Thursday, December 13, 2012

What to Look for When Selecting a SEO Firm?

Hiring a search engine optimization firm can be a difficult process. A skilled SEO firm will help you significantly increase the impact of your web presence, while a lesser firm will waste your money, and damage your online reputation. Yet, at least from the outside, the two can look relatively similar. Here are the tips to help you hire the right SEO firm:

Ask for References
It is perfectly reasonable to want to speak with current or past clients when vetting a search engine optimization firm. The good SEO companies will gladly furnish samples of their work, and make available past clients you can speak to. If a firm can not, or will not, it may mean they are not a good fit for the job.

Look for ROI, Not Cost
In SEO, as in business, you get what you pay for. A search engine optimization firm offering bargain-level pricing will likely deliver bargain-level results. Instead of looking for the cheapest option, look for a company that will offer the best return on your investment. Ideally, you can spend a little more now to get a lot more later.

Avoid Firms who have all the Answers
Search engine optimization is a complex and ever-changing trade. The SEO firms that understand this are flexible, and often ask more question then they give answers. If a firm claims to know all the answers, or offers guarantees that seem to good to be true, it may be indication that they lack the expertise you are looking for.

Find a Firm that Fits You
Search engine optimization is an imperfect science. One size certainly does not fit all, and the best campaigns are customized to fit the needs of each client. Even if a firm looks great from the outside, that does not necessarily mean they are perfect for you. Make sure there is a strong fit between their offerings, their specialties, and the personality of your company.

Trust Your Gut
There are many good SEO firms out there, and there are a few very bad ones. The tips so far in this blog post should help you identify the former, and avoid the latter. But in the end, there is no substitute for common sense. Trust your instincts, and chances are, you will end up with a reputable firm that best fits
your needs.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Protecting Your Brand in Search Engine Results

How to Combat Negative Perceptions
Winston Churchill was quoted as saying that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” This statement has become even more accurate in the era of instant media. Today’s public relations and marketing professionals have to be ready for attacks on brand equity that can come at a moment’s notice, then stick in search engine results for years.

In many cases, a single bad review of your product or service can end up at the top of Google when people search on your company name, or your personal name. Search engines tend to give more weight to sites like, which will publish customer complaints and leave them on the site even when an issue is resolved, or even if the claim is completely false.

Angry Customers Use Public Forums
Any small business owner who has had customers knows that there are a few people who are never satisfied with their experience. Consumer forums and online postings give these people the power to become your worst enemy, even when you have gone out of your way to make things right.

Therefore, there is no better time than the present to manage your brand reputation online. With the rise of social media and the approach of real-time search engine rankings, it is imperative for anyone with a good brand name to defend it against defamation. The “free for all” nature of internet publishing means that competitors, unsatisfied customers, and random individuals can create negative publicity for your company based on rumors, bad experiences, or smear campaigns.

Defending Your Brand on the Internet
How can you proactively defend your reputation? First of all, you can accentuate the positive. Search engine optimization techniques make it possible for you to improve the rankings of sites that are positive about you, your brand, and your business. If you cannot remove negative press or false claims, you can push it down to the second and third pages of search results. Most internet searchers do not go beyond the first page before finding what they are looking for. If you do not have good references on other sites already, has reputation management services that are custom made to help you show people what you want them to see.

Whenever possible, it is best to try and get negative information removed from offending sites and forums. In many cases a webmaster will do this to prevent accusations of libel, despite the broad protection given to forum postings. A large share of sites on the Internet operate on a shoestring, so it costs less to delete bad information than to retain counsel. Some sites (notably do not delete information but will allow you to defend yourself on the site. This is not always the best course of action, because your defense actually adds keywords to the original complaint, and may move it up on the search engines. Similarly, defending your brand in forums usually gives new life to the negative post that preceded your defense.

Staying Ahead of the Game
So then, how can a brand manager become more vigilant? First, monitor your company name online. You can sign up for Google Alerts that will send you an email every time your company name (or any other keyword) is mentioned in a news source. There are also tools that monitor Twitter and postings, so you can head off potential problems, and create a quick strategy for dealing with publicity issues.

Brand reputation management also works as a form of damage control for companies and individuals who have had problems in the past. In many cases, companies that have settled lawsuits to avoid the expense of a trial have found that state and federal court filings are still listed prominently in search engine results.

Because Google, Yahoo, and MSN tend to place a great deal of trust in government websites, this kind of publicity is hard to beat, and can result in distrust among potential clients. For clients who are able to make a substantial investment in online publicity, it is possible to get information like this moved to lower results in the search engine, assuming that highly relevant web content is created that reflects your brand, business, or name.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Email Deliverability in the Age of Spam

Non-profit organizations of all sizes are facing considerable challenges as they reach out to their supporters using email. The advantages of this communication method - instant, low-cost access to an organization’s audience, with personalization and tracking capabilities unavailable via direct mail or telemarketing - remain compelling, but are being undermined by spam.

