The other day an email came in from my friend Steve in NYC, who writes the Smoky Beast (weekly whisky reviews) blog with his wife, saying “we published our first interview with a bona fide master distiller.” Aside from reading the post, and additional whisky reviews, I thought to myself that I, too, know great people who are passionate about the same topic I am. And since I am a marketer I was obligated to steal Steve’s great idea.

I first became aware of Jerry Rackley on a Demand Metric webinar, where he was simply incredibly insightful (he’ll introduce himself below). After the webinar I reached out to Jerry, and to my joy, he responded. I’ve been following Jerry’s insights ever since, and was ecstatic when he recently referenced a blog post of mine on Demand Metric’s Analyst Perspectives Blog: Creationism Versus Evolution: A Branding Debate.

It was a no-brainer that I would reach out to Jerry Rackley to interview him on marketing. The following is a distillation of eight pages of our transcribed telephone conversation. A lot was left on the cutting room floor, but these nuggets of wisdom will inspire any marketer.

Who is Jerry Rackley?

I am the chief analyst for Demand Metric, which is a marketing advisory firm. In addition to that, in my free time, I get to be an adjunct faculty member in the marketing department at Oklahoma State University. I enjoy being in the classroom and working with students, and also really love being chief analyst and working with our members and clients on their marketing issues.

What do your marketing students need to understand today?

Some of the most interesting, rewarding marketing work is going on in small, hungry, lean companies where you don’t have the safety net of a large budget bank account to just run lots of experiments and try different things. Now you really have to figure out how to communicate, how to position, how to contribute and provide a return. If you don’t, the company can’t afford to have you. To me, that’s what I really try to make sure that my students understand.

How do you know your customer?

That’s the $64,000 question. Any effort of marketing, whether it’s content marketing or just any marketing, that doesn’t begin by asking, “Who is our audience?” or, “Who is this content for?” is destined to fail.

The problem is we marketers have all kinds of assumptions built in about our audience that we just don’t bother to back and check. Or we just think that we’re so smart that we don’t have to ask, we already know, because we’ve been doing this for a long time. We get in our own way. That makes it hard culturally to really do the things we should do to understand our audience.

The second thing that happens is that customers don’t reveal themselves as readily as they once did. If you look at any buying process, especially in the B2B world, the customers choose to remain hidden and self-educate much deeper in the buying process than they used to. They can do that because look at what marketers are doing: we’re putting all kinds of great content out there for potential customers to consume.

For those reasons, it takes a lot more effort to understand who our customers are, understand their preferences for communication, what sources of information do they trust, what biases they have. A lot of companies simply just choose not to take advantage of that knowledge either because they think they can’t or because they think it’s too difficult.

On content marketing.

A lot of companies buy into the notion of “we’ve got to be content marketers.” Great, do it. Then they just randomly start emitting content and they don’t necessarily think about what content is needed in each stage of the buying process. (1) What is needed in the need-phase when someone is just figuring out they need something? (2) What’s needed in the discovery-phase when they are actively out there looking for a solution?  And (3) what’s needed in the consideration-phase when they are trying to separate the wheat from the chaff?

Companies need to pay attention to the different kinds of content that customers are looking for in each phase.

In the Need-phase, third party content is always valued, so much more in this stage of the sales cycle. Peer input, analyst research and reviews are very much sought after. While marketers can’t directory author this type of content, they can create mechanisms and processes to facilitate its creation and capture. In terms of vendor content for this stage, things like eBooks, White Papers and educational webinars work well.

During Discovery the kind of content valued in this stage is still very light on promotional messaging, but heavy on being helpful! How-to guides and case studies are two examples of what works well. Both of these content types are very effective in video format.

Lastly, the Consideration-phase marks the point where the buyer stops expanding the list of possible solution vendors, and in fact begins narrowing the list. Content that is very helpful in this stage is anything that conveys critical success factors, user success (or horror) stories, content that effectively articulates differentiation as well as description and quantification of benefits.

Are there differences still between B2B and B2C marketing?

A lot of the principles of marketing apply across both, but B2C is still is about brand strength and awareness. B2B has a much stronger relationship component.

B2C players have very little chance of actually knowing their customers. When I say knowing them, I mean an actual real relationship and interaction like you and I are talking now. You know my name and I know your name and I know where you live and work and that kind of thing. That’s pretty unheard for the big B2C players. Yes, they’re going to know their customers demographically, but the bigger they are the less likely it is they’re going to have a real relationship. There are simply too many players between them and the consumer in the supply chain.

B2B on the other hand is an environment in which most of the time you actually know do your customer. You can have a face-to-face interaction, you have a relationship. While brand is still important—and brand is always going to be important—relationship strength can really overcome some brand weaknesses in the B2B realm.

That’s what a lot of B2B companies have figured out: we’re going to go establish relationships. We’re going to know customer needs better than anyone. We may not have the market-leading solution for each one of those needs, but we’re going to use all the influence we have through the relationship to secure business and serve the customer well. Many times, it does work very well as a strategy.

What excites you in marketing?

I think the thing that continues to excite me is when I see real genuine authentic creativity and pure marketing genius. We as consumers are subject to such a barrage of marketing messages, we kind of are numb. We see so many different messages in so many different forms from so many different places that we just kind of tune a lot of them out. When one actually gets through, when we allow one to penetrate our consciousness, that’s a pretty remarkable thing. I think that as marketers we all sit up and take notes. How did they do that? I think usually it’s because it was very clever, or in some cases their cleverness was exploiting an opportunity that was handed to them.

An example is the Super Bowl, the famous Oreo tweet that occurred during the Super Bowl. That was genius, but when you study it, it didn’t happen accidentally. I really admire the way that occurred. Oreo had a creative team on, I would call it, hot standby. These folks were sitting somewhere in kind of a war room during the Super Bowl. Of course, they were thinking social media, but they were ready and they understood there is a potential opportunity on a really big stage for us to do something. When they had the blackout, they put out that now famous tweet. It just skyrocketed in terms of the retweets. It was a huge success from a social media standpoint. I have no idea what it did to their revenues or their market share or anything else. It was brilliant, and they positioned themselves to do that.

Those kinds of things excite me. When I see someone who takes creative risks, and it’s very creative, I respect the fact that they’re not trying to serve up the same old thing that we’re used to seeing all the time.