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Manage Your Marketing: The Role of Research

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Full disclosure: I am a research geek. Back when I was in college and grad school, few things would give me a greater thrill than finding one resource and then looking in the bibliography to find even *more* resources. So, when I say that for marketers, research is an essential activity, I suppose you could dismiss this as a mere personal bias. However, at our agency, research is always emphasized as a key first step before doing just about anything. Research, for us, is integral in answering the following questions:

Which tactics should we try?

We have never been proponents of the “Spray and pray” marketing methodology. Time and money are too precious in most companies for this kind of strategy (or lack thereof) to make sense.  There are multiple ways to research answers to this question. We like to research competitors first to see what they are up to, and we also like to talk to publication contacts who have been in the industry for awhile. They can usually give very good insight as to what the audience is like in any given industry. For example, we can learn whether a given industry is more or less likely to react well to online advertising or social media marketing. This research is, of course, completed after objectives have been set so that the proper tactics are being explored in the first place.

What is the size of our market?

Is there room for your company to expand its market share? How much money do customers spend in  your market on an annual basis? These questions come up quite often, particularly when a company is contemplating adding a new product. Research is far better than taking a guess, even though in this case research can represent a heavy investment if you are interested in professionally conducted market research. A front-end investment is better than discovering after the fact that there is nowhere to go but down.

How would the market react to the new product we are thinking of launching?

Again, investing in front-end research (in terms of time and/or money) can seem like a drag when your company is chomping at the bit to launch a new product, or to begin the development of a new product. Again, however, it is far better to discover that there may not be a desire for that product before you go to all of the trouble of investing in product development. There are many ways to research answers to this question,  including surveys or polls of existing customers, researching whether other companies have tried something similar, or even pulling together a “think tank.”

The process of research, like so many other facets of marketing, will be what you make of it. It can be extremely time-consuming or it can be rather painless. It can be extremely expensive if you purchase a report from a leading market research firm or it can be combined with marketing investments you are already making. For example, many publications we work with offer a “reader study” to advertisers, so you can garner a lot of additional information by investing in an ad on which you were already planning to spend money.

Sometimes research can seem like an unrewarding process if you are anxious to spend your time doing other things. No matter what your personal feelings may be about research, we strongly suggest that the problems research can prevent are well worth the investment of time and/or money.

Do you agree?

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#FiveTipsFriday Proofreading

1341295412_c761dfebb4_mIt’s very easy to point out mistakes that other companies make in their marketing material. Heck, even we have been known to point that bony finger of condemnation sometimes. Whether it’s a Facebook ad, a blog post, a print ad, or a brochure, grammar and spelling are signals of quality in the marketing world. We have often waxed poetic here on our blog about the importance of proofreading, but today we thought we’d offer a few tips on how to maximize the effectiveness of your proofreading efforts. We’d love it if you added some tips that work for you as well!

1. Read backwards

One of the hardest things about proofreading is that your brain tells your eyes what to expect to read. Have you ever seen that online meme that looks like gibberish yet you can quickly adapt and read it perfectly? If your eyes and brain can make sense out of what should be nonsense, imagine what tricks you can experience when reading regular English with just a few typos.  To help avoid reading based on expectation, it can be helpful to read each word out of order. You of course want to read the whole thing in the regular way first to make sure it makes sense, but reading the content backwards helps you isolate each individual word and look for spelling errors.

2. Kick out the author

If you think your eyes can play tricks on you as a reader, just imagine what can happen if you are the writer trying to proofread your own work. After all, you know exactly what you want the words to say, and your eyes will confirm that you wrote exactly that. If possible, try to make sure that the proofreader is not the writer. In fact, the fresher the eyes, the better chance you will have at catching mistakes.

3. Don’t forget the obvious

Before you print out your work, do the easiest step – run spellcheck on your computer. Even though this isn’t a perfect tool, it can help give you a head start. Sometimes you can catch grammar mistakes that way as well. Another trick is to do a “find all” for important brand names or trade names. Are they all spelled the same way?

4. Ask yourself questions

We actually created a proofreading library for our clients. Patent numbers, trademarks, and other important information is all there. When we proofread we ask ourselves things relating to that information. “Should that have a registered mark after it?” “Is that patent number the right one?” If you work in a very large company it may be a good idea to write out these questions as part of a proofreading checklist.