Recent market researches currently estimate that more than 73% percent of all email is spam. As the volume of unsolicited, objectionable, and fraudulent email has increased, recipients are understandably raising barriers to protect their inboxes. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) now compete for subscribers based on their ability to control spam and provide a secure online communications experience.

As email recipients have moved to rapid adoption of spam controls, messaging by non-profits encounters an increasing number of delivery barriers. Legitimate mail may be refused for delivery, or routed to bulk spam folders, or mangled to remove images or disable hyperlinks. Such “collateral damage” is too often considered an acceptable cost of controlling the spam flood. Organizations need to understand how technical trends in spam controls will impact the overall deliverability of their email communications, and what they can do to ensure their messages reach a supporter’s inbox. Strict adherence to best practices in regard to permission-based list building and emailing will be critical if non-profits want to continue to enjoy the significant benefits of this form of communication.

Who Controls Email Delivery?

Contrary to the expectations of many email publishers, there is no technical or legal requirement that ISPs or other mail gateways accept every email sent and ensure delivery to intended recipients. Each mail system can establish its own rules governing access to its inboxes, and then enforce these rules using any of the anti-spam solutions available on the market. While email recipients are gaining access to tools that can effectively control spam, this actually increases deliverability challenges for legitimate email publishers. You have probably already encountered delivery barriers created by “solutions” that rely on “challenge-response,” “whitelists,” “blacklists,” content filters, distributed spam detection networks, etc. Barriers may be raised at multiple points along the path an email takes to the inbox, making it difficult to ascertain exactly where or why your messaging is being blocked.

Because few of the systems in use are inter-operable, solving a delivery problem associated with one product or getting whitelisted by one mail system does not necessarily help with the next barrier. While the delivery landscape is growing increasingly complex, most anti-spam systems actually rely on a relatively small number of parameters to sort the good mail from the bad. Most important is the reputation of the mail server sending messages: Has that IP address or domain sent spam in the past? Is it compliant with Internet mail standards? Is it on whitelists that the recipient system uses to identify good mail, or on blocklists used to identify spammers? Some aspects of a sender’s reputation are purely technical, but reputation is now primarily based on the number of spam complaints an email publisher generates. The greater the number of spam complaints, the more likely your email will encounter delivery barriers across the entire range of anti-spam systems. Ultimately, control over delivery is being distributed to recipients, and this is good news for permission-based email publishers: if you keep your complaint rates low, your communications will encounter far fewer delivery barriers.

Navigating New Paths to The Inbox: What Should You Do?

• Adhere strictly to permission-based messaging. The best defense against a poor mail reputation and public stigmatization of your organization as a spammer remains strict adherence to opt-in list-building practices.

• Review your spam complaints and unsubscribe requests regularly to identify any email acquisition methods that fail to obtain explicit permission, such as co-registration, list sharing, etc. Don’t be tempted by CAN-SPAM’s legitimization of unsolicited messaging and opt-out—ISPs are not required to deliver CAN-SPAM compliant email and will raise delivery barriers to any unsolicited mail, whether or not it is commercial spam. Non-profit or political communications are subject to the same set of rules: If a mailing is unsolicited, it will generate complaints; if it generates complaints, delivery barriers will go up, and your mail reputation will go down.

• Pay attention to all spam complaints. Do not ignore complaints from recipients that your messaging is unwanted. More and more complaints are being fed into sophisticated, distributed spam identification networks, which are then used to guide further spam control efforts. AOL, for example, keeps a daily report card on the number of complaints that messages from your domain generate, and then utilizes these complaint rates to determine whether to raise additional delivery barriers. Even a few abuse complaints can generate serious consequences; systems like SpamCop can trigger blocklisting based on very low complaint thresholds (on the order of one complaint in one million messages). Complaints are indicators of problems in your organization’s list-building or communication practices. Investigate why recipients are reporting that your messages are spam: Do they feel they did not opt in to your email list? Are they objecting to the frequency of your messaging? Are they signaling that they no longer find your content or engagement opportunities compelling?

• Partner with an email provider who understands the landscape. If your organization is a relatively high-volume mailer (i.e., sending more than 10,000 messages per month), the current delivery landscape is almost certainly too complex to navigate on your own. It’s likely that you are not even fully aware of all the barriers your current messaging encounters. If you are relying on metrics like bounce rates to evaluate your delivery, you are operating in the dark.

Most ISPs and spam control systems do not use bounces to notify email publishers that their mail has been rejected or routed to a spam folder, so more sophisticated inbox monitoring based on seed lists is required to get a true picture of your current delivery performance. While it may be relatively easy to send email from your own IT infrastructure, getting the mail delivered to your supporters’ inboxes is another story. Few organizations have the in-house resources to manage ISP relations or investigate and resolve blocklist or other delivery problems.

