Cultivating Content from Customers


Content cultivation is the practice of collecting content from customers to use in ongoing marketing and customer nurturing.

When it comes to content marketing after the sale, you need focus on the issues that are important to current customers. What better source for this content than the customers themselves?

You may have heard the term user-generated content, referring to posts, videos and other content created by customers rather than brands. Content cultivation goes further than simply collecting social media posts. Marketers engaging in content cultivation actively pursue and share contributions from customers to create new marketing content or support ongoing marketing objectives.

See this article I contributed to Marketo’s blog for a description and examples:  How Content Cultivation can Reinvigorate Your Content Marketing Efforts

Here are a few other examples of content cultivation.

  • GoPro has practically built its brand on user-generated content, as the product is all about collecting and sharing video. The company invites customers to submit photos and videos for selection as the photo or video of the day.
  • Pley, a sharing economy startup for children’s toys, created an online community called PleyWorld in which subscribers can submit and vote on designs for LEGOs kits.
  • Contests and awards are another great way to solicit content from customers. In a B2B example, Totango invited its customers to nominate individuals and teams as customer success heroes. The company shared the video submissions for team awards and celebrated the winners at the Customer Success Summit.

Do you have examples of content cultivation you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment or send me an email. Thanks!

And if you’re interested in marketing for ongoing customer loyalty, join my Subscription Marketing group. I’ll share interesting resources and articles every couple of weeks.

[Image via Skitter Photo on]

How Would You Like That Content Served?

over easy
I did an interview recently with Roger Parker about the process of writing the Subscription Marketing book. During the Q and A session, one of the callers asked whether I had an audiobook version available.

In the immortal words of Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”

As a content marketer, I understand the importance of offering content in different forms. To reach a broad audience, you need to give people what they need in the format they want. Yet I’d neglected that practice for the book on which I had worked so hard.

(If you’re interested, here’s the link to the interview with Roger.)

So I’m focusing my blog efforts today beyond the written word.

Video Is Everywhere

No marketer can ignore video anymore. Video has qualities that make it particularly compelling in many business situations:

  • Video makes a human connection at scale. A video can seem personal even when you’re connecting with thousands of people.
  • It embodies the practice of “show rather than tell.” When it comes to helping customers find success quickly, it’s hard to beat video. Online courseware like Khan Academy attest to the power of video in teaching complex subjects.

Let’s Hear It For Audio

Audio also has a place in many content marketing plans, for several reasons:

  • It makes also a human connection: Unlike the printed word, audio has the intimacy of a human voice.
  • It works well for longer subjects: People who don’t have a lot of time to read longer works can listen to audiobooks and podcasts in the car or at the gym.
  • Audio podcasts ‘serialize’ well. Customers can easily subscribe to a podcast and automatically get the new content as it becomes available.

Practicing What I Preach

As the listener’s question highlights, I don’t always practice what I preach. As a writer first and foremost, I’m wedded to the printed word. But I vow to get better about using different media. And I’m going to start by repurposing content into different formats.

For example, I did a webinar for Totango back in May on Customer Retention Marketing. You can watch the video of it here:

And if you don’t have forty-one minutes to listen, I’ve turned it into a PDF ebook, which you can access by joining my subscription marketing group.

In addition, I turned the slides themselves into a presentation on Slideshare.

The bigger challenge for me, going forward, is taking content that originates in print and creating the other versions.

A Question for You, Blog Reader

Returning to the original question about audiobooks, what’s your personal take? If you’re have made it this far in this blog,  clearly you’re a reader. Do you also like to have books on audio for car trips or the gym? Would you listen to a business book like Subscription Marketing on audio?

Let me know by leaving a comment or dropping me a line at ajanzer [at]

Image Krzysztof Puszczyński

It’s Never Too Early to Start Planning for Customer Retention

Value nurturing sounds great, but first we need to prioritize lead generation.

Lead generation almost always takes priority over customer retention efforts. According to a recent study by Regalix Research, only about one in four B2B marketers plans for customer retention. The rest are simply too busy getting new leads.

I understand, really. Before you can worry about customer loyalty, you need the customers.

But neglecting customer nurturing at the outset can cost you dearly in the long run. The best metaphor I can think of is planning for retirement.

Why Customer Retention Planning is Like Retirement Planning
Compound Interest
It’s a truism of retirement savings that the earlier you start, the more savings you can accumulate. Start saving for retirement in your twenties, and you’ll be well ahead of those who don’t start until their thirties or forties, even if you’re putting away a relatively small amount each year.

