Fireside Chat with Mitch Ratcliffe, Marketing Partner at Metaforce

Fireside Chat with Mitch Ratcliffe Marketing Expert at Metaforce
FIRESIDE
Fireside Chat with Mitch Ratcliffe Marketing Expert at Metaforce

Mitch Ratcliffe talks about how Sales Professionals should train themselves to master MarTech skills

Know My Team

Which personality trait has helped you excel as a Marketer?

Skepticism is essential for a good marketer. While they need to believe what they are communicating on behalf of a client, marketers cannot be too accepting of the assumptions a client brings to customer engagements. If we don’t apply active and constructive skepticism about client assumptions, agencies reinforce the client’s worst decisions. Being ready and willing to ask questions on behalf of the customer, about the benefits customers will get from the product or service, and the best way to simplify the customer’s journey will help refine the resulting story and sharpen campaign messaging.

How big is your Marketing team and what drives them to succeed in meeting small-term and long-term goals at Metaforce?

Metaforce takes the same approach it does with clients when building its own marketing programs. We assembled a team of partners and associates of seven and then eight to design, produce, and launch the company, each of us contributing across several areas.

For example, Co-Founder Allen Adamson, who previously was chairman of Landor, brought his branding expertise and years of management and organization-building experience that complements my entrepreneurial, editorial, technology development, and storytelling experience. David Camp, Allen’s Co-Founder, is an exemplary execution-focused former C-level leader who has launched products with Microsoft, Amazon, and his own startups. Together, we identified a set of work necessary to close our target number of clients each year, then outsourced some work while onboarding new partners to contribute creative assets, brand imagery, and a production cadence to make Metaforce a familiar name. Building on that, we use owned and earned media as the foundation of customer engagement and have never spent on paid media. We would encourage spending in targeted client campaigns when it makes sense, but the first step is making a direct connection with the customer and potential customers with your own story, straight from the heart.

People work with us for brands and causes they believe in because they have the experience to work at the senior level of any marketing organization. We’re building a movement, not a traditional agency, that provides exactly the right message to the customer at the right time, based on a clear, simple brand and design language. We bring the best people to solve the client’s challenge.

How tech-savvy have the Marketing, Sales and Branding teams been that you have worked with in your career? How do you rate them on a scale of 1-10?

There is a large enough sample in my background that I think of the ratings as distributed on a power curve, with very few high-performing teams at 10, assuming that is best, and the rest spread on a slightly declining curve from nine to one, where most teams fall. Microsoft has some great marketers and a lot of average ones, but the good ones are among the best I’ve known. For the most part, marketing teams tend to skew toward non-technical strengths, but in an era when new channels are appearing daily, it is essential to understand how technology modulates messages. The same message in one channel may not work in another because, for instance, there is no mechanism for answering a call-to-action in a voice interaction or on the dashboard screen of an auto navigation system.

Thinking past the UX we know, especially designing for interaction beyond the screen, is essential. Today we go mobile-first because mobile phones were the last big growth market. Today, Voice-assistance, In-car entertainment, and mapping, OOH, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality are evolving rapidly, and they don’t restrict the user’s world to a six-inch mobile screen.

How do you think young Sales Professionals should train themselves to master MarTech skills?

In addition to MarTech, learn higher maths to ensure you can understand and collaborate with analysts to improve the targeting of messages, optimizing interaction before, during, and after the sale to build a repeat and growing revenue. Math skills will help them keep up with Machine Learning and AI developments so that they can leverage these tools to make their skills more valuable. Learn MarTech and keep adding to your Mathematical knowledge. It is not necessary to be a savant, but now one must be able to think in models to understand what AI is doing, to the extent it can be understood.
Author David Weinberger’s new book, Everyday Chaos, encapsulates what marketers need to be prepared to embrace when he writes: “We are at the beginning of a great leap forward in our powers of understanding and managing the future: rather than always having to wrestle our world down to a size we can predict, control, and feel comfortable with, we are starting to build strategies that take our world’s complexity into account.” Thinking across multiple models is the well-spring of innovation.

What is Gig Economy and how should Marketing Professionals keep refining their strategies?

I’ve gigged for decades. But like other adoption curves, gig work is spread unevenly and has only entered common discourse since the cloud made the model scalable. In a nutshell, the gig economy is a local on-demand marketplace facilitated by logistics and customer experience software. We all think of Uber, which unfortunately focused on commodifying the worker, but the future of gig work is about differentiating our services and delivering them for a reasonable price, not the lowest price, that fits our need to earn or passion to work toward our clients’ goals – to join projects for a while, even as an FTE. There will be no Gig Economy, the organizational model itself is fracturing and realigning, making it more important that companies have the right team composition for each project. The era relying on one fixed team trying to do everything, but inevitably a part of their time is spent on the bench waiting for the next relevant project, is ending.

