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Some companies have multiple target industries, verticals, business regions/units, and personas. It’s impossible for marketers to do it all and quantify the results that they produce. Focusing on too much means focusing on nothing at all. Are you spreading yourself too thin to be effective?
Today’s guest is Tessa Barron. She is the senior director of marketing at ON24, which is on a mission to help marketers make intimate connections and engagements in the digital world via Webinars and other platforms. Tessa describes why cross-channel campaigns are more effective than multi-channel communication.
Some of the highlights of the show include:
Nathan: Imagine this scenario. Your company has four target industries, you’ve got seven verticals that layer across all of those, you’ve got five business regions, four personas who engage in your buying process, and five business units to support from a marketing perspective. Without hundreds of marketers quite literally, it’s going to be impossible to do all that well. It’s going to be impossible to quantify the results that you are producing.
In short, focusing on too much can actually mean that you’re not focused at all. It can mean you’re spreading yourself and your resources way too thin to be effective. What could be a healthy alternative to this? Could it be as simple as a singular brand message that you support as a collective unified marketing team and simply reiterate that message in every channel?
If it is that simple, I want to know about it. That’s why we’re chatting with Tessa Barron today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Tessa is the senior director of marketing at ON24.
Now, that scenario I described might not be as complex at your organization. Trust me. It’s been one that I’ve lived in a previous corporate marketing life and in that position, I wish I had heard some of this advice that you’re about to hear from Tessa. You’re going to learn why cross-channel campaigns are more effective than multichannel communication. Tessa opens the pages into her marketing strategy at ON24 to show you how to unite a marketing department under a single umbrella, breaking down silos, and giving every marketer a single focus to help them come together as a unified team. I’m Nathan from CoSchedule, and now without further ado, it’s time to get AMPed with Tessa.
Hey Tessa. Thank you for being on the show today.
Tessa: Thanks Nathan. I’m super excited to be here.
Nathan: We are very excited to have you. I know you and I had met up at Content Marketing World, so talk about the power of connections there.
Tessa: I love it. It’s offline-online convergence. Our story is a great metaphor for what a good marketing should be today, so love that we’re coming full circle.
Nathan: Exactly. Talk about two digital companies selling mainly software. Maybe a good transition actually, can you tell me a little bit about ON24?
Tessa: Sure. We’re actually on a mission to help marketers make those same kind of intimate connections and have that same kind of engagement that you would in the physical world, but in the digital world through awesome experiences, mainly via webinars. We’re also extending beyond just the webinar and giving marketers solutions to deliver interactive content and multimedia experiences, that can be personalized and curate that content so it’s always on, bingeable content hub.
At the core, we help marketers create and deliver awesome webinars and treat them like a campaign versus a one-off event and make sure to maximize that value to ultimately drive demand and revenue. I guess at the end of the day, that’s why we’re all here. I think, Nathan, I feel like CoSchedule could probably tell a similar story with your solution, too.
Nathan: Yeah, definitely. I always go back to this quip that I think Joe Pulizzi can be credited with, marketing is about driving comfortable customer action. It seems like a lot of times it should begin with engagement of some kind.
Tessa: Yeah and ultimately give your customers something different. I think it’s interesting because a lot of marketing technology and so much about marketing is about the back-end and it’s about operationalizing or automating. There’s not a whole lot of technologies centered on the front end and enabling marketers to create products, to create experiences. There is Adobe Creative Suite, you could do design, there’s WordPress, and then beyond that, most of the innovation happening in marketing today, your customer will never see.
It’s so interesting to me that as marketers, we’ve gotten kind of obsessed with the back-end and it forces us to almost feel like that front-end engagement is not important. But that’s what marketing is. That is what it’s supposed to be. That’s just as important.
I’m really glad to be at a company where I think we are helping to balance out that focus. It’s not just the science. It’s not just the automation. It’s also about the emotion, the creativity, and that connection and relationship you’re building with the customer as well.
Nathan: I really like that. Actually, it reminds me of the […] quote. I’m not a big reader, but I just like quoting people. In some of his writing, he kind of writes about at some point, your work needs to intersect with the market, otherwise it’s just a hobby. I think that’s really important. Find those ways to become efficient. Find those ways to engage well because ultimately, if we don’t ship something, we haven’t really done anything at all.
