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December 12, 2008

How B2B Marketers Can Monetize Social Media

If you've been trying to introduce social media and networking tools and create an online community centered around your company, products or services, there's a good chance that you've hit walls when it comes to explaining how exactly these new products can be monetized. While B2C has leveraged the power of social media and social networking with great success, B2B is still struggling to justify the investments required to develop, host, and manage social tools and communities on their websites.

In most companies, new product ideas are welcomed and products are developed when there is a clear path to ROI - if something isn't fiscally viable, it probably won't last long in many marketing departments. Since social media and networking is still relatively young, there isn't a vast repository of information that explains how social media usage can be measured, benchmarked, analyzed and monetized - especially in the realm of B2B.

This creates a catch-22 of sorts for many B2B marketers - all kinds of companies WANT to employ social media tactics in their marketing strategies, but no one has the cold, hard data proving that doing so will result in a positive ROI. Until someone takes the plunge (and reports on their findings) however, no one has the ammunition to prove the profitability of using social media as part of their marketing campaigns.

You can sense the impatience of some of the media industry's most influential players in this roundtable video produced by FOLIOMag. In this video, Creating Community media insiders discuss (and sometimes argue) why social media is so important, and how it can be monetized when partnered with existing lead generation efforts.




Some of the benefits of social media highlighted in the video include:

1. The ability to use social media to extend your content (by allowing users to create their own content, comment on existing content, and share your content via bookmarking/tagging tools), extend your reach (by breaking down your website's "walls" and connecting to users via widgits and sharing tools), and increase your site's stickiness (by giving users a reason to stick around and interact with your site's offerings).

2. The chance to give your customers what they want, all while gathering deeper information about your audience. This allows you to deliver content with greater relevance and selectively target users with the data they've openly provided.

3. The opportunity to grow your audience by attracting social-savvy users (and their friends), establishing deeper relationships with your users (by responding to their messages, comments and content), and moving away from the current "broadcast" method of communication (1-way communication from you to your users).

4. The competitive advantage of being able to deliver an increased level of depth, quantity, and quality with your leads based on the new kinds of information able to be gathered via the social tools.

5. The capability to reach new advertisers by offering social media as a product on its own merit, or as a part of an integrated marketing campaign.

If you're interested in learning more about how you can measure ROI and monetize social media as part of your overall marketing strategy, the resources below should help you get started.

Social Media ROI Resources
from Constructing Social

Online Community ROI: Models and Reporting - Research Study Posted
from Bill Johnston: Online Community Strategy

A Marketing Charts Study: Marketing Execs Must Realize and Learn to Use Power of Social Media

Frogloop's ROI Calculator: Is It Worth It? An ROI Calculator for Social Network Campaigns

The Online Marketing Blog post: Social Media Analysis and Tracking

November 18, 2008

Using Social Media to Shorten Sales Cycles

Social media and online communities have exploded over the past few years, but most B2B marketers still haven't figured out how social media can be implemented and monetized as part of their overall marketing strategies. With stable revenue sources already in place, insignificant budgets for developing and building new (and untested) marketing tools, and little data on the ROI of social media, B2B marketers are sticking with traditional online models (including lead generation and banner advertising) and resisting the inclusion of social media tools on their sites and in their campaigns. staircase.jpg

If your company is already running a website that, through email marketing, SEO tactics, and organic traffic, attracts return visitors regularly and requires users to register to view content, than adding social media and networking tools is a logical next step for growing your business. By providing loyal users with a website focused on serving their needs and hearing their opinions, you build stickiness into your site, encourage increased engagement with your content, and gain priceless insight into what your members are researching, testing out, engaging with, and most of all - thinking about purchasing.

B2B marketers already know that the buying process is lengthy, especially when big businesses are making the purchases, and everyone from the development group to the CFO is involved in making the final decision. This process means that B2B buyers seek out content, share their findings with colleagues, engage with various kinds of research materials, and consume educational materials until a consensus is achieved and a purchase is made.

