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May 27, 2008

Users "Stick" Around with Interactive Tools

tools_revised.jpgIf you spend a lot of time moving around online, you've probably noticed an increase in the use of interactive tools on all kinds of websites. As people embrace the concept of interacting with online content, organizations are building more tools that engage users by encouraging their participation. In terms of usability, interactive tools pull users into an organization's offers and offer a kind of "stickiness" that is difficult to find otherwise. And from a marketing and lead generation standpoint, interactive tools have the potential to qualify users as high-level leads.

Users want control over their research and buying process, and it's crucial that their needs and behaviors are considered when designing marketing materials. Part of putting users in charge of this process is to provide interactive tools that spur user participation and help people feel engaged with your brand, your website and your offers.

In Redesigning Web Sites to Put Customers in Charge of Their Experience, from MarketingProfs, Jeannette Kocsis stresses the importance of designing websites with user behaviors as a guide. She lists the inclusion of intuitive and relevant tools as a key component to achieving a site that is based on user behaviors and needs. Interactive tools can also be used to convert users, and when implementing interactive tools, you have the ability to track deep, user-driven behaviors and use that data to qualify high-level leads.

Consumer marketers use interactive tools on all kinds of websites, and seem to have discovered the stickiness that comes when these kinds of tools are offered on their sites. MyShape is an online shopping site with a tool that lets users enter their physical dimensions in order to find out what "shape" they are and what clothes look best on that body type. They link their users to clothes that match their body types and allow them to shop right from there. FitDay, an online food journal site, is set up so users can enter the foods they consume and the exercise they do over the course of a day. Users can set weight loss goals, create reports based on the data they've entered, and write journal entries about their weight loss process.

What's key about these kinds of tools is that they keep the user coming back time and again. When women are shopping for clothes, they know they can find styles that match their body types on MyShape. For people trying to loose weight, FitDay gives them a place to enter their calories after each and every meal. From a marketing and lead generation perspective, this kind of stickiness is invaluable, and makes it easy to qualify and convert high-value leads. Tools that allow users to track their processes, calculate their needs, discover, compare and customize potential solutions are tools that will keep a user coming back to your site until they are ready to make a decision.

By taking a page from B2C marketing, B2B marketers can build tools that provide a deep level self-submitted user behaviors. These behaviors can be used to nurture users through their buying process and present them with relevant materials at appropriate times. Instead of responding to your marketing messages, users are now able to submit their own lead data (in their own timeframe) when they make the decision to work with your interactive tools.

May 12, 2008

Presidential Campaigns and the B2B Buying Process

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The Presidential candidates seem to have adopted the same marketing techniques used by online marketers, specifically B2B marketers. As strange as it sounds, it's possible to compare the Presidential electoral cycle to the complex sales cycle.

While the Presidential election is a high-stakes race for control of this country's government, candidates still have to rely on marketing techniques to get their voices heard and their faces in front of the masses. The Presidential campaigns are lengthy - lasting from 6-18 months - are education-intensive, and involve long-term nurturing of their target audience (voters). With so many people tuning into the race this year, B2B marketers may want to pay attention to how candidates have attracted, retained and nurtured their supporters, and how they plan on keeping them engaged from now until November.

Branding
To be a viable Presidential candidate, contenders have to create recognizable brands that appeal to potential supporters all over the country. In building their brands, candidates have a limited period of time to introduce themselves, educate the public on their policies, and prove that they can be trusted. By reaching out to voters with consistent messaging (signs, literature, buttons, commercials), providing a steady stream of high-quality educational materials (issue statements, press releases, online content, literature), and repeating their campaign's key themes at every opportunity(Change You Can Believe In; Straight Talk Express, Making History Together), the candidates have effectively created recognizable brands that seem to appeal to voters.

Building recognizable brands is also an essential component to running a successful B2B marketing campaign. When sending out marketing materials, B2B marketers work to establish themselves as trusted advisers that can be relied upon and turned to over the course of the buying cycle. To do this, marketers reach out to prospects with educational materials that are meant to facilitate the research phase of the buying cycle. By sending these kinds of materials early in the buying process, marketers build brand awareness, provide valuable research materials and hopefully establish themselves as trusted advisers.

