Three Legs of Marketing (circa 2019)

To build an effective marketing team, it probably helps to gain an informed perspective on the key functions and their activities. Establishing this perspective can be a challenge, given the rate of change in the digital era. So with all due humility, I offer up one view, summarized with this picture:

In the above view, marketers assess the competitive landscape to identify sources of differentiation, develop the story to make people aware of, and lay the path for them to convert into customers. For any customer journey enabled by software, the continuous optimization of this loop is a vital source of advantage. Imagine three legs of a relay, rather than a stool.

How does marketing run such a race? Here’s a simple breakdown of key activities along each leg:

Product marketers conventionally run the first leg, formulating strategic hypotheses informed by research and data. Continuing the metaphor, they hand off a “baton” of key messaging points to the story tellers, and feature requests to the development team.

Brand marketers traditionally communicate the story and design it for promotion across multiple mediums. A newer generation of these marketers creates experiences, such as free trial versions of games or SaaS apps. They hand off creative assets to what once were called performance or direct response marketers.

In the digital era, performance marketers have morphed into growth hackers, demand generators, conversion rate optimizers and their analytic ilk. Their experiments to drive adoption, or progress along the customer journey, fuel a rerun of the first leg. And so the modern marketing relay continues, in perpetuity.

If this picture holds, a profile of the modern CMO emerges. Agree? Have a different picture? Please share!

What’s changing marketing? And vice-versa?

A finance professor once suggested that the best way to make a lot of money, is to make an inefficient market more efficient. In simplified terms, an efficient market provides buyers with the information necessary to purchase with confidence. One way to repack the professor’s idea is to say that the best way to grow a market, is to reduce the risk of purchase for buyers.

Reducing purchase risk is second nature to marketers of consumer packaged goods (CPG). CPG vendors often grow markets by distributing free samples, and providing options to buy in small or large quantities. They earn their customer’s continued business early and often.

Marketers of software-as-a-service (SaaS) also strive to reduce purchase risk. They grow user adoption with free plans and free trials. They offer monthly subscriptions as an alternative to annual contracts. In essence, they also earn their customer’s continued business early and often.

Despite operating under very different conditions, CPG and SaaS companies thus pursue similar marketing strategies. They help customers confirm value before purchase, and enable customers to start with small commitments. In so doing, they make otherwise inefficient markets more efficient.

After 2010, I’ve sensed that companies, especially those with digital technology driven strategies, have increasingly sought marketing leaders with competencies found at the intersection of CPG and SaaS. The ideal CMO is expected to be:

  • Competitive strategist
  • Engaging story teller
  • ROI-focused hypothesis builder
  • Data-driven experimenter
  • Architect of customer journeys
  • Producer of customer experiences

The marketer described above blends the brand management rigor of CPG with the customer journey building savvy of SaaS. The challenge of attaining this ideal may explain much of the turmoil in marketing over the last decade.

Deconstructing CMO Turmoil

Marketers have been wringing their hands for years now about changes in marketing practice, digital skill gaps, and CMO job insecurity. Example: this recent AdWeek tweet sharing data on CMO tenure in various industries.

Much of current practice, at least in cloud-based services, revolves around iteratively building and optimizing an end-to-end journey, from discovery to conversion and retention. That often relies on tightly coupled teams collaborating continuously to improve the customer experience. Organizational silos and external resources make this far more difficult. Which begs the question… could the turmoil be correlated with how much a CMO relies on traditional advertising agencies? :-0.

The Steak… how to send Unbounce form fills to Segment with Zapier

Unbounce Segment Zapier curl

The Sizzle… how to make the complete customer journey available to every system in a marketing stack

While using to integrate multiple marketing systems, I noticed there was no pre-built way to bring in lead data from popular 3rd party landing page forms, such as Unbounce or GoToWebinar.

Online forum posts from late 2014 asked how to send Unbounce form fills to Segment, and how to make that user data available to Mixpanel. By January 2017, over 2 years later, those posts remained unresolved.

Why so hard? Rob Sobers outlines the challenges. It seems rooted in trying to send user data directly from a web form to Segment using client-side api calls – this gets messy when combined with interactive form validation.

After some exploration and tips from the Segment team, I figured out a relatively easy solution. Zapier webhooks can automatically send the same form fill data to Segment’s HTTP Tracking API without  coding.

Here’s how:

(1) For each Unbounce form submit, I create or update a lead record in my marketing stack by making Segment Identify and Track api calls, as illustrated by the following cURL’s:

curl -d '{"userId": "", "traits": {"email": "", "firstName": "ly4t2", "lastName": "wo4t2"}}' -H "Content-Type: application/json" -H "Authorization: Basic [SEGMENT_API_WRITE_KEY]"

curl -d '{"userId": "", "event": "Requested-test-offer-1"}' -H "Content-Type: application/json" -H "Authorization: Basic [SEGMENT_API_WRITE_KEY]"

(2) To make the above Identify and Track api calls with Zapier, I setup the following multi-step Zap:

Zapier Zap to Segment API
Zapier Zap with Unbounce trigger followed by several actions.

Zapier webhook to Segment Identify api
Zapier action calls Segment Identify api with userId and several traits. Note how Zapier sends the traits as nested json elements using a double-underscore syntax.

Filter to confirm prior step finished
Zapier filter waits for previous action to finish.

Webhook to Segment Track api
Zapier action calls Segment Track api with the above userId and an event name.

The above approach works equally well for any 3rd party web form that can trigger a Zapier Zap. In this way, I also send GoToWebinar registrations to Segment. All downstream Segment integrations get the same lead traits and events, including Mixpanel and Intercom, and I avoid creating data silos. It’s not quite “point and click”, but it is accessible to any marketer with a basic grasp of web programming concepts.

So there. Steak and sizzle.

Describing what I do

Tweet screen grab

Unusually strong and immediate reaction to my casual tweet this morning. Others must share my plight – we can’t describe what we do without under-playing the impact of this stuff we try to describe ;-).

This is an eye opener. Nice to feel some affirmation.

WordPress Planted Here


Today, I finally setup WordPress on my personal homepage and imported old posts from my dormant Blogger site. This has been on my to-do list for a long time, but marriage, home ownership and parenthood came along, among other things. So hear I am, quite a few years later!