This is true for two reasons:

  • First and foremost, there’s the magic of compounding interest over time. If you put away money in your twenties and then stop, you outperform those who don’t start until their thirties or later. Time is on your side.
  • Second, saving for retirement in your twenties establishes the habit of living on  a little less than you make. Even if that’s painful during when the income is low, the habit is powerful.

The same two arguments apply to planning for customer retention and customer loyalty. Whether you’re launching a new company, product or service, the time to start planning for ongoing customer loyalty is at the outset, not long after you have an established customer base.

Customer retention, like interest, is a compounding metric. Its impact grows over time.


The compounding impact of customer retention rates (without new customer acquisition)

If you’ve got 1,000 customers and a customer retention rate of 85 percent, at the end of four years you’ll be down to 522 of those original customers, while losing 15 percent of any new customers you acquire. If you can improve customer retention rates to 90 percent, then you’ll have 656 of those original customers after four years, and more of the new ones as well.

If those customers are loyal, they’ll not only keep coming back but they’ll refer your business to others. In other words, they’ll do lead generation work for you.

Embedding the Long-Term Perspective Into the Culture

Planning for retention from the start of a business or product establishes a culture of listening to and attending to customer needs from the outset.

In the early days of a company or a product, you have the most opportunity to engage with customers individually. Take the opportunity to build customer retention and loyalty strategies not just into marketing, but also into the corporate culture. When you start with a focus on the long-term customers, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of measuring success based on short-term metrics, such as new lead acquisitions or customers.

Don’t try to build long-term customer relationships using short-term metrics.

If you’re interested in the topic, download my free ebook on Customer Retention Marketing. And I welcome any thoughts or ideas you have on the topic.

Image: [cc] by

Using Customer Data: Don’t Be Creepy


Businesses have all kinds of data about customers. You can use that data in ways that demonstrate value to your customers, or that erode customer trust or creep people out. You decide.

As a previous blog described, campaigns that use customer data can help you reinforce the customer’s perception or realization of solution value.

But it’s a small step from personalizing messages to stalking the customer. To see how this can go wrong, let’s look at a few missteps.

Uber and the Ride of Glory

For all of Uber’s rapid success, it’s made a few mistakes along the way, including the company’s “Ride of Glory” blog that used customer data to analyze apparent casual hookups among its riders. I’d point you to the blog itself, but the company has wisely taken it down.

Uber’s data analysts defined the behaviors that demonstrated a casual hookup: someone catching a ride after 10pm on a Friday or Saturday, then picking up a second ride near the previous drop-off point between four and six hours later.

They then examined this behavior by city, by gender, and by date, and posted the results on its blog. Data analysts, no doubt, found it fascinating. Some Uber subscribers were less thrilled.

The blog was disconcerting for people who didn’t think about the fact that the company could profile personal behavior using the service. The company has since taken down the blog, but it dented the trust that is so essential for the service.

Shutterfly and the Awkward Congratulations

You know that awkward moment when you ask someone when the baby is due and they tell you they’re not pregnant? Shutterfly had a similar problem at scale when it congratulated a large number of customers on becoming parents.

(See the article on Slate.)

This campaign had two major problems:

First, Shutterfly meant to send the announcement only to customers who had recently ordered birth announcements. Instead, it accidentally sent the email to a larger list. That was a human failure. People who had no children, recent or otherwise, got the announcement. Some found it humorous, others not.

Second, pregnancy and childbirth are personal, emotional subjects. One misplaced email can strike a sour note with recipients. Using customer data to automatically interact with customers on sensitive subjects is risky. The data itself isn’t infallible, and one misstep can cost you a loyal customer for life.

Handle With Care

What can we learn from these examples, and how can you avoid similar problems when using data to nurture customer value?

  1. Examine your motives. Are you genuinely trying to demonstrate value to your customers? Or are you looking for broader industry recognition (perhaps the case with Uber) or trying to sell something (the Shutterfly example)? If your motives are entirely self-serving, customers will see through them and lose trust.
  1. Avoid anything related to sex or pregnancy data. It’s hard to imagine how sharing any data about customers’ sexual lives could go well, even if you try to anonymize the data. In fact, unless you’re in the healthcare business and following HIPAA privacy regulations, avoid sharing customer data related to healthcare.

In the subscription economy, the customer relationship is built on trust. Violate that trust at your own peril.

(Image by WinterSixFour on MorgueFile)

Disrupting Digital Business: A Book Review and Marketing Perspective

The word ‘disruptive’ is thrown around a lot lately. It made Forbes’ list of the 10 most overused startup buzzwords. But there’s a good reason for that.