It is important to partner with an email service provider that has a comprehensive delivery assurance program. The service provider’s top deliverability objectives should be to get your email into your supporters’ inboxes and to protect your mail reputation. Only consider service providers that have a good mail reputation themselves and can document their delivery performance. Remember that service providers typically send multiple clients’ email from shared mail servers, so select a provider that only works with clients sending permission-based email.

The service provider should operate all of the following essential components of a delivery assurance program:

Email Infrastructure Operated to Support Delivery
To ensure delivery, it is critical that your email provider operate in compliance with a wide variety of ISP technical requirements, including sender authentication, bounce management standards, and integrated spam complaint feedback loops. Since these requirements vary across ISPs, a sophisticated infrastructure is required to enable different interactions with different receiving domains.

“Whitelist” Status at ISPs and Recipient Domains
Whitelisting is a designation that allows high-reputation mailers to automatically bypass anti-spam filters and avoid security-related message mangling (e.g., suppressed images or deactivated hyperlinks). Some recipient domains (e.g., AOL and Yahoo!) operate their own whitelists, while others (e.g., MSN) rely on third-party whitelists developed by commercial firms (e.g., Habeas SafeList). Whitelisting enables a service provider to maximize delivery of messages to the inbox, and to reduce the list hygiene problems created by deceptive bounce messages.

“Blocklist” Detection and Resolution
Blocklisting disrupts delivery at any recipient domain that uses a specific list to control entry into its network. There are literally hundreds of blocklists, operated by Internet community projects and commercial firms. Your email provider should be regularly monitoring for the presence of its mail servers on various blocklists, and have procedures in place to get such blocklistings lifted.

Email Software Optimized to Facilitate Permission-Based Communications
Your email service provider’s application should automatically facilitate best-practice subscription management, including multiple registration modes (e.g., single opt-in, confirmed opt-in, or double opt-in) and easy-access, user-friendly subscription management. Offer your subscribers a one-stop location where they can review their current subscriptions, modify their email preferences, and maintain their profile. Don’t select a service that makes it difficult for subscribers to remove themselves from your email list, as recipients will be more likely to report your messages as spam just to get off your list.

What to Expect in the Future
Organizations will increasingly be held accountable for their own mailing practices. Generalized whitelists are falling out of favor at ISPs because the list-building and messaging practices of individual clients vary, and generalized whitelists can allow organizations with poor practices to hide among legitimate mailers to get unwanted mail delivered. Email service providers are under increasing pressure to use a dedicated IP for each client, so every organization can be held accountable for its own mailing practices.

In the last few years, a consensus has emerged that email abuses can only be controlled if the existing email infrastructure is enhanced to support authentication of a sender’s identity, construction of a sender’s mail reputation, and certification of a sender’s permission-based list-building practices. Technical efforts are proceeding rapidly on all these fronts, and have already begun to affect email publishers. As part of a larger effort to control online identity theft, brand spoofing, and phishing, sender authentication systems are being rapidly adopted by major ISPs like AOL, MSN and Yahoo! Reputation services like or now track the mail volume and spam complaint rates of all email publishers. Companies like Habeas are providing third-party certification of the opt-in status of email lists to support various whitelisting programs.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What are the Secrets to Automate Analytics for Growth

Collecting detailed data from your website’s interactions is easy. But too often, the information ends up gathering dust instead of driving revenue. With next generation web analytics you can cross the action chasm and turn your data into meaningful marketing activity that moves the needle and improves the bottom line. Here are seven secrets to automate analytics:

Take the 5-Step Path to Growing Business Value
Transforming your web analytics practices takes time. Follow a logical pathway that allows you to learn, act, collect feedback and act again. These 5 steps demonstrate fiscal accountability and support defined goals:

1- Site Analysis:
Gather data on basic web performance towards your key indicators, e.g. for reaching, acquiring and converting visitors

2- Site and Ad Optimization: Target underperforming pages and advertising spends to improve structure, content, conversion rate and, ultimately, profits

3- Segment Targeting: Deliver relevant content – including precisely targeted promotional offers – to the most promising visitor segments on your site

4- Interactive Marketing (Online):
Move beyond segmentation to maximize the value of each visitor through personalized content, email, messages and more based on individual behaviors and tastes

5- Interactive Marketing (Online + Offline):
Coordinate a complete, cross-channel marketing dialogue that integrates personalized online and offline communications for optimal communications and results

Build Your Best Business Case to Get Resources
Executives act on what they can see. And they like to see their opportunities quantified in hard numbers. To build your best business case (and your best chance of obtaining the resources you need), do the math and help your colleagues see the potential within your efforts. Calculate ROI for incremental improvements:

- Gather baseline numbers for your website’s traffic, conversion rates and transaction values.
- Create “Sliders” or other adjustable means for manipulating the baselines by degrees. What would improvements of 10%, 20%, 30%, etc. mean to your business?
- Crunch some hard numbers that demonstrate the impact of improving your baselines.

