Lee Odden knows a thing or two about juggling priorities. He’s an author, speaker, digital marketing strategist, and the co-founder and CEO of TopRank Marketing. This Minneapolis-based digital marketing agency specializes in strategic internet marketing consulting services including content marketing, organic and paid search marketing, and email and conversion optimization.
We recently chatted with Lee about the future of customer-centric marketing and the industry as a whole. Read on to discover his insights.
What inspired you to first join the marketing world and establish TopRank Marketing?
My start in marketing began in the very early days of the web when I worked at a web development and online marketing agency. I started in sales, then taught myself how to create websites and do SEO to offer more robust solutions. From there, I worked as an independent consultant briefly before joining a startup public relations firm called Misukanis & Rodgers. There, I created a service for the PR agency called TopRank, which was basically a SEO solution for news content.
During my role as a VP, the digital marketing services offered under the TopRank name eventually became the majority of the agency revenue and I was named the CEO and not long after that the company was renamed TopRank Marketing.
There’s so much to consider now as a modern marketer, from SEO to email marketing, social media, influencer marketing, PR, content, and other elements. How can today’s marketer balance all of these must-haves?
This is an excellent question because I think many marketers are suffering from an overload of choices between the latest shiny object marketing tactic, social app, or marketing technology platform.
The one constant we can count on in the marketing world is that things will change, so customer centricity is essential. When it comes to content marketing, it is especially important to focus on the dynamic that occurs when buyers seek information to educate themselves about solutions.
Today’s consumer is empowered with a huge variety of internet-connected devices to access information. When brands understand customer preferences for information discovery, consumption, and triggers for action, they can focus on the marketing mix that makes the most sense for their customers.
It may be that a company’s ideal customer is particularly keen on discovering new solutions through industry thought leadership, figuring out how it works through video, and then finally deciding on a solution with the help of case studies and customer stories. Another company’s customer might have very different preferences.
It’s up to the marketer to figure those preferences out and deliver best-answer content solutions that are easy to find, engaging, and inspire action. In this way, companies can narrow their focus on a management portfolio of marketing tactics because it’s the right mix for their customers, and not some general list of best practices.
With all these elements to consider, how can marketers ensure they keep the customer front of mind in everything they do?
By leveraging insights about how customers discover, consume, and act on information as part of the content planning and management operation, the things that matter to buyers will always be top of mind.
Some companies will segment their customers into groups with common characteristics and market to that. Others will go a step further and develop personas that the content creation team can use as inspiration when they develop content.
As an augmentation to customer segment and persona work, we do additional research into what influences the buyer. What keywords they search on, what publications they read, what email newsletters they subscribe to, which peers and industry experts they listen to, and what kind of advertising resonates with them.
These insights all paint a picture of the customer and what’s important to them so we can give them what they want in the form of content experiences. Customer centricity has to be in the DNA of everything you do with your marketing.
Marketers are touting the importance of the 360-degree view of the customer experience, what advice would you give to those marketers who are struggling to implement customer-centric marketing?
There are plenty of martech platforms offering 360-degree view solutions and the reality is that these things are never as easy as they seem. However, most brands do have access to some kind of customer data, and they can adjust their strategy to allow for more upfront research and ongoing data capture and analysis.
For companies that want to accelerate their adoption of technology-supported, customer-centric marketing, I would recommend finding a marketing platform that also offers services to help the brand develop an approach, provide process support, and implement the technology.
What are the common challenges you see with customer-centric marketing? What role does email marketing play in this?
Customer centricity is informed by data, so building out capabilities to source, analyze, and extract insights from data is often the first set of challenges. But with help, these can be reasonably overcome.
Email marketing is known for its ability to capture useful (opt-in) information from customers that can then be used to deliver relevant, hyper-targeted, and useful content. The one-to-one connection that effective email marketing can accomplish between brands and customers is a very powerful step towards an overall customer-centric approach.
Where do you see customer-centric marketing evolving in coming years?
With data privacy rules intensifying, I think the only way forward is through opt-in communities where marketers are transparent about what information they need and what value they will deliver in return.
Customers are increasingly empowered and I think the democratization of marketing is inevitable. Brands are already co-creating content with customers, micro influencers, and communities.
I think this trend as a form of customer-centric marketing will grow and that we’ll see a lot more customers participating in the creation of the very marketing that will be used to sell to them. It would be hard to get more customer-centric than that!