Tessa: Yeah and I guess in that same vein, random acts of engagement also don’t work either. It does need to be orchestrated. There should be a purpose behind it, but then your words that you’re delivering should also have a purpose. You shouldn’t be throwing things like just creating an eBook and hoping that it works. There needs to be a reason for it and also some insight behind it that is solving a problem for your customer.
It’s like figuring out that balance between random acts of marketing and just kind of creating things that are cool for the sake of creating it, but also not being so rigid that you’re only doing something because—if you’re such a slave to your pipeline numbers or only doing something because an attribution model told you to do so, that also sucks the magic out of marketing. You have to find that balance between the two. I think that that’s where planning an organization becomes so important. That’s the way that you’re able to strike that balance.
Nathan: Definitely. You mentioned working with purpose and I really like that. Maybe the next question for you is definitely leading into some of the things that you do. What does a day in the life look like for you? Senior Director of Marketing at ON24, what does that look like?
Tessa: It’s different every day and I’ll start first just with my title. I changed my title from Senior Director of Brand and Communications to Senior Director of Marketing because I really think that it’s symbolic of where the future of marketing is going. No one is just doing brand and in the same way, no one is just doing demand gen. Everything we do is a brand experience. Everything we do should have the voice of the brand, whether or not it’s directly tied to revenue. At the same time, everything we do, though, should be ultimately to try and produce revenues.
I feel like I am doing marketing because all marketing is brand, all marketing is demand gen, all marketing is even customer marketing. All marketing is product marketing. It’s integrated today. There’s no way you can say, “Well, we’re just driving awareness.” So then, it’s a brand experience only, but that awareness moment is ultimately going to lead to ideally some sort of acquisition, some sort of activity that then is demand gen. How can you separate the two? I think that my role and the development of it and my career has really followed that.
I started out in PR and now I run our demand gen strategy because I really think about that demand gen just one more channel to tell a story. I tell stories in our websites, so I run that. I tell stories through email marketing, run that. That makes every day very different. Typically, I like to start with three hours ahead of my team. I like to start with a look at my calendar. I like to have at least two hours of time to think and plan my day out.
Obviously, it’s a series of meetings and those can be everything from figuring out how we’re going to run a campaign, to making sure that our new email templates are actually being used, to talking about results in a pipeline meeting with the sales leader. Currently, I’ve taken ownership of our field marketing program and our in-person events. That’s a lot of time. A lot of my day now is spent on engaging with our sales team, planning for events, and actually working with partners, Nathan, companies like you, others in the ecosystem to figure out how we can go to market together in various ways. It’s a lot of talking, let’s just say that.
Nathan: I can relate for sure. Tessa, you mentioned that sometimes your day might entail like running a campaign and that you’re telling stories from a demand gen perspective. Something I want to pick your brain on was, we did some research recently that was basically finding marketers with a documented strategy are three times or 300% more likely to report success than those marketers who don’t document their strategy. Let’s talk about developing marketing goals game plan. Do you believe in the marketing plan approach? Is your strategy pretty loose and agile? What does your marketing roadmap look like?
Tessa: It’s in progress. I think I used to be in a place where I didn’t think that plans were super important because a lot of times, they’re stagnant in and of themselves, and the best marketers are those that are constantly seeking change, whether that’s through optimization or a news story. However, I think that what you said, having something documented is so important because now that marketing has gotten so complex, you can’t just have a single channel and have a campaign. You can’t just turn on a single channel and have a campaign. You have to have a multichannel approach. The only way to do that is with the plan. You have to have a plan.
We’ve gone through different ways of approaching that as an organization, where there was a PR plan and that was separate from a demand gen plan. Now, we are changing that and putting together an integrated campaign plan and not just because we realize that too much is left on the table when we don’t have that coordination from the start.
I fully believe in having a plan and if nothing else, it’s the only way that everyone on the team knows that what they’re doing is important and also that there’s a dependency on what they’re contributing. Unless you can view that full picture and gain that holistic understanding, then everyone who’s individually doing their part and running their certain channel, whether that’s email, whether that’s turning on the advertising, whether that’s creating the content that your promoting, it all flows together and you have to have that higher level view to execute each tactic, not perfectly, but I would say effectively. How about that?
