Tag Archives: marketing communications

Client Newsletters: Empty Suit of the B2B Marketing Mix

Most Client Newsletters Deliver No Tangible Value

Most Client Newsletters Deliver No Tangible Business Value

Client newsletters are the most widely used, often abused and hotly debated B2B marketing tactic for professional services firms of any size. Here are three highly subjective myths and realities to help your firm determine whether it’s a worthwhile tool, or how to improve your current newsletter.

MYTH #1:        Your Firm Needs a Client Newsletter

Marketers want you to believe that your firm needs a client newsletter. But traditional newsletters – containing commentary ranging from tax legislation to new technology, or who’s joined the firm – are not a marketing necessity. In fact, at many firms their client newsletter is a marketing albatross. Each issue involves a frustrating hunt for timely information of genuine interest that has not already been provided to clients by another news source. Some firms avoid this pain by slapping their logo on boilerplate content purchased from a 3rd party, but those firms can pay a bigger price, in terms of brand damage. Canned content says to target audiences, “We value our relationship, but we don’t really care enough (or know enough) to produce our own newsletter.”

REALITY #1:     Your Firm Needs to Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness

The intrinsic purpose of tactics that communicate with clients, prospects and referral sources is to reinforce the perception that your firm is smart, trustworthy and prepared to help. Beyond keeping and growing existing clients, your primary marketing goal is to drive top-of-mind awareness with target audiences. That way, when a prospect is seeking assistance, there’s a greater likelihood your firm will be selected, or at least will be put on the “short list” of candidates. If that’s the goal, then consistency and quality of the contact are critical; neither of which necessarily require a newsletter format to accomplish.

___________

MYTH #2:        People Want to Learn About Your Firm’s Success

It’s nice to think that clients and prospects really care about your firm’s growth and accomplishments. The sad truth is that your success is more important to your competitors, and to current and prospective employees than it is to clients who generate revenue for the firm. Blowing your own horn can also backfire. When your firm touts that a senior partner has just published a book and was a guest on CNBC, your target audiences may wonder why that partner isn’t focused on client matters rather than self-promotion, or whether the cost of his book’s publicity tour will result in higher hourly rates.

REALITY #2:     Your Clients, Prospects and Referral Sources Care about Themselves

Understanding that all people are self-interested can make you a better marketer. Rather than creating newsletter content that’s based on what you know, on what you’ve done or on what you can do, focus instead on the ideas, talents and accomplishments of your target audiences, regardless of whether your firm played any role in their success. This is a very tough concept for many B2B firms to understand and embrace: that the most powerful form of thought leadership does not involve pushing out your own ideas. Instead, it involves deciding what ideas merit the attention of your target audiences, as well as what voices are worth listening to. True thought leaders seek to manage the conversation, not to control it.

_________

MYTH #3:        A Newsletter is a Cost-Effective Marketing Tactic

The old saw, “Cheap is dear” rings true when it comes to newsletters. If it’s created in-house, few firms actually track the hours required to write, edit, approve and publish their newsletter. If it consists of cut & paste content, few firms consider the cost of producing a newsletter that very few people will read or respect. Regardless of content, only a small number of professional service firms proactively work to expand their newsletter’s reach, to maintain an adequate CRM capability, or to properly leverage readership analytics from open and click-thru rates, if their newsletter is delivered online.

REALITY #3:     Your Marketing Requires More than a One-Way Conversation

Newsletters are one-way conversations. A fundamental marketing objective is to engage clients and prospects in a conversation regarding their specific needs and opportunities. Despite the buzz regarding social media, that channel can also fall short in terms of engagement. If your firm’s traditional and social media marketing tactics do not serve as catalysts to drive Face-to-Face discussions and Word-of-Mouth referrals, then their “cost-effectiveness” can never be measured on a meaningful basis.

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Stop the Insanity. Fire Your PR Firm in 2014.

The attribution is unsupported, but Albert Einstein is often credited with the quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Its source notwithstanding, the axiom applies perfectly to the great number of companies that retain PR firms, year after year, to generate publicity that will have little or no impact on tangible business outcomes.

Over the past 5 decades, to rationalize hefty monthly fees, the PR profession has successfully promoted three underlying assumptions:

  • Any publicity is good publicity.
  • The more publicity, the better.
  • Publicity generates revenue.

