Gina Balarin is a Marketing Director, Content Strategist and Speaker who loves combining content-centric lead generation campaigns with practical strategies and imaginative tactics to showcase technologies that make people’s lives easier. 

Claire Trévien: You’ve worked in marketing for more than 13 years now, what is the biggest change you’ve noticed in the business of marketing?

Gina Balarin: The availability of marketing technology and the automation of marketing activities is definitely the biggest change. I remember the first time I sent out an email that was personally addressed to an individual, many years ago – it was amazing! Now we take it for granted. We can automate email sends, social media scheduling, and information gathering on a huge scale. But automation is just part of a very big change that marketing has seen: the vast increase in the amount of information available to consumers, and how it is shared. 

When I first started, social media wasn’t even imaginable, now it’s ubiquitous. Information sharing has forced marketing to become more accessible: in terms of the information we share and how accessible the language is that we use in campaigns. Marketing used to be about bamboozling people. Now it’s about making messages simple, easy to understand, and super-relevant for your target audience. Lastly, let’s not forget that information and automation have given marketers control of their data and the ability to see the results of their actions in a way that wasn’t previously possible. I do think that now is the best time in history to be marketing, though. That’s why the first draft of my TEDx talk actually had this phrase as its title!

CT: In your TEDx talk you say that the only way for marketers to survive is to become noise that people want to listen to. What’s your top tip to achieving this?

GB: Start with your product and your people (by ‘people’, I mean your employees as well as your target audience). The very nature of our work forces us, as marketers, to be a bit obsessive about what we do: our products, our services etc. What we mustn’t forget is that our customers and our employees should be our starting point: without them, whatever we try to sell is valueless. Our messages, campaigns and activities have to be focused on the problems we solve for our customers, with the help of our employees. We need to speak the way our customers speak, use their language, identify with their problems – almost ‘read their minds’. Content marketing has to be super-focused on helping our customers in a way that they WANT to be helped. How do we do this? Find out everything we possibly can about our customers. Be more aligned with salespeople and product people. Force our way into technical meetings. Ask questions – listen, listen and listen more. Then, when we talk, we’ll be saying things that people want to hear.

CT: Authenticity was the theme of that talk – why is this so important for marketers today?

GB: Today it’s too easy to be discovered as a fraud, if you lie. The internet, social media, and the ability to share word of mouth on an unprecedented scale mean that secrets don’t say secret for long. Companies, quite frankly, have little option BUT to be honest – eventually. Companies that are focused on their customers, first and foremost, know that loyalty isn’t easy to win, but it’s easy to lose. However, there’s a flip side to this: honesty can actually pay dividends! Customers who have bad experiences that have been turned around can actually become stronger advocates after things have gone wrong – and been fixed. Lastly, happy customers who share their honest stories, warts and all, are more trustworthy in the eyes of their peers – and that word of mouth is invaluable!

CT: Is it possible to be successful in business today without having a social media presence?

GB: The simple answer is: yes – depending on your industry. If you’re working in a highly confidential industry, such as defence or finance, the very nature of your work requires you to keep your company information confidential. Social media is a no-no. But most of us don’t work in defence, and aren’t in a position that’s high enough in a finance business to worry about our social media presence causing an issue for our business. In the marketing world I would seriously be concerned about marketers who don’t have a social presence, and think that could certainly limit their success. But, ultimately, although your social media presence is personal, it isn’t private. It’s possible to be a successful, but private person: but perhaps not a successful but private marketer.

CT: What are some of the tools you can’t live without when working?

GB: HubSpot – it is the lifeblood of our campaigns. Email – love it or hate it, it’s absolutely necessary. LinkedIn – it’s the modern B2B marketer’s ‘little black book’. Buffer – personally, I find it a lifesaver when scheduling social media. And a set of coloured pens and a good notebook – I know it’s old-school, but I find that changing format helps me think in a different way. It enhances creativity and removes mental barriers. For me, it’s essential for any brainstorming or planning.