If marketers already know that the B2B buying process lasts anywhere from 3 - 18 months (depending on the size/revenue of the buyer & the costs involved), and that successfully navigating this process requires offering a range of content and content delivery methods that appeal to potential buyers, than creating a venue where users return regularly, engage with your content, and express their needs (via created content, forums/commenting, reviews, and content consumption) is an ideal way to identify and target users with appropriate and timely messages that ideally help shorten the sales cycle.

By implementing social tools on your site, the quantity, quality, and type of user data that can be collected and analyzed changes, and you gain access to previously unavailable information that can guide you in targeting, customizing and delivering content delivered to users right as they realize that what you've delivered is exactly what they need. While you may need to develop new ways of tracking and reporting how users interact with your site, your efforts will pay off in the form of new types of data that can be used for marketing purposes, included as part of your lead scoring efforts, or offered to clients in an effort to increase your overall cost-per-lead.

In these challenging economic times, vendors are looking for as much information about their prospects as possible, so they can leverage the data and reach out to niche markets, segment their leads according to their stage in the buying cycle, and arm themselves with a better understanding of each of their leads. Allowing users to express themselves via social media tools, self-submit personal information related to their buying needs, and engage with content on their own terms allows leads to fulfill their own research and education needs, and provides sales with a more complete picture of their prospect. Armed with this kind of full-bodied data, you can potentially remove yourself from having to nurture leads through parts of the buying process, and shorten the sales cycle.

Opening up B2B sites to social media has the potential to be a win-win situation: users benefit when they content more deeply, and engage with your content, and sales benefits when they are handed sales-ready leads who have nurtured themselves through the buying process by actively engaging and interacting with your marketing materials. People want their voices heard - and by offering social media on your site, you show users that you really are listening and responding to their needs.

August 29, 2008

Pushing Prospects through the Pipeline

A recent Marketing Sherpa report addresses lead nurturing best practices, and is a helpful update on how to best reach prospects once they've engaged with your content, but not independently returned to your site. By applying the practices outlined in Lead Nurturing Best Practices: New Data, Charts, Tips to Put More Punch in Your Cultivation Tactics, you can align your lead nurturing program with what's shown to be working industry-wide. In compiling this report, Marketing Sherpa partnered with Eloqua (a lead management & demand generation powerhouse) and On24 (a leader in the virtual event and webinar space), to survey over 1000 marketing professionals to learn about their lead nurturing methods.

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According to the report, lead generation isn't what's difficult - with the general thinking being that most lead generating companies already have plenty of leads, they just don't have plenty of sales ready leads. In order to deliver high-quality, sales-ready prospects to your sales team, you need to put your energies into nurturing your existing leads over the long term, and expect that it will take up to 24 months for some of your leads to turn into sales. To effectively nurture leads over the long term, your lead nurturing programs need to be elevated within your organization, and given the same kind of time and energy that's put into generating leads.

The Marketing Sherpa report touches on a few key concepts that I've examined and explained in further detail below:

Best Practice #1. Use multi-media touches to nurture leads

In order to effectively reach your prospects, you need to use more than email newsletters or triggered email messages to move leads through your sales pipeline. While email marketing is a tried-and-true method of nurturing leads, you need to do more. According to the report, a combination of email messages, direct mail, and telemarketing efforts works best when trying to segment your leads.

If you really want to reach people where it counts, you can look to telemarketing as a tool to help increase your brand awareness, determine where in the buying cycle prospects are, and offer educational materials to help further their awareness of your company, products and services. Direct mail is a great way to invite people to virtual and face-to-face events, and remind users of new content or marketing materials they might want to check out on your site. Email marketing is a good tool for drip-nurturing, and can be employed when you have a group of prospects that are actively involved in researching solutions, and want to nudged along with new content or new information related to your offerings.

Best Practice #2. Quick response to Web leads can maximize conversions

With our always-on world, it's no longer good enough to wait 24-hours before making contact with a new prospect. With so many competitors vying for the same sets of eyes, it's crucial that you cement your relationship with new leads inside of an hour (!). And according to the Marketing Sherpa data, "calls placed within five minutes of receiving a Web lead have the highest likelihood of making contact."

