“Journalism is dead in America…”
---Sean Hannity 2009
Journalism may not be completely dead yet. However, the industry in aggregate seems to be dying. Newspapers are in steep decline; and the cornerstones of the craft (magazines & periodicals) are locked in a death spiral. Similarly, local television news programs have experienced dramatic declines in viewership for more than a decade; and revenues for radio stations with all-news formats have flatlined.
The explosion of social media in recent years has undoubtedly disrupted the news and publishing industries. These days, online news sources are a staple for a vast majority of adults in the United States. In fact, 43% of U.S. adults turned to social media, news websites and news apps for political news this past election cycle. In parallel, online media subscriptions grew at an astonishing 300% rate last year.
So why are so many industry bellwethers floundering in an era where content is supposedly “King”? The sad truth of the matter is that publishers have largely abandoned their tradecraft. Most bought in to the assertion that “the broad opportunities…involve supplying information or entertainment“ while largely neglecting the other two pillars of their art: educating & enlightening their audiences. Additionally, many unwittingly bought into the assertion that their audiences “must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will.” Quantity over quality seems to be the manta; and publishers are paying a hefty price for their shoddy craftsmanship.
Make no mistake, the digital publishing realm is a world within itself. Cyberspace happens to be real estate; and publishers failed to fortify their online kingdoms when they colonized their territories. Metaphorically speaking, they entrusted pirates to patrol their waters at the outset. Gradually, the pirates established strongholds within the publishing castles and extorted their naivety. Today, these pirates hold the publishing world hostage; charging those they deem fit a king’s ransom to publicize and distribute their wares.
By pirates, we are referring to search engines, social media companies and content aggregators (specifically: the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google and YouTube). Perniciously, they have a stranglehold on the distribution and circulation of Web content. In parallel, these same companies also control a lion’s share of the advertising market within the online publishing world. Like robber barons of the 19th Century, the tech giants have created monopolistic empires of their own, decimating the publishing industry and leaving behind a wake of public discord in the process.
We will examine the genesis of the present situation in this article. We will also explain why the status quo has become a threat to democracies around the world as well as our own Constitutional Republic here at home. Lastly, we will offer our thoughts on how to best balance the playing field and hopefully restore public trust in our media institutions.
Just the Facts, Ma’am
A freefall within the publishing industry has been evident for years. In 2013, U.S. newspaper circulation fell below the lowest level in recorded history as digital consumption became more mainstream. According to PEW Research, the shrinkage has continued at an astounding rate since then. In 2018 for example, the combined circulation for print & digital daily newspapers in the U.S. fell 8% for weekdays and 9% for Sundays. Sadly, the future looks even bleaker for publishers if present trends continue.
Revenue for magazine and periodical publishers was expected to decline 13.8% in 2020 according to IBISWorld. As revenues from print advertising dry up, digital revenue streams simply are not accounting for the difference. This isn’t surprising given that the bulk of revenues generated through digital advertising (52%) now go to Facebook and Google rather than to the publishers themselves.
Picture cyberspace as a solar system and the World Wide Web as a planet within that system. Now imagine you were a publishing mogul looking to set up shop on that planet. You probably would not dump your wares onto the surface of that planet without understanding and testing the terrain first. Yet, this is essentially what a vast majority of publishers and news outlets did when they launched their online publishing ventures.
The surface of the Web itself happens to be fluid and transparent. Adroit travelers within cyberspace are able to see everything on the surface web at quick glance; meaning that it’s ripe for piracy and theft. Much like the surface of the Earth; most of the solid ground on the Web lies well below the planetary surface.
In aggregate, the Web’s subterranean layers are known the deep web which is often ignorantly conflated with the dark web - the Web’s murky undersurface that is permeated with illegal content. That said, the deep Web is where the bedrock lies. In fact, around 90% of the world’s websites exist within the deep web rather than the surface web. Sites within the deep web are not indexed by the search engines and oftentimes aren’t made visible to the public in general. Additionally, websites within the deep web are frequently encrypted to ward off pirating operations as well as hackers.