5. Read out loud with a proofreading partner

We always proofread in pairs. One person reads the final product and the second person reads along with what our clients have approved. This accomplishes a few things. Reading out loud helps you find places where you stumble over the language being used. If it is not making sense to your ear, it won’t make sense to someone else trying to read it (most likely). Having a second person involved of course doubles your chances of finding mistakes. Finally, reading in pairs makes the “asking questions” step a little less awkward. People may look at you funny if you ask yourself questions and then answer.

These are some of our tips and tricks. What do you do to make sure your content is flaw-free?

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Lead Generation is Taking the B2B World By Storm

7040238429_91f32d484c_mLast week we talked about how there may be a “social media boom and bust” coming our way. Companies, we hypothesized, are probably starting to look for more actionable advice, stronger leads, and better ways to convert leads into sales. A recent study by Business.com seems to validate these hypotheses. We learned about the study via this article from B2bOnline.com. Business.com interviewed 500 of their pay-per-lead advertisers in May, 2013 and uncovered some interesting information about how B2B companies are thinking about lead generation today. Here are some of the more interesting bits of data that we pulled from the report.

B2B Purchase Timeline Keeps Getting Longer

According to the report, respondents indicated that the purchase timeline for their customers had increased to about 5.4 months in 2012. We have some clients who have to work with buying cycles that are far longer, sometimes up to two years. Because of this increasingly long buying cycle, companies need to do much more hand-holding and lead nurturing.

Seeking More Solid Information

Likely because of the longer buying cycle and the need to stay in touch with customers, the report indicates that companies are most interested in leads that are tied to a business email address (at the least) and a physical address if possible. In fact, 50% indicated that they now are most looking for leads with a legitimate business email address. This means that companies are not looking for general, broadly defined “lead reports.” They want individuals with names and contact information.

Lead Generation Tools

Although the report mentioned several different lead generation tools, the two options companies seemed to value most were white papers and webinars. Of the companies surveyed, 25.3% said that they consider leads from white papers to be “extremely valuable.” Additionally, 40% of companies polled said that they are interested in investing in webinars as a possible lead generation opportunity.

There are a few important additional points that the report touches on that could be expanded into greater detail. First, lead generation is just the first step. The report also emphasizes the importance of lead nurturing. This means that if your company is planning to invest in something like a white paper or a webinar, you need to have, as part of your plan, a way to nurture those leads over what could be a long period of time.

Another issue the report does not touch on, but one we have discussed before in the context of the “content marketing” buzz, is that generating white papers and webinars can be extremely expensive, not necessarily through various media channels that may help distribute them but through the time it will take your staff to actually create the content.

We have been noticing an increased interest in lead generation opportunities with our own clients over the last year or so, and leading publications in all of the industries we work with have begun expanding their offerings in this area. We will keep you updated as we continue to learn more.

To download the business.com report you can visit this link.

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#FiveTipsFriday Building Online Credibility

3155400274_cc3fca8930_mThe word “relationship” is used a lot when describing how companies should approach social media marketing. You need to build relationships with your audience, relationships with your customers, and relationships with key players in your industry who might help promote your message. Relationship can be a tricky word to understand in a business sense, however, especially in a business context. What exactly does “build relationships” mean? We think perhaps social media marketing success may seem more accessible if we shift the verbiage a little. Instead of talking about building relationships, how can companies build credibility online? Our five tips today offer advice on how you can build your company’s online credibility.

1. Be clear about who you are

This is especially necessary on Twitter. Are you tweeting as a company, as a representative of a company, or as an individual? Your avatar and your Twitter bio can go a long way towards clarifying your online identity for others. Once you make that decision, try to maintain a consistent tonality, particularly if you are tweeting on behalf of a company.

2. Do not share unvalidated information

This can be tricky when your desire is to share as much information as possible as quickly as possible. Margie wrote about the perils of sharing information too quickly on a post for Razoo. The problem is that information you share, along with however you introduce it, can spread to others in  your network very quickly. If it is discovered that you shared incorrect data or information, your credibility can be called into question. This can be a hard blow from which to recover.

