of your agreement. In the uptime example above, minutes of downtime per year are often used to determine if goals are being met. When it comes to marketing or sales, meanwhile, metrics could include leads generated, deals closed, or any other measurement that makes sense under your SLA structure.

Account for the Unexpected

Unexpected events — such as severe weather, staffing challenges, or sudden IT failures — can make SLA goals challenging to reach. As a result, it’s worth creating clauses that account for unexpected events. While there’s no way to predict exactly what will happen, and obligations remain to meet at least minimum standards, building in some breathing room for the unexpected is well worth the effort.

Double-Check the Details

Even small details matter. Consider the example above: While 99.999 percent uptime works out to just over 5 minutes of downtime per year, 99.9999 percent is 31 seconds. Here, a misplaced 9 could put your company on the hook for providing service levels that are almost impossible to reach. As a result, it’s worth getting your SLA double-checked by a fresh pair of eyes before moving forward.

Review and Revise as Needed

Service level agreements aren’t static documents. While they cover a set period and describe a specific set of actions, both provider and partner needs can change during that time. As a result, it’s worth building in the option for review part way through the SLA agreement period and conducting a full review when the contract is up to determine if changes are required.

One Last Step When It Comes to SLAs

When it comes to what should be in your service level agreement, there’s one final piece: Review these metrics on a regular basis to monitor your progress, and make sure both Sales and Marketing have access to the reports for both sides of the SLA.

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This step helps to maintain accountability and transparency and allows for both teams to address issues — or congratulate each other on productive results.

Editor’s Note: The post was originally published in January 2019, but was updated in December 2019 for comprehensiveness.

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MARKETING

Should Your Brand Shout Its AI and Marketing Plan to the World?

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Should Your Brand Shout Its AI and Marketing Plan to the World?

To use AI or not to use AI, that is the question.

Let’s hope things work out better for you than they did for Shakespeare’s mad Danish prince with daddy issues.

But let’s add a twist to that existential question.

CMI’s chief strategy officer, Robert Rose, shares what marketers should really contemplate. Watch the video or read on to discover what he says:

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Should you not use AI and be proud of not using it? Dove Beauty did that last week.

Should you use it but keep it a secret? Sports Illustrated did that last year.

Should you use AI and be vocal about using it? Agency giant Brandtech Group picked up the all-in vibe.

Should you not use it but tell everybody you are? The new term “AI washing” is hitting everywhere.

What’s the best option? Let’s explore.

Dove tells all it won’t use AI

Last week, Dove, the beauty brand celebrating 20 years of its Campaign for Real Beauty, pledged it would NEVER use AI in visual communication to portray real people.

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In the announcement, they said they will create “Real Beauty Prompt Guidelines” that people can use to create images representing all types of physical beauty through popular generative AI programs. The prompt they picked for the launch video? “The most beautiful woman in the world, according to Dove.”

I applaud them for the powerful ad. But I’m perplexed by Dove issuing a statement saying it won’t use AI for images of real beauty and then sharing a branded prompt for doing exactly that. Isn’t it like me saying, “Don’t think of a parrot eating pizza. Don’t think about a parrot eating pizza,” and you can’t help but think about a parrot eating pizza right now?

Brandtech Group says it’s all in on AI

Now, Brandtech Group, a conglomerate ad agency, is going the other way. It’s going all-in on AI and telling everybody.

This week, Ad Age featured a press release — oops, I mean an article (subscription required) — with the details of how Brandtech is leaning into the takeaway from OpenAI’s Sam Altman, who says 95% of marketing work today can be done by AI.

A Brandtech representative talked about how they pitch big brands with two people instead of 20. They boast about how proud they are that its lean 7,000 staffers compete with 100,000-person teams. (To be clear, showing up to a pitch with 20 people has never been a good thing, but I digress.)

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OK, that’s a differentiated approach. They’re all in. Ad Age certainly seemed to like it enough to promote it. Oops, I mean report about it.

False claims of using AI and not using AI

Offshoots of the all-in and never-will approaches also exist.

