Water Blogged – The Role Trust Plays in the Usage of Online Content

“Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”  This is an old saying and in case you were wondering where you could possibly be to put yourself into that situation, the answer is the ocean.  That salt water can suck the life right out of you.  Can you imagine how agonizing it would be to be surrounded by a precious resource on all sides, but not be able to partake because you know that resource could harm you.  The idea is less alien than you might think when you consider that this is the same challenge facing many users of the internet today.  Rather than water, the precious resource surrounding web surfers is information and the thing that makes it so dangerous is that many of us don’t know the source of that information.  It may come from a genuine expert, but it might also come from a competitor hoping to mislead, someone with little or dated knowledge on a topic, or worse yet, it might just be a flat out hoax.

So the question for web readers is, how can you protect yourself from potentially harmful content?  The answer, in many cases, is easier than you might think – rely on trusted internet sources.  There is a growing trend towards vendors hiring editors to develop content that is designed to be unbiased and educational.  A well known site sponsor is often an indication of a trusted brand.  Trust is also the hallmark of many of the traditional trade publishers.  While many have struggled to develop their on-line presence, forward thinkers in this space are finding ways of identifying valuable content and placing it in a safe location like their web site.

My point is that savvy trade readers know that there is more to content than a catchy title – the source and the topic play a heavy role in helping people decide what they should read and what they should avoid.  So if you are a vendor looking to create a splash in your space, work with the experts to formulate an edit strategy that identifies high value topics and expert writers.  If you are a surfer adrift in a sea of information, make sure you verify your content source, and then drink in all of the quality information you can get your hands on.

Push vs. Pull Marketing

As a marketer, I am certain you have heard from your customers, your sales channel, and/or your management that no one likes to have emails flooding their inbox or magazines piling up on their desks.  In business to business, this strategy is called “pull” marketing—and it is all about being in the right place at the right time when a buyer is making a purchasing decision and “pulling” for information when they are searching the web, discussing with colleagues, going to their favorite information sites, or participating in social media.

One of the biggest challenges with pull marketing is prospect fatigue.  When fatigue sets in, prospects shut you out, either virtually, by filtering you’re your communications as junk or physically, by overlooking your ad or direct mail piece.  Worse yet, rather than having a positive impact on your brand perception, fatigue can sour your relationship with a prospect or existing customer.  The good news for concerned marketers is that a new strategy for communications around content marketing is developing and it is emerging as buyers realize the breadth, scope, and mass of data available to them in an electronic format.  The concept is centered on creating high value content that can be delivered at the right moment to a prospect who is at a specific evaluation step in the purchase cycle.   If a buyer can get a package of information or a service that assists them in the buying process they are open to getting that information “pushed” to them versus doing all the pulling/searching on their own.  Wired magazine goes as far to debate that this dynamic of pushing vs. pulling for information is ultimately going to limit the usage of the “web” vs. the “internet” where applications are popping up to enable information usage as a service.   http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1

In the same respect, as marketers struggle to break out of the pack with messages on the internet through search marketing and social media marketing it is also important to consider traditional channels that are more “push” focused such as print, email and direct mail.  The way users are interacting with the web at work and in their day-to-day jobs might encourage them to “unplug” when they want to get in depth information, or find out the right questions to ask.  Folio mentions this as a “What is old is new again” phenomena http://www.foliomag.com/2010/seven-reasons-print-will-make-comeback-2011 and discusses seven reasons print will make a comeback.

Whether your audiences are online, or digital, and not turning back; or they are still engaging traditional media, the challenge to capturing their attention is still around high-value content, packaged in a way that is easy for them to absorb, and enabling during the decision making process.  As it relates to time saving and efficiency, it seems “Push” marketing vs. “Pull” marketing would win every time if the content is right.

-Michelle Palmer, Partner, MediaSolve

Web vs. Social

Can they co-exist?  Do we want them to?  Everyone I talk to these days is asking for multiple methods of communication.  I was inspired by the article “The New Social Gurus” by AdWeek—do we really need a new type of agency?  Maybe we only need to start communicating to an individual, versus an unidentified group.  The more our customers do online, the more we know them. “Behavior Based Media Planning” enables us to understand what makes a person “tick” before trying to appeal to them.  It is the equivalent having the opportunity to meet a prospective date’s family, friends and colleagues before the first date—wouldn’t the conversation change dramatically?

Unfortunately, or fortunately, what goes on in the six different areas to contact me doesn’t change what I am doing, only the information that I deliver and the way I deliver it.  Of course, there is the divide between business and personal, and there is the ability to be more “conversational” with customers and colleagues with social media, but the source remains the same.  That leads me to the question, is social media a new technology or just a new conversation?

