Susan Avarde

Ascension Advisory Board
Brand & Marketing Strategy/Customer Experience 

Susan Avarde is a former Marketing and Brand Executive who has worked with companies in over twenty countries around the globe.

For 10+ years Susan served as Head of Global Brand for Citigroup where she oversaw Brand related activities for Citi’s presence in 100+ countries around the world.

Renowned for her vision and brand storytelling ability, Susan’s work has been chronicled by the Harvard Business School (HBS) and she is a frequent speaker on the topic of trends and their vital role in driving growth.

For Ascension Susan provides a blue chip global best practices perspective on brand strategy  and corporate positioning issues occasionally consulting on select Ascension client engagements.

Prior to joining Citi Susan served as Senior Brand Strategist for Landor – a unit of marketing global marketing services leader WPP. There she provided strategic consulting services to clients that included AT&T, Xerox, and Accenture.

Born and educated in the UK Susan also worked as Group Head for the UK based brand consultancy Addison. There she worked on clients including Air France, BP, and Royal Bank of Scotland.

Susan is a participant at TED, DLD, Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, and Forbes Power Women’s Summit where macro themes of change and opportunity are frequent focus topics.

Susan lives and works in New York City.

Is Social Media Replacing Traditional Media?

Nancy Gunter / Ascension Media Strategy, Planning & Buying 

With the New Year upon us, we continue to observe constant change in the marketing arena.

As the media spectrum continues to expand, strategic well-thought-out integrated marketing strategies become more critical to the overall success of each campaign.

Is inbound marketing (SEO, Search and Social) taking over traditional platforms? Yes, No and It Depends…(Perhaps I should have gone into politics). The overall consensus is that social marketing budget allocations are growing rapidly but in most cases are not taking over traditional media all together… at least for now.

The Role of Social Media in Today’s Marketing Plans

Social media builds and strengthens consumer and business customer relationships while influencing new audiences (friends).  Social marketing should complement every traditional marketing/media campaign by providing supportive content to further strengthen the initial point of contact.

Mobile Increasingly Entering the Media Plan

At the same time mobile traffic is undergoing exponential growth. The proliferation of smart phones and tablets means advertisers can now reach consumers almost anywhere. Many anticipate the smart phone will soon replace the wallet with the onset of digital payment apps and stored value products such as Passbook.

Mobile (SMS) permits advertisers to reach consumers as they approach your store. By leveraging new digital technologies and consumer mobile devices advertisers can then send tailored messages/coupon offers to lure them in.

One of the greatest challenges and biggest priorities for marketers this year will be compiling and reporting data for cross-channel marketing campaigns. Using a common reliable source to measure specified campaign metrics will allow us to better understand what customer actions each platform triggers.

Digital Media on the Rise

More and more CMO’s are looking to integrate digital media into their marketing and media plans. As pressure to reduce marketing expense and increase measurable ROI increases more and more companies are looking to add digital to their media programs.

The latest estimate by Zenith OptiMedia shows digital media accounted for almost 18% of total media spending in 2012 with this figure expected to top 21% in the next couple of years.


What it all Means

As social media grows, mobile becomes the norm and content marketing plays an ever important role, traditional media can also become more effective with inbound marketing support. With the onslaught of new reporting data across the media spectrum, we will continue to measure, analyze and optimize to further improve overall results.

Whatever you do make sure you have trusted and well-connected media advise on your marketing team. They should be fluent in the latest digital and traditional media trends and services. Finding and incorporating targeted media channels will help increase your brand’s impact and lower your overall expense.

The First Step toward New Media and Multi-Channel Integration

Ad Agencies and media buying firms all have a vested interest in selling your company something. To leverage today’s exploding new media marketplace you need an ally on your team.

The Ascension media strategy and executional team has an extensive traditional and new media expertise gained from hands-on experience planning, negotiating, and buying complex media programs around the world. If you’d like to get some objective media expertise on your team, contact us at

We help our clients leverage new media opportunities to drive targeted, more efficient media programs.

We can help your organization too!

Using Segmentation to Sharpen Your Focus

Craig Apatov / Strategic Marketing Practice Leader

Targeting and market segmentation are terms that get thrown around a lot these days.

The fact is these tools, used thoughtfully, can help almost any company drive focused and profitable growth in even the most difficult economic times. The most successful global companies understand that insight and data-driven decision making is the key to insuring return-on-investment from their marketing and sales activities.

A recent IBM global study by of Chief Marketing Officers revealed that demonstrating ROI to support their decision making was one of their greatest areas of uncertainty and unpreparedness as they make their future spending plans.