The term “AI washing” is de rigueur to describe companies claiming to use AI for something that really isn’t AI.  The US Securities and Exchange Commission just fined two companies for using misleading statements about their use of AI in their business model. I know one startup technology organization faced so much pressure from their board and investors to “do something with AI” that they put a simple chatbot on their website — a glorified search engine — while they figured out what they wanted to do.

Lastly and perhaps most interestingly, companies have and will use AI for much of what they create but remain quiet about it or desire to keep it a secret. A recent notable example is the deepfake ad of a woman in a car professing the need for people to use a particular body wipe to get rid of body odor. It was purported to be real, but sharp-eyed viewers suspected the fake and called out the company, which then admitted it. Or was that the brand’s intent all along — the AI-use outrage would bring more attention?

To yell or not to yell about your brand’s AI decision

Should a brand yell from a mountaintop that they use AI to differentiate themselves a la Brandtech? Or should a brand yell they’re never going to use AI to differentiate themselves a la Dove? Or should a brand use it and not yell anything? (I think it’s clear that a brand should not use AI and lie and say it is. That’s the worst of all choices.)

I lean far into not-yelling-from-mountaintop camp.

When I see a CEO proudly exclaim that they laid off 90% of their support workforce because of AI, I’m not surprised a little later when the value of their service is reduced, and the business is failing.

I’m not surprised when I hear “AI made us do it” to rationalize the latest big tech company latest rounds of layoffs. Or when a big consulting firm announces it’s going all-in on using AI to replace its creative and strategic resources.

I see all those things as desperate attempts for short-term attention or a distraction from the real challenge. They may get responses like, “Of course, you had to lay all those people off; AI is so disruptive,” or “Amazing. You’re so out in front of the rest of the pack by leveraging AI to create efficiency, let me cover your story.” Perhaps they get this response, “Your company deserves a bump in stock price because you’re already using this fancy new technology.”

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But what happens if the AI doesn’t deliver as promoted? What happens the next time you need to lay off people? What happens the next time you need to prove your technologically forward-leaning?

Yelling out that you’re all in on a disruptive innovation, especially one the public doesn’t yet trust a lot is (at best) a business sugar high. That short-term burst of attention may or may not foul your long-term brand value.

Interestingly, the same scenarios can manifest when your brand proclaims loudly it is all out of AI, as Dove did. The sugar high may not last and now Dove has itself into a messaging box. One slip could cause distrust among its customers. And what if AI gets good at demonstrating diversity in beauty?

I tried Dove’s instructions and prompted ChatGPT for a picture of “the most beautiful woman in the world according to the Dove Real Beauty ad.”

It gave me this. Then this. And this. And finally, this.

She’s absolutely beautiful, but she doesn’t capture the many facets of diversity Dove has demonstrated in its Real Beauty campaigns. To be clear, Dove doesn’t have any control over generating the image. Maybe the prompt worked well for Dove, but it didn’t for me. Neither Dove nor you can know how the AI tool will behave.

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To use AI or not to use AI?

When brands grab a microphone to answer that question, they work from an existential fear about the disruption’s meaning. They do not exhibit the confidence in their actions to deal with it.

Let’s return to Hamlet’s soliloquy:

Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all;

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprises of great pith and moment

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With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action.

In other words, Hamlet says everybody is afraid to take real action because they fear the unknown outcome. You could act to mitigate or solve some challenges, but you don’t because you don’t trust yourself.

If I’m a brand marketer for any business (and I am), I’m going to take action on AI for my business. But until I see how I’m going to generate value with AI, I’m going to be circumspect about yelling or proselytizing how my business’ future is better.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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How to Use AI For a More Effective Social Media Strategy, According to Ross Simmonds

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How to Use AI For a More Effective Social Media Strategy, According to Ross Simmonds

Welcome to Creator Columns, where we bring expert HubSpot Creator voices to the Blogs that inspire and help you grow better.

It’s the age of AI, and our job as marketers is to keep up.

My team at Foundation Marketing recently conducted an AI Marketing study surveying hundreds of marketers, and more than 84% of all leaders, managers, SEO experts, and specialists confirmed that they used AI in the workplace.

AI in the workplace data graphic, Foundation Labs

If you can overlook the fear-inducing headlines, this technology is making social media marketers more efficient and effective than ever. Translation: AI is good news for social media marketers.

