5 Influential Marketers Share Top Lessons Learned in 2016

December 20, 2016

Marketing Lessons from 2016

At the end of every year, we have the curious habit of morphing into some sort of digital sooth sayer, making rampant predictions about the state of the industry and products to come. Marketing, of course, doesn’t exist in tidy time brackets and the evolutions and revelations of 2016 are part of the flow of change that always marks this industry. With that in mind, rather than looking forward to predictions, we chose to assemble a roundup of top marketers and ask them to share their biggest lessons learned from 2016.

So, let’s toast to the lessons of 2016 and keep them close at hand as we move one day at a time into the future of this ever-shifting industry.

Michael Brenner

CEO of Marketing Insider Group, co-author of the best-selling book The Content Formula

“I think the biggest marketing lesson from 2016 is that marketers are still throwing more good money after bad at advertising. CEOs are putting more pressure on CMOs to prove the ROI of marketing, even though most marketers admit that it is extremely difficult to show business results from advertising. Some research even suggests that advertising messages cause sales to decline.

Content marketing has emerged as a trackable way to demonstrate marketing ROI. Content marketing requires the cultural acceptance to create customer-focused content over the interruptions and promotion no one wants.

That's why 2016 was the year for marketers to put up or shut up. The brands who committed to creating valuable content and who focus on positive customer experiences will really start to separate themselves from the pack in 2017.”

Charlie Liang

Director of Marketing at Engagio

“Account-Based Marketing was the king of the marketing jungle in 2016. ABM reintroduced solid fundamentals of good marketing: a deep understanding of the ideal customer profile and an account-first approach. But because the target has been refined to the crème de la crème, there is a much smaller but more lucrative set of accounts to hunt. 

The new bar has been set for sales and marketing tactics in 2017: deep insights, tailored pitches for each persona within a target account, orchestration and team selling, and the technology stack to support all these processes.”

Scott Salkin

Founder and CEO, Allbound

“The Good: I think most would agree that 2016 has been the ‘Year of the Customer.’ It's been fun and refreshing to see people connected with people again, focusing on brand personality and relationships. To see marketing companies rather than just products and utilities, and a focus not only on logos and margins but on value and customer success. The subscription economy has been a huge part of this, and I think it'll only continue to grow in importance.

The Bad: There's no doubt that we are creating and consuming more data than ever, and the potential for turning that data into business intelligence is huge. Unfortunately, this year we learned that we really aren't very good at it yet. We've seen marketers tend to reach for results and focus on numbers rather than emotions, leading to paralysis by analysis. It's perhaps most evident, however, in the rise of Account-Based Marketing, which in many ways is a ‘back to basics’ focus on people rather than pipeline.

The Ugly: Two words, email cadences. And no, I'm not talking about the HTML messages that are at least somewhat eye-catching and admittedly are marketing to you. I'm talking about the overused, impersonal, semi-automated cadences that have become the "Vuvuzela" of the sales development rep (SDR) movement.” 

Shawn McKee

Head of Marketing at WebPT

“At WebPT, 2016 was all about better segmentation, particularly when it comes to our members. We focused a lot of energy into marketing our new product offerings to our 9000+ clinics that currently use our software. While one product launch was a hit, we stumbled over a billing product that launched last year because we needed better segmentation of our customer base. 

We looked at upsell the same way we had looked at new sales and figured out that there were a few key parameters that made our product successful for our customers. It's a great product, but that doesn't mean it was a great product for all members. We quickly shifted from selling our billing product to all members, to refining it by certain clinic sizes that had a knowledgeable biller on staff. Then, we saw the long implementation times and delays, as well as churn, drop significantly. 

The better you can segment, the happier your new (and current) customers will be.”

Renee Yeager

Founder and CEO, Yeager Marketing

“One thing I’ve found both surprising and interesting this year is just how ineffective traditional marketing messages have become. We’ve been talking about the fact that brands have to promote the benefits of their products more than capabilities for quite a while now. Based on what we’ve seen in 2016, benefit-oriented messages alone don't resonate as strongly as they once did. Brands need to be smarter and more creative at communicating and delivering those benefits in new and engaging ways.”

Personally, I love what has been happening in 2016 in regards to finally putting our money where our mouths have been as marketers. The quality over quantity message is moving full steam ahead, and that's a great thing for a space where so much waste in the name of scale has taken place. The biggest lesson for me came as a result of our Annual Marketing Maturity Report for 2016 where we once again saw some of the same things being said as 2015, but this time you truly got a sense for how much scrutiny of marketing spending is present. With today's technology, we're getting in front of more eyeballs, we're surrounding the buyer with automated messaging and still the response rates are going down. We're far into a maturity cycle for most leading organizations with marketing automation but the results haven't materialized. 

When you see digital marketers walk across the aisle to sales and actually ask for fewer target accounts and commit to fewer 'marketing qualified' leads in favor of quality, you know the automation message hasn't yielded the level of ROI expected. As a response, we see entire organizations collectively taking a deep breath as if to say, ‘finally.’ Thousands of leads are leading to layers and layers of operations just to get to the right conversations - in 2016 we finally applied the brakes.” 

When I read the responses from other marketers - who live their lives immersed in demand - also highlighting personalization, ABM, customer-focus and relationships, I see a welcome trend taking root that will define the next major phase of marketing best practices. The year 2016 has been truly a welcome change, a glimpse into what’s to come.

To continue to hear from marketing thought leaders on how to take what they've learned in 2016 and get the tips and tools to master effective strategies for 2017, subscribe to the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions blog.