Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Social Media as a Listening Platform

Much has been written about the importance of including social media in your marketing strategy and the types of activities that you can and should begin to explore. Perhaps one aspect of social marketing that might get short shrift is what Dave Evans of ClickZ writes about today in Get Started With Social Media -- leveraging social media as a listening platform.

There may in fact be greater merit right now to setting up your online community with blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook et. al. as more listening and feedback outposts than as platforms for outbound marketing. If you remember from past posts I've written, I'm not sure if outbound marketing/messaging has yet found its' ideal niche in social media marketing (SMM). What social media can do right now is help form the foundation of an inbound marketing strategy, where you make available your intellectual capital, your ideas and solutions for solving business challenges and allow prospects and customers to find your brilliance rather than your going out and hunting them. By becoming a thought leader on specific business problems and best practices you gain much more credibility amongst your intended targets.

Part of that inbound strategy includes using social media as the true interactive medium that it is. And that means listening to all that is written about your company, your brand and your competitors. Social media is an outstanding marketing research tool. Just as important as providing your thinking and ideas online is the response to those ideas that you receive. It provides you with an ongoing dialogue with your constituents, to have a conversation, giving them the ability to express their likes and dislikes, what their needs, opinions, complaints are. How they like to be communicated to. It enables you to share, learn, better engage. Ultimately it gives you a deeper understanding and stronger bond w/your targets and helps guide and inform your own product/solution development.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Peeling Back the Layers of the Onion

Before you decide to transition all your lead gen marketing from offline to digital channels, this article from CNET today points out the importance of understanding your targets and how/where they would like to communicate and interact with you.

The article states that younger doctors who have been raised on technology are more apt to embrace it in how they build their practices, treat their patients and communicate and engage with both patients and colleagues. Conversely, older doctors, not having been raised in a digital world, are reticent to embrace IT as robustly. Thus digital marketing platforms and vehicles may not be as effective with more senior targets.

This points to the importance of segmentation and micro-segmentation, with the need to delve further into what would seem like a homogeneous group (ie doctors) to decipher their specific needs, traits and habits.

Surveys and focus group research (not as formal as it sounds -- calling a dozen or so of your customers and asking some basic questions about how they like to engage w/your company, what they like/dislike, where they go for their info, etc) -- are absolutely critical for you to understand how to best communicate and market to your intended targets. It's a wise place to start when developing new messaging and outreach vehicles and as an ongoing exercise helps to supplement the valuable data and results you'll get from your campaigns once they've been deployed.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Secrets for a LinkedIn Group

As you build your outbound marketing strategy through the use of various online social networking tools, here's a tip for creating a LinkedIn Group.

Many companies I feel miss the boat when they establish a LinkedIn presence for their company. Often a company will create a profile under their company name. That's fine, but think about how that affects the credibility and impact of the content and information that you impart. Right off the bat, I'd suggest that most LinkedIn members would be at least slightly biased against much of what you have to say as part of an ongoing effort to sell products and services.

Now while it's true that selling solutions and services is your company's mission, you also (ideally) provide valuable thought leadership, data, problem solving, innovation, new ideas, thinking, etc that provides unbiased value to your intended audience. And they would welcome that type of expertise being available to them.

Consider instead creating a group that instead speaks to your industry and can be easily viewed as a rich community that promotes and exchanges thoughts, ideas and discussion about industry topics, business issues and creative ways to solve those issues. Many posts will speak to (and ideally support) many of the tenets of your company's core value and solutions, but many posts will not. And you may have to be prepared for discussions that don't necessarily promote your company's point of view.

But think about the credibility that a group like that would have with your targets. A free-flowing exchange of ideas that at their core have the best interests of helping people to do their jobs better. That is the essence of a real outbound marketing orientation, where prospects and customers flock to read about and discuss the latest ideas and content that make them better at what they do.

A great example of this is one LinkedIn group I belong to called Pro Marketers - For Marketing Professionals.

It was established by the marketing company HubSpot as an online community that discusses how to reach your best customers online through techniques like inbound marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media. Which just happens to be what HubSpot does.

I find it to be a valuable forum, with very little hard selling going on. And it's caught on as a credible community to discuss and debate inbound marketing.

Friday, May 15, 2009

'Landing Page Makeovers'

I've previously talked about the importance of dedicated landing pages for any of your marketing outreach vehicles -- such critical aspects as form design, providing one 'door' for the respondent to walk through (no multiple links on the page), web analytics on each page to see where your traffic is coming from and to monitor page drop-offs, etc.

It should also be noted however that for those companies that have embraced more of an inbound marketing orientation, and are beginning to plant seedlings of content throughout the web, giving ALL your web pages a 'landing page makeover' might not be a bad idea. By that I mean as your entire website begins to reflect your relevant content, links to that content come into your site from various places (not just from spots where you have a dedicated marketing program in place).

Although it wouldn't be feasible to make every one of your website pages a dedicated landing page, you can create standardized page templates that contain in each margin either static buttons/links to dedicated landing pages within the site, or in fact newsletter sign-ups. Those buttons/links can route a surfer to either a gated demo, free trial, contact us form or even live chat. A great example of that is what Marketo does:

This design can be found on EVERY web page on their site, thus turning each page into a de-facto landing (or at least routing) page. That way when anyone hits a page anywhere on your website from any outside link, you've made it that much easier to start a dialogue, capture data and begin the online relationship.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lead Generation Ad Networks

Many marketers have embraced the efficiency and scale that online lead gen ad networks provide. Ad networks (especially vertical or highly-targeted networks) enable you to cover a much larger playing field in trying to reach your intended audience, while at the same time zero in on specific targets through the use of contextual and behavioral ads. And all under the model of performance-based pricing (paying only for those leads that achieve certain metrics and goals).

