Monday, 15 February 2010

Social Media: Why We Need To Engage, Even If We Think It Is All Bollocks

Many of us simply don't stop to consider why it is that social media is important. The majority of what I read is regurgitated platitudes, where it is apparent that the author is drinking from the social media koolaid fountain, simply because it is social media. Just like the ridiculous IPO valuations of the late 90s, rationality will prevail, and the market will ruthlessly decide what flies and what dies.

Any decision, to incorporate social media into your marketing communication plan, has to make business sense. Don't do it simply because somebody says so. But there are some very sound reasons to consider social media. Some of the most valid reasons being exposure, credibility, market penetration, branding and news ways to communicate.

Here is one market commentator's perspective, somewhat edited for the sake of brevity.

If you read blogs about marketing small companies, you're inundated with "social media" advice about why you need a blog and a Twitter account and everything else.

Even my 90-year-old grandmother who doesn't own a computer and reads my wife's healthy cooking blog on print-outs asks "What's Twitter?" because she read about it in the New York Times.

Still, most people and most businesses don't think they need a blog.

In the next five minutes, I'd like to convince you that you have to jump into the world of blogging and Twitter and Facebook.

Back in the late 1990s, there was a day (let's call it October 19th, 1997) when suddenly every company in the western world decided they needed a website.

Not that anyone knew what a website was for. Was it a brochure? A storefront? A billboard? The geeks say "It's a new way of doing business." What the hell does that mean?

What pushed everyone over the edge was that on October 19th, if you didn't have a website you were invisible. Not just hard to contact, invisible.

Sure you had advertisement and PR; you could get a message in front of people. But then what? Would they go to your store? Call your 800 number and request more information? Not on October 19th; they want a URL, and if they don't get one they are finished with you.

Mind you, most companies still had no idea what websites were for, but they realized they had no choice. "This is the next big form of media, and whoever figures it out will win," it was collectively decided.

How do you "win" the Internet? No one knew, and even those geeks who indirectly convinced the world to live on the web didn't foresee its massive effect. The Internet was not, in fact, "just another form of media" — it created opportunities where Amazon is 34x bigger than Barnes & Noble, where NetFlix destroyed Blockbuster, and where Skype is worth $2.6B while telecom companies drop like flies.

It's not just a new media, it's a completely different world. Business models are changed forever.

Flash-forward to today, and the same pattern is emerging, just in a different guise.

Today, a new website is invisible on the Internet.

So how do you become visible? I suppose with enough money anything can be noticed, but in practice it ain't gonna happen. Certainly not if I wanted to bootstrap a little company from it.

The days of "have a website and advertise" are over. It's too expensive to be noticed on an Internet that's already full.

Social media is the only way a new website could get traction. Once it's visible, once you have things like incoming links and lots of regular traffic, then you have a shot at using traditional SEO techniques for staying visible. But social media is the only way to overcome static friction (short of spending crazy money).

Social media is already changing the rules of the marketplace, just like the web did a decade ago. It's still early of course and no one — not even the experts — knows where all this is going. But it's clear that times are changing again, and those that don't jump in will go the way of print media.

Will all these social networks and websites survive? No.

Do we understand how to use them most efficiently? No.

Will there be another new thing someday? Sure.

But today and for the foreseeable future, this is the world. You have to jump in even if you don't yet understand it.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Social Media: Fact or Fantasy?

Consider this article in the context of the previous blog entry, on the evolution of email marketing.

There are those pundits that have been proclaiming email to be on the decline, with social media set to be the new black (a term I borrowed from an advertising campaign).

Yes, social media may be all the rage, but should we be wildly allocating resources, at the expense of email?

Well, that is a question we would all like a definitive answer to.

Fortunately a company called Social Twist, an embryonic business that has experienced a meteoric rise to fame in the social media sharing widget space (think AddThis), recently released the results of one of their surveys.

They decided to analyse the social media sharing behaviour, of the most recent 10 million referral messages. The results are enlightening.

Email and instant messaging constitute 84% of all content shared across the internet. Of the email providers, Yahoo constituted 44% followed by MSN at 25%, and then GMail at 19%. GMail came as a surprise to me.
Email constitutes 59% of all content shared across the internet
As for the much hyped social networking channels? In totality, these only constituted 14% of all content shared across the internet, with Facebook being the proverbial giant at 11%, which is  more or less on a par with Yahoo Messenger, the instant messaging service. So Facebook has become a serious contender.

But what about Twitter? Gasp.
Twitter constitutes a mere 0.70% of all content shared across the internet.
Another one that is so small, as to be almost insignificant, is LinkedIN, at 0.14% of all content shared. The report, known as Social Media Sharing Trends 2009, provides a lot more detail, and is well worth a read. You can access it online, or download a pdf version which I created for convenience.

