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General Stanley McChrystal was responsible for the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. In his book Team of Teams, he talks about the rude awakening he had when he saw how disadvantaged his centralized command was compared to the decentralized networks of Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Afghanistan. McChrystal quickly recognized he needed to reimagine how teams were built and empowered. He understood that innovation, insights, and awareness happen at the edges of networks, not in the center. That is why it is critically important to empower the edges of those networks with information, resources, and feedback loops.
Captain David Marquet immortalized that same lesson in his book Turn the Ship Around! He’s the source of the doctrine “Move authority to information; don’t move information to authority.”
We are witnessing the same decentralizing trend in large organizations, powered by the arrival of blockchain or distributed ledger technology (DLT). This trend is going to affect every industry and every business function in the years to come. And hundreds of thousands of blockchain-based technologies are going to emerge onto the market to fuel it.
Coinbase cofounder Fred Ehrsam suggests “There will be a Cambrian explosion of economic and governance designs where many approaches will be tried in parallel at hyper speed.” Indeed, in 2017, we saw more than 442 crypto startups get funded through token sales.
Just as the evolutionary process requires some lifeforms to fail while others succeed, the best products and platforms won’t necessarily win. What makes one product win — or survive — instead of another? In Darwinian terms, it is the ability to adapt to a changing environment. In the world of organizations, the function responsible for ensuring the ability to adapt to changing environments has a name: marketing.
Peter Drucker, the legendary management consultant, once wrote that, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two — and only two — basic functions: marketing and innovation.” If Drucker is right, it stands to reason that an organization’s marketing function should match and complement the innovation function. After all, it is at least as important.
What I am proposing is that this era of decentralized, crypto-based technical innovation requires an equally decentralized, crypto-based marketing function that enables adaptation: a decentralized marketing organization (DMO). The purpose of the DMO is to partner with the decentralized technology organization (the innovation part of the business) to create a “crypto-customer.”
A crypto-customer is different from the customer of a traditional organization. In a decentralized network, the overall value (i.e., market cap) of the protocol loosely trends to Metcalfe’s Law. That is, the most valuable customers are the people who engage most deeply with the protocol and bring in more nodes to the network. So an effective marketing strategy for a decentralized project will enable a series of multipronged demand pulls that target the wide array of roles that play into protocol adoption — developers, designers, token buyers/investors, social media influencers, regular users, partner integrations, etc.
All of these customers engage with the protocol because they believe in the value of the associated token. The more a token holder believes in the expected future value of the token, the more likely they are to hold on for dear life (HODL) and the more likely they will evangelize.
So token holders are naturally and intensely motivated. They will engage in activities they think will drive the utility and value of the token higher in the long term. One might say they are marketers without knowing it, which is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, token holders have the same motivations and incentives as the project’s marketers. On the other hand, because they are stakeholders, not employees, they cannot be “controlled” or guided as a traditional employee can be.
Marketers who are employees in a centralized organization are accountable to the leaders who judge their results and decide their compensation. In a decentralized project, many of the people executing marketing tactics do so without any guardrails. Their compensation doesn’t come from a boss, it comes in the form of market response to their aggregated activities, as measured by the appreciation in the value of a crypto token.
Hence, marketing is syndicated well beyond the traditional boundaries of the organization. Formerly the “edge” of the marketing network was simply rank and file employees responsible for marketing activity. Now, the edge is the network of token holders who need to actively market the decentralized project to the next set of potential customers. The upshot: the formal organization, or “core,” is accountable to the edges of the network.
Token holders view themselves as brand ambassadors and may feel that, no matter what type of marketing activity they engage in, it is, by definition, on brand. This combination of motivation and no direct accountability means the execution of low-cost innovative activities has the potential to explode in quantity, run the gamut in quality, and be aimed everywhere and anywhere.