Nathan: Yeah, I really like that. I think it’s pretty common for, maybe lack of a better word, those silos that pop up, PR’s separated from demand gen. One of the things I wanted to ask you about is like how do you actually implement that integrated approach? How did you connect the dots between PR and demand gen and make sure that the channels are maybe message-matched or campaign-matched? What was the process like to actually change that behavior for your team?
Tessa: It’s been slightly painful and I don’t think we’re all the way there. Honestly, it came from the outside in. So, we work with an agency and we brought them in to give us fresh eyes when we took a step back and they analyzed our marketing today. The ultimate conclusion is we are, and I just said, campaigns are multichannel, but what I really should’ve said is that campaigns are cross-channel. I think that that’s really where people today get confused is, “We’re running an integrated campaign, its multichannel. We have all these different channels turned on.”
That’s actually not the goal. It should be cross-channel. I think that that observation helped us realize that the way that we’ve been thinking about and even setting our KPIs was completely wrong, because we were saying, “From content syndication, we will get this many MQLs. From our email, we will get this many MQLs. From our website, we will get this many MQLs.” No, it should be from this campaign, we should generate this many MQLs, because it doesn’t matter what channel actually trigger them to become more qualified, because your audience is going to engage with what they want to engage with. It should be that campaign.
When you change the way that you evaluate the success of someone, that’s going to force behavior change as well. When we start viewing success as a cross-channel campaign, then that forces everyone to start to think that way and organized that way.
Now, I’m working on our global campaign for next year. Even our big user conference which, again, used to be its own campaign, it’s totally set out in a silo, be completely separate from the day-to-day demand gen activities. All of it is becoming united under a single umbrella.
I can sound like I’m a control freak, that can sound like all we’re going to do is get a plan in place and never have time to execute it because it’s so complex that it has to be perfect. Actually, it’s simplifying everything so much because now instead of having seven different go-to market campaigns in three different continents happening, it’s just one campaign and now we’re just turning up dials.
Now you can start to optimize, now you can test, now you can start to see efficiencies and understand what’s really working simply because we’re really just running one campaign. Yes, there’s a lot of components. Yes, there’s a lot of channels, but it’s all with a single message. Honestly, we simply don’t have the bandwidth to do it any other way. Once you start to see how much easier things get when it is integrated, you kind of feel stupid for not doing it that way.
Nathan: I totally get it. Tessa, something that is sparking my curiosity here is for sure, one campaign with a cross-channel asset to it, like a cross-channel campaign, I love that. It sounds like you had mentioned that the message matches there across the board. It also sounds like there would be more freedom for your team. If you do this or you focus on this, it will help us succeed. Have you seen a team change when you did this?
Tessa: Yeah. Let me make this more tangible. Our campaign next year is going to be called Experience Is Everywhere, that’s that tagline for our webinar world conference. That’s going to be the umbrella under which customer marketing will operate. It will be the umbrella under which we will be doing our demand gen campaign. It will be our advertising.
Now that there’s this agreed upon a single message and a strategy of what we want to say and how we want to say it, now people have the freedom to innovate within that. They’re not sitting there trying to figure out what email copy they should write, we already know that. Instead, they can start to figure out what kind of nurtures what sequences and play within it. It’s allowing for a lot more innovation. I think that’s what you were getting at, right?
Nathan: Yeah, you nailed it. Tessa, that seems pretty smart. Something that I’m hearing recently is that marketers are being asked to do more with less and you mentioned you only have so many resources. It makes sense to narrow the focus so that the message can be more powerful.
Tessa: Yeah. I think just because it’s a different tactic doesn’t mean you need to do something differently. I think as marketers, we get really caught up in ourselves and we start marketing for us versus for your audience. Your audience don’t think you’re repeating yourself. They’re not sick of your message. I feel like sometimes we forget. Our audience will see 1/8 of what you’re putting out there at most. You have to have it be consistent across channels in order for you to even have a chance of them getting it. It’s so hard.
When I’m doing my own research for a solution, I have such a hard time figuring out what a company is trying to tell me. That’s due to there being different messages in different places and I’m like, “Wait a second. Do they do advertising or do they do direct mail?” They are talking about account-based marketing, but I’m not quite sure what their technology actually does.
