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ABM Is Old Is New Again

On August 8, 2018, I attended The #FlipMyFunnel B2B Sales and Marketing Conference on Account-based Marketing (ABM). The theme this year is ‘Humanizing B2B’. I’ve been to my share of work-related conferences, and always enjoy them. I come home with a notebook filled with notes, scribbles, ideas, questions, and a fresh batch of new people to follow on Twitter and some new LinkedIn connections.


This conference was a bit different for me. I’m new* to the ABM (ABE? ABx? AB?) game, so I was hoping to get a broad overview, learn who some of the practitioners are, and walk away with some specific tactics I could go implement. I batted thee for three!


Kicking It Off: Using Authenticity to Define ABM

SangramVajre (@sangramvajre) keynoted the morning session, helping us focus on a word: authenticity. He reminded us that even though we have the tools to scale, it doesn’t mean that we dehumanize the approach to marketing. This reminds me of one of my early favorite blogs back in the day, Scalable Intimacy, by Mike Troiano. (@MikeTrap) The URL now redirects to his Medium page.  And Sangram pushed forth a (perhaps uncomfortable) notion: In B2B, the value of Marketing is defined by Sales.

This left me thinking a little bit all day.

Walking The ABM Walk

The next session I attended from Lindsay Becker (@Lindsay_JBecker) and Lisa DeDonato from LogMeIn. They shared their “not perfect, not done, but working” approach to implementing ABM. What I liked was that it was real (or, authentic?): they weren’t on a pedestal, proselytizing. In fact, they even took a step back from their initial implementation to re-group and give it a second go.


ABM Tactics

Catina Martinez shared her company’s journey with ABM, and even gave us some great nuggets in the slides (below). What I like about this is that it’s a classic nurture path/journey, but it’s the human approach to ABM.  There’s a specific element related to the targeted people in the targeted accounts.

ABM journey tactic - 1 of 2

ABM journey tactic - 2 of 2

Marketing Trends (as defined by LinkedIn) That Can Relate to ABM

Next up, Peter Weinberg (with a stand-out LinkedIn profile description, I must say) shared four trends that he (they) see at LinkedIn as it relates to the ABM space. I was skeptical of this presentation, because I thought it was going to be a sales pitch, and I thought it was going to be a re-hash of data we all knew. I was delighted to be wrong on both accounts.

Peter shared some really insightful … insights … with the crowd. He talked about the free (read: not a pitch) LinkedIn pixel companies can use on their site to validate if the personas they are targeting are indeed the ones they are reaching.  He talked about hyper-personalization, and gave an excellent Netflix example (likely not the one you are thinking, if you think, ‘Oh, I know they have an algorithm.’). Next, he talked about how creating ads (ok, so kind of a pitch) directly correlates to content visibility and consumption. And he spoke about this in two ways: through signaling, and through an AI-driven tool to ‘de-construct’ your eBook (as en example) to create thousands (yes, thousands) of ads in a mere 10 seconds.

Finally, he closed with a point I’ve been shouting for a long time – it was great for me personally to see LinkedIn validate this: don’t just target the CxO or VP of __ in an organization. Individual contributors play a far greater role in the purchase decision of technology. They might not sign the check, but they often are the ones bringing ideas to senior managers, and are part and parcel in the decision process.

ABM - making your ebook machine readable

ABM - the role of individual contributors

ABM - more on individual contributors

Marketo’s Not-So-Secret ABM (and LBM?) Secrets

Mike Madden (@mike_p_madden) walked us through how Marketo themselves use ABM. One slide I found particularly interesting in Mike’s presentation were how heavily they factor in the account score when looking at MQL (seemingly incongruous, when you’re talking ABM and LBM). This is where they inject the human element into a scoring model!  The other slide I liked was a pure tactic slide: what they do at different buying stages, as it relates to their behavior score. As in, what content they choose to use, based on the stage of the prospect.


ABM - marketo account score and behavior score

ABM - marketo content tactics by behavior score buying stage

Sales and Marketing, Always Feuding

After lunch, there was a Family Feud, pitting marketing against sales (can’t we all just get along?). Some good takes on tactics. I liked this a lot, because it got me to ‘test’ my own knowledge about some of the answers. And I wasn’t far off at all; meaning, some of this stuff, although packaged as ABM, is just good ol’ marketing sense. I also made a new friend, Mario Martinez, Jr., (@M_3jr) CEO and co-founder of Vengreso. We sat and traded notes and answers during the feud. It was good fun, and also a way to learn some new things.

