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January 12, 2009

Explore the Web with Alternative Browsers

Web browsers are integral to everyday life for anyone who spends any time on the Internet. Whether you work for an online company, spend your days blogging and tweeting, buy everything from clothes to airline tickets online or connect to friends, music, and your community on the Internet, you do so within the confines of a browser. Most people use the same few browsers, and probably don't think much about what their particular browser choice offers (or doesn't offer) when compared to other browsers. Since the space in which you interact with online content does help shape your online experience though, I thought it'd be interesting to present alternatives to the most used browsers.

Almost everyone - 98.09% of web users - access the web using three basic browsers - Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari according to research from Net Applications. The Net Applications graph below shows 2008 web browser market share in the 3rd quarter. It's interesting to note that the introduction of Google Chrome in September of this year actually altered the browser share landscape - when I looked at the data for the entirety of 2008, Chrome didn't appear. When I looked at the data for the third quarter however, Chrome made a slight difference in the browser shares.

Browser_Market_Share.jpg

So what do the "Other" browsers offer that differentiates them from the Big Three?

Released as a beta product in September, Google Chrome is attracting attention with its simple design and open source code. Designed to support web applications that run within the browser and prevent the entire browser from crashing if one tab crashes, Google Chrome solves problems that other browsers have not yet fully addressed. Google Chrome also has helpful features - like the ability to open web applications via desktop shortcuts (instead of through the browser) - that offer users flexibility in how they access their favorite applications.

A multi-platform supported browser that works on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Solaris, QNX, OS/2, FreeBSD, and BeOS, Opera browsers are available for the desktop, on advanced mobile devices (such as Blackberries), and even on low-end phones. Opera offers advanced web browsing features that include advanced tab management, customizable web searches, a "Speed Dial" feature that allows you to access your favorite websites using visual bookmarks that appear when you open a new tab, an email client that indexes and sorts your messages for you.

Though not listed in Net Application's data, Flock is another browser that connects users with social networks and Web 2.0 features. Powered by the same technology that runs the Mozilla Firefox browser, Flock integrates photo, video and social networking services right into the browser. When using Flock, it's easy to create blog right from the interface, subscribe to and read RSS feeds in the window, and log-in to your favorite networks and communities automatically when opening the browser. Flock has also developed the Gloss Edition browser, which is the first browser designed specifically for people interested in fashion and entertainment.

As people reach the limits of interacting with the Internet and its content, companies are bound to jump in and offer new, different, more personalized and ever-increasingly niche ways of working online. What browser you choose (and which add-ons you install) can change how you view the web and how you view the world. If you've never experienced browser beyond Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, consider checking out one of these alternatives. To learn about browsers not mentioned here, check out the Wikipedia article dedicated to the subject.

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.

November 03, 2008

The Basics of Content Jacking

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There's a new criminal in town, and it's out to get your content! As the web expands, and content creators face increasing pressure to develop new, unique, interesting and accessible content for the masses, content theft increases too. Content jacking is the unauthorized, unattributed redistribution of content from its original website to another site, and content thieves will sometimes post articles without permission, or even scrape entire websites and steal all of the content contained therein. Either way, content thieves break copyright laws and can even damage a website's site rankings or reputation, depending on how they use the stolen goods.

In his blog Social Impressions, blogger Reem Abeidoh writes about his experience having his content jacked in Keep Your Sticky Fingers Off My Content! Having found out his content was being stolen after checking out his Google Analytics data, Abeidoh contacted a fellow blogger, who quickly initiated a campaign aimed at getting the offender (a site called inter alia) to remove the stolen post from his blog. Within a short period of time, Abeidoh's extended online community members had left 15 negative comments on the offender's blog, and stories were submitted to Mixx and Digg that pointed out the plagiarism and encouraged people to comment on inter alia's site about their cyber crime.

MIchael Stelzner, author of Writing White Papers, discusses Content Jacking in a post titled, Contentjacking: The New Cyber Crime. In his post, Stelzner mentions how an entire article of his was reposted on another blog. In the comments following his post, most bloggers agree whole-heartedly that content jacking is definitely a crime, although there was no true consensus in determining what should (or can) be done to stop the practice.

While some Content Jackers may unintentionally break the law in their theft (not everyone is familiar with the ins and outs of copyright law after all, and we might extend the benefit-of-the-doubt to some unknowing folks), the practice of Page Jacking is almost always done maliciously. Page Jacking, according to The ABC of SEO, is, "the wholesale rip-offs of multiple pages, (and) even whole sites." In their highly informative article titled, "Page Jacking," the good people who run The ABC of SEO define and really explain what it means, and what you can do, when your website is hijacked.

Apparently, some nefarious types will redirect websites, so that users land on their site instead of your site, and essentially steal your online presence, search engine ranking, and organically-generated traffic. To do this, the offending site can use a cloaking technique that serves to redirect your site traffic. According to the article, when this is done, you may not realize it unless you notice a drop off in your site traffic or in your search engine results.

Learn more about how you can stop content theft in The 6 Steps to Stop Content Theft from The Blog Herald, and in Thwarting Content Theft from SEO Chat. You can also find about more about stopping content theft in social media in the SEO 2.0 article titled, How to Spot Content Theft on Social Media and Elsewhere.

October 15, 2008

The Role of Social Media in B2B Marketing

For those of us who keep an eye on trends in social media, it seems as if EVERYONE is jumping on the social media bandwagon. From Barack Obama and John McCain's use of the technologies in their campaigns, to major IT companies like IBM and SAP's social efforts, one might easily get the impression that social media is everywhere.

world_background_v-.jpgSocial media isn't really everywhere - only 35% of B2B marketers participating in a Forrester Research teleconference currently use social media in their marketing efforts. With so few statistics available to those looking to learn more about social media's effectiveness, and no real way to test social media without investing time and money on pilot programs, B2B firms have little motivation to change how they do business and embrace potentially risky marketing methods.

In B2B Marketers Eye Social Media, Web 2.0 Tactics, , Forrester Research's Laura Ramos addresses the various difficulties faced by B2B marketers when considering whether or not they should incorporate social media tactics into traditional B2B marketing campaigns. Using data gathered from 300 B2B marketing professionals, Ramos outlines the 4 main components of social media that challenge B2B marketers and prevent them from embracing social media:

1. Social Media is still only emerging in the B2B marketing space.

2. B2B marketers don't know how to measure the success of social media.

3. Without an easy way to measure the impact of social media, B2B marketers are playing it safe and sticking with what they know.

4. B2B marketers don't understand how their customers are using social media, how their customers might want to use social media, or how to reach their customers and learn about their thoughts on social media.

Do you have these same issues in deciding whether to incorporate social media into your B2B marketing campaigns? Has your company embraced social media as an effective marketing tool? Have you determined how best to measure the impact of social media on your users, your ROI, your sales and conversions? Do you even know if your customers are already using social media in other areas of their lives, or if they would welcome the introduction of social media tools in their B2B decision making process?

It's certainly important to ask yourself these questions when thinking about how social media might fit into your marketing strategy. At the same time though, you may not be able to answer all of these questions until you take the leap and present your users with social media in your marketing efforts. When people are given the chance to participate in that which interests them, they seem to respond by getting involved.

Consider starting small - here are a few ways to get started with social media without completely overhauling your entire marketing strategy:

1. Add tagging or bookmarking capabilities to your website so users can tag, save and share your content.

2. Start a company blog and encourage user participation through comments.

3. Allows users to access your marketing content (new whitepapers, enewsletters) vis RSS feeds.

4. Create a presence on social networking sites and invite your users to add you to their networks.

5. Incorporate multimedia content (such as videos and podcasts) into your marketing efforts.

If you want to learn more about how companies are implementing social media into their marketing campaigns check out this Social Computing Magazine article, 130 Social Media Marketing Examples from Major Brands. You can also find useful information on social media marketing in SEOmoz's article Social Media Marketing Tactics, or in Marketing Pilgrim's Social Media Marketing Beginner's Guide.

