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Why You Should Stick to The Plan And Why You Don’t


Chris Butler: Welcome to the Agency Marketing Matters Podcast. I’m Chris Butler.

Lauren Siler: I’m Lauren Siler.

Mark O’Brien: And I’m Mark O’Brien.

Chris Butler: And this is Newfangled’s flagship podcast, which is something I can say now because of what you’re excited about.

Lauren Siler: Yes, that’s right. I’m excited today because we get to announce that Newfangled is launching a second podcast. It’s going to be a podcast that’s focused entirely on content marketing. It’s called Consider This, and we’re releasing the first episode on November 2nd, and the concept here is to take an episode each time to unpack a common misconception that we hear about content marketing all the time when we’re talking to our clients. We’ve found that it’s actually quite common that there are concepts that surround the idea of content marketing that are not always true, or maybe partial truths, and so the point of this show is going to be to take one of those ideas each time, talk about what the nuances of that particular topic are, and then present some other ways to think about it, or maybe present some other ideas for approaching that particular method of content marketing.

Chris Butler: It’s going to be great. I’m really excited about that too, and I guess what’s made that possible is what you’re excited about this week.

Mark O’Brien: Yes, and I have to be honest with our television audience, this is not our first take.

Chris Butler: This is our second.

Lauren Siler: Second, yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Second? Yeah, second, yeah, yeah. So we decided to create a YouTube channel to broadcast these podcasts. We really love getting maximum value out of our content investment, and so we do it with webinars, by recording them and transcribing them, and with our podcasts, we’re already getting dual investment return by transcribing those and having those on the site, in addition to being broadcast in iTunes, but now we’re going to triple it by creating a YouTube channel that will contain this podcast, the Consider This podcast, and all of our webinars, as long as we can figure out how to gate the webinars appropriately, because I don’t want to lose the gating on that, so we’ll have to think about that.

Chris Butler: Yeah, I think we’ll be able to do that.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, so we’ve learned a lot, quite a lot. Even this week, we’ve learned a ton, and one of the things I’ve been most excited about is that I can control everything from my phone right here: the lights, the recording app, everything’s right here. It’s so great.

Lauren Siler: Amazing.

Chris Butler: Yeah, well, so the facility is new as well. We used to record around the corner, so for those of you watching for the first time, you’re actually looking at a corner of what used to be fully Mark’s office, and we had a facility set up in my office that was a bit more cramped than this. That worked pretty well for audio, but what it would not have worked for is video. I don’t have, actually, any sun-facing windows; I have a hall-facing window.

Mark O’Brien: Cave-dweller.

Chris Butler: So what we’re able to look out at now is this beautiful terrace, but a lot of sunshine that comes in, so it’s perfect for the video recording, and so we thought, “All right, we’re taking it to the next level, let’s set up a new facility in here and see how that goes.” And I think all of that is sort of conceptually what I’m excited about, which is just that … Being able to be in our second season of recording the podcast, second year of recording the podcast, improving every single time we do it. We get better at the tech part, we get better at the flow, and the content, I think, has been improving steadily, to the point where we can do a second podcast, introduce new media to it. I’m excited about that. That’s the kind of growth that we were hoping for when we started. The whole thing was an experiment, but I think we have a lot of podcast-lovers on staff, and so if this works, who knows what the next spinoff will be?

Mark O’Brien: Right, yeah.

Chris Butler: Which I just can’t wait, I love the idea of just being able to look in the window here and see someone else recording, and me not be in the room, and just be like, “All right, when’s that episode?”

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, “What’s happening?”

Chris Butler: So, lots to be excited about.

Mark O’Brien: And I do have to say, from a new biz perspective, it’s been really helpful. Regularly, we get people who are discovering us through the podcast, which is quite exciting, and people who hear something on the podcast, and then they call up to ask about that particular thing, and so, in terms of a marketing asset, it’s been extraordinary. It’s hard to track, it’s not quite as trackable as some of the other things we do, but just in terms of voluntary feedback, we’re getting a lot of positive response, and so I’m a believer.

