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Engagement Is the Number One Metric in Marketing

29/07/2014 11:24 BST | Updated 27/09/2014 10:59 BST

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*The version of the article below is the correct, amended version of the original article.

At Raconteur we endeavour to have honest, frank conversations with the best of the best - we feel it's important to know how different field leaders, from advertisers and business people to creatives and consumers, think about the world of marketing today. So we interviewed Heidi Taylor, Head of Government & Public Sector Marketing at PwC, who is both a visionary and a realist in B2B marketing excellence to pick her brains. Here are some of the highlights and wisdom she shared on what she calls "engagement marketing."

RM: Before we get on to "engagement marketing" do you agree that first of all, the content itself needs to be great? In your view what is the one thing all great content should have?

HT: For me, the number one element that great content needs to encompass is the human element; it needs to connect emotionally with our customers. Even in B2B all buying decisions are emotional decisions- they may be rationalised with facts and stats and data, but the reality is people want to buy from people, not just organisations. They want to buy from people whose values they believe are aligned to their own, who they can build long-term lasting relationships with and feel connected with on an emotional level. Even now, the bulk of our B2B marketing efforts is still around "features, benefits, price." But "bigger, better, faster, cheaper" is no longer a compelling enough reason for people to buy. We are living in an increasingly commoditised world, where, let's face it, most of the marketing activity that the B2B world does on "features, benefits and price" is pretty mediocre. So to really be able to engage with our customers in meaningful ways, the content has to be human. It has to be of value to our customers, not what's of value to us. It could be finding a solution to a problem or answering a question but it's really about speaking to the really big issues that our customers are facing every day.

RM: Is that what has gotten you so frustrated - the missing gap between content creation and engagement?

HT: Absolutely. I have a bit of a problem with the term "content marketing" - I happen to agree with Caroline Taylor (CMO of IBM Europe) when she says "marketing is content, it's like the air we breathe" - so what's so different about content marketing? That's what marketing has always been - creating and distributing content. What has changed is the nature of that content and the way our customers want to engage with that content. For me, the term content marketing implies something we do to our customers, not with them - it still implies a one way channel. That's what bothers me so much. The content is not an end in itself. You have good content? So what? If you can't engage with your customers with that content, what's the point? I don't think it's useful to put these marketing disciplines into separate boxes, because marketing is a holistic exercise. It's never about one thing or the next best thing - whether it's SEO or multichannel marketing or content marketing. It's about integrating appropriately to create impact - you shouldn't do one thing just once. I've been doing marketing for 25 years now, and when I started out, things were very different - but the reality is, the fundamentals were the same. We were still trying to create compelling content that engages with our customers through the channels at hand. But the nature of content has changed over time. Before the onset of all this ubiquitous technology, it was about organisations reaching their customers with their sales and marketing messages. That was primarily how customers got their information - through adverts or salespersons - and there was a heavy reliance on the sales team as the conduit through which all this content got out to the customer. That whole dynamic has changed, but the fundamentals stay the same. Marketing has always been about engaging with our customers in meaningful ways so that they become loyal advocates of our brands and products. And I don't think that's ever changed.

RM: Do you feel that engaging and connecting with customers on an emotional level is a goal easier to accomplish for B2C than B2B brands?

HT: I don't know if I would say easier. But it's different, just because the reasons for buying are different, possibly more complex in B2B than in the B2C world. All I know is that the B2C world has been way more successful in adopting social media than the B2B world has been - we've been really slow on the uptake. Even just a year ago social media experts were saying social media won't work for B2B, because people follow individuals, not "brands". But a year on and people are following "brands" And I think the brands that have been most successful are those that are authentic and engage on a very human level.

RM: How can B2B brands go about engaging with our customers in a meaningful way? Which B2B brand do you think has really nailed this approach?

HT: One example that I use from the B2B world is the Volvo trucks video with Van Damme doing the splits. It's a gorgeous piece of film - it's just visually beautiful. It's surprising. It really connects on so many levels - it's dawn in the desert, there's haunting music and this extraordinary feat happening before your eyes, and what I loved about the video was that without blatantly "selling" to us, this one video fundamentally changed the perception of Volvo in the marketplace. And this was just the kick off for the launch of a much wider, really quite traditional marketing campaign for its latest fleet of mega trucks - which compared to its consumer side, is a very small part of the market. It went viral, and captured the imagination of people far beyond its truck drivers. All because it resonated on so many different levels. And that's what today's marketing needs to capture, the emotional element.

RM: Let's talk a little about agility as a business plan when it comes to strategy - it's best practice in other parts of business, so should this be a cornerstone of your content marketing strategy also? In your talk at Marketing Week Live you talked about "being responsive" - responding quickly and with interest to your prospects...

HT: I was talking about this idea in reference to a social media conversation, but it's much wider than that. I'm a great believer in marketing plans, without being wedded to the plan. Because marketing by its very nature is fluid, and needs that agility that you referred to. The reality is, things change and can often change very quickly. "Respond" implies a knee-jerk reaction, whereas being "responsive" to me implies thinking through the implications and what it means for the business and appropriately going back out to the customer. Listening is a skill that we don't use enough - we get really caught up with what we do - but you can't just push your point of view out to your customers. When has listening to your customers ever gone out of fashion? It shouldn't ever.

RM: Marketers are under constant pressure to quantify their efforts and ROI for senior staff and CEOS, how can we best measure and evaluate engagement? Or is over quantifying even the right approach?

HT: This is a tough one because clearly I get this within my own organisation as well - it's always ROI, return on investment. And I get a bit cranky about this because I think sometimes we measure the wrong things, and that what we measure can often be manipulated to mean whatever we want it to mean. I do believe we have to measure what we do - you can't manage what you can't measure. But I think of measurement differently - I think about up front what it is I want to achieve, what "success" looks like and what metrics are meaningful. I make agreements with my internal stakeholders about what those measurements are going to be - upfront, before we even start. You could measure conversations, contributions, co-creations. It could be different for different campaigns, depending on the objectives of those campaigns. Do you want new relationships? A new piece of the market? It's a matter of saying, ok, what does success look like, and then articulating that. Without context the numbers mean nothing.

RM: What was the single most successful step you took to benefit from a more effective engagement marketing strategy? Speaking to marketers, what is the first step they should take?

HT: I always start with the type of customer engagement that we want to achieve, not the marketing activity that we want to do. Because if you think about the engagement piece first, you have to really think about your customer: where are they having the conversations? On what topics? Through which channels? How does this align to us? And that will dictate the content you create. And don't just go with the latest trend. If your customers are on LinkedIn, go toLinkedIn, but if they're on Twitter, go there. And it's not about doing everything, because we're not going after a broad consumer market - for the most part we have a finite customer base that we want to engage with. So, think about: 1. Who (do you want to engage with)? 2. What (are the customer issues)? 3. Where (the channels through which they are having conversations)? 4. When (how often do you want to engage with them)? And 5. Why (to what purpose)? Then, and only then, think about the content you want to create.

Heidi Taylor is Head of Government & Public Sector Marketing at PwC

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