3. Do not share without checking what you are sharing

Getting hacked is a common problem in the online world. You don’t just need to worry about your accounts, although obviously that will be your top priority. You also need to make sure that trusted sources around you aren’t sending out bad links. Many times we can fall into patterns of simply sharing content from trusted accounts, but that can backfire badly, and it can impact your credibility in very serious ways.

4. “You might be wrong. Be humble.”

There is a picture that has been floating around on Pinterest with words to this effect. In an effort to build credibility, it can be tempting online to say things with certainty, or to indicate that if someone does not do things your way they are less intelligent. Leave yourself some wiggle room in case someone offers an alternative perspective or new information you may not have known when you made your initial comment.

5. Avoid drama

If you are using online tools for fun as an individual, engage in emo drama till the cows come home. However, if you are trying to build your company’s online credibility, it’s usually a good idea to try to avoid the drama that can spring up in the online world. Not only can drama bring out the most unattractive side of an individual’s personality, but if people see a corporate account engaging in drama, they may well wonder why that company isn’t busy actually doing real-world work. It can be a slippery slope, so as always our advice is, “If you aren’t sure, probably best to err on the side of caution.”

Building credibility online is a tricky thing, and usually there is not a clear way to measure how you are progressing on this path. It is important to follow your own compass, and of course if you are online to represent your company, make sure that everyone in your company is on board with talking points, company voice, and more.

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The Social Media Boom and Bust

5291302347_22dbfd3f89_mNormally, “boom and bust” or “bubble” is used to describe an economic phenomenon. Think of the dot-com boom and bust or the more recent housing bubble. As a review, a boom and bust or a bubble happens because people appraise companies or houses or other things at a higher value than what those companies or houses or other things really are worth. There is a mad grab in purchasing, prices skyrocket, but then, suddenly, outside forces  bring everyone crashing back to earth. The bust happens. The bubble gets popped.

We may see an economic boom and bust where social media is concerned. Consider the price that Facebook recently paid for photo-sharing platform Instagram (one billion dollars) or how much Yahoo paid for blogging platform Tumblr (just over a billion dollars). However, our focus is not as much on this facet of what is happening in regards to social media use for marketing. Our concern is whether the “boom” in recommending social media as a means for, well, everything for companies may bust some time in the near future and how that would impact companies.

The Boom

For us, it seemed like the “boom” phase for social media really began in 2009. Perhaps we are unduly influenced by the “social media revolution” video that launched that year. Social Media is not a fad, the video assures viewers. It will change and is already changing everything in the world. It also is worth noting that PC World called 2009 “The year of the social network.” As a marketing agency, we were excited about the potential of social media as a tool our clients could use, but we started seeing advice that did not make sense. For example:

This article on well-trafficked social media site Social Media Today, which proclaimed that if your  business was not using social media, you were behind the 8-ball.

By 2010, businesses, especially B2C companies, were being admonished that they desperately needed Foursquare, a geo-tagging platform.

In 2011, well-known social media strategists like Jeremiah Owyang and David Armano were preaching the benefits of Q&A platform Quora.

As advice like this has continued to crescendo over the years, we end up with more recent articles that suggest that if you studied classical marketing, your expertise is no longer valued (that from Forbes). Then of course there is the 2013 craze, content marketing. You can learn why content marketing is more beneficial than traditional marketing , why content marketing is an “absolute must,” and why traditional marketing techniques don’t work on millennials (via HubSpot).

In addition to all of this advice that pits social media against more traditional marketing tools and approaches, some social media marketers have branded themselves so successfully online that they themselves have become self-proclaimed celebrities (a definite sign of a bubble). Take this recent comment pulled from a blog post regarding a new initiative from blogging platform Triberr:  “Having a celebrity endorsement is a tremendously effective way of promotion. And bloggers are the celebrities in the online world.”

Social Media “gurus,” people who have been making their living offering social media consultation since, in some cases, 2007 or earlier, have done a superb job promoting two things; social media platforms and themselves. As a full-service marketing agency, this does not help us do our job better. If you work in the marketing department at your company, it probably does not help you out a lot either. While information about new social media tools and platforms is important, our guess is that right about now, as we emerge from the “Great Recession,” you are looking for meaningful advice about how to use all of these great tools to build your brand and cushion your bottom line.