When publishers first launched into cyberspace and claimed their domains on the Web, hackers were a clear predatory threat. Consequently, protocols were quickly established within the surface web to deter hackers. Savvy tech pirates on the other hand, were lying in wait. Many of them appeared innocuous on the surface. They had a native understanding of the Web’s subterrain and were often collegial toward publishers. However, business ventures are a combination of war and sport and pirate captains soon prepared their vessels to perform stealth forms of grand larceny within the publishing world.
Houston, We Have a Problem
The original champions of the World Wide Web were long on dreams and big on aspirations. In a 1994 speech to the International Telecommunications Union, then Vice-President Al Gore remarked:
Here, Mr. Gates fully recognized the viability of the emerging markets as well as their enormous potential for scale. He also implied that social upheaval of some sort would be inevitable as macroeconomic principles played out over time. In those days, cyberspace was much like the North American continent during the 17th century. In effect, the World Wide Web would be an ethereal fountain for new raw materials with computer code comprising the basic elements.
Navigational maps would be required to conquer the terrain. They would be required to link people and institutions together; and to effectively promote trade. Also, library systems would have to be built to warehouse the perpetually renewing supply of maps. Inevitably, something along the lines of the Great Library of Alexandria would need to be built for the public at large to catch on and colonize the Web.
Intuitively, one would think that visionaries and architects devising the National Information Infrastructure would have realized this at the outset and built one into their rollout plan. Yet, it was left entirely up to the private sector to develop, build, and maintain them instead. Consequently, rudimentary libraries sprouted up throughout the 1990s. They are of course known as search engines today.
The first of these search engines was named Archie. Archie made its debut in 1990. That said, it was more of a simple card catalog than an exploratory tool for Web. Archie was followed by W3Catalog and JumpStation in 1993. Jumpstation was the first search engine to combine crawling, indexing and searching all into one package; features which are now industry standards. This innovation was followed in 1994 by Webcrawler; the first tool that enabled visitors to search for any word on any webpage, which is also of course an industry standard today.
During the latter part of the decade, competition within this category heated up as Web usage became more mainstream. Several search engines debuted during this period vying for popularity. Among the better known: Magellan, Excite, Infoseek, Inktomi, Northern Light, and AltaVista.
Then in 2000, Google gained traction. The brainchild of entrepreneurs Sergey Brin and Larry Page quickly rose to the forefront of the market largely due to their sophisticated PageRank system as well as their novel paid-search capabilities. Both were game-changing features as far as e-commerce was concerned, especially for publishers, entertainment companies and media outlets. For that matter, an argument can be made for the whole of western civilization as well.
The Booty Call
Mr. Brin & Mr. Page met as undergrads at Stanford University. Mathematical geniuses armed with computer science backgrounds; they set out to change our world by effectively organizing and cataloging the World Wide Web. A sophisticated mathematical gear system was at the heart of their solution, better known today as algorithms. The machinery they developed was groundbreaking to say the least.
From the outset, Google’s product had an intuitive end-user interface and an engaging demeanor. It was also fast and efficient. Beyond that, Brin & Page’s search engine was generations ahead of their competition mechanically. Both factors were enormous competitive advantages and they quickly leaped to the top of the market. The company has remained there ever since; driving the most of their competitors into the graveyard.
Being one of the greatest free-market success stories of all-time, stories about the Google’s origin, founding and history are widely known. Most point to their earnest desire to change the world for the better during the company's nascency. Journalist Steven Levy provides such an example in his book: In the Plex, recounting the origin of the Google’s infamous slogan ‘Don’t Be Evil’:
And while Google’s founders insist that they were not moved by money, they were entrepreneurs at heart and ingrained their passion for success within the corporate culture. Regardless of their profit motives, competing to win has always been a strategic imperative for the company. As Mr. Brin once remarked: “We want Google to be the third half of your brain.”
The company understood from the outset that the World Wide Web happens to be a world of real estate. A world comprised of the elements visible to the naked eye and measured by occupancy. Over time, the search industry’s 800-pound gorilla has effectively built locks on both.
Google’s domain is arguably the most valuable piece of cyber real estate ever created as far as occupancy is concerned. More people visit Google every single day than other site on the web. They also spend a great deal of time there. An average of 16 minutes per day; taking in over 17 pageviews during their stays.
