CMO’s: What Good is Marketing Technology Without a Mission?

Why Marketing Technology Needs A Mission

Over the past five years, I’ve seen our industry’s deep-dive into marketing technology increase our collective efficiency at converting prospects to buyers. Increasingly though, I’m hearing from clients that this relentless down-funnel focus has become just another flavor of marketing parity. We’re talking more with clients about where they could look for an advantage, now that just about everyone has search-friendly content, conversion-optimized landing pages and automated nurture streams.

Your brand is the answer – but not in the way you might think

My advice: powerful brands offer a way out of the martech trap. Again and again, when we develop campaigns targeting considered purchases, we find that personal connection with the brand is critical to engaging and capturing quality prospects. But to drive value, it’s critical to know how to build the right branded connections – the kind that are more likely to drive brand consideration.

Across a broad range of B2B categories, powerful, branded connections are critical to driving consideration. For example, research from the Corporate Executive Board shows how brands with the highest ratings for trust, image, and industry leadership are significantly more likely to be considered for purchase.

That’s an impressive advantage, but to get it, brand teams and agencies have to focus on the specific kinds of branding activity that build these powerful branded connections.

Research and experience show that today, buyers assume that category-leading brands will offer equivalent levels of business value – so describing your benefits functionally offers limited value for building personal brand connections. When brands instead focus on building personal value for buyers in a professional context, they have the best possible chance of creating the kind of strong brand connections that drive consideration.

Giving your brand a mission can make the difference

Adopting a mission for your brand – a role designed to drive change – is a potent way to power distinctive and effective brand strategy that connects with prospects at a personal level. I’m not talking about cause marketing. Cause marketing uses a human issue to create empathy, indirectly boosting regard for your brand. Mission-driven marketing, on the other hand, is bigger than your solution but still grounded in your brand’s context. A brand on a mission takes the buyer’s best interest to heart and organizes branding efforts around delivering on them.

Salesforce: A brand on a mission to change the software industry

With more than $6B in revenue, a reputation as an innovator, and a rabidly fanatical global user base, Salesforce can easily be described as “killing it.” In 1999, however, Salesforce was a startup with a different idea – ending the dominance of expensive business software that you paid to license, installed on computers inside your company, and then paid to upgrade every year or so. This wasn’t a unique vision – at the time, Salesforce was one of hundreds of SaaS (software as a service) startups, all looking to change the way companies bought software.

Salesforce was savvy in seeing the power in transforming their internal mission statement (“the end of software”) into a mission-driven brand platform for external marketing. Competitors were marketing the functional benefits of their SaaS solutions; as a counterpoint, Salesforce told buyers to start a revolution by taking a firm stand against buying any more software. Their insight was on target – buyers probably saw room for improvement in their current CRM applications, but that was far outstripped by their distaste for the way they had to buy it. Un-selling software was an idea that was bigger than Salesforce and even the CRM category, but Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff turned it into a simple, emotionally resonant position for the brand, making sure it influenced every piece of their marketing for years. And while this campaign may have started in 1999, it still provides an inspiring example of the power of mission-driven marketing.

Red Hat: Mission-based marketing focused on professional growth

Red Hat, another innovative software giant, is the worldwide leader in open source software for the enterprise – and also a client of PJA, the agency I work for. More than 90% of the Global Fortune 500 run Red Hat. Red Hat’s dominant position in Linux for the enterprise provided a platform for extending into enterprise infrastructure solutions, but Red Hat’s awareness as a provider of enterprise infrastructure solutions was low among CIOs and enterprise architects.

A segmentation of enterprise CIOs revealed a subset – almost 40% – who were driven to provide strategic business value for their companies. However, research also showed that they felt like they just didn’t know how to get out from under mountains of day-to-day IT implementation and maintenance tasks. Our solution was to define a role for the brand to help aspiring change-agent CIOs fulfill their vision of “better” by teaching them practical skills that would allow them to refocus their attention on driving business value with innovative IT. And who better to learn it from than the “enterprising” CIOs who had already successfully made the shift to business value? Three years in, the Enterprisers Project’s mission-based strategy has made the Red Hat brand welcome as the provider of a trusted source of insights for senior level tech executives.

REI: Mapping a differentiated approach with the #optoutdoors campaign

As a member-owned co-op, REI is a different kind of company. That’s never stopped them from using many of the retail traffic and sales-driving tactics we’re all used to – until the 2015 holiday season when REI CEO Jerry Stritzle chose an unusual location to announce a very different Black Friday promotion. In a video announcement that showed his desk perched on the summit of a mountain, Stritzle announced #optoutdoors by saying “We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently.” All of the REI stores would be closed on Black Friday, including the website, and employees got a paid day off. On the #optoutdoors campaign website, consumers could create and share social messages about what they’d be doing outside on Black Friday, and find nearby outdoor activities. Many state parks got in on the idea and offered free admission for the day.

What started as a promotion rapidly became a movement, generating 2.7 billion media impressions in the first 24 hours. In 2015, 1.4 million consumers participated, with social media and media coverage generating almost seven billion impressions for the branded promotion. In 2016, 143 other retailers and brands are participating, including many with a strong natural affinity for the REI audience, such as Subaru. What’s fascinating about the #optoutdoors idea is how naturally it springs from REI’s core purpose: “We all work to inspire, educate and outfit for a lifetime of outdoor adventure and stewardship.”

The mandate for mission-driven marketing

In different ways, each of these three campaigns is rooted in an overlap between buyer aspirations and core brand competencies. In that way, they are each taking their best shot at building personal value for the buyer that is highly relevant to the brand’s value proposition. That’s the key to highly-effective mission-driven marketing.

Ultimately, mission-driven marketing is about expecting more from your brand. The old formula where brand drives awareness and solutions drive relevance won’t stand up buyers growing perception of functional equivalence among competing solutions. Today, brands need to create the powerful connections that garner consideration, and going to market with a relevant and motivating mission is a great way to get there.

If you've got questions about this post, or if you're interested in discussing ways to add more mission to your own marketing, get in touch.