The Bust

After the dot-com boom and bust, the concept of online marketing did not disappear. Rather, expectations and perspectives regarding these new tools became more realistic. Companies began to look at online opportunities as potential tools rather than super sexy silver bullets. When we talk about a social media bust, we are not talking about Facebook or Twitter dying. What we are talking about, however, is that eventually, and we think soon, the gloss of social media will begin to tarnish. Companies, marketers like you, are going to increase the call for more actionable advice. Rather than “write awesome content,” companies are going to be asking, “And then what?” New social media platforms will still be interesting and exciting, but instead of jumping on board right away, companies may start asking, “Well, ok, will this help us increase sales MORE than what we are doing now?” Companies will start looking at what social media marketing consultants are basing advice on, and conferences and webinars designed (it seems) solely to sell books will no longer be deemed worthy of investment.

There are signs that this process has already begun. Consider this post by Tom Webster of Edison Research, which acknowledges that content marketing could fast be approaching a saturation point. The development of the new Content ROI Center we mentioned last week is also a step towards more actionable, real-world advice.

We have always offered customized advice to companies that approach us for marketing assistance and have never been on board with the concept of saying that any one marketing tool, social media or otherwise, is ideal for every single company. During the tough economic times the world has been through over the last few years, a sense of desperation, high unemployment, and the rise of new technology combined to create the “social media is all you need” bubble we are seeing now. It will be a tough transition for companies and individuals that banked everything on the social media “revolution.” The end result for those who can withstand the storm will be positive, however. And companies will get stronger for having endured the social media boom and bust.

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Manage Your Marketing: Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck

6263853991_468921993f_mJohn Wanamaker, a famous merchant of the late 19th and early 20th century, is quoted often in today’s modern marketing world because he famous said these words: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Often times this quotation is used to demonstrate the modern sentiment that “traditional” marketing tactics like advertising should be replaced by social media marketing and associated tools and tactics. Truthfully, any marketing campaign manager or investor could experience the same quandary as good old John Wanamaker if proper caution is not taken. The question, the bottom line mystery, will always be, “How can I make sure that what I am investing in for my marketing is working?”

How can you get the most bang for your buck with your marketing? This is a huge question and indeed, it can even seem a little overwhelming. Breaking it down a little can help.

What does “the most bang” really mean?

It’s easy to make a clichéd statement like, “I want our marketing plan to give us the most bang for the buck.” But what does that REALLY mean for your company? The following are possible interpretations:

1. We want to see a sales increase of x%

2. We want to feel like our brand awareness has increased

3. We want to strengthen our distributor network

Once you know what you want your “bang” to be, it can be much easier to ascertain what tactics can get you to that goal most most effectively and efficiently. There are certain marketing tools and tactics that would be ideally suited to help your company reach specific goals. Looking at the objectives we delineated above, what kinds of marketing tactics would work best?

Sales Increase

If you are looking for a rather swift increase in sales, social media marketing/content marketing may not be your best bet. While these channels can drive sales, it can take time to build credibility and relationships, and even then, you may not find a direct correlation between your relationship-building and sales for a year or more. Print advertising may also not be the best investment depending on how you usually convert leads to sales. If your goal is to increase sales, your company may want to look at opportunities like webinars or white papers, which can incentivize potential customers to visit your company website. In these instances it is important to have a mode of conversion, not just a means to drive the traffic to your site. Make sure there are clear calls-to-action.

Increase Brand Awareness

Brand awareness can be hard to measure unless you use online tools like Social Mention to track “positive’ mentions in the online space. Given that it can be difficult to measure solid progress in reaching this objective, getting the most “bang for your buck” in this scenario could mean investing in opportunities that are more economical than something like a webinar. Social Media marketing can be effective in this instance, as can a strong print advertising program in  key publications. The key is to target your desired audience carefully. If you begin a company Facebook page, for example, remember that your goal is not to get a lot of fans. Your goal is to increase brand awareness in the minds of people who may eventually become your customers.

Strengthen the Distributor Network

If you sell through distributors, it is essential to create market pull so that distributors have a vested interest in selling your products. This can be tricky because while you want end-users to be aware of your products, you need to clarify that they will not be able to buy from you directly. Perhaps your company would want to look at increasing your trade show presence at key industry shows while also advertising in publications that reach your industry’s key distributors. Social Media is probably not the best mechanism for reaching this objective because the relationship could be hard to clarify in the online environment.

