New York based xAd uses its location platform to help marketers reach target customers across the globe via more than 30 thousand popular mobile applications. The company’s claim to be able to reach ‘the right people in real-time with precision, relevance and confidence’ has earned it international plaudits, and custom from the likes of BMW, Philips, ASDA, KFC, and Dunkin’ Donuts to name a few.
In the last nine months in her role as CMO at xAd, Monica Ho has been responsible for nurturing the company’s marketing efforts to further establish the company as one of the key players in the mobile advertising space. Hot Topics caught up with Monica as part of our B2B marketer series to discuss the importance of countering some of the myths around digital marketing, measuring the impact of content, and the necessary partnership between marketing and sales.
HT: From your perspective, what are the key challenges facing the B2B marketer today?
Whether you’re B2C or B2B marketer, we’re all trying to reach consumers at the end of the day. The key challenge is that the channels that we use to reach these consumers, these audiences, are evolving. You have to be very targeted in your messaging to break through all the noise, because there is a lot of it out there. Looking at all the different channels, considering your audience and what the right message is; I think that is ultimately the same challenge for marketers across the board.
HT: Given that level of noise you refer to in sharing knowledge and information, how do you create content which is firstly differentiated, but also targeted?
We approach our content a little bit differently, simply because we are sitting on a base of location data. What we’ve seen over the past couple of years is that consumer behavior has changed dramatically, not just because of digital, but also through the ever evolving technology that we use. The mobile phone has really changed our behaviors; it’s made the physical world new again. When mobile came on the scene, marketers were concerned because they felt that consumers weren’t going to shop anymore, everything was going to be e-commerce. But what actually happened was something quite different.
A B2B marketer that really knows how to leverage mobile [as a platform] makes people more mobile. By taking advantage of this they’re driving new sales in store, in addition to also offering the digital piece. By looking at the data [surrounding this] we’ve been able to better identify our target customers, and what their likes and interests are based on the behaviors that they are exhibiting in the real world. We’re using real-time, real-world behaviors to really personalize and target our content.
That’s different from marketers who use audience data, which can come from a plethora of sources. Some are digital, looking at cookie behavior, and some of them are survey based. But most of it is not accurate.
HT: Who are the people that you’re typically selling to, and how do you create content for the different groups? Does this approach work at really senior levels as well?
When we put together content we’re trying to reach the marketing team, typically the CMO. We try to surface intel that we can use to inform a CMO about their audience or their consumers that their own data wouldn’t naturally show.
To give you an example, in the retail sector, a lot of the CMOs are challenged because they’re not sure how much to invest in digital versus ‘traditional’ marketing. In fact, we’ve found that there are some marketers or brands that are actually going back to more traditional methods. Coles just announced that they went too fast into digital and that they’re now reinvesting some of that money back in traditional marketing, which I think is fascinating.
We’re trying to debunk some misconceptions [about digital], and in the case of retail, really show a CMO what’s happening within their industry. Our data shows that some retail marketers are seeing their store traffic increase dramatically, and then you have some that are not. It’s not that the category is being affected by digital, it’s just that there are some brands that are better at omnichannel marketing than others. We try to bring that data to life, so in the case of a brand, we can show how your foot traffic looks in relation to your competitors, what we can learn from those competitors’ practices that are different from yours, and comparing those results.
HT: In many ways you’re in a unique position, in that you have the data within your organization to then educate the people that you’re trying to reach with your content. Is that accurate?
Right. The time of day, day of the week, who they’re reaching in terms of demographic; those types of factors can be pulled apart. And not just are [customers] coming to your store, but how do you know you’re reaching the right kind of person? If I look at somebody’s foot traffic behavior over the course of 30 or 60 days, I could tell if they’re female or male, if they’re health conscious or not, their age range. Think of your own behavior over the last 60 days and the places you tend to go and hang out; those are the types of signals we’re able to collect and can use.
HT: How are you able to measure the ROI on the content you’re producing?
We measure the content in a lot of different ways. Firstly, we’ve developed a list of key target influencers, the actual people we’re interested in having a conversation with. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to have a sales relationship with these people, but success to us is if we produce a piece of content that is targeted to say, the retail sector, and within that we might have 50 key influencers that we’re targeting and tracking. After every piece of content, we’ll see how many of those we actually engaged. Did any of these influencers touch that piece? Did they download it? Did they come across it? There’s a lot of different tools that can now measure [these criteria], so we’re able to look at who’s reading the content, and if those that do are on of our influencers list.
HT: A big focus of this B2B marketer series so far has been trying to understand which tools marketers are using to their benefit, what’s working, and what’s not. What works in your case?
We have marketing automation software, so anything that comes from my team – whether it’s a promotion or an article that we sent out – we have links that tie back into our automation. With this we can see that a certain person in our database actually touched that article, or downloaded the report that the article referred to. We also have several social listening tools, especially the CMO network. A lot of them are fairly active, especially if there are articles that they really like. We think that our content is successful if it gets shared, not just that somebody has read it, but that they are they willing to share it with their network. Those are the two that we primarily look at – our marketing automation software and then our social listening.
HT: How much, do you feel, the influx of these types of tools, technologies, and data has changed the skillset required to be a successful B2B marketer today?
CMOs have to be a little bit marketer, a little bit data analyst, a little bit data scientist. Every marketer needs to be concerned about performance, about how good their last piece was, or what interested their audience within it.
The influx of data that marketers now have is enormous, you have data coming from everywhere. I think the big challenge is getting the meaningful insights out of that data [rather than acquiring it]. There’s a lot of bad or irrelevant data out there, so picking what you need to measure and what is it telling you is the true test. It’s changing the way that CMOs need to look at how we market and how we actually take the right data to learn and optimize results.
HT: Do you feel that creativity and the more ‘human’ side of marketing can potentially be compromised by this new focus on data, or do you think that the two can coexist?
I personally don’t see that. Just because, if we’re using the data correctly, I think it helps you personalize more, make it more human if anything. If you’re using it to optimize what you’re going to write about and what’s working, I think it helps make [your content] more personal than not. Again for us, we’re focusing on specific individuals that we know are important to us and what their likes and interests are, and personalizing our content around that.
HT: Finally, another theme of this series is the ratio between sales and marketing, and how that’s evolved to become more lead generation focused. How do you manage that relationship within xAd?
Sales and marketing are very much in alignment, so I don’t think that you can be really good B2B marketer if you don’t understand the challenges of the customer, and the group that’s closest to the customer is our sales team. We have a pretty symbiotic relationship here. We even have a function within our marketing team called sales marketing, in which the overall goal is just to be hip to hip with sales and make sure they really understand the voice of the customer.
I think there is definitely more of a focus on inbound lead generation. But if you have a good partnership between sales and marketing – and you do have to see that as a partnership – we have to put certain content out there and invest in certain programs to get the leads in. I think our sales team is investing in that, and they’re going to do the work to make sure that this happens, so we see it more as a working partnership.