About Ed Youngblood

I am a B2B technology marketing and communications veteran. Messaging and communications – written, verbal and visual – are some of my “hard” skills. Today, I advise, write and speak about digital transformation and its impact to marketing and sales. I help business leaders understand the evolving intersection of technology and people, creating strategies to systematically engage, articulate and deliver compelling value. You can find me most often on: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/edyoungblood/ Twitter: @yngbld5

An important lesson learned and leveraged

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Bailey-sketchAll of us recall events, activities and mentors that impacted our personal and professional lives.  These are the experiences that shape our behavior, skills and personality, ultimately making us who we are.

One of the most memorable lessons of my education came during a drawing class I was enrolled in.  I loved to draw, but sketches of the human form were not in my portfolio for a reason. So when the instructor declared our assignment of the day to be a portrait to be rendered from a photo, self-doubt was a clear undercurrent as I scanned the resource files for my photographic model.

Soon the model and I were back at our seat, poised and ready with pencil in hand.  In an instant, my doubt turned to curiosity as the instructor told us to turn the photo upside down and draw the image from that perspective. I could see from a glance around the room I was not alone in my surprise.

When the exercise was finished, the results were impressive. The accuracy of my sketch was unprecedented, easily the most accurate portrait I had ever drawn.  But why?

What we learned that day was that shapes and objects familiar to us are influenced by our memory and interpretation of what we see.  Because we are familiar with a shape or image, the brain skips more critical study once memory tells us what it is supposed to be.  By turning the image upside down, preconception of what the object looks like is eliminated and forces critical evaluation of now unfamiliar shapes, relationships and patterns.

I leverage this lesson almost every day in life and in business.  It taught me to turn questions and problems upside down in order to see them more clearly and to eliminate the influence of preconception.  Used in combination with my favorite question – what if, it activates an exploration of opportunities and critical evaluation of environmental factors that are sometimes easily missed. The result is inevitably a more clearly defined goal unrestricted by the sometimes-restrictive framework of familiarity.

Are CIOs and CMOs interchangeable?


CIOs and CMOs should know enough about each other’s field of expertise to be interchangeable according to Jim Davis, SAS’s global marketing chief in a recent CMO.com article.

I had to read that statement more than once.

After considering this concept further, I thought to myself why don’t we also add the CFO, COO and CEO into that prototype and include a couple of engineering PhD’s and legal counsel.  Now that is an executive persona.  Clone them into a board of “Mini-Me’s.”

Think of the synergy in that boardroom.  No hidden agendas, no bitter debates or personality conflicts.  The enterprise now has complete strategic alignment across operations, product development, IT, marketing and sales.  Dream team.

Don’t get me wrong; Mr. Davis makes many important points.   As a former CIO his emphasis on technology is no surprise.  To be clear, I agree with the majority of his opinions.  I just don’t’ agree that the CMO and CIO roles could be interchangeable.

In fact, it’s not that I completely reject the ideal of that concept.  It’s just not realistic. Culturally speaking, no one sits at more distant ends of the boardroom than the CIO and CMO, assuming of course that the CMO has a seat.  Their training, skills, experiences and often personalities are polar opposites.

Technology is a tool; it’s not the solution to marketing’s mission.  There is no debate about the unprecedented potential it represents as a production, delivery and measurement mechanism, but to confuse marketing with technology is naïve and doomed to failure. And B2B technology vendors are often the worst offenders.

Marketing has become distracted by technology and automation.

Marketing is ultimately about awareness, communication, persuasion, and audience experience. It begins with a compelling message and story that delivers unique differentiation that your audience cares about. To quote Leo Burnett, effective messaging “does not just circulate information. It penetrates the public mind with desires and belief.”  It is human, empathetic, and most of all, memorable.

These basic building blocks do not come in a box.  The technology and the applications – they are tactical tools for delivery and measurement.  Ultimately success is measured in terms of customer acquisition and retention, not the size and quality of your database or email open rates.

As a technology marketing and content strategist, I agree with Mr. Davis’ philosophy at the tactical and execution level. Marketing does need a better understanding of what’s in the technology box, and how they can use it.  But do not become distracted by it.  Without simple, memorable, inviting messages, it will not achieve the objective.  Garbage in, garbage out, it’s just being distributed more efficiently.

The CMO and CIO are not interchangeable, but the evolution of digital technology does require that their roles and objectives be synchronized and complimentary. The digital age has also created at least one shared reality – it has forever changed the IT and marketing roles. The changes these executives have seen in the past 15 years are unprecedented, turning both their professional worlds upside down.

To succeed as business leaders in this new age, the CMO and CIO will need to transcend isolated and historic roles.  As digital interactions and devices continue to mature the two business groups will become inseparable in the customer experience conversation. Marketing and IT will represent a new business ecosystem that will ultimately be defined and measured by customer experience.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome additions to this conversation.