To achieve this kind of real-time responsiveness, you need to move toward automating your lead generation and reporting processes, so that leads land in your CRM system as soon as they're generated. And while moving from weekly lead reports to automated reporting processes might require an overhaul of your entire lead management practices, doing so may also significantly improve your overall sales.

Best Practice #3. Use a lead scoring system

Lead scoring is a great way to segment your leads and determine how best each prospect should be nurtured through the pipeline. By rating leads based on a series of filters, such as their location, their time frame for implementing a solution, or their role in the IT decision making process, you can place your leads in separate silos, and nurture each group according to their specific needs.

Scoring is also an effective way to separate the "wheat from the chaff," and figure out how long any given lead should require nurturing before they reach sales readiness. While some leads may enter your sales pipeline with low scores, you can develop strategies for nurturing those prospects and keep your pipeline full as each group of leads receives your messages and moves through the buying process.

By scoring leads, automating reporting so that leads are contacted immediately upon entering your CRM system, and nurturing your scored and segmented prospects with a variety of tools, you should be able to accelerate your sales as you continuously move leads through the pipeline.

You can learn more about Lead Nurturing by listening to this podcast from The Innovative Marketer, What is lead nurturing and why should you care?

August 13, 2008

Viral Video as a Brand Builder

I received an email recently with a link to a YouTube video that, once I'd checked it out, made me think differently about how viral video can be used to market or promote just about anything, regardless of its connection to the video's content.

In this video titled, "Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)," a young man named Matt dances in 42 countries on 7 continents, and with adults and children, various animals and even fish. He doesn't advertise anything in the video, conveys no obvious marketing messages, and is seemingly unconnected to anything other than himself. At the end of the video however, there is a brief message thanking Stride Gum for making the whole thing possible.

Wanting to know more, I went to both Matt's site, Where the Hell is Matt?, and to the Stride Gum site to find out how this gum company is connected to this dancing guy. It turns out that Matt made an initial dancing video several years ago, which was passed around the internet by friends and was eventually viewed by someone over at Stride Gum. According to Matt's website, Stride contacted Matt and asked if he wanted to travel around the world on their dime and make another dancing video.

From what I can tell, Matt isn't chewing gum in his videos, he doesn't talk about gum, and there's no pitch for viewers to go out and buy Stride Gum. Instead, Matt and Stride Gum have produced and released a really cool video that, according to the counter on YouTube, has been viewed 3,250,510 times! Of those 3 million plus viewers, there's no doubt that some of them watched the video and wanted to know how this dancing American and this gum company were connected.

By sponsoring this kind of video, Stride Gum took a leap of faith that the video would take on a life of its own on the internet, and that (at least in some instances), the company would gain some brand recognition once viewers got to the end and saw Stride listed as the sponsor. I'd never heard of Stride Gum until I watched the video; now I know the name, know what the company makes, and will look for the brand the next time I go to buy some gum.

Instead of trying to build their brand by forcing Matt to wear a Stride Gum tee-shirt, by making him chew gum and dance, or by having him shout the company's slogan (The Ridiculously Long Lasting Gum) at the end of the video, Stride Gum let Matt make a message-free video, and counted on the fact that people would want to know more about their company once they'd finished watching. In this instance, less is actually more, and Stride Gum wins by leaving the corporate message out of the viral video.

Other companies might try similar tactics in using video to promote their products. While it may seem risky to leave your message out of your marketing content, it could also pay off. If you're considering using viral video as a marketing tool, think about Stride Gum's strategy, and consider creating content that builds brand by making great videos that everyone wants to watch.

July 28, 2008

The Power of the Olympic Brand

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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.