October 02, 2008

Search and Google Aren't Synonymous

search.jpgThere has been quite a bit of disappointment over Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and their agreement in censoring search results as part of China's Golden Shield Project. According to Wikipedia the Golden Shield Policy is the censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of the People's Republic of China. Because of this policy, some people have ceased their use of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and are looking for alternative search engines to fill the void.

In complying with the Chinese government's censorship policies, the following appears when a censored term is searched using the popular search engines: In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of the search result is not shown. (translated). And while the search engines have been censoring their results for several years at this point, the censorship controversy has been in the news recently due to the recent Beijing Olympics and the heavy media presence in the country.

Even though the problem encountered by journalists covering the Olympics had more to do with IP addresses being blocked (for "controversial" sites like Amnesty International and BBC China), the renewed interest in China's Internet policies has served to push the search engine censorship issue back into the mainstream. You can read more about what exactly Google (and other search engines) censors in Google Censorship - How it all Works, an informative article on Narender, an Internet marketing and creation oriented blog.

I've compiled a list of search engine alternatives that can be used as an alternative to the big 3 who operate under Chinese regulations.


dogpile_revised.gifDogpile
is a search engine with a twist - instead of indexing the results for one search engine, it compiles and indexes results from 6 separate search engines to return a robust selection of results. Owned by InfoSpace, Dogpile has been around since 1996, and has won awards for customer satisfaction. Be warned however! The list of search engines that Dogpile uses to compile their results includes: Google, Yahoo! Search, and Live Search. I guess it's not a great alternative if you want to go totally Google-Yahoo-Microsoft free.

Ask.com is one of the larger search engines, and has been around since 1996. Formerly AskJeeves (home to the online butler who was supposed to answer your questions), the Ask.com algorithm provides relevant search results by identifying the most authoritative sites on the Web.

FactBites has an interesting take on returning search results - instead of simply returning a site's description, it presents real, meaningful sentences related to the topics you're searching about. So instead of simply directing users to the self-created descriptions about the websites they're searching, FactBites digs a little deeper and gives you a more informed look at their results.

Mahalo_revised.gifMahalo (which means thank you in Hawaiian), bills itself as "the world's first human-powered search engine," and prides itself on better organizing the information they compile so that searchers save time and find what interests them quickly and easily. Search terms are organized into pages (like Fashion or Gadgets), and sub-topics are further categorized into lists on each main page. This kind of search is great for looking for topics to blog on (something I spend plenty of time doing), or for researching specific products.

ChaCha is a potentially cutting-edge earch engine that allows users "to ask any question in conversational English and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes." ChaCha is a cool mobile tool, as you send text messages to the engine, and receive responses on your mobile device. Once your question is received, it's routed to the most knowledgeable ChaCha Community Guides (real people!) who are required to pass tests before they're able to work answering queries.

cuil_revised_2.pngCuil is a brand new search engine (launched on July 28, 2008), and claims to be the biggest search engine on the Web. Based out of Menlo Park, California, and founded by a former Google executive, Cuil claims to have indexed 120 billion Web pages - three times more than any other search engine. I checked out Cuil, and while this blog didn't come up in the top 10 search results when I entered the name (Accelerating IT Sales), the user interface is a pleasure, and I could see myself overlooking the ranking issue and giving the engine a fair shake.

There are plenty of other search engines out there just waiting to be discovered by those who are tired of, or want something different from Google. You can find comprehensive lists of search engines in this Wikipedia article, including topic-specific and niche engines that you might otherwise never hear about. Happy Searching!

September 22, 2008

BtoB Online Goes Interactive with the Lead Generation Guide 2008

bb-logo_revised.gifThe recently released the BtoB Online Lead Generation Guide 2008 provides a comprehensive overview of the B2B lead generation industry's recent innovations and upcoming trends, and is published in an interactive format that puts their own suggestions regarding content usage into action.

The interactive guide has a range of features that allow users to search, bookmark, customize, and generally manipulate their experience with the content within. To explain all of the features, the guide contains a narrated tutorial that points out and explains each of the features available.

The fact that BtoB Online published the guide as more an interactive tool than as a document is interesting, and could signify a change in how content is distributed online. In the past, most similar publications have been offered as PDFs, or made available via a website. In choosing to distribute this guide as a tool however, BtoB Online is signaling the need to produce and distribute content that users can tweak to meet their needs.

By selecting any number of navigation options from the top-of-page navigation bar, users can select exactly how they want to view and use the content. In addition to deciding how I want my pages to appear (thumbnails or full-size viewing, 1-or-2 pages visible), I can select the "Links" option and see a list of all of the URLs on the page or in the guide! The publication also contains a fairly in-depth search feature, the ability to bookmark pages and have the bookmarks appear in my browser bookmarks/favorites, and social networking functionalities.

The inclusion of a "Share" option in the navigation bar is a big step for the B2B crowd which has been slower than the consumer sect in the full adoption of social networking within the industry. By addressing social networking in the very make-up of this guide however, BtoB Online is acknowledging the momentum that social networking has gained in the past year, and invited the use of social networking across the industry.

The guide can be embedded into blogs as a custom widget, shared with friends via an easy-to-use message containing the URL, or submitted to social networking sites such as Stumbledupon, Newsvine, and digg, among others.

In addition to the new interactive format, the guide also contains a host of valuable information for anyone working in the B2B lead generation industry. From advice on lead scoring and lead nurturing to resources for those looking to find out more about lead management vendors or understand the industry through statistics, the guide is packed full of useful tools.

September 09, 2008

Keywords, content and tag clouds

Have you seen or heard of tag clouds, yet never been too sure what they are or why they're on so many sites? Have you ever want to see what your website or blog would look like with a tag cloud? I was curious about tag clouds myself - so I did a little research and created a few tag clouds to share on this site.

According to Wikipedia, tag clouds are "...visual depictions of user-generated tags, or simply the word content of a site, used typically to describe the content of web sites." Flikr, the photo sharing site, was the first high-profile website to use tag clouds, while the origins of tag clouds can be traced back to Douglas Coupland's 1995 Microserfs.

The first site I found was TagCrowd. TagCrowd is a web service that allows you to use their technology to create a tag cloud for any website, grouping of text, or uploaded file. I went to the site and created a tag cloud for this website, and (after a little tweaking on my part to remove some irrelevant words such as "comes" and "permalink," was rewarded with this nifty visualization of the content on this site:

created at TagCrowd.com


Tag Cloud Generator is a free site that lets you create and customize your own tag clouds by adding specific tags, changing the font/background color and the size and alignment of your tags. I like this site - it was easy to use, didn't require that I register, and created a visually appealing cloud tag for this site:


MakeCloud is another free service that lets you create a tag cloud from any RSS Feed or website.


tag cloud


The cloud created using MakeCloud doesn't have the same formatting as the Tag Crowd option, but it still expresses the site content visually, and, while there are fewer tags, I thought that most included were highly relevant to the content on this site.

I also made a really neat looking tag cloud using Wordle - you can view it in their gallery here. Wordle images are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and can be used for any purposes. Keep in mind that if you use a Wordle image on your website or blog however, you must attribute it to Creative Commons.

I found yet another cool site in ZoomClouds. After an easy sign-up process, I was able to create and customize a tag cloud for the Accelerating IT Sales RSS Feed. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the cloud to preview in this post after pasting in the code, so I'm unable to show you the ZoomCloud output, which was pretty cool. You can check it out on their website here.