Here are just a few reasons why it’s insane for most businesses to base their marketing strategy on any of those assumptions:

  1. Lots of Media Exposure is Worthless. The “worthless media” category can include one-off quotes or mentions in round-up stories that also reference your competitors…if you’ve gained no unique mindshare.  It can include appearances on network and cable TV…if the topics have a short shelf-life, or are unlikely to be of interest to target audiences.  And it always includes exposure in advertorials (regardless of the sponsoring publication’s stature) and feature articles in pay-to-play vanity publications…because you gain no credible 3rd party validation.
  2. Counting Media Clips is a Zero Sum Game. PR firms often justify their value by the sheer volume of media exposure they generate…regardless of whether it stakes out intellectual territory, supports a client’s value proposition, or differentiates them in the marketplace. The goal should be to create an arsenal of effective credibility tools; not simply to generate clippings to hang like hunting trophies in the “Media” section of a website.  This zero sum game is also played in social media, where scorecards of “likes” and “followers” are used as hollow substitutes for meaningful business metrics.
  3. It’s All About Merchandising. Business leaders must address two key questions in advance of seeking any publicity: “1. What type of media exposure will benefit us most?” and “2. If we gain that exposure, what will we DO with it?” Responses to Question #2 must provide clear direction regarding how it will support the firm’s sales and marketing strategy; how it will be used to drive leads; how it will initiate meaningful conversations with clients and prospects; and how it can be leveraged to gain other opportunities for targeted exposure.

Most PR firms fail to deliver on the potential of their craft because performing it correctly requires really hard work, takes time, and demands accountability for business results. Your role as a responsible client requires that you hold your PR agency’s feet to the fire by expecting results that have a measurable impact on your company’s balance sheet. It also means that you must provide your agency with the time and guidance necessary for them to deliver something more than a pile of useless press clippings.

If you’re unwilling to make that commitment, or if they’re incapable of delivering on your expectations, then it’s time to stop the insanity. Fire your PR firm in 2014.

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Should PRSA Sanction Public Relations Practitioners?

In his most recent bi-weekly column on customer service, “The Haggler,” New York Times writer David Segal addressed a long-standing and well-founded gripe that many journalists have against public relations practitioners who send out press releases and other solicitations in wholesale fashion; regardless of the content’s relevance or likely interest to the journalists they’re pitching. According to Segal, hundreds of thousands of these unsolicited pitches – or “P.R. Spam,” as he calls it – “belly flop into the email systems of journalists every day.”

The relationship between journalists and PR professionals has always been contentious. Reporters claim PR people block their access to sources, and sometimes to the truth. PR counters that journalists often don’t care about facts, or twist them to suit their editorial agenda. But because the press can deliver exposure and credibility that PR craves, journalists have always been in a more powerful position. As a result, effective public relations involves pushing a company’s or client’s agenda (or products and services) without being a pest, and ideally, by being helpful to reporters who are in a position to reciprocate with media coverage. It’s a dance that both sides understand.

Over the past decade, three developments have upset the already rocky relationship between PR and the press:

  • Email, and “blast email” in particular, has become PR’s most frequently used communication device. Standard PR procedure at most firms and agencies is based on “shotgun” tactics designed to reach as many media sources as possible, relevance or interest notwithstanding.
  • Database companies, notably Cision and Vocus, empower PR people to create enormous lists of journalists in a matter of minutes. What was once a painstaking research process now involves a few keystrokes.
  • The internet and a fundamental shift in how news is reported have greatly reduced the number of journalists. Conversely, more schools are pumping out graduates with PR degrees. So there are now significantly more PR people chasing a much smaller number of journalists. And many newly minted PR people have not been taught the unwritten rules of effective media relations.

Why should serious PR practitioners care about the behavior of the growing number of people within their profession who display no regard for fundamental media relations protocol?

In his column, New York Times’ David Segal reports that he has removed his contact information from the 5 leading media database companies. Calling on other reporters who also seek fewer unsolicited intrusions in their mailboxes, Segal provides detailed instructions on how they can delete their listings from those databases.

But it matters very little whether Segal is the canary in the coal mine for this issue, foreshadowing mass defections of journalists from online databases; thereby making those tools useless. In fact, PR may also be better served without them.

What does matter is that this sloppy, lazy, abusive practice of media harassment by so many PR people increasingly harms the stature of the profession, and makes it even more difficult for serious practitioners to work effectively with the press.

