A Guide to Retail Reward Programs

Loyalty programs are like cars: from an outsider’s perspective, there’s not much difference between them. Cars get you from point A to point B, while loyalty programs help you retain customers, right? The truth is, however, that the small details are what make the experience different. While some people prefer a speedy sports car, others need a trusty family car to get the kids to the school. In the same vein, retail reward programs differ greatly from brand-focused loyalty programs.
So if you wish to succeed as a retailer, it’s absolutely pivotal to understand which loyalty features are most effective for driving your company’s KPIs. But first, let’s start with the obvious…
What Is a Retail Reward Program?
A retail reward program is a type of loyalty program that’s built from the ground up to answer the industry-specific challenges that most retailers face. This market has an inherently high purchase frequency since customers have access to a large catalog of products from various brands.
Imagine a customer going into an electronics store. Initially, they intend to purchase a new laptop, but in the process they decided to buy a new headset and a mouse. That’s three products in their basket, from three different brands. But what if that customer had decided to choose a different outlet? Then the retailer would’ve missed out on an opportunity with a large basket value.
The bottom line: retail reward programs are meant to help companies in a high-stakes market where the competition is fierce. After all, retailers are selling the same things as their competitors. Being able to stand out promises a significant increase in revenue – and a loyalty program is one tool that helps you stand out.

For a more detailed breakdown on the best practices for loyalty programs, check this episode of Customer Loyalty Minutes. In it, Zsuzsa Kecsmar, Co-founder and CMO of Antavo, and Jörn Roegler, VP of Strategy & Insight, discuss how brands and retailers use their loyalty programs.
What is in this video?
Brands and retailers’ priorities:

Retailers see higher purchase frequency and face tougher competition. Retail customers are generally working with a larger basket value, which makes the competition between retail companies especially fierce.
Brands seek to engage customers & drive word of mouth. Brands differentiate themselves by nature, but they need to get their name out. Because of this, they tend to focus more on building advocacy.

How brands and retailers approach loyalty:

Retailer loyalty programs are often transaction-focused. Their rewards generally focus on making the buying process easier with free shipping or extended return periods.
Brand loyalty programs build long-term engagement. Brands want customers to consume content and engage with them on social media in order to generate hype and positive word of mouth.

Unique solutions that cater to brands and retailers:

Learning more about customers helps businesses target them directly. Brands started to borrow ideas and strategies from retail businesses to further solidify their position on the market.
Loyalty programs boost the debut of an online store. The best way to advertise the launch of a new store is to pair it with a loyalty program, ensuring new customers stick around.

Innovating in a Cutthroat Industry
According to RetailMeNot, 51% of U.S. retailers planned to offer loyalty programs in 2018 to lift their sales growth. In other words, the competition is so fierce that simply having a loyalty program isn’t a unique selling point anymore. Therefore you must really knock it out of the park with the reward program in order to stay afloat.
Unlike brands, retailers are more likely to focus on transaction-based rewards with their loyalty program. Discount, vouchers, cashback offers, you name it. However, Chain Store Age pointed out that only 22.5% of millennials indicated that price is more important than a loyalty program. So what’s the takeaway? People want to be engaged and have a meaningful relationship with their favorite store instead of just receiving good deals.
Contrary to retailer loyalty programs, brand reward programs have a higher focus on customer experience and long-term engagement.
The Winning Formula for Loyalty
This new trend of customers resisting the price war is something savvy retailers can capitalize on. To give you another perspective, think about customer loyalty as friendship. Buyers who are also brand advocates will stick with you even when the competition is offering a bigger discount.
But what are the factors that play a role in developing friendship? According to the Friendship Formula, there are four aspects: proximity, frequency, duration and intensity. Let’s see these in the context of a loyalty program.

Proximity: In order to be easily reachable by members, a loyalty program should be present on all available channels – on the website, on social media, on their mobile, in the store and even in the customers’ daily life. Moreover, these channels should be seamlessly tied together with a sound omnichannel strategy.
Frequency: One big takeaway from customer lifecycle marketing is that true loyalty cannot be formed if people are only engaged when they buy something. Step beyond transactions and develop touchpoints outside of the buying cycle.
Duration: Design your loyalty program with longevity in mind. Launch with a solid MVP, and add some spice later down the line with gamification, customer profiling and holiday campaigns. This is a strategy proven by Antavo’s client case studies, as all of them started out with a more basic loyalty program, which was then expanded.
Intensity: Make sure that the incentives are memorable. Forget the discounts; people want experiences. These can be experiential rewards, VIP perks, special interest groups, etc.

The four aspects of the Friendship Formula, displayed by Lifehack. Excelling at each of them helps companies develop an emotional bond with customers.
Best Loyalty Features to Stand Out as a Retailer
Another strong trend in retail reward programs is that incentives are geared towards making transactions quicker and easier. Free shipping, extended return periods and vouchers are the staples, and people love them. Still, the competition can easily copy these features, nullifying your advantage.
With a more complex approach — like the concept of Recognition Loyalty — other companies will find it difficult to offer the same rewards without losing money. On the other hand, you receive value from customers as they are repeating useful actions in order to gain access to the benefits. Here are a few examples:

Tiers: A loyalty program based on tiers is often synonymous with status. Customers—especially affluent ones—go crazy for the perks associated with higher levels.
Rewarding hobbies and values: With the help of modern technology, fashion retailers—selling sport and fitness apparel in particular—are able to reward customers who go for a run via Fitbit, or use smart tagging to identify members who actually wear the product. This is one of our strengths and we can help you with that.
Personalization: According to Oracle, 56% of consumers value personalized offers in the retail shopping experience. Book stores and home decor companies can really benefit from enhancing their email communication with loyalty data.
Badges & Challenges: These loyalty features are great for driving small but incremental actions. Just like tiers, badges symbolize status, while challenges prompt members interact more with the loyalty program.

