Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. where she helps companies with complex sales use persona-driven digital strategies and content marketing to turn prospects into buyers and customers into advocates.
She’s also the author of “Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale.”
Ardath has been voted one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales and Lead Management for the past four years and was selected a 2014 Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing by FierceCMO
Learn a bit more about Ardath prior to her session at CMC!
Q. How would you sum up your overall marketing strategy for success in three words (or fewer)?
A. Customer Obsession
Q. You’ve spent more than 30 years in business management and marketing operations. Did you worry when the landscape changed from the traditional marketing tactics to the digital, customer-oriented strategies? How did you adjust?
A. Actually, the digital environment is what created the opportunity for me to make content marketing as a strategic practice of my profession. I was watching companies in 2000 try to grapple with the move online and their content was awful. At the time I was working for a technology company. I could just “see” the transition that needed to happen. Thankfully, they wanted the help and I haven’t looked back.
Q. How did you land on strategies that worked?
A. Trial and error. The only way to prove a strategy works is to put it in action. The trick is to have the ability to identify and make the tweaks that it needs to truly perform. Because I got into content marketing in the early 2000s, my clients tended to be the bold risk takers that wanted to figure it out. And they were willing to try and evolve – which is critical to creating successful outcomes.
Q. Any major faux pas along the way?
A. The only major failings that I remember are the clients who stopped short of seeing the return on their investment. Marketers and companies don’t have a lot of patience. They’re used to campaigns that run on a short timeframe and give them some metrics to report – even if they can’t be tied to business objectives. If a buying process takes two years, but the company only pilots a 6 month project, they won’t see the power behind a strategy designed for a buyer-driven process.
Q. You’re big on creating buyer personas. What major stumbling blocks do you see companies encountering when they try to create them?
A. I see a lot of very shallow, template-driven personas without the depth to inform content strategy. Every bit of information must relate to an action marketers can take to build a relevant story based on content and creating intent to change. I spend a lot of time explaining to companies why the personas they have won’t do the job and why it’s important to expend the time, effort and resources to get them right. This includes qualitative research from customer interviews—often the hardest piece of the puzzle to get from a timing perspective. But it’s worth it. Personas are foundational for content strategy – in my opinion. Making stuff up based on assumptions data just won’t cut it.
Q. What modern marketing strategy is typically the most difficult for companies to grasp and/or implement?
A. Taking a long-term continuum approach vs. a campaign-driven approach. Campaigns are a company construct designed to help marketers create a box around projects for the sake of managing and measuring something. Telling the story a persona / audience wants to hear across the entirety of the buying process is not a skillset most marketers have developed. On the other hand, to stop a story that your buyers are interested in exploring because your campaign ended is not great. Why do we think it’s a good idea to halt the interest and momentum we expended so much effort to?
Q. Which is generally the easiest?
A. Creating an email campaign. Pick a topic, create 3 – 5 resources that go with it and fire off emails with calls to action to take a demo or contact sales. These get launched every day of the week. They generally don’t work very well. Average click through rate on email campaigns is somewhere around 2 – 4%. So, theoretically, marketers have a 96% failure rate. In what other profession would that be acceptable?
Q. As one of the marketing speakers at the upcoming Content Marketing Conference, you’re going to be discussing taking a fast-track to million-dollar deals. What percentage of companies would you assess actually have a chance of making million-dollar deals? Is it possible for anyone and everyone?
A. In this particular case, the company’s solution is a multi-million dollar sale. So, yes, companies with this size sale can produce more of them, faster, with a solid content marketing strategy. The secret here was integrating the program with their subject matter experts and sales engineers. It was not a standalone marketing project, but very much a collaborative effort. I think that aspect is critical for gaining the outcomes I’ll be talking about.
Q. What makes a client difficult or challenging?
A. I think the most difficult thing is when goals are in conflict. For example, needing to get a new website up and in production before persona work has been completed. Sometimes, it’s not possible to deflect the directives due to some self-imposed timeline at the executive level. You have to learn to adjust and do the best you can, while warning the client that there may be rework coming…
Q. Your LinkedIn profile says you’re a die-hard writer and storyteller. What stories have you written or told that have nothing to do with content marketing? Any fiction or poetry in your lineup?
A. I am a fiction writer. I’ve written 6 novels – none published. I’ve studied with a number of best-selling novelists at writers retreats and am a card carrying member of Romance Writers of America. Although I will admit I haven’t written a fiction story for the last five years due to my workload. My personal website, ardathalbee.com, reflects my fiction side, although I’ve not paid a lot of attention to it in a while.
Q. You’ve gained some very impressive recognition as an author, Internet marketing speaker and all-around marketing maven. We’re especially impressed by your honors as a Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing and your four years as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales and Lead Management. What business accomplishment makes you the most proud, and why?
A. The easy answer would be getting two books published by New York publishers that have helped marketers adapt to modern content marketing practices. The better answer is every time I help my clients gain a successful outcome. Each one creates the motivation to go out and do it all over again. I love it when the lightbulb comes on and they really “get” what makes the difference with their buyers and customers. The third would be building a successful practice around something I love to do every day.
Q. What personal accomplishment makes you the most proud, and why?
A. In 2005, I wrote a novel-length manuscript that was selected as a finalist in the Golden Heart contest for unpublished writers by Romance Writers of America. In the fiction-writing world, that’s a big deal. Sustaining a story and characters that engages readers over 100k words is harder than you may think.
Q. What do you do for fun when you’re not having fun with content marketing? (You DO find content marketing fun, yes?)
A. I love content marketing! In my off time I like to swim, read and think about big ideas. As a natural writer, I’m curious about a lot of things and love to explore where ideas could go. I also love to cook. My husband and I spend a lot of time cooking from scratch. He’s Italian, so I’ve become Italian by marriage. I will say the pasta and sauce is fantastic! And movies. I love to watch movies for the character development, conflict, and storylines, but I’ve learned that I need to read the book before the movie comes out. The characters are never the same in my head as they are on the screen.
Q. Sneak preview – please provide a sneak preview of one of the takeaways from your session at CMC.
A. My new book, Digital Relevance, contains 14 wicked skills that marketers need to develop to sustain relevance with buyers and customers. I’ll be sharing 3 of them with examples of how you can put them to work when you get back to the office.
Q. Anything else you want our readers to know?
A. I’m looking forward to seeing all of you in Vegas!