Research & Education
With so much riding on the outcome of the Presidential Election, voters are increasingly educating themselves on the policies, backgrounds and beliefs of the Presidential candidates. To help voters learn about their issues, candidates have developed content that outlines their policies, highlights their voting records, and explains how they plan to proceed if elected. Voters can download issue statements, read press releases, watch videos and study the text of speeches on candidate websites. Campaigns also send out eNewsletters and text message updates to blast their supporters with information about the candidates.

With lengthy sales cycles involving expensive, and often highly technical products, B2B marketers have to provide a stream of educational materials to their prospects that will answer their questions as they progress through the buying process. And because different prospects have different requirements (the technical decision maker vs. the financial decision maker, for example), marketers need to develop content that will reach each kind of buyer at the appropriate point in their buying process. To do this, B2B marketers create white papers, case studies, webinars, product demos and podcasts that users can acces with ease when they're ready.

Nurturing
With an election cycle that started in early 2007 and will end in November of this year, Presidential campaigns have to nurture voters throughout the entire process. By reaching out to users with eNewsletters, text messages, events, and editorial content, Presidential candidates continuously strive to connect with and engage voters. Adding to this difficulty is the need for candidates to raise money from their supporters and motivate their base to volunteer their time, organize events and make phone calls on their behalf. So while candidates nurture voters through the process, they also have to engage people with Calls to Action.

Research on lead nurturing shows us that prospects are most likely to respond to your marketing message after you've engaged them with multiple touches (email messages, phone calls, eNewsletters, etc), and that 95% of initial leads are "green bananas" that need to be nurtured and ripened over time (with thanks to Brian Carroll). Because of this B2B marketers engage in "drip marketing" techniques that allow them to engage and re-engage prospects by reaching out to them over time and building their brand and their image as a trusted adviser. B2B marketers continuously reach out to prospects with eNewsletters, email marketing messages, engaging content and Calls to Action - though these Calls to Action generally invite users to participate in events, download trial versions of their products or watch multimedia content.

Content
Both Presidential campaigns and B2B marketing campaigns lean heavily on the use of content to get their views across- specifically audio, video and informational articles. There seems to be an overall recognition that eNewsletters and email marketing messages are effective tools for getting a message across to large numbers of people at once. And while B2B marketers are still somewhat lagging in their use of social media, Presidential campaigns seem to understand that the way to engage users is to let them participate in the process, and have widely implemented blogs, social communities, and user-generated content.

By comparing Presidential campaigns and B2B marketing campaigns, we can see how large, well-funded organizations are using the same tools to achieve very different goals. In looking at the similarities of the processes required to attain their goals however, it's clear that we can all learn from each other, and consider how some of the candidates' tactics could work in the B2B arena.

May 02, 2008

Designing Better Landing Pages

958915_sphere_revised.jpgIf you're in the business of generating online leads, you need a Landing Page that doesn't scare users away from becoming registered site members. A good Landing Page is one that encourages the casual user to register and convert, obtain the offer that drew them to your site, and return regularly. A good Landing Page whisks users through the registration process quickly, provides questions and response options that match their experiences, and doesn't demand the surrender of too much personal information.

I've culled some basic Landing Page design tips from experts in the field, and included them below. Crafting a well-designed Landing Page that converts a high number of users and generates quality leads requires far more than I've offered here.

1. Keep it short and simple. Jon Miller of Marketo and Modern B2B Marketing makes a great point in
Two Practical Landing Page Tips That Will Save You Money
. Using his company's Landing Page software, testing capabilities and tools, Miller ran a test to see which Landing Page forms convert at a higher rate - those with short forms (5 information fields), medium forms (7 information fields), or long forms (9 information fields). The short forms won hands down, with users converting at a higher rate and each conversion costing less. Miller's findings are clear - the more information you ask of your users, the less likely they are to provide it and the more that conversion costs.