June 02, 2008

Managing the Buzz of an Interactive World

buzz_revised.jpgWith the introduction and widespread use of social media online, the digital landscape has changed from a one-way content stream (companies create and deliver content to users), to a two-way content stream (companies and consumers both create and deliver content). This two-way content stream has been good for companies; the more users engage with a company's marketing materials, the more connected they feel toward the company's brand. At the same time however, social media has opened companies to negative and potentially brand-damaging user interactions.

As more people user social media, and more companies incorporate social media tools into their sites, users have more ways to communicate their views with corporate entities, and corporations have less control over the messages going out with their names attached. If users decide that they are unhappy with a company's actions, they can use the company's own website and communications channels to express their dismay over the situation.

Once angry comments, or "buzz," start popping up on blogs or in user forums, companies no longer control their overall image and reputations can suffer. Rob Key, CEO of Converseon sums it up, "You no longer own your brand. Your brand is a conversation." Once conversations about your company turn negative, your hard-earned reputation can be sullied, and your company's earnings can even suffer.

Because user-participation online is not going away, companies need strategies to manage their online reputations without stifling the voices of their customers. It's clear that people want to participate in their online experiences, and by turning off the comment functionality on blogs, or disallowing user-generated content on websites, companies will only push their users further away and erode their reputation and their customer base.

To help companies keep abreast of the online "buzz" being generated in their name, companies can use "buzz monitoring" tools that track names, products and brands all over the web. In addition to the paid services that exist, companies can start tracking their online reputation with any of these 26 free buzz tracking tools. While you may not be able to control the conversations taking place about your company, you can monitor what people are saying, respond to negative posts, and reach out to people to limit the damage.

Learn more about how to monitor your company's reputation with the Free Online Reputation Management Beginner's Guide by Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim. Even though the guide was originally published in 2006, the tips and tools offered by Beal are relevant to everything that's going on today and deal with how to manage negative consumer generated media (CGM) before it ruins your corporate reputation. You can also learn more on The Forrester Blog for Interactive Marketing Professionals post by Peter Kim, Three Key Applications for Brand Monitoring.

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.

April 30, 2008

Educating People to Take Action

obama_revised.jpgSenator Barack Obama is considered to be the most plugged-in of the candidates when it comes to using the internet as a campaign tool. In the Rolling Stone article, The Machinery of Hope, the author discusses how Obama followed in Governor Howard Dean's footsteps when it came to using the Internet, and how initially, that was considered a risky thing to do (given Dean's political spin out in the 2000 Presidential election). With that said, Obama was wise to stick with his online strategy, and his wisdom has paid off in the guise of a robust website that's packed with social media tools.

Obama's homepage grabs the users and asks them to take action right away. Site visitors are greeted with a dynamic window that flashes new content every few seconds; each window asks visitors to take a different action - from downloading his "Plan for America," to donating money after looking at the map of committed delegates. This kind of instant engagement is good for getting people involved as soon as they land on his site, and offers the kind of education voters seek when looking to elect a leader.

Education seems to be a key to the Obama campaign, and the first tab in the site's navigation is "Learn." From this link, users can find all kinds of information about the Senator from Illinois, and even check facts to find out if what they're hearing in the news (or from other candidates) is true. In his "Issues" section, Obama even offers his 64-page "Blueprint for Change," a document that outlines his plan for the country if elected President.

Obama's campaign seems to rely on getting people involved in the process - not unlike Clinton's strategy. From the "People" link where Obama addresses Americans of all different races, ethnicities and backgrounds, to the "Action Center" where he reaches out to voters and asks them to donate money, organize events and volunteer their time, people are at the heart of this campaign. Voters can also sign up for an account on MyBarackObama.com, a personalized online community of Obama supporters, and create their own groups in support of the candidate.

The Obama campaign also has a blog, offers eNewsletter updates, mobile/text updates, ring tones and wallpaper for cell phones and a variety of interactive tools that let voters see how many voters are needed to secure the nomination, and when primary elections are scheduled around the country. Voters can also download all kinds of Obama imagery, and the image above was downloaded right from his site and dropped into this post with little editing.