Disruption is all around us. It’s better to acknowledge and embrace that fact (even at the risk of overusing buzzwords) than to ignore it and find yourself marginalized in a world that has changed right around you.

These are a few of the thoughts that went through my head on reading Disrupting Digital Business.


The Book

In Disrupting Digital Business, Ray Wang of Constellation Research describes various trends fueling business disruption. These include:

  • Transformation of business models: how disruptive businesses are shifting the grounds beneath established businesses
  • Data “exhaust” and the opportunities for creating contextual relationships based on the massive amounts of data we generate
  • Trust in an age of radical transparency
  • New technologies for digital cognition and augmented reality
  • Person-to-person networking and how it’s transforming economies of scale and changing marketing dynamics

As a marketer, I love the fact that the book frames all of these discussions in the context of making and keeping a brand promise. In an era of digital disruption, success goes to those companies who use disruptions to deliver a greater brand promise:

“When you keep your brand promise, you keep your value. You can keep your margins.”

Subscriptions, Disruption, and Marketing

It’s the sign of a good book that you find it rattling around in your head and coloring your thoughts after finishing it.  For example, I encountered this article by Tien Tzuo of Zuora in Fortune about why an MBA isn’t useful in today’s world, because of the changes wrought by the shift to the subscription economy. He says, “Right now we are going through a once-in-a-century transformation in business that is throwing out all the existing rules.”

Tzuo is speaking of MBA programs in this quote. But I’ve had similar thoughts about the practice of marketing. As business models change from selling things to selling subscriptions and memberships, marketers that don’t adapt their practices to match the revenue model risk becoming less and less relevant.

Looping back to Ray’s book, marketing has a critical role to play at this moment because the brand promise is essential in an age of digital disruption. In this evolving world, marketing is becoming more relevant, not less so. It’s imperative that marketing organizations stay in tune with the changes happening in the business.

All of these pieces should come together in interesting ways in Zuora’s upcoming Subscribed Conference in San Francisco next week. I’ll be there leading a panel on customer loyalty and super-users. Tien Tzuo, as the CEO of Zuora and a keynote speaker, will  share his thoughts on subscription models and their evolution. As another keynote speaker, Ray Wang will speak about disruption. And I can hardly wait to hear what everyone has to say.

In the mean time, I recommend that you read Ray’s book and start thinking about the ways that the grounds may be shifting in your own industry.


Getting Creative about Customer Retention Marketing

On Wednesday, May 13, I’ll be hosting a webinar on Creative Approaches to Retention Marketing.

webinar promoTo whet your appetite, here’s a sneak preview of a few of the topics:

  • Using video to add personality to customer communications
  • Why customer retention marketing campaigns is how you do Customer Success at scale.
  • How to go back in time and find loyal customers before they become customers

The webinar is hosted by Totango; register for it here.

We’ll leave ample time for questions and discussion, so please join in if you’re interested.

Using Data to Demonstrate Customer Success

Wow, I’ve walked the length of Japan.

Fitbit Japan

The team at Fitbit sent me that nugget of data recently, and it’s a great example of value nurturing using data.

Fitbit is all about collecting and sharing data. It reminds me if I’ve met my goal for each day and week. But the company goes further by proactively sharing my cumulative progress. Helpfully, it puts large numbers into a meaningful context, like the length of Japan. And the company invites me to share that success with others in my social networks.

Nurturing Customer Value with Data

Value nurturing is the practice of helping customers realize value from your solutions long after the sale. (See the previous blog, Value Nurturing: Marketing Meets the Subscription Economy.) It’s one thing to help people be successful with your solution. The next step is to help them understand the value of your solution by sharing data with them.

People use fitness tracking devices like the Fitbit to monitor and measure activities; that’s the functionality they expect from the device. But why do people want to monitor and measure their steps? Because they value exercise and want motivation to exercise more. Increased activity is the ultimate objective.

By showing me the data about how much I’ve walked, the Fitbit team is reinforcing this deeper value. It’s pointing out my own success, using data it collects.

This is a core value nurturing practice: helping people recognize the value of being a customer.

Consumer-based businesses use this strategy frequently. For example, every time I check out at a Safeway using my loyalty card, the cashier tells me in person how much I’ve saved. That reinforces the value of using that loyalty card – a subscription I pay for with my personal information.

