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July 28, 2008

The Power of the Olympic Brand

Beijing_Logo.gif
When it comes to brand awareness, the Olympics must be one of the most successful brands of all time. Perhaps we're drawn to the Olympics out of national pride triggered when we listen to our National Anthem during metal ceremonies, or maybe it's the memories we have of watching the Summer Olympics on our summer breaks as children that draws us to the games. Regardless of why we watch, the fact is that over half of the countries entire population does just that. Somehow the 5 rings are stuck in our minds, somehow the Olympic brand remains powerful for most of our nation.

In an article aptly titled, More Than Half of All U.S. Adults Will Be Watching The Olympics, from the Center for Media Research, Scarborough Sports Marketing claims that over 128 million US fans were expected to watch the Olympics Opening Ceremony on August 8. while 67% of those polled expressed having at least some interest in the athletic events. The Summer Olympics rank up there is popularity with the NFL (National Football League, but clearly, you already knew that), and the Winter Olympics - neither of which has the distinction of taking place during the summer months when there are tons of other activities to compete for their attention.

According to a Harvard Business Publishing article by Stephen Greyser, The Three Levels of Branding at Beijing, the Beijing Olympics are being dubbed the, "the branded Olympics," and are comprised of 3 separate levels of branding: that of the Olympic Sponsors, that of the Olympic Brand itself, and that of China. Each level has its own commercial pull and recognizability, and each level of branding can draw upon the strength of the other 2 levels in order to exponentially increase the overall Olympic brand.

Olympic Sponsors are even given a leg-up in getting their messages across, as the Chinese government has restricted some of the ad space in Beijing to those officially sponsoring the games according to the New York Times article, Olympic Sponsors to Benefit Under a Tougher Stance in China.

Obviously, not all of our attraction to the Olympics is organic - the fact that Olympic Sponsors, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the host country itself are all working so hard to develop the Olympic brand, and associate themselves with it suggests that we're watching in part because the rings are branded in our minds, and in part because we're being told to do so from all directions. According to the BrandCurve article, Can the 2008 Summer Olympics Break the Summer Slump?, advertisers are pumping all kinds of money into promoting the games, and NBC (the US television host of the Beijing Olympics) is counting on people to pick up the message and run (to their television sets) with it. Another BrandCurve article, The Olympics - Branding on a Global Stage, discusses how host countries have come to embody the entirety of the Olympic spirit, and how they use the opportunity to showcase and brand their country, culture, art, history and people.

With so much riding on the Summer Olympics - for the host country, the IOC, the Olympic Sponsors, and of course the Olympians (and their families, friends and training partners), I feel like I'd better finish this post up and go tune into the games myself. After all, you wouldn't want all of that branding to go to waste now would you!

Beijing Official Logo: Credit: BOCOG

July 24, 2008

So What is a Widget Anyway?

By now, you've probably seen and heard of widgets (like the ones above), but do you actually know what they are, how they're used, and how you can use them to attract site visitors and build your brand? As users demand more customizable and interactive online experiences, web-based businesses have to meet that challenge by developing sticky tools, such as widgets, that allow their users to take their online experiences to the next level.

According to Wikipedia, a widget is:

...an element of a graphical user interface (GUI) that displays information that is changeable by the user, such as a window or a text box. The defining characteristic of a widget is to provide a single interaction point for the direct manipulation of a given kind of data. Widgets are basic visual building blocks which, combined in an application, hold all the data processed by the application and the available interactions on this data.

More simply, a widget is an online tool that can be embedded into websites, blogs, and social networking profile pages to share information - such as the weather or news, stream music or movies, display photos, play games, or set up quizzes, countdowns and other time wasters. You can find widgets that allow you to create yourself as a Simpson's character (The Simpsomaker), make your own Zen Fish Tank Aquarium, and even create your own Cyber Pets to hang out on your site.

Organizations can also use widgets as part of their marketing and branding efforts; a well-designed, easy-to-use widget can be implemented all over the web, but tracked back to your site and made recognizable with your corporate branding. Social bookmarking sites such as Furl and Multiply have their own widgets that can be embedded in blogs, you can subscribe to various RSS feeds using their respective widgets, and you can link to popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace using their widgets.

By creating these sticky tools, you make it possible to increase your web presence without having to do much actual work. When users have the ability to add your site to their blog with your widget, your branding is on their site, and you benefit by gaining access to your users' networks. These little icons are a good way to get your logo on your users' mobile devices too - as people use widgets to organize their online experiences. When you build a widget that links people back to your site, you are never more than a click away from your users.

And by building widgets, you also build the potential to engage and re-engage your users as they navigate away from your site and back to your site using your widgets. According to a BusinessWeek article, Building a Brand with Widgets, widgets are potentially better from engaging users than are more traditional online ads such as banners. By providing a tool that is actually helpful to people, you give them a way to accomplish their objectives and connect back with your brand.

