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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Social Media Breaks Replacing Cigarette Breaks

Two trends that go together like hand and glove: the rise of smartphones, and the rise of social media. So, if you suspect the person in the next cubicle has started smoking again, think again. There is a growing probability that he or she is sneaking off for a social media break.

Over at Harvard Business School, David Armano has published his Six Social Media Trends for 2010, and the social media break is one of them.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Define Social Media's 2009 Business Social Media Benchmark Study shows that social media adoption for B2B marketing and PR purposes is growing, but I think the usefulness of the study is marred by its overly expansive (though unstated) definition of social media.

Is a podcast a social medium? When I think of people plugged into their iPods and notebooks on commuter trains, my first impulse is to define podcasts as antisocial media, but this of course begs the question:

What are social media?

The most basic definition is that social media is many-to-many as opposed to one-to-many communications. For me this rules out podcasts, because they are a one-way communication, rather than a conversation.

Another defining aspect of social media is that they are peer-to-peer. For me this rules out webinars, because webinars almost always involve a supposed expert lecturing to an audience wishing to learn from that expert's expertise.

Blogs can be considered social media, but they have to be considered on a case-by-case basis, because their status as social media depends on their operating principles. For example, a blog is not much of a conversation if the comments are turned off or heavily censored by moderation.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Social Media Marketing and Your Online Marketing Budget

Bob DeStefano over at SVM E-Business Solutions offers a great checklist that you should go through before deciding to jump into social media marketing. He says you should be able to say yes to all of these statements before you think about using social media to market your products and services:
  • My Website is my most powerful marketing tool.
  • My Website generates all of the leads I need to support my business.
  • My company is on the first page of Google for every popular phrase my customers use.
  • Email marketing helps my company nurture new customers and generate repeat business
  • I know that I am generating a strong return on investment for every dollar I spend on marketing.
This checklist covers most everything you should be thinking about when it comes to online marketing. Where I differ with Bob is in timing: There is no reason that you should not work on your website and your social media marketing in parallel, provided your strategic objectives are clear and inform both efforts.

One objection to this line of thought might be budgetary: you want to establish ROI on your website effort before committing more of your marketing budget to extend your online effort. Such an objection indicates a reasonable and cautious attitude, but you need to weigh your caution against the exponential potential of integrating your website, email marketing and social media marketing.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Marketing Is Hard!

But it doesn't have to be.

As an outsource marketer, my job is to market marketing to marketers. You'd think this would be easy, since we should ostensibly speak the same language. But it's not easy, because I'm trying to sell a new marketing paradigm to people who think traditionally about marketing. Because it's a new way of thinking about marketing, it inevitably requires a new way of talking about marketing.

It's lonely out on the leading edge, but I'm used to it.

In the early 90s, I started a career in technical writing. In the late 90s, I branched out into Internet marketing. What do these two things have in common? Well, for one thing, at the time I started in both of these activities, neither was yet regarded as a discipline in its own right. That is, when I became a technical writer, you couldn't yet go to school to become a technical writer. And when I became an Internet marketer, you could not yet go to school to become an Internet marketer.

All of this has changed, in part because we have entered what has become know as the Information Age. The University of San Francisco, among others is now offering online (of course!) certificates in Internet Marketing. And technical writing degree and certificate programs have been around for quite a while now.

The point is that our educational system is largely reactive: disciplines within academic institutions frequently emerge as a result of practices in the so-called "real world." Marketers in this real world cannot rely solely on history to formulate marketing strategy. They must look laterally to see what the competition is doing, and they must look forward to understand what is possible and to seize the advantage. That is the essence of lean marketing.

By the way, another thing both of these careers have in common is that they are information-based. Internet marketing is different from traditional marketing in that its goal is to sell using information rather than hype. As an Internet marketer, my objective is to target the most highly qualified prospects and help them make an informed buying decision.

Organic SEO or Pay Per Click (PPC)?

Recently, we had a customer inquire about a Google AdWords campaign.

Pay Per Click (PPC) is not in and of itself a bad decision. We have used Google AdWords as an effective means of delivering traffic to customer websites. But we need to make a key distinction:

  • PPC is interruption advertising.
  • Organic SEO is relationship marketing.

As advertising goes, PPC can be more cost-effective than more traditional forms of advertising, but it is better suited to B2C marketing than B2B, which is, of course, why we generally prefer organic SEO for our customers.

