How to empower your clients, stakeholders over fear: Data does it


Change and innovation are tough to swallow for most.  Fear of the unknown is a powerful force.  It makes sense—the terrible “what ifs” linger  when a new idea is presented.  What if it doesn’t work? Here is what I can lose…my reputation, my job….you get the picture.  So it is perfectly natural that the first response to something new–is NO.

Take 2 short examples of how turn the “NO” into  “YES”:

My Cisco team was pitching a logical program to retain and engage employees by opening up the marketplace of jobs for people to move freely about the company–aka Talent Connection.  First hurdle was proving that it would work.  We launched a 6 week pilot with a test group.  Our rockstar analyst sifted through the data and helped present a business case that it worked.  The data proved it would work operational, as well as proved out the concept of the $100+ Million in savings if the program launched globally successfully.  That was the first hurdle and data saved the day.

Next hurdle was the old “field of dreams” dilemma—if you build it, they will come concept, NOT true.  People have to be aware before they will understand and act.  Here comes my role–the marketer. I under-estimated the challenge before me.  I had the plan and creative.  I knew it would work…it worked many times when I helped generate millions in pipeline for Cisco products. It was a no brainer. Right before I was going to press the send button and launch a full internal social media campaign, the brakes were hit.  No one took my word for it, I even used case studies and external data.  But the risk was too BIG for my stakeholders.  I failed to show them how this creative and plan would work in THIS exact situation.

Solution–research, testing and data that would allow my stakeholders to sleep at night. We commissioned a study from a company called Catalyst Strategies to test the creative concept.  The goal was to test if the video and creative would compel people to take action and participate.  A series of virtual focus groups and surveys later, gave us enough data to prove the concept was a winner.  Actually, there was a 19% increase in intention to participate just by watching the video series (wish I had this creative concept when I worked for SMB marketing for Cisco, I may have been VP by now;) ).

Outcome: we got the “go.”  To launch a unique internal marketing campaign.  But it took lots of data to prove it would work before our stakeholders would pull the trigger.

Story 2–short but effective.  I recently participated in a talk sponsored by Marketing Mondays in RTP.  @gnewel, Graeme Newell, (602 Communications) talked about letting go of the product specs and benefits to reach for a more emotional connection with customers. I can only imagine what his clients’ first react to this concept is when he pitches this idea of forget the product and consider the feelings of your customers.  His challenge is the same as mine was, helping his clients overcome fear of the unknown.  How does he do it…data! He does quantitative research to actually prove to his clients it works.


Lesson here—Data does it! When pitching change, innovation, or creative, the sure way to your client or stakeholder’s heart is to prove it.


Don’t Panic – Manage info overload with a few personal boundaries!

Take a lesson from me..when I first got on the social media train just 4 years ago, I was so excited to dive into the wild west that I quickly burned out.  I was tweeting, updating, blogging, videoing almost 24/7…at first the novelty fueled my constant activity…but quickly it caught up with me.  After a year, as the social media manager for the Cisco Interaction Network, I didn’t even want to log on to the internet to check the weather.  Being “on” all the time take its toll and it is easy to get wrapped up in the exchange of information and lose yourself.

So I learned how to manager the 24-hour, infinite cycle with a few personal boundaries to allow me to sustain and succeed.

Here are some tips to consider when participating in the big-bad social world without running into Burn Out of information overload:

  • Only create profiles you can manage.  Because it is free to access and easy to start up, the first rookie mistake is to go all in. Take some time to profile your customers, your business and make hard choices on how you want or can distribute.  Consider starting small–like twitter where an easy 140-character response can keep you in the game. Consider tools like tweet deck or google alerts where you can monitor and manage without loosing your sanity.
  • Pick 3 times a day you check all your online presence.  Sure, you may not be the fastest web slinger, but you will still be able to bundle your activity and respond appropriately.
  • Pick a day or two you don’t go online.  I know…sounds crazy right…what if someone tries to sabotage your brand…as long as you haven’t just launched an uber campaign, you won’t miss that much.  And you will thank me for the boundary.
  • Create a schedule.  Structure goes a long way.  When you are just chasing, you run out a fuel quickly…think of it like exercising.  When you have a routine and you build up….endurance is far more lasting than quick sprints. Set up an update process and editorial calendar.
  • Share the load.  Enlist people in your company or organization to help monitor your brand with google alerts or twitter search alerts. Create a template and a social media guide and ask them to help.  It truly takes a village.
  • Mix it up…online isn’t the only way to reach your audience.  In person, direct mail, email, search….it is the combination that leads to success.
  • Let go….sure you may miss something, but usually opportunities will repeat again…with all the retweets, shares and likes….you will be able to spot a BIG opportunity as it makes its rounds in cyberspace.

