Over the last several years, those of us here at nDash have met, conversed, and collaborated with some of the brightest minds in marketing. It recently dawned on us that, although these interactions have been a goldmine of knowledge for us personally, they did nothing for our audience. What a shame! Here to change that is our new series which we hope you’ll enjoy: Dumb Questions for Brilliant Marketers. Kicking off the series is our good friend Amahl Williams, VP of Smarketing at Pluris Marketing (see his full bio below). We’ll be chatting about data-driven marketing, sales-marketing alignment, obscure NFL punters, beating kids in video games, and so much more.
Every so often, we’ll be sharing an interview with a well-known marketing thought-leader. We’ll ask them a series of semi-intelligent questions, followed by some truly dumb ones. Hence the title. Enjoy!
Stephanie: Few would argue that marketing is increasingly becoming more data-driven. Do you see this trend reversing eventually? Will marketers get “data fatigue” and start to tune this out? As someone who lives and breathes data-driven marketing, we’re curious to know your thoughts.
Amahl: What people truly want is not data but the actionable insight derived from the data. Because there are north of 8000 platforms available to marketers now, they have access to all of the data that they’ve ever wanted. But, there are also more platforms available to them than they have both the time and budget to test. What’s getting tricky for marketers is knowing which platforms to test that will provide them with the intel needed for their marketing teams so that they can take that intel and wrap up all of the data to share with their supervisors and prove to them that the marketing budget is worth it.
Stephanie: So, do you see any changes in data collection?
Amahl: I think the Amazon Echo’s arrival is definitely going to change things. Devices like Echo are taking data to a new level, so much so that it’s creating a new channel.
Let me give you an example. My son touches all screens that he sees. He believes he should touch them all because of his interactions with his iPad and iPod. It’s very much like in that Steve Jobs movie where his daughter used the Mac, and Steve Jobs started doing epic Steve Jobs things just by looking at that movement that his daughter is doing. My son doesn’t know how to play with the toys any other way.
The aging market is tech-averse because of the interface of the platforms we’ve been brought up with. Brands think that if their audience loves them, they’ll go on Facebook and find them. And now, Alexa is going to take us to the next level and reach us in the car, where we spend a lot of time in our daily life.
Because our interactions are much more contextual now so, the way we gather data is changing. We are having a more genuine interaction with the platforms because our fear of doing something new dissipates when all we have to do is touch or talk to something. This also broadens our interactions into different spaces, so it’s more than just home or office; now, we can interact in transit.
Stephanie: Where does this leave us, the marketer, now?
Amahl: Well, because tech adoption will be driven by activity and behavior, if marketers are willing to pay a premium, they’ll now be able to have information about their potential customers while they’re commuting.
So now, and I am being a futurist here, you’ll be driving, and your mobile device won’t just know that you’re moving. It will also be able to recommend attractions along the way. For instance, it may ask, “Do you want a sandwich?” “Do you want something to drink?” “Do you want to catch a movie at 7?” But now, this is going to be appropriate and not creepy because it’s coming from someone we trust, who is Alexa.
And, as marketers, I know that we’re going to want to be able to tap into that data. So, to circle back to your first question, as marketers, it’s not that we have to become more data-driven. We need to know which platforms to use and which to leave off.
Stephanie: So, do you believe that the root cause of ineffective marketing is not a lack of actionable data but a lack of execution?
Amahl: Your marketing strategy should be informed by analytics, not data. Even with 8,000 marketing platforms, if people don’t know how to use them to actually improve their business, then what’s the point?
If there isn’t a defined process that allows a marketing team to deliver on time and to be successful, then the technology and data don’t even matter. The execution is the strategy, the strategy is the plan, and the lack of execution is a result. That result is either the tech not being embraced by the people or the process not being clearly defined and understood by the people who are using the tech.
If you buy tech first and then create a strategy, that’s never going to work. If you buy tech and then train people, but you still don’t have a process, that’s when you have this weird, “Hey, I don’t know what’s going on with my job, so I’m going to keep my options open,” type of atmosphere in the company.
What most companies don’t want to spend time on is the process. But you need to define the process. And after you define the process, then you can figure out where the human error will occur, and then you can figure out what tech you can utilize to automate that part of the strategy to avoid human error.
Stephanie: Do you have any tips for doing this?
Amahl: Business comes first: make more money. This comes by reducing the cost of the sales and marketing teams, so it’s important to know which types of people you need on those teams and what they should be doing, followed by what technology they are going to need in order to meet those deadlines and processes set in place. The strategy should be informing the business units on how to be successful; this way, the individual business units are not defining their own individual success because that just leads to chaos.
Stephanie: Which then leads us back to what “data-driven marketing” truly means.
Amahl: Exactly. On a granular level, it means that by removing human error, you never miss another delivery window, you get time back in your marketing months so that you can spend more time on being strategic, and it reduces your time to market.
Marketers are lacking actionable data because they’re not able to execute; their execution is not informed by a strategy. And then you end up spending that entire company meeting trying to agree on what that meeting is about. And that’s not savage.
Stephanie: Ah, yes, I have been in those. Those are awful.
Amahl: Yes. It hurts. It hurts so much.
Stephanie: So, who do you think least understands the role of marketing?
Stephanie: Not at all the answer I was expecting. Could you elaborate on that a bit more?
