Generally speaking, someone with a title like Chief Marketing Officer has a tremendous amount of knowledge and experience in all aspects of marketing. Because of this, a CMO is the perfect person to know what is more and less likely to work. So what are the top 5 tried and true marketing strategies that executives recommend to other business leaders? As part of this interview series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Apy
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you share a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?
I love talking to people and hearing their stories. Even though we might seem different on the outside, it is often fascinating to me to realize how much I might have in common with a stranger. I quickly learned that I could turn this interest into a career in marketing, as I leverage curiosity and casual conversations to figure out how to translate customer and prospect insights and stories into client results.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
While studying at Stanford Business School, Jim Collins’ principles that unlocked secrets to business success were intriguing and nothing like anything I had learned. “Clock building vs. Time-telling,” the “Power of AND,” and “Level 5 leadership.” These principles have stuck with me throughout my career. His books and consulting practice have achieved world renown, but I can happily say I benefited greatly from his early teaching days when he called on me in the classroom by name.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Unlike the isolation that many independent executive consultants experience, I never feel alone at Chief Outsiders. There’s truly a “tribal” vibe here — I leverage the collective insights and experiences of more than 130 “teammates” with an incredible level of marketing and sales experience.
This collective approach means, for example, though I may be a fractional Chief Marketing Officer engaged as the dedicated resource for a client, I can call upon any of my peers to lean in anytime I need additional insights or expertise.
As a result, as our mission statement states, we get to “make big things happen for our clients” while each Chief Outsider helps each other “do the best work of our careers, surrounded by people we love to learn from.”
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
With a passion for preserving the dignity and respect we each deserve as we age, I recently expanded my practice area to include senior living facilities. We all have a personal story about having a loved one who needs residential care. I’ve leveraged these insights to help facilities on a strategic level to reach the right audiences to join their communities.
My colleagues and I help these facilities identify their unique value and tell their story impactfully to attract future residents who will thrive in their environment. In this manner, we help the facilities, patients, and their families ensure an ideal fit for a relationship that is so profoundly personal.
With so many different types of marketing out there, has any one area had a bigger impact on business over the rest? Have any of these changed over time?
There have been more conversations about digital marketing and content strategies since these are relatively new areas for many clients. However, these areas don’t necessarily have a bigger impact than other parts of the marketing mix. The impact and role of different channels in the marketing mix depend on the business and industry, and how customer behavior has shifted since the pandemic began (e.g., how prospects consume information, search for and evaluate new products/services, etc.).
Understanding the buyer’s journey and how to create “relevant intercepts” to get prospects to raise their hand and identify themselves or convert to lead/customer is the most critical factor in determining the relative impact of different channels in the marketing mix.
How often do you try a new marketing strategy, and which ‘boxes’ does it need to tick before you’re willing to implement it?
Whether a company is B2C or B2B, once I know who the target audience is, the key messages that form a competitive value proposition to build awareness and conversion, and enough details about the prospect journey to know how to build a groundswell of awareness through “happy customer” sharing, we’re ready to look at new marketing strategies to accelerate middle of funnel nurturing and top of funnel acquisition.
For a new marketing strategy or channel to “pass muster,” we need to evaluate 3 things:
- Which part of the prospect journey will the new strategy or channel support? Are there successful examples from a relevant company or industry?
- Will it accelerate existing programs (that already work well) or provide a whole new stream of customer acquisition opportunities, and what are the expected outcomes or benchmarks for performance (what do good and great look like?)
- Do we have the skills to implement, or do we need an outsourced resource to “test” the new idea? Do we have the budget to support it? If we have done the work in #2, we can then project a potential ROI to support the budget ask.
Involving the leadership team in the outcome of this evaluation helps align everyone on the expectations and investment early in the process, making it easier to gain support for potential outcomes, good or bad, down the road.
In your opinion, is it better to try out new marketing tactics or to stick with what you know works? How do you decide where to allocate your budget and resources?
I believe in continual experimentation, but pick experiments carefully. Focus on experiments that will impact the lower parts of the conversion funnel first for the greatest long-term returns. Everyone wants to start with new top-of-funnel awareness campaigns and channels. You might hear, “Let’s advertise, build lists, go to conferences, and expand search terms.”
These might be good ideas to test at some point, and there might be a few apparent winners to implement quickly to gain new markets fast, but improving the bottom of the funnel first means we will lose fewer future brand-aware top-of-funnel candidates when we start driving top of funnel traffic. Mathematically, you’ll be compounding your results with every new top-of-funnel campaign going forward, as outlined in this article.