ABM - Alan Belniak and Mario Martinez

ABM - the sales and marketing feud - #FlipMyFunnel


ABM ‘Tear-Downs’

Post-lunch and feud, the sessions were short and fast: 10-minute teardowns of a strategy or tactic or use case. I missed parts of some, as I was in transit between two different rooms. Here are some slides that stuck with me from the sessions I did attend.


Justin Keller (@justinkeller) shared an awesome tactic: social research happy hour. When trying to get intel on a prospect… – er, target – have some fun with it. Share a handful of names out to your team, and go do some classic internet sleuthing. And save it into a Google Doc or some other place than your CRM. Justin and team have a saying (paraphrased): ‘target research like this doesn’t age like wine, it ages like fish’ – so keep it fresh.

ABM - justin keller - social research happy hour

Ryan O’Hara (@ryohara) had the best tear-down of them all. Sadly, I took no pictures, because I was soaking it all in. He gave away three-plus tactical, usable, ‘go-do-this-now’ examples of ways to break through the noise. And, he shared results. If you follow Ryan on Twitter and ask nicely, I’ll be he’ll share the slides with you. That’s what I’m hoping.


Dave Gerhardt (@davegerhardt) didn’t directly ABM us. But he talked about the importance of brand. And in commoditized markets, a brand helps you stand out (and at times, it can be the only thing). The best part is that in a mere 10 minutes, he shared stories of why brand matters. And he shared a modern-day take on the ol’ “buyers do two-thirds of their research before visiting your site” – asking LinkedIn, then Twitter, then Facebook, then G2 Crowd, then … oh, and then going to your website. If your brand isn’t strong in all of those places, then you’re already at a disadvantage.  This was his closing slide, and the top line really hit home:

ABM - drift - brand - dave gerhardt

Wrapping Up

The final speakers offered some wisdom on what it takes to transform an LBM-driven organization to an ABM-(ABE? ABx? AB? I dunno)-driven organization. And there were some core lessons, but one powerful one is to get the team on board. It’s a mentality and mindset. That underpins a new culture – perhaps one of the hardest things to implement in a business, irrespective of ABM. And this slide was one of the last photos I took:

ABM - hire and fire for culture


Getting Smarter on ABM

I’m thrilled I got to attend the event. I learned a lot of new things, re-connected with old colleagues, met some new friends, and re-ignited my passion to do good marketing. And that’s the * above in my second paragraph. ABM may be a new-ish acronym, and some of the specific tactics are new-ish. But the approach is the framework of good marketing: right message, right offer, right value, right person, right time, right place. Automation plays a role, but relying on it too much makes marketing less human.


I’ve got some reading to do!

ABM - ABM for dummies book

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The Quest for Feedback and The Varying Rewards

I’ve been slowly installing Lutron Caseta wireless-activated dimmer switches and lamp dimmers in my house. I recently looked at the back page of the instructions and noted this:
Lutron Caseta - feedback for extended warranty - Subjectively Speaking

“Love Caseta Wireless dimmers? Have ideas for making them better? Tell us what you think and we’ll extend your warranty by one year. www.casetawireless.com/register.


We also recently got a new dishwasher.  When looking through the paperwork and manuals and such, I saw this:
Bosch Dishwasher - feedback via review for iPad - Subjectively Speaking
“An iPad for your thoughts. We’re giving away one iPad every quarter. Write your review and you’ll be entered for a chance to win. In the US, www.bosch-home.com/us/reviews.html

Two Sides of the Same Feedback Coin

In the first case, one company is asking you to invest in them. You’re likely an aficionado if you do. This isn’t a case of you simply telling them, “hey I bought your stuff” (though you are, by registering). By doing so, you’re doubling your warranty. And helping them make the product better by giving them what many companies desire: direct, end-consumer feedback. And for this, they aren’t sacrificing much in return (if they built a good product, then extending the warranty isn’t a huge outlay).

In the second case, one company is essentially trading positive words (or not, I guess) for them for a chance to win a fancy electronic device.  Most folks I know would like an iPad. And from what I’ve read, most Bosch dishwashers operate well and are generally considered good. So maybe it’s not a stretch to hope for/expect a positive review. In the end, a non-positive review is better than a negative review.

In each case, each company is seeking feedback on its products. And there’s a clear quid-pro-quo at play: you give us feedback, we’ll give you something you want. Although alike, the differences are stark.

“Help us Help You”

Lutron is seeking feedback on making the product better. Better for you if you are a repeat customer. Better for prospects and future customers because they are incorporating real user feedback, instead of guessing. And the reward? Well, it’ll be free to fix or replace a little while longer (via an extended warranty), and since Lutron Caseta devices are not cheap, this is nice.