Amahl: Well, I wrote a blog about it. Ha. But really, it’s least understood by the marketer, and this is why. If you’re a marketer, then you truly understand how much budget you need, what squad you need to get it done, and what tech you need before going into any job. You earn the rite of passage in marketing through your planning and your presentation before entering any marketing position.
Stephanie: So if you’re going into a new marketing position before you even entertain the thought of taking over that marketing department, what should you be thinking of?
Amahl: The first time I inherited a marketing organization, I was given a budget with restraints and limitations and a lack of appetite to outsource certain things that we did until I proved the cost and scale model.
As a marketer, you need to be able to come in with a spreadsheet that outlines the next 24 to 36 months of what your dating life with that organization will look like. You should be able to talk about the strategy, what it’s informed by, and know who the folks are that are going to make it happen. If you’re a marketer and you don’t go in and say things like this, then you won’t be successful.
You should know what the company’s budget is before you start and if that budget is going to be able to accommodate your strategy. You need to know what victory looks like in that company and what resources you need in order to make it happen. And you need to know it ahead of time, before the interview, not after you are already in that company and have that role.
Stephanie: And once you’re in the company, what then?
Amahl: Document everything that you are doing within that marketing department so that when, for instance, someone comes to you and asks you for an interview, you can say, “This is what the next three years of our lives are going to be like together based on your organization and industry. Here’s what I can do, here’s what I can’t do, and here is how much it actually costs.” And then, when you come in, not only does your base rise, and you’re making much more money, but your quality of life in that organization rises.
So when I say that the role of marketers is least understood by marketers, I mean that we want to grow, we want to advance our overall careers. Still, sometimes we don’t always understand how to articulate that when we go into these organizations.
Stephanie: Got it. A lot of marketers, it seems, believe that the role of the marketer is most misunderstood by the CEO of the company.
Amahl: It’s not misunderstood by the CEO. The CEO is just looking at it through a different lens. The CEO wants to hear about the cost of sales and marketing going down and revenue going up. That’s not a miscommunication thing. That’s just the nature of business.
So when a marketer states that they “can’t get the budget,” it’s because they couldn’t define it. You need to be able to clearly articulate why you need that budget and how that budget’s cost is going to be justified by the CEO and CFO.
Stephanie: You’re quite active as a marketing mentor, particularly through your alma mater. You also hire your fair share of aspiring marketers. In your experience, how well are colleges and universities preparing students for the reality of modern marketing?
Amahl: American talent is predicated on apprenticeship, not from throwing someone a piece of curriculum and asking them to read a few chapters. I’ve noticed that not enough marketers are spending enough time on college campuses unless it directly benefits their resumes.
Now I’m not saying that I want to start a grassroots movement around making awesome marketers. Still, I’m saying that if the only time you go on campus is when it directly benefits you, you’re never going to find the talent that you’re looking for.
Stephanie: But let’s say a marketer isn’t able to spend time religiously on campus, vetting future marketers. What should they look for?
Amahl: I find that the best people in marketing typically do not have a degree in marketing or are classically trained in marketing. Their training is art – English, science, psychology, and sociology. I think that if marketers look at their resumes, they’ll realize that they’re not a marketer. They’re a marketing practitioner. Which then comes down to what makes up a marketer? And I believe that it’s someone that can write, in the King’s English, because as soon as you see that unintelligible sentence, that brand disappears. A marketer needs to be able to read, write, think, and do math because you have to be able to pull those budgets together.
And now for the Dumb Questions….
Stephanie: Who’s recently viewed your LinkedIn profile, and what the hell do they want?
Amahl: Oh man, how much shade do I want to throw at them? How do I choose? In the last 90 days, 648 people have looked at my profile. Someone wants a job, another was a teammate who wants my contact list, someone else is from my class and wants to go and get a beer, so he’s probably thinking of some way to throw shade at me, and this marketing expert probably saw my comment about the Women’s March – I’m very active about social activism, I don’t run or hide from that because of humanity.
Stephanie: Favorite movie that you’ve never watched?
Amahl: “Birth of a Nation.” I need to watch that. I’m going to lose some major cred if I don’t. But that’s some heavy content, like what day do you choose?
Stephanie: At what age is it okay to pummel your kids in video games?
Amahl: Birth. Listen, he’s got to learn.
Stephanie: Who’s your second favorite NFL punter of all time?
Amahl: The punter from the Giants is my first; he’s jacked. But I like the swag of the young man from Oakland, his name is Marquette King. But he needs to learn to use his inside voice; you’re on the team, but know your role.
Stephanie: What’s it like being the only person on LinkedIn with “Dragon Slayer” as a former title?
Amahl: Liberating. Titles are bullshit. I don’t think they’ve earned it. And I think that people are slave-ish to them for all of the wrong reasons. I took my title off my business card so that I could see how people treated me organically. I don’t want them treating me like something because they think they should be treating me that way. If my title is the only thing that draws you towards me, then I don’t know if I actually want you around.
Stephanie: I recently purchased www.amahlwilliams.com. Know anyone who might be interested?
Amahl: The haters. Final answer.
Bio: Amahl Williams has spent his career developing complex integrated marketing and business development programs for large retail, media, and telecom organizations. As Vice President of Business Development for Pluris Marketing, Amahl is responsible for sales and marketing processes at Pluris and helping our clients exceed their own marketing and sales goals. His latest thoughts on marketing, the struggle, and Boston sports teams can be found @itsamahlworld.