Overall it seems that the Obama campaign has really stressed the importance of educating voters by providing a tremendous amount of content (multimedia and text) that they can turn to throughout the electoral process. Once voters are educated as to the facts, the website is set up to allow people to form their own alliances in support of Obama and to participate at their own pace.

April 29, 2008

Building a Brand with Social Media

Senator John McCain may be slightly older than his competition, his campaign strategy includes plenty of social media tools that are meant to attract younger voters and reach out to tech-savvy supporters of all ages.

Voters have all kinds of options for getting involved with the McCain campaign when they visit his website, and his site navigation promotes participation. The second tab on his homepage is the "Get Involved" tab, and from that link, voters can engage with the campaign in a variety of ways.

The staff of the McCain campaign clearly understand the need to brand their candidate, and they provide free downloads of McCain web banners, Google icons, cell phone wallpaper, Facebook photos and buddy icons for instant message clients. By giving voters easy access to McCain's image, they are asking supporters to assist in their branding of the candidate and show the world that they support McCain. Consider this - I grabbed the URL for the image above right off of the McCain website and didn't have to resize it or edit it at all to work on my blog!

Senator McCain has also embraced the value of offering a range of multimedia content that can be downloaded and saved for future reference. Voters can find McCain videos, speeches, advertisements, and policy statements on his website, and his Multimedia page has a YouTube logo and videos prominently placed at the top of the page. McCain also gives voice to his supporters and his website has a space for videos created by average Americans in support of his campaign.

Like the other candidates, McCain has communities on Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube, but he's also created "McCain Space," where voters can create an account and be a part of his campaign's community. McCain's campaign blog is written by campaign staffers, includes embedded video, and has some posts that have drawn over 1000 comments - not bad! And unlike the other candidates, McCain seems to use RSS Feeds effectively and has "top feeds" set up on his blog homepage that are easy to access.

McCain's use of social media on his site appears to really promote his brand and engage users to get involved in the campaign. By offering photographs and videos that really show McCain in action on the campaign trail, McCain reinforces his image and builds brand awareness. His site is less focused on user-generated content than those of Clinton or Obama, but in his case, branding may be the best way to attract voters right now.

April 28, 2008

Engage and Nurture with Social Media

clinton_revised.jpgMuch like Senator Obama and McCain's campaigns, Hillary Clinton's campaign has embraced social media as a tool for reaching out to voters and encouraging them to get involved in the political process. Clinton's campaign seems to understand the importance of getting voters involved in the process, and her website includes many areas where voters can get involved and become a part of history.

Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY)
When visiting the Hillary Clinton website, you're greeted with a dynamic selection of comments that people have posted to BlogHillary, the campaign's official blog. Written by members of the Hillary Clinton for President (the campaign's official name) staff, prominent Clinton supporters and citizen-bloggers, BlogHillary addresses the issues, chronicles campaign events, and invites Clinton supporters to get involved by organizing events, signing petitions and adding their comments to the blog.

Clinton encourages voters to get involved by joining one of the Clinton communities on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, by following the candidate's Tweets, or by watching Hillary videos on YouTube. Voters are also invited to start their own Hillary-related blogs, sign up for campaign updates via text messages or subscribe to HillaryHub (a site that tracks Clinton-related news) RSS feeds. From the website supporters can also donate money, volunteer their time, or sign up to host their own events.

The Clinton campaign appears to understand the need to engage and nurture voters over the course of the lengthy election cycle, and provides ample content to achieve this goal. From speeches and press releases to videos, photos, articles and issue statements, voters can find a comprehensive array of information on Hillary's beliefs, voting history, background, and policy initiatives. As this information is always available (and constantly expanded), voters can research the candidate on their own schedule, and with a range of educational tools.

In examining the Hillary Clinton for President website, it looks as if the campaign understands the importance of generating leads (i.e. voters), and nurturing those leads through a lengthy decision making process. Much like the B2B buying process - which involves long-term lead generation and nurturing - the electoral cycle requires candidates to attract voters early on (before their state primaries), and retain them through the national election. During this time (from 6 to 18 months), candidates rely on voters to participate in their campaigns by donating money, organizing events and volunteering their time.

