Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

Ilene Rosenthal is the CEO of White Space Marketing Group, fulfilling her aspiration to bring hybrid marketing expertise to the mid-market. With a deep love for the brand, and a practical passion for marketing that delivers results, Ilene runs the Strategy Lab at White Space, and serves as a fractional CMO for small and mid-sized businesses.

Author's Posts

The Stories We Tell Ourselves About Brand Storytelling

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

This is a fairly obvious point, but one that bears repeating: 99.9% of your customers don’t want to be sold stuff.

They want to feel empowered. They want to purchase from brands who understand them, make their lives easier, share their values, have an incredibly relevant product or service, and are able to deliver that product or service every single time.

How do you let your customers know that you can fulfill all those wants and needs?

It’s by telling stories about your brand.

Okay, don’t roll your eyes. Stay with me! I’m sure I just heard a collective groan from anyone who’s reading this piece. Yes, Ilene, we know. Storytelling–the answer for marketing anything. We get it.

I understand the fatigue. We’ve held up “storytelling” as one of marketing’s sacred cows for quite some time. We’ve overused the word so much that it’s impossible to agree on one definition. What storytelling truly is means something different to every marketing team, every CEO, and every customer. It’s not neat and tidy.

All the same, I still believe that storytelling is one of the most valuable tools companies have when it comes to both brand awareness and the long game of customer acquisition. Relating to each other through story is what helps us connect as human beings, so it only makes sense we apply the same thought process when trying to connect with our company’s ideal customers.

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

Why Are Marketing Investment Decisions So Painful?

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

The decision to level up your marketing through outside help can be a complicated one.

Maybe you’re reluctant to hear someone else’s perspective on your business.

Maybe you love your in-house marketing team, but deep down you know they don’t have enough experience to meet your most urgent needs.

Maybe you’re afraid to allocate even more resources to marketing when what you’ve tried in the past isn’t getting any traction.

But let’s face it. If your current marketing tactics were delivering the results you need, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

The challenge in hiring in-house marketing staff is connected to understanding what your business needs—what kind of marketing—is necessary to move toward the performance that will get you there.

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

How to Streamline Your Spending While You Grow: A Case Study

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

It’s the seesaw of business growth: balancing your P&L with your growth ambitions.

We seem to be having this argument with ourselves as business owners year over year. We know we need marketing for growth, but the expense brings with it huge PTSD around waste and risk. We’ve been there before, with humbling hindsight and much regret. Still, we wonder how much we should invest—and in what.

Often, the solution is simple math. We only have this much to spend, so let’s try this or that to see what sticks. Sometimes, it’s the tension between investing in marketing or investing in sales.

I’ve seen documented cases of analysis-paralysis. The decisions are overwhelming, the data is inconclusive, and it’s just easier to do nothing. But, where does that leave your growth goals?

The hardest step on any journey is the first one, and this could not be more true than in marketing. Without data to support a strategy, how can you project results? And, if you have a CFO, that’s what she is looking for—data to support the spend.

Carving Out Conversion Trends to Build a Plan

How do you mine data to support your strategy and project results?

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

Love the One(s) You’re With: Your Current Customers

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

I was doing a bit of catch-up reading when a piece from Harvard Business Review caught my eye: “In a Downturn, Focus on Existing Customers–not Potential Ones.” 

The article is spot-on. It talks about “panic churn”—the phenomenon when customers jump from a company’s ship because of economic uncertainty—and how acquisition seems to take priority over customer retention in the short-term swing of a rocky economy. These three ideas in the piece are great strategies for customer success teams to have in their pockets:

✔ Categorizing customers into cohorts and engaging with the ones most at-risk
✔ Creating repeatable plays like “pause plans” to stop churn
✔ Monitoring product usage to take note of any unexpected customer usage dips

I’m starting to see the panic of churn play out in real time, especially with my B2B SaaS sales friends. With so many companies tightening their grip on their wallets as we battle an uncertain market, it’s been harder than usual for their teams to meet their quotas. New business is stalling, and they’re doubling down on customer retention as their near-term play. 

We’ve all heard the statistics around costs for customer retention versus customer acquisition. It’s anywhere from 6-7x more expensive to get a new customer than it is to retain an existing one. Retained customers buy more often—and spend more—than new customers; most likely because they’ve learned the value of your product or service. 

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

Buyer Personas Are Still Useful. They Just Need to Be Different.

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

How often does your organization use its buyer personas to make decisions?

I’m asking because buyer personas have always bothered me a bit. In my experience, marketing teams agonize over these personas. We brainstorm alliterative names, select stock photography headshots that best capture the demographics of the fictional person we’re developing, and put together a list of their attributes that will help us as marketers create the best experiences for our target audiences.

As much as I love being “Insightful Ilene,” my frustration with personas is three-fold:

1) Persona research isn’t always as thorough as we’d like it to be. What begins as a desire to interview current and potential customers often ends with us asking our internal teams for insights. Marketing teams are constantly being pulled in a million different directions, and sometimes it’s easier to lean on our sales or product teams for intel.

However, our sales teams know customers best the further they get into the buying process. Basing our personas on that data doesn’t help marketers understand how prospects initially look for solutions to their challenges. Similarly, our product teams tend to interact at a “user” level—they’re looking to see how someone will interact with the product or service in question. They’re not concerned with the emotional elements surrounding a purchase, or what a customer’s needs are. 