Early in the game, publishers and the media seemingly thought allowing Search Engines like Google to freely crawl, catalog, and index everything they created was a wise idea. Time has proven them wrong. At least for the ones that consistently fail to appear above the fold on the first page of Google’s search results that is. Google has controlled over 86% of the global Search market for well over a decade. On top of that, they presently have a stranglehold on the industry’s advertising market – estimated at over 80% for 2019. In short, they’ve effectively monopolized both industries.
Make no mistake, free press in America is no longer free. In effect, the media and the press have acquiesced to a sophisticated band of pirates who pilfer their profits and arbitrarily doll out their creative assets to the public. Online publicity has essentially become a pay-for-play racket over the years. Arguably, along the same lines as the Payola schemes that have scandalized the music industry off and on again since the 1950s. Like a mafioso godfather, Google demands tribute. And the publishing world willingly lines up to kiss their ring.
Mr. Brin & Mr. Page no doubt had a sense of humor about them when they christened the first pirate vessel. They originally dubbed Google’s new technology BackRub – a tongue-in-cheek phrase used within underworld establishments known to supply Happy Endings to their clientele. God knows if they had this in mind when they set out to conquer the Internet. That said, the monopoly they spawned within their dorm rooms has since grown to become the most powerful member of an oligarchical information technology syndicate. A syndicate that has grown so powerful that it now threatens the very fabric of free society.
What We’ve Got Here Is Failure to Communicate
It is little wonder that Western civilization began to fragment almost in parallel with Mr. Gore’s 1994 speech. Competition within the news and entertainment industries went into hyperdrive with the advent of the Web. With the internet, fringe publications were no longer hidden behind the counter of a local newsstand. Instead, they were right out in the open for all the world to see. Everything from hardcore pornography and violent videotaped crimes; to exploitative human tragedy exposes and even narcissistic rantings of deranged sycophants. The public gobbled this garbage up like kids in a candy store.
In other words, Big Tech assumed the role of moral arbiters on behalf of the Democrat Party and their organized affiliates. If you happen to be a student of 20th century history, this should send shivers up your spine. This is exactly what fascist and communist regimes of that period did with big industry. Both deemed themselves moral arbiters and distorted the truth. The atrocities committed by both regimes speak for themselves.
We are seeing more of the same today out of big tech. This time however, minerals are not the coveted commodity. Like the Nazi and Soviet regimes of Europe, Silicon Valley pirate captains have settled into an unholy alliance with China’s fascist regime. They tilted the 2020 elections here in the United States toward the left; and the country is headed toward communism. Free market be damned for all eternity if this were to happen.
All that Glitters Isn’t Gold
Vice President Gore delivered a second speech on the UCLA campus in 1994 where he remarked that: “the future of language is in our hands. Or put more broadly, the future of communications.” He went on to share a parable by author Toni Morrison:
Ironically, mass communications have not been nurtured. The buckshot approach taken by the Clinton Administration to catalog and index the Internet backfired on the public. Foolishly, politicians allowed carnivores into Publisher’s hen houses. Obliviously or corruptly, they have taken handouts from Big Tech fat cats and overlooked the best interests of their constituency. Our inalienable rights are now being crushed or smothered by capitalist wolves in the hands of greedy communist pigs largely in consequence.
The time has come to break up the Big Tech’s four horsemen for the good of the nation and all of humanity. For starters, Congress must recognize what Amazon, Facebook, Google & Twitter broker: information capital. Beyond the inherent threat to your personal liberties and guaranteed freedoms, there is a greater threat to our national security interests if they continue to remain unchecked.
With the exception of Amazon, Big Tech’s horsemen effectively serve as public utilities in the digital age. Facebook being akin to Bell Telephone and National Public Radio; and Twitter being a worldwide “town square” so to speak. Similarly, Google has arguably become America’s mass transit system within the cyber world. Like robber barons of the industrial era, the top brass within these companies effectively dictate and control the flow of information from town to town and city to city across the country.
Beyond the breakup, re-formulating America's communications infrastructure will require an innovative approach. Re-tooling our National Library system seems a natural place to start. The information superhighway needs a Grand Central Station; and the National Library has that potential if properly scaled.