Think of the early online dating environment and how it blossomed from Match.com, which was one dating site for all, into myriad specialized dating sites and open markets like Tinder. These have changed the nature of dating, which has also become hooking-up and a group activity facilitated by software. Work is changing in similar ways.

B2B Marketing Strategy and Customer Acquisition Models

Tell us about your role at Metaforce and how you got here.

I am an early partner in the company responsible for technical and creative communications design. Throughout my career, I’ve worked at every level of the technical product stack, from explaining hardware and software to building it, organizing creative and Editorial teams using content management tools to deliver multi-channel experiences. My forte is process-solving, finding the most efficient way to deliver quality experience through text, graphics, video, aural, and information design.

David Camp and I are long-time friends and have worked together several times. When he and Allen started Metaforce, we began talking about a role and I joined late last year.

Are Marketing Technologies pushing the boundaries of present-day Brand Engagement and Customer Experience? How often do you measure the performance of your Marketing Analytics and Sales Reporting tools?

If you are not measuring in order to adjust resources, budgets, and messages, the tools will push you into a repetitive and unproductive direction. Metrics are not simply reporting thresholds, they are the feedback that makes a conversation with the customer possible. We need to be studying our customers with the same care given to a face-to-face conversation in order to be responsive to their needs and values.

Using technology today, we can customize messaging to address people personally. Eventually, we will address everyone personally and the “mass market” will become a thing of the past. Right now, marketers tend to ignore the “noise” that doesn’t fit into their campaign metrics, but I’ve worked on examples of AI-assisted content customization increasing sales rates by 60% – that noise is full of buying signs, objections, and other feedback that can be used to create an enduring relationship with customers.

What are the most critical Marketing Problems that need immediate actions?

We need to deal with privacy using realistic and fair policies that prevent the customer from feeling like they will be stripped of personal data like a hillside is stripped of coal. Unfortunately, the extractive thinking that got us into the climate crisis was applied to people on the Web, and the result is a depletion of trust, of the sense a company values the individual customer.

We also need to embrace transparency, so that companies share more information with customers to prove that their businesses align with people’s values. This is the flip-side of the privacy debate and is essential to the sense of accountability that builds trust in any relationship. Information asymmetries due to unequal access to information about a marketplace have created huge fortunes but at the cost of social trust. I spend a lot of time evangelizing openness about supply chain environmental impacts, for instance.

Why are the two important? When people can trust a company to keep their information private and use it only in service to them, they will share more information – in the form of future buying plans and the values they want to achieve with those purchases. When companies publicly disclose their CSR and environmental performance, they build confidence among consumers that they share common goals – when consumers can support a goal, such as reducing atmospheric CO2 or reducing the use of toxins in production processes, they will become customers. The circular economy will be viable when privacy and transparency are upgraded for our digital times.

How can technology help to solve these problems?

For the past 40 years, the internet has been adding to the volume of information we can access as individuals and organizations. Now, technology can help us filter out the dross and focus on what matters – in far greater detail than before. Experience is speciating, diverging into more specialized channels and exotic forms of interaction that allow us to be with customers, and for customers to tap into any company or service, an intimate partnership. Technology can provide automated contracts to extend trusted relationships into new channels, such as voice, AR, and VR that will allow more personalized interaction.

The next 10 years will be about rebuilding trust, which is shattered like a plate glass window and still shedding shards noisily onto the floor of history. We’re going to talk about this era for centuries.

What are the dynamic elements driving your B2B Customer Engagement model? How do you execute Engagement Economy vision, Strategy, Product and Corporate development at Metaforce?

Here’s the basic mechanism for engagement: Questions. Not statements, though they set the stage for questions, the give-and-take that characterized face-to-face interaction for millennia. Listening closely to prospective customers, customers, and former customers can be accomplished through a variety of channels, from email and a website to the new voice and virtual environments we’re building.

When we begin a branding or strategy project, we interview dozens of customers at every level of spend to understand what has captured their imagination and how they use the product or service to accomplish their goals. After that, we have a reliable map with which to start building relationships through different channels. Depending on the client’s goals, the limitations and future capabilities of each engagement channel, we design a go-to-market strategy and communication process for building relationships. We start with the message and express it through measurable interactions that help our client develop a trusted relationship with groups first, then individuals. We also coach the client’s sales and marketing teams about how to make the most of the digital engagements for campaigns and product feedback. Telling customers the story about how they changed a company is a powerful message that they are in charge of.

How does Metaforce help customers to choose a reliable partner in the age of disruption?