Concentrate Testing on Issues that Matter
Like “analysis paralysis,” a testing regime that’s too complicated throws sand on the tracks toward progress. Instead of “slice and dice” testing that analyzes every possible permutation of your site and its performance, concentrate your testing on simple things that make a big difference.

What really matters? And where can you find the biggest bang for the smallest buck? In most cases, it’s at the “intuitive” level – the ability of your website to make visitors feel that their needs are being met and that they can have confidence in your ability to fulfill your promises.

One enterprise experimented with the location and messaging of the point-of-action section of their pages. By simply manipulating this one variable, they were able to increase sales by a whopping 114%. But even a 1% improvement from a test would mean a million dollars of value for a site that is driving $100 million in sales per year.

4. Focus Your Promotional Dollars on the Right Visitors
All customers are not equal. Therefore, your marketing efforts should not be equivalent across your customer base. Take a look at your recency curve, for example. Chances are, you get your greatest revenue returns from those segments that most recently engaged your brand or site, within the last one or two months. As the months stretch on, the return per customer drops precipitously.

Now suppose you offer a flat discount to everyone. The most likely responders will be those who acted most recently; in effect, you’ve created a negative return from good customers who would have purchased anyway. The alternative? Apply your discounts and special promotions to the middle of the recency curve where your marketing dollars will have a positive impact on profits.

5. Profile Visitor Interests based on Website Behavior
Your website attracts different kinds of people for different reasons and with different purposes in mind. That’s why generic, all-purpose messaging will fail to engage the full range of visitor interests. Savvy web marketers deliver customized messages (offers, promotions, links, and e-mails) based on visitor behavior.

In one successful model, businesses create marketing engines triggered by scores and profiles compiled from interaction data. Through a combination of keyword search data and page-visitation information, each visitor’s interests can be scored against key terms. When the scores reach predetermined levels, you can automatically present content/offers relevant to the visitor’s interests, increasing engagement and elevating returns. You can deliver marketing so personal, it feels like a service.

6. Detect Attrition Risk before Communicating to Customers
Marketing to customers is every bit as – or more important than – marketing to prospects.
Today, however, there’s no good reason to “cold call” your customers: you can use their website behaviors as leading indicators to their likelihood to be interested in renewals, cross-sells or up-sells.

Many enterprises have found that session data (recency, frequency and other details of site visits) are excellent predictors of continued customer interest (along with other customer data). With this data on hand, you can craft and time campaigns appropriate to your customers’ depth of engagement and likelihood of continued activity.

Improve Marketing at the Aggregate and Individual Levels Simultaneously
Web analytics offer insights on both the aggregate and individual levels. Too many companies leave money on the table, however, by not taking advantage of both data levels.

- Aggregate Performance Cycle:
Use aggregate data for dashboards, reporting and continuous improvement of your website’s overall performance.

- Individual Performance Cycle:
With the right tools and automation, you can leverage insights on individual online behavior to personalize messaging, schedule communications and target promotions/offers for greater effectiveness.

By committing to continuous improvement at both the aggregate and individual levels, you exponentially increase the contribution your site can make to both online and offline marketing efforts.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Becoming a Data Driven Marketer

Today, the job of managing a web site can be overwhelming. There is so much data and a host of variables that affect site’s behavior. It can seem impossible to keep up on its demands.

Successful data managers can learn a lot from successful corn farmers.  A farmer can have thousands of acres, with endless rows of corn. There is no way he can optimize each stalk or ear of corn. Similarly, a data manager cannot possibly be aware of every piece of data or try optimizing every single action on the site.  In both cases- success depends on a scalable strategy.

Becoming a data-driven marketer is a process. It is all in how you approach the job - as at data strategist rather than a data manager - that makes the difference in having success and feeling in control of the process. There are five keys to make this transformation from manager to strategist:

1. Identify Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

You cannot see if every keyword is working well or look that closely at any one piece of data - there isn’t time. You have to be able to look at the signs and indicators on your site that tell you how your site is performing. These signs are your KPIs. A farmer’s KPI might be to see whether water is reaching the end of the row.

Once established, you watch your KPIs as your means of making and justifying changes to your site. When KPIs are not performing to standards or expectations, changes need to be made. The changes you make fall into two categories: changes to your site and changes to your marketing. It is possible, and not uncommon, that you will decide to do both.

2. Focus on Economies of Scale

To be successful, data strategists should be thinking in terms of yield. Automating helps increase your yield. Think about how to increase the scale of the operation without increasing your involvement. Effective strategists do not manage every detail. For example, a strategic farmer does not examine every kernel of corn.

Create a site that encourages conversion. Experience dictates that site visitors will follow the path of least resistance. Too often, web site managers try to force the behavior of their visitors without acknowledging what the visitors want. Watch what your visitors tend to do, then make the navigation plain and easy based on that. Once visitors are going where you want them to go, you have a better chance of influencing their behavior.

How to create a clear conversion path on your site?