There are several different ways to analyze your target market and current customer base to strategically determine where to make growth investments. In our work with clients all over the world we suggest they consider the following analytic exercises:

Market segmentation – The process of segregating current customers and/or potential growth prospects by financial or psychographic factors and organizing them into definable segments. These segments can be organized on the basis of financial measures (e.g. profitability; annual revenue) or by behavioral factors such as needs/wants or demand characteristics.

Customer Tiering – A financial exercise intended to organize customers/prospects into three tiers – high, medium, or low. These definitions could relate again to revenue or profitability performance factors over a one or more year time horizon. Typically Pareto’s Principal or the 80/20 rule applies in most businesses. That is 20% of the customers drive 80% of the revenue or profit for the enterprise.

Customer Profiling– This refers to the use of primary market research targeting specific segmented or tiered  customer or prospect groups to understand – what they look like, where they live, what they need/want. Building strategic customer profiles for each customer segment or tier can be a valuable tool to inform a company’s going forward growth planning.

The goal of doing this type of analysis is to invest in activities that help drive more of the profitable customers and less of the ones that cost an organization money.

Importantly these principals don’t just apply to major corporations.

We saw how purposefully executed market segmentation was artfully used by the Democratic Party to micro target four demographic groups to ultimately win re-election for President Obama in the 2012 national election.

Key Questions to Ask Yourself
Before getting started in strategic segmentation exercises, we recommend clients always begin with an honest assessment of themselves and their true appetite for pursuing a segmented growth plan. Many companies find market segmentation to be the latest “shiny object” but fail to conduct the required analysis correctly or simply do not have the resources to get the job done with internal resources.

This is where the objective support of an astute consulting firm can help augment internal talent and available strategic and analytic resources. Once a decision is made to move forward we recommend that ask themselves the following questions and let the answers guide their going forward actions:

Data Access – Current + potential customers are your best source for new business. Do you have empirical data that will allow you to understand size characteristics and relative profitability?

Insights – Do you have information on your current customers and/or prospects that will allow you to understand their needs/wants and attitudes relative to your product/service offerings?

Organizational Alignment – Are you organizationally prepared to align your product processes and distribution channels to meet the specific needs of your target customer segments?

Customer Considerations – Do you know and understand the regulatory, technological, and practical needs of your best customers/prospects? If not how would you acquire this information to drive your segmentation model?

Financial – Do you have the financial tools/information to accurately value the potential of one segment vs. another?

Return – Can we estimate the return to your organization of executing a segmented go-to-market plan?

Activating Segmentation as a Tool for Your Organization

Before moving forward with any effort to segment your market make sure you have the necessary resources on hand. This means data, people, systems, and strategic thought leaders.

In our work with clients we find most companies could do the required data analysis and planning themselves. However given the pressing demands of day-to-day operations and the lack of on staff resources it is often helpful to have the help of an objective outside consultant to drive the process working collaboratively with your internal staff.

Leverage the tools used by the most successful companies in the world to drive growth for your organization. If you don’t have the resources in house find a capable consultant to help you. It does not take long or cost a lot of money to get focused on driving informed growth in the year(s) ahead!

How to Leverage Strategic Segmentation for Your Company

Taking an objective and thorough look at your customer and prospect financial data is critical to effective market segmentation. If your company has not analyzed the profit dynamics of your business in a while – the time may be right to get some help.

At Ascension, our team of data and financial analysts use powerful SAS based tools to quickly and efficiently help our clients understand where they do and do not make money.

Strategic analytics leads to important going forward marketing and sales plans that are targeted and informed thereby improving the overall ROI on marketing and sales investments.

If you company could use some help getting its arms around customer and market segmentation, contact us at

In less than 60 days we will provide you with insights and strategic recommendations that you will surely want to leverage in you’re going forward plans!

Customer Centric Selling

Pamela Currie / Sales Effectiveness Practice

Today’s business world is like a high speed race track with many twist and turns due to the volatile marketplace.

Sales driven organizations are searching for ways to achieve competitive advantages, establish a loyal customer following and improve their overall sales efficiency and performance.

This can often prove to be an endless cycle of consideration. As the market changes, technology changes, company offerings change, the profile of customers change, and the game goes on.

Change is inevitable and it can be positive when organizations put themselves in a position to frequently analyze their customers buying approach and concurrently examine how well their own company’s sales approach aligns with the way customers want to buy.

Some key questions companies should ask themselves:

  • Does your client buying process align with your company’s selling process?
  • What are your client’s needs, expectations and requirements?
  • What has your sales organization been provided to help meet your customer needs, expectation and requirements?
  • When did your company last do this type of self-analysis?
  • Do you have a strong customer/sales business match?

