Know Your Audience Through Marketing Science

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CenturyLink Technology Solutions' new CMO, Becky Carr, takes a break from an ambitious rebranding effort—of the business division that is a primary growth engine for CenturyLink, the country's third-largest telecommunications company—to discuss how sales experience and data analytics help marketers know their audience.

What's your passion in marketing?

Knowing my audience. I absolutely lean toward the science of marketing. I apply science to understand what motivates companies in our market, what they want and need, and what drives their decision-making criteria. We work in a highly competitive market and in one of the fastest growing industries, which requires us to constantly monitor what's changing. Who are our buyers? What are they buying? Where are they going to buy it? And how do we stand out in a crowded marketplace?

How did you develop your interest in analytics, technology, and other scientific aspects of marketing?

I spent the first 12 years of my career in sales, primarily selling telecommunications services to Fortune 100 companies. At the end of the month you could see the numbers on the board. To get those numbers where you wanted them, you needed to work closely with different businesses to understand what they needed and how technology could be applied to help meet those needs. When I made the move into marketing, I took all of my sales prowess and applied it to marketing. It's a very analytical role these days, and it's certainly going to become a lot more analytical. In fact, in our business the CMO is one of the buyer personas we target. Marketing executives are making more and more of the company's technology decisions.

Was there an aha moment when the importance of knowing your audience hit you?

About 10 years ago I ran a client advisory board. It was made up of CIOs from Global 50 companies. We brought them together twice a year to review our strategic roadmap and investments, and to get their input. It struck me that those CIOs were fairly direct in saying that they didn't care about the technology, per se. What they cared deeply about was getting into Latin America, enabling a globally dispersed workforce, or achieving some other core business objective. They really schooled me on what was important to them.

How do you convey to your staff the importance of this customer-focused mind-set?

I talk about it quite a bit. I also implore every single person on my team to spend at least one day a quarter in a sales office and going on customer visits. It's so important to step back and understand how what we're doing in marketing translates to real life. It constantly gives you perspective. I recently brought someone on my team to an executive briefing with a very large company. The entire conversation was around their business and what their objectives are—and their objectives were not, “I want to buy services that let me outsource co-location to the cloud.” It was absolutely about their vision and growth plans. Participating in these discussions shows us that we have to understand our clients' business and then apply all the great features and benefits of what we do to what it's going to do for them.

What you're describing doesn't sound like traditional B2B technology marketing.

There's been a significant change in B2B marketing. Fifteen years ago, marketers, especially those in the technology industry, which is where I was, talked about all the great features and benefits—about how great all those shiny objects were. The lion's share of what we communicated occurred through our sales organization. We did very little direct marketing. That has shifted 180 degrees over the past several years. Today the sales organization needs to be equipped much more with business and financial acumen than with features and benefits information. Their clients are doing all that research online and already know features and benefits. It's become more of a business conversation.

Tell me one way that this “know your audience” passion influences your daily routine?

I'm my own little research department. Every morning I spend an hour combing through all the news that's relevant to our market. I'm known for sending out 5 a.m. emails filled with these articles. The content I highlight tends to be more business-related than technology-related. We need to stay on top of macro-economic trends because they absolutely move what's happening in the market. Because of these changes, we have to reposition on a real-time basis the things that we can do for our clients. I'm a big fan of Flipboard [a personal magazine and news-sharing app] and I'm a huge Google Alerts person. If I have a briefing or customer appointment, I will track them for a couple of weeks to make sure that I have something truly relevant to talk about when I go in, as opposed to talking all about our shiny objects.

What are the most formidable challenges in your quest for market knowledge?

It goes back to what's most important: the data. There's data, there's clean data, and then there's data that you can act on. Distinguishing among those is the biggest challenge. When you act on the data it's a challenge to do so in a meaningful way, so you're not all over the place in the market sending mixed messages. Sticking to a consistent message involves taking all of these different activities and trends that we're noticing and tying them back to consistent points. Everything has to ladder up to your mission, and it's important to have what we call a “marketecture.”

What does this “marketecture” consist of?

The pillars of your message, which starts at the very top with your vision and mission. Right now our mission is to make businesses more agile, secure, and sustainable. Yes, we deliver cloud and IT outsourcing solutions, but we ultimately do so to help businesses become more agile, secure, and sustainable. Our “marketecture” consists of the three key pillars—agile, secure, and sustainable—that reflect our mission. These pillars inform how we talk about what we do as a business. It's wonderful that we have a great breadth of services, but why does that matter? Our current messaging work is focusing on laddering up to our mission; how do we apply what we see in the market and what we do to one of those three pillars? And then we need to focus on carving out white space. There are a lot of companies that make businesses agile, so what is our unique point of view and why are we different?

When you joined CenturyLink you were tasked with rebranding a well-known company, Savvis, as CenturyLink Technology Solutions; how's that going?

It would be boring to me to be in a business that had all of this locked up. It's fun to lead a transformation. It's also tough and there's a lot of work to do for us to succeed. For example, we're currently enhancing our business intelligence analytics, which requires some boiling-the-ocean work before you get it right. Transformation work also requires constant prioritization. There are so many nice-to-haves that you have to let go of to sharpen your focus on those things that will really move the business forward. Harkening back to my sales days, I define success as when we've achieved or exceeded our sales and revenue plan.

How to Know Your Audience Better

1. Think like a two-year-old: “I ask ‘Why?' all the time,” Carr says. “My kids are grown up now, but that word used to drive me crazy. I guess I drive my staff crazy now.” Carr constantly probes the assumptions and conclusions she hears throughout her department. She wants to know why any idea or message matters to the market, and how it helps the market understand how CenturyLink differs from the competition.

2. Constantly comb through data: During a two-year hiatus from her career-long stint in the telecommunications and technology sectors, Carr worked as a marketer for Foxwoods, a large casino in Connecticut. The experience steeped her in the type of data analytics that only recently began to flourish in the B2B realm. “It's not only a matter of analyzing the data,” she says, “it also requires making quick decisions and changing directions in response to what the customer analytics reveal.”

3. Build business acumen: Carr implores every person on her team to spend at least one day per quarter visiting customers with sales colleagues. The goal is to understand how the company's marketing translates to customers' day-to-day work lives. Carr also operates as a one-person research department for her team; she spends about an hour each morning rifling through business and technology publications and sites, and then shares relevant information—typically related to macro-economic trends driving changes in CenturyLink's market—via email.

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