Download Now: The 2024 State of Social Media Trends [Free Report]

In fact, I predict that the marketers not using AI in their workplace will be using it before the end of this year, and that number will move closer and closer to 100%.

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Social media and AI are two of the most revolutionizing technologies of the last few decades. Social media has changed the way we live, and AI is changing the way we work.

So, I’m going to condense and share the data, research, tools, and strategies that the Foundation Marketing Team and I have been working on over the last year to help you better wield the collective power of AI and social media.

Let’s jump into it.

What’s the role of AI in social marketing strategy?

In a recent episode of my podcast, Create Like The Greats, we dove into some fascinating findings about the impact of AI on marketers and social media professionals. Take a listen here:

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the benefits of this technology:

Benefits of AI in Social Media Strategy

AI is to social media what a conductor is to an orchestra — it brings everything together with precision and purpose. The applications of AI in a social media strategy are vast, but the virtuosos are few who can wield its potential to its fullest.

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AI to Conduct Customer Research

Imagine you’re a modern-day Indiana Jones, not dodging boulders or battling snakes, but rather navigating the vast, wild terrain of consumer preferences, trends, and feedback.

This is where AI thrives.

Using social media data, from posts on X to comments and shares, AI can take this information and turn it into insights surrounding your business and industry. Let’s say for example you’re a business that has 2,000 customer reviews on Google, Yelp, or a software review site like Capterra.

Leveraging AI you can now have all 2,000 of these customer reviews analyzed and summarized into an insightful report in a matter of minutes. You simply need to download all of them into a doc and then upload them to your favorite Generative Pre-trained Transformer (GPT) to get the insights and data you need.

But that’s not all.

You can become a Prompt Engineer and write ChatGPT asking it to help you better understand your audience. For example, if you’re trying to come up with a persona for people who enjoy marathons but also love kombucha you could write a prompt like this to ChatGPT:

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ChatGPT prompt example

The response that ChatGPT provided back is quite good:

GPT response example

Below this it went even deeper by including a lot of valuable customer research data:

  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Consumer behaviors
  • Needs and preferences

And best of all…

It also included marketing recommendations.

The power of AI is unbelievable.

Social Media Content Using AI

AI’s helping hand can be unburdening for the creative spirit.

Instead of marketers having to come up with new copy every single month for posts, AI Social Caption generators are making it easier than ever to craft catchy status updates in the matter of seconds.

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Tools like HubSpot make it as easy as clicking a button and telling the AI tool what you’re looking to create a post about:

AI social media caption generator step 1

The best part of these AI tools is that they’re not limited to one channel.

Your AI social media content assistant can help you with LinkedIn content, X content, Facebook content, and even the captions that support your post on Instagram.

It can also help you navigate hashtags:

AI social media hashtags generator example, HubSpot

With AI social media tools that generate content ideas or even write posts, it’s not about robots replacing humans. It’s about making sure that the human creators on your team are focused on what really matters — adding that irreplaceable human touch.

Enhanced Personalization

You know that feeling when a brand gets you, like, really gets you?

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AI makes that possible through targeted content that’s tailored with a level of personalization you’d think was fortune-telling if the data didn’t paint a starker, more rational picture.

What do I mean?

Brands can engage more quickly with AI than ever before. In the early 2000s, a lot of brands spent millions of dollars to create social media listening rooms where they would hire social media managers to find and engage with any conversation happening online.

Thanks to AI, brands now have the ability to do this at scale with much fewer people all while still delivering quality engagement with the recipient.

Analytics and Insights

Tapping into AI to dissect the data gives you a CSI-like precision to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and what makes your audience tick. It’s the difference between guessing and knowing.

The best part about AI is that it can give you almost any expert at your fingertips.

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If you run a report surrounding the results of your social media content strategy directly from a site like LinkedIn, AI can review the top posts you’ve shared and give you clear feedback on what type of content is performing, why you should create more of it, and what days of the week your content is performing best.

This type of insight that would typically take hours to understand.

Now …

Thanks to the power of AI you can upload a spreadsheet filled with rows and columns of data just to be met with a handful of valuable insights a few minutes later.

