Laurie Hood, Vice President of Product Marketing for Silverpop discussed the increasing power of the modern consumer and how to best use technology to reach them.

Chris Williams: Why don’t we start off by going over your background before you came to Silverpop. Can you take us through a brief synopsis of your history and some of the roles and responsibilities that you’ve had?

Laurie Hood: I have been in the technology industry for over 20 years, primarily working with B2B hi-tech companies based mostly out of the Atlanta area. I started my career at Accenture and since then have held product marketing or product management roles at a diverse group of companies including S1 Corporation (now part of ACI Worldwide), Equifax and Harbinger Corporation (now part of GXS). I was a Silverpop customer at a company called KnowledgeStorm (which was subsequently acquired by Tech Target) and that led me to my current opportunity at Silverpop..

It sounds like you’ve got an extensive background in B2B and have seen a lot of changes in marketing. Can you give us a little insight into the current role that you have at Silverpop and your responsibilities?

My title at Silverpop is Vice President of Product Marketing, and in that role I have responsibility for three teams. There is the product strategy and product evangelist team, a group of core product marketers and a group of segment directors who are very closely aligned with the sales organization. The key aspects of my current position are focused on product messaging and positioning, helping define the product strategy and working really closely with our sales organization to launch those products into the sales channel.

Well let’s talk about the modern consumer. We’ve certainly seen a lot of changes happening with the advent of the Internet and the development of the whole social world. Can you talk a bit about how the modern consumer makes decisions on a daily basis and the types of channels they use, and how you as marketers are engaging with those customers through those channels?

The modern consumer has become inherently multi-channel and is interacting across different channels as they go about their daily activities. For the consumer shopping for themselves, I think they rely heavily on reviews, social shopping, recommendations and word of mouth to help make their shopping decisions. And I think they do this across multiple devices too. So channels that speak to the social side of selling like shopping engines, Pinterest, or Facebook really support that buyer. The business related buyer relies more on expertise and industry credibility so channels like LinkedIn, trade shows and industry-related content play a large role in helping those buyers make decisions. Email overlaps though as an effective channel that supports both buyer scenarios especially because it is a platform that has potential to be social and provide targeted content.

One of the things that we’ve seen with the advent of these tools and technologies is that more power seems to have shifted over to the consumer, and their level of engagement with an organization may happen well in advance of the sales organization even getting involved. How has marketing had to adapt to this shift in power in terms of getting their attention and providing that kind of positioning that you’re trying to do with your products and services?

There have been a lot of studies that have shown that consumers – whether B2B or B2C – are well into the sales cycle before directly involving the vendor. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the marketer and gives them significantly more responsibility for the interaction with their customers and prospects. The marketer needs to better understand the buying cycle and provide appropriate content to their different types of buyers at different parts of that cycle, as well as shape and drive the buying experience through different channels.

So that would imply that the role of marketing in many organizations is actually being increased to recognize that shift. Is that something you are seeing because of these changes with the consumer?

The marketer has increasing responsibility, and accountability and higher expectations that they’re going to drive and manage a significant portion of their sales cycle. In a business-to-consumer sense, the marketer has always controlled that because you don’t typically have a direct sales team. Even if you have retail outlets it’s really marketing that’s driving people into your stores. Otherwise, if you’re selling primarily online it’s also marketing that is what drives in that sale. In a B2B context you’ve always had that kind of interplay between the marketing team and the sales team – with maketing filling the funnel and sales closing the deals.

However, if you look at B2B cycles, marketing either owns or co-owns significantly more than they have in the past, so an organization has much higher expectations and demands much greater accountability. From a budgeting standpoint, we’re not necessarily seeing marketing budgets increase at the same speed as the organization’s expectations. The marketer is trying to do more with less and they’re doing it across more channels than ever.

The marketer now is really expected to be bringing numbers to the table and show how the investment and marketing activities directly contribute to the bottom line. For a lot of marketers that’s a challenge, but that’s what is going to get you your place at the executive level and then potentially help you get more resources.