The name of the game is long-term sustainability.  It doesn’t matter how many posts or updates you do, but the value of your contribution to the audience. The age old cliche…quality vs quantity rings true for the online world. Personal boundaries are key for long-term success in anything you do…so prevent the burn out before it starts.


The King and Queen of Marketing – Audience & Content Rule!

What most people enjoy doing in marketing is the sexy stuff.  You know the photo or video shoots, the graphics on a new print piece or ad, or the trade show booth and “giveaways.” But none of that matters without establishing your king and queen of any marketing plan…

First – the King – your audience.  This should rule any decision you make to communicate.  Who are your customers or prospects? How do they communicate? Demographics, psychographics, social graphics….Are they the masses or some niche market? Who influences them?

Before you put together a budget, contact your marketing firm or start your social media contest on Facebook, take a step back and really profile your audience.

  • Define who.
  • Define what.
  • Define where.
  • Define how.

Create some profiles of a typical customer. Name them. Create personas or personalities. It will make your dollar go further and your campaign more effective.

Second – the Queen – your content. Now you know who you are trying to reach.  Next step is to define a content strategy.  Remember, it is not what you want to tell them, but what they need and want to hear.

  • Define your audience needs.
  • Define your benefits.
  • Define how you will communicate–tools, cadence, messaging.
  • Define a sustainable plan. Step by step how you will attract and keep your audience by providing value.

NOTE–there are millions if not billions of messages an audience encounters daily.  While social media has made it easier for people to communicate, it has also cluttered the marketplace with useless information.  Your content will define you and your brand. It will be your single source of credibility and the crown jewel of your marketing success. 

Here is an example I used when defining a content strategy for an internal marketing campaign.  This isn’t scientific, just practical.  It really helped me to communicate the need for unique, audience-driven messaging, by simply showing all the tasks, information and priorities an employee encountered daily.  You know how it is….when you are in the “throes” of your program or product, you forget that your audience isn’t concentrating on your project 40+ hours a week like you are….take a step back to realize the obstacles ahead.

3 Quick Takeaways for 2014:

  1. Content 3 years later is still a means to an end.  Content marketing adds value and creates opportunity.  Relevance is KING!  Developing and maintaining relevance is the strategy and ultimately the goal, content is merely the tool that will get you there.
  2. Content is great for remarketing to your prospects.  Remarketing and retargeting is an effective tool but is super creepy.  When a prospect is not ready to buy an ad seems intrusive but on the other hand an article could rather be viewed as helpful.  Utilizing your latest white paper, e-book or video is a great way for keeping your prospect engaged.
  3. Content is still an unavoidable marketing metric.  Buyers are the most informed they have ever been and the information they read has an impact on what they think, what they do.  Most importantly for a brand – what they buy.

So there are my updates.  Are you publishing content?  What are some your strategies for this year?

Leadership–if you are too far ahead, you are NO longer leading

A wise manager once told me that advice in one of my performance reviews…He said Melissa—you are innovative, so ahead of the curve…but you need to realize that if you are a leader and you get too far ahead of the crowd, there is no one following you–by definition you aren’t a leader at all. These are words I now live by.

I love understanding innovations. I love seeing trends before they become popular.  It is my differentiator.  But none of it matters, unless you can educate and bring others along with you.  Unless you can help people understand what and why they should care.  Now that is leadership…helping to educate and inspire people to take risks; helping people see your vision; helping others seize the great opportunities before them.

Four ways to pull the reins on the edge and successfully lead:

  1. Wait. This is the action I hate the most.  Waiting for me is worse than any dental work.  I like to leap ahead.  I guess you can say…waiting for me is NOT in my comfort zone.  But it is wise…most people don’t have the threshold of risk.  Why do you think all the financial advisors always ask you…so what is your risk tolerance…Sometimes the best action, is no action.  Keep educating yourself, think of ways a new tool or tactic can be used in your organization, put together a plan…but wait for the right time to pitch it.  Some of the greatest inventions never succeeded because of bad timing…
  2. Educate. I love to share…I guess you can say my mama taught me well.  But I find if you educate your peers and leadership on trends and successful case studies, sooner or later they will bite.  Plus, the outside validation only strengthens your case.
  3. Be persistent. Every great sales person I have ever worked with has the ability to try , try again.  The odds for closing a deal are something like 1 in 10…so be persistent.  If the research shows it is hot and only a few outliers are doing it and you want to capture the opportunity.  Keep on pitching…sooner or later with patience, education and a good plan.  You will be able to lead your colleagues, organization or company to innovative success.
  4. Create a no harm trial.  This is the clincher.  If you can prove your plan will work in a small pilot and bring results to the table…most of the time, management will approve.  Just like in courtrooms, all people want you to prove it.  Try your plan on 100 prospects or customers.  Pick a new product that isn’t gaining traction or one that is being neglected by resources.  Be thoughtful with your plan– set a goal, action plan and measures of success. Present the findings and pitch for large-scale project.