Chris Butler: Yeah, as am I. I think the next level of improvements to the technology that are behind podcast production for everyone will be better tracking. We’re using a tool now called Libsyn, which tells you a good amount about who’s downloading what and when, but you still don’t … Subscriber metric is not really the same as it is with a newsletter or something like that. But the next stage of that is being able to track who starts listening when, stops listening, like little details like that.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, that’ll be real nice.

Chris Butler: And a lot of different platforms will be releasing that. But, you know, all of this is indicative of continuing on with commitment, right? We’ve made a commitment for many, many years to create content as a means of sharing with the world what our expertise is and getting them interested in working with us directly. Right? That’s the whole point of content marketing. And podcasts were an idea that we thought could work for us, and little by little, we’re pushing forward with that, no matter how difficult it gets or how many setbacks we have, and I think that’s what we want to talk about today, is making the commitment to your marketing strategy and not falling away from it at some point. And what? We see that it’s entirely too easy at many different points along the way to fall away, to second-guess, to compromise, to rethink, to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing. And so, Mark, maybe you can start off by just talking a little bit about why this even came up in our planning meeting. Why did this pop into your mind as a topic?

Mark O’Brien: We were having a conversation with a firm out of Nebraska, and they said something that we’ve heard countless times, which is that, “Well, you know, we’ve tried social media marketing, we’ve tried content marketing, we’ve tried automation, we currently have a CRM that we’re not really getting anything out of, and we just don’t really think that digital marketing works for us.” Right? So they dabbled a lot, because it’s hard for any firm, regardless of how great that firm is, or the size of the firm, to really prioritize their marketing for long enough in order to see the return on it, right? And they also don’t have an understanding of how much of what things they need to move the needle, and so they do one-offs, like I just mentioned, all those things individually without understanding that, in order for any of them to be effective, they all need to be executed properly.

Chris Butler: Right.

Mark O’Brien: And so they try, it doesn’t work, and they just assume it doesn’t work for them. For some reason, they’re immune to the effects of … The positive effects of digital marketing.

Lauren Siler: Yeah. I think it’s funny, it’s something that we hear from essentially every agency we talk to, and this stuff is complicated, you know? Digital marketing is comprised of so many different elements and strategies that need to be considered, and it’s hard not to just pick one avenue, and then begin to kind of walk down that road, and start to see what’s going to work and what’s not, and then understand when you should be pulling in those different channels and those different paths. And so, having that holistic understanding of what needs to be in place in order to have an effective strategy, and then to know what the order of operations for bringing in those different channels are, and then how long you stay on that path before you are even able to make an estimate of what’s working for you and what’s not, is complicated.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Chris Butler: Right, so the feedback that you got from the person you were speaking to is indicative of the fact that you need to know what you’re doing, how long it takes to see results, and then what those results ought to be, what do they look like? It’s interesting, when you brought this up, it immediately jogged to mind an anecdote of my own, which was that I was speaking with a client who … We were talking about some design decisions, and they immediately started talking about, “Well, it doesn’t really matter if we get this decision right now, because we’re going to have all these measurement tools that are a part of your solution, that will be able to be set right in the future by those.” And I said, “No. No, no, no, no.” I mean, that’s like saying that you don’t need a trainer because you have the scale, right? And that’s entirely incorrect. The scale verifies what you’ve done, it verifies if you’ve lost weight, if that was your goal, but it doesn’t help you lose weight.

Mark O’Brien: Doesn’t show you how to lose weight.

Chris Butler: No, it doesn’t, and it’s not the person there every day for the months and months and months it takes to lose weight, telling you how to continue doing that, because as anyone who’s ever gone on a physical fitness program knows, you don’t do the same thing over and over every single day. You have to change it and adapt as your body adapts, because it’s an ongoing process. And so that immediately reflected back to me about the complexity, as you said, of our program, and all the people that are involved in it, and what it really takes. There’s detail with each representative for each discipline that we offer our clients, and without that person in place for a certain amount of time, being their coach day in and day out, it doesn’t work. The tools are beautiful and great and seductive, but they’re beside the point. They’re the thing that verifies what you’ve done is right at the end.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, the trainer analogy is so apt, and it’s been apt for a long time, and it’s funny, the more we’ve grown as an organization, the more insight we have into what we do, the more relevant that analogy becomes.

