Monday, February 8, 2010

Email Personalization/Testing

Nice article today from Jeanne Jennings at ClickZ regarding email best practices and testing. She comments on the use of click-stream data and other analytics to personalize and customize email messages.

She talks about the fine line between the importance and effectiveness of personalization and message relevance and 'hyper-personalization', or a 'big brother-ish' feeling one gets from knowing a company may have too much information about the recipient, where they surfed on a website and how that can be a turn-off. Couldn't agree more.

I will say however that striking the right balance between personalization and intrusiveness is a very important element to test and get right. How much likely are you to respond to an email with your name in the subject line, or with an offer or content from someone or something that you know you recently looked at? Can have a huge affect on conversions.

On the topic -- I've recently received an email from a company (that I've opted in to) that nevertheless went directly into my spam folder in Yahoo. Couple things jumped out at me -- it's important to make certain you have some copy at the top of your emails to ask the recipient to either include your address in their address book/list of accepted email senders or to provide them the option to opt out of future messages (in fact a clear and prompt opt-out procedure is a CAN SPAM requirement).

A quick review of the email also pointed out some potential spam folder issues - it had 'FREE' in the subject line and had quite a few images in the email body. These elements might not automatically doom you, but they don't help.

Many ESP's (definition) have built in spam filters that allow you to test and score your emails to see how likely they are to make it through spam filters and become deliverable into in-boxes. If yours doesn't there are many free spam filters available (SpamAssassin and SpamCheck to name but two) for you to use, I heartily recommend.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Website's Influence on Buying Decisions

On Wednesday Hubspot put up a blog post/chart (below) about a new survey released by 97% of survey respondents (which included more than 200 buyers of professional services) stated that websites had at least some measure of influence over their ultimate buying decisions. 97%.

This hopefully tells you something you've known for some time, that nearly all confirmed buyers will eventually make their way to your website (or your competitors) to gather information to help inform their buying decision. And that's not just product-specific data.

We know from analysis of the marketing and sales funnels that at the beginning of this journey, these prospects are first looking for educational content and thought leadership that first speaks to an understanding of business challenges, how that relates to their specific needs and then provides answers that help solve these challenges. Not until those questions have been satisfied do these prospects seek specific information on the vendor solutions that support these ideas.

This blog has spoken often about the need to have a website that provides compelling (and easily obtainable) content to prospects for each stage of the funnel they are in, as well as for their specific roles/pain points relative to their responsibilities to the overall decision chain. This only further supports that.

If you feel your website is not sufficiently content-optimized, it's not too big an elephant to start the changes needed right now. I'm sure you have sufficient content already in your site copy, your campaign offers and assets, etc. The keys are to get that content organized, updated and targeted, and get it on the site (and searchable). Simple SEO, such as keyword development and creating meta tags for your page titles, descriptions and keywords can be done in a few days. Paid search that supports those keywords can be done in minutes. Create a landing page/s that provide a path for prospects to gain further information from you while exchanging some of their personal data. Ensure that your blog is liked to your site and pump a steady stream of your brilliance into it. Link those posts to your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. It's not difficult. There are prospects who are waiting to hear from you right now...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Search Strategies in 2010

Three new articles out this week each underscore the evolution (and importance of) search as we go into 2010. Each article I felt raised some interesting issues pertaining to how an organization should consider constructing their search strategies in driving traffic to their websites.

At HubSpot they took a survey of existing clients to find that of the three primary methods to drive search traffic (organic, paid, referral sites), organic drives more traffic than both paid and referral combined. Considering the added credibility (and increased conversion) of organic search vs paid, how much of your search budget is devoted to SEO vs strictly paid?

On the Google Blog, they provided a very brief summary of some stats from 2009 -- all are interesting factoids, but one especially stood out for me w/respect to driving traffic:
Number of search quality improvements made by Google in 2009: 540, ~1.5 each day

What this tells me is the importance of having a dynamic SEO strategy, and not just staying pat w/the hand you have. It's a daily fight to stay abreast of Google's changing algorithm's, keeping your keywords in the top echelon and beating your competitors to the punch to get the best terms and results.

In ClickZ's 2010 online marketing trends for 2010 the article mentions the increased use (and increased competitiveness) of broad key terms that are used earlier in the purchase process due to their limited supply. It's critical that you identify (and make ROI-based decisions) on your broad term keywords as they are highly sought after and expensive. Create sufficient metrics to see which of those terms best move the needle with regards to the ultimate purchase decision.