Author: Erik Gagnon - Managing Partner, Chi Rho Consulting
“Good design accelerates the adoption of new ideas.”
---Yves Behar (Swiss designer, entrepreneur and an educator)
Over the years, we’ve helped a good number of startup companies and non-profit organizations develop and implement long-term growth strategies. Without question, one of biggest challenges we typically face when working with their leadership teams is convincing them to invest aggressively in their brands.
We’ve found that entrepreneurs and non-profit executives often place branding on the lower end of the priority scale because it's difficult for them to see the tangible benefits. Oftentimes, they assume that money spent on branding diminishes their operational capacity. Such thinking tends to be a penny-wise but pound-foolish approach.
This is particularly true when it comes to web design. In today’s world, your website is typically one of the first points of contact between your organization and your target audience. Strong web design often propels your organization to success. Conversely, poor web design can completely subvert your mission.
First impressions matter. Make a bad impression, and you’ll likely lose potential conversions. Make a good one, and you’ll typically gain new customers. More importantly, you’ll potentially earn a customer for life if you make a great impression.
In other words, quality web design is crucial to your mission. A high-quality website greatly increases the value of your brand in the minds of your target audience. Furthermore, wise investments in your digital assets ultimately build brand equity for your organization. With this in mind, here are the twelve design rules we suggest you follow in order to squeeze the most out of your website.
of your design will be evaluated instantly by your visitors. Their first impressions will likely determine if, when and how they decide to interact with your site, brand or business. A visually pleasing design scheme will create a favorable first impression and increase visitor engagement.
Here are the design elements that attract your visitor’s attention first and foremost:
Tip: Effective visuals and a crisp, clean design add credibility and legitimacy to your website. Effective design also helps establish trust in your brand. This is especially important if you're trying to convert a sale or sway opinions. A visitor will associate the experience they have on your website with the experience they are likely to have with you in real life.
RULE #2 – Get to Know SEO
To make the most of your Internet real estate, you need to design and build a website that can be found on the major search engines (Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, etc.).
The art and science of ranking in search is commonly known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). An effective content strategy accounts for the search terms your target audience uses on a day-to-day basis. An effective strategy also incorporates customized content (e.g. videos, blog articles, podcasts, e-books, etc.) based on your audience's demands and preferences.
Successful SEO requires patience and attention to detail. An extensive knowledge of how search engines work is helpful, and it generally takes time and practice to achieve sustainable success. That said, you’ll be off to a good start and probably gain an advantage over your competition once you get the basics down. After mastering the basics, you can always move on to advanced levels of SEO down the road.
Tip: If you’re just starting out with SEO, it’s a good idea to begin simple. For example, concentrate on improving your site in each of the following five areas:
RULE #3 – Responsive Websites Rank Better
Mobile search now accounts for over 60% of total search volume; and that figure is only expected to increase over the next few years.
Indeed, 80% of internet users own a smartphone, and Google indicates that “61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site they had trouble accessing and 40% visit a competitor’s site instead.” Therefore, the look, feel, form and function of your website on mobile devices is crucial to your long-term success.
based on the dimensions of the viewing device. For example, the look and feel of a site viewed on an over-sized desktop computer monitor, a laptop, or devices with small screens such as smartphones and tablets, is generally consistent across all devices.
Tip: Most of the major drag-and-drop website builders (e.g. Weebly, Wix, Squarespace, etc.) now include responsive design templates as part of their standard product offerings.
RULE #4 – Your Navigation Menu Matters
Navigation is a crucial component of effective website design. Your navigation menu is basically a map that displays the key places you want your visitors to explore. If your website’s navigation menu isn’t effective, visitors will overlook important content. Worse still, they may become frustrated and abandon your site altogether.
When examining the effectiveness of your website's navigation menu, it's important to ensure that it’s clear, concise and relatively simple. Common characteristics of an effective navigation menu include:
Tip: The bottom of your page isn’t necessarily the end of your site and the space for your copyright notice. An effective footer also allows visitors dig deeper into your site. Meaning, you shouldn't forget to include a secondary navigation menu in your website footer. As an added benefit, the additional internal links positively influence your page search rankings.