Improved Customer Service

Want 24/7 support for your customers?

It’s now possible without human touch.

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Chatbots powered by AI are taking the lead on direct messaging experiences for brands on Facebook and other Meta properties to offer round-the-clock assistance.

The fact that AI can be trained on past customer queries and data to inform future queries and problems is a powerful development for social media managers.

Advertising on Social Media with AI

The majority of ad networks have used some variation of AI to manage their bidding system for years. Now, thanks to AI and its ability to be incorporated in more tools, brands are now able to use AI to create better and more interesting ad campaigns than ever before.

Brands can use AI to create images using tools like Midjourney and DALL-E in seconds.

Brands can use AI to create better copy for their social media ads.

Brands can use AI tools to support their bidding strategies.

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The power of AI and social media is continuing to evolve daily and it’s not exclusively found in the organic side of the coin. Paid media on social media is being shaken up due to AI just the same.

How to Implement AI into Your Social Media Strategy

Ready to hit “Go” on your AI-powered social media revolution?

Don’t just start the engine and hope for the best. Remember the importance of building a strategy first. In this video, you can learn some of the most important factors ranging from (but not limited to) SMART goals and leveraging influencers in your day-to-day work:

The following seven steps are crucial to building a social media strategy:

  1. Identify Your AI and Social Media Goals
  2. Validate Your AI-Related Assumptions
  3. Conduct Persona and Audience Research
  4. Select the Right Social Channels
  5. Identify Key Metrics and KPIs
  6. Choose the Right AI Tools
  7. Evaluate and Refine Your Social Media and AI Strategy

Keep reading, roll up your sleeves, and follow this roadmap:

1. Identify Your AI and Social Media Goals

If you’re just dipping your toes into the AI sea, start by defining clear objectives.

Is it to boost engagement? Streamline your content creation? Or simply understand your audience better? It’s important that you spend time understanding what you want to achieve.

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For example, say you’re a content marketing agency like Foundation and you’re trying to increase your presence on LinkedIn. The specificity of this goal will help you understand the initiatives you want to achieve and determine which AI tools could help you make that happen.

Are there AI tools that will help you create content more efficiently? Are there AI tools that will help you optimize LinkedIn Ads? Are there AI tools that can help with content repurposing? All of these things are possible and having a goal clearly identified will help maximize the impact. Learn more in this Foundation Marketing piece on incorporating AI into your content workflow.

Once you have identified your goals, it’s time to get your team on board and assess what tools are available in the market.

Recommended Resources:

2. Validate Your AI-Related Assumptions

Assumptions are dangerous — especially when it comes to implementing new tech.

Don’t assume AI is going to fix all your problems.

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Instead, start with small experiments and track their progress carefully.

3. Conduct Persona and Audience Research

Social media isn’t something that you can just jump into.

You need to understand your audience and ideal customers. AI can help with this, but you’ll need to be familiar with best practices. If you need a primer, this will help:

Once you understand the basics, consider ways in which AI can augment your approach.

4. Select the Right Social Channels

Not every social media channel is the same.

It’s important that you understand what channel is right for you and embrace it.

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The way you use AI for X is going to be different from the way you use AI for LinkedIn. On X, you might use AI to help you develop a long-form thread that is filled with facts and figures. On LinkedIn however, you might use AI to repurpose a blog post and turn it into a carousel PDF. The content that works on X and that AI can facilitate creating is different from the content that you can create and use on LinkedIn.

The audiences are different.

The content formats are different.

So operate and create a plan accordingly.

Recommended Tools and Resources:

5. Identify Key Metrics and KPIs

What metrics are you trying to influence the most?

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Spend time understanding the social media metrics that matter to your business and make sure that they’re prioritized as you think about the ways in which you use AI.

These are a few that matter most:

  • Reach: Post reach signifies the count of unique users who viewed your post. How much of your content truly makes its way to users’ feeds?
  • Clicks: This refers to the number of clicks on your content or account. Monitoring clicks per campaign is crucial for grasping what sparks curiosity or motivates people to make a purchase.
  • Engagement: The total social interactions divided by the number of impressions. This metric reveals how effectively your audience perceives you and their readiness to engage.