That seems to be consistent with this discussion within the marketing community about the need to clearly articulate the ROI on marketing spend. But some CEOs aren’t necessarily comfortable talking about things like unique visitors, eyeballs, impressions and the traditional metrics that came with the Internet and social media tools. So how have you been able to translate the marketing metrics into metrics for the business owners to appreciate?

There are a variety of ways this can be addressed. When you look at the different tactics that marketers use, some of them are much more clearly tied to revenue production than others. At Silverpop a significant percentage of our business is focused around email, so if you’re in a situation where people are clicking to buy directly through e-mail, there are a lot of ways to calculate the ultimate value of that communication. It gets a little more challenging in social channels where the measurement can be much softer. Marketers are starting to want to understand why they should care if people like them on Facebook. And maybe the converse of that is if I put in an opt-in for my newsletter on Facebook, I can quantify the number of people who signed up for it, and they are then receiving communications which potentially put a buying opportunity in front of them.

As a vendor what we’re really trying to do is give our customers as much of the raw data as possible and then help tie that data to a buying behavior. That way they can report back and say this is what we’ve invested, and this is the revenue that we drove from it.

Given that consumers are much more discriminating nowadays, and they certainly have a lot more choices that they can opt in or out of, what is the modern consumer expecting from the content that they receive? And how is Silverpop helping marketers really cater to these enhanced expectations?

The modern consumer is focused on relevancy. They know, that you know, what they’re doing online and they want to see that behavior acknowledged. They want choices, they want to define their relationship with you and they want options to be able to do that. They want you to recognize their interests and market to them accordingly. Their expectations are incredibly high. People deal with technology in all facets of their daily life, and they don’t understand why you can’t send them a communication with things that are important to them. Or if they are very focused on using Facebook as a channel, why don’t you communicate with them through that channel? The marketer has to be prepared to offer these choices and must meet their customer partway and deal with them on their terms.

Silverpop looks at this as taking the opportunity to create a database that has all of these customer demographics, psychographics and especially behavioral information, and then lets you leverage that with our automation engine. That drives highly personalized, highly relevant interactions, and those interactions are going to convert better. So at the end of the day you’re going to take what you know about somebody, you’re going to interact with them in a more appropriate and a more relevant way, and that’s going to help you drive more revenue.

Your clients are marketers that are at all stages of engagement with their customers. What are some of the best practices that you can share about measuring the value of their content and the engagement they have with their potential customers?

People are at different levels of sophistication with their marketing programs. There are a lot of people who are just sending batch and blast e-mails. You can start evolving your communications in very small ways using a two-pronged approach. First is capturing as much information from your customers and prospects as possible, typically through some sort of a preference center. Give them choices on the kind of content they receive from you, give them choices on the frequency of that content and give them choices on the channel that the content is delivered through.

So the first part is to ask your customers what they want from you and give them those options. The next part is to start taking what you know about them and leveraging that in your communication. So you’re going to want to personalize your communication; you’re going to want to use more dynamic content. For example, if I shop from you but I always look at shoes and somebody else looks at handbags, send me a communication that’s more focused on shoes, which you can get by tracking my web behavior. So watch what I am doing, and start tailoring your communications; there are so many technologies out there that can help you automate these interactions.

When it comes to big data, how do organizations leverage it in a way that allows them to analyze patterns and provide that level of preference and personalization?

Big data is an incredibly hot topic, and you can really look at it in two ways. First you can look at the collection and capture of large amounts of data to use for analysis to make macro-level business decisions. Should I branch into a new product line? Should I open a store in this area? Should I transform my online presence? How do I take a large collection of data and use it to make macro-level decisions?

Second, the aspect that Silverpop focuses on, is using all of this data that I’ve collected to make micro-level and individual-level decisions about how I’m going to communicate with somebody, and the content and style of that communication. That’s going to take technology, it’s going to take some kind of interaction or automation engine so that I can sift through all of that data, pull out the pieces that are relevant and then leverage them in a highly relevant automated interaction. So think of big data as, on the one hand, being used to drive macro-level business decisions, but on the other hand being analyzed to drive these micro-level individualized interactions.