RULE #5 – Take Time When Crafting Your Content Headers
If you effectively utilize and optimize your h1, h2 and h3 header tags, you can greatly improve your website’s search rankings and thereby increase organic traffic. That said, designers all too often miss the mark when creating the header tags for their web pages.
Header tags are a critical on-page SEO factor because search engines use them to categorize your site’s content. Search engines prioritize the copy in your header tags above your text paragraph sections. The hierarchy begins with your h1 tag and moves down in importance to the h2, h3, etc. In other words, your header tags supplement the mission or purpose of your web pages.
It’s important to structure your header tags appropriately. To truly be effective, it’s important to include short-tail and long-tail keywords in your header tag content. When the search engines crawl your site, they read your header tags and recognize the keywords you’ve incorporated. They’re factored in to the algorithms the search engines use to prioritize and rank your pages in their search results.
Tip: Your h1 tag should contain keywords targeted toward your audience. Your keywords should relate directly to your page title as well as your body content. As a general rule, you should only use one h1 tag on each page.
Your h2 tags are subheadings. They should contain keywords related to your h1 tag. Subsequently, your h3 tags are subheadings for your h2 tags, etc. In short, order your header tags in a hierarchy based on importance.
Also, ensure that your header tags are grammatically correct and coherent. Packing your header tags with keywords may in-fact hurt your search rankings. Google and Bing’s algorithms are sophisticated – attempts to manipulate search rankings generally do more harm than good.
Most visitors are comfortable scrolling a web page these days. Consequently, design emphasis has shifted toward optimizing aesthetics and form styling in recent years. A longer home page is now acceptable and offers some strategic advantages as well. Including 3-5 sections on your home page helps point visitors to key areas of your site. It also creates a more seamless user experience for your visitors.
Tip: Here’s a list of the key elements you should consider including in the sections of your home page:
RULE #7 – Make Effective Use of White Space
Believe it or not, white space is a critical design element. The term refers to the areas around your page elements that are empty and lack content or visual items.
White space improves readability and helps you compartmentalize your content. It also tends to decrease the apprehension level of new visitors. A page stuffed full of text and/or graphics with minimal white space generally appears busy or cluttered. This diminishes your user experience (UX) and typically leads to a high bounce rate.
Tip: If your web page lacks white space, review the page and strip elements or content that aren't necessary to the purpose of the page. After that, make sure this content is properly grouped so users are able to distinguish correlations on the page.
RULE #8 – Invest Time In Social Media
Effective use of social media really drives website traffic. In fact, over 26% of all traffic now comes from social media sites vs. 35% from search. Given that 62% of people list social media as a primary news source, your organization can’t afford to be silent on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks if you wish to stay relevant.
Besides being a valuable traffic and lead source, social media offers a unique opportunity to strengthen your brand’s awareness and reach. While organic search and paid advertisements generate attention, social media tends to spark interest. For example, people can begin following you with a simple click of a button on most social media sites. This provides an opportunity to engage with an interested audience on a regular basis and likely generate additional revenues long-term.
If all this sounds new to you, then we suggest you begin by setting up branded social media accounts and then embed social sharing buttons on the key pages of your website. Social sharing buttons contain icons from your preferred social sites and allow your visitors to share your content directly on their social media feeds. In other words, engaged visitors amplify your brand within their social circles and ultimately drive new traffic to your website.
Tip: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are social media juggernauts. However, they aren't the only players in the game. Indeed, the social media landscape has changed considerably in recent years and the industry is becoming more and more competitive. A plethora of new “free speech” social media startups offer unique opportunities to quickly make a name for yourself. We suggest you check out up-and-coming players like Gab, InfinitySN, Minds and Free Talk which currently seem to be operating under the radar of most major brands.
RULE #9 – Leverage and Grow Your Brand Assets
Your website is your public persona. It creates a lasting image of who you are. Therefore, carefully consider what you want your local, domestic and international communities to know about you, your product or your services. Once you've identified your desired game plan, meticulously craft your image and effectively manage your message.
Therefore, consider the following as you define or re-evaluate your brand:
Tip: Start by defining your ideal target market before you do anything else. Identify common attribute characteristics like:
Once you’ve profiled your ideal customers, create content tailored to the audience. Use language and imagery relevant to your target audience and relate on their terms.