Of course, it’s going to depend greatly on your business.

But with this information, you can ensure that your AI social media strategy is rooted in goals.

6. Choose the Right AI Tools

The AI landscape is filled with trash and treasure.

Pick AI tools that are most likely to align with your needs and your level of tech-savviness.

For example, if you’re a blogger creating content about pizza recipes, you can use HubSpot’s AI social caption generator to write the message on your behalf:

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AI social media generator example

The benefit of an AI tool like HubSpot and the caption generator is that what at one point took 30-40 minutes to come up with — you can now have it at your fingertips in seconds. The HubSpot AI caption generator is trained on tons of data around social media content and makes it easy for you to get inspiration or final drafts on what can be used to create great content.

Consider your budget, the learning curve, and what kind of support the tool offers.

7. Evaluate and Refine Your Social Media and AI Strategy

AI isn’t a magic wand; it’s a set of complex tools and technology.

You need to be willing to pivot as things come to fruition.

If you notice that a certain activity is falling flat, consider how AI can support that process.

Did you notice that your engagement isn’t where you want it to be? Consider using an AI tool to assist with crafting more engaging social media posts.

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Make AI Work for You — Now and in the Future

AI has the power to revolutionize your social media strategy in ways you may have never thought possible. With its ability to conduct customer research, create personalized content, and so much more, thinking about the future of social media is fascinating.

We’re going through one of the most interesting times in history.

Stay equipped to ride the way of AI and ensure that you’re embracing the best practices outlined in this piece to get the most out of the technology.

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MARKETING

Advertising in local markets: A playbook for success

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Advertising in local markets: A playbook for success

Many brands, such as those in the home services industry or a local grocery chain, market to specific locations, cities or regions. There are also national brands that want to expand in specific local markets. 

Regardless of the company or purpose, advertising on a local scale has different tactics than on a national scale. Brands need to connect their messaging directly with the specific communities they serve and media to their target demo. Here’s a playbook to help your company succeed when marketing on a local scale.  

1. Understand local vs. national campaigns

Local advertising differs from national campaigns in several ways: 

  • Audience specificity: By zooming in on precise geographic areas, brands can tailor messaging to align with local communities’ customs, preferences and nuances. This precision targeting ensures that your message resonates with the right target audience.
  • Budget friendliness: Local advertising is often more accessible for small businesses. Local campaign costs are lower, enabling brands to invest strategically within targeted locales. This budget-friendly nature does not diminish the need for strategic planning; instead, it emphasizes allocating resources wisely to maximize returns. As a result, testing budgets can be allocated across multiple markets to maximize learnings for further market expansion.
  • Channel selection: Selecting the correct channels is vital for effective local advertising. Local newspapers, radio stations, digital platforms and community events each offer advantages. The key lies in understanding where your target audience spends time and focusing efforts to ensure optimal engagement.
  • Flexibility and agility: Local campaigns can be adjusted more swiftly in response to market feedback or changes, allowing brands to stay relevant and responsive. 

Maintaining brand consistency across local touchpoints reinforces brand identity and builds a strong, recognizable brand across markets. 

2. Leverage customized audience segmentation 

Customized audience segmentation is the process of dividing a market into distinct groups based on specific demographic criteria. This marketing segmentation supports the development of targeted messaging and media plans for local markets. 

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For example, a coffee chain might cater to two distinct segments: young professionals and retirees. After identifying these segments, the chain can craft messages, offers and media strategies relating to each group’s preferences and lifestyle.

To reach young professionals in downtown areas, the chain might focus on convenience, quality coffee and a vibrant atmosphere that is conducive to work and socializing. Targeted advertising on Facebook, Instagram or Connected TV, along with digital signage near office complexes, could capture the attention of this demographic, emphasizing quick service and premium blends.

Conversely, for retirees in residential areas, the chain could highlight a cozy ambiance, friendly service and promotions such as senior discounts. Advertisements in local print publications, community newsletters, radio stations and events like senior coffee mornings would foster a sense of community and belonging.

