Category Archives: digital marketing

AI and Intent


A thought that showed up this morning on a site called Flarrio. I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about artificial intelligence lately, especially in connection with digital commerce and, more specifically, the use of intent data to predict customer behavior.

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Customer Journeys and Content Planning — This is Now a Thing

mappingContent strategists are buying into the concept of Customer Journey Mapping as a tool for planning content authoring. Martha Reifer Johnston’s article, published this morning, is only the most recent example of this — and it’s a good read.

I approve and concur. I’ve been saying this for more than two years:

My intent, though, is not to position myself as a pundit or a digital marketing strategist — as much fun as those conversations are.

The long and short of it for me is this: No matter what new forms content takes; no matter how marketers slice, dice and personalize content; regardless of how you assess the future viability of long-form content…

…at the end of the day, somebody has to write words. That’s my craft. If Journey Mapping helps marketers decide what they need crafted and get those projects on the calendar, that’s a win for everybody.

Let’s talk about it.


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An Original Tool for Content Strategists

I’ve posted a couple times about the use of “Customer Journey Mapping” to guide content strategy – or at least to devise a practical plan to decide what content to generate. I first wrote about this in the fall of 2014. Since then, I’ve seen a number of Content Marketing pundits jump on board with this concept. It’s getting to be put up or shut up time.

The premise here is that customers follow fairly regular paths toward discovering your product and buying it. They often get lost along the way, and the challenge for your marketing and sales teams is to help them find their way to your solution. Customer Experience experts describe predictable “Moments of Truth” when prospects need a specific kind of information from you. Each of those Moments represents a need to create and deploy a specific kind of content to help clear away roadblocks to a conversion opportunity.

Thus, by mapping out this “Customer Journey” for your prospects, you also get a compelling plan of attack for filling out your library of essential Content Marketing materials.

I’ve been sharing this idea for more than a year now, and generally getting a warm response. The experts in the Content Marketing field have gravitated toward this idea, and I’ve begun to see various tools and templates being offered to help corporate content strategists implement the concept.

Long story short: I’ve downloaded a number of these tools, hoping to find one that might be helpful to the sorts of people who hire me to write white papers and blog posts. I have been really unimpressed with what I’ve seen. So I made one, and I’d like you to have it.

Here it is. Click the big, ostentatious, red button buttonto download Peter Dorfman’s Customer Journey Mapping Worksheet. A lot of Content Marketing consultants would force you to fill out a lead generation form to get a wicked cool gadget like this. But that’s not how I roll. (I hate gated content. Be honest…don’t you?)

I would, however, appreciate your feedback on it. And I’d love an opportunity to help you put it to work.

The big difference between this tool and the others I’ve seen is that mine is specifically intended to guide content creation and deployment. Because it isn’t enough to have defined Customer Personas and mapped out the stages in the sales cycle. If you’re even following along in this conversation, you probably know there’s more to Journey Mapping than that.

Once you know where the Moments of Truth are for each persona along the Journey, you can generate content that will be useful right then and there. What many Journey Mapping teams forget to ask, however, is how that content is going to reach the customer when he or she needs it. The decision on what content to create has to take into account which of your many Touch Points is in the best position to expose that content to the prospect. So it’s worth spending time up front listing those Touch Points and considering when and how they interact with the customer.

For each Persona, the tool invites you to consider:

  • The unique Journey associated with that Persona (usually a different path for each customer type);
  • Your company’s Messaging at each stage along that path;
  • Which company Touch Points interact with the customer at each stage;
  • The customer’s typical state of mind at each stage (which influences the tone of your communications at that point in the Journey);
  • The Buying Authority of the person you are likely to be influencing at each point in the Journey;
  • The Objections and Roadblocks to a purchase decision, or to your solution, and your optimal responses to each of these obstacles; and
  • Stakeholders who must be won over, including those in a position to approve a deal and those in a position to oppose it.

Knowing all of these specifics, you’re in a good position to take an inventory of your marketing content, matching specific pieces to specific Moments of Truth. You also can identify obvious gaps in your arsenal of content, and schedule resources to generate new content to close those gaps. And by considering who the Touch Points are at each stage of the Journey, you can decide how best to format content and who to train on its most effective use.

As I say…I would love to help you implement this Content Strategy approach. If you like what you see here but want some additional guidance, just let me know. If you would like me to work with your team to develop its Content Plan, I’d be glad to discuss that too.

If this method helps you identify content you need to develop and you need help generating it…voila! You’ve stumbled across my ulterior motive for offering this tool. Let’s talk.