Let your customers challenge themselves constantly. Start by setting up easily completable actions and then set higher and higher goals to achieve. This way you can continually motivate your customers and engage them in the long run.
Uncover a Whole New Layer of Customer Loyalty
It doesn’t matter which part of the retail industry you come from, a well-designed loyalty program will no doubt help strengthen your position on the market.

SaaS Growth: The “Triple A” Sprint Framework that Gets Results

Many SaaS companies launch a product-led growth model—but never update it. When the executive team calls me and asks why they aren’t converting users into customers, I tell them to buy a plant. Seriously.
If they don’t water the plant, it’s going to wither and die. If they water it and give it sunlight, it’ll grow. Everyone knows how the system works. Yet, even though we know what to do, millions of plants still die. Why? Nobody takes ownership.
The first step to SaaS growth is to appoint a person or team to take ownership, then to give them the resources or time it takes to thrive. While this is true for all SaaS companies, it’s especially critical for those that use their product—not traditional marketing or sales—as their growth engine.
Once there’s internal ownership, you can establish and iterate on a process to execute your product-led strategy. How do you optimize that process? Time and again, I’ve seen the “Triple A” sprint framework drive exponential SaaS growth.
What is the “Triple A” sprint framework?
The “Triple A” sprint focuses on rapidly identifying problems, building solutions, and measuring impact. The process follows a one-month sprint cycle to identify and deliver an improvement to your SaaS product.
The Triple A framework consists of three “A’s”:


The Triple A sprint gives you a way to build a sustainable SaaS growth process and can be used by any team in your business.
Still, if you have a bad product, no optimization will deliver rocketship growth. On the other hand, if you have a good product that customers love, you’ll see a monumental shift if you go through a Triple A sprint each month.
I’ve seen companies apply this same framework and go from $500,000 in annual recurring revenue (ARR) to $1 million ARR in less than 12 months. It works. Best of all, it’s not hard to implement. Start by analyzing your business.
The first “A”: Analyze
As Romain Lapeyre, CEO of Gorgias, states, “In order to build a growth machine for your business, you need to analyze your inputs and outputs.”
Until you know the inputs (e.g. trade shows, advertising, email marketing) that drive desired outputs (e.g. ARR, customers, MRR), you won’t build a sustainable business.
If you’re not sure which inputs drive the outputs you want, start analyzing your business.

Create a recurring calendar notification to remind yourself to analyze your previous month’s results on the first workday of each new month. Block off one or two hours so that you’ll have the time to do a thorough job. You’ll get into a rhythm of analysis.
Start by measuring your outputs. Outputs are a reliable indicator of whether you’re doing the right thing—they don’t lie. Let’s dive into the right outputs to track.
Which outputs should you track?
One of the beautiful things about a SaaS business is that you can analyze almost anything. This amount of insight is incredible—until it isn’t. With access to countless metrics, it’s easy to obsess over email opens or bounce rates. Although these metrics can be tracked, they don’t tell you much.
Did your high bounce rate lead customers to churn? Or did it hurt signups? Although a high bounce rate can absolutely contribute to those problems, we still don’t know the root cause.
By looking at outputs, we can quickly analyze the area of our business that most requires our attention. That way, we know which areas to troubleshoot.
In a product-led business, these are the macro outputs you need to track:

Number of signups;
Number of upgrades;
Average Revenue Per User (ARPU);
Customer Churn;
Monthly recurring revenue (MRR).

These outputs don’t lie, and they’re easy to find. If you compare these outputs over the course of the last 12 months, you’ll quickly identify the area of your business that’s hurting the most.
Once we know the outputs, we can ask questions to identify the inputs that get us closer to our dream business.
The second “A”: Ask
To optimize any business, you need to ask three questions:
1. Where do you want to go?
Some businesses use a North Star Metric to symbolize this focus, while others pick a revenue number. How you break down your business goals is not what this post is about.
If you really have no idea what your organization’s goals are, you should read Measure What Matters by John Doerr. It lays the foundation for how to prioritize the metrics that matter in your business and hit them across your entire team.
As an example, let’s say we’re a $10 million ARR SaaS business that has a live-chat solution. Our numeric objective is to hit $15 million ARR in the next 12 months. I’m all for setting ambitious goals, but please do not just “wing it” when it comes to figuring out what to do next. You need to know which levers to pull.
2. Which levers can you pull to get there?
I’m taking a motorbike course. As a newbie, I’m constantly making mistakes. I’ll shift down a gear when going fast, and my bike will screech and hiss in anger. I’ll use the front brake while slowing around a corner, toppling my bike onto me—an anti-climatic end that risks embarrassment more than injury.
Knowing which levers to pull is important for Saas businesses or motorbikes. What’s also true is that there are multiple ways to get the same output. To stop a motorbike, you can use the front, back, or engine brake. Or just drive into the nearest lake. Each of these braking systems achieves the desired output.
It’s the same when it comes to your business. According to Jay Abraham’s multiplier theory, there are three levers you can pull for SaaS growth:

Number of customers.

When I talk to executives at product-led SaaS businesses, most focus almost exclusively on increasing the number of customers; however, when it comes to increasing ARPU or decreasing churn, I hear crickets.
This is a huge missed opportunity, according to Tomasz Tunguz:

(Image source)
Drew Sanocki, former CMO at Teamwork, found that decreasing his churn rate by 30%, increasing ARPU by 30%, and increasing total customers by only 30% increased lifetime value (LTV) by over 100%.
Breaking down your business by these three levers lets you quickly identify which ones will help your business grow fastest. Unless you’re just starting out, reducing churn and increasing ARPU will almost always have the biggest impact. Once you nail your churn and ARPU, you can start multiplying your business with each additional customer.
Want to see how it works? Create a chart like the one below in a spreadsheet to see which lever will have the biggest impact on your business.
MetricScenario AScenario BDifference

Customer Count
Current (e.g. 1,000)


Current (e.g. 100)


Annual Churn Rate
Current (e.g. 20%)


Current (e.g. $80,000)


Once you’ve identified the top lever, it’s time to brainstorm which inputs will kick your business into high gear.
3. Which inputs should you invest in?
Once you’ve identified the lever to focus on for your Triple A sprint, figure out which inputs will affect it. To help you find the right ones, look at the three most common reasons why businesses fail:

You don’t understand your value.
You aren’t communicating your value well enough.
You aren’t delivering on your value fast enough.