April 27, 2008

Social Media Can Change the World

vote_revised.jpgRegardless of how you plan to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, you have to admit that the 3 mainstream candidates for the Presidency have effectively implemented social media strategies and engagement marketing into their online campaigns. And while Senator Barack Obama's is generally considered the first to have embraced social media as a cornerstone of his campaign (see this Rolling Stone article - The Machinery of Hope), Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain both have developed campaigns that rely heavily on social media to engage voters.

With the need to reach as many voters as possible before November, the campaigns have developed marketing strategies that recognize the value of user participation, social networking, real-time updates, and the availability of multimedia and text-based content. Instead of delivering static messages to voters, candidates have opened up their campaigns to their supporters and asked them to participate in the process by blogging, joining online communities, organizing events, and reaching out to other voters.

By incorporating social media into their campaigns, the Presidential contenders have introduced the concept of online user-participation to mainstream America, and opened the door to widespread use of social media in other segments of society. With so many people discovering social media tools, it’s possible that people may begin to expect social media options when making other serious decisions.

While some B2B marketers have already developed excellent social media strategies and use blogs, multimedia, user-generated content and personalization to engage their users over the course of their buying processes, there are still plenty of B2B marketing campaigns that lack social media tools. In looking at the Presidential candidates' websites, it's interesting to understand how social media is being used to engage, educate and nurture people through lengthy decision-making processes, and how those techniques can be applied when developing other kinds of marketing campaigns.

I've examined Hillary Clinton, John McCain and Barack Obama's websites in an attempt to understand how they have leveraged social media tools to generate interest in their campaigns, invite voter participation, engage and re-engage voters over a lengthy election cycle, convince voters to donate money, and motivate supporters to cast their votes in November. Over the next several posts, I will dissect the social media strategies employed by each of the candidates and try to discover how B2B marketers can use similar strategies to achieve their own goals.

April 14, 2008

Building Your B2B Brand

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A recent Buzz Marketing for Technology blog post by Paul Dunay asks a simple question: Is Social Media More Difficult in B2B than B2C? I've been trying to come to terms with this concept in posts I've authored recently, and am struck by the points Dunay raises about building B2B brand identity, brand loyalty, and B2B social media usage.

Dunay explains that when you hear "Ralph Lauren," or "The Gap," you can easily envision the people who wear those brands - and from there, you can create a marketing platform that might appeal to the people who wear those brands, and engage those brand loyalists as such. When you mention big IT companies however, it's harder to associate any one group of people with the brands that dominate among those companies. There is no typical Microsoft user; there is no easily identifiable group of IBM devotees or Dell disciples that you can visualize and grasp onto for marketing purposes.

Building a B2C brand, and subsequent loyalty among B2C consumers, is generally considered to be easier than building a B2B brand. Because of the passion people tend to feel for consumer purchases (consider the buzz generated when the iPhone was released), taking the next step and getting people to actually identify with their favorite consumer products (and therefore, their favorite brands) is that much easier. After all, how many people do you know who are willing to in line to purchase new virtuzlization technology or disk-to-disk backup systems for their businesses?

The market segment you need to reach when marketing B2B technology is vast, unstructured and not easily pigeon-holed. We can identify the titles of key decision makers in the B2B buying process, but we can't as easily pinpoint what brands they wear, where they buy their coffee, or what kinds of cars they like to drive. In lacking this ability, it becomes more difficult to build identifiable brand loyalty, and create meaningful social media outlets where influential B2B decision makers will feel comfortable hanging out and engaging and interacting with other B2B buyers and their content.

And while B2B marketers do have the good fortune of dealing with a relatively well-established group of B2B buyers and decision makers, B2B buying doesn't tend to excite passion the way that clothing, car or coffee brands tend to. Creating brand loyalty is an excellent way to promote unity, passion and excitement around any product - and when you're able to do these things, it becomes easier to incite your users to interact and engage with whatever media you present to them.