An open letter to marketing


Marketing, you have become distracted; you’ve lost your focus. Somewhere along the way you lost site of your roots and abandoned your heritage.  You have forgotten that content is king, communication is personal and your audience has issues and needs other than your own.  They really don’t care about your goals; it is all about them.  Selfish, isn’t it?

You have been seduced by technology and automation.  It’s understandable, and it’s not entirely your fault. We all listen attentively to the promise of technology.  We wait anxiously for the next digital release and the new roadmap to success. So does your management team.

Marketing, your distracted relationship with technology and automation at the expense of message and story will not end well.  Laura Ramos eloquently captured this in a recent Forrester blog post:

“Once upon a time, there was a little marketer with a big problem. Her sales executives said, ‘We need more leads.’ So she bought a big new shiny marketing automation engine . . .  Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I’m sure we all know the end of the story. The marketing engine didn’t live up to expectations because data and content didn’t come in the box”.

I’m waiting for the culmination day when I receive the marketing automation email that simply tells me to fill in the registration form.  No exchange offered, nothing of value for me, just the naked opportunity to give up my email, phone and address information and wait for the telemarketer to call.

Enchanting and powerful as technology is, it will remain a tool and not the solution.  To believe it has all the answers marketing requires is both naïve and doomed to failure.  But there is hope.  Every pendulum swings both ways and ultimately settles into a balanced state.

Marketing is ultimately about communication, persuasion, and audience experience and success is measured in terms of customer acquisition and retention.   It begins with a compelling message and content that delivers unique differentiation that your audience cares about. These basic building blocks do not come in a box; they are inherently human, emotional and memorable.  The technology and applications are important tools for the digital age, but they are the mechanics, devoid of vision and empathy.  Even the technology vendors realize this.

Marketing needs a better understanding of technology tools


Jim Davis is the global marketing chief of technology vendor SAS.  Davis is also a former CIO.  In a recent CMO.com interview he makes a strong case for data-driven marketing and why marketing needs to “think more like a technologist.” He also suggests that IT needs to adopt a more strategic understanding of the business and collaborate more effectively across organizational teams to deliver solutions that align with the business objectives they support.

It is an interesting read and his fundamental message is that marketing needs a better understanding of what’s in the technology box, and how they can use it.  Davis believes that to succeed in the digital age, technology is such an important foundation to marketing success that ultimately the CMO and CIO roles should be interchangeable.  I don’t completely support that position but he makes some compelling points that highlight a dramatic evolution in the marketing landscape

Here are 10 important points from the interview with Jim Davis by Nadia Cameron:

  1. Marketing is increasingly quantifiable.  Analytics will deliver better customer understanding and program insights
  2. Data and analytics support the decision making process, they don’t replace it
  3. Digital channels and touch-points are everywhere and integration is essential to efficiency and consistency
  4. Vendors often lead marketing into the mistake of believing the analytics and automation system just needs to be switched on to achieve results
  5. IT often does not truly understand the needs and requirements of marketing CRM and automation systems
  6. CIOs need to understand what the technology can do for the organization and how it can interact with the customer
  7. One of the common CMO hurdles fully leveraging data, technology and expertise is their relationship with the CIO and IT
  8. Recognize the silos of information within the organization and integrate them
  9. The emerging marketing technologist and data scientist roles can help bridge the divide between IT, the data, and marketing
  10. The future of the marketing-technology relationship is real-time customer interaction, with context and personalized content

Marketing delivery and response has become much more quantifiable.  New tools, new channels and new tactics demand that we rethink our approach to execution.  In the never ending digital evolution, marketing and IT will become increasingly dependent upon one another.  But I have a very difficult time accepting that they will become interchangeable.

Marketing has become seduced by technology at the expense of its true mission – story and message.   We have become increasingly focused on automation, SEO, and Google rankings at the expense of creativity and content.  For marketing there has been no other choice, technology has added new overhead to the process without a matched increase in resources, many in fact working with less.

As a discipline, marketing has been forever altered by digital technologies, turned upside down in many ways.  Is it science?  Not in my view.  Delivery and analytics is heading in that direction and technology is a powerful tool-set, but let’s not forget about what we are delivering through those tools.

Lets not forget about story and message – it remains the true mission of marketing.

Digital First, Documents Last


Throughout the history of marketing, documents have been the cornerstone of B2B content creation and delivery – brochures, white papers, press releases, data sheets, etc.

The digital age antiquates this model.   Documents as the focal point of content development does not support multi-channel, multi-media content creation and distribution. As a process it does not deliver the scale necessary to efficiently support the digital mix, nor does it match digital consumption preferences.

It’s not that documents no longer have a place in the content mix, but digital content strategies need to think beyond the PDF.  This means digital first. Workflows need to evolve to produce content that is modular and scales to support all media forms and distribution channels.

Documents will remain relevant as a format, but they are only a part of a much broader mix. They can no longer be the foundation of the content development process.

Multiplying Content to Accelerate Inbound Traffic


Content marketing is all the rage.  It should be. Its influence is well documented and as a result, it has spawned a new industry of marketing experts and professionals.