Determine your overall budget, then how you want to segment it

Of course, the other elephant in the room when trying to get the most “bang for your buck” is how much you can truly afford on any one marketing tactic. Your company needs to have a serious discussion about how much money can be allocated for marketing, and from there you need to decide how many objectives you can realistically try to meet given that overall pie.

Do not lament if you feel like John Wanamaker about your marketing. If you are wondering what part of your marketing is working, or if you are wondering how to get the most bang for your buck, simply break down what you would define as a success and work backwards from there. And as always, if you need any assistance,  you know how to reach us!

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#FiveTipsFriday Five Blog Mistakes To Avoid

5633383557_7e832417ed_mIf your company is contemplating a jump into social media marketing, beginning with a blog may seem like a sensible first step. Writing a blog post is not done on the fly (hopefully) unlike a tweet or a response to a Facebook post. You are in a more controlled environment. If you want, though we do not advise it, you can start out with moderated comments so that you can get used to the idea of two-way communication. Blog posts enable you to showcase some of your expertise along with your company’s “voice” or personality, too. We would not argue with any of those points, but we would caution against simply running into the blogosphere without a full understanding of what is considered inappropriate blogging behavior. A couple of weeks ago we talked a little bit about blog etiquette. Today we are going to talk about some mistakes we’ve seen that you definitely want to avoid.

1. Do not use your blog site to publish news releases

We see this quite often on company blogs, unfortunately. In some cases you can tell that the copy for the news release was simply copied and pasted into the site. We understand the logic behind this tactic. It’s relevant content, it’s already been written (and proofread), and there are likely good keywords that will help boost SEO. However, people do not (usually) visit blog sites so that they can find out what you want to sell them. People visit blog sites so that they can get an answer to an important question. Posting a news release to your blog shows a lack of understanding about how the blogosphere works and may incline people to think your company is lazy or lacks important knowledge about how to run a blog effectively. Don’t let that happen!

2. Do not forget to give proper attribution to sources

The world of blogging is highly competitive, and companies are understandably protective of their content. At the same time, blogging is just one of many tasks you have on any given day and in a rushed state you might forget to put that hyperlink in to the source you referenced. This can cause a lot of problems for you and your company because you may be accused of plagiarism. Whether you building on another person’s idea or quoting them directly, double check and make sure you have given them proper credit. If you are not sure that formal credit should be given, do it just to be on the safe side.

3. Don’t use a misleading headline

Oddly, I have seen this tactic more with experienced bloggers than with new bloggers, but it is still worth a cautionary note. The headline of your blog post is sort of like a handshake. You are greeting your reader and setting an expectation for what he or she will be reading about. Suddenly shifting your focus or moving in an unexpected direction can feel like a betrayal of trust to your reader, especially if your headline leads them to believe they will be getting information but what they get is a hard sell. I have seen blog head lines that seemed interesting only to discover it was really a pitch for a book the blogger was trying to sell. “Bait and switch” is not a good blogging strategy.

4. Don’t assume your readers will be using a computer

Increasingly, people are accessing blogs using smart phones. If your blog is set up on WordPress you can add a plug-in that will ensure your blog is mobile-friendly. Even with that set up, it is a good idea to access your blog the way your readers will. Subscribe to your own posts and see how they come through. Make sure everything is easy to read. Perhaps this might also encourage you to use a “read more” tag on posts that are longer than about 500 words so that people on a smart phone can opt to continue scrolling.

5. Don’t use your corporate blog to “call out” other brands or people

If you are an individual blogger not tied to a specific organization, your blog posts are your own, and although people may disagree with your approach, you are free to use it how you will. If that means that you want to berate people or “call out” companies, that’s your prerogative. Things are a little different if you are blogging on behalf of your company, however. As a company, if you “call out” other brands or people it can make you seem unprofessional or like you don’t have anything better to do. More to the point, these kinds of exchanges can spiral out of control fairly quickly, creating a bad PR situation that might be difficult to fix. We don’t see a good reason to risk it.

Those are our top five “Do not do” tips for blogging. What would you add?

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