Patience is not intuitive for the innovator…otherwise he/she would never create something innovative.  But take lessons from the likes of AOL, that created social networking, IM and other hot, trendy marketing tools today a long time ago.  AOL had communities in the 90s…and now, do you ever hear anyone contribute the success of social networking to that company?  Patience is a cornerstone to leadership.  Don’t get too far ahead of the pack…no one will be able to find you.

How to wrangle your resources within–A lesson in sales and diplomacy

So you have a big organization…you are trying to rally everyone behind a cause, campaign….and everyone has their own budgets, priorities and agendas…so how do you win hearts and minds and rally to a collaboration success without endless cycles of “redo, approve, redo, approve”?

Here are 3 tips to consider when herding cats:

1. Listen–we were created with 2 ears and 1 mouth.  You should use them accordingly.  Identify the key stakeholders in your organization and listen to them.  Ask them their challenges and goals? Ask them their plans to overcome or achieve? Then custom your response and pitch to help them solve their problems or reach their goals…sounds simple right?  Sometimes it is….most times, it takes patience and persistence.

2. Identify the big influencers–so in any group dynamics there are always key people who have the power to influence others.  And don’t fool yourself they don’t always have the biggest title in the group.  Most often they are the ones that have the most extensive network within an organization.  People who have worked cross functional or who volunteer for projects outside of your team or organization.  Seek them out.  Reach out to them one-on-one and ask for their help.  You will be surprised how much time you save by going after the influencers first….you know that whole “network effect thing.”


3. Co-create--have your stakeholders help create the solution or campaign.  But don’t give them a blank piece of paper! You should give them choices, gather their opinion, blend their ideas and then…this is the MOST important part.  Review the plan with them and highlight their contributions.  It is amazing how people will rally when you give them a ‘lil credit.  Keep in mind, you must have a timeline, deadline and stay strong on additional changes after your reviews.  Otherwise you will come out with a “mushy middle” solution that does nothing, or worse you will be tied up in the “consensus hamster wheel of death.”


It takes patience, focus, and a positive attitude to get people to support a common goal.  The payoff–priceless!


Integrated Marketing–NC State Achieve! Marketing Plan

It is amazing what happens when things all work together in harmony.  integrating your brand into all your communication seems simple, but with lots of moving parts and people, sometimes that task can be a bear.

» Situation:

North Carolina State University was trying to raise $1 billion dollars in private funding.  State government budgets were shrinking and in order for the university to maintain competitive in science and technology more funds were needed.  NC State is a land grant institution and was the first ever of its type to try to raise a billion.  It had more than 10 colleges and 50+ programs all with their unique brands and communication budgets.

» Action:

Simple solution was to create an almost generic fundraising campaign brand everyone could use. Most marketers would cringe at a “generic” brand, marketing is about differentiation, right? But if you are trying to convince independent communication directors to all be consistent, you have to find something everyone could agree on.  Hence the “NC State :Achieve!” brand and marketing campaign.

NC State Achieve! Collateral

We created a simple logo and inspired everyone that had a communication vehicle to integrate it.  It could be as simple as slapping it on a newsletter in any corner or developing an editorial theme on great achievements. This was total integration at its bests–statewide billboards, newspaper and magazine articles, websites, T-shirts, recruiting games, half-time video, stickers, beverage cozies, stadium cups, brochures and my personal favorite–a postmark on all outgoing university mail.

NC State Achieve! Postage Mark

» Result:

All outgoing communication by the university during the 7-year campaign was stamped with the logo in some way.  All independent communication directors hopped on board the integrated marketing trail with little oversight.  Within the first year of the campaign, private giving rose by 18% and later NC State was the first land grant university to raise a billion dollars.

Email Marketing–Cisco Loyalty E-newsletter

Loyalty is about relationships and keeping in touch with your customers with information relevant to them is the best way to nurture your relationships. This is NOT “Yo Mama’s” e-newsletter…

» Situation:

There was not shortage of Cisco newsletters for customers, actually more than a dozen in the US alone. Cisco wanted a way to simplify customer communications as well as to nurture customer relationships with its account managers and build loyalty long-term.

» Action:

A newsletter is not always the answer, but one that is customizable for account managers to send to a segmented customer list directly from them was a winner.  We created multiple versions of a monthly technical e-newsletters and segmented customer list based on customer purchases and role.  We create a content management system that account managers could easily drag and drop content based on customer segment and interests.  We also sent the newsletter automatically on behalf of the sales representative, to free his/her time to be with customers. Integrated social media and video made this newsletter a hit with sales and customers.