Ask yourself: Which part of your business is underperforming? Brainstorm potential inputs to run experiments. This is easier said than done, but don’t overthink it. If you’re struggling with low signups, do customer research to understand the value your buyer perceives. Then, communicate that value to them.
If you’re struggling with low upgrade rates, work on delivering your value. Cut out every piece of onboarding that doesn’t deliver value. As Samuel Hulick cautioned, “People don’t use software simply because they have tons of spare time and find clicking buttons enjoyable.”
One way to find opportunities to improve the buying experience is to buy your product once a month. You’ll quickly spot easy improvements. Too often, we set up our onboarding and assume it works without a hitch. (It doesn’t.)
I’ve done countless user onboarding audits and found embarrassing bugs that were cratering free-to-paid conversion rates. Anyone could’ve spotted these bugs. Compile a list of items that could improve your product experience. Filter these ideas. How you do it doesn’t matter as much as having a defined process.
How to prioritize inputs
As Scott Williamson, VP of Product Management at GitLab, implored, “Have a consistent prioritization system, so you can compare the value of very different projects, force priority decisions out into the light, and pressure test assumptions.”
I use an Input Log as a prioritization system. It helps you track and prioritize every idea that could help your business grow. Then, I use the ICE prioritization method, developed by Sean Ellis, to score each input on three elements:

Impact. How big of an impact could this input have on an output I want to improve?
Confidence. How confident am I that this input will improve my output metrics?
Ease. How easy is it to implement?

Here’s an example of what this could look like:
InputsImpactConfidenceEaseICE Score

Because we noticed quite a few customers having problems upgrading, we expect that adding an “Upgrade Now” button to the header of our in-app experience will make it easier for users to upgrade their account. We’ll measure this by monitoring if the signup-to-paid conversion rate improves.

You can use any framework you want; however, if you don’t have an existing prioritization system, start with the ICE score framework. It’s easy to understand and implement.
Once you’ve run through the ICE method to filter your ideas, find the one or two opportunities to implement that will have the biggest impact on your business. Now, it’s time to act.
The third “A”: Act
Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. As Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is, are we busy doing the right things?”
Once you’ve chosen the one or two ideas you’re going to implement this month, launch the idea. Depending on the ease of each project, this could take you and your team a few hours or a few weeks.
If this is your first time going through a Triple A sprint, start small. Get some quick wins under your belt. Typically, this means choosing an input that is easy to implement and has a moderate-to-high estimated impact. Later, you can take bigger swings that require more resources and time.
Kieran Flanagan, VP of Marketing at HubSpot, took a similar approach when helping HubSpot transition from a sales-led to a product-led business:
Here’s the high-level process that worked for our growth team:
Get wins on the board to build trust with leadership and other teams, such as product and engineering.
Prioritize growth experiments you can execute quickly to demonstrate results.
Once you start to see a high-level of test failures or non-results, move on to tackle more complex growth opportunities (take big swings).
Eventually, tell your CEO you want to test pricing 😉 (take even bigger swings)
If you already work in growth, this process of getting quick wins and laddering up should be familiar.
In aggregate, even small wins can become big wins. If initial growth is incremental, the pattern of success can earn buy-in for your more ambitious ideas.
Process beats tactics. Following the Triple A sprint framework puts you on track to grow your SaaS business consistently:

Analyze your business and key metrics.
Ask where you want to go and how you can get there.
Act on those insights, starting with small wins.

In a market where, over the last five years, customer acquisition costs have increased more than 50% while willingness to pay is down 30%, we need to instill a culture of optimization.
If we can, we’ll be able to pull the right levers and put our business in high gear.

Think Marketing Won’t Work In Your Industry? Think Again.

Marketing doesn’t work in our industry. Our customers don’t care about marketing. Our product is too complex to distill into a marketing message. Sound familiar?
If you work in marketing, you’ve probably heard these statements at least once in your career. If you believe any of these are true, and that marketing won’t work in your industry, I hope you’ll give me a few minutes to try and change your mind.
Marketing isn’t about clever puns, slick graphics, and Facebook audience metrics. Those things matter, but they aren’t the heart of a marketing strategy. Your customer — their pain points, ambitions, anxieties, preferences, and personality — is the core of effective inbound marketing, and focusing on your customer works in every industry.