We rely on our hundreds of years of experience at the C-level and on hundreds of projects to perform a review similar to our customer engagement interview process: we identify the client’s strong suits and weaknesses, digging into how they work to connect them with the right technology partners or service providers. Our teams are built for the customer’s needs. We will provide services for the long-term or transfer the team to the client depending on what’s best for the client.

Marketing and Sales Alignment: Social Media and Content Marketing Strategies

What are the tools and strategies you use to create effective B2B content at Metaforce? Could you provide us a sneak peek into your MarTech Acceleration strategies?

Ideation and composition begin with the right data flows. We subscribe to feeds related to the customer’s industry and follow influential sources, competitors, and scientific writing that is shaping the industry. Each of these yields material that can engage customers. We either embed an editor in the organization or deliver content to support the client’s communication, but encourage internal use of the ideas we provide. At Microsoft, I worked on a project that removed a half-dozen layers of reviewers between an executive in charge of a product and the audience that ultimately consumed the executive messages. We used a blogging platform, nothing complicated, and equipped leadership to speak directly to the market.

Metaforce amplifies that human-sourcing with content management, distribution, metrics, and the appropriate advanced technology to make and build relationships. We don’t encourage a client to embrace advanced technology until we can show how it will cultivate a deeper customer engagement. Our special sauce is prepared from our collective experience for each client, not served cafeteria style.

What are the types of content (web and social) you prefer to read and retain/share in a day, week, month, and a quarter?

I read hundreds of sources across tech, peer-reviewed journals in cognitive and Social Science, MarTech, and the general press to keep up with what’s next. As a former journalist during the rise of the Net, my skepticism about the hype applied to any new technology verges on the jaded. So, I rely on reading the experience of marketers, coders, and business leaders who have used, for example, Augmented Reality in their business. Vendor content comes last in most cases.

Out of all marketing collateral, including the whitepaper, brochures, e-book, playbook, case studies, webinar, research reports, and infographics, which ones resonate the most with your customers?

All of these resonate under different circumstances at points along the customer journey. An infographic can catch attention and link to a whitepaper download offer. Our clients’ customers habits, per our market explorations during the launch phase, determines which we suggest they invest in.

Customer Success and Technology Insights

From a tactical standpoint, how often does your organization revisit the automation stack?

Every project. We have different stacks that we rely on, such as WordPress and its eco-system or Adobe Experience Manager and its supporting services, but always seek to integrate with what a client has used in the past unless it is so antiquated that it is unserviceable. Why that tenacious attention to the past? It’s where the client’s existing relationships are consolidated at the beginning of a project.

Tell us more about Verizon’s Customer Journey story and how Metaforce delivered its promises on Marketing Packaging, and Online Activation?

Every few years, Verizon customers come into the store to upgrade or buy a new phone. Often the customer will also need new accessories to work with their new device. From cases to screen protectors to car chargers and headphones. While they wait for their new phone to be configured customers often wander around the store. Research indicated that Verizon’s own private label accessory packaging and merchandising were extremely difficult to shop.  By strengthening packaging and merchandising communications and branding, Verizon was better able to capitalize on the key accessory buying opportunity that occurs when customers upgrade their phones.

How does the technology involved impact your customer building/partnership model?

We compose the team differently based on the existing technology and build for marketing outcomes with the appropriate technology. My concern is always to provide the client with a path forward to integrate new capabilities and channels as they emerge.

How do you see the technology you use impact the Customer Acquisition and Success Rate?

Well, it’s a combination of technology and message. The right tech delivering the right messages can transform sales and customer engagement. My favorite example of how to combine content and AI, which was developed by a startup I Co-Founded, Gig Economy Group, we identified the most effective language used by salespeople when sharing branded content and propagated those suggestions to the entire sales network. Salespeople are not forced to accept the suggested language, but the coaching resulted in the adoption of more effective messaging. And as each salesperson continued to develop their customer relationships, their good ideas are made available to other members of the organization.

Do you see Sales and Marketing Technologies unifying or evolving together to deliver higher ROI to CMOs?

Yes. Marketing without sales is just talking to an undefined audience. Sales, however, will be more automated and I think the challenge on that side of the equation will be delivering human touches when most appropriate.

What is that one piece of advice you received that you would like to pass on to the MarTech industry?

I’m a convinced adherent to David Weinberger, Doc Searls, Chris Locke, and Jim Sterne’s advice in The Cluetrain Manifesto: Markets are conversations. People talking to people in our economy and society in action. Machines will help optimize, but without the people, it’s all noise.

Tag a living person from the industry that you would like to read answers from, in our Fireside Chat:

Doc Searls (@dsearls) and David Weinberger (@dweinberger)

Thank You, Mitch, for answering all our questions. We hope to see you again at MTS, soon.

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