Issues that need to be considered:

Keyword Selection
Who chooses the keywords to be used? Here's where the Discovery process comes in. Keyword selection requires an understanding of both the vendor and the customer. Vendors tend to think in terms of features; customers tend to think in terms of benefits. In other words, vendors are thinking about a product, and customers are thinking about a problem. We need to take the vendor's competitive advantages (vendor values) and the customer's needs (customer values) and map them to each other so that the customer sees the vendor's product as a solution to his/her problem. Only then can we decide on which keywords to target. Integration is the key: your keyword strategy is an extension of your strategic business, marketing and sales objectives.

Landing Pages
When a searcher clicks on an ad, he/she is taken to a page on your website, which is known as the landing page, whether its your home page, a product page, or a page written specifically for the ad. A landing page for a paid ad needs to be relevant to that ad. That is, it has to deliver on the ad's promise. Further, if it is to be effective at converting clicks to sales, it must articulate an effective sales argument and present an irresistable call to action. Linking ads to existing pages on your site is often ineffective, because those pages were not written with the ad in mind, and may even be at cross purposes. Searchers are looking for the information they need to make an informed buying decision.

Google AdWords Management
Managing PPC campaigns can be labour-intensive. If you are contracting with a vendor for PPC campaign development and management, you should ensure your contract is clear with regard to deliverables and timing of deliverables. Deliverables should include (but not be limited to):

  • Bid management (daily to weekly): You need to keep your ads very close to the top of the listings for them to be effective (see User Behaviour below), so you need to manage your bids closely. How often will the PPC vendor review results and adjust bids?
  • Ad writing and variant testing: Frequent testing of the effectiveness of ads is necessary for peak performance and ROI.
  • Filtering: It's important that your ad reaches a large audience, but it should be a targeted audience. For example, if you're selling spring hedge plants, you don't want people searching for hedge funds to see your ad. You have to narrow the focus.
  • Reporting: How often will the PPC vendor report results to you? Will the reports include analysis and recommendations?

Organic SEO
PPC is often a good starting point for organic SEO. In fact, I often use AdWords to do keyword research. You can use AdWord results to refine your organic efforts. However, PPC should always be used in concert with organic SEO, because PPC on its own only reaches a certain percentage of searchers. See User Behaviour below.

User Behaviour
While PPC does deliver traffic, a large percentage of searchers ignore all put the top paid results. In the example below, a large percentage of users would read the "Define Widgets" (though they would not necessarily click on it), but be completely blind to the paid ads in the right column. This is partly an issue of real estate, partly about trust, and partly about limitations to the length of ad copy allowed by Google AdWords. On the other hand, searchers will regularly scan through up to 2 pages of organic results for a page that meets their needs. Click here for more information on user behavior.

Lean Marketing = Business Process Re-engineering

Marketing is a lot like the weather. We complain about it, but we never seem to do anything to change it. (Climate is another story.) CEOs frequently complain that they can't see the ROI from their marketing budget, but they don't seem willing or able to do anything about it.

It's strange too, because some of these CEOs are the same visionaries who have overseen the implementation of lean manufacturing and lean design principles to eliminate waste and create competitive advantage for their companies.

But sales and marketing are business processes like any others, so if your sales and marketing programs are not achieving their objectives, why not consider re-engineering those processes, just as you would a manufacturing or design process?

Are sales and marketing art or science? In truth, they are a bit of both. But to the extent that they are measurable, they are science, even if your methodology is trial and error. After all, mistakes should be learning experiences, but if you don't understand the dollars-and-cents aspect of your mistakes, you will never learn from them.

You're a high-tech manufacturer boasting the latest and greatest manufacturing technologies and techniques. You use technology to create competitive advantage in your manufacturing products and processes. So why are your sales and marketing people using the 21st Century equivalent of goose quills, ink wells and parchment to market and sell your products?

Business process re-engineering is not about reducing head count. It's about turning those heads into centres of profit. It's about reaching goals more efficiently.

Where is the greatest waste in marketing processes? To identify waste, you first have to define processes. A project plan for a marketing project may contain a hundred tasks divided into the following stages:
  • Scheduling
  • Discovery
  • Project Planning
  • Research
  • Design
  • Implementation
  • Support -- Review, Revise, Repeat
For each stage in a project, what are the continuous improvement questions we are asking?