A DMO’s many responsibilities
Anyone can blog about a project. Anyone can create a video about it. Anyone can host an event about it. Those are all positives. At the same time, these activities present risks, including:
- Inconsistent messaging and look-and-feel stemming from many voices creating confused or even contradictory messaging about the purpose, vision, and value of the token and project
- Wasted energy going after less-desirable customer segments or low-value objectives
- Feature delay stemming from differing points of view about the primary use case and target customer, leading to confusion and infighting (look no further than Bitcoin Core vs. Bitcoin Cash). To be sure, one of the benefits of an open-source project is the ability to “fork” it and create a new, better alternative. But premature forking can make it hard to reach critical mass adoption. And that kind of delay can be lethal in a fast-moving, dynamic, noisy marketplace.
For the reasons above, the marketer of a decentralized project has goals in common with a traditional chief marketing officer as well as goals that are unique to a DMO:
Like in a centralized marketing organization, a crypto-marketer must:
- Avoid total marketing chaos through the creation and communication of a strategic marketing plan
- Ensure brand clarity and message discipline with well-thought-out brand and messaging platforms
- Maintain and encourage the passion of the people most vested in the success of the project with a well-planned and inspired communication program that highlights momentum, new features, and benefits
- Uncover the active and latent needs of current and future token holders
- Aggregate those needs for assessment by the core technology team
- Help the technical team prioritize protocol development against expected increase in utility and value, weighed against cost/time to deliver.
But a crypto-marketer also has some unique challenges. They must:
- Identify and build a developer audience that sees the value in building on the core protocol
- Inspire effective execution of marketing activities by token holders using 100 percent influence and 0 percent authority
- Create a marketing infrastructure to enable any token holder to leverage a set of brand assets that support consistent messaging and visual identity with the absolute minimum amount of friction
- Identify and analyze the token holder-driven marketing activities that produce effective outcomes
- Rapidly disseminate the learnings and know-how to other motivated token holders for reuse, where applicable
- Propagate the belief that token HODLing is the utmost sign of commitment and dedication.
The first part is not easy, but it is doable. An experienced marketer who has had a leadership role in an organization and had a broad range of responsibilities, including planning, budgeting, brand communications, go-to-market, product, community, PR, influencer relations, developer relations, analyst relations, content, and lead generation should be able to help you. It is the second part, however, that provides the greatest opportunity for growth.
When it comes to marketing innovation, the best ideas tend to occur at the edges of a network. After all, that is where the interaction with the evolving market is most intense. Yet, while the best marketing ideas tend to emerge in locations that are far away from the “group think” of those in the core, the mechanism for funding and executing those ideas tends to sit in the concentrated areas of the network. This leads to friction in terms of meetings, approval processes, communication lags, and internal selling.
In the “Age of Accelerations,” as Tom Friedman calls it, the projects that figure out how to identify, cultivate, and activate their token holders to drive marketing outcomes as quickly and effectively as possible are going to significantly increase their odds of success.
The tech behind a DMO
How will all of this actually work? To be honest, that question is probably at least slightly ahead of the technology. At the same time, like a jigsaw puzzle on a floor, we are starting to see the pieces of an eventual DMO emerge. As my CEO at Sprinklr, Ragy Thomas, used to say, “Think future back.”
A DMO tech stack will have a number of elements. Here are some of them:
- Decentralized autonomous organization platforms
- Decentralized idea-generation and voting platforms
- Decentralized prediction engines
- Decentralized artificial intelligence
- Decentralized bots
- Decentralized gamification engines
- Decentralized content management
- Decentralized marketing tools
These technologies will serve as the nervous system for the DMO. The ability to create organization-wide governance systems that are enforced by blockchain-based smart contracts is not just possible but is in development (albeit in the early stages). Projects like Aragon, DAOstack, Colony, and District0x are all pursuing the vision of enabling the back-office functions of global, decentralized organizations to work with less friction, lower costs, and greater agility.
[This article is an edited excerpt from the author’s new online book, Decentralized Marketing Organization: How Crypto-Marketers Can Increase Token Value by Empowering Community Members.]