If you're interested in learning more about all of the different kinds of tag clouds you can make, check out this highly information article from Smashing Magazine, Tag Clouds Gallery: Examples And Good Practices. I had no idea that so much went into tag clouds, or that there were so many kinds of tag clouds that one could choose to put on their site until I read this article.

Tag clouds are an interesting way to quickly scan a site to figure out if its content is relevant to your needs. You can use tag clouds to search for topical information without having to come up with specific search terms on your own. Personally, I find tag clouds to be helpful, especially when I'm doing research this this blog. Since I write about so many different topics (social media, lead generation, IT Sales, multimedia content, etc), I don't always know what I'm looking for when I set out to find ideas for new blog posts.

August 22, 2008

Optimizing Organic Search Strategies

searching_revised.jpgWhile site subscribers are the bread-and-butter for all kinds of B2B organizations, building a strong subscriber base over time is essential to maintaining and growing your pool of leads over time. Organic Search, defined by SEO-Space is the "process by which web users find web sites by a keyword query and click on an unpaid search engine listing," and is increasingly being used by B2B marketers as an inexpensive and highly efficient method of building an audience using existing infrastructure (search tools like Google), and their own content.

When making a conscious effort to increase your search rankings and drive traffic to your site via organic search methods, it's important that you consider all of the different tactics required to create a successful strategy. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a relatively complex field, and implementing search tactics that work requires that you do more than simply tag your content with keywords. Search experts, such as the folks at Search Engine Land, have taken the time to compile a list of common mistakes made by marketers when attempting to optimize their sites to generate (unpaid) search traffic.

In their article, Six Mistakes B2B Marketers Continue To Make With Organic Search, Search Engine Land outlines the most common mistakes made in terms of getting a great organic search strategy up and running. With a focus on the mistakes of B2B marketers, Search Engine Land offers tips on how these generally tech-savvy organizations can get their organic search strategies straight. And while inadequate site architecture (which is difficult to correct if you don't have a site redesign planned) tops the list of errors, the other errors commonly associated with optimizing organic search can all be remedied without having to rip apart your entire site.

Inadequate Site Architecture - if you're trying to drive traffic to your website based on specific search terms, you need to make sure that there are landing pages on your site to increase traffic to your site, and "welcome" traffic once it lands. If you simply drive traffic to your site, without tagging specific pages for specific search terms, not only do you lose out on an opportunity to push your site up in the search rankings, but you also lose the ability to effectively track your visitors once they hit your site.

Lousy Meta Descriptions - according to the article, many B2B marketers fail to fill out their site meta descriptions, and when they do fill out meta tags, they often either leave the task to the IT department, or write tags that they understand, but which don't resonate with users. Instead of taking a casual attitude to crafting meta descriptions, it's important to consult with (or hire) someone who understands how to write meta descriptions and which descriptions will attract the most search traffic.

Not Analyzing Organic Landing Pages
- In order to successfully implement a search strategy, you need to make sure that your organic landing pages are attracting the appropriate traffic. It's important to analyze your organic landing pages for, "for all significant, ranking keywords," and ensure that any organic traffic is, in fact, landing on the pages you want them to land on!

Not Monitoring Analytics - While pay-per-click search results are generally analyzed at length, organic search results don't always get the same attention. To capture the effectiveness of organic search however, it's crucial that you look at all of the statistics related to your search campaign and analyze your traffic, where it originates from, its bounce rates and so on. By understanding the path that organic search traffic takes to your site, you gain a better understanding of how you can better attract more of it.

Failing to Optimize Printed Marketing Assets Before Converting them to the Web - Before starting a campaign that's heavy on white papers, case studies and technology briefs formated as PDFs, make sure you optimize those materials for search. While the casual web surfer might not click on a PDF link, a tech-savvy B2B buyer may be specifically searching for these types of materials, and will be more likely to click on them if they come up towards the top of their search.

Duplicate Title Tags and Meta Descriptions - If you haven't optimized your site content for search, chances are excellent that you have duplicate title tags and meta descriptions associated with your site. Because of this, your search rankings will be lower, and users won't necessarily be able to find your valuable content.

While these 6 common mistakes represent just the tip of the organic search iceberg, they present a good place to start when evaluating your organic search strategy. If you're interested in learning more about optimizing your site (and/or content) for search, you may want to visit Search Engine Guide, Search Engine Journal, SearchEngineWatch, or any of these other sites compiled by SearchRank.

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

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

June 13, 2008

Content Delivery Methods Matter

mobile_rewvised.jpgAs the digital world changes to incorporate social communities, mobile devices, rich media, and user-generated content into the mainstream, marketers must evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of their users. While many B2B marketers have already heard this call and responded - consider how many podcasts, webinars, eSeminars and even Virtual Tradeshows exist that were unthinkable several years ago - there are advances that still need to be made, especially in how content is created and delivered.

1. Think Niche. Instead of reaching out to mammoth groups of users who may be interested in the topics you're presenting, give your users the change to sort themselves into small, category-specific groups that can be targeted with highly relevant content. Instead of letting users select from a few general categories related to your offerings, give them sub-choices within those categories. Once you know that a user is interested in learning about highly specific solutions within a larger category, they become highly qualified prospects when it's time to really promote your solutions. Users want to personalize their online experience, and offering them the option to define their interests in-depth allows them do this while giving you insight into their needs.

2. Mobile devices will as important as computers for content delivery. As it already stands, 64% of IT decision makers use their mobile devices to access electronic content. This number is only expected to go up as mobile networks become faster and are able to deliver content quickly and to a range of devices. If you're not already developing mobile versions of your website, landing page and marketing materials (enewsletters, email marketing messages), you need to start doing so now. When users try to access your website or open your enewsletter on their mobile devices, do you really want to lose them as a lead because their platform doesn't support your message?

3. Content needs to be convertible. Buzz Marketing (also known as word-of-mouth marketing or viral marketing) is how people are increasingly finding out about your content. People gather data from trusted sources, and their friends and co-workers fall into that category. Because of this, content needs to be packaged so it can be easily passed from person-to-person, regardless of the device they're using. While forwarding a white paper or emailing a URL that points to a video is easy, users will eventually need to be able to pass webinars, podcasts and product demos from device to device without considering that the file won't transfer. If you want your podcasts, webinars and other rich media to play, regardless of the device it's being accessed from, you need to develop these kinds of content with that goal in mind.

As a B2B marketer, one of your goals should be to make content as accessible to as many people, and with as little ease on their part as is humanly possible. This may mean re-tooling your product offerings to include mobile content delivery options, offering instant updates via micro-blog messages, or developing content that is accessible regardless of the device on which it's played. You may need to refine your focus when it comes to building eNewsletters, and consider sending more newsletters to fewer people so you get a smaller pool of more highly-qualified leads at the end of the day.

Developing new strategies for delivering content is challenging, but is essential to staying current in this evolving digital marketplace. When you do develop new products, you'll be better suited to meet your users needs and you may even attract new users when they see the cutting-edge content-delivery options that your company offers.

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 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 17, 2008

What Can Micro-blogging do for Marketing?

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Micro-blogging is a growing phenomenon and may be one of the waves of the future when it comes to reaching out and connecting with plugged-in website subscribers, members and users. Because of the ability to send short, highly targeted messages to users via their cell phones, IM clients or desktops, micro-blogging may be the next best way to deliver content quickly.

According to Wikipedia,

Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually less than 200 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, MP3 or the web.

The most popular of the micro-blogging platforms is Twitter - the social networking service that allows users to send brief messages (140 characters maximum) to their network of "friends." When you use Twitter, you have the ability to let your network in on what you're doing at any given time, and follow what your friends are doing as well. Twitter has gained a large and loyal following of people who constantly answer Twitter's defining question, "What are you doing?"