“Help Us Help Us”

Bosch is seeking praise, and public praise at that. Yes, they are seeking a review, but let’s be clear here: they want a positive review, and their products can mostly earn them. So with a little bait, they increase their total review count, and ideally their total positive review count. All in the name of shiny, desirable, technology.

I know these are two different products and two different use cases. But the comparison is an interesting one.

What about you?  What do you think?

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Advertising With Only UGC: Is It The Right Strategy?

I recently visited McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary in West Palm Beach, Florida (map, link). It’s somewhat like a zoo, but it’s a little smaller and more intimate. The animals are privately owned, the hours are different, and you don’t roam on your own – you join predefined small tours.  It’s a great way to meet and see the animals up close and personally. We thought it was a great tour, as do most people on TripAdvisor, where we learned about them, via UGC-based advertising.

Advertising in Effect: Popularity Drives Visits

Speaking of TripAdvisor, you’d be hard-pressed to miss McCarthy’s if you’re in the area looking for something to do:
McCarthy's Animal Sanctuary - TripAdvisor Title - Advertising - subjectivelyspeaking
McCarthy's Animal Sanctuary TripAdvisor - Ratings Summary - Advertising - subjectivelyspeaking
Take that in for a moment: almost 1,950 ratings…  where only zero-point-six percent (0.6%) – twelve! – were neither ‘very good’ nor ‘excellent’.  Put another way, 99% (literally, not just figuratively) of the people leaving ratings rated it ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’, with a majority of just those two groups (96%) being ‘excellent’, TripAdvisor’s highest rating.
“Incredible!”  I thought.  I wondered how prominent that was in their advertising.  It turns out it’s their only form. Really.  The only one.

Eggs, Meet Basket

At the end of the tour, we were led into the (surprise!) gift shop. Purchases made there directly help and care for the animals (they are a non-profit 501-(c)-3-wildlife rehabilitation facility). While perusing, the tour guide thanked us for being such polite and respectful guests, encouraged us to help support the sanctuary through either direct donations, or through gift shop purchase, and then let us know that they’d really appreciate a review of us online, specifically at TripAdvisor.

No suggestion of Yelp! (5/5 stars, 59 reviews) , Google Reviews (4.9/5.0 rating, 78 reviews), or anywhere else.  They specifically and only suggested TripAdvisor.
“Trip Advisor is our only form, really, of advertising. We don’t spend any money anywhere else.”

– a paraphrase from our tour guide Brie (“as in the cheese” she said to us a few times)


 “Wow,” I thought. Nowhere else. They only relied on word-of-mouth and user-generated content, all on a third-party site over which they have no control. For zero dollars per year.

Now take that in for a moment…

A quick browser search didn’t show me any paid ads for ‘McCarthy’s Animal Sanctuary’. I don’t know if they are doing anything offline, like billboards, taxi signs, paper/flyer or other. For the time being, let’s take our guide’s statement as fact.

Balancing An Advertising Budget is Easy When It’s $0

They aren’t spending any money to advertise. They are politely asking patrons to review them online (and even handing out business card-like cards with a URL to remind them to go do so) specifically at TripAdvisor.  Doing so has netted them the number one thing to do in West Palm Beach when searching Trip Advisor.  And due to TripAdvisor’s SEO strength, it’s one of the first non-paid results that show up – see below, in this incognito search I performed for “things to do in West Palm Beach” – you’ll see McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary nestled among TripAdvisor’s Top 10 things:
McCarthy's Animal Sanctuary - Google Search - Advertising - subjectivelyspeaking

Is it wise to put all of your eggs in one basket? What if TripAdvisor was found running awry of a Google search update (let me be clear: I have no reason to think this; I’m postulating it for discussion only)?  What if TripAdvisor’s servers went down, or if TripAdvisor their business model?  Is this perhaps too much a reliance (100%, according to our guide) on a third-party entity?

Mitch Joel and others caution us to avoid building a business on rented land, since we ultimately can’t control what happens. But when you’re a non-profit business, you often have limited funding to spend on marketing in general, and advertising in specific. Furthermore, advertising might not be your strong suit.

Do you spend money on a whim, hoping it might work, and not entirely sure if you have a measurement plan in place to tell you? Or do you double-down on something that you know works?

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Advertising With Alternative Facts

You’ve likely seen the advertising for The Sleep Number Bed (made by Select Comfort). There are many forms of it: TV commercials, internet commercials, and even good ol’ fashioned billboards about the Sleep Number Bed.