My product is too complex for marketing
If you think your product is just too technical or complex to explain in layman’s terms, you’re not alone. From hydraulic machine components to reselling cloud-based human resources management software, lots of industries believe their products or services are too complicated to communicate in traditional marketing messaging.
To put it bluntly, they’re wrong.
How can marketing help? First, focus on the value. Forget the complexity and think about the problem your product solves for your customer. Focus on communicating the value your product or service adds to your customer’s workday or life.
Turn it into a story. Your customer is on a journey. Your product is the magic wand, the lightsaber, the sword pulled from the stone, that ensures their story ends happily ever after. If you can craft a narrative around your customer and their relationship to your product or service, you can keep your audience’s interest long enough to educate them.
Invest in video. Video is one of the most effective ways to communicate complex topics. Create demo video, feature videos, and even Frequently Asked Question videos. These types of content can live on your website, your landing pages, and should be included as part of your social media strategy.
This is especially true if you’re trying to reach a B2B audience. Video on LinkedIn is on the rise, with 51% of video marketers saying they’re using video on the platform.
“In a world of content overload, video is a welcome means of communication,” says Elizabeth Weddle, Marketing Director at GoZone WiFi. “Watching something is a much easier way to learn new technology. We’ve certainly found that to be true with the success of our video marketing and onboarding efforts. Video always plays a critical role throughout the user journey – from nurturing and informing to selling and onboarding.”
Our buyers don’t care about marketing
“Our buyers don’t care about marketing; they just want to know the price.” If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this from a B2B brand, I’d have enough cash to keep the office snack closet stocked for a year.
What this comment usually means is either, “Our customers don’t like to be sold to,” which … duh, or “Our customers are too smart for marketing.” It’s true that very knowledgeable buyers disrupt the traditional buyer’s journey strategy. They don’t need Awareness stage content, because they start their buyer’s journey aware of their problem and, quite possibly, a few possible options to resolve it.
Jenni Nix-McGerald, a Pursuit Specialist at global design and consultancy company Arcadis, experiences this with her buyers, “The project manager on the client side is often technical, an engineer for example, and they don’t want to talk to a business development person who isn’t going to touch their project.”
So, who is talking to the customers? “The actual, day-to-day marketing is from our ‘seller/doers,’ who are usually engineers or other technical roles,” says Jenni. The advantage of the seller-doer model is authenticity. It’s easier for two engineers to talk to each other than it would be for a marketer to try and sound like an engineer.
But, that doesn’t mean marketing doesn’t work in your industry, or that your customer won’t appreciate marketing.
Market to the relationship. Those long-standing relationships between your seller-doers and their client contacts are an untapped resource for marketing insight. It starts by forming a strong alignment between the seller-doers and the marketing department. Show empathy and respect for the relationships they’ve created and help them meet their goals. Get to know their contact like they do, as a person.

What are they into?
What do you laugh about together?
What are their pain points?
What’s the next big project they’ll focus on?

When you work together, your marketing can be not just account-specific, but contact-specific.
Bonus — first-person data! As your marketing team reaches out and gathers data from your seller-doers, you can take it back and inform your buyer personas. Are there similar personality traits among your transportation client contacts? Do all healthcare clients share a common concern? Give your seller-doers the individual messaging they need and use the personas to craft effective marketing assets that can be used in your marketing strategy execution.
Use first-person insight in extreme account-based marketing. RFP-driven industries often have “capture plans,” which is their pre-positioning strategy focused on specific clients whose work they want to win. When you have solid first-person data from your seller-doers, you can leverage that when you’re speaking to someone in the same role at a prospective company. Personalize website and email content based on their role and industry. You know the pain points, the concerns, and roadblocks. Start building a relationship of empathy before they ever get on the phone with the engineer who will one day manage their project.
Empower seller-doers to be marketer-doers. Help out your seller-doer team with those tough conversations that move the needle, close the deal, or resolve an issue. Remember, we’re the “soft skills” department. You can create content that empowers them to tell better stories, communicate value more clearly, and even help them become better presenters. That’s what RS&H, an engineering and architecture firm a national engineering, architecture and consulting firm based in Jacksonville, FL, aims to do. “Our Creative Team Leader teaches a presentation skills class,” says Jennifer Stutts, VP of Communications, Marketing & Strategy at RS&H. “And he also works with individual pursuit teams on a project-by-project basis for some of our strategic pursuits.”
This level of marketing mentoring helps your sales team — engineers or not — reach their goals and educates them on the value of marketing beyond “prettying up” the RFP decks.
The sales process is too long for traditional marketing
They won’t submit on a form. They research for months, have multiple calls, and only then make a decision. A long sales process may seem like it doesn’t need marketing at all, but the truth is you need marketing more than shorter, impulse-buy industries.
Marketing doesn’t stop when sales starts. But, unless you have a strong interlock between the two departments, it can certainly feel that way.
Be ever-present with an omnichannel strategy. If it takes 18 months for a prospect to become a client, you need to remind them you’re around in between. An omnichannel strategy that includes retargeted ad funnels for social and display, premium content offers, and personalized social selling, will keep you top of mind with the customer. And if you do it right you’ll be at the top of the list when they’re ready to commit!
Nurture the entire journey. A long sales journey is music to an email marketer’s ears. Every week is a new opportunity for a touchpoint. Share your most relevant content, invite them to deepen their engagement through video and premium content pieces. Gather more information to help your next sales call through quick surveys in the email.
“It can take a year or more for a prospect to turn into a deal, and it’s critical that we stay relevant with prospects during that process,” says Jim Brennan, VP of Sales at 360 Advanced. “Email marketing allows us to show value, generate engagement, and learn more about prospects during the journey toward a closed deal.”
Nobody wants to need our product
There are certain products and services that you hope you never need. I once had a client tell me, “Companies only need our product when they’re being sued.”
If your company specializes in something most people would choose to ignore, you may think marketing is just screaming into the void. And it could be, if it’s not done right.
Define the goal of your marketing. If an external trigger, like the threat of a lawsuit, is what converts a prospect, then your marketing goal shouldn’t be incoming leads. Launch a content-focused marketing campaign to change public perception around your service and track visits to your blog, content downloads, and engagement with your social media.
You can’t force a lawsuit to happen — and who would want to? — but you can be the first company a prospect thinks of should the worst happen.
Lean in on difficult conversations. Even if it’s an uncomfortable subject, customers value honest, straightforward information. Be the resource they can turn to. Keyword research will tell you that people Google literally everything. Find the commonly asked questions, and the tough questions, and the embarrassing questions (especially these), and answer them in a frank, helpful way. And if you can, find the humor in the situation.
Need help embracing your inner comedian? Marketing coordinator and local stand-up comic Shannon Kelly can help with that.
The real reason marketing isn’t working in your industry
When someone says, “Marketing doesn’t work in my industry,” here’s what my brain hears:
I have an outdated idea of what marketing is. Or, I’ve been burned by bad marketing tactics before and no longer believe in it.
Does that sound harsh? Sorry, not sorry.
Marketing is about relationships built on value, and that works in every industry. But ignorance of what marketing is and who it’s for, or fear of change and risk can cripple a marketing department’s ability to execute meaningful strategies.
Here’s what happens when your leadership doesn’t believe in marketing:
Lack of resources. If your leaders don’t believe in marketing, they’re more likely to under-fund those efforts. A multi-million dollar company with employees and clients all over the country should have more than two people in their internal marketing team — or an engagement with a marketing agency. Choking the resources available to your marketing is like putting a glass jar over a flame. It literally sucks the life out of it.
Stifle marketing innovation with a culture of fear. Just because you deal with serious topics doesn’t mean your customers don’t enjoy a little fun now and then. Too many B2B companies are so afraid of not being taken seriously that they won’t drop even one GIF in their social. This kind of risk aversion, typically accompanied by committee approval on even the most minute details of anything, makes it damn near impossible to establish an authentic brand personality that customers want to engage with.
When a company starves its marketing department of resources, creativity, and independence, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You fail to give your marketing team the tools and environment it needs to succeed.
Marketing struggles to show ROI.
You sagely nod your head, your suspicions confirmed.