Public relations has fought for decades to be recognized as a bona fide profession, similar to medicine, law or accounting. But until the profession is in a position to self-regulate – to reprimand or sanction, in transparent fashion, individual practitioners or organizations that harm the reputation and effectiveness of the discipline – PR can never be considered a legitimate profession. It will remain a business function, nothing more.

If the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), in its role as the industry’s trade association, has serious interest in protecting the reputation and collective interests of the nation’s public relations franchise, the issue highlighted by David Segal provides an opportunity to demonstrate true leadership by reversing a troubling trend. An online “complaint box” for journalists to identify abuse, combined with a “Wall of Shame” to call out repeat offenders – both featured on the PRSA website – might be an effective first step in changing industry behavior.

Any other ideas?

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Make Your Corporate Anniversary Worth Celebrating

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B2B firms that have flourished for 20, 30 or 50 years are understandably proud of their longevity, particularly after having endured the most recent decade’s harsh economic conditions. But many of those companies do not leverage their achievement, by failing to capture the attention, interest and engagement of the internal and external audiences that will determine their continued success.

Too often important corporate milestones are treated in a manner similar to a wedding anniversary: companies will send out an announcement (press release, advertisement or email blast), host a modest reception, and provide a memento to a select number of longstanding clients.

These traditional corporate anniversary tactics may yield a few congratulatory notes, but will not deliver what might have been achieved – in terms of confirming core values, building corporate culture, and reinforcing brand presence – if the company had approached the opportunity in a strategic manner.

As a starting point, effective corporate anniversaries require the same high level of planning discipline that’s applied to other aspects of business development at the firm, which should include:

  • Articulation of measurable business objectives the program will seek to achieve;
  • Identification and prioritization of the target audiences the program will reach and influence, including employees, current and prospective clients, suppliers, referral sources, the media, etc.;
  • Framing the core messages that will be expressed through the program, and
  • How success of the anniversary program will be evaluated.

Based on that strategic groundwork, a company is well-prepared to identify appropriate tactics, make well-informed decisions regarding budgetary allocations, assign responsibilities for tactical implementation, and to build a program calendar.

Ideally, a corporate anniversary strategy is based on a limited number of high-quality tactics, rather than a long list of activities with limited impact or strategic value. A few examples of high value tactics might include:

  • Logo Modification – This need not be elaborate or permanent, and might also include a forward-looking tag line or theme. A simple “Celebrating 25 Years” or “Since 1988” can easily be integrated into an existing logo design. The reference can also be integrated into email signatures of all employees.
  • Website Visibility – This can be as simple as an anniversary banner at the bottom corner of the home page, or as elaborate as a corporate timeline or new “history” section that explains significant events since the company’s founding.
  • Client / Employee Gifts – If it’s deemed appropriate to give an anniversary gift to long-time clients, employees or suppliers, these gifts should be personalized and delivered in a very personal manner; either presented individually and in person, or accompanied by a customized letter from the CEO, managing partner or owners.
  • History Wall – This multi-media display, consisting of photographs and historical artifacts, displayed in the firm’s lobby or a conference room, can serve as a permanent and updatable validation of the company’s milestones and achievements.
  • Client-Focused Ad Campaign – Rather than touting your company’s anniversary, select 4 or 5 blue chip clients who are willing to be profiled in an advertising campaign that promotes their longevity and success. Passing (rather than direct) reference to the length of your firm’s relationships with those clients suggests that your company puts client interests ahead of its own.
  • Video Profiles – To humanize the firm, and pay tribute to long-time employees, video interviews can showcase the personal stories, values and dedication that have served as the cornerstone of the company’s success. These 2 – 3 minute videos can be posted on the corporate website, and on the company’s social media sites.
  • Earned Media – Press releases announcing corporate anniversaries are of little interest to most journalists. But if your company has an interesting or inspirational story to tell – involving hardship, unique challenges, failure or creativity – it’s well worth soliciting interest from appropriate media sources. Positive coverage in respected business or trade publications provides valuable 3rd party endorsement of your company’s long-term achievement.
  •  Philanthropy – Rather than hosting an expensive celebration or social event, a charitable tactic may generate greater client goodwill and provide opportunities to promote the firm’s anniversary (and underlying values.) These tactics might include scholarships, research grants, sponsorships, named donations, fundraisers, etc. that are related to the firm’s business or mission.
  • Recurring Content  – To sustain top-of-mind awareness related to the firm’s anniversary and reinforce thought leadership, firms can publish and distribute theme-based content that’s likely to be of interest to target audiences. For example, an accounting firm celebrating its 25th anniversary might publish an interview series featuring CEOs of 25 long-term clients, who share the best business advice they’ve ever received. If published monthly, this tactic represents 12 separate opportunities to promote the firm’s anniversary.