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

Relevance: The Elusive Sweet Spot in Marketing Differentiation

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

I’m not one for “trend-spotting” in marketing, but it’s hard to ignore the pendulum swinging between transactional marketing and longer-term brand-building initiatives.

Last summer, the travel giant Expedia made a bold announcement when they said they planned to move away from being “transactionally-focused” to building “longer-lasting direct relationships with loyal high-lifetime value customers.” 

Expedia wasn’t the first brand to put that stake in the ground. Airbnb had already made those plans the year before, cutting its performance marketing spend in Q1 2021 in exchange for an increased focus on brand-building and PR. It was a bet that paid off, with Airbnb reporting its “strongest ever” fourth-quarter results at the end of 2021. 

For the record, I think prioritizing customer loyalty over individual transactions is absolutely the right move. But I also think there’s another question at play here. Instead of making those dramatic pendulum swings, how do we find the sweet spot between the two?

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

The Next-Level Questions That Shape a Marketing Strategy

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

When I talk about marketing strategy, people often look at me quizzically. I can hear them thinking: “What does strategy really mean?”

And, I don’t blame them. Strategy has long been one of those words in our industry that has a hundred different answers, and so it gets executed in a hundred different ways. 

I could get long-winded for a while with this question, so instead, I’ll say my simple answer: 

Strategic skill is anchored in the ability to ask the right questions. 

In addition to the right questions, there’s an ideal sequence in which each can and should be addressed. First, there are the strategic questions–the ones that have been covered in many marketing blogs. They’re usually a version of these five questions:

  • Target Audience: Who do you sell to?
  • Motivation: Why do they buy
  • Buying Cycle: Who makes the decision?
  • Messaging and Channel Strategy: How will you reach them?
  • Value Proposition: What are you positioned to best deliver to them?

These are all necessary questions to ask, and they’re certainly the right questions to ask at the beginning. But at some point, to move from strategy to implementation and then resource allocation, we have to go deeper, right?

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

CMO: The Wrong Role to Hire for Your Business?

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

Here’s the scenario. You’re a CEO of a small business, and you know you need to kickstart your marketing efforts. You have a small team that consists of a full-time marketing generalist, whose job mostly consists of working with the myriad agencies you’ve hired: PPC, SEO, digital marketing, PR, and content creation. 

You’ve got it all.

The marketing plates are in the air, and they’re spinning—some faster than others. The problem is that there’s no one there at a strategic level to make sure it’s all, well, okay.

Your external agencies are coming in, one by one, and asking you what you think about this strategy, going after this audience, and doubling down on this campaign. And you say everything sounds good—because all of it truly does. There’s just one problem: All of this “everything” doesn’t quite align with the growth path you’ve laid out for the organization.

What you’re looking for is the right combination of strategies—within your budget, of course—to get you to those growth goals over the next 12-18 months. It might be tempting at this moment, especially if you have a tiny team in place or don’t have any marketing team at all besides a group of outsourced experts, to uplevel your marketing and hire a CMO. 

You feel like your marketing needs to “grow up” a bit, flex some strategic muscles, and connect itself to organizational goals. If you had that full-time, salaried leadership position at the helm, it would all make sense.

With much respect, I’m going to ask you to pump the brakes—at least for the time being. Here’s why.

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

Personal Branding: A Risk, Or Your Company’s Competitive Advantage?

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

Those who have been riding alongside me for a while know that one of my core brand pillars is to help CEOs avoid waste and risk when it comes to marketing investment.

So, why am I talking about personal branding today—something that elicits considerable fear and risk for many CEOs and C-level execs?

Because even though it’s downright scary to put yourself out there—in front of people who are part of your business circles and those you’ve never met—it’s also a must-do.

I understand that fear. I’ve been on LinkedIn—which is now the personal branding epicenter of social media—for my entire career, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I got serious about putting myself and my content out on the platform in a more intentional way.

I’m not someone who gets easily ruffled. I’ve been in the marketing trenches of some of the top global agencies and consultancies in the world. I’ve presented multi-million dollar marketing strategies to boardrooms full of high-powered people. But, nothing—NOTHING—compared to the terror I felt when I pressed the “post” button on LinkedIn for the first time.

Part of it was the judgment I was already passing on myself. All of my friends and colleagues at Young & Rubicam, or SAP, knew me in a particular context. Would they wonder what I was yammering on about? Would they agree? Worse—would they disagree?

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

First-Party Data: How Marketing Can Avoid Being the Uninvited Party Guest

Ilene Rosenthal, CEO

We’re in the thick of “prediction time,” otherwise known as that two-month stretch in December and January. Every marketing subject matter expert, trade publication, and consultancy weighs in on what they think will be the most important trends for our industry in the year ahead.

For me, these perspectives present a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s never a bad idea to take a look at what your peers deem the most impactful actions for us to consider in the new year–whether you agree or not. On the other hand, these observed “truths” can create an environment where even the most seasoned, seen-it-all marketing professionals start second-guessing their strategies if they’re not incorporating all of these trends.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all about the cool stuff and its ability to connect us with customers in an inclusive and intentional way. The increase in VR- and AI-based apps and tools, the beginning of voice search for SEO optimization, and the rise of conversational marketing are what I find especially interesting as we kick off 2023.

However, if you don’t firm up your knowledge of the marketing basics–and find that blend of the new and now–it will be tough to use marketing to drive growth and revenue. And that’s my biggest concern.

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Topics: marketing strategy, strategy, marketing, business strategy, CEOs, B2B marketing, Founders, B2B, small business, sales strategy

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