Pownce is another micro-blogging platform, but this one allows people to send messages, links, files and event invitations to their network of friends. Pownce has developed a range of tools and applications that allow you to send and receive messages on your cell phone, IM client, and even as notes sent straight to your desktop.

Other micro-blogging platforms include Jaiku, Dodgeball and Loopnote.

Micro-blogging's potential as a marketing tool comes from the potential to sign users up for niche-content updates, and send links (to white papers, case studies, podcasts) using a micro-blogging platform. Instead of relying on a general topic eNewsletter when sending out a white paper, you can send a micro-blog message to a self-selected group of highly targeted users. The New York Times, the BBC and Al Jazeera are already using micro-blogging to send headlines and links to stories.

While setting up micro-blog updates for your content may not be at the top of your priority list right now, it's important to start considering where technology is taking online marketing. We already know that 64% of IT decision makers are reading your eNewsletters on their mobile devices. Of these people, how many are already using micro-blogs, and would they be interested in skipping eNewsletters altogether and moving on to white papers delivered via micro-blogs?

For more information about Micro-blogging, check out Mark Glaser's MediaShift post Your Guide to Micro-Blogging and Twitter, Melissa Chang's 16th Letter post, What is Twitter, or this highly informative article, Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities.

April 08, 2008

Connect with Content via Niche Search Engines

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If you are a content creator, there's a good chance that you spend plenty of time trolling the Web looking for information to use when writing articles and blogs. While you can do Google searches to find information that suits your research needs, the results can be overly broad if you haven't mastered the art of keyword searching. Blogs are great places to look when doing research too, but sometimes the abundance of blog posts on whatever topics you're looking for can be overwhelming. With so many online search and research tools, it can be tough to find what you're looking for by virtue of there being so much that matches your research needs!

There is a new trend however, that may offer some research help - niche search communities that gather contextual information from around the web and present it in a single location. Junta 42 is a content marketing search community that is set up so content is gathered by Junta 42 community and staff members who search the web and submit the content to the site. In order to maintain a standard, Junta 42 staff members filter submitted content and ensure that community members are not simply posting anything to the site.

There are plenty of niche search engines in existence on the Web, but what sets Junta 42 apart from most of the others I found is that it is dedicated to provided content about how best to market content - and therefore best meets my own research needs. In terms of writing about marketing, it's always helpful to find tools that are designed to help me do my job - and this one does.

As the Web continues to grow, it's interesting to watch how our need to segment, filter and funnel data into smaller and smaller chunks increases. The organization of information online is challenged by the size and (lack of) overall management of the Internet. Niche search engines are invaluable to the organization of online information, as they centrally distribute very specific content, and decrease time spent searching the web. The interactive component of niche search engines like these encourages user participation in tracking down and sharing content with others, and increases the likelihood of connecting with the people with whom you share a niche industry.

February 27, 2008

Will Social Media Kill "Campaigns?"

With the recent surge in the use and interest of social media as a B2B marketing tool, now is a good time to address the coming changes to how this industry does business. By incorporating new social media technologies into lead generation and marketing efforts, B2B marketers may have to reconsider how view their customers and their clients.

In Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul Dunay makes an excellent point regarding the possible demise of the traditional "campaign" due to social media's impact on marketing. In his post, There is No "Campaign" in Social Media, Dunay defines traditional marketing campaigns as such:

When marketers use the word “campaign,” it tends to suggest an initiative to get a message out to a targeted group of constituents. It also implies there will be a beginning and, somewhere down the road, an ending.

With social media playing a larger and larger role in the B2B marketing industry however, "campaigns" become outdated. According to Dunay, marketing via social media modes (blogs, podcast series, virtual communities) requires long-term user participation. Because users have to get involved in order for social media to really work, you have to continue reaching out, engaging your prospects and asking them to join the conversation.

By relying on the user to respond to our offerings, it's possible that we will have to cultivate, nurture and score leads in a completely different manner. "Campaign" time frames may lengthen, and the way leads are valued may change. Lead scoring, and the management of leads over time, may become the most important part of lead generation, especially if companies discard time frames for lead guarantees and concentrate on lead quality instead.

February 08, 2008

Maintain Your Online Reputation

junk_email_resize.jpg Email marketing via eNewsletters is a highly effective way to generate online leads and promote your company's offerings. With the popularity and relative ease of sending eNewsletters, it is important to remember that each time you send an eNewsletter, your organization's reputation is on-the-line. If you want to maintain a good reputation, maintain your subscribers and deliver valuable products that drive clicks, you may want to consider the following checks on your eNewsletter processes:

1. Do you have permission to email your subscribers? Are you sending your subscribers only those messages for which they have requested and opted-in? Make sure your subscribers have all opted-in to your eNewsletters and have access to functional, easy-to-use unsubscribe links (in each eNewsletter) if they change their minds.

2. Are you considered a spammer? Do you send so many emails that your subscribers hit the unsubscribe list just to stop the deluge? Do you have a list full of undeliverable email addresses? To stay off black lists, limit how many emails your organization is sending each day, and honor all unsubscribe requests. Implement "list hygiene" practices and scrub out junk email addresses before they are added to your lists.

3. Are your subscribers able to read your eNewsletters once they're received? Have you tested each of your messages to make sure the images, links and text render properly in different email clients? Testing eNewsletters is essential to make sure that graphics and links render properly once delivered. By sending test messages to the big email clients (Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL), you also ensure that your eNewsletter images aren't getting blocked for security reasons.

4. Does your eNewsletter design work for your users? Do you deliver a product that inspires people to open, read and click through your content? A/B testing is helpful in determining what works for eNewsletters. When implementing changes, make sure you test out new ideas on your users, and let the metrics help you decide which designs best suit your users.

5. Do you deliver value in each eNewsletter you send? Do you send updated, timely and relevant content that matches your users needs? The greatest eNewsletter ever created will fall short if you are unable to provide your subscribers with interesting content. Make sure that you are sending new material with each eNewsletter, and look at the click-through rates and metrics to determine if your efforts are working.

By staying on top of these kinds of eNewsletter issues, your organization will be better suited to build a positive online reputation and protect their brand. By respecting opt-in and unsubscribe requests, maintaining clean lists, testing your products and always sending relevant content, you are better able to retain both the trust of your subscribers and an online reputation that keeps you out of spam filters.

January 29, 2008

The Nuts and Bolts of Mobile Marketing

iphonescreenshot.jpgWith more and more IT buyers accessing content on mobile devices such as iPhones, Blackberries and Palms, IT marketers need to turn their eyes toward the future and figure out how to run mobile marketing lead generation campaigns. Already, 64% of IT decision makers view electronic content on mobile devices - that means that 2 out of 3 people that are reading your eNewsletters and email marketing messages are potentially doing so on their mobile screens.

According to the Mobile Marketing Association's white paper, Understanding Mobile Marketing: Technology & Research (May, 2007), there are several factors that need to be considered when launching a mobile marketing campaign that are not relevant when launching traditional email marketing campaigns.

1. How large is your audience - how many people have handsets that support the technology used in your campaign?

2. Have other companies in your market used mobile technology in their marketing campaigns? What worked and what didn't work at all?

3. What kinds of limitations do you face in implementing your campaign? Are there technical limitations? Is the average mobile screen large enough for your creative content to be effective?

4. Do you have partners that can assist you with a mobile marketing campaign? Are there new partnerships you will need to establish for your campaign to be a success?

5. What is your projected Return-on-Investment? Does the cost justify the benefits of running a mobile campaign?

These are just a few of the key points that the Mobile Marketing Association suggests you consider before you place all of your resources into a mobile marketing campaign. Find out more by downloading their white paper here, and make sure you consider the ins and outs of this quickly emerging market before you launch a mobile marketing campaign.