The depth and range of anniversary-related tactics that can be leveraged by B2B firms is limited only by creativity and budget. But activity is not the benchmark for success. The real challenge involves alignment of strategy and tactics to achieve tangible business outcomes.

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Thought Leadership Merchandising: Rising Above the Noise

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Thought Leadership Programs Must be Accountable for Business Outcomes

Thought Leadership is one of the most widely used terms in B2B marketing.  But there’s a range of opinion regarding what Thought Leadership is, and fuzzy expectations with respect to its tangible benefits.

Researching the term “Thought Leadership” yields everything from a sterile Wikipedia definition, to blog posts featuring marketing insights similar to this online gem:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, an employee, or a student – your ability to become a thought leader will catapult your success.  A great way to accomplish this, is on LinkedIn.” And we wonder why the marketing discipline is held in such low regard.

Broadly, if Thought Leadership is a marketing strategy that leverages intellectual capital to engage target audiences, then there are two critical components and issues:

  1. Content — What qualifies as legitimate and effective Thought Leadership?
  2. Application — How should the content be applied to drive tangible business outcomes?

A coherent and concise description of bona fide Thought Leadership content is contained within a checklist (shown below) developed by Jeff Ernst, VP of Marketing at Forrester Research, who broadly describes the strategy as “expressing a viewpoint that influences others…” as a means to “generate conversations that build trusting relationships over time.”

It’s important to note that Thought Leadership should not be limited to pushing one’s own viewpoint. True Thought Leaders are those individuals or organizations that define what topics or issues are important, and also provide opinions on those topics (other than their own) that are worth listening to. Thought Leaders seek to manage, rather than control, the conversation.

For example, rather than featuring a message from your CEO in each issue of the company’s quarterly newsletter, consider publishing guest commentaries (not promotional messages) from clients, prospects, referral sources and recognized opinion leaders in your discipline. In return, you’ll gain higher readership levels, greater credibility and top-of-mind awareness, and the likelihood that the client / prospect will distinguish your brand from competitors.

Merchandising Strategy Precedes Content Development

To the consternation of CXOs, some marketers employ Thought Leadership as though it embodied some mystical higher purpose; as a tactic that’s not held accountable for increasing leads, clients or revenue. Apparently through marketing osmosis, a brilliant OpEd piece in the Wall Street Journal or a rousing keynote presentation at an industry conference will somehow bolster a company’s balance sheet. All too often, Thought Leadership’s only benefit involves corporate egos.

Proper application of Thought Leadership-based content begins with development of a content merchandising strategy, involving two basic questions:

  • What measurable outcomes do we want our Thought Leadership to achieve (other than having people think we’re smart)?
  • How will we apply our Thought Leadership content (other than dropping it on our website) to achieve those measurable outcomes?

Creating any Thought Leadership content before fully addressing these two questions is akin to building a large sailboat in your basement. It may be a beautiful work of art, but you will never sail it around the lake.

Ultimately, the most effective merchandising of B2B Thought Leadership content yields credibility tools that:

-        support your company’s value proposition,

-        deliver an inherent 3rd party endorsement,

-        can be presented in a non-self-serving manner,

-        contain content that has a very long shelf life,

-        integrate seamlessly into your firm’s sales process,

-        engage target audiences in conversations that build relationships, and

-        drive tangible business results.

In fact, the acid test of effective Thought Leadership should not be based on your CEO’s level of satisfaction in seeing her byline in print. Instead, you’ll know that your Thought Leadership is effective when the head of sales or new business development is nipping at your heels regarding the campaign’s progress.

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Three Myths and Realities of Client Newsletters

Client newsletters are the most widely used, often abused and hotly debated marketing tactic for professional services firms of any size. Here are three highly subjective myths and realities to help your firm determine whether it’s a worthwhile tool, or how to improve your current newsletter.