Chris Butler: Absolutely.

Mark O’Brien: And also this week, we were having a conversation with a firm out of Vancouver, and in explaining what we do … We run everything in a year-long program. In the first four months, that’s about getting the technology and the strategy in place, basically setting the right foundation. A ton of work happens then. In terms of hours, most of our hours happen then. And I, maybe you, and a lot of our clients and prospects have perceived that, oh yeah, that first four months is packed full of value. So I had the impression for a long time that, oh, firms hire us for those first four months, and then the latter eight months, that’s all the training, right? Okay, everything’s live, you’re actually using the system, responding to the data, and understanding what’s actually happening. And I realized during that call that, no, that’s really where our value is, is the latter eight months, because that’s when the change management happens. That’s when new habits and healthy habits replace old, unhealthy habits. And that’s the value, and that’s all training.

Chris Butler: Yeah. I mean, it’s the same thing, if you sit down with a trainer, and … Typically, for the first week, they observe what your habits are, talk to you about your goals, take you into the gym, observe what your capabilities are, and then you go through a process of designing a fitness plan for you, and then working on it. And there’s always a falling-away point, where somebody starts to slip, they don’t attend their sessions, it starts getting harder, they hit a plateau, whatever it is, and that’s where things get real. And that’s where the trainer’s value really kicks in.

At the beginning, you think it’s, “Oh, well, it’s this person who I’ve just signed up with, and they know everything that I don’t know, and they’re giving me this download.” And that’s true, it feels exciting, but something that you’ve mentioned, Mark, many times about our types of clients is that their need for novelty and something new and something exciting is extremely high. In Kolbe terms — Kolbe is a personality test that we use for employees — they have a high Quick Start. They want to get started, and they’re really anxious to do that. But the other side of that is Follow Thru, and they have a low Follow Thru. That tends to be true of creative people, and that’s, as you said, where the coaching kicks in, and that’s where you have to adapt and change, and having somebody to hold you accountable is really necessary.

Lauren Siler: Yeah. So, we talk about this big picture, and we talk about it in theory, and when we think about digital marketing ecosystems that work well for our clients, we think of things like the site, and the content strategy, marketing automation, and CRM, things like that. Maybe it would be helpful if we talked about specifically some of the areas that we see these experts struggling to stay accountable to their marketing, and why that is, and maybe how they can get back on track.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. What’s a content example, in your world?

Lauren Siler: Well, so on the content side, I see it in two places most often. On one side, there’s just struggling to hold yourself accountable to actually creating the content on a regular basis, and actually publishing, just the volume that you’re creating content with. I see that all the time. The other way that I see our clients struggling with accountability is with the messaging strategy itself. So they may have figured out a system internally to pump out the right volume of content, but making sure that what’s contained in that content is actually strategically sound and true to the messaging strategy that they designed at the outset, that can be really easy to not hold yourself accountable to over time.

And I think it is, I think it’s because these are creatives, and they get excited about what the new bright and shiny thing is that’s on their mind at any given point. So if you design a messaging strategy four months ago that was incredibly intentional and focused on a target prospect, and you sit down several months later, when you actually have time to sit down and write something, you’re going to write what comes to mind … You know, you may not always be incredibly intentional about what that particular article should be about, based on everything that you spent hours and hours on designing. You might just be sitting down to think about what’s on your mind, or what seems interesting to you in that moment. And that’s a really easy way to get off track, because it feels good. You’re executing against the plan, you’re actually writing, you’re doing the marketing, but you’re not actually being true to what the messaging strategy is.

Mark O’Brien: Well, and there are two things at play here. One, we talk about all the time assessing who it is that you want to be getting in touch with you 12 months from today, so we’re always looking to the future, because things do change, and strategies do need to adapt to those changes. And that’s one possible reason why a principal or somebody working at the firm might want to write about a particular topic that’s different than the original strategy, but that’s not the case in most cases. What’s typically the case is they just forgot. They forgot what the strategy was even three months prior, and it seems like as soon as you remind them, they’re like, “Oh yeah, that is still our goal. We still are looking for these particular prospects to do this kind of thing.” And so they get right back in line, and they just forgot.