What marketing needs — in any industry — is a leader in the company brave enough to step up and learn what marketing is now, who it is for (and who it isn’t for), and how it connects sales and service teams to drive more new and repeat business.

Experience Still Matters in Digital Marketing (No Matter What the ‘Pundits’ Say)

Last week, a post by long-time blogger and consultant, Mark Schaefer, ruffled a few feathers–and for good reason.
Generally, the post was about how MORE experience could actually HURT you in the marketing profession.

It started with a quote from Olga Adrienko, head of global marketing for SEMRush:
“In our field of marketing, experience is a burden. In other disciplines, the world hasn’t really changed all that much. Take sales, for example. There are certain cold call skills, emotional appeals, sales triggers … and then you’re done. It’s been that way for ages. But in marketing, if you’re not embracing the rapid changes and constantly refining your vision, you will fail completely. If you were successful in marketing 10 years ago, that does not mean you will be successful now.”
That first sentence–“in our field of marketing, experience is a burden.”
Wow. Shots fired. I’ll let you stew on that for a hot tick while I point out another interesting quote from the post–this one from Franklin Goldberg, CMO of the Parable Group:
“Many businesses need to rethink their requirements for high-level leadership positions, especially within the Marketing and Sales departments. Some of the best talent is excluded with prerequisites like “10 years experience required.” I’m shocked that we don’t see more Directors, Senior Directors, VP’s, and even CMO’s in their 20’s. Not only are they digital natives, they have fresh eyes, a drive to try new things, and they aren’t jaded by years of being told things can’t be done. Honestly, being a VP for 35 years might be a major disadvantage.”
That last sentence–“being a VP for 35 years might be a major disadvantage.”
Wow. Again.
And I’m hardly the only one saying “Wow.”
I shared this post on LinkedIn Friday and a couple hours later, Dave Schneider, CMO of Red Wing Shoes, commented:
“This article is rubbish and fails to acknowledge the difference between what marketing seeks to accomplish (which is enduring) and how it is executed (which is fleeting). It also fails to understand the importance of building organizational “coalitions” within a company to ensure that marketing’s impact can be fully realized; something that is difficult to drive without real, hands-on experience and a few gray hairs. I fully agree that the younger generations can and do teach those more senior in their careers — in fact, I have several “reverse” mentors of “kids” in their 20’s that regularly “teach” me — but to carte blanche suggest that experience has become less valuable is flat wrong as marketing becomes increasingly complex.”
That’s from a CMO with 27 years experience in the industry with outfits like Colle+McVoy, Martin Williams, BBDO and Digitas (hardly fly-by-night operations).
And, he’s got a point. Experience in marketing is about so much more than tactical execution.
Being a leader in marketing (or comms, for that matter) is about more than your ability to adapt to digital. We’re almost at a point where we put too much emphasis on that.
There are so many nuances to leadership that simply cannot be replaced by anything BUT experience. Let’s start a list:

Managing expectations with peers and other executives (table stakes)
Building alliances and consensus around marketing and comms programs (again, table stakes)
Managing difficult personalities that may or may not control budgets (key to success at the higher levels)
Working with legal and risk teams to manage ongoing issues and crisis situations (how many 25-year-olds do this well?!?!?)
Understanding how to effectively and efficiently manage an agency relationship (I’ve seen a few 25-28 year-olds really struggle with this in the last 20 years)
Understanding how to effectively and efficiently manage a team (how much could you possibly know about managing a team of professionals at all different age levels when you’re in your 20s?)

Shall I go on?
Experience in comms and marketing still matters folks. Don’t let anyone (not even Mark Schaefer) tell you otherwise. It matters a helluva a lot. And, it should.
The post also implied that many marketing executives and leaders haven’t evolved over the past 10+ years. AHEM! There are a few of us 40-plussers (and 50-plussers) still out here who actually have been evolving!
A few of us have had our heads up the last 10 years.
A few of us have been pushing ourselves to get smarter and stay current.
So, I’m not buying that experience is dead and that the future CMO is a 28-year-old (nothing against 28-year-olds!).
Experience still matters. Yes, you need to keep up. Yes, you always need to be learning and growing. And yes, you need to empower and listen to your younger team members. But, that also shouldn’t mean a marketing VP with 30 years of experience gets shut out.
I just don’t buy it.
Finally, one last angle. Back to the Schaefer piece. As any good consumer of media knows, the credibility of the person sharing the message matters.
So, when you make a statement like “25 years of experience in marketing might be a disadvantage”, you better be damn credible.
Let’s take a closer look at the two people in Schaefer’s post who shared these statements.
First, Olga Adrienko, currently the head of global marketing at SEMRush, where she’s been since 2013. Before that, she spent time at The Lux Group as a project manager and sales manager. She graduated in 2008 with a degree in international trade and customs.
So, she’s most likely about 32 years old with about 5+ years experience in the marketing industry (all with one organization, mind you). Also, keep in mind, this person has never worked with an agency–large or small. And, they’ve never worked with a larger company in the marketing leadership role. To be clear, I’m not taking ANY shots at Olga here. She’s probably great at her job. You don’t get a title with “global” in it by accident. But, is she the most credible person to be espousing opinions about how experience in marketing doesn’t matter (considering she has just 5 years of it)?
The second quote is from Franklin Goldberg, CMO of the Parable Group. Before this role he was a consultant and worked for a few faith-based organizations. He was also in sales earlier in his career and owned a bookstore. I didn’t see any post-secondary education on his LinkedIn profile (although that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any). As far as I can tell, he has spent only 5 years in the marketing world.
Again, is he the best person to be sharing views about experience in marketing doesn’t matter?
Let me say it another way: Who would you trust to talk intelligently about this topic?