  • Fewer branches and an obvious flow: Try to make it easy, and make sure all options guide visitors to what you want them to do
  • Include calls to action: When you get them where we want them to be, remember to tell them what to do: “buy now” or “sign up here”
  • Group your content by relevance: Make sure your page flow is natural and similar content is grouped together
Do not just serve what is best for a web page, but what is best for the person visiting that page. You will serve the content “George” wants because you KNOW “George”.

3. Automate

When it comes to scaling up your yield and incorporating more automation you have to look at the big picture. Are you using the right tool for the job? Is the cost of a new, more efficient tool outweighed by the increased yield? Does a new solution allow you to manage more information? The answers to those questions will be different in each scenario, just like they are for a farmer deciding whether to move irrigation lines by hand or to invest in an automated pivot irrigation system.

Automation Tools:

  • Alerts: Instead of manually reviewing extensive reports, alerts notify you when your key metrics are outside your allowable ranges 
  • Bookmarks: Bookmarks save time by remembering your important reports. You can also better democratize your data with specialized distribution lists and schedules 
  • Dashboards: Quickly see your KPIs in context of each other

4. Classify

One of a data-driven marketer’s most powerful and versatile strategies is to classify data with tags. Classification allows you to take information that was captured when a page was viewed and then group it together in any number of ways. You can enable or turn on a classification for standard or custom variables.

If you were a clothing retailer, for example, you could choose to label a page view or purchase with a product name, categories, material, fashion season, color, promotional group, vendor, size, etc. Classifications are free; they are unlimited. You can classify any variable, including your custom variables. Classifications are not coded, so you do not have to touch or adjust your site page code. It is retroactive so you can go back, and look at information from two weeks, months or years ago; however far back your data goes.

5. Review

Because your conversion rate will never reach 100%, it is wise to take a moment and review your strategy. Review your main business goals. Are they still relevant or accurate? Have you scaled this process for the highest yield? How can you adjust your site or your marketing? These are good questions to ask; aim for once a month, minimum.

Lastly, being an actionable strategist means holding people accountable. Know what your baselines are. For everyone’s sake, hold your associates accountable. Make sure everyone involved knows going into a campaign what you are trying to accomplish - what defines or marks success. To do that, you have to know the conversions on your site; know the behaviors, which brings you back to knowing and watching your KPIs.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Proven Tips for Writing Copy that Sells

Compiled from various articles and reports on copywriting, the following tips will help you write copy that builds awareness, generates leads and increases sales. There is certainly more, but this collection of tips covers the basics and will help you on any copywriting you face. Enjoy!

To plan your project, answer these basic questions:
- What is the piece?
- What is the subject?
- Who is the audience? 
- What is the purpose? 
- How will the piece be used?

To prepare to write copy, gather useful online and offline source materials:
- Web sites. 
- Ads. 
- Brochures. 
- Newsletters. 
- Annual reports. 
- Articles. 
- Catalogs. 
- News releases.
- Speeches.
- Videotapes. 
- Market research.
- Marketing plans.
- Reports.
- Competitors' ads and sales literature.

To write effective copy:
- Loosen up and make writing fun. 
- Be personal. 
- Be interesting.
- Use humor with caution.
- Always make things easy on your audience.
- Have the you's far exceed the we's. 
- Write strong noun-verb combinations. 
- Write short sentences and paragraphs. 
- Use simple words. 
- Write to express, not impress. 
- Write the way you talk. 
- Use personal pronouns. 
- Use contractions. 
- Use the active voice. 
- Begin sentences with conjunctions.
- Use subheads. 
- Write subheads that tell the story to those who skim copy. 
- Use bullets.
- Stop after saying what needs saying. 
- Capture attention in an appropriate way.

To get attention:
- Use a powerful headline. 
- Tell the audience something they know.
- Ask a question.
- Offer an anecdote. 
- Say something timely.

To connect with your audience:
- Do your homework.
- Walk a mile in their shoes.
- Make them feel important (and do it sincerely). 
- Talk in terms of their interests. 
- Arouse in them an eager want. 
- Begin in a friendly way.
- Get them saying yes, yes immediately.
- Dramatize your ideas.

To persuade and motivate:

- Identify the need or problem. 
- Provide a solution and its benefits. 
- Provide proof with facts, statistics, opinions and testimonials. 
- Tell the audience what to do next, including how and when.
- Keep the call to action simple and specific to avoid confusion.

To write clearly and correctly:
- Always let clarity be your guide. 
- Make sure subjects and verbs are in agreement.
- Do not overload copy with modifiers. 
- Put modifiers near the words they are modifying.
- Use a dictionary, thesaurus and style book.

To complete the copy:
- Keep approval levels to a minimum. 
- Read copy from your audience's viewpoint, not as an editor. 
- Provide specific comments.
- Let the copywriter do the rewriting.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Project Re:Brief

I came across this interesting advertising project by Google, and I thought of sharing it with you. Please note that all the below links are to YouTube videos.

In 2011, Google partnered with four global brands in an advertising experiment. The goal was simple - how can the ideas that defined the advertising industry in its infancy, inspire a whole new generation of creatives and marketers?