MYTH #1:        Your B2B Firm Needs a Client Newsletter

Marketers want you to believe that your firm needs a newsletter. But traditional newsletters – containing commentary ranging from tax legislation to new technology, or who’s joined the firm – are not a marketing necessity. In fact, at many firms their client newsletter is a marketing albatross. Each issue involves a frustrating hunt for timely information of genuine interest. Some firms avoid this pain by slapping their logo on boilerplate content purchased from a 3rd party, but those firms can pay a bigger price, in terms of brand damage. It says to target audiences, “We value our relationship, but we don’t really care enough (or know enough) to produce our own newsletter.”

REALITY #1:     Your Firm Needs to Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness

The intrinsic purpose of tactics that communicate with clients, prospects and referral sources is to reinforce the perception that your firm is smart, trustworthy and prepared to help. Beyond keeping and growing existing clients, your primary marketing goal is to drive top-of-mind awareness with target audiences. That way, when a prospect is seeking assistance, there’s a greater likelihood your firm will be selected, or at least will be put on the “short list” of candidates. If that’s the goal, then consistency and quality of the contact are critical; neither of which necessarily require a newsletter format to accomplish.

___________

MYTH #2:        People Want to Learn About Your Firm’s Success

It’s nice to think that clients and prospects really care about your firm’s growth and accomplishments. The sad truth is that your success is more important to your competitors, and to current and prospective employees than it is to people who generate revenue for the firm. Blowing your own horn can also backfire. When your firm touts that a senior partner has just published a book and was a guest on CNBC, your target audiences may wonder why that partner isn’t focused on client matters, or whether the cost of his book’s publicity tour will result in higher hourly rates.

REALITY #2:     Your Clients, Prospects and Referral Sources Care about Themselves

Understanding that all people are self-interested can make you a better marketer. Rather than creating newsletter content that’s based on what you know, on what you’ve done or on what you can do, focus instead on the ideas, talents and accomplishments of your target audiences, regardless of whether your firm played any role in their success. This is a very tough concept for many B2B firms to understand and embrace: that the most powerful form of thought leadership does not involve pushing out your own ideas. Instead, it involves deciding what ideas merit the attention of your target audiences, as well as what voices are worth listening to. True thought leaders seek to manage the conversation, not to control it.

_________

MYTH #3:        A Newsletter is a Cost-Effective Marketing Tactic

The old saw, “Cheap is dear” rings true when it comes to newsletters. If it’s created in-house, few firms actually track the hours required to write, edit, approve and publish their newsletter. If it consists of cut & paste content, few firms consider the cost of producing a newsletter that very few people will read or respect. Regardless of content, only a small number of professional service firms proactively work to expand their newsletter’s reach, to maintain an adequate CRM capability, or to properly leverage readership analytics from open and click-thru rates, if their newsletter is delivered online.

REALITY #3:     Your Marketing Requires More than a One-Way Conversation

Newsletters often are one-way conversations. A fundamental marketing objective is to engage clients and prospects in a conversation regarding their specific needs and opportunities. Despite the buzz regarding social media, that channel also falls short in terms of engagement. If your firm’s traditional and social media marketing tactics do not serve as catalysts to drive Face-to-Face discussions and Word-of-Mouth referrals, then their “cost-effectiveness” can never be measured on a meaningful basis.

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White Papers are Not Dead. They’re on Life Support.

Have Marketers Killed This B2B Golden Goose?

Have Marketers Killed This B2B Golden Goose?

The original purpose of white papers as a B2B marketing tactic was to produce objective information, packaged as quasi-academic research, that might validate a company’s or product’s value proposition. White paper sponsors sought to educate, inform, raise comfort levels and eventually initiate sales conversations with prospective customers.

White papers gained significant adoption as a content marketing tool concurrent with the rapid growth of new technologies that often required explanation or context for non-technical buyers. Over time, however, the market education function was largely assumed by research firms such as Gartner and Forrester, whose opinions carry greater credibility than self-publishers of white papers.

Unfortunately, what began as a legitimate and sometimes helpful marketing tactic has morphed into poorly disguised sales promotion, packaged in a plain vanilla wrapper. The evolution of white papers from bona fide content into self-serving advertorials has been validated by vertical industry trade publications, in which companies, for a fee, are permitted to “feature” their white papers in a special section. White papers jumped the shark when they became paid content.

The outcome of widespread abuse of white papers – driven by marketers grasping for new ways to put lipstick on a pig, or too lazy to produce rigorous research that might empower customers to draw their own conclusions – is that the tactic has lost its franchise as an effective B2B marketing asset class. Increasingly, prospective customers do not believe white papers will be helpful or credible, and as a result, they no longer play a critical role in their decision-making process for purchasing products or services.