I think it is important to put “media” (print, website, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and outdoor advertising, mobile) in the discipline that it drives—access to audience.  To better understand how all these can work to your advantage, I believe it is best to apply the time spent with the customer/prospect as it would relate to a personal experience:

Print: Long, intimate four course dinner

Website: Casual social gathering

Email: Impromptu conversation with an acquaintance or friend

Facebook:  Casual gathering with friends or old colleagues in order to catch up, or chat about the latest scoop

Twitter: Quick phone call—“Hey what are you doing?  I am out catching the latest on [today’s hot topic] but I have to run, talk to you soon?

LinkedIn:  Great way of catching up with all the people you enjoyed working with in the past, or wish you could still beg/borrow their expertise for what you are doing today.

At the end of the day, multimedia is exhausting, because we have to THINK about what we are saying—when, why and how—not much different than your everyday conversation.

How and Why You Should use Content Marketing to Win Customers

One of the most important objectives of building a social media website is to build critical mass.  But first, frame critical mass so that it translates into your niche.  From the niche-based pool, you gain a potential customer match as well as reasonable expectations on the size of the potential audience you can expect to build. For most businesses, the goal of social media is to start a relationship with the customer match that in the end results in a monetary relationship.

Social media gets you attention, engagement from prospective customers, incremental revenue from existing customers, qualified sales leads and customer feedback all packaged in one of the most cost-efficient marketing vehicles you can develop.   Look to the site not only for increased customer acquisition and sales but product improvement ideas and customer collaboration from your followers.  Done right, it’s a guaranteed healthy ROI year after year and enhances the value of a life-time customer.

Give the site a personality.  Start with the name.  There’s lots of websites with cute names but “the name is on the door” philosophy is an old standby that continues to work no matter how communication channels evolve.  Whatever the site is about, reflect it in the name.  This will help you down the road in many ways including your number one challenge of traffic building.  Even in the new marketing, basic branding rules still apply.

You can add to the personality of the site by enlisting bloggers who can make humor work, be controversial or find people who have charismatic writing styles. Create a working contract with content providers of some sort for example, maybe bartering goods and/or services or traffic driving partnerships, if they are consistent, good contributors.  Team blogs is a plus.  When developing the site’s personality not only should you enlist industry veterans or team leaders but talk to as many people as you can outside the niche as to what sites they visit now and why. Many times good ideas come from other industries.

Provide your visitors some kind of offer. Trial subscriptions, product samples, e-certificates, the list goes on.  Give users something in return for their time.  Get engagement immediately.  Incidentally, all levels of audiences respond to offers. Find a good one or keep changing it up until you do. Your creativity in this area helps define your site’s personality.

Spend time on the design – nothing portrays personality more than the look and feel of it all.  Most professional designers have experience on what works and what doesn’t.

Content is everything.  Creating a site that works is like making sales calls.  The more calls you make, the more chance you will sell something.  The more blog posts, the greater chance of being indexed by search engines or other social websites.  The more daily visits, the faster the track to critical mass.  Don’t just recycle industry news, have content providers give a viewpoint, what the news means to a specific industry or team blog about the pros and cons.  Quality posts are more important that quantity posts.  Try to find content providers that write with an “infotainment” style – information you need to know written in an entertaining style.  In the end, your content must provide need-to-know, fact and opinion-based material with a built in resource center—a way in which other people can find and trade information.  It’s all about what a visitor gets from you.  You really have one shot at a first time visitor to make them a repeat viewer.

Create partnerships. It’s a lot easier to open the box and work with others then to go the road alone.  No matter how established a brand, driving interest on the web comes from connecting with others through the entire stakeholder database and yes, sometimes even through the competition.  Reciprocal linking is important.  Most organizations are open to this as they face the same challenges of providing good content.    Spend time, money and effort on building the critical mass even if that means you need outside help.  There are organizations that help with SEM, SEO, and all the actions you need to build traffic.

Different types of Social Media usage with attributes that work:

www.hperlocavore.ning.com is a social media site that connects people who want to yard share. A hyperlocavore is a person who tries to eat as much food locally, as possible.  Users either have garden skills or land to share and want to take advantage of peer to peer agriculture.  This community enlists the users’ help to build critical mass.  And, they offer ways to do it including asking you to join and invite friends, follow and retweet, blogroll with them, Blog about the subject and link back to them.  They even offer a graphic to add to your blog or site.  If you tell users you need their help to support the cause, they will help.

Word of mouth counts more than you think.  Viral scripts such as postcards, and referral scripts give visitors the tools to help drive traffic to the site.  Use these types of tools whenever possible.  Again, visitors will help attract other visitors.

