Marketing Leader’sPerspective: No cogs allowed in social media and content marketing

If you lead a team of marketers, you likely have a creative bunch. People who, ideally, have a lot of passion about what they do – the key ingredient for successful social media and content marketing.

But that natural passion can easily get buried under layers of indiscernible corporate fiat. So how do you help your team break free of the stultifying grind that makes the average enterprise run? How do you make sure they don’t just feel like a cog in the wheel mindlessly hewing to corporate policy and filling spreadsheets all day?

To find out, I talked to Brian Carroll, the CEO of InTouch (our sister company). While you might know Brian as the guy when it comes to lead generation and lead nurturing for complex sales, he made a very interesting comment on a recent blog post I wrote with Andy Mott about marketing silos.

Brian talked about the important role heart and passion (should) play in our job as marketers. This intrigued me. I don’t often hear anyone talk about marketing this way. So I gave him a call. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation…

“Passion” and “heart.” Those aren’t words I often hear associated with “job,” at least not “marketing job.” How do you instill passion in a company, in a marketing department?

Brian Carroll: The most important thing is clarity about your values and vision. Clarity trumps persuasion. Do people understand what your company stands for? What difference do they make? And how do they fit into the big picture? How are they integral parts in making that difference?

Unless the people who do your marketing, advertising, sales and public relations are passionate about their roles, it’s nearly impossible for them to acquire and grow customer relationships.

What role does fear play in a passionate company?

BC: Some people are motivated by the things they don’t want to have happen – lack of job, loss of lifestyle, family stress. When that’s the primary thing that drives you, that is a bad thing.

But fear can play an important role. Knowing that revenue is needed when people are invested in your company, for example, certainly helps drive people. As long as there is transparency and clarity around goals and culture, fear can be a positive motivator.

For example, we had someone who was written up and was quickly moving down the path to getting fired. That fear helped send him down a positive path of transformation, and two years later that person won the award for being the most valuable employee in our company.

Of course, prolonged fear is bad. It means something is wrong. And you must balance fear as a motivator with reward.

How do you do that?

BC: It comes down to two things – the organization and the individual.

As individuals, we may have all the potential in the world, but it doesn’t matter if we’re not willing to do the difficult, mundane, repetitive things that are essential to success. Only then can we focus on the fun, enlightening things that we really have a passion for. These things aren’t going to make the impact they could without doing our homework, getting those mundane yet essential tasks done right.

That’s where the heart comes into play. If someone loses heart and only has fear as a motivator, they are going to do just enough to get along at this particular moment.

Every marketer has a huge opportunity in the company they work for. They have the chance to do things differently, look outside themselves and do something that’s never been done to grow and acquire customers. To be that representative presentation to the world about what their company is, what it stands for, and why it matters.

But you need passion for that. And if you don’t have it, you may need to manage up. Seek out your leaders and pull that clarity of purpose out of them. Find out what’s important to them, what their goals are, and figure out how it can mesh with what matters to you.

I imagine that clarity can be easier to obtain in a sales organization if you’re, say, a quota-carrying rep or a sales leader with a specific budget to make. But marketing, advertising, these disciplines can be a little more fuzzy. At MarketingExperiments, one way we advise marketers to confront this challenge is with testing, which offers verifiable proof of impact to the bottom line. What else can marketers do?

BC: Testing is a great example, especially because it often shows improvement, that you’re making things better.

I think the metrics that you use are also important. In B2B, our goal is to help the sales team sell. Marketing can be run like sales to measure leads generated and track our pipeline contribution with lead-to-pipeline conversion rates.

B2C marketers can have an even easier time proving their value. It is often a more transactional sale; there is not a series of steps between the marketer and the purchase. Whether it’s ecommerce, or bar codes at a bricks and mortar retailer, or a service, the buying process is simpler. So you can usually look at metrics beyond just “activity” (like traffic) to key numbers like expense-to-revenue and time-to-revenue ratios.

Now I’m not trying to dismiss brand, but it helps to have more passion for what you do when you get a clear understanding, and provide key business leaders a clear understanding, of the contribution you’re making.

Of course, this isn’t news. It’s a constant struggle in marketing to be seen as a revenue center, not just an expense. But, remember, the onus lies on you to make that happen. Executives now often manage by spreadsheet out of necessity. So make sure you can prove contribution to revenue and sales so they (and you) understand the real value you’re bringing with hard metrics…especially in a down economy.

So part of establishing a culture of passion is having clarity around hard performance targets, but not everything is revenue driven.

BC: That’s true. And there’s more to a job than just the paycheck. At InTouch, we give awards as well. Just the recognition from peers and leaders can make a big difference to feeling appreciated and feeling like you make a difference.

We have awards like Nurturer of the Month, Specialist of the Month, the Executive Mission Award, and awards that employees can give to each other. We identify and highlight what contributions lead to success based on our mission and our promise to our clients.

From an employee standpoint, they get a clear scorecard of what success looks like. When someone’s doing a good job, they need to be recognized. In some companies that have a fear-based culture, managing is almost like a game of Whack-a-Mole – the manager is just trying to catch people doing something wrong.

In addition, employees can give awards to each other, to build up camaraderie and teamwork.

At the heart of this, everybody wants to know “I am making a difference…my contribution matters.” That’s the whole point.

We’ve focused on success, but what about a culture of failure? How do you build a system where failure is OK? As Thomas Edison once said, “Why, I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In marketing, and really any discipline that thrives on motivation, if you’re going to truly drive success you have to stick your neck out there and take a chance.

BC: Absolutely. Everyone should stretch. And when you do that, mistakes will be made.

So you need to balance things. You want everyone asking “What can I do to improve this?” but you can’t abandon the tried and true tactics that work.

I like to use the analogy of a high-quality, well-balanced mutual fund. A good mutual fund seeks to balance high risk with steady performance. Generally speaking, you can stretch and take some risks, but if you put all your eggs in that basket, and then something bad happens, you’re really in trouble.

As marketers, let’s look at our entire portfolio and categorize what is high risk versus what is relatively safe on the path to making things better. Based on that, you’ll know just how much you can let your team take a chance in certain areas, while ensuring you have a reliable base of execution that is always there for you.

Another thing, that you mentioned earlier, is to test. That way, you learn what works and what doesn’t before betting a sizable chunk of your marketing budget on it.

And, of course, we’re not just marketers. We’re people, too. How do you bring, and perhaps channel, personal passions in the workplace? What about cause-related marketing?

BC: People need to know, at the end of the day, that what they’re contributing to does other kinds of good for their community or for society at large. And there are a number of big brands and small companies who get that, where it’s not just about profit.

The workforce has changed, and people under 45 or so need to know that what they’re doing is making an impact. It’s not all about “me.”

So it’s important to connect them with the difference they make. And that isn’t just at a company-wide level, it’s at an individual level as well, allocating funds or time. For example, lawyers who do pro bono work or sponsoring an employee in a cancer walk.

Companies need to welcome that and give permission to that. If you sponsor something as a company, great. But it’s better to have the company as well as employees doing things, so you empower people on a collective and individual basis. I’m all for profit, but the whole point is to make a difference.

Once you have a passionate marketing department and a passionate workforce, social media and content marketing seem like great ways to channel that passion.

BC: And this is a place where small companies often have a huge advantage. They don’t need to have the established rules of a big, publicly traded company has or a company in a heavily regulated industry like health care or telecommunications. In any company, there are some things that people can’t say, but in general smaller groups can be more open and transparent.

But I don’t want to discourage the big companies. In my book, I took a look at Sun Microsystems before it was acquired by Oracle. It had about 2,500 blogs from employees, including Jonathan Schwartz (the President and CEO at the time).

Whether large or small, most companies have a few passionate employee advocates using social media. But, especially in large companies, there is often an important element that is missing. Individuals want to know, “What can I do to make a difference using social media?”

The answer is simple – be yourself. Share your individual passions. Don’t make it just another corporate mouthpiece. Social media should be about who you are as much as about the company or brand you work for. Distinction is everything.

Because, I’ve got news for you, even in a large company “you’re already self employed.” Don’t just take it from me, that is a direct quote from Seth Godin.

How does thinking of myself as self-employed affect how I use social media and content marketing?

BC: My point is, every marketer has a personal brand in addition to your company’s brand. Don’t just look at yourself as some cog in a big company.

Now don’t go too far. We all know the story of someone who lost his job by saying the wrong thing on social media. And your boss and peers are listening…or will be soon. So pretend your boss is standing next to you when you’re typing.

Thanks to the prevalence of the Internet in general and social media in particular, every brand, both personal and corporate is held accountable for all of our actions. So in some ways, reputation has become more important than brand. Customers and employers will find out about you.

So put yourself out there. Share your heart and passion and the greatness of what you have to offer. But be transparent. After all, the World (Wide Web) is watching.


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Gabriel Catalano

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