They re-imagined and remade their most iconic ad campaigns from the 1960's and 1970's with today's technology, led by the creative legends who made these campaigns. For more info, visit:

Introduction to Project Re:Brief

(1) Coca-Cola | Mobile Ad Demo

Harvey Gabor - Re-imagining Coca-Cola, "Hilltop"

(2) Volvo | Tablet Ad Demo

Amil Gargano - Re-imagining Volvo, "Drive it Like You Hate it"

(3) Avis | Tablet Ad Demo

Paula Green - Re-imagining Avis, "We Try Harder"

(4) Alka-Seltzer | Mobile Ad Demo

Bob & Howie - Re-imagining Alka-Seltzer, "I Can't Believe I Ate The Whole Thing"

Friday, May 25, 2012

Convergent PR: The Best of Both Worlds

Ever since the dawn of business-to-business marketing, marketers have relied on traditional public relations strategies and tactics to enhance their overall marketing communications programs. Those tactics have included everything from press releases, press kits and trade show support to proactive media relations, bylined feature articles, case histories and application stories. With traditional PR, the goal has always been to reach your target audiences through third-party “gatekeepers”, i.e. editors, reporters and writers.

Recently, however, the explosive growth of online media has changed the PR game, creating a deeper, richer two-way communication between a marketer and its target audiences. Now, marketers can use social media strategies and tactics to engage their audiences directly. Those tactics include press release optimization, online media monitoring and reporting, social media press releases, RSS feeds, blogs, podcasts, webcasts and a host of other emerging technologies.

Public Relations at a Crossroad

Never before has PR practice been so complex, and so challenging. In fact, the world of traditional PR is rapidly converging with the world of social media PR, creating a whole new public relations discipline, called “Convergent PR.”

For marketers, Convergent PR presents a wealth of new opportunities. It allows you to increase online search results for your company’s name, brand names, products and services using keywords in PR documents. Convergent PR helps drive more customers and prospects to your Web site for product and service information. It boosts brand awareness among industry “influencers” as well as the trade press. It helps you develop more robust one-to-one relationships with your customers. And it helps position your company as an industry leader.

Macro Trends Impact Convergent PR
The sea change in B2B PR has been building for several years, thanks in large part to a few “macro” Web 2.0 trends. For example, in the past five years, the number of people involved in a B2B decision has tripled. Today’s B2B consumer, your customer, now works virtually, leveraging the Web to gather information, make important business decisions and save time. And, according to BtoB Magazine, there has been tremendous growth in online advertising, blogs, user feedback, beta programs and other online tools and tactics.

“Web 2.0 is not about technology; it is about an audience shift,” says the blogger-in-chief of a major U.S. corporation, speaking to a group of marketing communications professionals. “The expectations of our audiences are changing. They expect dialogue, to be able to talk back. It’s about community and collaboration.”

Consider that 175,000 new blogs are created every day. The best blogs feature well-written content and a large number of subscribers. And journalists’ blogs, even corporate blogs, are gaining credibility in the social media space. Also, online PR placements, once viewed as “second cousins” to traditional print placements, are now highly valued by marketers, their customers and prospects.

Leap Before You Look
While the social media landscape may seem daunting, marketers should not be afraid to dip their toes into Web 2.0 waters. Some integrated marketing communications agencies are analyzing the latest trends, building a considerable knowledge and skill base, and developing tools to implement Web 2.0 strategies, including those that address Convergent PR.

And, thanks to online technologies, you can easily track the effectiveness of Convergent PR tactics. Measurements include Web trends/analytics, blog activity, online surveys, traditional clip and online coverage tracking and reporting, and feedback from target audiences (customers, prospects, journalists, etc). Using one or more of those metrics will help you realize a return on investment in Convergent PR, something all marketers should value.

Convergent PR effectively combines the tried and true with the exciting and new. To stay in the PR game, savvy marketers should continue to practice sound, fundamental media relations and publicity programs geared to their audiences. (That’s traditional PR.) In addition, they should embrace the new social media, geared to online conversations among customers, prospects and influencers as well as traditional trade journalists. (That’s social media PR.)

Clearly, Convergent PR is the best of both worlds.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Be First in Mind

What Does It Mean to “Be First in Mind”?

How can a simple phrase, “be first in mind”, in any way help your business? Well, I suggest it is an approach to business that can help you maximize sales and marketing resources and drive more revenue. As you enter the vast market with your products and services, how confident are you that prospects understand what’s available? Do you feel that you are being asked to compete every time your product or service area is evaluated? How sure are you that your customers will turn to your company for advice and additional products or services? Do you even know?

I surmise the answer to one or more of the above questions is “no”. So read on below and see how being first in mind can profit your business.

Buy Cycle Today
The Internet and the proliferation of information on the Internet have changed buying behavior forever. We (the sellers of products and services) need to adapt our sales and marketing processes to meet that change.