A person with 10+ years experience in the professional world; but just 5 years experience in marketing
A person with 20 years experience in the professional world (10 of that in sales and owning a bookstore); and just 5 years experience in marketing
A person with 27 years experience in marketing with some of the top agencies in the U.S./Midwest; and a CMO of a legendary Minnesota-based company for the last five years.

Would anyone take option #1 or #2 over #3 (which, in this case, was Dave Schneider, the CMO who commented on my post)?
I don’t know–this one seems pretty cut-and-dry. Experience still matters in marketing and communications. I laid out the reasons I believe this is true. I talked about how many people actually ARE evolving. And, although everyone is entitled to their opinion, credibility also matters.
What say you, readers? Does experience still matter in the marketing world? I say yes–with a double exclamation point. Then again, I’m 46 years old with 22+ years experience. Maybe I’m not the most credible person to speak on this topic either…

VP plans visit to Tulsa

The Associated PressVice President Mike Pence plans to visit homes damaged by flooding in Oklahoma as residents and volunteers work toward recovery.
Pence tweeted Monday that he and his wife, Karen Pence, will travel Tuesday to Tulsa.Read more on NewsOK.com

Google’s NEW Gallery Ads: Everything You Need to Know

Pop quiz, y’all: Which Google Ads network enables you to build your brand with compelling visual imagery—search or display?
Trick question! Although the Display Network is generally considered the hub of visual-based advertising in the Google Ads universe—I’m conveniently disregarding Shopping for the moment—this year’s Google Marketing Live keynote included the announcement of gallery ads.

Whether you’re aiming to drive sales or generate leads, gallery ads—by combining the intent of search with the creative of display—are poised to deliver some serious returns for your business once they fully roll out later this year.
So let’s dive deeper. By the end of this blog post, you’ll know:

What gallery ads are
What they’re designed to accomplish
Who can benefit from using them
Why you should be excited about them

What are gallery ads?
Introduced by Google’s own Sissie Hsiao, VP of Product Management in the Mobile App Advertising department, gallery ads are interactive ads that sit at the top of the mobile SERP. Underneath a standard text headline and a display URL, they feature swipeable image carousels—much like the ones users often see in their Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Via Google.
In addition to the ad’s headline, each individual image is accompanied by a tagline. The headline (which, as always, directs people to your landing page) remains at the top of the screen as the user swipes through your carousel. You can include a minimum of four images and a maximum of eight, and each tagline caps at 70 characters. Best of all, because you’re allowed to write up to three unique headlines, you can test all kinds of combinations of different value propositions and CTAs.
As far as performance goes, early testing shows that gallery ads drive 25% more engagement (as measured by clicks and swipes) than standard text ads do.
What are gallery ads designed to accomplish?
In short: to more effectively communicate the value of your business.
People—smartphone users in particular—turn to Google for information. When we have problems or desires, we use Google to learn more about the products and services that can help us. Whether you’re a hungover college kid looking for the best breakfast sandwich in town or an overworked business owner searching for an online advertising management software, it’s more than likely that you’re consulting Google for help.
As marketers, we buy real estate on the SERP so we can be there to offer solutions to our prospects. The key to driving returns on that ad spend, of course, is communicating the value our products and services can deliver.
Alone, words are pretty good at communicating value. Paired with images, they’re even better.

Take another look at that Devour ad and imagine the image has been replaced with a description. Although it certainly wouldn’t be a bad ad, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective. Why? Because the image of cajun-style alfredo with chicken and sausage does a really good job of letting people know our products taste great and satisfy your hunger.
This applies throughout the marketing funnel, too. If you saw that Devour ad at the very beginning of your customer journey, it would probably leave a strong impression on you. If you saw it near the end of your customer journey, the enticing pictures might be enough to close the deal.
Now that we know what gallery ads are meant to accomplish, let’s talk about who they’re meant to accomplish it for.
Who can benefit from using gallery ads?
Although my knee-jerk reaction was that gallery ads were designed with consumer brands in mind, I’m confident both B2C and B2B companies can make effective use of them. Let’s start with B2C. Restaurants, gyms, hotels, car dealers, travel agencies, spas—if you sell something that lends itself naturally to visual images, you should give gallery ads a shot. With the ability to showcase several products, services, or experiences—or several features of a particular product, service, or experience—within a single ad, you can make a seriously persuasive pitch.
(I’m hesitant to mention ecommerce businesses. Product-oriented search queries will almost always trigger Shopping ads, which, as we know, dominate mobile phone screens.)
As an example, let’s say you work for a travel agency and you’re advertising Caribbean resorts. In order to drive high-funnel mobile traffic to your website, you could create an ad group with a couple gallery ads and keywords along the lines of “tropical vacation,” “Caribbean destinations,” and “Dominican resorts.” How could a prospective traveler looking for inspiration resist a carousel of your best offerings? Sure—they’re far from converting. But that’s a hell of a way to make a first impression.

