‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ has long been an idiom relating to the need to keep up with the latest and greatest gadgets, trends, innovations and benchmarks (mainly so as not to be shown up by your trendy neighbours). For marketing professionals, ‘the Joneses’ are everyone and everything from your customers, to your industry, to your competitors, to the latest developments in the marketing and media industries. What’s more, the lightning-fast evolution of technology and the always-changing behaviour of modern consumers make keeping up with the Joneses a pretty tall order for the average marketer.
Luckily, there’s more than one way to make sure you’re not falling behind your competitors or losing touch with your customers. Here are eight ways marketers can keep up with the proverbial Joneses:
1) Carry Out Customer Research
Keeping up with the times means making sure you understand what your clients really want from your brand; as well as what their current perceptions are. Good old customer research is an important part of making sure you stay educated on the subject. The research methods that are likely to be most effective will depend on your particular industry, but there are a whole host of options to choose from:
Without even having to leave your desk, simple email surveys are a good place to start. An email survey can be short and simple – simply asking customers to rate their last service transaction, for example – or take the form of a detailed questionnaire aimed at unearthing customer insights into the state of the industry.
Online polls likewise provide an easy way to gather customer data without setting foot outside of your office. Polls can be hosted on your website or on a customer extranet and allow you to gain quick insights into customer opinion and sentiment. Social monitoring – listening in on conversations relating to your brand, products and industry on social media networks – can likewise be a goldmine of useful insight and data.
Alternatively, you could go the route of focus groups, which involve gathering a targeted group of customers or potential customers and asking them a set of questions in a group setting. The interesting thing about focus groups is that you’re able to see not only how each group member answers each question, but also how members engage with and differ from each other.
2) Read… All the Time
If you’re a marketer and you’re not a voracious reader already, you better get ready to become one. The best way to stay abreast of the latest marketing trends and developments is to regularly scour the media for relevant content. Personally, I’m a devout reader of blogs like the Moz Blog, the Content Marketing Institute blog and the Kissmetrics blog. I also enjoy news websites like eMarketer, Business Insider, Mashable and research papers put out by institutions like Gartner and Forrester.
To save time, pinpoint a few really informative, on-trend websites as your go-to sources and open an account with a news aggregator like Feedly. Another good option is to follow relevant social media accounts and use HubSpot’s Social Inbox to aggregate your updates.
3) Pick your Battles, Outsource the Rest
For an in-house marketer, it can be tricky to stay on top of the latest developments in every corner. Sometimes, the smart move is to ease the pressure by outsourcing key elements of your digital marketing strategy to an agency. Outsourcing your digital marketing – or just parts of it – to an agency means you don’t have to worry about missing a beat on the latest developments in marketing technology. It’s the agency’s job to let you know which tech advancements are worth taking notice of and how best to implement them.
The benefits of outsourcing are obvious: you don’t break a sweat while a specialist team does all the hard work for you. The downside? An external party may never understand the industry you’re in or the clients you serve as well as someone within your business.
4) Leverage Sales Team Insights
Your sales team is a source of amazing insight – so make use of them. Remember, they’re at the coalface of your company. They know exactly who they’re competing against, why they’re winning or losing deals and what your customers really think. They’re industry experts. The idea behind the ‘smarketing’ movement is that when sales and marketing teams work together, aiming for the same set of goals, the entire process becomes more streamlined and effective. The sentiment shouldn’t end there, however; marketing and sales teams should collaborate and brainstorm around campaigns, products and industry trends too.
5) Share the Burden
Attempting to single-handedly track all the elements of your marketing equates to taking on a huge amount of work. Make the task more manageable by assigning specific team members to specific functions. For example, the team member assigned to demand generation just needs to keep up with trends and information around demand generation. A team member in charge of product development could manage your products, track developments in competitors’ products and deal with the implementation of new features your customers ask for. Your assigned marketing technologist would keep up to date with new marketing technology and help the team implement it.
6) Merge, Acquire and Conquer
Many large companies find innovation difficult. When you take into consideration the red tape and approval processes that need to be navigated before a single Tweet can be posted, for example, it’s not hard to understand why big companies tend to be slow-moving. The slow corporate machine often results in these brands becoming outdated and losing relevance in the minds of their consumers. In the meantime, start-ups with little capital start grabbing market share with their cool products and on-point evolved messaging. That’s why the Mergers and Acquisitions teams in big corporate companies are always on the look-out for these smaller, ‘cool’ companies because one way to keep up with the Joneses is to acquire them.
It’s worth noting that even highly innovative companies know that it’s a smart move to acquire smaller, way-ahead-of-the-curve companies, as was evidenced by Apple’s acquisition of Beats Music and Beats Electronics for $3 billion in August last year.
7) Adopt an Agile Approach to Marketing
In the past, marketers could develop their annual marketing plan in the final quarter of the year, then spend the rest of the year activating it. These days, industry trends and consumer behaviour change far too quickly for this kind of approach to work. In the world of software development, the agile methodology means that smaller, bite-sized chunks of code are developed and deployed so that solutions are delivered incrementally, tested along the way and even change direction as they are delivered.
This approach can – and should – be applied to modern marketing. On the agile model, your annual marketing plan is more of a guideline than a set-in-stone plan. As you deploy each strategy and action, test how the market responds to it and adapt it as you go. This way, you’re always poised to tweak your marketing strategy according to the ongoing evolution of your industry, competitors and customers.
8) Stay True to Your Mission
Keeping up with the latest marketing trends and developments is important if you hope to stay relevant to your ever-evolving customers. However, that doesn’t mean you need to force your brand or product into whichever mould is hot right now. In his keynote speech at INBOUND 2015, Seth Godin spoke about standing by your positioning and differentiation. Godin says that too many brands shave off their edges to appeal to a larger market, thereby alienating their primary market in the process. Sometimes – despite what everyone else in the industry might be saying and doing – it pays to stick with your original idea.
It might be a time-consuming (and sometimes mind-boggling) task, but keeping up with the latest developments in marketing technology, industry norms and consumer trends is non-negotiable. Today’s well-informed and web-savvy consumers expect nothing less.
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