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Partnering With Agile Marketing Teams

My years in technology adoption and implementation have led to lots of opportunities to help tech companies market what they build. But it isn’t always easy to predict what experiences will have the greatest value in a marketing context.

I have been involved at several points in my career in field implementation – most recently as a member of a series of “agile development” teams deploying enterprise software. The term “agile” describes a variety of methodologies implementers use to boost their chances of success in projects that stretch out over months or years, have lots of moving parts, and are subject to unforeseen changes and risk factors.

flyDevelopers have found that it is foolhardy to try to engineer a large-scale project from the beginning, anticipating everything that will happen to the tooling, the project team, the budget or even the business unit that commissioned the project. Agile teams embrace big objectives, but achieve them by tackling smaller projects in sequence, each delivering functionality that is a component of the Big Vision.

It occurred to me numerous times during agile development projects that this approach would map nicely to all sorts of business processes where the goals are lofty, the team members are interdependent, and lots of external factors can alter the terrain. Marketing, for instance.

Agile Marketing

Think about it. You want the dominant share of one or more carefully identified market segments. You want to seize that dominance and hold it indefinitely. That’s a big, complex, extended-term goal. On the way there, competitors, shifting customer preferences and product evolution will all converge to change not only the path to that objective but the objective itself.

At any given time, it makes the most sense not to be executing against last year’s macro strategy, but rather a continuously-refined micro strategy incorporating everything your marketing team has learned from the last several micro strategies.

In short, the agile concept makes eminently good sense for marketing, and it turns out that “Agile Marketing” is indeed a thing. In fact, it’s a big thing.

As a freelancer, I engage with marketing organizations every day, and I look for aspects of agility in client organizations. Agility makes it easier to manage a project that is a component of a larger strategy. It is always encouraging to see signs of it in a new client relationship.

An organization may signal its intention to achieve agility by adopting agile development terminology; it always remains to be seen how well the jargon matches up with the actual methodology, but it’s a “tell.”


Teams attempting to talk the talk often draw their terminology from a specific flavor of Agile called “Scrum.” Scrum buzzwords herein will be presented in boldface (to assure the reader that I am not just making these things up for effect).

fly4Like all agile approaches, Scrum tries to reduce the risks in big, complex undertakings by being very specific and concrete about requirements, and by decomposing big objectives into bite-size chunks – tasks and time intervals in which things are done. This approach gives the team lots of opportunities to stop and reflect on how well it is meeting its objectives, what each bit of work product contributes to the Big Vision, and even whether the Big Vision still makes sense.

A Scrum team maintains a master list of tasks and objectives called the Backlog. In software development, the tasks in the Backlog are directly related to building specific, required functional components of what will be the finished application.

Translated into marketing terms, the tasks will be related to specific lead generation goals, product launches, adoption of a marketing automation system, an event, or the release of marketing collateral or a web site.

A development team works its way through the Backlog; the team has a leader, but an individual from the business side (not a developer) owns the Backlog. That person, called the Product Owner, is responsible for making sure the tasks are accomplished and keeping the team and the Backlog aligned with the Big Vision of the business.

Whatever the marketing team decides to call this role, keeping the tactical marketing folks aligned with the CMO’s strategy is crucial.

It is useless, however, to build a Backlog and assign people tasks unless the tasks are drawn from a clear set of requirements. Product designers usually spawn requirements from User Stories – brief descriptions of desired functionality, envisioned from the point of view of a user. A User Story typically is expressed something like this: “As a Business Analyst, I need to generate Weekly Report X as an Excel CSV file, pulling data from Tables M, N and Q, without closing Microsoft Dynamics, by clicking a single button, and have that report available to all PC or Android users in Engineering.”

fly5Notice that the story includes an Actor (Business Analyst), an end product (Report X), timing, and various constraints and conditions. It is not much of a stretch to imagine marketing programs and deliverables in similar terms. Note also that in Scrum, several related User Stories may comprise a larger story, cleverly called an Epic.

Sprinting to “Done”

Tasks, User Stories and the Backlog all are units of scope. Projects are, of course, constrained by budget. The third essential unit of measure is time. Scrum segments projects into short, fixed-length units called Sprints, in which carefully defined portions of functionality will be built to completion. A Sprint typically is two weeks. The team will determine what product features it can reasonably expect to build in those two weeks, and set that as the scope of the Sprint. Complete means delivered – the scope of a Sprint generally includes new functionality the team can actually put in front of the Product Owner and users, tested and working.