ValueClick, Undertone and Double-Click are but a few of the hundreds of ad network sites available to marketers.

With any ad network, critical success factors (besides knowing which ones to invest in -- remember... test!) include lead guarantees, rates, ad placements/deliveries and lead quality. One issue I've run into frequently is the amount of data collection that is baked into the forms publishers use (too much or too little) and the lack of field customization available to advertisers.

Hollis Thomases writes in ClickZ today (B2B Lead Gen Advertisers Finally Have Their Own Network) about Madison Logic, an ad serving company that focuses exclusively on leads and has developed a technology platform (and ad network) that provides a single, unified platform and more consistent infrastructure for lead gen execution. It also gives advertisers more control over targeting, managing and reporting on their campaigns. Next month Madison will be offering a self-serve platform for marketers to set up and manage their own campaigns. I'll check it out when it's online and be sure to report back.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What Channels Are Your Customers On?

I've been reviewing some direct marketing vehicles from a couple of companies recently... in both cases these companies have been using print pieces to reach out to their targets. The pieces are nicely designed and reasonably effective.

I've always maintained that any and all marketing channels (including print DM, it's not necessarily a dinosaur) can and should be used to interact with your prospects and customers. I've done highly-qualified, high impact dimensional and print pieces that have delivered response rates in excess of 70%! A multi-channel campaign ensures that you are using all available communication highways to your target.

But what channels do they prefer to be messaged to and communicate back to you? Have you asked them? Think of the channels now available to marketers - digital, print/dimensional, mobile, telemarketing, personal, broadcast. Remember you want to engage a prospect or customer on their terms, not what's best for you. It's entirely possible that a percentage of your target audience may not have as readily adopted online communication so perhaps email campaigns are not as effective. Or print pieces rarely if ever make it to their desk as they go through numerous gatekeepers. Or they are impossible to reach via the telephone. Or they don't attend trade shows.

What's important to recognize is the answer to the question -- what are the most effective channels in which to communicate w/my prospects and customers? -- is sitting on your desk. Pick up your telephone and call your loyal customers and simply ask them. You probably (hopefully) have a number of customers who love your product and service and want to see your company continue to succeed and grow. They would love to be a part of that success. And they would most certainly share their likes and preferences about how they like to be communicated with, the types of marketing vehicles and channels that they prefer. How often do they wish to be contacted? What type of offers appeal to them? Do they take the time to read white papers? Are they Internet savvy and do all their research online? Do they ever see print pieces? What types of media (on and offline) do they read? Why did they buy from you originally? What types of marketing don't they like?

You can take just a handful of customers and reach out to them via the telephone, or online survey or print survey. Design 8-10-12 primary questions that will provide you with the answers that will help you to better understand how to engage with your customers, how to give them what they want.

From the types of offers you build, to the channels you use to communicate to the design of your products, your customers and prospects are an untapped goldmine of information and data that should be shaping your entire marketing strategy. Remember, these are the people who chose your company over all others. Whatever you did with them worked (or didn't work). Go ahead. Pick up the phone.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Buyers Finding Sellers

In my recent white paper 'The 7 Secrets for Generating Quality Leads in a Recession' I talk about establishing an inbound marketing orientation -- the process by which prospects find your products and services rather you trying to find them. It doesn't have to necessarily supplant your current outbound marketing strategies (at least not yet :^), but it should at least run in parallel.

In a recent survey MarketingSherpa found out that 8 out of 10 deals were struck with prospects initially seeking out and finding the vendors they considered and the vendor they ultimately chose. The voluminous amount of information and data now available online has led to this sea change in the buying process (and the marketing process). The web is the first (and sometimes only) place prospects/buyers go to educate themselves to make informed buying decisions.

And it doesn't mean they necessarily go to a vendor web site, at least not in the beginning stages. The ubiquity of research sites, user reviews, blogs, online communities, social networks, et al allow these buyers to first stay abreast of new ideas, technologies and innovations, see similar challenges to problems they also have and then read up on how like ppl/companies solved their problems. All this before their first knock on a vendor's door (or website) and a demo of how their solution satisfies the buyer's needs.

The issue for forward-thinking marketers then is, how do we get ourselves included in those initial awareness/interest phases of the buying process? To help inform the prospect's understanding of the best solutions that may be available to him? And to make the connection between smart, helpful ideas and products/services that are built upon those ideas?

And the answer of course is to establish your company or brand as a business problem expert and as a credible and trusted source of useful knowledge, expertise and information. Marketers have always known that content is king, but these days, unbiased, educational, business-expertise, 'what-makes-you-an-expert?' content is where it's at. If you haven't yet, identifying and regularly communicating your core value in the form of your company thought leaders publishing those thoughts should be of paramount importance as you set up an outbound marketing strategy. The online channels to publish this intellectual property are defined -- blogs, share sites, social nets, company websites, podcasts, etc. Now your focus needs to be on consistently generating the ideas, education and answers that address and solve critical business issues and establish you as a trusted partner.