Even though marketers are professional communicators, communication is generally where the greatest waste occurs in any marketing project. Bad communication is usually responsible for work flow breakdowns. Nowhere is this more apparent than in approvals.

Approvals are binary milestones: they are the bottlenecks in marketing processes, because they are Go/No Go moments in the project lifecycle. What can be done to smooth the path for approvals?

  • Communicate the importance of approvals to the process clearly. Discovery and Approvals are the most critical nodes in the project lifecycle, and the most frequent source of delays and outright project failure. (This is something good to say -- say it well and say it often.)
  • Communicate review requirements and objectives clearly. (Why am I reading this document? What is expected of me?)
  • Agree on a timeframe, and communicate clearly the impact of tardiness on the project plan. (If you don't review this document this week, we will be at least a week late in delivering your website.
In my experience, some marketing deliverables can require up to 3 iterations before approval is achieved. If more than 3 iterations are required, then there are issues besides the deliverable itself that need to be resolved. Are the consultant and client on the same page? Is the customer making decisions? Is the customer postponing decisions? All of these scenarios lead to waste.

Internet Marketing Is Lean Marketing

Online/Internet marketing is the quintessential lean marketing activity, because it lets you:

  • React to events and publish with agility
  • Target audiences with high precision
  • Provide an interactive means to let prospects educate themselves and make informed buying decisions
  • Make doing business with your company easy
  • See results in real time
  • Use real-time statistics to reduce waste and improve your sales & marketing performance continuously

Using your website as the hub of all your marketing activities lets you manage costs effectively, build market awareness, and grow sales revenues and profitability. And yet, many companies are slow to seize the opportunity presented by Internet marketing. Why do you suppose that is?

The Internet has been likened to a large library with no windows where all the books are on the floor and the lights are out. Your website can only be effective if qualified prospects can find it.

A simple Google search on the term "aerospace kits" reveals that there are 834,000 webpages competing for eyeballs on this term. Does your website have what it takes to cut through the noise and be heard? Do your target markets see your competitive advantage? Will your website deliver not just traffic, but sales?

These are the tasks that search marketers face.

B2B Marketing is BIG Business

Business-to Business (B2B) marketing is most definitely BIG business any way you slice it. A study by the Business Marketing Association (BMA) revealed that B2B marketers in the US spent about $85 billion dollars in 2003.
There are some key differences between B2C and B2B marketing.

  • Short sales cycle
  • Small purchases
  • One/few decision makers
  • Seeking product satisfaction

  • Long sales cycle
  • Large purchases
  • Many decision makers
  • Seeking ROI

B2B Marketing Activities
The BMA study spending break out, in billions of dollars:

  • Trade Shows/Events -- $17.3
  • Internet/Electronic Media -- $12.5
  • Promotion/Market Support -- $10.9
  • Magazine Advertising -- $10.8
  • Publicity/Public Relations -- $10.5
  • Direct Mail -- $9.4
  • Dealer/Distributor Materials -- $5.2
  • Market Research -- $3.8
  • Telemarketing -- $2.4
  • Directories -- $1.4
  • Other -- $5.1
All of these B2B marketing activities are valuable marketing tools, but the one that has climbed close to the top of the list over the last few years is Internet/Electronic Media. In the US, Internet-based B2B marketing investment continues to grow relative more traditional B2B marketing methods.

I haven't found reliable statistics for Canada, but anecdotal evidence indicates that Canadian companies are far behind the curve on Internet marketing.

Different Thinking in Times of Turbulence

In a time of economic turbulence, we can't afford not to re-examine business as usual and make adjustments that create value, eliminate waste and develop knowledge within our organizations.

This concept applies equally to all parts of your organization, including your marketing and sales teams.

The key to success in turbulent times is agility -- the ability to make operational, portfolio, and strategic adjustments quickly to take advantage of opportunities presented:

  • Operational - finding opportunities to increase revenues and reduce costs
  • Portfolio - moving resources to more productive opportunities
  • Strategic - re-examining objectives and grasping the future

In The Upside of Turbulence: Seizing Opportunities in an Uncertain World, Donald Sull makes the point that such agility cannot be driven from the top down. Mid-level managers need to take the initiative to seize opportunities, and they need to train those around them to turn those opportunities into new revenues.

Agility, creating value, eliminating waste, training within industry -- these are all lean concepts that sales and marketing professionals need to embrace to make a difference in turbulent times.

Different thinking isn't easy, but it is essential to continued prosperity.