Lauren Siler: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Which is amazing. They’d just … They’d simply forgot.

Chris Butler: Yeah, although that is kind of best-case scenario. I think something that you said, Lauren, a moment ago is really true, and it’s something I see a ton on the site side, which is there’s a need to be creative at certain points, and there’s a misunderstanding of what that actually means.

Lauren Siler: Yeah.

Chris Butler: And usually, what it means is self-expression, so, for instance, on the design side, we’ll put together a plan, and that’s really specifically outlined. We do this rigorous audit that takes a little while to go through the entire site as it stands at the beginning, and there’s four quadrants that we look at, and 16 different points, and then they all have their own points. It’s quite detailed. The point isn’t to drag them through the mud on what they’ve already done; the point is to use that as a starting point to say, “Hey, for this next round, what you’re doing next, this is your vision.” Right? So we use the existing setup and critique of it to prescribe something better in the future, and it’s quite detailed, and therefore easy to run off-course from later on. But when they do, it’s typically not because they forgot, in my experience. It’s typically because all of a sudden, they’re like, “No, this would be cool, this would be really interesting.”

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, in your world, yeah, right, right.

Chris Butler: And a lot of times, there’s two emotional components that I think push that. One is the need to be creative … Or, sorry, the need to express oneself, which in my opinion is not creativity. And that always needs to take a back seat to what the objective is, right? If you think something’s interesting, but it’s not interesting to the prospect, then you’re just expressing yourself; you’re not actually doing the job.

The other is fear. Particularly, this happens on the design side. Fear always comes into play. For instance, most of the time, when we work with clients, we’re prescribing something entirely new, and that can be scary, because they’ll look at someone that they think is their example-

Mark O’Brien: Like another firm?

Chris Butler: Another firm, typically, and they’ll say, “Well, they’re doing this, we should be doing that.” And that’s also probably not true. It’s probably the case that that firm has entirely different conditions to respond to and to work with that aren’t relevant to your decision-making at all. And the fear, all of a sudden, of blazing a new trail and not knowing what it’s going to yield, and only having us to trust to say that it’s going to work, that’s real.

Mark O’Brien: Sure, sure.

Chris Butler: And I have a lot of compassion for that, but that’s, again, why we need to build in systems and documentation and people to hold our clients and our partners accountable long-term, because fear is a guarantee, it’s going to come there at some point.

Mark O’Brien: Yup, yeah, that’s so insightful. Yeah, everyone starts by being very cautious about not looking like somebody else or acting like somebody else, but right, once they truly get to that place where they’re not looking or acting like somebody else, it is, it’s a scary place to be.

Chris Butler: Yeah, absolutely. And who can’t relate to that?

Mark O’Brien: Sure, right, 100%, 100%.

Chris Butler: Yeah. What about … I mean, Mark, you check in later on, as do you, and I’m curious, we don’t have our marketing automation representative at the table, but I’m wondering if when you check in, you see some vestiges of forgottenness or falling away from the plan on the marketing automation side, aside from stagnance, which is, I think, a really common one, like not using it the way it was set up to be used.

Mark O’Brien: That really is the number one thing that we try to avoid through the coaching, because so many of the firms who come to us are using automation, or at least have at some point, but really, most of them are currently using, and I use that term incredibly loosely, because they’re not using it. They’ve got it, they’re paying for it, but at best, they’re using it the same way they’d use MailChimp or Campaign Monitor, which are not automation tools.

Chris Butler: Right, on a very basic level.

Mark O’Brien: Right, they’re sending email, maybe.

Chris Butler: Yup, right.

Mark O’Brien: Once a month at most, and that’s … Those are the overachievers who are actually sending monthly emails. Even though they’ve got these tools that can do so much more, and when they were sold these tools by the companies who very aggressively sell them, there’s a promise of all sorts of things, and even the term “automation” implies that some things are going to happen just on their own, which is, of course, not true. Right? And so the reason why we do all the training on the outbound side is to make sure they’re actually using not just the email component of it, but the lead scoring, the progressive engagement, but revenue attribution, the drip campaigns, the anonymous and known visitor tracking, all the tools that comprise automation for a very good reason. Automation’s a set of seven tools that are all essential in order to get the most out of the marketing.

