Martyn Etherington Speaks: The story of a B2B digital marketing turnaround

I had the chance recently to catch up with Martyn Etherington, a marketing leader I’ve long admired. Martyn had just left his post at Mitel, where he was CMO and Chief of Staff. In a reflective mood, he was willing to field some questions about his successes there. You may remember Martyn from his instructive Diary of a CMO, published by Direct Marketing News in 2013. Martyn’s answers reveal what’s working today in B2B digital marketing.

At Mitel, you more than doubled the size of the digital marketing team after arriving there in 2012.  Where did you direct them to focus their efforts, and why?

Quite simply, it was customer driven. Customers have changed the way that they buy, and therefore we need to change the way we sell. I directed them to focus on three key areas:

  1. The Zero Moment of Truth, the concept pioneered by marketers at Google that focuses on the importance of visibility at the earliest research stage of the customer journey. Winning at ZMOT means knowing the key words and phrases that your customers use, instead of what we as vendors use to describe our products.  This means outside-in thinking instead of inside out. A telling example was the success we claimed for maintaining key positions for the term “Premise Based PBX Systems,” when there were fewer than 30 searches a month on that phrase. “Business Phones,” on the other hand, was getting a million searches a month—and we were missing out. The solution was conducting Voice of Customer (VOC) research to develop a lexicon of key customer terms and phrases, to buy those key words, and also to pepper them in all the content we produced.
  2. Improving the customer experience, especially at the website. Mitel had made numerous acquisitions, which meant nearly 40 different web platforms. VOC research drove the new navigation, site structure, information architecture, search and content, down to product nomenclature. Putting the customer at the center of our business, we saw a tripling of our web traffic, a reduction in bounce rate and a higher conversion of visitors to leads.
  3. Becoming a more socially active business. In March 2014, we had probably 30 people in our company engaged in social media in one form or another. Around that time, I picked up a book called The Social Employee, by Cheryl and Mark Burgess. I read it in one weekend. It said that if we were to really transform a brand to be outside-in and put the customer at the center, we must have our employees understand that we are all brand stewards. So, after I read that book, I phoned Jill Rowley, and together we developed a series of social training sessions. Fast-forward, we went from the 30 users to close to 2,000 employees who are actively engaged in social media. We made it very easy for them. Whenever we put out an announcement, we sent out a whole series of canned tweets that our employees can cut and paste or edit. We’ve tried to take away the fear. Our social policy is simply:  at all times, use your best judgment. There are no other rules. We refined it a bit over time, and you can read the details in an article about our social transformation in the MIT Sloan Management Review.

What were the most productive digital initiatives?

I can point to all three main digital pillars as being productive. Identifying the key words and phrases our customers uses at the Zero Moment of Truth saw an initial 30% increase in our ranking and positioning on Google search. The complete redesign of our web site based on Voice of Customer tripled the number of visitors at launch in October 2014. Using social and hashtags for key events such as trade shows and the football World Cup 2014 improved our brand awareness.

What’s one of the more exciting developments in the world of B2B digital marketing that has captured your interest?

Without doubt, the science behind ZMOT and the recent emergence of a sub-section, which is Micro Moments of Truth. These are the new battleground for brands.

I know you are an avid consumer of business books and media. Anything from your reading list these days that you’d recommend? 

  1. B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results, by yourself. [Thanks, Martyn!] Speaks to the underpinning of all good marketing, and a topic that is much hyped but rarely explained.
  2. Think Big, Act Bigger, by Jeffrey Hayzlett, who dares readers to own who they are as a leader or company, define where they want to go, and fearlessly do what it takes to get there—caring less about conventional wisdom, re-framing limitations, and steamrolling obstacles as they go.
  3. The Brand Flip: Why Customers Now Run Companies and How to Profit From It. Marty Neumeier shows you how to make the leap from a company-driven past to the consumer-driven future. You’ll learn how to flip your brand from offering products to offering meaning, a topic very dear to my heart.
  4. The Second Curve: Thoughts on Reinventing Society. Charles Handy looks at current trends in capitalism and asks whether it is a sustainable system. He explores the dangers of a society built on credit. He challenges the myth that remorseless growth is essential. He even asks whether we should rethink our roles in life—as students, parents, workers and voters—and what the aims of an ideal society should be. Very thought provoking.

Ruth Stevens

Ruth Stevens advises clients on customer acquisition and retention. Ruth serves on the boards of directors of the HIMMS Media Group, and the Business Information Industry Association. She is a trustee of Princeton-In-Asia, past chair of the Business-to-Business Council of the DMA, and past president of the Direct Marketing Club of New York. Ruth was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Business Marketing by Crain’s BtoB magazine, and one of 20 Women to Watch by the Sales Lead Management Association. She serves as a mentor to fledgling companies at the business accelerator in New York City. Ruth is an author and contributor to many notable business publications. Her books include B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results and Maximizing Lead Generation: The Complete Guide for B2B Marketers, Trade Show and Event Marketing, and co-author of the white paper series “B-to-B Database Marketing.” Ruth is a sought-after speaker and trainer, and has presented to audiences and business schools in Asia, Australia, and Latin America. She has held senior marketing positions at Time Warner, Ziff Davis, and IBM.

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