RULE #10 – Font and Color Palates Really Matter
One of the keys to effective web design is to remember that digital marketing is principally text communication. According to Ryan Shafer (Lead Digital Designer at MTV & VH1), “I encourage all budding web designers to embrace that the web is fundamentally about typography design.”
extremely important when it comes to creating a cohesive color palette for your website and your other mar-comm materials.
A three-color palate is a good rule of thumb. That said, adhere to basic best practices in color theory no matter what color scheme you choose for your brand.
Tip: If you’re a design novice, a number of free online tools and resources are available to point you in the right direction. For color palates, we recommend Adobe Creative Cloud’s Color Wheel and Paletton. For font type selection, check out: Adobe Fonts, Wordmark and Type Scale.
RULE #11 – Maintain Fresh Content
The expression, “content is king” is widely-used these days in digital marketing circles. So, what exactly does it mean?
For starters, it refers to the fact that the search engines place a premium on new content. Indeed, the quality and relevancy of your content is essential in determining your page's position in search query results.
Simply updating or refreshing your pages on a regular basis doesn’t make your site “fresh” and more likely to rank effectively within the search engines. Similarly, adding new pages just for the sake of increasing the size of your digital footprint won’t necessarily boost your site on the freshness meter.
Google employs a tool referred to as "Query Deserves Freshness" (QDF) to rank and prioritize new content. This tool monitors search query activities and identifies trending topics that stand out from normal activity. When QDF is triggered, Google looks to see if there’s any fresh content on the topic and then gives that content a boost in their search results.
In other words, if you have fresh content on a trending topic, you’ll likely enjoy a ride at the top of the search results for a period of time. Once the QDF boost wears off, your page generally shuffles back to its original position in the search results.
If you’re a savvy and nimble organization, the QDF algorithm provides opportunities to generate a significant competitive advantage. For example, if you create relevant and robust content in pulse with the hottest trends in your market, you can quickly establish yourself as a thought leader within your industry.
Tip: Follow these five simple guidelines if you struggle to create fresh content:
RULE #12 –Utilize High-Quality Images and Graphics
Eye-catching visual elements that complement your branding have a tremendous impact when used properly. Here are a few factors to consider when selecting graphics and images for your website:
customized graphics from a professional designer. That said, there are plenty of affordable stock image sites to choose from if you happen to have tight resource constraints (e.g. iStock, Adobe Stock, Wikimedia Commons, etc.)
If you do decide to use stock images instead of proprietary artwork, be careful to ensure that every image you select matches your brand persona and correlates with your written content. Also, you want to establish a unique brand identity and protect your site from having a generic look and feel, so be sure to avoid popular images if you can.
Tip: Remember that page load time factors in to your site’s search rankings. This is especially true for mobile. Therefore, you’ll want to pay close attention to the size of your image files. Familiarize yourself with Google’s “Image Optimization” guidelines if you want to completely optimize your images.
As we stated earlier, your website is often your organization’s primary public persona. It holds enormous influence over your target market’s perception of your products and/or services. More often than not, healthy and flourishing organizations tend to have effective websites; while struggling organizations often have ineffective websites.
Author: Erik Gagnon - Managing Partner, Chi Rho Consulting
Many C-Level executives associate Demand Generation with technology solutions and/or digital content programs. While both are crucial components, it's important to remember that effective Demand Generation is a complete organizational discipline. It's been our experience that organizations that avoid or ignore one or more of Demand Generation's strategic pillars often doom their programs to failure.
Our 2018 white paper The 4 Strategic Pillars of Effective Demand Generation examines the discipline from a strategic standpoint. We look at the key factors which typically separate effective Demand Generation programs from their ineffective counterparts. We also address the foundations of an effective Demand Generation strategy and offer some tactical recommendations within each of the four strategic pillars:
Over the years, we've helped a number of startups and expansion stage companies establish successful Demand Generation programs based upon the tenants we outline in this white paper. We've also helped a handful of established companies retool their marketing and sales operations, integrate predictive analytics into their programs and refine their touch point communications strategies based on these principles we highlight.
