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The CMO's Periodic Table

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What's the biggest pain point that content marketing officers face? On this week's Writer Podcast, Drew Neisser, founder and CEO Renegade, a NYC-based agency, and author of The CMO's Periodic Table: A Renegade's Guide to Marketing explains. Find out how Drew gathered his marketing elements, and what the centerpiece of his periodic table is.

Byron White:          Welcome back to the writer podcast everyone, I’m here with Drew Neisser. Drew, welcome.

Drew Neisser:         Hey, thanks for having me. It’s great to be here.

Byron White:          We’re going to talk about your book today, “The CMO’s Periodic Tables,” very exciting. What a great concept by the way that you came up with there, really really cool thinking. Were you a scientist at any stage of you career?

Drew Neisser:         That’s funny, no. I do admire the periodic table and I’ve gotten to know it better, but it was one of these things where after interviewing a 150 CMO’s, I sort of realized that this was really about mixing elements and that the masters at marketing were not following a specific formula but customizing everywhere they went. And so sort of the periodic table fell in place after talking to all these people.

Byron White:          There are so many choices out there that we have with where to invest our marketing dollars. How does the book and how does The CMO’s Periodic Table help make those decisions?

Drew Neisser:         It really is organized in a way that you can sort of progress from, if you will, basic elements and things that are fundamental, whether you’re a writer trying to sell a story or you’re General Electric trying to sell jet engines;, you have to cover these basic elements. Things like selling expectations and planning and strategy, and then you can sort of work your way across the periodic table until you get to what I call sort of noble pursuits and inert fundamentals. And these are things I think that really set marketers apart. Things like marketing a service or social customer service or build a community. I always like to encourage people who are starting in marketing; start with a base. Because if you don’t have a strategy, you’re not going to get anywhere. But then, as you start to read about other examples, you need to understand your challenge and have a specific solution for your challenge.

Byron White:          I have a question for you with, how you, yourself, distinguish between strategy and tactics, and how these elements on you CMO’s periodic table sit with those two wonderfully distinctive things?

Drew Neisser:         Well, strategy is where you want to go, and tactics are how do you get there. So when we think about strategy, I always like to start with a customer in mind. I think marketers that focus on their customer almost always do better than ones that don’t. The better you know your customer the better chance you have at success. And then it becomes thinking about the customer in terms of the tactics; how would they like to engage, how would they want to participate. I wrote this book because it was a way for me, the interviews were a way for me to get to know and help my customers. Flat out, that was it; I wanted to help them, I interviewed them, I wrote about them. The book is a result of that, and it’s been helpful for our business. So, the strategy in that case was to help CMO’s  find innovative ways to cut through. That’s my strategy, right? But the tactic was interview them, write about them and publish them and make their brands look good, and as a result of that was that they wanted to have conversations with me and Renegade.

Byron White:          Let’s talk about the elements that you selected. Explain to the listeners what those elements are. Obviously not all 64 will be expressed by you, but what’s the general concept, how did you group them and why don’t you list a few examples of some of the elements?

Drew Neisser:         Sure. I really tried to follow Dmitri Mendeleev’s, a genius 1869 Russian scientist to set up the periodic table and it literally was from sort of the lighter elements to heavier elements. It follows that if you look at the seven groups from basic elements and I get to things like volatile factors. In the original periodic table there were volatile elements. So I followed that all the way through in terms of a structure.  But from an elemental standpoint, from a marketing standpoint again, I think the way to think about it is there’s basic things that you have to do in any job, and I start with the most fundamental element right away, which is setting expectations. You talk to anybody working for anybody and what’s amazing to me is how few people know what their boss expects of them, right? If you don’t have that answer, you’re going to fail. You don’t even need to read the rest of the book. It’s like, get those expectations set. Once you know what those expectations are then you have an opportunity to exceed them and then you might actually have an ongoing customer.

                                  So you’ve got basic things on the left side, and then on the very far end, the last element, which is always innovating to me is sort a wonderful place to end the book and a great element to think about in that this is something... the great marketers never stop innovating. And Bess Comstock spends 25 percent of her time out in the world talking to people, gathering information in order to sort of bring back to the mother ship innovative thoughts or questions or new things that she can then work with her team to come up with the next...whether it’s eco-imagination or health imagination. So if you start with we’re going to set expectations and then the last element of always innovating in between, you’ve got very tactical things, like CRM and email and online optimization. And those are fairly sophisticated digital concepts.

                                  A lot of people have a question about how to do B2B content marketing or B2C content marketing, and it’s really interesting and specific and sometimes unexpected uses of content marketing, and I can talk about one of those. One of my favorites is with Richard Marnell and Viking River Cruises. Most people think about content as a way of acquiring customers. And again, going back to my original premise, if you talk about what can you do for your customers, maybe that could lead to acquisition. So, it turned out for him creating videos of cooking classes, say for a trip that you were going to do in France, you do a French cooking class. That was a wonderful way for someone who had already signed up but was going to be taking a cruise a year from now to maintain their excitement about it and for them to share it and say “Hey, by the way, we’re going on this cruise. Who wants to come with us?” So it became retention acquisitions through retention. It was very smart. So, I think that again, as we writers are always in the content business, but thinking about different ways of creating content, not just as an acquisition tool. But sometimes it’s really just about helping your customers live their lives.

Byron White:          How do you really identify the core element and driver for all of these great ideas and great tactics and strategies you put together? How does the customers wants and need become the centerpiece of all of this? Because isn’t that what matters really in the end of the day, as the centerpiece for the periodic table perhaps?

Drew Neisser:         It’s true. And I think you’ll find that theme in almost all of the interviews. We spent a fair amount of time talking about their customers, but there’s one element in the book called Customer Centricity, and I love this story. It’s with Annie Metson, who is an NEA member benefits, which is an organization that markets to teachers in their particular non-profit organization. And she did an experiment where they used to send 50 different pieces of correspondence to every single one of their customers for all of the products that they offered. And she thought about customer centricity, and she said “I don’t want 50 emails from anybody on anything. What if we try to reduce this down to something that would be a benefit, if we’re talking to young teachers, we’re just going to talk to them about, say, helping them with mortgages? Or something that they might be interested in as opposed to life insurance, which they may not be interested for 20 years.”

                                  So she reduced her communications from 50 to 6, and the result of that was I think a 20 percent increase in sales. So customer centricity has different meanings at different points, but that one in particular to me, just reminded, so of was a halo effect for the book, is that focus on your customer and you’re absolutely right. So there’s a lot of different ways of doing that. And I think part of the point is, depending on your situation, customer centricity may be creating content, customer centricity may be doing less. It may social customer service like the folks at McDonald’s do so well.

Byron White:          What’s the biggest pinpoint you repeatedly heard from CMO’s regarding making marketing work well?

Drew Neisser:         Well, there are a couple. First, - and I tell you, I’ve come to admire the ones who are successful because their job is so hard. There’s a reason why three year tenure is the average, and it’s a lot less than the average CEO in that they’re up against several obstacles. One, they often don’t speak the same language of their boss, and that’s a problem. The boss speaks in terms of top line and bottom line, and they speak in terms of brand. And those twains don’t always meet. And secondly, they have a really hard time measuring things. You’d be amazed how difficult marketing, even with all the data that’s available to measure and pinpoint, and they all will say “I know I’ve got about ten percent of my budget. I know I’m spending it a certain way, and I can’t be certain what it is doing but I’m going to keep doing it.” And that’s not necessarily wrong, because not everything you do in marketing that enhances your brand is going to be measured. But I will say the one thing, the biggest gap and this is one – it’s hard for a writer to think about it from their standpoint, but brand health is everything.

                                  So think about it from a writer’s standpoint, it’s reputation right? Am I a person that someone want to do business with on an ongoing basis? It’s the same thing for brands. So the brands that are ultimately and the CMO’s that are ultimately more successful are the one that have brand health tracking and understand where their brand is. I think we all sort of need to, as personal brands, need to have a sense of where our personal brands are and where our reputations are. I think those are the two biggest challenges that CMO’s have.

Byron White:          I like asking this. When it comes to content marketing, I love asking this question: where’s all this great content going to come from? Are CMO’s having a difficult time creating great content? Probably not themselves, but the team member’s they’re hiring, how are they creating great content? Are they looking outside a corporation to do that these days? Do they feel that internal staff can be creative enough and engaging enough and tuned in enough with what’s working, what isn’t working, without being too close to the product? Tell us about that complexity. Where’s all this great content going to come from?

Drew Neisser:         First of all, I love the fact that you say “Where are all this great content is coming from?” Because in my opinion most content isn’t great. And what happened – and it happens in social and it happens in content – is you put together a content calendar, right? And you say, “Ok, we’re going to publish 20 days out of 30 days.” And then you have to feed the beast. And you’ve got to publish on Monday whether or not you have a great piece or not, and I think a lot of marketers fall into that trap. And the result is they’re cranking out stuff. And if we go back to my earlier point about reputation, less is more. Better content, as you put it, great content, one great piece a week is worth five mediocre pieces.

                                  So, having said that, marketers are really struggling to create great content. You need really good writers. And what their challenge is, it’s very much of a cost-benefit analysis, because they can crank out a blog post, write 600 words, you pay someone $200 or whatever it is and you have this content. But if three people read it, for the most part, and nobody likes it and nobody shares it, it’s hard to say “Wow, that was worth the money,” even though it only cost you a little bit. But I think the bigger risk for these brands is mediocre content dilutes the brand. And it says “they’re not really a trusted source for me anymore.” So, going back to Richard Marnell he produces really high quality videos, and they’re a reflection of the experience you’re going to have when you’re going to go on the Viking River Cruise. So if you create content that is below the value that you want people to think about your brand, then you’re making a mistake. If you’re a premium brand, you better have premium content.

                                  So it’s really hard for them is the bottom line. It’s particularly hard at video, which is so increasingly important. Video storytelling is an art form in and of itself, and very few brands have that capability and house – although I’ve talked to a number recently who are trying, they’re bringing in script writers from Hollywood. IBM is doing that and Georgia Pacific has hired a firm to help them with storytelling. So, there’s a great deal of interest, and I can tell you for certain that brands are going to be creating more content not less in the next three or four years. But the smart ones are getting better and better at judging what great is and what it takes to get there. 

Byron White:          Not everybody has the big budget to produce the big campaign that’s the great content that we all want and need. Let’s face it. There are four billion content assets produced every day. Isn’t that staggering?

Drew Neisser:         That’s a big number.

Byron White:          That’s a big number, right? But we can’t just stop creating all this content. Google is an engine. We need to feed that engine if we want to maintain and grow our organic listing position. So, we’re stuck right now. We’re stuck in mud. We’re damned if we do and we're damned if we don’t. The content marketing revolution requires we bang out a steady stream of content to feed the search engines, to feed our readers , to make sure that we care and that we’re at least publishing something every day or every week or whatever our schedule happens to be. Don’t you think that there is some importance with that consistency, from the consumer’s perspective? Don’t you think that a consumer, even a B2B consumer, when they see a big void of a month because the marketing department was too busy doing other things to pay attention to the blog and lost the ball, the sight of the ball? Don’t you think that’s a flaw and that can hurt you in the long run?

Drew Neisser:         I don’t think so. Let me give you this scenario: if you get five emails, let’s say Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, five emails at ten a.m. form the same company, and each of them has a mediocre piece of content, what’s your perception of that brand going to be? Is it going to go down, or is it going to go up? First of all you're going to say, ”Why are you bothering me with this every day, and why are you creating content that doesn’t matter?” Now, if you were going to say to me, “I’m going to create great content with some human truths and real character and insight," that mattered to me, not you, right? Because most content is created about the brand and not about the customer.  It’s so funny, if I write for LinkedIn, the pieces that get the most help are one’s that talk about not about just necessarily marketing, often it’s about life and getting more sleep or having a better work life balance. Because it’s about them, right?

Byron White:          Yeah, yeah.

Drew Neisser:         So I think the mistake is we think we have to fill this pipeline because otherwise they’re going to forget us. No, they’re going to forget you if you fill the pipeline with mediocre content. So, yes, every brand needs to answer the seven questions that customers have about your product or service. That’s basic content marketing institute 101 stuff. Answer the seven questions about the pool guy, and make sure you do that, and if you want to do it five different ways and get that posted on your blog so it’s there and it does the search performance for you. But just cranking out fluff, I don’t think gets brands anywhere and personally, I’ve seen it, it pushes them backwards, not forwards.

Byron White:          By the way, there’s a big gap here between garbage content that you’re sort of referring to that’s meaningless and has no value, and super high-end content that’s changed the world and changed your perception of life. Those are radical extremes. So there’s plenty of very good,  helpful informational content being produced of the four billion assets and I do believe that consistency is a good thing. But you and I can debate that forever. I think consistency is something that matters in life. My many TED talks and … a wonderful TED talk, as I recall – I think it’s a TED talk – but a guy that talks about the importance about making your bed every day. Like this is his thing, this is where life begins. He was in the military for many years, right? And people that don’t have that discipline, one of the reasons they’ve continued that discipline, like the perfect bed be made is that that sets the tone that you’re capable, you’re competent, you’re ready to conquer anything because of that religious task that you do every day.

                                  Anyway, that’s my case on consistency. If it’s consistently great, even better; if it’s consistently amazing, over the top, completely changed my insights, my perception of the world, fantastic. But, you know what Drew? Neither you nor I can produce that every day or even every week or even every month. These are hard, hard assets at the top of the scale to produce. Don’t you agree with that?

Drew Neisser:         I do agree that it’s difficult to do great. But I would argue that a brand has to decide what the brand stands for. And if you’re American Express, you need to hit a very high standard, which is why they get professionals that have a reputation, who are really good at this to do it. They don’t try to do it in-house. It’s interesting to me, in the content revolution, what’s going to happen is the cream keeps rising to the top. Seth Godin writes something, we know it’s going to be good. We expect it’s going to be good. We read it. Joe Shmo writes something, the only hope for it to get any kind of readership is that a [0:20:25 inaudible] somebody else says “This is pretty good.” So somehow or other the individual, the writer in this thing matters. And I think that as people think about - one of the chapters in the book is about personal branding, and I think writers have to think about the characteristics of their writing as a brand opportunity. You know, do they always start with a question, are they always starting with a story, do they bring something personal to it, so that the reader gets to know the writer and says “I like this guy,” right?

Byron White:          Right.

Drew Neisser:         And I think what’s absent from most writing, most blog posts, is personality and real sort of personalization where, you know, “Oh, this guy’s comic...” but basically, we end up falling in love with a writer. And that’s the thing that I think is again, it’s missing in a lot of content. So our counsel to brands is, whatever our standard is that we agree upon, there has to be a standard. And we’re going to always meet or exceed that. Anything below that, we’re not going to publish. And if that means four times a week instead of six, so be it.

Byron White:          What advice do you have for freelance writers? So many that are listening in and tuning in to this. What advice do you have for them to take their career to the next level and tap in into these bigger brands somehow with their expertise and with their passion with whatever it is you’re recommending them to do?

Drew Neisser:         I think there’s a tremendous movement towards story telling right now. And that understanding the conventions of story whether it’s plotlines, the human truth that often go into it, metaphors, and being able to frame articles as if you were writing a film script or a novel, it gives you a chance to sort of speak to… your story telling capabilities I think is number one. Two is, if you’re passionate about something, figure out a way to integrate that into your writing, so that you’re bringing something more to the table than a nice, clean, Wikipost, right? Often, that’s what people want as a writer.

                                  But if writers that get known get known because they have a point of view. And that’s what distinguishes a writer in demand versus just an everyday person. Is that you have a point of you and you express that point of view. Not everybody will like it, and really an important part of this is what you want to stir is the passion in your readers. If you don’t stir some passion in your readers then you’re really… even if… I’m always happy when someone goes “No, I disagree with you Drew." Great, great! Because I know that will stir up nine people to say “Wow, I agree with Drew on this one.” And you have a conversation. But I think most people play it safe and playing it safe doesn’t get you anywhere. 

Byron White:          To boost our listenership, I’ve been scolded for going on for many, many hours with podcasts like this. But I could seriously talk with you for a very long time about some of these issues. Just a couple of final questions for you and then we’ll cut it short. When you think of the small to mid-size business, I get the fact that you work with big brands, you’ve interviewed big brands. The focus about big brands. But what difference in your mind between a big brand and a small business? With the approach of marketing obviously.

Drew Neisser:         I describe the entrepreneur as the CMO without a budget. They have the same challenges; they have to figure out what their strategy is, who are they talking to. Just like a big brand, they need a strategy and they need metrics that matter, making sure they know what they’re measuring. They need a unique position and they need the right mix of marketing elements.

                                  So the difference between the big and the small are just sort of the dollar signs behind the budget. And when it comes to small businesses, I think the fundamental mistake that they make is trying to target everybody, because basically you can’t be all things to all people. Brand is about being very specific. We stand for this, for these people. And so I think focus is probably the mistake that small businesses make. Ironically, big businesses are better at it, except the small businesses…it’s like “We’ll take anybody because we’re…” I’ve talked to a couple of small businesses, only do one thing and they do it really well, and their lives become so much easier. Because they get better and better and better at it, they know their customers better. So I think focus, but a little bit of renegade thinking goes a long way with the small business.

Byron White:          What’s the biggest mistake you think a small business can make with regards to budget particularly? Do you feel like a company’s going to really get in trouble if they spend too much money? Do you think experimentation need to be mandatory at that stage, particularly with smaller budgets? A/B testing, multivariate testing? Do you just have to be wiser and what’s your take on Guerrilla Bootstrapping with marketing and literally doing things that big brands would never imagine doing?

Drew Neisser:         I think that what happens with smaller businesses is they spend way too much time executing and not enough time thinking about strategy. They just jump in. so that’s the first thing is more time and strategy, know “who’s my customer, what does my brand stand for, who am I for, what am I against?” And really stick to that. Then the second thing I would say is think about what your marketing could do for your customer, not what it could say. And by that I mean think about marketing as a service.

                                  So, that’s where content comes in. If I run a small business and say I'm in the construction business and I help people build a second room to their house.  If I provided all the content that would help someone understand every bit of the process there, then I’ve helped them. Then it’s been a service to them, right? And if you think about service as your marketing, then you have a really good chance of succeeding. And there’s so many different ways of doing it. And most of them are not that expensive. So again, you have your strategy. “What do I stand for? I’m purple, and I do this for them and I want to help people to do this.”

                                  I see a lot of brands trying to do well by doing good, and I think small businesses can particularly do that. The KIND Bar was a small business when it started and Daniel Lubetzky, the founder of KIND went pretty much door to door and did KIND acts to help get people excited about his brand. I think that’s where small businesses have a chance is focus on their niche and do it better than anybody else.  

Byron White:          Really, really good point thinking about service as part of your marketing. Are you thinking, are you seeing that CMO’s these days view customer service as an intrical and important part of the marketing play?

Drew Neisser:         Absolutely. Very few of them actually control customer service or customer experience, but all of them know their success is dependent on that. You do a great marketing campaign and then the customer comes in to the store and they have a lousy experience, you actually accelerate the decline of the business. So great marketing can kill a bad brand any day of the week. The CMO knows he has to go and hold hands with the customer service team. He has to hold hands with experience team. And they have to agree that this is the level that we’re going to try to achieve, because these days brands are so public and people, if they have a bad experience, they share it with 100, right? So, that’s a critical aspect of this. And again, the great CMO’s are the ones who can cajole and work and even though they’re not responsible, they can impact those areas.

Byron White:          One of the... some stats that you’ll find interesting on this topic, 94 percent of B2B buyers undertake online research; 52 percent of buyers would remove a vendor from consideration if there’s lack of post-sale content, very interesting. 75 percent of customers prefer to use online self-service, and 10 percent of customers will remain loyal if they’re not successful after 90 days. Some interesting stats there. What that is pushing us towards – even here at Writer Access, our company is understanding that people are looking for online content to motivate them to buy but also keep them educated about the product while they’re in it. And there’s some really interesting new technology being developed that is focused on that experience, like help desk on steroids. But doing that with video, doing that in a more interesting way. Making it easier to find explanations on how to do things and frankly all these SAS models coming at us so fast are going to make it or break it I think based upon the content created about how their products work. Do you agree with that, and is that a trend that you’re saying that CMO’s are starting to get that and wanting to control that. Because that’s the critical element of referrals, don’t you think?

Drew Neisser:         Well, yes. The whole marketing automation revolution was the recognition that most... 70 percent of the customers do the homework before they ever call you. That’s where your points earlier about the importance of content, particularly the importance of good content is front and center. And yes, your online reputation precedes you. So content is certainly one way of doing it, but I think the part that we haven’t really touched on is that you need customers to create some good content for you. That’s the thing. That’s where great content inspires customers to create and be involved with it, whereas good content does and I think that sort of closes the loop in this conversation. Lots and lots of content is good; lots and lots of great content is awesome.

Byron White:          Have you checked out Brian Solis, a book he wrote called “X: The Experience When Business Meets Design”?

Drew Neisser:         I have it on my bookshelf.

Byron White:          Yes, an amazing book. I’m a really big fan of his, I'm communicating him now on a couple of fronts.  Super smart guy, but I think that this is the new intersection. This could be the next thing even beyond what content marketing is right now. “Experience When Business Meets Design” brings in customer service and how for example, customer service is typically viewed as a cost center right?

Drew Neisser:         Correct.

Byron White:          And that is completely the wrong approach according to Brian and many other people. It should be viewed as a revenues center, not a cost center. And it should be viewed probably as the most important revenue center of your company, because it’s the experience that people have when they’re using your product, drinking your product, whatever the case may be. But he triangulates sales and marketing and customer experience and product design as a contiguous revolving world, where they all have to jive with one another, connect with one another and think about the journey, the customer journey from before somebody even thinks about your product or knows about it, to long after they passed it by. It’s a relay interesting take on all of this. I'd encourage everybody to take a look at it, really good stuff there.

                                  Anyway, back to you I have two final questions for you. Like I said, I could go on all afternoon Drew.

Drew Neisser:         I love it.

Byron White:          Yes, good stuff here. Two final questions; who would you like to get a hold of you and how can they get a hold of you?

Drew Neisser:         I've talked to lots of people about lots of things. I’m always interested in talking to CMO’s, either to help them tell their story or help them create a story. And that’s sort of one of the interesting things is if I'd meet a CMO and he or she doesn’t have a story to tell, I go “We ought to work together, because you should have one.” So always looking for that, medium sized, big sized, well-funded start-ups, you can find me via Renegade.com, my blog is the Drew Blog, my book is CMObook.com. So, lots of different ways, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn as long as you send a note why. Hopefully folks know not to do blind connect requests on LinkedIn.

Byron White:          Good stuff there. And words of wisdom as we cast out the door here. We got a lot of wisdom from you today Drew, thank you very much for being here.

Drew Neisser:         My pleasure and good luck to all those writers out there.

                                  Byron White:                       Right on. Thanks for tuning in everyone, we’ll see you                                         next week on the Writer Podcast. Thanks for tuning in.