Before the buying cycle starts:
Being first in mind means that you are engaging prospects before they actually become prospects. They have not decided to buy what you are selling, but they can be interested in seeing what you offer, what other customers’ have done with your products and services. Maybe what you are selling is something the prospect needs as they grow their business, but not for some period of time.

When the buying cycle starts:
Being first in mind means that you are the vendor that the prospect thinks about when they start the buying cycle. Being first in mind means that you are the one the prospect considers when starting to gather information. Prospects are online gathering information anonymously, often without the knowledge of any vendors. The buying cycle has started before the sales cycle starts. You can’t sell if you don’t know the prospect is looking. However, if you are first in mind, in your prospect’s mind, they might use the information you provided as the criteria to evaluate the products they are reviewing.

Existing Customers
Being first in mind is not just about your prospects. You should also strive to be first in mind with your customers. Although this sounds elementary, it is amazing how many companies take their customers for granted. Many companies assume that if they do not hear anything from the customer, it is good news. Well, it is not. Certainly it is cheaper and easier to sell back into an existing customer base than to find new customers.

It is important for the vendor to continue to engage the customer over time. You should be the vendor that your customers consider when doing research or gathering information on a subject related to your products and services. You should be first in mind when your customer is looking for complementary products or services that you provide.

What Does It Mean To Your Business?
Being first in mind with leads, prospects and customers means maximizing your sales and marketing resources and your revenue. Many of us think that interacting early with a lead is enough. But the reality is nurturing leads can create more sales than the initial lead generation itself. It is also about nurturing your customer base. Being first in mind has a tremendous impact on business:

  • It means optimizing the budget allocated to prospecting, by better targeting the prospect base. Why spend money on marketing to prospects that do not have or will not have a need for your products or services. Targeting suggests that you know your perfect prospect profile and can target specifically to that profile.

  • It means your business becomes a source of information and you build credibility long before sales reps get involved. It’s about providing sales teams warmer leads. It is about better educating the prospect base. Before spending money, the prospect will certainly research and gather information. What better way to become a trusted source of information to a prospect than to help them become educated on your market space.

  • It is about maximizing your marketing dollars. Leads that are generated, incubated and nurtured could potentially close at some point in the cycle. These leads cannot be left untouched to “leak” out of the funnel. The fact is that a majority of those “leads” will not buy from you within the first few months, but they will buy from you or your competitor eventually. You will get the business if you stay in touch; after your competitors have moved on to chase their newest leads.

  • It is about continuing to engage your leads and closing business. It is about turning inquiries into leads, leads into opportunities, opportunities into customers and customers into repeat business.

How Can My Business Become First in Mind?
As you can tell, being first in mind has many phases to it, from initial marketing research, through sales pipelines through customer care. We are not suggesting that your company become experts in all phases, nor are we saying that you need to implement the whole continuum to reap some benefits. However, maximizing your revenue and optimizing sales and marketing resources is essential to business growth and success.

Start at the Beginning
Being first in mind is not about spamming your potential prospect with email consisting of the latest product offers. Being first in mind is a balancing act of educating and introducing your prospects to solutions for their problems. Being first in mind suggests you target relevant information to the prospect based on what the prospect’s needs are.

To do this, you want to be visible where your prospect is (virtually that is).

  • What do they read (online), what websites do they scour, what other vendors, associations, etc. do they visit?
  • What is happening in their business that could initiate a search for your products and services?
  • Drop emails to your prospect with interesting case studies of how other companies similar to them saved money or made more money, whether in solving a problem or expanding into new business.

There are technologies and expertise available that can help you better target interested parties proactively. In addition to providing information of interest, your sales team will be much better prepared for that first conversation with the prospect.

Staying First in Mind
Being first in mind is not only about reaching the prospect before they entered their buy cycle. Being first in mind must be a continuous process. If you continually interacted with your prospect throughout their buy cycle, you will end up with better results. Minimizing lead leakage (leads that have been generated that sit in the sales funnel—that are usually not yet ready to buy—get lost in the shuffle and are not acted on by sales or marketing) by nurturing leads through the process will help ensure more prospects end up buying from you.

There are two aspects to minimizing lead leakage and maximizing your ability to stay top of mind with prospects:

  • First, there is the tracking and identity of leads and opportunities to be acted upon.
  • Second, there is the actual action, the outbound interaction with the prospect.

Once leads are generated, it is critical to identify the leads that are “hot or A leads” and those B, C and D leads. Hot leads should be immediately sent on to sales for an action (depending on your sales process). As much information about those leads’ interest (what did they visit on your website, what campaign did they respond to, etc.) should be available
to the sales reps in real time.

What happens to the other leads? Processes and technologies should be set up that help you to find, segment and act on the other leads. A mechanism also should enable you to target those leads on a continuous basis. That mechanism should be flexible enough to change the action based on the type and interest of that lead. You need to track what each lead does, what actions they might take based on the information you send out, where they go on your website.