The white paper includes an Executive Summary with key findings as well as our conclusions for companies looking to adopt Demand Generation strategies or optimize their current Demand Gen activities. Click on the picture below to download the white paper now:
If you're seeking to establish a Demand Generation program for your company in 2018, or if your organization didn't produce the results you projected for your Demand Gen campaigns last year, Chi Rho Consulting can help! There's no cost for an initial consultation and we typically structure performance-based fee arrangements with our clients.
Note: This is the second of a five-part series of articles examining the discipline of Demand Generation. Follow this link to read the first article in the series: Why Nearly 60% of Enterprise Demand Generation Programs Underperform.
"Success doesn't necessarily come from breakthrough innovation but from flawless execution. A great strategy alone won't win a game or a battle; the win comes from basic blocking and tackling."
---Naveen Jain (Entrepreneur and Philanthropist)
In a game of American football, two competing teams vie for control of a ball, which can be kicked through a set of goalposts or run into the opponent's goal area to score points. If you're a fan of the sport, you probably know that the game has evolved dramatically over the years. In fact, nearly every aspect of football has changed to some degree since the game's inception over a century ago: the rules, the equipment, the venues and even the on field tactics. The game constantly evolves, innovates and modernizes.
Despite, the game's ongoing evolution, the end objectives of the contests have always remained consistent. Score more points than your opponent and you win the match. Win the most important matches and and you're crowned champion. Consistently win championships and you solidify your team as a dynasty.
I doubt that any dynastic football coach would dispute Naveen Jain's quote we cited above. Having played the game myself, I can tell you that the best teams on paper don't always win the contests on the field. The bottom line is that ongoing success on the gridiron typically requires consistent and near-flawless execution of basic fundamentals in every facet of the game.
Suffice it to say, the end objectives of nearly every business enterprise are parallel to the game of football: you play to win. In our first article of this series, we discussed why a high percentage of companies that have adopted Demand Generation practices and principles are ineffective. In this article, we'll address the four strategic pillars of successful enterprise Demand Generation programs and examine some of the fundamental tactics that distinguish the champions from the also ran's.
The First Pillar: Your Process
As we discussed in the first article, Demand Generation defines your organization’s personal relationship with your leads, prospects and customers. Needless to say, every customer touch-point offers an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your customer. Consequently, your organization needs to be structured around your customer rather than your products or services to fully optimize your Demand Generation efforts.
Unlike traditional Lead Generation programs where interested (warm) prospects were turned over to a sales professional to close deals, Demand Generation programs nurture the relationship through the entirety of the Revenue Funnel. In other words, you're not just looking to close a deal. Instead, you're seeking to establish long-term relationships with your buyers; where satisfied customers become loyalists and loyalists become vocal brand advocates.
So why is having a dynamic, ongoing relationship with your buyers so important these days? First and foremost, the digital revolution has dramatically altered buying processes and decision making over the last few years. In effect, buyers are more knowledgeable and better informed than ever before. They're turning to friends, colleagues and other key influencers to research their purchases long before they ever engage with your sales team.
Recent studies by Forrester Research, DemandGen and CSO Insights all reveal some startling figures that support this claim. For instance:
These figures indicate that your customers' needs and buying patterns must be at the center of your Demand Generation strategy. The stats also suggest that you need to actively engage with customers at every point in the revenue funnel principally on their terms.
An effective demand generation process does just that. It more closely aligns your Marketing and Sales functions, and it creates a seamless buying process that eliminates the gap between Interest and Desire:
The Second Pillar: Your People
Traditional business models typically view Marketing as a cost silo and Sales as a revenue silo. Effective Demand Generation generally requires a blended model approach. In our experiences, we've found that a combined marketing/sales organizational model, built around the touch-points in the revenue funnel, typically works best.
For startup companies, adopting a blended organizational model is usually a relatively easy task. Conversely, established businesses with traditional lead generation models seem to experience difficulties. To be successful, you will most likely need to change the skill-set of your personnel, the reward structure based on changes in goals and performance metrics and the organizational structure to align to the buyers' purchase path. This requires a shift away from the traditional way of thinking of both marketing and sales.