Continuously Re-Aligning Your Organization Around Your Market

It is not uncommon for high performance organizations to make a significant investment in an on-going analysis of their customers buying process and how that aligns with their current sales methodologies. A key reason for this “on-going analysis” is to remain on the cutting edge and in touch with their current clients and potential prospects in the marketplace.

Insuring alignment is not an easy thing to do from an insider’s perspective. This is often best done by an objective and dispassionate third party or consultant working on behalf of the client organization.

Companies are often too invested in the status quo and day-to-day operations to see themselves in an objective and open-to-change light. The objective consultant, acting as trusted advisor and partner, can help capture marketplace perspectives and provide both insights and suggestions to help improve their client’s go-to-market sales approach.

The Objective Win/Loss Analysis

One approach we use is to combine sales effectiveness discipline and best practice philosophies with proven survey research techniques. The strategic “win/loss” analysis is a great way to understand how well your company’s selling process is aligning with your target market.

To conduct a useful and objective win/loss analysis it is helpful to have good data on hand. By data we mean documented and granular customer win and loss records from sales initiatives over a period of time. We typically isolate wins and lost business opportunities over the most recent 6-9 month period.


The consultant then designs a research-based approach to contact (by phone or online survey) a representative set of accounts where there was a documented or verifiable new business “win”. Additionally, the same number of research survey calls/inquiries is made into a documented number of new business “losses”. This is easiest to do when this data is captured and retrievable from a Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) that logs this information continuously over time.

By asking “winning” customers and “loosing” prospect representatives the same sales effectiveness set of questions, a picture is painted of best and worst sales practices. Additionally, this approach provides client companies with an objective read on how well their “selling” process aligns with their customer’s “buying” process.

Using Win/Loss Analysis to Improve Sales Alignment

When CRM captured data is available for a win/loss analysis the outputs can be very revealing. We typically recommend winning and losing business accounts be asked probing questions related to the sales execution of the client company being analyzed.

Typically questions are designed to ask respondents to rate the sales execution of the client organization on a scale of 1-5 with 1 being poor and 5 best. This rating scale allows post research analysis that correlates ratings with likelihood of winning or losing new business based on observed best and/or worst sales practices exhibited by the company in the marketplace.

Examples of effective sales probing questions include:

Please rate how well the salesperson who called on you…

  • …demonstrated by the salesperson who called on you.
  • …presented his/her value proposition as it relates to your needs?
  • …explained the features/benefits of his/her products or services?
  • … probed to uncover you true needs?
  • …used strategic questions to uncover important information related to your needs?

By asking questions like these a company often learns how well or poorly its front line sales team is performing day to day. This information is vital to the future success of any organization and when captured and quantified it can help illuminate business, sales process, and personnel issues that warrant immediate action.

Selling today is a highly competitive activity with many different companies and/or brands that on the surface appear qualified to meet the customer’s needs/wants. Thus winning is often like a close horse race. Many different competitors may emerge for a time in the lead but the only thing that matters is who is ahead at the tape. Effective sales force execution is key to winning in the game of business.

The Benefits of Strategic Self Examination

The strategic goal of this objective marketplace powered self-examination practice is to refine fundamental aspects of a company’s sales process and to insure that it aligns with its customer’s buying process. Additionally the goal is to ultimately create a customer-centric perspective within the organization.

Done right this process results in:

  • An integrated customer-centric focus (recognizing new needs, expectations and requirements of customers) with a sales driven culture.
  • A strategy that focuses on evolving standardized sales processes.
  • An integrated set of marketing tools, technology and sales executional strategies.

A strategy to Integrate training & coaching processes with over-all performance.

Often organizations will claim they are a sales driven because they are driven by growth and increased revenues. These can be important strategic goals, but is it enough to achieve these sales objectives?

The disconnect becomes when we set our eyes on the strategic goal and lose sight of needed tactical goals. This happens when a company becomes self-centered in their focus and has no defined client buying strategy, no defined sales strategy and no alignment between their external clients (buyers) and internal clients (sales professionals and support professionals).

Developing a Customer-Centric-Sales Driven Organization

To help prevent this disconnect in the marketplace and truly become a Customer Centric-Sales Driven organization it is important to revolutionize your sales and marketing strategy by mapping your external client’s needs, expectations and requirements to standardized sales methodologies and best practices of internal clients.  We call this the process of creating a customer to sales business match.

Additionally it is important to put the above strategy in place and to invest in an organization that will actually take the time to conduct a customer centric-sales mapping process. This process dissects the buying/selling process by mapping and defining the phases of the company’s sales process with the buying process, including clearly outlined steps & activities to effectively execute each phase of the process.