If nurtured throughout the process, when the prospect is ready to buy, your company is most likely to be first in mind. Knowing more about what each prospect is interested in is critical to providing value.

Stay First in Mind with Customers
To be first in mind with your customers, takes not only great customer service, but it takes value-add as well. Helping your customers continue to learn how other companies are successfully using your products and services has great application. Uncovering new facts or research to help keep your customer up-to-date becomes a value-added service you can provide.

You should have visibility into each customer. What they are using, what they still need. What they like and don’t about your specific products. When is the customer’s contract up for renewal?

Do you have an extranet that’s easy for your customers to access and provides the latest information about your products, services and industry information? Do you track what they do on your website and immediately store all that behavior information in their customer record?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

B2B Branding in a 2.0 World

Branding has always been about much more than logos and graphics. It comprises the total experience customers and prospects have with your company.

By adding newer, richer choices, today’s new communications technologies – everything from blogs and podcasts to wikis and mobile – are changing the fundamental basis of business-to-business marketing. Almost daily!

While some are saying that branding is no longer relevant in that increasingly fragmented media world, we believe branding actually is more important than ever. In fact, it is critical to your success.

New World Branding
The new media and interactive technologies offer more ways for customers to make contact and experience your brand. As a result, marketers have more responsibility for the brand than ever before, and more opportunity to make the customer experience a rewarding one.

Customers and prospects are taking advantage of the new technologies in all phases of the buying process, from research to vendor selection to spec comparison, all the way to making a purchase where appropriate. In surveys of engineers, for example, 90% of respondents say the web is an important part of the buying and specifying process.

A Deeper, Richer Interaction
But the Web is just the tip of the iceberg. New technologies have changed the game by creating a deeper, richer, two-way marketing interaction. B2B customers are embracing new communications technologies, especially those that maximize their ability to learn new things. Retrieve information. And share it with their colleagues.

That may mean prospects download a podcast that educates them about a new technology. Participate in a blog, written by one of your top design engineers, that addresses design issues or technical problems. It could be a wiki you post and encourage users to amend. Or it could mean that you allow users to request RSS feeds from your site – and let them choose what kind of content they’d like to receive.

The New Challenges of B2B Branding
Not surprisingly, the proliferation of new media opportunities also includes a risk. With so many new options, there is the possibility that your branding could become diluted, even fragmented.

That is why we believe branding is more important than ever. Branding represents your differentiation, your promise to your market about how you will add value to a business relationship. And the new technology radically changes how you deliver on that promise.

The 2.0 media give you many exciting new ways to make your differentiation come alive. Richer, fuller media enable greater depth of expression and a two-way conversation (as opposed to a monolog). And therein lies the critical new leap that 2.0 requires us all to make – one-way broadcast media give us great ways to shout our brand differentiation from the mass media rooftops. Web 2.0 gives us the opportunity to show it.

Depending on your brand positioning, that can be critical. If your positioning, for instance, is that you want to partner with your customers to engineer advanced new solutions, Web 2.0 puts all kinds of resources at your disposal. You can encourage customers to ask questions, or engage in dialog with your engineers. You can share your expertise, and look for newer, better ways to help them build competitive advantage.

That opportunity, of course, is a double-edged sword. What does it say about your “partnership” positioning, for instance, if you don’t invite the dialog? Or fail to engage your customers with the deeper, richer communication? We are soon getting a point where simply saying your differentiation isn’t enough. You have to live it.

You can no longer rely only on your sales force or customer service or manufacturing to fulfill your branding promises. Now that the new technologies offer your customers and prospects a much more direct way to experience your company, their experience must live up to that promise.

To rise to the branding challenges these new media present, B2B companies need to mount a much more directed branding effort, internally as well as externally.

Brand Guardians
Marketers need to consider all the options B2B prospects have before them. They can use a search engine to find and compare all of the products in a category. They can go to a blog to hear what the market is saying, and maybe tune in to the complaints of dissatisfied customers. They can compare products online, and buy from any number of sources.

With so many ways for your customers and prospects to find a way in to your company – and, on the positive side, so many ways to get your message out – it is more important than ever to develop strong brand messaging that has different expression in any and every channel of communication.

B2B marketers can be their companies’ brand guardians, providing the external messaging that will maintain a strong brand identity in a time of media proliferation and brand fragmentation.

Brand Ambassadors
The new media bring renewed importance to the concept of “internal branding.” The new level of dialogue and open communication make it essential that people throughout your company understand, reflect and live the brand.

The new media have put them in direct contact with customers and prospects – or it will soon – so their role in shaping your brand will only increase. They are your brand ambassadors, and they can play a critical role in making the brand come alive for customers.

You will want to impress upon all of your employees that they are shaping your company’s marketing success – ultimately, its business success. A great deal depends on their ability to clearly present the brand, embrace its values, and be an effective advocate in all of their interactions.

That means a little training and constant communications about your brand, and how your company is living its brand values every day.