By now, most marketers are familiar with the concept of modern marketing and the benefits of embracing technology and new approaches to meet organizational goals. But what if you’re stuck somewhere in between a traditional and a modern approach? How can you make the switch and what potholes lay ahead?

Stacey PiperIn today’s exclusive interview with Stacey Piper, Vice President of Federal Marketing at ICF International, shares with us her challenges and successes in bringing her team from the 90s to the modern era in their marketing practices. Here’s what she had to share with us:

Tell us a little about your role at ICF International.
ICF International is Fairfax-based professional services firm with nearly 5,000 employees and more than 60 offices worldwide. I’ve held various communications and marketing roles in the firm since 2001, when we were 500 people, $170 million dollars. Now, I lead ICF International’s Federal Marketing efforts.

My understanding of sales, marketing strategy, emerging technologies, and the federal procurement process uniquely qualifies me to inspire innovation in marketing that will have measurable impact on clients and drive revenue growth. My responsibilities include business analytics and market insights to shape strategic business decisions; consulting on brand identity and marketing investments; and delivering actionable public sector marketing campaigns and capture support strategies.

To do this I manage a team of marketing professionals and help build capacity for digital and content marketing across the entire Corporate Marketing and Communications department. My background in advertising sales and as an adjunct professor propelled me into becoming an internal trainer for our business development approach at ICF. This responsibility leverages me to act as a connector across the various divisions of the company as I meet and teach hundreds of ICF employees skills to help them identify and develop client needs so that ICF can align to meet those needs explicitly. You can find examples of my training materials here.

As I understand it, you’ve been hard at work transitioning ICF’s marketing strategy from a more traditional approach to a content-centric and digital approach. What was the rational behind this move?
Yes!!! Making a shift over the past few years to digital marketing has been a feat and we aren’t yet done. It was one thing to get the firm to embrace, invest in rebuilding the website on a content management system (CMS), and build marketing infrastructure with customer relationship management (CRM) and email service provider (ESP). But we are still in test-and-learn mode and continue to evolve to more customer-centric approaches with our content and tactics.

The rationale is driven by a few things:

  1. ICF’s diversification into the commercial sector, shifting our marketing from a straight B2G marketing approach to build infrastructure to support cutting edge B2B marketing strategies.
  2. An intentional shift from company-centric messaging to customer-centric messaging.
  3. The emergence of new digital platforms and savvy consumers who are educating themselves virtually, outside of the traditional sales process.
  4. The desire for marketing to be more accountable and able to report on objectives (and quite frankly the interest and appetite from senior executives to see metrics and measurable outcomes).
  5. To provide a place for professional communicators and creatives to come and work on the projects that will help them build and hone their skills.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered throughout your journey towards a digital marketing strategy?
Corporate culture or appetite for change
has been a top barrier. No one in the company is asking for marketing to evolve. This is something we—modern marketers—are pushing for and driving ourselves – because of our passion for marketing and our commitment to engage with, and understand the behavior of, the customer to gain insights which could help marketing deliver value to the organization.

Not enough resources or not having the right skill sets in-house is a continual challenge. We train and develop our staff regularly, but also some of the shifts (toward digital/social and even “storytelling”) have caused us to need to augment the team and evolve the model, systems, and processes in order to  build capacity to do  modern marketing.

Systems and processes are a foundational obstacle. Not having the right systems in place causes many inefficiencies not only in campaign planning and implementation, but also in measurement and reporting. This makes it that much harder for us to demonstrate value and prove ROI. Workarounds require a lot of human intervention and manual processes and are not scalable for a company of our size.

What tools or resources have been most beneficial to you during this transition?
I gain the best insights and tangible proof points from the conversations I have with other marketers with whom I build relationships with in the field. I’ve found those partnerships to be invaluable and the first line of defense when I’m evaluating new tools and vendors.

READING! I devour blogs and books dealing with all things content, digital, customer engagement, and measurement. I don’t often return to them or reference them, but I skim them ALL and it helps me see issues and trends from all sides.

This 360 perspective facilitates my ability to apply innovation to my “as is” environment and talk about trends and payoffs in a way that internal stakeholders can understand and embrace. One book I enjoyed was Youtility by Jay Baer.

DOING! I eat my own dog food. What I’ve found most useful, professionally speaking, is to get in and use the various platforms that I’m intending to use as distribution channels in marketing campaigns. This lets me speak from first-hand knowledge and has earned me a reputation of being a quasi “expert” in emerging technologies by my peers in the firm You can follow my marketing  adventures on my blog.

Do you have any tips or advice for other marketers who may also be considering making the same move away from a traditional marketing approach?
Try not to focus on doing the best marketing, but focus on doing the marketing that the business needs. The marketing theory you learn about is often created “in a bubble” and won’t work exactly like that in every organization or with every target audience. Take what you can from marketing theories and apply it to your unique company culture, offerings, and unique target audiences. Make sure you control the conversation internally to focus less on programs and tactics and more on business goals and marketing objectives. Then prove that you can deliver. Find a few key internal champions who either “get it” or are willing to take a risk and run pilot programs. Use those success stories as proof points in your own internal marketing campaign to get other internal stakeholders to buy-in to the new strategies, methodologies, and tools.

I hear you’ll be making an appearance at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit as a panelist. What are you looking forward to most at the Mid-Atlantic Marketing Summit?
I went to the MAM summit for the first time last year and got SO MUCH out of it. I sourced new hires, learned new tools and methodologies, reconnected with old friends, and made new connections. For me, being at an event with my peers is reenergizing. I look forward to speaking with each of the attendees, sharing my experiences and answering questions. But most of all, I’m looking forward to hearing the coolest projects my peers are working on, what’s working well and what’s not, and what they’re excited about trying out when they get back to the real world.

Any final thoughts?
I like to think of the art and science of marketing as being similar to the real estate market. It shifts from a “buyers market” to a “sellers market” depending on industry, policy, economy, and technology. What worked well last week, month, quarter, year, won’t necessarily work well tomorrow. Stay abreast of what is happening outside your team, department, company, profession and infuse it with what is happening inside to create innovation that will help marketing drive growth in your organization.

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