-BH

January 15, 2008

Innovate for Change

If you want to remain competitive in the IT lead generation industry, you have to go beyond your current lead generation practices and develop new tools that help you do your job. Approach your business with an open mind and consider what new medias and technologies can be leveraged to market enterprise technology on the Internet.

In the past few years we have increased the kinds of content that are acceptable in IT lead generation campaigns, as well as the types of media that can be used when creating content. While white papers have been used for years to generate leads, it's only been relatively recently that you could download a podcast of that white paper, or watch the same information presented as a webinar.

How do you want to receive your online research? It's easy enough to think that eNewsletters and email marketing messages are the cheapest, most efficient ways to generate leads - but do users still want their content delivered in that manner? Is it possible to create a site where your marketing messages could be tailored to each user (according to how they fill out your registration forms) and delivered via text message, instant message, RSS feed, blog entries or via email? And if content could be delivered in these ways, are there as-of-yet undiscovered methods that will work better?

It's time to take a hard look at the products you use in your lead generation campaigns and determine if there's more that could be done to optimize your lead generation. Be an agent of change within your organization and look outside of your current policies towards new medias, new content types and new content delivery methods.

-BH

December 21, 2007

Improve Branding with Keyword Consistency

If you want to create consistent branding on your Website, throughout your marketing materials and as your organization appears to search engines, try using consistent keywords in all aspects of your marketing efforts. While much of branding is visual (think logos, home pages and eNewsletter designs), word choice, tone and keyword selection also play a role in creating a consistent brand.

One way to accomplish this kind of organization-wide consistency is to encourage collaboration between your editors and copywriters, your Search specialists and your Lead Generation team. Develop a process by which the keywords used by your Search specialists make their way to your Editorial and Lead Generation teams. When creating titles, descriptions and summaries for marketing materials, make sure that keywords are included in high-traffic spots (which can be determined using Eye Tracking studies) and are consistent across all of your marketing materials.

By repeating key words and phrases on your home page and Website, in your metadata, in eNewsletters and email marketing messages, and within your content, you will subtly build and enforce your company's brand. And while your site visitors and subscribers might not consciously notice the consistency, chances are good that search engines will.

-BH

December 17, 2007

Go Further With Your Content

As technology buyers are taking more and more control over the IT buying process, IT marketers need to develop new options that let their users have more choice in how they consume marketing materials. By designing campaigns to appeal to users' preferences in the kind of content they want to consume (white papers, case studies, articles, interviews), the type of media they want to use to consume it (PDFs. videos, webinars, podcasts), and the method by which the content is delivered (eNewsletters/Email, RSS Feeds, Text Messages), you can appeal to a broader range of users and build brand loyalty.

In running campaigns, many companies select one asset - such as a webcast - and use that as the only content for their entire campaigns. By limiting a user's choice like this, companies lose out on generating leads that might otherwise be interested in their message. While webcasts (or videos, or podcasts, etc) appeal to some technology buyers, some people will never watch a webcast, even if they might be interested in the message it delivers.

Rather than risk losing potential buyers before they even see your message, why not deliver your message using a variety of media? Using the same content, you can craft marketing materials that appeal to the ardent podcast listener, the PDF-only user, and the video maven. To take your message a step further, you can deliver your content in emails/eNewsletters, to mobile devices, via RSS Feeds, and on blogs set-up to deliver daily marketing content.

As technology evolves, the ways in which we deliver technology marketing messages to our users must change too. Keep the user experience in mind when you're crafting content, and realize that the more choices you give the user as to HOW they receive your messages, the more likely you will be in reaching the greatest number of users possible.

-BH

December 03, 2007

Building Trust with Drip Marketing

dripmarketingsmall.jpg Drip Marketing is defined as: a direct marketing strategy that involves sending out a number of promotional pieces over a period of time to a subset of sales leads (from wordspy.com).

One way to cultivate and nurture leads as they move through their buying process is to employ a 'drip marketing' strategy whereby you reach out to prospects with various marketing and promotional materials over a period of time. Each time you engage your leads with new content or offers, you reintroduce your prospects to your offerings, reinforce your brand, and gain credibility as a reliable source of information.

One key way to gain the trust of your prospects is by providing educational information without pitching your offerings outright or pressing your prospects to buy. According to Brian Carroll in Lead Nurturing - Ripening the Right Bananas, multi-touch lead nurturing strategies inspire trust in your prospects and helps build a relationships, and building trusted relationships is one of the most effective ways to turn prospects into buyers.

By setting up a drip marketing strategy where, over a period of time, you send emails that contain increasingly more specialized content (such as webcasts, research reports or podcasts), special offers (such as invitations to events), and links to Landing Pages and Microsites, you continuously (yet gently) nudge your leads until they trust your brand, engage with your content, and eventually respond to your offers.

-BH

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

November 19, 2007

Unify Your Campaign with a Strong Content Strategy

When you create materials to launch a lead generation campaign, ask yourself the following:

1. Is there a unified theme that runs through your promotional content? Can a user tell that each piece of content is part of a greater whole?

2. If your content is meant to be viewed in one place - such as on a Microsite or Branded Landing Zone - have you created it so that each asset tells a part of the "story" of your product or offering?

3. Have you created content that fulfills user needs regardless of where they are in their buying process? Does your content include varying degrees of technical and practical information for your users?

Your content is the engine that drives your campaign - and when marketing B2B technology, you need to provide users with a comprehensive array of assets that explain what you have to offer, what problems your offer solves, and why the user needs your offer.

While it may be difficult to create content that reaches Evaluators looking at the technical side of products, Recommendors looking at lots of different products, and Decision Makers looking at the fiscal side of products, you have to reach them all - and their coworkers!

Map out your content strategy before you begin creating white papers, podcasts and case studies. Start with the story of your product or offer and than decide who needs to hear it and how each player in the IT buying process is best reached, and when.

Remember, the IT buying process is long and involves multiple people for a reason - your users are looking to purchase expensive solutions that will solve their long-term business needs. At the end of the day, your content plays a tremendous role in getting your products and offerings sold - the least you can do is make sure it meets your users' needs.

-BH

November 14, 2007

Add a "Refer a Colleague" Link to Generate More Leads

If you can make one change to your eNewsletters and e-mail marketing materials this year, add a button that allows your users to "Refer a Colleague." According to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Guide 2007-08, tech buyers are most likely to find out about white papers (and other marketing collateral) from colleagues or through e-mail invitations.

Your eNewsletter subscribers can't all be Decision Makers or C-Level executives with purchasing power (and if they are, congratulations). Rather, your subscribers are made up of professionals who occupy varying roles in the IT buying process. By adding a "refer a colleague" button to your marketing materials, you open up your chances of getting the Evaluators, Recommendors, and Gatekeepers who read your materials to deliver the message for you to Decision Makers and Purchasers.

While it's always possible that your subscribers will pass your marketing materials along without needing a "refer a colleague" button, why take that chance? By making it easy for your users to send their colleagues your materials, you do your best to ensure that any referred users will see your branding, your contact information (including the opportunity to become members), and any other details you include in your "refer a colleague" e-mail messages.

Think of your referral program as another step in lead nurturing - only this time you get the chance to nurture prospects before they become true leads.

-BH

November 06, 2007

Multimedia Content: The Basics

podcast icon.jpg
With the ability to easily create content delivered via multimedia channels (podcasts, webcasts, videos), it seems obvious that you should go ahead and record a podcast, shoot a video or present your offerings via a webcast. And while technology buyers are becoming more comfortable in turning to multimedia content when researching their technology needs, challenges persist in developing and delivering multimedia content.