Are You Lying Down For This (Advertising)?

In the advertising, they state that their major differentiator is that one can select a personal ‘sleep number’ or state of firmness, indicated by an integer between 0 and 100*. In the two-person bed models I’ve seen, the bed is split down the middle, permitting left and right sides to select a desired comfort level.


The bed is essentially 1-inch to 3-inch-thick, shaped, foam padding on top of an air mattress (see for yourself). The magic of the bed is selecting one’s sleep number from the remote, pictured here:

Advertising the Sleep Number remote - www.subjectivelyspeaking.net

(source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWp431wuhqQ )


With numbers in the advertisements like “45” and “65”, one would think that there are myriad options for firmness. Indeed the Wikipedia article for Select Comfort states, “The “sleep number” is a setting that adjusts the firmness of the mattress, adjusted by air pressure, with higher numbers (up to 100) denoting higher pressure and more firmness.”


It Depends on What The Definition of ‘Is’ Is

However, nowhere have I seen a sleep number that is not a multiple of five. That’s right – every number I’ve seen ends in a zero or a five. Through a modest amount of Internet searching, I was hard-pressed to confirm this, until I recently landed on a competitor’s site, NightAirBeds.com. In their comparison chart, they indeed cite that very fact:

Night Air Beds - Sleep Number Comparison Table in advertising - www.subjectivelyspeaking.net

Night Air Beds - Sleep Number Comparison Table in advertising - www.subjectivelyspeaking.net


And their last sentence is killer, and the crux of my post here: [NightAirBeds offers] 5 times the adjustability of a Sleep Number®* bed, which only adjusts in increments of 5.”


That’s right. Sleep Number beds are adjustable by increments of 5. From five to one hundred, with twenty steps in between. So why not make the Sleep Number settings one through twenty? My hypothesis is that by suggesting a large range (0 to 100), the perception of specificity lures the potential buyer (or even the actual buyer) into thinking they have more control.


That’s my * above. Yes, 0 to 100. But in multiples of 5. So… 20. Not 100.


An Alternative to 100 is 20 (at least in advertising)

In my eyes, it’s a messaging flaw. I understand the point of the advertising here (thus me researching it and writing it). But this borders on almost hoodwinking someone. This isn’t like buying a pack of gum, calling it ‘Cherry’ and then seeing in fine print “cherry-flavored (artificial)”. That’s disappointing, but it’s also a one-dollar purchase. These beds can retail for as much as $8,000. That’s a significant cash outlay to find out that one might not be getting what’s expected. Smart shoppers will do their due diligence, and know this going in. However, I find the ads a little misleading – enough to turn me off from considering it as a future mattress/”sleep surface” replacement.


What about you? Do you find this range adjustment to be misleading? Or do you simply chalk it up to a tactic, and move on?


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A Brand Misunderstanding – When Down Means Up

More than seven years ago, Target (the venerable US discount store retailer) rebranded its own store brand from simply Target to ‘up & up’. Along with the name change came a new graphic: the classic bulls’ eye has been replaced with an arrow, pointing up and to the right.


I like the unadorned, clean look. The font is minimal. It’s lower-case. The imagery is two-dimensional. The image itself is an arrow and not even a photograph. Take a look for yourself if you are not familiar:

Target's 'up & up' brand, on www.SubjectivelySpeaking.net


The interesting thing about this, though, is that it’s easy to turn around. This is from a box of tissues. It’d be easy to get this flipped around inside your house after someone grabs a few from the box. If that’s the case, you’d end up with this:

Target's 'up & up' logo, flipped 180 degrees

Target’s ‘up & up’ logo, flipped 180 degrees

Same image, rotated 180 degrees. But now the ‘up and up’ looks … different. It looks a lot like ‘down and down’ (or ‘dn & dn’). And I’ve got to think that wasn’t intentional, or even fully thought through.


Brand Attributes Associated With Up and Down

From a branding perspective, and more specifically, a brand attribute perspective, words I associate with ‘up & up’ include status, quality, movement, and trend. As in, I feel as if I’m on the up and up (or upward path) by using these branded items.


Thus, my concern with what this could convey when it appears as ‘dn & dn.’


You’d like to think that the Target team thought this through. Either they didn’t, or they did, and opted to not care. I don’t think it’s a major brand damager, but it certainly isn’t a positive thing.


What about you, readers? Have you seen this before? Do you know other examples of where a slight misinterpretation of an image or icon could have potentially negative side effects?

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