We had an interesting call yesterday with a firm out of Toronto, and what they said to us, which was a great little snippet, they said, “You’ve now removed all of the excuses we had to not market ourselves.” Right? And they can no longer look inside and say, “Oh, well, that person had this, or this person had that, or we didn’t have this tool, we didn’t have that too.” No, there are no excuses. They know if they fail, they simply failed. And agencies are competitive organizations that are not willing to just let themselves fail, and so that was a really interesting testimonial that just happened on the fly.

But that’s really what we need to get to, but takes a lot of work. That same firm, I saw them five years ago, and I saw them three years ago, before they started working with us, and both those times, they’re like, “Oh, we’ve got this new system in place, we just hired X company to do X thing, it’s going to be great,” and then, second time I saw them, “Oh, that failed, that … Those people don’t know what they’re doing, bah bah bah. We hired this firm to do this thing; it’s going to be great.” Then saw them two and a half years ago, and they’re like, “All right, that didn’t work either. We don’t think … Again, we don’t think this is going to work for us.” And we convinced them to give us a try.

Chris Butler: Well, and that’s because systems of accountability, whether it’s a person or a tool or a methodology, they’re your best bet for success, second only to your own commitment.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Lauren Siler: Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, your own commitment, right.

Chris Butler: If your own commitment’s not there, if you’re relying on the tool, it’s not going to be there.

Mark O’Brien: Or the trainer, entirely. Like, the trainer can’t train you out of it, right?

Chris Butler: That’s true as well. That’s right, that’s right.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah, you’ve got to show up.

Chris Butler: Yeah. On the marketing automation side, though, I wanted to mention something. For listeners who heard the last episode, where Dave and I talked about personalization, this is coming up over and over and over again in my interfacing with clients. In fact, yesterday, I had a 45-minute-long conversation with somebody who was interested in using personalization methods on the site. And again, my point in the last episode is, look, personalization is a better fit for outbound, in my opinion, than for rearchitecting the site based upon your assumptions about a visitor, what you think you know.

And that speaks to the marketing automation point you made a moment ago. Most people who have adopted it, who see it as necessary for their digital marketing, they’re using it in a very simple way, and they still haven’t … It hasn’t clicked, the degree to which personalization and unique outbound campaigns can really be done at a tiny, minuscule, granular data point level. You could be running hundreds of automated campaigns at once, based on what you’re able to gather, if they’re creating that content and getting a response to it.

Lauren Siler: It’s interesting, it’s like you can take the same part of these people that makes it difficult for them to commit to their own content plan from a messaging standpoint, because they are so creative and they want to come up with whatever’s on their mind at that moment, and you can point that creativity to the tools that they have at their disposal. You can sit down and just imagine, and be creative about all the different outbound automated campaigns that you could be creating, based on all of the different diverse pieces of content that you have. And that’s a way to harness and channel that creative energy, and put it in a way that’s going to be more motivating and help hold you accountable to the outbound strategy.

And we see that too when we’re designing the content plans for these people, that you … There’s this thought at the outset that you’ve got to be very classic in the development of your content portfolio. You need … You basically just have to write all the time, and that’s demotivating for these people who maybe don’t want to sit down and write a blog every single week, or every month, even. It’s just not going to happen for them. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be more creative about how they choose to express themselves across other different types of content, because there are so many options, you know, as you started this podcast describing how the evolution of Agency Marketing Matters has become.

And there are just so many different platforms that are built to effectively extract the expertise from these people in a way that they are most naturally going to be built to give it. And I think taking that creative energy and thinking in a more diverse way about how you might put that expertise out on your site is one way that you could take that creative energy and put it to use, and make it more motivating, and help hold you accountable to the plan.