In creating multimedia content, make sure that what you produce is compelling. Technology buyers may be more likely to view an online video or download a podcast than they were a year ago, but they won't watch your content if it's boring. For the added expense it takes to produce a video or podcast, your investment is worthless if your message fails to excite your users. And while B2B technology marketing doesn't need to be sexy (and probably shouldn't be), it should be interesting, provide factual information, and present your offerings in such a way that your users will reach out to learn more.

When trying to deliver multimedia content, try to limit file sizes for downloads, or better yet, provide URLs that link your users directly to podcasts, webcasts and videos on your company website. By providing direct links instead of files, you ease your users' download fears and prevent them from having to save (often large) multimedia files on their hard drives.

If you are hosting multimedia files and driving traffic to your company website, make sure you have enough bandwidth to accommodate a multitude of users visiting your site and viewing/listening to your content at the same time. The availability of multimedia content does little good if your site crashes every time users try and access your content.

-BH

November 01, 2007

Have You Considered the "E-mail Insecurity Factor?"

If you spend most of your time generating leads by e-mail, chances are excellent that some of your recipients have stopped opening - or never started opening - your messages. According to a recently published study from Habeas Inc. - an e-mail Reputation Services Provider, the growing lack of trust in e-mail correspondences is having an increasingly negative impact on businesses. Sixty-two percent of study respondents are concerned about being victimized online, and 60% believe that spam is getting worse.

The study results suggest that users are taking this "e-mail insecurity" into their own hands by setting up multiple e-mail accounts (using personal - not work - e-mail addresses) to receive e-mail offers. Habeas Inc. CEO, Des Cahill, describes how users are managing their e-mail accounts, "Given the ease with which individuals can open e-mail accounts, sending and receiving e-mails has become an issue of navigating a landscape of inboxes set up on the basis of trust."

Maintaining a trusted e-mail reputation is integral to maintaining your overall online reputation, and is difficult to repair once sullied. In his article, "Mind Your Email Reputation," iMedia Connection's Spenser Kollas offers basic tips for making sure your messages stay out of the spam filters. You can also learn more about the Habeas Inc. study at their upcoming webinar - How Web 2.0 and Online Reputation Changes Strategy and Results.

-BH

October 23, 2007

Content Strategies as Campaign Starting Points

When planning a lead generation campaign, try to conceive a content strategy before you launch your program, and use it as an outline for your entire campaign. In determining a content strategy, you need to ask the following:

1. Where do you plan to use your content?
2. What kind of content do you want to use in your campaign?
3. How do you plan on delivering your content?
4. Who is your audience?
5. How long do you need to provide content?
6. Do you have primary verses secondary content to provide via lead nurturing or follow-up?
7. Do you plan on offering content that leads will respond to differently as they travel though the buying process?
8. What kind of story are you trying to tell via your content offerings?

If you look at content as a means of not only generating a lead, but also as a true research tool for the user, you allow the users' needs to enter your campaign planning. By paying attention to your prospects' experiences with your content, instead of focusing solely on your offers, you acknowledge the role of the consumer in your business, and are inherently more focused on what you can do for your leads rather than on what your leads can do for you.

-BH

October 17, 2007

RSS Feeds 101

RSS (Real Simple Syndication) Feeds are user-directed content delivery tools that offer marketing departments a way to personalize content and give their customers exactly what they want. While both interactive and user-directed marketing tools, such as corporate blogs (with user feedback) and podcasts (which allow users playback at their convenience), are gaining momentum in the world of IT marketing, RSS Feeds are underutilized among IT marketers.

In Advertising Age’s Interactive Marketing and Media, it was discovered that:

RSS is currently used or is planned to be used within the next 12 months by 63% of consumer product marketers, 65% media and communications marketers, 37% retail marketers, 37% financial services marketers and 38% equipment and tech marketers.

So what exactly do you need to know when thinking about setting up RSS Feeds on your site? Let’s take a look at the basics…

1. Incorporate RSS Feeds into your overall Internet marketing campaign. One of the greatest advantages of RSS Feeds is that you can syndicate all different kinds of digital content. When planning your online marketing campaign, remember that any video, podcasts, blogs or white papers you produce can be syndicated. The use of RSS Feeds is a powerful way to brand your company by reinforcing your message with online digital content that users might otherwise bypass.

2. Treat the entire process of adding RSS Feeds to your site as you would treat adding any content to your site. Research RSS Aggregators, craft a careful registration process in order to capture the best leads possible, use specific content types to target your users, and most of all, maintain the same set of standards in setting up your feed as you do for the other aspects of your company’s marketing programs.

3. Instead of setting up an RSS Feed on your site and hoping visitors will subscribe, promote RSS as you would any other online marketing tool. Give users the ability to sign up for RSS Feeds in the same areas that you have them register to gain access to your site via registration or to e-newsletters. The beauty of RSS Feeds is that they are 100% user-directed, and when given the opportunity, users will register. The challenge of RSS Feeds is that they are 100% user-directed, and unless your users are directed to your feeds, no one will use them.

4. Use RSS Feeds as a way to offer dynamic content types that offer value and convenience to your users. The power of video, blogs, and podcasting is catching on among IT marketers, but does little good if users constantly have to poke around your website to find it. With RSS Feeds however, users can sign-up and receive all of the content they want in one same place. Remember though, by adding feeds to your site, you need to maintain fresh content that changes regularly and offers users solutions to their enterprise technology problems!

For more information about adding RSS Feeds to your site, check out the RSS Wikipedia listing, the XML Files RSS Tutorial, or the WebReference Introduction to RSS.

-BH

October 12, 2007

Lead Nurturing Revisited

In creating lead nurturing messages, it's important to gently remind your users of their visit to your site before you start your sales pitch. With more and more tech buyers doing research online, information overload has taken hold - and people are simply too overwhelmed to remember every site they visit and every piece of content they download.

A good strategy in creating lead nurturing messages is to pull your users in by jogging their memories. Use personalization if possible - it's always good to address your users by name, but what's even better is to reference what they read on your site and when they read it. Offering additional, relevant content is also an excellent way to compel users to return to your site and re-engage with your offerings.

While it may be tempting to provide links to product downloads or demos, keep your users' buying process in mind. If this is the first time they've engaged with your content, a better offer might be a case study that highlights your products in the real world, or a research report that compares your offering to the competitors and claims yours as the winner. Downloads and demos are effective, but only after a user has gathered research from a variety of sources first.

-BH

September 28, 2007

Using Complex Online Tools for Marketing, Sales and Service

A September 2007 survey from The McKinsey Quarterly, titled "How Companies are Marketing Online: A McKinsey Global Survey," discusses the importance of complex online tools in our increasingly digitized word.

The survey details not only how companies are using complex online tools in their marketing efforts, but also how organizations have started to digitize other aspects of their business - such as in their sales efforts and customer service programs. According to the survey, some online tools are already widely in use - such as the placement of service information on company Web sites (86% of respondents have this in place), and the use of personalized e-mails for reaching out to customers (78% have in place). In terms of managing sales, most of the respondents do so via their company Web site (79%), while 42% of respondents turn to external eCommerce sites for this purpose.

Less widely employed complex online tools include a Click-to-Call option on Web sites (29%), the sponsorship of User Forums for the sharing of information among customers (22%) and availability of Online Text Chat for customer service assistance (18%). The survey notes that the more an organization has integrated online tools into their marketing strategy, the more likely the organization is to have implemented complex online tools in their sales and service efforts. In terms of online sales efforts, 8% of respondents have a "store" in a virtualized world, and 6% of respondents sell via external auction sites.

Sign up for the report here and see where your company stacks up in terms of complex online tool usage.

-BH

September 25, 2007

Don't Forget the Content

A well-developed content strategy is a key to running a successful lead generation campaign. Your lead campaign might reach hundreds of thousands of qualified leads, include appropriately timed and targeted lead nurturing messages, and drive traffic to well-designed landing zones or microsites that offer useful research tools; if your content doesn't compel your users to click however, your potential leads will never convert into qualified buyers.

