For almost two years, I’ve been fortunate to co-host the Marketing Cloudcast (the marketing podcast from Salesforce) alongside Salesforce’s esteemed Director of Digital Marketing Insight, Joel Book.
You might know Joel from his excellent presentations at worldwide marketing conferences . . . or as president of the Katy Perry fan club, Indianapolis chapter.
After 40 years on the front lines of direct marketing and digital marketing, Joel will be retiring in July. While we as marketers will miss his presence in our earphones each week for the podcast, and his sessions at marketing events, I know his family can’t wait to spend time relaxing with him — and today I’m thrilled to share some of Joel’s top takeaways from his 40-year career as a marketer.
In this episode of the Cloudcast, we look back on Joel’s career, hear about the digital marketing growth he’s seen, and get his advice both for folks trying to break into the industry and those who want to take their career to the next level.
Ready for an episode full of Bookisms (our special word for Joel’s pithy insights)? Let’s learn from the path that took Joel from custom publications to digital marketing to Salesforce.
You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from my conversation with Joel.
1. To be a great marketer, you need a deep understanding of sales.
Joel studied marketing at the University of Illinois and his advisor, Dr. Jim Evans, encouraged his students to pursue internships, which led Joel to a position at a custom publications company in Wisconsin called Johnson Hill Press. They were in the business of producing magazines for individual companies, which you can think of as an early predecessor to content marketing.
The job had a strong impression on Joel: “It gave me first-hand exposure to the real world. I learned how to sell, I learned how to prepare a presentation, and I learned how to deliver that presentation to audiences across the country.”
Getting some sales experience — even if you don’t do it for years or even months — is key to becoming an effective marketer, because you need to grasp the processes salespeople use to close the deal.
2. All marketing is direct marketing.
Joel chose to focus on direct, in-house marketing teams throughout his entire career instead of working at agencies for multiple clients. “Looking back, I think that I made the right choice because the path that I chose was direct, and as we look at marketing today in this era of the connected customer who expects a personalized experience at every stage in the buying process, all marketing has become direct.”
That’s not to say that agencies and consultants can’t provide direct marketing services. But the more clients you have, the more you need to focus on providing a marketing experience that’s direct and personal, instead of average.
3. Use the public-speaking butterflies to your advantage.
Doing presentations internally and externally is a big part of most marketing roles. Joel says, “I don’t think you can be an effective speaker if you don’t have a little bit of nervousness before you go on stage, before you meet the audience, before you begin experiencing how they react to the content that you’re presenting.”
That touch of anxiety can help you focus and prepare extra hard, instead of going on autopilot.
4. Come to work every day thinking about how you can make something useful for your customers.
When it comes to how to prepare a stellar talk track, email marketing campaign, or editorial calendar, Joel has simple advice: be useful. “Being useful has been one of the biggest commitments that I’ve made, making sure that whatever I write, whatever I deliver from the stage is going to be content that is really useful.”
If you can put yourself in the seats of the people who are experiencing your company’s products and services every day, you know what you need to do to succeed.
5. Respect your customers’ data above all else.
When asked about the biggest lessons he’s learned over the course of his career, Joel was quick to respond: “The biggest mistake that any direct marketer can make is disrespecting the consumer with respect to that data that you’re asking him or her to provide.”
You can always go back and get more data if you need it, and these days you can also pull that information from other digital sources. But at the end of the day, Joel says, “The biggest lesson I learned in the early days of database marketing is that less is more.”
6. When asking for data, be clear about what you’re offering in return.
If you’re trying to get something from your audience — data or permission — you need to offer something valuable in return. These ideas are strongly and clearly laid out in Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, and the key is, “If you’re asking for information, you also have a big responsibility to use it to deliver content.”
Marketing to consumers is the digital age is based on respect. Sure, as Joel says, “every interaction, online and offline, must be personalized” — but if you’re going to ask for data to personalize experiences, you have to offer a valuable gift in return (like more convenient service, easier or faster communications, and special offers).
7. Become a lifelong apprentice of marketing.
When asked what new marketers need to succeed in their careers, Joel boils it down to two things: a passion for marketing and the ability to keep on learning.
Digital marketing skills change so much and aren’t taught in most universities. Joel has found that aspiring marketers need to “understand how to access different sources of information on all things digital and continually educate yourself. You can’t learn all at once; it has to be a continuing process.”
8. Step away from your desk and actually talk to customers.
“The best executives are the ones that get out of the office and talk to customers,” Joel says. He points to Salesforce Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff as someone who does this constantly. Marc is always meeting with his customers and asking: “Where are you at, and where do you want to go? What are the things you want to do in terms of acquiring customers that you can’t do today?”
As Joel describes it, that constant feedback helps Marc and other CEOs who follow this practice to understand real problems in the marketplace and how their own companies can solve them.
9. Focus on where your audience will be tomorrow, not only what they’re doing today.
Joel brings up a Wayne Gretzky quote on what makes a successful hockey player: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”
Great marketers have a vision for the future, not just best practices for the here and now. Consumer behavior and communication patterns have changed widely throughout Joel’s career and show no signs of stopping. So stay flexible as you plan for the future.
10. Remember that data represents people.
Joel explains, “It’s not just acquiring the data or managing the data; it’s how we make intelligent decisions and predict what types of interactions that we need to be having with the consumer that are based on that data.”
Data represents actual people and their behavior, and there’s more to data than the quantitative stuff. For example, customer feedback and their qualitative opinions of your brand matter, too. Data doesn’t help you if you don’t use it to drive meaningful insights about the people who use your products and services every day, so don’t lose sight of those individuals as you prepare spreadsheets and slide decks.
11. Get more juice for the squeeze.
The typical marketing budget is probably going to be spent on 75% digital tactics (instead of traditional, like print and TV) by 2021. With that in mind, Joel’s advice is this: “Marketing in the era of the connected customer is all about those strategies and tactics that give you the most juice for the squeeze because, at the end of the day, it all comes down to ROI. Marketing today moves at the speed of click.”
With marketing moving so quickly, all of us in the trenches of marketing need to do more with less. For example, turn your highest-performing blog posts into an e-book. Let your email subject lines guide your messaging on social media. Figure out how to reap more rewards from every marketing action, so that you have more time to focus on the customer and improving their overall experience.
12. When you’re not working, truly stop working.
After 40 years on the job, I trust Joel’s opinion on work/life balance. And he says: “For me, the key to a good work-life balance is being able to find the off switch. I don’t think you can be as good on the job if you’re not equally good off the job.”
No matter who you are or what your goals may be, Joel says you need that time to unplug and time to recharge. So instead of checking your email every hour on the weekend or answering Slack messages on vacation, take the steps necessary to actually put some distance between yourself and work. Then come back recharged and ready to do it all over again.
We’ll miss Joel dearly. But you’ll still be able to find him on Twitter (@joelbook) and LinkedIn.
So what’s next for the Cloudcast?
With Joel moving on to greener pastures, changes to the show are coming next week, starting on June 28. We’ll be exploring new formats comprising different segments and featuring multiple experts on each episode. So instead of one marketer per show, you’ll hear the best insights from 2 or 3, as we research a given subject! If you have feedback on what you’d like to hear, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to @youngheike on Twitter.
Join the thousands of smart marketers who already subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Google Play Music, and Stitcher.