Con-Way, Inc. is a truck and transportation logistics provider that uses social media to engage with customers in a very creative way – using Twitter, Con-Way launched a “new members only” page that pushes out load listings to its’ twitter followers.  While the listings are on their site, this makes use of pushing content out to mobile devices, a form of communication heavily relied upon by their customers. Content is the key driver.

www.babycenter.com is a fine example of a community that uses content and includes an editorial advisory board with impressive credentials.  The site is owned by Babycenter L.L.C and is a member of the Johnson and Johnson family.  Not only does the site include top-notch content, but it groups the content for traffic traction.  The site offers communities within communities relying on specific niche information needs versus general.  Offers are everywhere.  Community engagement is high. Design is outstanding.  This site is a clear best in practice benchmark about how to use content marketing to build a community.

Visit MediaSolveGroup.com for thoughts, ideas and actionable steps to help you win more customers.

5 Key Steps to Getting Funding for Your Marketing Project

On this blog, we often talk about the mechanics and best practices associated with developing a marketing strategy or implementing a marketing campaign, but the reality is that unless you find funding and executive support for your initiative, it will not likely get the budget or attention that it needs to succeed.  Getting funding (and understanding how your company evaluates alternatives) is more important now than ever.  This is because so many new ways of marketing have emerged over the last few years including social media, content marketing, distance learning and more, so that companies that have been doing the same thing for years are realizing they will have to re-align their spend in order to get the critical mass necessary to succeed when using any of these new forms of marketing.

Before I explore HOW to get funding, I think it is important to be clear on WHO I am talking to.  If you come from a company that is busy running print ads in magazines, then don’t bother to read on.  This is not for people who have been implementing marketing programs that have been done for years.  This is an important lesson for change agents who want to make a name for their company and themselves by understanding and implementing well thought out new programs that will deliver results. 

Now that we got that out of the way, let’s discuss the five key ways to ensure that your program will get proper funding:

1)      Do Your Homework and Develop a Well Thought-Out Initiative:  There is no excuse for not doing your homework ahead of proposing a project.  You know your company’s culture.  If you are expected to bring research to the table, make sure it was done and done well.  Make sure that goals are properly set and that you are providing a realistic timeline and budget.  These are all par for the course.

2)      Tie Your Initiative to a Business Challenge (not just a sales or marketing challenge):  It never ceases to amaze me how many people forget this step.  If you are going to the CEO or CFO for funding and you are proposing to do marketing in a way that it has not been done before, then make sure you connect your initiative to one of the core business tenet being discussed or presented by your top management team.  There is only so many dollars to go around and if you are trying to have money redirected your way, your project will absolutely need to align with the core business goals.  If you are not sure of the core business goals of your organization (and plenty of people are not) then listen for words like Revenue Growth, Market Share Growth, Innovation, Customer Service and more.  Business challenges represent how your company plans to compete in the future, and aligning with them is a good idea for the project and your career.

3)      Size Your Program so That You Can Demonstrate Progress Quickly:  As we weigh the options of what is possible with a marketing program, it is very tempting to think big and long term, however; as you consider what to present to your executives, it is important to set their expectations appropriately.  Remember that the most successful baseball teams are the ones that routinely hit singles and doubles and not homerooms.  The same is true for business.  Break your program down into a series of well timed, well defined milestones and you are very likely to get the funding that you need to successfully accomplish these smaller steps.  Also remember that successes are important because internal resources tend to align more easily with projects that are perceived as being a success and those are the ones that are most likely to have on-going executive and funding support.

4)      Provide On-Going Progress Reports: Now that you’ve shown the project to be a success in its early phases, remember that it is important to keep the internal PR program going.  Champions are easily distracted as are others in the management team.  To ensure that all know that their time and money is being well spent, make sure that you hold regular update meetings.  Getting people talking about the success of your program and showing that it has widespread support is a great way to make sure executives are aware of the value of the program and a great way to make sure funding keeps coming your way.

5)      Think Globally: Too often programs are started with a focus on a local market and never expanded to work worldwide.  Again, as discussed in point 3, I strongly urge you to size the launch of your program small, but make sure your plans evolve to include other locations or markets.  If your company has a strong growth focus on China or a specific vertical market, then make sure there is a plan for adaptation into these areas.  This is a great way to evolve the program over time and continue to grow your budget and influence within the company.

Today’s marketers are being challenged to consider new channels and media than ever before.  This shift is certainly going to cause a re-examination of the marketing budget.  Make sure that you get the funding your project needs by using these 5 simple steps.  If you think I’ve missed a step or want to provide your own experience putting these into action, please comment below.