Jeremy Epstein is CEO of Never Stop Marketing and author of The CMO Primer for the Blockchain World. He currently works with startups in the blockchain and decentralization space, including OpenBazaar, Zcash, ARK, Gladius, Peer Mountain and DAOstack.
The market for AI is so overhyped, virtually anybody looking for a fast buck can repackage an old abacus and sell it as a “machine learning” platform. Misinformed people buy the idea and the mounting frustration makes it extremely difficult for legitimate AI companies to get their message heard above the din. To successfully stand out in a crowded market, creative marketers have found it critical to create unconventional educational content and enlist the support of credible B2B influencers in their space.
In the ever-shifting AI solutions ecosystem, even expert-led and well-thought-out marketing campaigns can fail — and often do. To reduce costs and save time, marketers of AI products need to learn as early as possible what works. In addition to basic AI marketing techniques like gathering customer testimonials or offering technical education, approaches such as content-, influencer-, and account-based marketing have proven to be effective methods for showcasing and selling business applications of AI.
To glean strategic and tactical insights into how to make such marketing techniques work in AI, I spoke to the CMOs of two top AI vendors — GumGum’s Ben Plomion and Nudge’s Jaxson Khan. These two have successfully leveraged unique content and B2B influencer approaches to convince and convert their target audiences. GumGum applies patented image recognition technologies to analyze, protect, and optimize brand messaging, while Nudge probes all relevant communication data to generate actionable relationship intelligence.
1. Establish trust with credible advocates
For Jaxson Khan, content marketing for AI is not really about the volume of content but more about building “pillars of trust.” He explains:
Because AI promises to be so powerful and sophisticated for our buyers, AI companies and those that want to demo AI solutions have a pre-eminent responsibility to demonstrate trust. The primary way to demonstrate trust in B2B, especially for sales and marketing technology, is to galvanize and activate a community of influencers and advocates.
Khan found that influencer marketing delivered the highest returns for Nudge and that organic traffic was more effective than paid ads, with 80 percent of inbound traffic driven by posts from influencers across Twitter, LinkedIn, and other channels.
2. Focus on your vertical, stay away from general AI
After executing a variety of content marketing initiatives, Khan concludes that it’s better to engage industry influencers via a few quality, highly targeted, and unique pieces than to cast a wider net using lots of content about AI in general.
“We used to write general AI content thinking we were keeping up an AI pipeline, but it would have been better not to do it at all,” he explains. “If you want to talk about AI or any popular technology trend, you need to be extremely specific and tactical and tie back to the vertical you’re working in. Otherwise, it’s not relevant for influencers.”
3. Don’t be afraid to be contrarian
Inspiring the right targeted conversations is no easy task. “The hardest part of creating great content is coming up with a great catchphrase,” Khan emphasizes. “You need a campaign people will resonate with and feel attached to. You also need content that influencers will care about and share.” One of the Nudge marketing team’s proven tactics is to champion a view that goes against conventional wisdom.
“Hustle harder” is a conventional trope in sales, where salespeople are told that success comes from aggressively prioritizing quantity over quality. Khan’s team advocated the opposite approach with their contrarian #holdthehustle campaign, which was one of their most successful campaigns — delivering 2.6 times more traffic than average. The campaign appealed to both influencers and prospective customers by arguing that building authentic relationships over time leads to more successful sales.
4. Unify sales and marketing under a clear content vision
The marketing team at computer vision company GumGum approaches brand communication on two fronts. The first involves broad, educational content for building industry-wide thought leadership and brand awareness. The second centers around tactical, how-to content that supports in-house salespeople as they convert prospectives into buyers. Content at the top of the funnel includes white papers designed to influence big brands such as BMW, Adidas, and Disney, while tactical content can include video case studies of how image recognition improved customer results or how GumGum’s advanced computer vision technologies enable superior brand safety.
“GumGum’s strategy represents a happy marriage between sales and marketing,” explains CMO Ben Plomion. “Marketing cannot be done in a silo. It must be data-driven, validated, and value-backed.” Efforts from the two organizational units are well-aligned. Marketing campaign call-to-actions facilitate seamless touch points with sales, while salespeople consistently provide clients with co-marketing opportunities, such as press interviews and case studies.