The article also reminds us of the ever-expanding use of YouTube (the world's 2nd largest search engine btw). How much content are you preparing for video share sites like YouTube? Translating as much of your content and making it suitable for various channels (digital, video, podcast, print, personal) should be an important consideration of your content development strategy.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Forrester Wave Report on ESP's

Forrester Research recently came out with their Wave report reviewing 15 top Email Service Providers (ESPs). Summary here, full report can be downloaded from ExactTarget here.

The report has both ExactTarget and Responsys as being ranked at the top, with both being cited for providing robust and comprehensive offerings, excellent functionality and very good service to support their platforms. I've worked with both solutions and can attest to their power and flexibility.

Other notable ESPs mentioned include Yesmail, e-Dialog, Acxiom, Experian and Epsilon. Not ranking quite as high is Lyris, which I've also worked with. I feel Lyris is an up-and-comer in the space due to their solid analytics package, simple content creation, PPC management and burgeoning social media capabilities.

Some other interesting notes include that 92% of those surveyed for the report say they are actively using email marketing as part of their marketing mix and agree that spending on email marketing will be increasing in the next 3 years. So much for the death of email as a marketing tool.

Enhancing the business case for ESPs includes marketers offsetting staffing losses with the increased productivity and efficiency that ESPs provide, and an increased relevance in marketing programs.

I believe a great deal of that increased relevance is (and will continue to be) due to more and more companies embracing lead nurturing and a mutual value exchange in their interactions with new prospects. Email has become the de facto communications channel for timely, compelling and relevant interactions between company and prospects. As the ROI for email marketing for cold lists (list rental) continues to decline, the ROI on house lists/marketing databases should rise as marketers seek to build relationships through their communication by providing thoughtful, educational and targeted content that prospects seek out and come to expect.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Short Tail and Long Tail Keywords

Some quick observations regarding PPC strategies that I've been reviewing recently that may help your paid search ROI.

Many companies obviously seek out the highest performing (i.e. highest trafficked) keywords relating to their products and services in determining those keywords that they would like to ultimately bid on in Google, Bing, Yahoo, et al. The catch there is the more popular the keyword, the more difficult (and expensive) it is to 1) win it at auction and 2) gain a page one hit in a search engine.

Short tail keywords (definitions) are essentially broader search phrases, usually consisting of one or two terms (think 'running shoes'), that while being the most popular search phrase for a product or service will also be the most competitive and expensive search phrase in trying to win its' use as you bid for the phrase. If you're a small company competing in a large space (i.e. the aforementioned running shoes) you would have a very difficult time competing against the budgets of global brands for these phrases.

Long tail keywords are a longer string of terms, usually 3 or more words, that are much more specific and pinpointed to your product or service (think ' Nike running shoes size 13'). While long tails might not have nearly the volume of clicks as short tails, well-researched long tail keywords can have higher conversion rates than short tails and be a cost-effective way to drive more highly-qualified traffic to your site. They are usually much less expensive, and you are more likely to be able to gain a page one result for your ad.

A large part of your paid search strategy then is to do detailed ROI analysis to determine which of those types of short tail and long tail keywords convert - to a click, to a page view, to a form completion/response, to a lead, to an opportunity, to revenue. Use tools like the Google Traffic Estimator, Wordtracker and Trellian to help you uncover keywords that would resonate with your targets and drive traffic, as well as give you an idea of their approximate cost as you bid to use them. Go to some of your competitors websites and take a look at their page code -- you can see the keywords they are using in their own title, description and keyword meta tags, which can also help give you ideas for your own terms.

Relative to your industry or space, you may find it cost efficient to in fact bid on a higher-priced short tails if the business case is there after conversion. Or perhaps you'll find that you are in a niche market and short tail keywords aren't all that expensive to begin with. You may also find that the opportunity cost of the research it takes to find and maintain enough suitable long tails to make a good strong list is simply not worth it in the long run. Additionally, as (ideally) you are matching your landing page copy to your keyword/ad copy for optimum conversion, maintaining a larger inventory of long tail keywords/campaigns requires a significant uptick in time and energy.

The trick is to find the right balance in your keyword strategy and purchase. As always with any marketing investment, test and experiment to determine the optimal blend of those tactics that reap the highest results.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ROMI Down to the Tactic

I had an enjoyable chat last week with a software CEO who had a outstanding command of marketing strategy and tactics. He asked some in-depth questions about demand generation and the ability to calculate a ROMI (Return on Marketing Investment) down to the specific tactic deployed in a multi-target, multi-channel campaign. I thought he raised some important issues that bore discussion in the blog.

I've found that many marketing (and operational executives) feel that once a CRM or marketing automation tool is purchased/deployed it will provide the magic bullet of calculating the program ROI of a given deal by attributing that deal being closed to a specific tactic at a specific time. I'm not suggesting that isn't possible, but would caution that that type of metric might be tougher to arrive at than you think.