Chris Butler: Well, and again, that’s because ultimately, creativity is about finding the right solution to a problem, and your self-expression isn’t a valid problem in that scenario; it’s just entertaining oneself. And actually, when we first recorded this conversation, we ended up talking a little bit about something that our often-quoted friend David Baker says, which is that typically, at an early point in someone’s design career, they’re chasing that experience, that novelty, and they see their work as a vessel for expression. So it would be very common that if they were trying to work on a new design for their firm’s site, or even their client work, there’d be too much of an impetus to express oneself. But as soon as they taste competence, that reframes everything.

And one thing that I know is the experience of people who go through this program and adopt the stuff successfully — for example, the agency you talked to the other day and said, “This stuff just works” — that’s the taste of competence. All of a sudden, when you’ve mastered these tools and they unlock something new for you, it’s usually not like praise and accolades for something beautiful you showed somebody, or something that is your expression, it’s competence because a thing is working, and new opportunity’s been generated. And competence is so much more powerful a result. That’s what we’re shooting for here, is competence, not creativity.

Mark O’Brien: Right, and that’s the gap we need to bridge, and so, going back to the beginning — we should probably wrap up with this too — we talked about how agencies try these one-off techniques, and they don’t work, and they assume it can’t work, and marketing doesn’t work for them for whatever reason; they’re unique in this way. Right? And every consultant has their long list of clients who thought they were unique in so many ways, and in fact, they’re not, right? And what we are able to do is put together this group of things, and then be the coaches, the trainers, the people who are supporting them, so that they bridge the gap between starting, and deciding that they could potentially get something out of marketing, embracing the plan, and first getting the results.

And the first results, when qualified leads start getting in touch with them, that’s when the system is solidified, and the need for the trainer can recede a little bit, because then that change management happened, and it’s about their habits, and our role is really just more to support the healthy habits they have in place, so that competence. But that’s a big, big, big, big gap, and a lot of firms who try to do this on their own, no matter how … Again, no matter how great they are as a marketing firm, no matter how many people they have or where they are, they just never get past that gap.

Chris Butler: Yup. So, for those of you listening, something you might be thinking is “Okay, this has all been fairly abstract, you’ve spoken to a lot of pain points, and I can relate. How do I know … Like, I need something a bit more specific.” And I would say that there are four questions you could ask yourself right now in order to know if you’re in the right place. Number one, it’s do you have a clear vision for each individual area of your digital marketing, in terms of what it’s supposed to be doing, and how it actually yield results for you? Number two, do you have a plan, a specific step-by-step plan to execute on that vision? For instance, in the content strategy area, have you identified personas, message area of focus, your actual calendar, your types? That detail.

Number three, do you have a person outside of your firm holding you accountable to that, who is able to look at this big picture, who has the breadth and expertise to be able to compare you to other people who are running similar programs? That’s critical. And then number four, do you have specific tools designed to measure your success? Right? Not generic ones, or not, like, six different tools in different places, but specific tools designed in accordance with your plan. If you can answer “yes” to all those four questions, then you’re good to go. But most of our clients cannot.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, yeah, right, right. Or our clients can, our prospects cannot.

Chris Butler: Yeah, that’s … Good point, sorry, great correction.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah.

Chris Butler: So I guess we should wrap up.

Mark O’Brien: We should, yeah.

Chris Butler: Is there anything on our site you would recommend that people look at in regard to what we’ve talked about today?

Lauren Siler: We’ve got an article on the site called “Use Market Segmentation for Better Messaging Strategies,” and I think that could be a really practical article that puts some of this more abstract thinking about how to develop and hold yourself accountable to a messaging strategy into practical application.

Chris Butler: Cool, and we also have another article called “How the Right Design will Turn Researchers into Buyers,” and that’s the start of a five-step series that talks all about this. It’s how to design something in accordance with your marketing goals, and it touches all the areas of design that I think I’d recommend to an agency that came in to work with us.

Mark O’Brien: Right? All right. Well, hopefully take two’s the charm.

Chris Butler: Yeah, I hope so, and …

Mark O’Brien: We’ll see soon enough.

Chris Butler: Yeah, we hope to see you all soon again on this video.

Lauren Siler: Yeah, thanks.

Mark O’Brien: Thanks.

Chris Butler: Bye.