This strategic sales mapping process should identify needed tools, technology and training to help the internal clients (sales professionals & support professionals) effectively manage to the process, along with a clear understanding of the external client’s expected outcomes for each one of these phases.

Once the mapping process has been objectively concluded then you have the engine of the business and the other necessary internal parts can be designed to insure performance efficiencies. An example of additional performance parts would be creating needed marketing tools to support the sales effort. Another example of a performance part would be to ensure the companies investment extends to the daily sales execution is by reinforcing the defined sales processes with ongoing sales training and coaching.

The over-all objective of sales process mapping is to make sure that all the parts come together, so your organization has a high performance, customer focused and centric sales engine.


Where to go for Help

Many different organizations provide sales consulting. We recommend a strategic sales effectiveness practice that works with global firms across a myriad of industries and geographies.

Our firm provides objective win/loss analysis programs and sales process mapping consulting to companies in multiple competitive industries. Done strategically we can almost guarantee results that will result in impressive top line sales growth, shorter sales cycles, and better overall customer retention.

Improving Your Company’s Sales Effectiveness Now

If you have taken an objective assessment of your sales organization and how customers/prospects view it…. now might be the time to take action. At Ascension we work hands-on with clients all over the world to help them optimize their sales staff, go-to-market sales structure, processes, sales compensation, and integration with contact management or CRM systems.

If you feel now might be a great time to fine tune your consultative sales approach to growth contact us at

Our sales effectiveness team works with B2B and B2C global sales organizations just like yours.

We’d love to help your drive your top line through improved customer engagement.

How Will You Allocate Your 2016 Marketing Budgets?

Jip Inglis / Client Partner

It’s that time of year again. Later this year marketers at companies across the country will begin developing their plans and budgets for budget year 2016.

Two key questions to be resolved during this exercise are (1) how much to spend on marketing, and (2) where to spend it.

The most recent findings from The CMO Survey™ sponsored by Duke University and the American Marketing Association might offer some insight and guidance.

Don’t Be Timid – Budgets at U.S. companies are expected to increase by 6.4% over the next year, marking a continuation of 6%+ budget growth going back to 2010 when the economy was in the early stages of emerging from recession. If 6.4% sounds healthy, it is. Given that inflation is expected to run 2%-3% next year, depending on whose forecast you embrace, this translates to approximately 4% real growth in marketing spending. Not bad, when real GDP growth is running about 2%.

Further, marketing expenditures as a percentage of overall corporate budgets are increasing significantly. They’ve gone from 8.1% to 11.4% just 18 months, a remarkable 40% increase! (see chart)

What’s underlying this aggressive increase in spending?  Marketing is being recognized as the currency for success in today’s economy. Coming out of the recession, firms focused on cost cutting efforts to improve profitability. By now the benefits from these strategies have largely run their course. Future profit lift will need to be driven by improvement in top line revenue. Marketing, and sales, investments are the means to grow revenue and corporations are backing that up with their pocketbooks.


Strategies: A Focus on New Customers and New Markets. There is a shifting focus towards new products/services and new markets in 2013 for achieving growth targets. As one would expect, existing markets and existing products/services will still receive the greatest amount of marketing support. But, the proportion of total spend allocated to “existing” is expected to decline for want of seeking riches among new customers and through new offerings. As the table below shows, the greatest emphasis next year will be on cultivating new markets, with spending increasing about 15% in this area. Even with the additional support, spending on new markets is expected to total about 30% of total, versus about 70% for existing markets.

Making bolder commitments to “new” growth strategies is understandable in the current economy. Given that overall economic growth is still so tepid, companies are feeling compelled to “push the envelope” and reach outside their comfort zones to achieve their revenue goals.


Marketing Spend Pie: Analytics and Social Media Take Larger Share. The greatest increases in marketing spending next year and beyond, by category, are projected for analytics and social media. Marketing analytics spending will increase by 60% over the next three years, from 8% to 13.5%. More research to better understand evolving markets and behaviors, coupled with greater usage of big data tools to glean insight and meaning out of ever larger volumes of marketing data will be the key growth drivers. When firms are committing more resources to marketing initiatives, it’s nice to have good intelligence for guiding the journey.

Spending on social media will grow even more rapidly. This is really no surprise given the ever deeper penetration of smartphones, now over 50% of all cell phones and still in ascent. From a current level of 7.6% of budgets social media should more than double to 18.8% in five years, a growth rate of almost 20% per year!

Want to Improve Your Overall Marketing Impact Next Year

Why not get some objective and informed assistance determining where to allocate next year’s marketing and sales budgets.

At Ascension, we help clients get the most out of their available growth investments.

If you would like some help rethinking your go-to-market approach, contact us at

We are confident you will find our perspective quite refreshing.