Dig deeper: Niche advertising: 7 actionable tactics for targeted marketing

3. Adapt to local market dynamics

Various factors influence local market dynamics. Brands that navigate changes effectively maintain a strong audience connection and stay ahead in the market. Here’s how consumer sentiment and behavior may evolve within a local market and the corresponding adjustments brands can make. 

  • Cultural shifts, such as changes in demographics or societal norms, can alter consumer preferences within a local community. For example, a neighborhood experiencing gentrification may see demand rise for specific products or services.
    • Respond by updating your messaging to reflect the evolving cultural landscape, ensuring it resonates with the new demographic profile.
  • Economic conditions are crucial. For example, during downturns, consumers often prioritize value and practicality.
    • Highlight affordable options or emphasize the practical benefits of your offerings to ensure messaging aligns with consumers’ financial priorities. The impact is unique to each market and the marketing message must also be dynamic.
  • Seasonal trends impact consumer behavior.
    • Align your promotions and creative content with changing seasons or local events to make your offerings timely and relevant.
  • New competitors. The competitive landscape demands vigilance because new entrants or innovative competitor campaigns can shift consumer preferences.
    • Differentiate by focusing on your unique selling propositions, such as quality, customer service or community involvement, to retain consumer interest and loyalty.

4. Apply data and predictive analytics 

Data and predictive analytics are indispensable tools for successfully reaching local target markets. These technologies provide consumer behavior insights, enabling you to anticipate market trends and adjust strategies proactively. 

  • Price optimization: By analyzing consumer demand, competitor pricing and market conditions, data analytics enables you to set prices that attract customers while ensuring profitability.
  • Competitor analysis: Through analysis, brands can understand their positioning within the local market landscape and identify opportunities and threats. Predictive analytics offer foresight into competitors’ potential moves, allowing you to strategize effectively to maintain a competitive edge.
  • Consumer behavior: Forecasting consumer behavior allows your brand to tailor offerings and marketing messages to meet evolving consumer needs and enhance engagement.
  • Marketing effectiveness: Analytics track the success of advertising campaigns, providing insights into which strategies drive conversions and sales. This feedback loop enables continuous optimization of marketing efforts for maximum impact.
  • Inventory management: In supply chain management, data analytics predict demand fluctuations, ensuring inventory levels align with market needs. This efficiency prevents stockouts or excess inventory, optimizing operational costs and meeting consumer expectations.

Dig deeper: Why you should add predictive modeling to your marketing mix

5. Counter external market influences

Consider a clothing retailer preparing for a spring collection launch. By analyzing historical weather data and using predictive analytics, the brand forecasts an unseasonably cool start to spring. Anticipating this, the retailer adjusts its campaign to highlight transitional pieces suitable for cooler weather, ensuring relevance despite an unexpected chill.

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Simultaneously, predictive models signal an upcoming spike in local media advertising rates due to increased market demand. Retailers respond by reallocating a portion of advertising budgets to digital channels, which offer more flexibility and lower costs than traditional media. This shift enables brands to maintain visibility and engagement without exceeding budget, mitigating the impact of external forces on advertising.

6. Build consumer confidence with messaging

Localized messaging and tailored customer service enhance consumer confidence by demonstrating your brand’s understanding of the community. For instance, a grocery store that curates cooking classes featuring local cuisine or sponsors community events shows commitment to local culture and consumer interests. 

Similarly, a bookstore highlighting local authors or topics relevant to the community resonates with local customers. Additionally, providing service that addresses local needs — such as bilingual service and local event support — reinforces the brand’s values and response to the community. 

Through these localized approaches, brands can build trust and loyalty, bridging the gap between corporate presence and local relevance.

7. Dominate with local advertising 

To dominate local markets, brands must:

  • Harness hyper-targeted segmentation and geo-targeted advertising to reach and engage precise audiences.
  • Create localized content that reflects community values, engage in community events, optimize campaigns for mobile and track results.
  • Fine-tune strategies, outperform competitors and foster lasting relationships with customers.

These strategies will enable your message to resonate with local consumers, differentiate you in competitive markets and ensure you become a major player in your specific area. 



Dig deeper: The 5 critical elements for local marketing success

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

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