This is a great ad, but picture it with images of Punta Cana resorts …
Let’s move on to B2B—the less obvious benefactors of gallery ads. If you’re selling a software solution or digital marketing services, it probably doesn’t seem like you have anything to gain from an image-heavy ad format. I tend to disagree. Rather than thinking in terms of products or services, think instead in terms of processes. Gallery ads present an awesome opportunity to illustrate the victories you enable your customers to achieve.
For example, imagine you’re in charge of the paid search efforts at a SaaS company that helps small businesses build landing pages for their ad campaigns. As impeccable and intuitive as your UI may be, screenshots of it probably won’t make for the most appealing ad. Alternatively, illustrated representations of the different benefits you provide—better Quality Scores, higher conversion rates, lower CPA—could go a long way towards communicating the value of your product and branding your business as a friendly resource.
Whether you’re in B2C or B2B, you still may not be sold on gallery ads. Let’s chip away at that skepticism.
Why should you be excited about gallery ads?
Let’s shift from marketing to neuroscience for a moment. Take a look at these six statistics:

The human brain processes imagery 60,000 times faster than text.
People form first impressions within 50 milliseconds …
… and process images in 13 milliseconds.
Consumers are more likely to retain content that incorporates visual imagery.
55% of millennials say visuals are the most important part of shopping on mobile.
People remember 80% of what they see vs. 20% of what they read.

Quite simply, gallery ads are promising because imagery is harder-hitting and more memorable than plain text. Forget about making a lasting impression on your prospects; with a standard text ad, you may not be making any impression at all. Get some visuals in the mix, however, and you have a better chance of grabbing attention and capturing mindshare.
Let’s shift back to marketing. The other reason you should feel confident about gallery ads is that a similar concept—the carousel ad—has proven to work on Facebook and Instagram. Take Designs by Juju, for example—a company of 12 people that sells embroidery designs. With a Facebook Ads campaign spearheaded by carousel ads, they achieved a 16x improvement in ROAS and exceeded their cost per purchase goal by a mile. Elsewhere, beach lifestyle brand City Beach used carousel ads to drive a 52% increase in ROAS and a 50% decrease in CPA.

Via Facebook.
Evidently, consumers respond to ads with swipeable image galleries. True—they use social media and search engines with completely different mindsets. But, then again, why wouldn’t the higher commercial intent of search amplify their interest?
Adopt gallery ads early!
In the increasingly competitive and saturated digital marketing landscape, it pays to get in on the next big thing early. Start creating gallery ads as soon as they’re available to you. The earlier you are, the greater the advantage you’ll hold over your competition. The worst case scenario is that they’re not as effective as you’d like them to be. If that’s how it pans out, you can always pause them and re-evaluate. Getting in early poses little risk but offers huge rewards. Although getting in late isn’t risky, per se, it’s certainly not rewarding, either. Good luck!

Your Guide to Ecommerce Email Workflow Automation

If you sell a product or service online, email marketing is as critical to your business today as it ever was. Email is still the preferred method of communication for most consumers.
Not Facebook, not chatbots, not carrier pigeons. Which is great news for you and your business, because effective e-commerce email marketing can and should rely on marketing automation workflows. Email workflows are triggered by customer behavior and can run without your constant supervision. Because let’s be honest, you already have enough to do.
Whether you choose to setup email workflows in a marketing automation platform like HubSpot, an email marketing platform like MailChimp, or right from an e-commerce site like Shopify, here are the emails you should be sending.

Shopping Cart Email Workflows
Let’s start with the basics. Every e-commerce business needs a shopping cart workflow. The exact series of emails will depend on your business, but at the very least you should thank customers, set their expectations, and give them a chance to share feedback.
Thank you email
They may be the two most powerful words in any language, and if you’re not saying them to every customer, at every transaction, you’re missing out. Thank you emails have great response rates. People open them because they want that confirmation. A well-crafted thank-you email should contain a minimum of the following:

Validate the customer’s decision to make a purchase.
Set expectations for what happens next.
Welcome them into your brand’s tribe.

Don’t stop there. Since you’re almost guaranteed a good open rate, thank you emails are a great place to start building a relationship through value. Share your best content, invite them to subscribe to your newsletter, or give them an incentive to share their purchase with their social network.
Delivery notification email
It only takes a heartbeat for the excitement of a new purchase to morph into anxiety over delivery. When will the amazing new thing I ordered arrive? Ease your customers’ minds my setting up a delivery schedule workflow that lets them know when the item ships and the estimated delivery date. Back up that promise by sending an additional email after the delivery date confirming that the item was received.
If you run e-commerce for your service-based business, you can still send delivery emails. For example, if Fitness Fiona offers in-home personal training sessions through her website, a great “delivery schedule” email for her customers might include an “Add to Calendar” function. This workflow would also include a reminder follow-up a few days before the session, with easy options to contact Fiona should they need to reschedule.
Review or service email
Even though data shows that reviews are incredibly important to consumers when making a decision, many don’t leave a review even when their experience was pleasant. So, how do you get more reviews?
You ask for them! According to a study from BrightLocal, 71 percent of consumers will leave a review if asked. Review emails need to feel personal and should focus on how their reviews help future customers find the product they’re currently enjoying.
Here’s an idea: What if you didn’t ask for a review? What if instead, you first asked for actual feedback for you and your team?
Feedback email
Send this email from a leadership email address. Imagine if the CEO or VP of Sales from a company you’d just done business with personally wrote you and asked for feedback? Email marketing platforms make that possible, without those busy folks having to actually lift a finger.
Make it clear in the email what you are asking for and why. How does your team use feedback? Then, make it easy for customers to share their thoughts. Give them an easy “Reply To” email address or a text box form. In addition, let them pick a star or number rating in the email. If you drive them to a form page, give them the rating system there.
Why ask for a rating if it’s not on Google? Here’s where email marketing automation gets really smart. Positive reviews — 4 or better — can trigger a secondary email that thanks the user for their praise and then asks them to share their experience.
Feedback emails, when done right, offer you first-hand data of your customers’ experience before it hits social media or Google. Get the jump on solving a poor experience before it goes public, and give happy customers an extra jolt of warm fuzzies by letting them know you are listening. Feedback emails also contain powerful first-hand social proof content you can share in your marketing.
Keep in touch
The transaction is only the beginning. Build a loyal base of brand evangelists by keeping customers engaged with you between purchases. The simplest way to keep their attention? Email!
If you offer a loyalty rewards program, an email inviting new customers into this club is the perfect way to wrap up your Shopping Cart workflow. Don’t have a loyalty campaign yet (why?), you can still keep customers engaged through content marketing.
Emails not delivering everything possible? Check out these 11 email marketing issues, and 41 ways to fix them.
Abandoned Cart Workflow
You were thiiiiiiis close to a sale, but something happened. Maybe the customer found a better deal, or became impatient with your checkout process, or was abducted by aliens. You’ll never know for sure, and you’ll never reclaim that sale unless you reach out.
A study from Statistia reported that 24% of customers abandon their cart because the website crashed, and 21% bailed because the transaction took too long. That’s a lot of untapped sales revenue you can recapture through email marketing.