Some B2B publications, marketing consulting firms and other 3rd parties with a vested interest in promoting the use of white papers are capable of citing surveys, focus group results and case studies to support the tactic as an effective lead generation and lead nurturing device. And there are still many companies that produce legitimate white papers containing helpful, objective information.

But despite this quantitative evidence and the best efforts of producers of high quality content, B2B customers are avoiding white papers in greater numbers, not only because they are no longer viewed as credible, but also because marketers have erected too many registration barriers that restrict online access to content. Marketers, in turn, are finding white papers to be far less effective as a demand generation tool. Marketers may not have killed the white paper goose, but the tactic is certainly on life support, and is producing far fewer golden eggs.

So if diminished impact is the new white paper reality, then how do companies leverage whatever B2B marketing benefits this traditional tactic may still be capable of delivering? Here are few suggestions:

Repackage the Content: One of my grandmother’s favorite expressions was, “If you fly with the crows, you’ll be shot at.” If you’ve produced credible content, avoid guilt by association with self-serving white papers by publishing it with a different label. Executive Review? Research Report? Market Analysis? Blue Paper?

Scrap the Traditional Format: Regardless of the credibility issue, people simply have too much to read. Instead, produce a video or slideshare version of your white paper content. There’s a greater likelihood that interested parties will sit still for a 3-minute video production than invest 20 minutes laboring over a written white paper. Or create a visual version to serve as a “highlights” teaser that incents readership of the written version.

Grow a Set: Instead of producing the white paper in-house or hiring a freelance writer, engage a well-known, respected industry source to research and produce your white paper…and (here’s the tough part) give that writer complete editorial control. The report may take some shots that you don’t like, but the conclusions will be highly credible and your brand will gain a reputation as a company that can withstand scrutiny.

Slice and Dice Content: Rather than jamming your white paper content into a single masterpiece, allocate and publish the findings as a series of blog post installments. This method will increase readership and also produce multiple opportunities to communicate with target audiences, versus once-and-done publication of your white paper.

Kill Registration Hurdles: Your competitors will always find a way to get a copy of your white paper. Stop acting as though your white paper contains the formula for cold fusion, and use it to generate appreciation of your company’s intellectual capital by all interested parties, including competitors. As B2B internet protocol has evolved, people are far less inclined to provide contact information in exchange for what may be worthless content. Increasingly, registration barriers lose more leads than they generate.

White paper supporters need only be patient. Similar to other B2B marketing tactics that have fallen out of favor through over-use or abuse, the utility of white papers may eventually be fully restored. Even snail mail, long declared dead as a marketing channel, is now enjoying a resurgence as an effective means to cut through the clutter of email.

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An End to B2B Social Media Madness

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Rapid, lemming-like adoption of social media tools by small and medium-sized B2B firms – fueled by an army of self-proclaimed social media experts – has resulted in wasted dollars, missed opportunities and heightened distrust of the marketing function in the C-suite. As if CMOs needed another cause for termination.

The past decade’s social media debacle is akin to introduction of desktop publishing in the early 1980s, when personal computers arrived in the business world. New software programs enabled companies, for the first time, to design and produce their own graphic materials in-house. Every company needed desktop publishing; corporate bean counters promoted the cost savings; anyone who learned how to use the software claimed to be a graphic designer, and the trend resulted in the most unprofessional and ineffective marketing & sales collateral every produced. Over time, even the bean counters came to understand that misapplied technology can be very costly.

The impact and potential of social media is far more significant than desktop publishing, but this also means that its range of casualties and cost of misapplication are exponentially greater. Simply, there are far too many B2B companies that are either:

-  using inappropriate social media tools,

-  not using appropriate social media tools correctly, or

-  missing opportunities to use appropriate social media tools.