But how does a resource strapped enterprise capitalize on the need for more search optimized content and growing consumption habits? By capitalizing on existing, effective content, and converting it into many other forms.  Repurposing original content is a common recommendation. The result?

  1. Consistency of message for audience
  2. Content that conforms to multiple user consumption preferences and learning styles
  3. Creation of social media content kits
  4. Improved analytic reporting and consumption assessment
  5. Improved editorial coordination
  6. Ease of management
  7. More scalable content development projects
  8. Increase in content back-links, and URLs to related content
  9. Reduced cost of creation;
  10. Exponential volume of search optimized, quality content across the web
  11. Greater awareness across the marketing & communications group of content and messaging
  12. Increased qualified inbound prospects

If your website is well optimized for lead generation, increased traffic and engagement translates into more qualified leads, a percentage of which convert into sales.

Content Magnification

How many content items can be created from a single source? A LOT.

Take for example a your white paper.  The primary information source is the SME, who provides the key customer value propositions to a writer or your marcom team, who are then tasked with the project of creating a compelling, consumable information source describing why your prospect should consider buying from you.  In years past, it was a print document, today it is digital – probably a PDF.

This is a historical and well defined exercise that has been practiced for decades.  This was well suited for brick and mortar business, but falls short in today’s digital economy.  But the question before us is not about creating the source content (which is another important process to be considered), but how many ways can it be leveraged for digital consumption.  Content marketing is a beast, and it is hungry.

Why do we feed it? Because your prospects are hungry for information and your content is marketing currency. Currency that has an exchange rate that converts into qualified web traffic and web traffic into leads for sales. It is an ecosystem.

What does the content marketing beast consume? Can we feed it?  Repurposing existing material is a beginning to reach prospects beyond the document. Here a starter list of what can be generated directly from the initial collateral:

  1. Web content
  2. Landing pages
  3. Webinars
  4. Online presentations
  5. Video
  6. Audio Podcasts
  7. Social media (tweets, blogs, commentary)
  8. Promotions and campaigns
  9. Direct mail & newsletters
  10. PPT speaker notes
  11. Press & analyst resources
  12. Translated content resources for regional teams and audiences

Repurposing your best material can certainly generate all this, but it can also be done concurrently and by design, which is the idea behind “content engineering”.  It’s easier than you might imagine.  Is it necessary? After all, the collateral is produced and available, but it’s not enough, not today.  A single document with your well-conceived and developed value proposition is not enough. A new approach to magnifying content is beyond important.  It’s essential.

Context, Urgency and The Lizard Brain


I wanted to share this post from Harvard Business Review, written by Tim Riesterer.  What initially “engaged” me was a great headline: Stimulate Your Customer’s Lizard Brain to Make a Sale.  Points for Tim; the title stopped me immediately.  It made me act.  Just like Tim intended.

“The lizard brain” is a phrase first introduced to me by Seth Godin who defines it as “hungry, scared, angry, and horny.” It is primal.  It cares what everyone else thinks and is the source of resistance to change.  It is our autopilot, its sole purpose is to survive and it embraces status quo.  The lizard brain is afraid of change; change is not safe.

The core premise of Riesterer’s message is that to be successful, marketing and sales must overcome a prospect’s primal resistance to change, but that most focus on the wrong message.

Any message designed to change behavior must create a compelling sense of urgency.  It must change the perception of the survival instinct, to convince it that change is now safer than the status quo.

Riesterer cites several research findings in his analysis:

  • The Sales Benchmark Index – “nearly 60% of qualified leads fall victim to the status quo.” While most marketers and salespeople believe they are selling against the competition, they fail to see the most important competitor – the status quo.
  • Forrester Research found that 65% of high-level decision makers give their business to vendors that create the “buying vision”
  • Executives want vendors to tell them something they don’t already know about a problem or opportunity.  Instead, most only talk about themselves.

In complex B2B marketing and sales, decision makers need companies to be consultative. Vendors who provide experience, vision, and insight into increasingly complex business challenges are the ones that offer true value to the role of any decision maker.

The tendency of companies to talk mostly about themselves is a messaging problem pervasive in B2B marketing.  For internal marketing groups in particular, it is safe lizard brain behavior.  After all, every organization embraces the message about how well their solutions perform.  Drink the Kool-Aid, share the Kool-Aid.

The digital world is in hyper-drive competing for our attention.  Messaging must instantly capture attention and hold it.  Which means the message must have meaning and context for your target audience.  Know them; speak to their business needs in their terms. Create urgency and communicate a vision for change and proof points that trump the evil status quo.

Don’t get me wrong; status quo can be a great thing.  My wife, my kids and my friends – those are the parts of status quo that I wish I could preserve in perpetuity.  In business, marketing and sales, status quo is dangerous. As a marketer and content strategist, I hate “status quo.” It is lethal.

Please share your own thoughts and experiences.