If you do develop widgets that lead back to your site, you have to acknowledge that you will not have any control over where those widgets live on the web. People might place your widgets on websites that you would not necessarily want to be associated with, but at the end of the day, the traffic from that site might find its way back to yours and increase your overall audience. Just remember that the more sites your widgets live on all over the web, the more your brand will be recognized and the more traffic you will drive to your site.

July 17, 2008

Saying Hello Sets the Stage

welcome_revised.jpgEmail marketers are constantly working to attract new subscribers, but maintaining lists, developing relationships with new members, and retaining users is equally, if not more important when it comes to creating high-value, sales-ready leads. To determine how companies welcome new members, Return Path, an email services company, signed up for 61 email programs and examined how they were treated once they expressed interest in a company's offerings by handing over their personal information.

In their recently published research study, Creating Great Subscriber Experiences: Are Marketers Relationship Worthy?, Return Path analyzed their email subscription experiences, and concluded that most email marketers don't appreciate the timeliness and value of welcoming new members to their sites.

While best practices suggest that marketers should send a welcome email to new subscribers (preferably within 24-hours of attaining the new member), Return Path found that 60% of the companies they tested failed to send a welcome message, and 30% failed to send new members any messages within the first 30 days of the subscriber's registration.

By ignoring these new members, companies lose the opportunity to engage prospects early in their buying process, and immediately after expressing interest in the company. The fact that someone has taken the time to register for an email program is indicative of a high level of interest, and suggests that they would be receptive to starting a dialog or relationship. Ideally, you want to strike while the iron is hot and send a confirmation/welcome message to new subscribers within the first 24-hours of receiving their data.

Sending welcome messages so quickly benefits both parties too. New members will know that their information was properly submitted and received, will have their subscription data (or a link to their subscription data) for future reference, and will know that their interest in your company has not gone unnoticed. At the same time, email marketers benefit by confirming that their new users have entered deliverable email addresses, by increasing their brand awareness with a branded email message, and by giving the new member an opportunity to immediately engage with additional marketing materials.

According to the Return Path study however, it took an average of 9 days for companies to send their first messages after obtaining new subscribers. Once a new member has hit the "submit" button on your site, you have basically been invited to send them a message and welcome them to your site. When you overlook this crucial step, you lose out on quickly segmenting, qualifying and engaging some of the most interested prospects on your email lists. You also fall behind in keeping your brand first-and-foremost in front of these already-engaged eyes, and could lose the lead altogether if they're more effectively courted by your competition.

So the time is now to put in place an automated email message welcoming all new members to your site.
To learn more about crafting effective email marketing welcome messages, check out this compilation of articles and best practice guides from Email Marketing Reports. While implementing a process to welcome new members may seem simple, remember that the first message most of your users receive may be the only one they ever read.

July 09, 2008

Nurture Leads by Segmenting your Subscribers

email_nurture_revised.jpgA recent MediaPost Email Insider article, Elongated Sales Cycles Require Stronger Segmentation by Stephanie Miller talks about the ever-lengthening sales cycle and suggests that the way to handle this is by segmenting users and marketing targeted messages to small groups. In the article, Miller states the need to pay attention to subscriber behaviors, and direct messages to small groups as they reach different points in the buying process.

To develop a segmentation strategy for your organization, first consider how often users are visiting your site. Miller suggests sending segmented messages to first-time visitors, active prospects and lapsed members, but you can break up your member groups in any way that works for your sales cycle. With IT marketing, you may want to segment according to the number of, or the kinds of engagements members have had with your content. If a group of users downloads two related pieces of content - regardless of the products being offered - you might develop specific category-based marketing messages that provide education on specific technologies.

When segmenting your subscribers, it's essential that you understand user behavior throughout the buying process. By knowing, for example, that users are more likely to purchase a product if they've checked out a trial download, you can respond to user behaviors with the right kind of messaging. For basic insight into B2B marketing guidelines, industry reports such as Marketing Sherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark provide a host of insight into user behavior during the B2B sales cycle.

Once you've determined what your users' behaviors mean in relation to their place in the sales cycle, you can develop lead scoring that examines engagements and assigns a score to each lead. Once your users have been assigned scores, you can start marketing to small groups that have shared scores. In using this kind of approach, you are able to automate the process of segmenting users according to their online behaviors, and create messages that meet their targeted needs.

By sending highly targeted messages to small groups of users, it may seem as if you're wasting your time (clicks = revenue), but you actually increase your changes of catching users when they're in need of technical data, a compelling case study or an interactive presentation. Buyers want their buying processes to run according to their own schedules. By paying attention to where your leads are in their buying processes, you come across as being responsive and mindful of your buyers' needs. This kind of responsiveness is highly valued, and users will trust those sending the emails when they feel they aren't being bombarded with ill-timed and inappropriate messages.

Once you've gained the trust of the user, you can continue to nurture them through the buying process, and hopefully turn your prospect into an actual buyer.