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Disrupt or be disrupted

by Sarah McShane, US Business Development

Three ways to shift the way B2B brands handle change.

Technology disruption was the hot topic at ClickZ’s Shift event in San Francisco, where several keynotes and roundtable discussions focused on the role of change. One overarching theme of the conference was “Future Proofing,” and the increasingly important process of anticipating innovation and developing methods to minimize the effects of disruption on modern organizations. While April Six is focused on supporting brands in the technology space, future-proofing is relevant to industries across both B2B and B2C categories.
Along with my fellow Shift attendees, I was reminded that the falling costs of new technologies allow for faster advances in many industries—marketing tech included. Disruptive technology is the multiplier that has already driven advancements in artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and drones across a range of industries and applications. It’s an exciting time to be a marketer—or a human, for that matter!
While each speaker offered slightly different ideas on how future-proofing could be integrated across real-world organizations, all agreed that in order to stay relevant in their industries, marketers must be able to rapidly pivot to embrace new approaches. Organizations large and small must be enabled to meet the demands of change head-on. No brand wants to be the next Blockbuster by waiting too long to meet the challenges of disruption. In recent months, we’ve seen behemoths from Walmart to Microsoft evolving either through acquisitions or new product offerings.
Here are three takeaways from the Shift event that can help ensure that your business is staying relevant and responsive to the needs of today’s disruptive age:

1) Know Your Customer

Disruptive solutions are redefining the way marketers are learning about their customers and what makes them tick, their pain points and their data-consumption patterns. According to Google Analytics Advocate Adam Singer, “If used properly, data should allow you to get closer to your customers.” In the rush to focus on the minute and meaningful details of campaign-level data, marketers sometimes forget that the understanding customer actions and motivations is the key.
As Kevin Krone, former CMO at Southwest Airlines, stressed during his keynote, customer data is a brand’s most important asset. You must know how your customers are interacting with your brand so you can truly understand what’s important to them. Only then can you create products and UX experiences that meet their real needs.
A few basic ways of continuing this learning includes keeping a close eye on your Google Analytics, utilizing behavioral analytics tools and social media listening tools that listen to what people are saying online about your brand.
Finally, B2B marketers should never underestimate impact of setting up quarterly interviews with your sales team. They are the people within your organization that have the most direct contact with your customer and should not be overlooked.

2) Personalize Your Story

Capturing the mindset of your audience means serving-up relevant messages at the right times. This could involve website personalization, ABM-based email and online advertising, or highly targeted sales-accelerator materials like white papers, case studies and blog posts. Additionally, the rise of social media has led to greater use of content marketing, which allows B2B brands to be publishers, as well as advertisers.
Think of your relationship with current and prospective customers as one, continuous journey. A growing share of B2B marketers understand that becoming a source of helpful and thoughtful insights will ensure that your brand stays top-of-mind. The ability to share relevant, engaging and personalized content can help ensure customer loyalty.

3) Change from Within

While customers are the end goal of a disruptive culture, the members of your brand’s leadership and internal teams are the real facilitators of change. Several Shift attendees addressed growing resistance to disruption, typically among the C-Suite and within senior levels of many organizations. Simply stated, change needs to begin at the top, which is why new roles—such as Chief Transformational Officer—have been created to fill the gaps and manage the issues that emerging technology is creating.
Short of hiring your own CTO, the key to managing change openly and efficiently is a collaborative, shared vision. As McKesson’s Rohit Parbhakar stated, “Startups have disrupted big business because of the realization that collaboration across the company is imperative.”
This also means that organizations should encourage activities that inspire and nurture employee knowledge at all levels. Encourage teams to continue learning by attending events, taking continuing education courses or keeping-up with technology blogs and publications. We’ve instituted “TED Talks Tuesday” at April Six to share new ideas and thinking. It’s a great way to break up the week with a helpful dose of inspiration.
In business, as in life, things change quickly. In the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Planning is everything, the plan is nothing.” Agility and quickly learning from your mistakes is key to staying relevant to your audience—and responsive to its continuously evolving needs.