Let’s get back to the various channels that brands utilize to communicate with consumers. How is Silverpop helping marketers connect their brand efforts across all these channels and the variety of platforms that consumers are moving around on?

What we’re doing at Silverpop is centralizing that interaction for the marketer, with our product you can push digital communications through the different channels, as well as interact offline if you are working with a telesales group or direct mail group. As a marketer you want to deliver an integrated program, so we’re taking the basis of that communication and centralizing it, pulling your marketing assets together, capturing the data in the database and providing the interaction engine. So from a single point you can push the communications across different channels, as well receive communications from those channels.

What would you say are some of the biggest hurdles that companies have to overcome when they go about implementing this kind of approach?

One of the biggest challenges that companies face right now from a multi-channel standpoint is that the channels are owned in different parts of the company. So it’s hard to have a cohesive and integrated approach when social is managed by one part of the company, and e-mail is managed by another part of the company and direct is potentially managed by a third. There’s a high potential to create an inconsistent experience without those things being pulled together. I also think that while big data’s such a hot topic, people are paralyzed by it. Often data’s owned by the IT department, so the marketers struggle to get access to it. There can be some complexities on the technology side that are really holding marketers back from achieving their broader goals.

I think we’ve certainly seen the need for heads of marketing to become much more technically literate, while also building perhaps a stronger relationship with their CIO counterparts than in the past. Can you talk a little bit about that interaction and what you’ve seen in terms of the dynamic of marketing and CIOs coming together?

We see with our customers that there are definitely a lot of challenges in the marketing-IT relationshipThere’s a huge opportunity for more technical marketers and people who understand the technology behind e-mail systems, marketing automation systems and CRM systems, and who can also meld that with the business process. Marketing so far has been under-serviced by technology, but now there’s a much greater focus on the proliferation of marketing applications and the role big data plays in marketing. There’s going to be an evolution and transformation between the marketing department and the IT department. I think it’s important that when the heads of marketing start looking at resources, they should look at people who bring the technology skills and the technology mindset, coupled with the marketing savvy.

Have you seen the emergence of a chief digital officer role in your clients? If so, what is that dynamic like, what are they responsible for and how are the lines of demarcation between the CMO and the chief digital officer panning out?

We’ve seen that at some companies. I have see it more at companies with a large e-commerce focus, and a lot of times that role sways more to the e-commerce side because it can be viewed as a relevant channel. Those roles have to work hand in hand if they’re going to be truly effective and maximize the opportunity. Marketing roles vary based on industry, company size and type of businessYou see more proliferation in the larger businesses that sell through more channels, and you’re going to see some of the job specialization. But that brings on its own challenges.

I think at the core of it is ultimately the customer experience, which has always been something that marketing has to be concerned with even if it’s been impacted by the commerce engines that are being deployed. Would you agree?

I would agree. The customer experience is an incredibly hot topic, and the concept of the customer experience officer is an interesting discussion. What’s the intersection between the role of the customer experience officer and the marketing department, because the marketing department owns – especially at the front end – a significant part of that customer experience?

You mentioned a little bit about the need to bring in some more technical capabilities to the marketing organization. How are you seeing some of your clients re-skill around some of these new technologies and new capabilities, including social?

Again what I think you’re seeing is sort of a shift, and there’s been a variety of things published on the topic recently. You are seeing a shift in hiring where – depending on the type or size of the company – you’re looking for someone who’s more like a Swiss army knife where they can do some social and may be more technology savvy. I still see in the larger companies hiring that is focused on very specific roles in a siloed fashion, but I think that you’ve got to start looking at marketing holistically because that’s how your customer thinks of it. If you’ve got a lot of people very siloed in very specific roles ensure the people above them can glue it all togetherIit also opens up a lot of opportunities for agencies and consultants, because as we discussed previously marketers are not getting a lot of budget, but they’re supporting more channels with higher organizational expectations and higher customer expectations. So how did they figure out how to make it work? A lot of times people are looking at outside resources to help fill in gaps where they don’t have knowledge or to augment their existing resources.

So how do you see the marketplace evolving over the next few years, and how is this going to change the playing field for marketers?