Here’s the challenge for marketers: can you find ways to nurture your existing customers with data you’re already collecting? When people are having success with your solution, can you do the math for them and let them know how well they’re doing? Do you celebrate successes, even the small ones?

If you’re interested in additional value nurturing strategies, subscribe to my monthly newsletter.


The Customer Retention Marketing Opportunity

It’s time for marketers to give customer retention a little love.

According to the State of B2B Product Marketing 2015 report by Regalix Research, customer retention marketing comes in dead last in the list of B2B marketing activities. Only about one in four B2B marketers plan for customer retention.

Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 1.50.44 PM

Optimists like myself see this situation as a tremendous opportunity. Getting serious about customer retention marketing gives you the chance to jump ahead of your competitors and earn lasting loyalty from customers.

If customer retention marketing interests you, I’d invite you to join me in a webinar on May 13th titled Creative Approaches to Customer Retention Marketing. You can register for it here.

This will be the first in a series of webinars hosted by Totango with the speakers from its recent Customer Success Summit.

And if you have any creative customer retention strategies to share with me ahead of the webinar, get in touch. I’m always looking for more inspiring examples.

Value Nurturing: Marketing Meets the Subscription Economy


In the subscription economy, marketers must dedicate time and energy to nurturing their current customers.

If you sell using a subscription model, then your future revenues depend heavily on the success and loyalty of your current customers. The potential payback for marketing to those customers is huge.

It sounds both simple and obvious. Yet in many businesses, marketing practices remain unchanged while revenue models are shifting. Many marketers are so focused on generating leads that they don’t have cycles for their current customers. Some marketing teams abdicate responsibility for the customer relationship at the moment of the sale.

The Subscription Marketing Shift

The shift in revenue models requires a corresponding shift in marketing practices. Let’s look at how traditional, established marketing practices need to adjust as businesses shift to subscriptions:

  • Traditional: Dedicate most of the marketing budget to lead acquisition.
  • Subscription: Develop and implement strategies to nurture customers.
  • Traditional: Hand off prospects to Sales and, once they sign up, to Customer Success teams.
  • Subscription: Work with Customer Success teams to help new customers realize success quickly.
  • Traditional: Ask Sales or Customer Success teams for a list of customers to hit up for a customer success story.
  • Subscription: Create programs to proactively identify and nurture advocates and super-users in the customer base.
  • Traditional: Use customer success stories to pitch prospects on how great your solution is.
  • Subscription: Highlight the successes of your customers to other customers as well as potential clients.

Value Nurturing

These new practices span a wide range of marketing activities, from helping customers achieve success quickly to adding value outside of the solution itself. I’d suggest that they can be grouped together in an umbrella marketing category called Value Nurturing. Put simply:

Customer value nurturing is the practice of helping the customer realize value from your solution.

Value nurturing is the next logical step after lead nurturing:


I’ll be blogging more about value nurturing strategies in the weeks and months to come. My book on Subscription Marketing discusses strategies for value nurturing in detail.  If you’re interested in exploring these topics with me, be sure to sign up for my email list.

Image: Paweł Bukowski on StockSnapIO

Marketing Above the Noise: A Call to Reason and Strategy

popky2As soon as I read this statement, I knew I’d like the book:

“It’s time to move the discussion away from today’s latest hot marketing tools and tactics to what really counts: convincing customers to trust you with their business – not just once, but time and time again.”

That’s the voice of reason. More specifically it’s the voice of Linda Popky’s new book, Marketing Above the Noise. Linda makes that statement in the introduction, and proceeds to back it up in the pages that follow with detailed, common sense marketing wisdom based on experience. Well-thought-out examples illustrate every point.

In an age of growth-hacking, social media, SEO-optimization, gamification, and the marketing mantra of the week, how wonderful to put the fundamentals of marketing into perspective. (See this mind-boggling infographic about the marketing technology landscape from the Chief Marketing Technologist blog.) Nearly every day we face a new technology, channel or strategy.

Linda lays out the marketing fundamentals in her Dynamic Market Leverage Model. The model is a way of stepping through the fundamental tenets of successful marketing strategy and execution.

Customer Marketing (Value Nurturing) Is Part of the Strategy

Linda also touches on the topic that is near my own heart recently, which is marketing to your existing customers. Her words on this: “Your marketing should reinforce the wisdom of the customer’s choice.”

Overall, this is a comprehensive tour of effective marketing practices, incorporating the latest trends but not letting them distract the reader from long-term objectives. I’d highly recommend the book to anyone either starting anew in the field or ready to take their own practices to the next level. Marketers of all levels can find inspiration and guidance here.







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