An abandoned cart workflow should:Remind the customer that there is a purchase pending.
Incentivize them to take that last step.
Finally, give them a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) urgency.

Shopping cart reminder email
Did you forget something? That’s the message you want to send to customers in this stage of the workflow. It’s also a very popular subject line for this stage. You may opt for a more direct message: You left Pooch Perfect Shampoo in your cart. Ready to buy?
Another option is to remind them why the purchase is important. Stinky, itchy puppy? Complete your purchase of Pooch Perfect Shampoo.
Incentive email
If the gentle reminder didn’t work, you can up the ante with an incentive. The same report from Statistia cited that 32% of online transactions are abandoned due to price. Sweeten the deal by offering an exclusive savings promo code through email.
The FOMO messaging email
The coupon expires in 24 hours. Your cart will be cleared. This item is popular and almost sold out! Give the customer a sense of what will be lost if they don’t complete the purchase.
Loyal Customer Email Workflows
Are you taking your best customers for granted? If you’re not thanking them with a loyalty campaign workflow, you might as well be. Give your brand evangelists even more to praise by rewarding their business with friendly messaging and exclusive deals.
Acknowledgment email
The first step toward increasing the warm fuzzies in your loyal audience is to acknowledge their loyalty. This is a special just-for-them “thank you” email that thanks them for their business and sets their expectations on the perks of the loyalty club.
Special incentive emails
Whether it’s a sneak peek at the new line-up, early access to a sale, or members-only promo code, your loyal audience deserves special treatment whenever you can offer it.
Your feedback emails
This group more than any other deserves to be heard. Welcome them to the virtual boardroom to discuss your product, marketing, venue, and more by sending short surveys and open-ended discussion emails they can reply to.
Don’t ever, EVER spam your loyalty workflow list. These people are email marketing gold. Treat them like the celebrities they are. That means no blast promotions, no meaningless fluff, and no pushy sales messages.
Reminder Email Workflows
If your business model includes a recurring purchase or service, you should absolutely add a Reminder Workflow to your email marketing.
Great reminder emails rely on data and smart marketing automation. If you’re a skincare company and you know one bottle of your all-natural vitamin C cleanser, C You on the Bright Side, lasts about 60 days, you can create a workflow list that sends a reminder 45 days from the last purchase. If you’re a wellness spa, you may want to remind your customers that it’s almost time to book their monthly massages.
Reminder emails are great for family entertainment businesses, too. Birthdays and group events can make up as much as a third of an FEC’s business, and guess what? Those events tend to be annual! FEC reminder emails should rely heavily on smart content and personalization. Remember how much fun little Sheila had at her Bowling Bash Birthday last year? We think she’ll love our new Arcade Game Master package even more! (We think that because we used purchase-data to see that your party bought double the arcade cards for every child.)
Even B2B businesses can capitalize on reminder emails. It’s time to renew your contract, to run your quarterly cybersecurity penetration testing, to refill the snack bar choices.
Reactivation Emails
So far, we’ve talked about how much value you can deliver with well-planned email workflows. But, what happens when a happy, engaged customer suddenly stops responding?
Email deliverability—how many of your emails land in your customers’ inboxes—is affected by a lot of things, and one of them is the performance of your last email. So, it’s important to keep your list happy and engaged and say good-bye to the folks who stop opening and clicking.
A check-in email
Your first email in this workflow isn’t accusing your customer of moving on. You’re just checking in. We see you haven’t opened an email in a while. Sometimes all it takes is that little nudge to remind someone of all the fun they’re missing in your well-written messages.
Ask for feedback
Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you. A transaction went wonky, a customer service issue slipped through the cracks, or you just send too many emails. Give them a chance to clear the air by asking them directly for feedback. This email should look like it’s sent from a real member of your team, and that member should handle the follow-up.
When it’s time to say goodbye
Sometimes, a customer just falls out of love. It’s not fun, but it’s a reality. When it’s time to say goodbye, let them know there are no hard feelings, you have appreciated all their business, and they are always welcome back. Ending your email marketing relationship with a customer doesn’t mean they’re no longer valuable to your brand. They may still give positive referrals, or choose to come back at a later date. Don’t give them a reason not to by sending a snarky or passive aggressive “goodbye” email.
Workflows are only the beginning.
Workflows are only the blueprints of email marketing awesomeness. Frequency, personalization, imagery, and creative copywriting are all necessary additions to achieve true email marketing greatness.