It's important to remember that organizational change Is difficult and that people sometimes resist the efforts. Your marketing personnel and your sales team need both support and leadership in order to make the strategic shift pay off. Consequently, clear communication of your overall mission, vision and objectives from the top on down are critical for transition.
As we mentioned earlier, effective Demand Generation processes bridge the gap between marketing and sales. Over the years, we've found organizations that appoint a C-Level leader to oversee the whole process are generally more successful than their peers who draw territorial lines between marketing and sales functions. Therefore, we strongly urge our clients to appoint a "Chief Demand Officer" (or a Chief Revenue Officer if you prefer), who owns the he entire Customer Life Cycle.
The CDO / CRO leads a team that is responsible for meeting the revenue objectives for your products or services, Their functional org chart generally looks something like this:
The CDO / CRO's functional teams exist to create awareness, nurture prospects, close sales, up sell, cross sell and strengthen relationships. Support staff (Marketing Ops) support the entire organization. Along with traditional sales and conversion metrics, two critical financial measurements tie the teams' activities together:
The Third Pillar: Your Content
Once you've fully committed to a customer-centric business model, it's time to turn your attention to your content strategy. Like every marketing program, success is a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right solution. An ideal Demand Generation program establishes your organization as the expert in your particular line of business. Therefore, each and every interaction with your prospects and customers should affirm and strengthen the perception that you are the leading solution in your category.
First and foremost, you need to find and target the best touch points to engage customers. This isn't an exact science. Tactics vary by industry and product type. Additionally, every business has varying strengths and deficiencies. Therefore, we strongly suggest you begin with category best practices that seem to fit your model. Test them out for yourself and quickly adapt and expand the ones that seem most promising. Here are some basic tactics to consider through the various stages of the revenue funnel:
With this model in mind, here are our five fundamental recommendations for developing an effective content strategy:
The Fourth Pillar: Analytics
Although it doesn't directly appear on your balance sheet, your company's structured data is an extremely important and valuable business asset. To a large degree, your ability to access, analyze and interpret the data generated through all of your customer interactions drives the effectiveness of your Demand Generation campaigns. As a recent report by DemandMetric / Radius demonstrates:
We recommend that you take stock of your data as early as possible! Missing, inaccurate or poor quality data impedes effective Demand Generation as well as the successful application of predictive analytics. You may wish to consider a full audit of your CRM applications, gathering and storage systems, personnel, as well as the depth, accuracy and quality of your structured data. That way, you can quickly begin to harness your assets and pull together an action plan to address your deficiencies.
A real opportunity exists in most industries to develop a sizable competitive advantage through structured data. Believe it or not, the DemandMetric / Radius report suggests that only 44% of CMO’s understand predictive analytics well; and only 11% of those that do understand are actually implementing or using predictive analytics for Demand Generation activities. Even more surprising, only 55% of companies that employ predictive modeling are using their data to find new revenue opportunities!
We'll state once again: Demand Generation programs are an ideal pairing for predictive analytics. Even if you're a very lean organization, commercial solutions do exist to help integrate predictive analytics into the process. If your current Demand Generation campaigns are yielding less than desired results, chances are there's room for improvement if you unlock the full power stored within your enterprise data systems.
Effective Demand Generation is an enterprise-wide endeavor. It requires a firm foundation built upon each of the four strategic pillars we described above. Whether your company is new to the discipline or you're a seasoned player, you need to ensure that you're executing the fundamentals efficiently and effectively. Otherwise, you're likely to be steamrolled by your competition.
You may be wondering why we haven't listed technology (e.g. automation systems, adaptive control technology, CRM systems, etc.) as a fifth pillar. While the right technology certainly speeds delivery, improves effectiveness and can also lower costs, we'd argue that technology systems are complementary tools to each of the four pillars we've described above. In our next article in this series, 12 Things to Consider Before You Automate Your Demand Generation Processes, we'll discuss the benefits of several Demand Generation technologies as well as some serious technological pitfalls you'll want to avoid.
Author: Erik Gagnon - Managing Partner, Chi Rho Consulting
Note: This is the second of a five-part series of Jumpstart Strategies articles examining the discipline of Demand Generation. Here are links to the other live articles in the series: