Reflections on BMA15: 'It's the Customer, Stupid'

Mobile, Content, Big Data -- Sure. It's Still All About the Customer

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Coming off last week's BMA15, the annual conference of the Business Marketing Association in Chicago, four words resoundingly echo in my brain:

"It's the customer, stupid."

Much as James Carville famously strategized that the key to Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential victory was "the economy, stupid," BMA15 offered up blunt and constant reminders of what should be obvious. Whatever the topic -- from big data, the marketing cloud and millennials to content marketing, buyer journeys and marketing-attributable revenue -- virtually every conversation came back to one elementary supposition.

The answer to today's complex and evolving marketing challenges remains timeless and simple: putting customers at the heart of everything. A preponderance of BMA15 presenters at BMA15 would agree. Here are just a few examples.

Who says I should really think mobile first? The customer, stupid.

"Sure, young consumers are heavy mobile users -- but not my b-to-b customers!" Yes, your b-to-b customers. Though some in b-to-b live in a state of millennial and mobile denial, Jim Lecinski, VP-U.S. sales and service at Google cited recent research that points to the contrary. According to Google and Millward Brown Digital, nearly half of b-to-b buyers are now millienials. Moreover, there has been a 91% growth in the use of mobile over the past two years throughout the entire buyer journey (instead of just at the initial stages of research) -- and 49% of b-to-b buyers who use their mobile devices for product research do so while at work. As President Adams famously said, facts are stubborn things.

What's the secret to content marketing success? The customer, stupid.

To kick off Day 2 of the conference, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, explained why most content marketing programs fail: Because customers don't care about "your" stuff. It's all about building an audience, he said, being a content provider to them and not selling a product or service. "You're in the media business!" he decried.

And he wasn't alone. The day before, bombastic author and speaker Andrew Davis told us all to "think like an entertainment exec" and create content that inspires. To close the conference, Cisco's Tim Washer made the case for using humor to create compelling video content (and won the PowerPoint Olympics) with a simple pie chart demonstrating that 100% of people like to laugh. In short, all three and many more said great content marketing starts and ends with your audience (aka your customers).

What makes marketing technology most effective at driving revenue and ROI? The customer, stupid.

Big data, predictive analytics and marketing automation are changing the way brands go to market -- and can have a profound impact when, you guess it, deployed with the customer at the center. Laura Ramos, VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research, noted that a 2% improvement in response rates due to data-driven targeting and predictive analytics can yield a six-times improvement in profits.

In a blockbuster panel on the marketing cloud, Carter Kersh, senior director-Americas for field and partner marketing at Juniper Networks, boasted about tripling the performance of Juniper's digital marketing via personalization. And yet, merely 10% of b-to-b marketers map their online content to the buyer journey, according to the Digital Marketing Maturity Index Report, a global study of senior marketers conducted by my agency Stein IAS and Oracle that we released at BMA15.

What's the key to growing your business? The customer, stupid.

Ralph Oliva, executive director of Penn State's Institute for the Study of Business Markets, offered an impassioned plea at the close of the opening day. His call to action: Businesses have placed too much focus on shareholder value and not enough on customer value. In turn, this is driving record cash for enterprises while stagnating the job market and overall economic growth. Instead, he pleaded, focus on the customer and all good things will follow. James Gilmore, author of "The Experience Economy," offered a similar argument. More than anything today, he said, "People value the time they spend in places and events. Get customers to spend more time with you, and they'll spend more dollars on you."

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