Focus first on “Why do people not buy? Can we improve our conversion rate? Where do they drop off in the funnel? Can we address objections faster?”. “Fix Funnel Leaks First” is what my marketing teams often heard me say. Otherwise, we risked spreading ourselves too thin with a lot of “Random Acts of Marketing” – a lot of activity without clear progress toward improvements.
Based on your experience and success, what are your top five most successful marketing strategies?
1 . Seek market segmentation and messaging clarity when gathering market insights. If you know who has the greatest need for your product or service and how to communicate value clearly and succinctly, you will win new markets faster. When I launched ZUCA’s Disc Golf Cart, unlike already entrenched competitors who focused on gaining influence via pro players, we focused on amateur players and tournaments. By doing so we were able to cultivate a loyal following at a lower cost than competitors and gain share leadership in a highly competitive market in just a year from launch.
2 . Establish beachheads early and often, especially when launching a new product or service or building a brand. Even if your product or service potentially applies to the broader market, initially narrow your message to win a market segment fast. The gains from share leadership in a specific segment can carry over into your next target and allow you to bootstrap expansion. Don’t wait too long to build your next beachhead, and pick your expansion targets wisely. Otherwise, you could squander precious time and team bandwidth, allowing competitors to close the gap.
3 . Understand your prospects’ journey to becoming a customer. Whether your product/service is B2B or B2C, understanding the ideal path to conversion and where dropoff happens can help you focus your marketing efforts and accelerate awareness of conversion. Avoid random acts of marketing by aligning your efforts behind key channels, partners, and campaign efforts that will efficiently and effectively build awareness and nurture readiness to buy.
4 . Develop competitive, value-driven messaging that defines a blue ocean. Messaging that does not directly acknowledge and solve pain will get lost in the messy melee of marketplace noise. Articulating product/service benefits is not enough to change behavior and encourage adoption. Customer insights can lead to breakout value curves (famous example: Southwest Airlines). Messaging these blue ocean attributes and pain points can help gain audience attention faster and competitively differentiate from the masses.
5 . Find collaborators early. Are potential partners, channels, or influencers aligned with your brand, potentially seeking the same audience? Perhaps they offer a complimentary product or service and can help you build awareness faster (and vice versa). Not only can you share insights and campaign results, but there can be spending efficiencies, too. Once you find these partners, develop a referral program, establish co-marketing opportunities, and help each other gain backlinks and social followers. Pick partners carefully, though – the wrong partners, whose audience or influence trail yours, might not be helping out at the gate (but could be helpful later on once you have established market dominance and are ready to scale).
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
While earned media – SEO, Social, and Backlinks can payout in the long run, it is often a slow build even if you do everything right: longtail keywording; content that engages and accelerates consideration; partnering, media outreach, and social influencers. I once worked with a software company that favored building earned media channels instead of paying for advertising or channel partnerships. But after 3 months of content marketing and social posting, we realized that in a narrow, niche market, earned media channels without any other marketing campaigns are very slow to show progress.
We quickly pivoted to invest in a few very targeted events to generate qualified target awareness faster and amplified social influencer content with boosted posts and paid ads. The earned media channels started to pay off with the jumpstart generated by the paid events and ads. Slowly our marketing engine, with the right mix of organic and paid, started delivering results.
Knowing when to invest in earned efforts depends on how customers buy and whether there are more targeted efforts that can build awareness and audiences faster. Once you have done the foundation-building described in the five strategies above, determining when and how earned media plays into your marketing mix in terms of time-to-value becomes much clearer.
What expert tips can you share with those who are just starting to build out their marketing strategy?
Don’t skip the customer and competitor insights! Don’t assume you know your target audience because you are one of them. Consider yourself a sample size of 1, and validate your hypotheses with potential prospects (with a healthy amount of skepticism). Also, assume there are at least 100 competitors and substitutes for any offers, and make sure you have a competitively distinct value prop that focuses on significant needs or pain. Everything you do in marketing will build off these customer and competitive insights, so spend the time upfront to get them right.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to the most people, what would that be?
Heroes don’t always wear capes. If someone you know has an idea but does not think it is significant enough to mention or is not important enough to take action upon, they might be doing others a disservice. People can be “everyday heroes” with the smallest gestures – a kind word, an offer of support, being inclusive when it would have been more natural not to make an effort.
Positive energy and actions like these can compound themselves in surprising ways and lead to previously unimaginable heroic outcomes – you never know! And often, it costs us little to do so. Heroes make the world better for others; we all have that superpower. Think about touching one person daily with a kind word or gesture of support, and you, too, can be that hero.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Connect with me! Chief Outsiders has published several of my articles on their blog, and I have written a few for The Startup on Medium and LinkedIn. So reach out to me anytime to chat about B2C or B2B demand generation, channel development or campaign trends. I especially love hearing about emerging businesses that have found product market fit and are ready to scale!
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