In a complex sales cycle where potential buyers often spend months researching their technology needs, your content has to reach prospects at the right time, in the right format and with the right message.

In RainToday's compilation of B2B marketing articles, "The One Piece of Advice You Can't Generate Leads Without," B2B Marketing Strategist Ardath Albee of Marketing Interactions discusses content strategy in "Tales to Keep Them Talking." Albee stresses the need to establish the "Essence" of your company - the core idea that your company is founded upon - and build your content around that core essence. You can read Albee's article here, all RainToday asks is that you provide a valid e-mail address.

-BH

September 17, 2007

E-mail Marketing on the "Third Screen"

Mobile e-mail delivery is going to be a force to reckon with over the next year. C-Level executives – the sweet spot for most technology marketers – are increasingly accessing both e-mail and Web sites via mobile devices such as Blackberries and Palms. In a recent study, Marketing Sherpa found that a full 64% of decision makers view electronic content on mobile devices – a staggering number considering how few technology marketers are explicitly gearing their content for mobile distribution.

ExactTarget, an on-demand e-mail marketing software company, writes about the importance of scaling your e-mail marketing messages and newsletters for the "Third Screen." In its white paper, Email Marketing for the Third Screen: The Adoption of Mobile Email and its Impact on Email Marketing Deployment, ExactTarget outlines the rapid deployment of smartphones and PDAs for accessing electronic content, and what e-mail marketers can do to stay ahead of the trend.

In the past, e-mail marketers worried about text vs.HTML e-newsletter delivery – today however, e-mail marketers need to take the next step and begin designing e-newsletters and e-mail marketing messages for mobile devices. If we want to continue to reach the most influential sect of technology buyers and decision makers, we need to adjust to how they view the world – and our content.

-BH

September 14, 2007

Eyetracking Technology in B2B Marketing

Every year Marketing Sherpa publishes an updated edition of its Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide and provides insight into the lead generation business. The guide is packed with useful marketing surveys, case studies and tips for running successful lead generation programs.

A new component to this year’s guide is Marketing Sherpa’s eyetracking research. By outfitting business technology users and buyers with eyetracking technology from Enquiro, a search engine marketing company, Marketing Sherpa has given us a glimpse into the user’s perspective when it comes to viewing Web sites.

According to the guide, eyetracking technology measures how the eye moves over a Web page, and specifically tracks where the eye stops and when the eye moves to a different position. When the data is mapped, you’re left with a “scan-path,” which shows what users have been looking at, and with what intensity they have been viewing their screens.

Eyetracking data such as this can help technology marketers determine not only how to design their Web sites, but also what kind of copywriting is most effective in reaching users. For example, in looking at the scan-paths provided by Marketing Sherpa, it is clear that the first word of every headline and the first word of every paragraph on a Web page receive the most visual attention.

It is this kind of detailed, customer-centric research that can be used when developing and designing landing zones and microsites, when writing headlines and other promotional copy, and when organizing banner and skyscraper advertisements. By considering the patterns displayed by our customers, we can more effectively align our marketing efforts with our user’s experiences.

-BH

August 15, 2007

A New Company, New Partners and New Programs

I’m pleased to announce that we have a new partner at the Web Buyer's Guide. In the past few months, the Web Buyer’s Guide's parent company – Ziff Davis Media, sold its enterprise group – consisting of the WBG, eWEEK, Baseline, and other enterprise publications to Insight Venture Partners. In doing so, we established a new organization called Ziff Davis Enterprise. The sale was finalized on August 1.

Our new business venture is an exciting and positive change for the Web Buyer’s Guide. We keep our enterprise partners at Ziff Davis, while gaining the resources (and potential new partners) who are aligned with Insight Venture Partners.

In addition to all of the organizational changes, Q3 and Q4 are gearing up to be our most dynamic quarters to date. Our Lead Generation programs have expanded, and the we now offer Video and Content Syndication programs in addition to our well-established Branded Landing Zone and Microsite promotions. And as usual, the Web Buyer’s Guide has other new programs in the pipeline –stay tuned for more information on our upcoming plans.

-BH

May 05, 2007

It takes more than white papers to generate demand

In today’s environment of increasingly complex technologies, buyers need more than a white paper to help them make their internal business case to purchase your products. While no one is denying the importance of the white paper, in a recent Ziff Davis Web Buyer's Guide Member Study, we found that 100% of our members engage with five or more types of content before making their purchasing decisions. In addition to white papers, we found that technology buyers rely heavily on product literature, trial downloads, research reports, product demos, case studies and other digital marketing assets.

Consider a syndication strategy for all your digital markeing assets as part of your demand generation strategy. By putting all these resources into your prospects hands, you’ll be moving them through the buying process much faster and you'll be positioning your company as a go-to resource for the supporting research and information for buyers at all stages of the buying cycle.

-BH

March 20, 2007

Podcasting - It's not just for IPODs

When it comes to employing new Web 2.0 marketing techniques, I counsel my clients to get familiar with every new content type and embrace all new communication methods, because IT buyers are early adopters of new and useful communication methods. Consider how you should integrate these new techniques into your marketing strategy.

We'll talk more about these techniques in future posts, but by way of background...

Podcasting, video and social networking strategies should not evoke thoughts of teenagers on MySpace. In fact, podcasting shouldn't even evoke thoughts of content that is specifically created for iPods.

So how can these things help you?

To set the record straight, while social networks are used by teenagers on MySpace, they’re also used in corporate communications channels where their inclusion in the complex sales cycle just keeps growing. And podcasts are certainly not just for iPods.

According to its Wikipedia entry, podcasts are multimedia audio and video files that can be distributed over the Internet. Podcasts can be downloaded and saved or streamed live over your computer. You can also save podcast files to mobile devices (like iPods) and play the content at your convenience. With podcasts, you have the unique ability to subscribe to and downloaded files automatically using software capable of reading RSS and Atom feeds.

Podcasts are a great example of a content delivery method that’s gained in popularity, albeit slowly, over the past several years, and are now being used as an IT marketing tool. Armed with the knowledge that podcasts aren’t specialized iPod-only programs, you might consider how you can harness the exponential growth of podcasting, and use it to deliver your company’s marketing messages.

Podcast usage is going up, and research suggests that podcasts will really take hold over the next few years. In the 2006 EMarketer report, Podcasting: Who’s Tuning In, the overall podcast audience is expected to expand from the existing 10 million listeners who downloaded podcasts in 2006, to a projected 25 million listeners in 2008.

Part of the popularity of podcasts is that their consumption is user-directed. When listening to podcasts, users determine where they want to listen (at their desk, on the treadmill, while rushing between appointments), how they want to listen (streaming live, on their Blackberry), and when they want to listen. When users tune in to listen to their podcasts, they’re doing so at their convenience, and are specifically there to listen to the podcasts’ content.

For IT marketers, the unique user-directed aspect of podcasts make them a great tool for delivering content to technology buyers who need to research new products and technologies, but also need to do so on their own terms.

Podcasts can be very effective and engaging. But, recognize that we are still heading up the adoption curve. Here are a few tips as you consider how to deploy podcasts within your demand generation programs and on your Web sites.

• Educate users about the technology! Many of your prospects still don’t know much about podcasts and their uses. Tell them why they should 'listen' to your message.

• Help your users embrace this technology making your podcasts easy to find on your site. Include directions for downloading and saving the podcasts, and provide contact information in case your site visitors need help.

• Seamlessly integrate podcasts into your existing marketing efforts by offering users a choice between downloading written content, and downloading the same content via podcasts.