I go and search a little further and I have no idea. I think in this constant need to please ourselves in a way, we almost forget that there’s someone we’re trying to communicate to. I think that it’s very tempting to want to do all these things. Have all these different campaigns going and constantly be creating and coming up with new ideas. That’s great. There are spaces for that. A blog is a great place to iterate and have different ideas, but when you’re trying to get a message across in a digital world, if your message is fragmented, you will not win, because the digital world is so fragmented. You have to allow for someone to make some sense of it. That’s just where we’ve really had this, “Come to Jesus.”
ON24 itself is not a huge global brand. We cannot afford as a brand to be telling different stories. We simply are not that powerful. We undermine ourselves if we’re constantly putting out new things. Consistency is how we’ll win. From a team perspective too, I do not have a huge team. It is undermining if we’re constantly changing things. Changing our messaging or our look because it’s almost like you’re forcing someone to do something three different times verses one thing really well.
Nathan: Yeah. A weird analogy that I think with brand stuff like this is, you’ve got a ship and you’re steering and you should just keep steering it in one way versus you don’t want to look like you’re in a canoe and zig-zagging across the lake.
Tessa: Yeah. You as a brand need to be like a home. You have to think of it like you are building a home. You can’t keep moving the foundation if you want to have a brand that stands for something and is recognizable. I know ON24 have struggled with this. We want to be more than webinars. I think at a lot of technology companies especially, you don’t want to be commoditized, you don’t want to be known for one thing, you want to be a platform, you want to evolve.
That’s always a struggle. How do you maintain the heritage that you have while still continuing to evolve your vision? It’s tricky, but what we’ve done is we’ve built on, not rebuilt. I think that that’s really important because if you just completely throw out everything that got you to where you are today, that’s not going to work either. From a brand standpoint, it becomes schizophrenic and rather, you want to just show maturity.
Nathan: Yeah. I really like that. I can connect, build on, not rebuild. I really like that. One thing Tessa is this stuff is great and I think the high level is important. How did this come into practice? You’re mentioning before that it almost seems like specialties for different people like, “I am focused on this. I am focused on this.” How did it come together with your team to actually start implementing this?
Tessa: This is hard, because it’s still in progress. I wish I had this beautiful answer for you that had a beginning, middle, and end, but the truth is that, it’s still being written. I’ll tell you what we are doing, not what we’ve done. We are coming together as a global leadership team. Rather than it being a case where everyone separately goes and does their plans, we’re coming together as a global team. I am going to say, “Here’s this global campaign that we’re doing. Now everyone, go off and create the different pieces of it. Go off and create your part and your plan knowing that it ladders up to this bigger plan.”
Maybe this is still too high level, but we never had that unifying, “Here’s the singular plan that everything should ladder up to,” and that’s what we’re changing on a day-to-day basis. I think the big thing that we’ve changed is that we’re starting to treat the pieces of a campaign like a sprint. Email nurtures. That’s a workstream now, that’s a sprint under a campaign, not the campaign itself, and that’s changed.
I think just that positioning. I’m saying this because we used to have one email nurture, just one. The email nurture itself was a campaign. No longer. Instead, an email nurture is a tactic within a campaign. This year, we had five different campaigns. We realized that’s crazy, which is why next year, we’re just going to have one, but I think that’s the difference is that that email nurture is a component, it is not the thing, and that’s really helped because then, individual teams can go off and they know that they own that workstream. They are treating it like a sprint and then we come back together and say, “Okay, the email nurture is done. Great.” Now, the other dependencies within the campaign like where are we at with those other pieces.
That’s the mindset shift that happened. Also, that’s now how we manage and run things. I also have to say that just from a very, very executional level, we started to centralize things. It’s so simple, but it’s crazy how a few people do this, I think, or at least we didn’t do this. We have a central campaign calendar. That helps organize things. We have a weekly newsletter that we send to sales which that communication forces everyone to see the big picture.
We see it all together not just as what we’re working on, not just our own little responsibility. We now have a centralized content. We would ask digital asset management system now. We didn’t before. Those little things that give everyone access that then just helps support that higher level mindset shift toward thinking in a more integrated way.
Nathan: I love it. Actually, you had mentioned that this stuff is still in progress. Something I think about is marketing, and strategy, and agility will always be in progress. It’s fun to hear the way that other marketers approach challenges that are very similar to what I’m experiencing and I hope what some of our listeners are, too. I think that’s a good place to end this, Tessa. I just want to say thanks again for sharing this stuff on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. This went really deep and I really appreciate you being so open and honest with us.
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