Frequently I've heard feedback from salespeople who say that the deals they close were not affected by any marketing outreach as much as existing contacts/relationships the salesperson had that s/he nurtured and closed. Leads that were generated and passed through by marketing to sales weren't 'true' leads in that they already existed. And in many cases that may be true.

But the likelihood that a well-crafted, multi-target campaign helped shape and influence a complex decision chain is indeed very real. I'm not suggesting that a charter of marketing should not be to identify and collect net new leads for new business opportunities. That should be a large part of marketing's responsibility. But I'd like to make a case for level-setting in the ways in which you view the impact of your demand gen marketing investments.

If your typical decision chain consists of multiple targets (say 3-5 individuals, senior exec, middle manager/s, analyst), each with differing responsibilities to the final decision, it's likely that your campaign will include multiple offers to each target through multiple stages (AIDA) of the marketing process. Thus there are numerous client interactions/touch points that can and will take place as the decision chain educates to the problem, educates to the solution (needs recognition), assimilates proof points (needs satisfaction) and then takes an action to discuss the opportunity with a vendor.

To attribute the development of an opportunity or deal to one offer or action is very challenging in this type of environment in that it is fair to think that the sum total of numerous marketing interactions, plus the relationships that sales has had in the account, helped contribute to the deal being found and closed.

I can hear some of you asking -- then why do I invest in a demand gen initiative, in a marketing automation tool, in the creative and resource investments if I can't pin down a successful deal to any one tactic? I would argue that the way to think about this is more about attributing a deal to a collection of strategies and multiple tactics that were developed and executed as a systematic and coherent approach to help identify, capture, score, nurture, route, and track leads to deals.

In your campaign/deal post-mortems you will be able to identify certain tactics that created lift, that helped accelerate the process, that had more perceived impact than other tactics. (As an example, you can research and build models around those tactics that seem to frequently be in the mix in those opportunities that you have won. In fact that type of analysis should then inform your lead scoring standards).

But I'm not confident that you will frequently be able to reduce the success of a joint marketing and sales engagement to any one tactic. And I'm not sure you should be able to. Complex decision chains have an assortment of dynamics, including momentum, timing, budgets, politics and online/offline/human interactions that in sum help drive (or retard) the progress of the decision chain through the marketing and sales funnels.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Customers as Social Media Advocates

Many of you now are quite familiar with my enthusiasm for supplementing your traditional outbound marketing strategy with an inbound marketing strategy - getting customers to find you in online communities.

A large part of this strategy requires your planting 'seeds' of your brilliance -- your thought leadership, ideas and creative, innovative thinking for solving business problems -- in forums, blogs and social media platforms where they can be found by people interested in what you have to say. Taking on a content marketing orientation or creating a mini-publishing house, with the purpose of providing a relevant, compelling source of content (information and knowledge) on a regular basis is a significant aspect of building a relationship with a prospect and being successful here.

I tend to discourage blatant product or solution pitches as a source of content in your inbound strategy. It undermines the credibility you're establishing for being about solving business challenges and not just selling product. If and when a prospect is interested in learning more about your solutions, they will find their way to your website and be able to consume vast amounts of product information.

Why not instead seek to enlist your most satisfied customers as your social media solution advocates? How much more powerful would it be for a prospect to hear how impactful your solutions are from a company who has vetted several offerings and found success with your products versus hearing it from you? I'd bet it's a pretty big difference.

Here's an example -- if you're a member, go to LinkedIn Answers and ask a question, say about what CRM solutions are out there that people could recommend. Check out how many answers come from marketing and sales people associated with the vendors they recommend (some people state their company affiliation, but some don't. Talk about integrity). See a credibility issue there?

But how much more impact do the same answers from customers have? Especially those who state they have looked at several different solutions and undertaken a detailed vetting process. It's a significant difference amongst those people seeking an unbiased opinion on what works and why.

Recruiting these types of advocates is not difficult. Once they are on-board and (hopefully) have fallen in love with your company and it's products/services, they would probably be enthused to share their experiences as they have a vested interest in helping your company to do well and grow. You could also incentivize these customers with promotions, service discounts or even chotzkes to gain their assistance. Make it easy for them to identify forums, blogs, social platforms where they could add their 2 cents, and make sure they know that they would prove helpful even providing as little as a sentence of positive feedback.

I would also stress here that you in no way attempt to shape or affect the feedback they would give (which carries some risk, but you should have a strong sense of the type of feedback they would provide at the outset). Assure them that it's completely up to them to provide an honest and principled accounting of their experience with your products and service.

I think you'd be surprised how many of your satisfied customers would love to help spread the word about how terrific your company and it's solutions have been for them.