Destination, Germany: Jan Pilarzeck of Trio-Group

Welcome to our new blog series, Marketing Without Borders. Twice per month, we invite a leader from our global network of partners to share their experience and their unique perspective on marketing, technology, and business. The questions are ours, but the answers are theirs – every word, shared without edit, from their fingers to your eyes.

Today, we welcome Jan Pilarzeck, CEO at Trio-Group. Jan started his career in 1999 as a freelance developer and founded his first business in 2000. He joined Trio-Group in 2004 as a developer before becoming a project and team lead. In 2014, he became the company’s CEO and today he consults and develops technology recommendations for Trio-Group’s clients.

Tell us about Trio-Group, the companies you work with, and the role marketing plays at those companies.

We create virtual souls. Trio-Group is a full service digital brand and marketing agency and we are part of the leading top 20 owner-operated agencies in Germany. For more than 20 years we are focused on B2B brands, primarily in the industrial sector – the so called hidden champions. Our clients are companies like BASF, HARTING, Volkswagen Bank, DB Fuhrpark, Kubota, Compo Expert and radio stations like bigFM. As a digital agency, we observe that B2B brand owners are experiencing a real mind shift in regards to digital marketing: acknowledging that decisions are taken unconsciously, that B2B marketing can adapt a lot from B2C marketing, and that technology can help improve the personal client relationship.

What are the big marketing trends you are seeing currently? And do you see those trends changing in the next 3 years? How so?

It is still marketing automation and website personalization. Although this is nothing new, but in terms of B2B, marketers are getting aware of this just right now. But they are stuck in an early stage of understanding and discovering the technology while being blind to the real benefit of marketing automation: turning the communication with the customer from a one-to-many to a one-to-one situation. And for B2B, this is crucial, because being honest, the size of the target groups is mostly not bigger than only 1,000 people. So, it must be a key thing being in personal contact with each of these folks. The next big thing? As I know, a lot of our clients are experimenting with AI – with very different scopes. This will change their business, products, as well as their marketing. In a couple of years they will know what to do with it, and this will bring a huge change. Also for us as marketers, we will need to adapt at those new requirements, processes, workflows and technologies. Or – my favorite – collaborate with the client, be a partner on this journey. And help the client to find proper usage for AI and their particular business.

What are the biggest marketing challenges your clients are facing today? What’s keeping them up at night? And what kind of advice do you find yourself frequently offering to your clients?

They do not know how to handle all the workload, which comes up additionally while handling all of those digital marketing tools for the first time. I’m talking about the pure workload, the massive amount of tasks – and besides, they need to learn a lot of new things. As well as managing all the old stuff… But I’m also talking about the methods, workflows and concepts. They think they‘ve understood all the case studies and best practices, but once they start running projects within their own companies, they struggle, because of the lack of methodological competences running, starting and completing such projects. And very often this is leading to anger, frustration and fear.

What mistakes or incorrect assumptions are companies making today with regard to their marketing strategy?

I think the biggest mistake when it comes to marketing automation is to exclude the branding. In B2B, we normally believe that we make buying decisions by evaluating facts and figures. But the very opposite is the truth: our subconscious does this job for us. The more complex a product or decision is, the more subconscious our decision is. Why? Because it is just too complicated for us. Therefore, our brain takes these shortcuts (or heuristics to be more scientific) and decides. Sounds awkward, but in nearly 90% of our daily decision-making, the subconscious is the king pin. Sorry for tearing down the curtain of illusions. And now the brand is getting more important: Do I like the brand or not? This is how decisions are made. But this is often not respected, we are just looking at numbers and charts. And then using powerful tools to automate our marketing campaigns. In long term, we are losing the relationship to our clients – and we are damaging the brand. We call it the de-humanization of marketing. We are turning this upside down: analyzing and shaping B2B brands with our tool, brandsync – synchronizing employees, methods and technologies to speak one brand language to the customers.

Can you share an example of a marketing success story you experienced recently – whether at Trio-Group or with one of your clients?

For sure. It was our biggest project of the last years. The client wanted us to build a marketing platform, providing a unified user experience across all devices. Also across all their websites and their ecommerce solutions. We should reflect the brand and its values as much as possible – but definitely without any visible frictions and borders between the different IT systems. We had less than one year. The key success factor? An open mindset! We guaranteed full transparency in any way, we connected all departments as well as external partners. We all collaborated in one JIRA environment. And we used agile methods to manage the process. We even made agile trainings with the client to empower them. After only 9 months, we launched the platform, seamlessly integrating their SAP Hybris eshop – and connected the website and CRM to provide a personalized experience for every visitor. Of course, the platform delivers the brand experience the client expected.

What are some of your other favorite MarTech tools?

We are using Drupal and Acquia Lift, which are great tools to build enterprise websites and to personalize them real-time. And, by the way, the more important part, just like Mautic, both follow an open mindset: they connect data and human across different systems and departments. Empowering them to talk in the most relevant way to their clients: very personally.

What unique marketing challenges exist in your market that might surprise readers from other parts of the world?

I think one of those huge topics is GDPR, especially in Germany. Skepticism and uncertainty is taking the lead. So let’s see what happens in the next couple of months. And we Germans tend to adopt this new regulation in a far more strict way. So, for us, it makes a real difference if Microsoft hosts their Office365 cloud in Frankfurt or somewhere else. Although, it is the same technology with the same security – but we Germans only trust German hosters in Germany. Yes, we are a little bit weird when it comes to trust and security. This mindset influences our marketing strategies a lot. For example, before choosing an option for our marketing success, we rather choose the other option which promises to be more in line with the regulations and will produce more credit on the customer side.

What does the idea of “open” mean to you in terms of marketing, business, and technology?

It means future readiness for me. Whatever will cross our way, we are flexible: innovations, APIs, services, ideas, opportunities, partners, workflows…

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