Podcasts are a useful tools for reaching out to users on their terms, and offering people your best information in a format that suites their needs. By showing potential buyers that you respect their desire for expanded content offerings, you move closer to becoming a trusted partner in their IT buying process.

BH

March 01, 2007

WBG Resource Library - Surviving the most complex sales

Purchasing enterprise technology is a complex, research-driven process that includes input from multiple decision makers. With buying cycles that can take up to 15 months to complete, it is more important than ever for marketers to surround these key influencers and decision makers throughout the process.

Why is the purchasing process increasingly complex? Here are several contributing factors. [1] The number of individuals involved in the process is increasing. Our 2006 Web Buyer's Guide study identified an average of 34 people involved in the buying decisions for the most complex technology solutions at the largest organizations. [2] The complexity of new technologies requires more market education. [3] The Internet is providing access to an unprecedented amount of data and research tools.

The Internet can shorten the sales process if the buyer's research process is efficiently facilitated -- that was our objective when we launched the Resource Library on the Ziff Davis Web Buyer's Guide.

The Resource Library takes the Web Buyer's Guide beyond white papers and allows marketers to categorize any type of marketing content that will support their sales process; including case studies, product literature, webcasts, videos or even trial software downloads. The buyer's digital journey is guided as they move from an 'unaware state' to a product and vendor selection. And, at each step, the Web Buyer's Guide is providing the digital educational tools to accelerate to a decision.

-BH


August 24, 2006

Use All Kinds of Content to Make Your Business Case

Use all the senses to tell your story and make your business case. IT buyers want to use their senses and experience your products with demos and free trials, see what you have to offer via webcasts, listen to your ideas over podcasts, and understand your technology by reading technical white papers and conversational blogs. So get out there and engage your customers with a sensory experience of online content!

So what kinds of content do buyers want?

According to MarketingSherpa’s Best and Worst Lead Generation Offers for 2006, IT buyers found the following content types to be “very effective” in influencing their purchasing decisions:

Free Trials/Demos: 54%
Webcasts/Webinars: 41%
White Papers: 35%
Blogs: 35%
Podcasts: 22%

IT buyers are early adopters and they consume information in all forms. So, consider using content such as e-seminars, podcasts, videos, and blogs to bring your technology to life.

The role of strategic content to support enterprise technology sales is to educate buyers, provide solutions to their problems, and present your company as a “trusted partner” in the research process. So, get creative and touch all your prospects senses during the buying process.

BH

August 16, 2006

Corporate Blogs - Get Started Now!

Corporate blogging is gaining in popularity as a great way to promote your company. [If you are reading this blog - then you are part of my outreach program. Thank for being part of this conversation.]

By publishing a corporate blog, you can actively create content that supports your company’s goals and objectives, provide a forum that encourages customer feedback, and present new ideas about your organization’s most up-to-date products and technologies before they hit your company Web site.

The best blogs must come from the CEO (or other C-level executive), with both the knowledge and authority over your company’s products and technologies, and a level of credibility that your company’s marketing executives will lack. By using this credibility to blog, you have the power to reach a segment of the market that is constantly seeking up-to-date information.

So what do you need to know if you want to start a corporate blog? Here are a few tips for getting started:

1. A corporate blog is not the same as a personal blog. Save your random musings on your children’s required reading list or your favorite pictures of your new grandchildren for another venue.

2. A corporate blog, while seemingly informal and conversational in tone, is still a part of your company’s corporate communications. Don’t write anything in your corporate blog that would get you fired if written in an e-mail, press release or on your company’s Web site.

3. Never lie outright in your corporate blog. Likewise, plagiarism, deception, omission of facts, and fraudulent posts will only turn off both your readers and other (often ruthless) bloggers.

4. Provide a space for readers to offer their comments and feedback. Remember that reading and responding to the feedback left on your corporate blog is good customer service and reflects positively on your company.

5. Acknowledge the greater world – including other companies, the blogosphere and technology analysts – when writing your corporate blog. A corporate blog is not a one-sided forum where you can spout off glowing accolades about your company in total isolation [that’s what press releases are for!]. Instead, to gain credibility, you need to link to other companies [even if they are your competitors], take your lumps when mistakes are made, and reach out to your readers.

By sticking to these basic corporate blogging tips, you can start writing and see what a positive impact a corporate blog can have on your organization.

BH

August 10, 2006

Microsites are Red Hot!

According to a study released this month by The Strategy Group and eWEEK.com (a Ziff Davis Web site), microsites are now the leading online information resource sought out by technology buyers when researching their purchases. 64% of eWEEK readers who were polled access topic-focused microsites at least once per month when utilizing the Web to gather information for business purposes. (Source: "Interactive Information Sources: Quick Poll," from The Strategy Group). For IT-related job functions, that figure jumps to 70%. Microsites are now more sought out than individual efforts to find white papers and product reviews.

What are Microsites?

Microsites (at the WBG we call these "Landing Zones") are dedicated Web sites, or targeted content environments on an existing Web site, that house critical marketing content, typically about a micro-topic, such as a product or technology. If designed correctly, these zones should allow researchers to navigate your solutions thoroughly - and prepare them for the sale. Tracking the behavior from one content asset to another (and encouraging it) is essential to this strategy.

I've got three white boards going on this concept right now as I try to develop the ideal navigational paths.

The popularity of microsites makes sense. Rather than focus research by content type (white papers, case studies, etc.), microsites allow you to organize all your content assets about a micro-topic in a single, easy-to-navigate 'zone.' This can reside either on your corporate site, or you can partner with a media company to develop a site for you.

Sounds easy right?

Next time you go to your favorite software company Web site, notice how it has organized the taxonomy for its solutions vs. its content assets. Many have developed a taxonomy by content type. For example, look for tabs that direct you to white papers, case studies or webinars. This approach is fine for directory sites - after all, that taxonomy is what has made the Ziff Davis Web Buyer's Guide so successful and draws millions of users to the site. But, the WBG is also organized by more than 1,000 product categories, which actually creates natural microsites that thoroughly organize all the various asset types.

Consider that same approach - brand a Landing Zone and organize your content to allow the researcher to move through the buying process.

BH

August 06, 2006

Buying technology is a process

The sales cycle for Information Technology is getting longer.

From 2005 to 2006, IT sales executives overwhelmingly indicated that their sales cycles were increasing, according to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide 2006.

That is a very disturbing trend. Setting aside the macro impact on our national and global economies, the micro affect is even more curious to me. When you consider the inherent company benefits that are promised by the implementation of new technologies (i.e. increased productivity, speed and cost efficiencies) - I wonder why we aren't in more of a hurry to make technology purchases which can offer real gains for our companies.

The truth is, we are in a hurry - both as buyers and sellers

As buyers, we want all the benefits of the purchase - but the decision process 'pre-purchase' is getting more complicated, powered by online tools, flowing information and a more collaborative work environment. Companies (both large and small) report more people than ever are involved in the decision process.

As sellers, we are even more impetuous. Rather than recognizing a new dynamic selling environment - we are using our powerful new online tools to drive dated 'targeting' techniques - a wishful strategy that presumes that there is a single purchase influencer, neatly organized by job title, function and size of firm, who will immediately approve an order (so we can play more golf). We are, in effect, guilty of skipping the necessary steps, people and dialogues in today's buying process. And, by leapfrogging the natural order, we are actually slowing down a sales process that is ripe to accelerate.

Doing this blog is labor of love. For more than 25 years I've been a student of the buying process and a self-professed 'speed freak'. I've always used my analysis of the buying process to guide my marketing and sales strategies. And, with this blog, I'll be using that same approach.

I hope that my simple observations and the analysis of our many contributors will help you unlock the buying process for your products and accelerate your sales process.

Let's get started!

Barry