This definition resolves a key issue both for software developers and marketing teams: How do we know when we’re “done” with a task or a project? “Done” is relatively easy to define in software; in marketing, an eBook can be objectively finished, but it may be harder to draw a line under the project of which it is a component. Still, agile methodology has advantages over other project management tools in marketing:

  • Participants get to enjoy the satisfaction of finishing something – of “winning small” – every couple of weeks.
  • Everything is time-boxed. Tasks are not allowed to sprawl, and once the duration of a Sprint is fixed, it can’t be changed. This goes for successes as well as failures. Small failures don’t balloon into disasters.

A Sprint isn’t just two weeks on a calendar. It is structured around four kinds of events:

  • Sprint Planning – Scope definition and assignment of tasks.
  • Daily Standup – The team meets daily, usually for 15 minutes in the morning, to address status. Daily standups often prevent the need for other ad hoc meetings. Each team member is asked:
    • What they did yesterday to move the Sprint objectives along;
    • What they plan to do today; and
    • What “blockers” might keep them from meeting the day’s objectives.
  • fly6Sprint Review – At the end of each Sprint, the team meets to demo or present (among themselves) anything that it completed during the Sprint, and to go over:
    • What items for the Sprint got done, and which ones didn’t.
    • What went well, what became a problem, and how they solved those problems.
    • What Backlog items remain.
    • What is likely to come up in planning for the next Sprint.
  • Sprint Retrospective – A meeting to assess the Scrum team and ways it can improve itself.

The term “agile marketing” may be new to a lot of managers. But applying techniques like Scrum to marketing makes sense, and a great deal has been written about it. Here are a few more links:

I look forward to engaging with agile teams, either to create work product for a single Sprint or as a outsource partner with an active (open- or closed-ended) role on an agile marketing team. If agile is your inclination, or even if you’re just curious about it, let’s talk.

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How NOT to spam someone on LinkedIn

Confession time: I’m a LinkedIn spammer. OK, not exactly. What I mean is, one of the ways in which I market my services is by sending messages to people with whom I share various Groups — people I don’t actually know. LinkedIn facilitates this, and the truth is that it’s an effective way to reach prospective clients, if it’s done considerately and with the requisite flair, and if the message you share has some actual relevance to the recipient. Actually, it’s worked out rather well.

But it is SO EASY TO SCREW THIS UP. I offer this message as a case in point.

spamIt arrived in my LinkedIn inbox. Needless to say, Andrea is a complete stranger. We’re both members of a group — probably one related to Digital Marketing. LinkedIn allows people who share a group to message one another if they opt into this. In its early days, LinkedIn was very squeamish about this kind of unsolicited contact, but the Groups feature has designed into it the recognition that people want to interact with peers with whom they have things in common. This was part of LinkedIn’s coming of age.

I’m happy to know Andrea wishes me well — she and the other attractive, mid-20ish female who sent me this exact same message earlier this week. I’m very curious whether women who are members of this group have been receiving this same message from handsome 25ish male Inside Sales Specialists at Consultant / Independent in the last week or so. Ladies?

Here are a few other things that made me cynical about this message (i.e., reasons I trashed it):

  • “I wanted to take a few minutes from you today.” Did you now? Aren’t you thoughtful.
  • “…’hosted’ video conferencing is changing real-time collaboration.” Mmm. Is it? Not mine, so far. Where have I been?
  • “(A) white paper that will tell you why this technology is spreading like wildfire.” Just what I need — a document that satisfies my burning desire to know the reason behind an irrelevant phenomenon I hadn’t noticed.
  • Free Download Link. Oh good. A link to click, from a complete stranger, with no affiliation, offering something I never asked for. Lemme at it!
  • “I hope you would find this interesting.” Setting aside the bizarre verb tense…thanks for sharing your hopes and dreams, pretty, young, inappropriately-familiar Andrea. Life can be so cruel.

I believe this last bit is supposed to be a “Call to Action” — the payoff you are supposed to use to cap off every selling letter or blog post. Here’s mine: By all means, look into social media groups or networks as ways to cultivate leads, if yours is the sort of product or service for which there is a realistic expectation of actual demand among your peers in those groups. But:

  • Approach people respectfully, and be 100% aboveboard about who you are and who you work for;
  • Understand that pandering to the recipient’s vanity is not going to get your message read;
  • Have something of practical value to offer, and understand that not everyone in the group has a reason to want it — this tactic only works with carefully targeted members (i.e., a group is not the same thing as a mass mailing list);
  • Do remember that the web is a snake pit, and clicking a link in an unsolicited message from a stranger is an act of faith. If you haven’t earned the recipient’s trust, even asking them to click is insulting his or her intelligence; and
  • Wind up your message with a compelling and reasonable request — for a live call, or a meeting, for instance — one that promises actual value to the reader.

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