5. Let go of ideas that don’t drive your bottom line
One key challenge of unifying marketing and sales is letting go of ideas that may seem brilliant but don’t actually convert to sales. Before he joined GumGum, Plomion and the team he was working with at another company came up with a brilliant twist on Cards Against Humanity. They called their invention Cards Against Marketing, launched it, and had a huge hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the majority of people who loved their clever marketing product weren’t actually qualified target users.
“A marketing idea may be fun or exciting, but it needs a strong business rationale for both GumGum and our customers to push the initiative through,” Plomion emphasized. He revealed that the company lets go of creative ideas if they have limited meaning for clients, don’t demonstrably translate to topline revenue, or don’t support their buyer’s journey.
6. Take creative risks with account-based marketing
Companies don’t buy; people do. The most effective content marketing you can do may very well target just a single person.
GumGum’s salespeople had been trying to close T-Mobile for months when one of them approached Plomion for marketing help. He and his team researched T-Mobile’s charismatic CEO, John Legere, an active Twitter user who regularly engages with T-Mobile users. Plomion and his team discovered that Legere had a long-time passion for comic books and was obsessed with Batman.
A brilliant marketing campaign was born. Plomion and his team designed a fully personalized comic book with a custom narrative featuring the telecom CEO as a caped crusader reminiscent of his favorite hero, working with a swanky personification of GumGum as his sidekick. Just as T-Mobile is the underdog fighting against the behemoths AT&T and Verizon in the real world, T-Man the Data Knight battles his comic book enemies with the help of AI and computer vision.
Once it was completed, GumGum tweeted the comic book directly to Legere and sent copies to all of his executives and media buyers. Within an hour, Legere responded: “This is insane, this is so thoughtful! It’s perfect for me!”
His media buyers were also impressed and reached out for a meeting. T-Mobile is now GumGum’s biggest account on the West Coast.
7. Find and engage the right B2B influencers
Not every content campaign will involve the CEO of your target buyer company, so you still need to do research and develop meaningful relationships with influencers who can be instrumental to your brand. Nudge works with influencers like Brian Burns and Jill Rowley, who are masters of social selling.
For messaging that gains attention and shares, Khan advises content and influencer marketing teams to take the following steps:
- Create high-quality content that you think influencers deeply care about. Take their vantage point, instead of approaching the issues from the perspectives of either your brand or your direct buyers.
- First test the message with a few industry influencers for a period of a few weeks.
- If the messaging proves valuable within a given period, expand the campaign to several months to drive more extensive conversation about your product.
Nudge’s How I Buy series is a prime example of bringing a more impactful perspective into a marketing conversation. Most educational content in the industry focuses on how to market or sell enterprise technology. Rather than add to this conventional angle, Khan and his team decided to focus on the other side of the equation: the buyer. They profiled big buyers in the tech space, including CEOs, CFOs, and other check-signing executives to understand their customer journeys and how they approached important software purchases.
Plomion’s team operates similarly, starting with a thesis and then finding a sweet spot with relevant experts who have the right technical credibility and story to share. “Five years ago, it was harder to find experts in computer vision, but now it’s easier and easier to find thought leaders,” he explains. “We work with anyone who has strong ideas. It’s helpful if they have a following, but that’s not the main criteria.”
Successful B2B marketing means joining the conversation
As conversations around enterprise AI continue to evolve, B2B marketing teams at AI vendors need to embrace creative content and influencer tactics to be maximally effective. Success involves fine-tuning your approach to making your brand stand out in the important conversations that drive your niche. One way to do so is to shed the hard-sell persona and engage influencers on topics they care deeply about.
Even in an age when machines rule, meaning still matters.
Mariya Yao is the CTO of Metamaven, an applied AI firm building custom automation solutions for marketing and sales, the Editor-In-Chief of TOPBOTS, a leading publication for enterprise AI, and the coauthor of Applied Artificial Intelligence, a book for business leaders.