So what matters in B2B branding? How do you implore users to identify with your corporation, your products, philosophies and your brand - especially if you want to use that branding to instill a sense of loyalty and passion and ignite user-interaction via social media tools? Let me know your thoughts on the matter - the verdict is, after all, still out on the best way to reach this influential, tech-savvy group of decision makers who make the IT marketing world go-round.

April 01, 2008

Start Managing Your Online Reputation

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With so many social networking Websites and interactive options available across the Web, it's easy to lose track of the sites you're participated in or joined over the past few years. The use of social media provides so many opportunities to express yourself, introduce yourself, and generally get yourself known online, that you may need to consider what kind of online reputation you've been building over time - either intentionally or accidentally.

Without even meaning to, your participation in various online sites could have created a trail of misleading, incorrect, or less-than-flattering profiles scattered about the web. Search tools like Google Alerts or Yahoo Alerts allow people to find every instance of your name and profile online, and if you have incorrect information out there - you need to consider the impact of that information popping up when a prospective employer Googles your name, or a potential client stumbles across an out-of-date LinkedIn profile.

Think about profiles you've created over the past 5 years and ask yourself the following questions:

Since creating your online profiles have you...

• moved, gotten a new phone number or changed your email address?
• gotten married, divorced or had children?
• gotten a new job/left an old job?
• graduated from school?
• updated any training or certifications?
• won awards, joined professional organizations or community groups?
• changed industries?
• gotten a new title or changed job responsibilities?
• started or closed a company?
• expanded your online presence with a website or blog?
• changed industries or left the job market altogether?

If you answered yes to any of these, and have not updated your online profiles recently, you might consider doing a Google search on your own name and seeing what comes up. While you may think that managing your online reputation isn't all that important, if you're not engaged in a job search or looking to expand your network, you need to consider that it's better to be proactive and manage this information before you need a new job than wait and try to do it all once it's time to get back out there and make new connections.

It's already clear how important online reputations can be on eAuction sites like eBay and Amazon, where users post positive and negative feedback about their interactions with other buyers and sellers. A bad eBay reputation can get a seller blacklisted, and make participation in the site difficult. With so much in our lives being accessed online, it's starting to matter more and more what you have on your MySpace and Facebook profiles that you stopped checking 2 years ago, as well as what's on your updated LinkedIn page.

Check out these resources to learn more about how you can manage your reputation and control what others learn when they search for you online.

Reputation Repair is Mission Critical from Brand Titan

Online Reputation Monitoring Beginners Guide by Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim

34 Online Reputation Management Tools by Duct Tape Marketing

Remember, these are basic tips for starting the process of managing your online reputation management. I will address more in-depth steps you can take to control your image online in another post.

November 26, 2007

Copywriting with Keywords for Improved Search Results

Adding SEO (search engine optimization) practices to your Web site is a multi-step process that can involve making changes to your site's architecture, who you link to and how (for credibility's sake), and how you market your site and site materials. While implementing some of these processes take time and the cooperation of most of your company's departments, there are quick and easy ways you can improve your search results.

One site you can send your copywriters to is Wordtracker.com, where they have set up free Keyword Suggestion tool. With this keyword suggestion tool, you can enter a keyword, find out how many times that keyword was searched (according to Wordtracker's formula), and see 100 related keywords that are being searched.

When writing headlines, titles, and abstracts or summaries, your copywriters can see which terms are generating the most searches online and use the more popular terms to describe your marketing materials. Using this tool, I typed in "virtualization," and found it to be the most popular of 1614 searches related to virtualization - this didn't surprise me. What I did find surprising, was that the 3rd most popular related search term - "virtualization software" was only searched 29 times.

Search algorithms are still somewhat a mystery, but this free keyword suggestion tool can take some of the guesswork out of writing copy for optimal searches. Check out a list of 12 keyword suggestion tools at The SEO Company.

-BH