There are aspects of the market that we are still uncertain about what’s going to happennext, especially from a technology and a channel standpoint. For the marketer a lot of the basics still hold. You need to be really clear on who you are and you need to be really clear on what your message is. That’s more important for the marketer now thanever. You need to be very aware of what your company and market persona is. You need to be savvy with social media and how you are going to interact with your customers socially. What are you going to do if something bad happens? What’s that communication model and communication style?

Then I think for a lot of us it’s about staying ahead. What are the technology trends? What’s happening with the channels and what aspect of those channels makes sense for us? One of the challenges for a marketer is there are so many digital channels, but you have to understand what really works. What makes the most sense for a certain channel and how do you maximize your usage? You can’t just have a cookie-cutter approach and say you’re going to do the same thing on Facebook that you do on Twitter or Tumblr. They’re all incredibly different. So how do you look at the unique aspects of the channel and then determine how your strategy fits with that? There are also channels that you might walk away from because they don’t work with what you do as a business.

Before we conclude is there anything else you would like to touch on?

I’ve been a marketer for what feels like a really long time, and I can say there’s never been a more exciting time to be a marketer. In the past 15 years there’s been massive change in our business, but I think there’s also never been a more challenging time, so I would advise you to get focused; figure out what’s important to you and stick with it. You’ve got to be aware of what’s going on, but you can’t let every shift completely change your strategy.

The way that technology rolls out it’s easy to jump from one to another without necessarily having a clear idea on how you’ve got to take advantage of it. There certainly have been a few that have come along that haven’t panned out, correct?

Yes and there tends to be a lot of organizational pressure. My CEO read an article on Pinterest on the plane and now wants to know what our Pinterest strategy is. Depending on the type of business, that may or may not be relevant, so you’ve got to understand what Pinterest is, what are the nuances of it, what are the pros and the cons and then have a response. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you need 500 boards on Pinterest the next day.

BIOS:

Laurie Hood:
Laurie Hood is vice president of product marketing for Silverpop, a leading provider of digital marketing and marketing automation solutions. In this role Hood is responsible for product- and market-specific messaging and positioning, product launch activities and sales enablement.
Hood brings 20 years of experience in technology marketing and product management to Silverpop. Prior to joining Silverpop, she was vice president of product management for Equifax Technology and Analytical Services. There she was responsible for driving product strategy and direction for Equifax’s portfolio of identity management, application processing, credit risk decisioning and analytical solutions.
Earlier in her career, Hood worked with several marquee companies, including KnowledgeStorm (subsequently acquired by TechTarget), S1 Corporation and Accenture, gaining marketing, product management and business partner management experience.

Hood currently serves on the board of the Technology Association of Georgia—Product Management Society and was selected as a judge for the 2010 and 2011 AMA Atlanta Marketer of the Year Awards.

She graduated cum laude from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science in economics and a minor in computer science.

Chris Williams:
Chris Williams is the Chief Marketing Officer, leading the strategic positioning of the company; driving marketing execution and advancing the company's strong focus on B2B executive thought leadership communities.

Chris has more than 30 years of experience in sales, marketing and business development for Information Technology and Professional Services companies. Prior to his current position, Chris held executive leadership roles for technology solutions and consulting companies including Avaya, Capgemini NA, Expand Networks and Fujitsu Consulting, where as a member of the executive management teams, he was responsible for developing the global strategy and increasing revenue streams across each company. He has also served in a variety of technology sales, marketing and business development roles for hardware, software and professional services firms including Sun Microsystems, Cambridge Technology Partners, and was a cofounder of Netigy, a professional services firm focused on eBusiness Infrastructure Consulting in Silicon Valley.

An industry - and thought-leader, Chris sits on the Board of Advisors for the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), and has been a contributing author on topics such as sales force automation and consulting services trends to publications including CRM Magazine and ebizChronicle.com. He has also presented twice at the World Innovation Forum. His last presentation can be viewed at World Innovation Forum.

Chris, who grew up in Europe, attended Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., where he earned a Master of Business Administration in International Business and Finance as well as a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing.