In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
VP of marketing for digital marketing vendor Performance Horizon, Erik Mikisch, speaks to CMO about how to be a more intelligent technology-led marketer in today’s fast-paced digital marketplace.
Learn from your mistakes
With a long-standing career spanning 30 years in international marketing and sales both in Germany and the United States, Mikisch has seen it all. In the early 2000s, he began working with a publishing company, then switched to marketing tech. Prior to joining Performance Horizon in June 2015, Mikisch worked for programmatic marketing vendor, Rocket Fuel, as senior director of solutions marketing, where he ran pre-sales support and marketing.
At Performance Horizon, Mikisch said his team is trying to apply lessons learned from his time at Rocket Fuel - including what not to do.
“What really fascinated me about the space was when you look at Rocket Fuel’s value proposition, it is about using technology to replace affiliate networks,” he said. “It’s a very similar digital view positioning and very much aligned with the expectations of large advertisers.”
According to Mikisch, it is very easy in a startup organisation to get side-tracked. As a big believer in focus, he is trying to propagate that attitude within the culture of Performance Horizon.
“For instance, this morning we had a session where I explained my philosophy but more importantly, how narrow our focus really should be,” he explained. “Because with that perspective, you can make much better decisions, and spend more quality time on those marketing activities.”
Cross the chasm
Philosphically, Mikisch draws inspiration from books such as Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, which argues there is a chasm between the early adopters of a product (the tech enthusiasts and visionaries) and the adopters (the pragmatists).
“I agree there is a gap between the early adopters and the pragmatists,” Mikisch said. “And how to cross that chasm can be very difficult for companies, unless you have clear messaging, clear product messaging and clear pricing.”
One of the things Mikisch said Performance Horizon did last year was to stop and analyse the verticals and geographies in which the company operates.
“We made a conscious decision not to invest outside of those verticals and those geographies, which makes it much easier,” he said. “It’s quite challenging because there are always sales opportunities that need support, but before you know it you could be supporting 20 different countries, six or eight different verticals and you start losing focus. That was a big step we’ve taken and we’re making sure we stick to that philosophy.”
Adapt to a changing marketplace
Globally, Mikisch said the company’s focus is on large brands like British Airways, Google, Barclays Bank, Santander, Emirates and Expedia. However, for smaller marketers like Australia, there is a need to adapt.
“For a lot of those organisations here in Australia, even if they’re subsidiaries of big brands, they tend to be smaller and their target audience is also smaller,” he said. “Australia is a very advanced country, but in terms of GDP it is not that big.
“For example, Westpac and Westfield are some of our customers here and we need to understand a lot of our clients here are being supported by agencies, which is not as true in other parts of the world.”
Think about marketing as long-term sales
Mikisch sees marketing is in many ways as long-term sales. And given the long sales cycles, a lot of pieces marketers put into place now should probably start generating results sometime in the next year or so.
“As an organisation, I will have to ensure that our positioning and communication with the market is not just appropriate for what we currently do, but is going to be of interest to clients in a year or two years from now,” he said.
Mikisch noted a lot of companies are interested in measuring performance in much more detailed levels and across multiple channels.
“For instance, in the travel industry, we have meta search engines that are very important and in the financial services space as well,” he said. “Some of the leading companies we are working with are already starting to implement programs in that respect. But we’re now expanding how we talk to our clients so more start to really think about how to implement in a year or two from now. So we have to take a pretty long-term perspective on that.”
Be more mobile-centric
In 2001, Mikisch worked in what he saw as the mobile application space. Today, he stressed a mobile-first approach is a must for companies wanting to maintain their competitive edge.
“It is no longer the year of mobile, we’ve basically passed that phase,” he said. “In fact, we’re moving so rapidly into mobile devices that clearly, app usage has not just improved in terms of quantity but also conversion.”
Mikisch expressed concern a decent amount of brands are falling behind in that respect, as they haven’t quite got it yet.
“Their app development is basically a simplified version of their website and they haven’t clearly thought about a mobile-first business approach,” he said. “It’s vital to really think about how to use the small phone factor and the mobility of it to provide better benefits to consumers. I think companies that are good at it, and have well-designed mobile apps, are clearly redirecting business in their favour.
“We’re talking to a lot of our customers about how they should think about mobile and what are the different user experiences they see today and forecast for the next couple of years.”
Measure success and failure
Mikisch said it’s becoming clear to all marketing organisations that every activity they undertake should have clear expectations, clear measurements and not be insular.
“What the best organisations are doing now is they are looking at which individual marketing activity contributes to overall business success,” he said. “You need to have a clear marketing channel mix and constantly evaluate what contributes and how much to an individual sale. And of course that changes according to demographic, age, geography, product and so on.”
Understand the profitable customer
Another interesting trend Mikisch highlighted is companies becoming more careful as to what their profitable products are, and what their profitable customers are.
“You have initial customer profitability, then customer lifetime value,” he explained. “Turning the screws and really understanding what drives the customer is extremely important, but you also have to understand the sophisticated attribution methodology underneath.”
Mikisch claimed many companies are falling behind by thinking in measurement and attribution only for each channel.
“But today, customer journeys are so complex and they are different for almost every customer,” he said. “You have to have very flexible multi-touch attribution methodology in place. It also has to properly categorise existing customers in a much more sophisticated fashion.
“Moreover, today you have to drive marketing not just across demographics, but think about every individual customer – and how can you get that customer to convert.”
Make the most of what you have
Mikisch agreed it can be easier for larger organisations to have a competitive advantage due to the resources and sheer volumes of data available to them. But he saw startups as having the upper hand when it comes to being agile and leveraging what they have.
“When it comes to large organisations that might be in the consumer space, they may have a significant advantage because they have the funding available and they typically have a fair amount of knowledge and data,” he said. “But in the B2B startup space, you can be much more agile and be very smart about how to go about going after the right customers and understand how each customer converts.
“We’re seeing a lot of organisations try to understand and rationalise their data using DMP technology and mining their own data – and that takes discipline and a fair amount of money. But I think that’s where organisations have an advantage.”
Knowledge is power
While it is difficult to stay competitive in a fast-paced, ever-evolving digital space, Mikisch had some key tips marketers can implement to remain in the know.
“I’m not a big believer in trying to run in one direction, then banging your head against a wall and then running in a different direction,” he said. “I’d rather be more cerebral about it.
“I prefer to talk to a lot of my peers in other organisations, and understand what they do and what they recommend. I’m a big believer in not re-inventing the wheel, I’d rather rob steal and pillage. So if something works for someone else, why shouldn’t we adopt it? Especially if it comes from a company that is not our competition.”
Mikisch also advised keeping up to date with the latest news, books and literature, while maintaining a constant curiosity to learn and grow as a marketer.
Importantly, he added marketers need to learn from their customers by talking and listening to them.
“Since we are selling marketing tech, all of our customers and our users that are making the decision to buy our technology are in the marketing space as well,” he said. “I’m also a big believer in learning from history, so in everything that we do, or anything that a marketing function does, we should always look back and see what has worked and what hasn’t – and learn from that. It’s like optimising based on real results.”