Check out the plan to set up this process that delivered a customized, relevant e-newsletter from account manager to customer.

[slideshare id=8837896&doc=amsignedcustomernewsletterpublic-110812111108-phpapp01]

» Result:

Account managers loved it–rated it one of the top marketing-enabling program of the year.  Customers loved the relevant information with a whopping 50% open rate, consistently.  Cisco benefited by leveraging already created content to reach more customers and build long-term customer loyalty. Plus the content management system aggregated and rated popular content to inform new content creation ongoing.  Account manager relationships started to transform from transactional to credible long-term business advisor.

Web, Video & Social: TechwiseTV Energy Efficiency in the Data Center Social Media Plan

Wondering how to launch your new social media presence with a splash? Try an online video series with established techno-geeks and offer sneak peaks for tier 2-3 bloggers for some extra online publicity!

» Situation:

Cisco was entering in the Data Center market with no previous experience, limited budget and long-time partnerships that were soon-to-be competitors. Cisco had created an online tech TV program that had gain some traction in its established market, and wanted to add new market entry to its portfolio.

» Action:

We created a special show all about energy efficiency in the data center–both hot topics at the time and continue to be so.  The business unit wanted to maximize its investment in the show and marketing resources, so we created social media presence to work the grassroots angle.  But most data center experts wouldn’t give Cisco the air space.  So we went after the geek’s-geek and created a social media campaign to promote the show, social media interaction and tap into the Tier 2 and 3 blogosphere with an exclusive sneak preview plan to garner endorsements and underground press.

Check out the online episode social media plan that launched a full-scale social media presence for Cisco’s Data Center.

[slideshare id=8831791&doc=twtvdcenergy8-21-08socialmediaplan-110811185419-phpapp02]

» Result:

One of the highest participants rates during the live online show–more than 5,500 viewers, ongoing 15,000 viewers within the first 3 months.  During the show, we received more than 209 interactive questions with our experts via online question panel and Twitter. We got 47 bloggers to offer reviews and share with their readers, plus made life-long fans. In addition converted 42% of views to leads and launched social media presence that soared in popularity. Plus, we set a precedence for how to launch shows via social media for the future.

Scalable Marketing – Marketing Services Organization

How do you create marketing programs for your channel reseller partners that scale your vendor staff? Is it possible to build a process to offer customization for each partner to generate leads with less work for you and your partner? Yes, take the Amazon approach.

» Situation:

Channel marketing support budgets were shrinking and Cisco was forced to figure out a more efficient and effective way to offer lead-generating campaigns for its more than 3,000 partners in US and Canada.  Traditionally, there was one channel marketing manager for 10 partners and very limited joint marketing funds.

» Action:

What if we offered a marketing service organization that operationalized the successful marketing services of the few channel marketing managers to scale across the whole channel partner network. This included a repeatable, project management process with a online marketplace storefront where partners could log in, select campaigns–be that direct mail, telemarketing webinars, email or even website services–that could be customized by geography, partner and product to generate leads.  Add the mass buying power of Cisco and its partners and you have affordable marketing that scales.

See how Cisco’s Marketing Service Organization was set up.

[slideshare id=8831745&doc=msoscalablemarketingsystems-10-10-07-110811184215-phpapp01]

» Result:

It transformed marketing programs into consistent, repeatable co-marketing services for channel partners, resulting in more than $200M in pipeline, 20,000 leads, and 5,500 unique activities with more than 3,000 US partners in two years with 50% less staff.

Internal Marketing — Cisco Inspiration Project

So your sales force is busy, right? You have more than a dozen new products coming out at the same time…how do you introduce them in the most efficient way?  Consider podcasts for them to subscribe and listen while they drive to their next customer visit.

» Situation:

Most sales people are in transit–always going to their next appointment and not in front of their computer screens. Cisco needed a way to break-thru the clutter of email and powerpoints and inspire its salesforce to sell new products.   How can you optimize the time they have in transit–plane, train or automobile?  How do you communicate and motivate a group who is always on the road so they can pitch their customers on the new offerings?

» Action:

How about audio podcasts–cheap, mobile and inspiring. I created a fun, audio podcast series to capture the Cisco’s commercial sales team’s attention, plus optimize their time in route.

Here are a few of my favorites–less than 5 minutes, audio in which they can subscribe for their iPod, iPhone or other mobile device, so they can sync, travel and take away key points to the latest in products and marketing for their customers.

» Result:

More than 50% of the sales reps subscribed to the Cisco Inspiration Project feed via iTunes.  Reduced training time from 1 hour to 5 minutes, plus optimized travel time through learning.  Sales representatives satisfaction was at an all-time high with average podcast rating of 4 to 5 stars. Plus, each podcast cost less than $250 per production–saving thousands in training costs.

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