At the risk of generating a firestorm of debate from social marketing gurus armed with clicks, likes, re-tweets and other forms of meaningless ROI validation, and based on the social media casualties we’ve seen or treated first-hand, the following guidelines are suggested for small and medium-sized B2B firms:

  • Focus on Your Website. This is the online mother ship of your brand. Don’t bother with social media tactics unless this tool is all that it can be. If your website has not been refreshed and updated in the last 3 years (which means more than simply sticking press releases in the “News” section), then your company is due for an overhaul.
  • Blog Correctly, or Don’t Have One. A company blog is the most effective way to leverage social media. But if you are unable or unwilling to generate meaningful content on a consistent basis (at least twice a month), or to merchandise your blog content properly (which means taking specific steps to promote the content with target audiences), then do not start a blog. If you already have a blog and you’re not meeting those goals, then shut the blog down. It’s a brand liability.
  • Forget Facebook, Twitter and Google+. These are primarily personal and B2C social media platforms, and there are few good reasons why most B2B firms should be investing any time or resources there. In terms of demographics, it’s telling that Twitter’s top 3 profiles belong to Justin Bieber, Lady GaGa and Katy Perry, but if your B2B firm needs quantitative evidence to support dropping these social media platforms, here is some recent research from Pew Research Center:

PRN_landscape_social_media_users

  • Use YouTube Selectively. YouTube can be a very effective social media channel for B2B firms. But your video products must be sophisticated, professionally produced, and no longer than 3 minutes. Resist the temptation to include sloppy, home-made productions, or hour-long webinar presentations. They reflect poorly on your brand, and few people will watch them. Ensure that you develop ways to drive consistent traffic to your YouTube channel.
  • Build Your LinkedIn Presence. LinkedIn is 3x more effective for demand generation than either Facebook or Twitter. LinkedIn has become an essential part of the business world’s due diligence process, and your company is conspicuous by its absence. Unfortunately, few companies take full advantage of LinkedIn’s social media potential. Their corporate profiles often do not contain adequate information, they do not merchandise blog-related and other relevant content, fail to connect through industry user groups, and their employees’ profiles are inconsistent and sometimes unprofessional. Most B2B companies would be well served to invest 100% of their social marketing effort through LinkedIn.

Very often, the root cause of dysfunction and disappointment related to the application of social media tools by B2B firms has less to do with the shortcomings of the various platforms, and more to do with the lack of a coherent and articulated marketing strategy. Chances are, if a B2B firm is spinning its wheels in the morass of social media, they’re having similar challenges with traditional marketing communication channels as well.

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5 Ways to Merchandise the “Masthead Value” of Publicity

Not to be confused with "The Wall Street Transcript"

Not to be confused with “The Wall Street Transcript”

Many companies will invest considerable effort seeking positive publicity in influential media sources, and then fail to benefit from the masthead value of that exposure.

Originally a seafaring term relating to the brass plate attached to a ship’s mainmast that memorialized its owners and builders, a publication’s masthead lists the members of its current editorial and production staff. The industry term “masthead value” can be defined broadly as the level of stature, credibility and influence associated with a specific media source. The Wall Street Journal, for example, has high masthead value; the Wall Street Transcript…not so much.

Masthead value can be relative. A respected trade or professional publication in a particular industry may have greater masthead value – in terms of its influence with a particular audience – than well known publications such as the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. For example, physicians are likely to assign the New England Journal of Medicine greater masthead value than the Journal or Times on topics relating to clinical care of patients.

Masthead value should drive your publicity strategy. A placement from a single highly respected source can be far more valuable, in terms of influence, than a dozen hits with low masthead value. Because gaining inherent 3rd party endorsement is the end goal, in the publicity game quality always trumps quantity.

Here are 5 ways to leverage media placements with strong masthead value:

  • Put high value placements directly in front of your target audiences – Even if your coverage appears on the front page of the Wall Street Journal or makes the cover of Fortune magazine, don’t assume it will be read by clients, prospects, referral sources…or even by your employees. There’s simply too much offline and online noise to ensure that any media exposure on its own will gain the attention you’re seeking. If you’ve developed an internal CRM-driven discipline to communicate directly and regularly with target audiences, then you’re well prepared to apply that distribution capability to increase the chances that decision makers will notice, remember, and respond to your high value exposure. (Lacking that discipline, your time may be best spent building an effective distribution capability, in advance of seeking additional publicity.)
  • Avoid “Hey, look at me!” self-promotion – Pickup in a media source with high masthead value provides some reason for high-fives internally, but it should not serve as a platform for self-promotion. Extreme examples of this error include companies that issue a press release, or generate Twitter and Facebook postings to announce, for example, that their CEO has been profiled in Inc. magazine. This type of over-reaction to high value publicity suggests to target audiences that you were surprised to receive the media endorsement, and therefore may not have really deserved it. The key is to showcase the media exposure in a relevant context (you may need to create this), to make the media placement secondary to the underlying content (such as the reasons why your CEO was profiled in Inc.) and to pull off these tasks with a matter-of-fact level of self-confidence.
  • Rank graphics over content, in terms of impact – Most people are surface readers. Online visitors are more likely to scan images, heads, subheads and captions, than they are to read body copy. (Long blocks of copy on websites that require scrolling are rarely read.) If you’ve earned a placement with high masthead value, you can increase the likelihood of your company being associated with the “endorsing” publication by displaying its logo with the capsule description and link to the placement. To be clear: the critical element is the logo. If your placement is from the New York Times, for example, you should replicate the logo – as it appears on the front page of that publication. Based on how people gather information, simply typing, “from The New York Times,” or a similar attribution, is about 75% less effective than actually depicting the New York Times logo.
  • Prominently showcase high value placements – If you’ve invested and succeeded in generating media placements with high masthead value, why make it difficult for target audiences to find them on your website? Rather than burying influential publicity in an obscure “In the News” section that requires multiple clicks for visitors to locate, you can amortize your investment in publicity (and perhaps improve your website’s bounce rate in the process) if you create a location for these high value items on your home page. This can be accomplished by applying a design format in which the content either remains fixed or is refreshed regularly. For formats that supply current information, extend the shelf-life of each placement by not including its publication date.
  • Cite a relevant endorsement on your home page – One of the most effective  ways to  merchandise high-value media exposure is to select a very brief, relevant phrase from the coverage, for placement in a prominent position on your home page. Here’s a hypothetical example:

“…a recognized authority in Big Data technology.”

                                                       –Wired Magazine

By limiting your publicity efforts to media placements with high masthead value, and by ensuring that those placements are effectively merchandised through direct communication, social media tools and proper website visibility, PR practitioners will spend far less time worry about the ROI of public relations. The fruits of their labors will be self-evident in tangible business metrics, ranging from lead generation to high search engine page rankings.

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Should I Rekindle My Blog Love Affair…Or End It?

Can This Blog Affair Be Saved?

Can This Blog Affair Be Saved?

Here’s a sad letter from the Marketing Craftsmanship mailbag:

Dear Marketing Guy,

I’ve fallen out of love with my Blog and I need your advice. My sad story:

It was love at first sight. A company Blog had everything I was looking for in social media. It would drive SEO. Establish thought leadership. Engage clients and prospects. Create two-way communication. Build long-term relationships.

My competitors all had Blogs, and I needed one. It would complete my marketing.

Falling in love with my Blog was so easy. WordPress.com was the perfect matchmaker, and my Blog didn’t cost me a penny to build. I had big plans for my Blog. Topics we would cover together. Discussions I would moderate. I made a personal commitment to post regularly. My Blog and I would create beautiful leads together.

It was a great love affair…at least for a while.

After a few months, my Blog started demanding more of my time. But my Blog wasn’t living up to expectations. Few people visited, only employees commented on posts, and there were no leads in sight. My disappointment grew, but my Blog demanded even more content. “I need interesting ideas, not sales promotion,” my Blog would scream. We grew further apart. Weeks, and sometimes months, passed between posts.

Now, my blog and I are the office joke. Blog visitors wonder if my company has a pulse. My Blog has become a brand liability. I can’t look at the company’s website anymore, because my Blog is always there, reminding me of our failed relationship.

Does my Blog deserve a second chance? Or should I simply move on? Help!!!

Yours Truly, Blog Gone Wrong

Dear Blog Gone Wrong,

Lots of companies fall out of love with their Blogs. I feel your pain, but you’ll get little sympathy from me. Here are  a few questions to start you thinking about why your Blog relationship fell apart so quickly:

  • Was your Blog part of an integrated marketing strategy…or just a temporary infatuation?
  • Did you create an editorial calendar to provide content focus…or made promises you could never keep?
  • Did you assign sufficient resources to ensure your Blog’s long-term success…or were you just looking for a cheap date?
  • Was there a strategy to promote your Blog and to merchandise its posts…or did you think that would just “happen”?
  • Were there tangible and realistic business metrics to measure your Blog’s ROI…or did you think pre-nuptuals would kill the relationship?

My guess is that you were attracted to your Blog’s many fine features and benefits, but were unwilling to invest the time and resources necessary to build a meaningful, long-term relationship. If that’s the case, you really don’t deserve a Blog.

You might be better suited for a relationship with a Twitter account.

The Marketing Guy

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