2. Inspire trust with consistency in branding. Your Landing Page is part of your organization's corporate marketing message, and it's important to remind users that by registering via this page, they'll receive trustworthy content and information. By incorporating consistent branding on your Landing Pages (instead of implementing a particular product's branding campaign on its Landing Page), you present a united front to your users and let them know that your company is responsible for their personal information. In Think Beyond the Click: How to Build Landing Pages that Convert, Julie Mason writing for SearchEngineLand points out that the number one reasons people decline to submit personal information (or submit fake data) is because the site doesn't look credible.

3. Don't use too many bells and whistles. When encouraging site registration via a Landing Page, the last thing you want to do is frustrate your users and force them to navigate away from the Landing Page (or worse - close out their browser window entirely) because the graphics or pop-ups are too invasive. In 10 Landing Page Optimization Tactics by Larry Chase, Chase explains that while some users may appreciate the graphics display (especially gamers), most users just want to hand over their personal information so they can get the offer they've been promised. Hold off on using music, video, or pop-ups on Landing Pages and allow users to register with as little interruption as possible,

4. Limit navigation and escape routes! Once a user reaches your Landing Page, the goal is that they register. Period. While you typically want to offer users links to research they might find interesting or encourage people to investigate your site for themselves, you don't want to do this from your Landing Page. In Online Marketing Blog's Ten Tips for Lead Generation Landing Pages, Lee Odden says, "...each link is an invitation for the visitor to click away instead of converting. " By sticking with your corporate branding, a straight-forward registration form and a header or footer (with a link to your homepage), you have a better chance of converting users.

5. Don't forget your end of the bargain. It's essential to deliver on your promise once a user has taken the time to fill out your registration form and become a member of your site. When a user finds themselves on a Landing Page, they've arrived there after deciding to download a white paper, watch a webinar, or take some other action. If you strand your new member on a generic thank you page they're going to be frustrated, unsure of how to retrieve the content they registered for, and unhappy with their experience on your site. Make sure your re-direct new registrants to the content they want and save your thank you message for a follow-up email message.

May 01, 2008

Taking a Page from Online Newspapers

If you want to shake up IT marketing, consider taking a page from online news sites such as the Washington Post or the New York Times and expanding your use of graphics, interactive tools and customizable options when presenting your marketing materials. Instead of designing landing pages and research libraries simply as repositories for digital assets, consider how you can use these spaces to grab users and engage them in a meaningful online experience.

Take for example this Washington Post multimedia module called Forced Out. This investigative piece examines the DC real estate boom, and how it's given landlords the perfect opportunity to force poor tenants out of their homes in order to make way for expensive condos. The Washington Post effectively employs rich media, including a narrated slide show, videos, an interactive map and tabs that take the reader through the Post's 3-day investigation. Social media is also used in telling this story, and the Post provides a forum for readers to discuss the articles and share their feelings with one another. This cross-pollination of audio, video, photography, the written word and interactive tools allows the Post to engage several of the reader's senses when telling their story, and encourages them to get further involved with what they've learned.

When you are able to tell the story of your product or service, you are more likely to convince people to pay attention to your message, regardless of what you're trying to sell. Marketing technology may not be as sexy or glamorous as marketing couture or alcohol, but it doesn't have to be boring either. With the increased access to rich media tools, such as videos, interactive graphics, and audio, you can develop a variety of resources that appeal to all kinds of users. At the same time, you can position those resources in a way that while their messages overlap, they also each tell your story in different ways.

While many IT marketers are already developing content using a variety of media types, their assets are often segmented by type when you visit the company websites. Even when you have the ability to search for solutions or products, the supporting assets are generally presented as a list, and not as a cohesive unit. Landing pages and Microsites are more likely to group assets by product or topic, but even they lack the storytelling effect that you find when reading online news sites.

Social media plays a role in this new kind of storytelling too, as users want to know not only what a product's story is, but also what their peers think about the story. By adding user forums, reviews and comments to your marketing zones, you express an overall confidence in your product by allowing unsanctioned voices to contribute to its story. While a landing zone, Microsite or product page on your website may not seem like the best place to allow user-generated commentary, plenty of well-known businesses are already effectively employing these techniques.

Check out news sites around the web and think about how they generate interest in their stories. And remember, even though most newspapers are designed primarily to deliver the news, most of them are probably in the lead generation business too. We can learn from each other, and learning how the media employs rich media and social media practices in their business is a good place to start.