The take away, for me, is that it is always important to monitor the trends, before you go and throw the baby out with the bath water. Email remains the tool of choice. Twitter may well be an up and coming medium, but for now, it is probably best utilised to create hype and as a traffic generator, given how rapidly tweets are indexed by the major search engines.

Whilst on the point of indexing, bear in mind that email and instant messaging fall outside the net, so to speak. They may constitute the largest media, as regards sharing across the internet is concerned, but this sharing is driven by the end user. There is not much of an active role for marketers to play. But if you look at the active mediums, which constitues the social networking mediums, then Facebook is by far the largest.

So email remains as relevant today as it ever was.

Download a printable copy of the blog article.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Email Marketing: An Evolutionary Tale

I suspect 2010 will be all a twitter (pun intended) regarding social media, and how it purports to enhance your relationships with your clients. A lot of it is hype, but no doubt, the way we communicate with our clients, and the manner in which we promote ourselves has evolved enormously.

In the beginning, well almost, we interacted with prospects face-to-face (an expensive, but active method), and obtained their contact information, which we then loaded into a database.

Eventually we realised, hey, we can also obtain this information via our websites (an affordable, but passive method), and have it automatically load into our database too.

This was when email newsletters exploded, and the premise upon which most email service providers (ESPs) established their businesses.

But the problem was that the process was one-way, and all communications were in the form of bulk messages. It was assumed that all prospects were at the same point in the sales cycle, and that they all had homogenous needs.

Fortunately that has all changed; we have evolved.


We have?

Well okay, most of us are still stuck in 2005. I frequently hear that many people would like to migrate to a communication strategy that is social media aware, but they cannot figure out what is relevant, how to go about it or who to turn to. Let's discuss these important points.

Consider the above diagram, which was a tough task to keep simple, as the true form is more matrix like. There are many hundreds of social media sites, serving a myriad purposes; I have chosen a few of the more common ones, to demonstrate how an evolved communication strategy should be established.

Online marketing serves the same purpose as traditional marketing, namely to perform as an effective component of your marketing mix. More specifically, to contribute to your promotion efforts (remember the 4 P's of marketing?) in a cost efficient way. Additionally, it serves to perpetually sustain top-of-the-mind brand awareness, so as to facilitate repeat business.

So how do we create and/or maintain this awareness?

Well for starters, get you head around the fact that you HAVE TO engage in dialogue. You need to offer value-adding information in exchange for actionable data. This is done through a combination of social media sites and direct communication. There are two mediums, used effectively, to gather actionable data; email (through the use of surveys) and telephone (through the use of a live operator). I know you can use two-way sms, but it isn't a medium of choice, due to recipient billing sensitivity. All your efforts must ultimately lead to the collection of actionable data, through the heavy use of these feedback mediums and finally, a transaction.

Now, as regards your combination of the myriad social media sites. These must all play a supporting role, all in a somewhat different way. Their primary purpose is brand promotion and awareness, and although you can do all of these things on your website, you will never get the same kind of search engine exposure. So it's kinda like investment diversification; spread it around. One of the end results must be the capturing of prospect contact details, which will allow your nurturing campaign to kick in, ultimately progressing towards a transaction. 

Instead of a newsletter, which is effectively lost to the outside world, you use a blog (Blogger, Wordpress or other). The search engines do a great job at indexing blog articles, so this already places you at an enhanced advantage. Let's not forget that a blog can also use a subscription form, to capture prospect contact details, which can be automatically loaded to your database.

When you research for your blog, invariably it involves reading a lot of source material. Some of this would be of interest to your prospects. So use a reader (Google Reader or other), bundle your sources together and share these articles with your prospects. Your public page gets indexed by the search engines as well.

Then convert your blog articles to pdf, and host online (Calameo, Scribd or other). These articles also get indexed; yes, there is a duplication, but it will catch prospects that do not find you via your blog. Plus, it gives the added advantage of providing a downloadable version. Also, don't overlook providing powerpoint presentations or pdf documents that may be of use to a prospect; manuals, expert opinion, case studies, surveys etc.

Anything that you do, be it blogging, uploading documents, hosting an event, launching a new product, remember to post a one line notice to Twitter. Twitter is an enigma to many. It is simply a 140 (designed for mobile use) character way of sending brief messages. Unlike sms, your twitter messages get indexed by the search engines. So if clearly written, and using a url shortener ( or other), prospects can click a link and be diverted to a site of interest.

The same can be said of Facebook and LinkedIn; although you are usually more circumspect regarding the type of news that you upload to these sites. Facebook is usually better for interacting with prospects, and has the added advantages of being able to be an active medium (it can email fans), and it can capture prospect contact details, via a subscription form. LinkedIN has similar advantages, but is best used when targeting a business audience.

Then, of course, a picture tells a thousand words. It always enhances your communicaion if you can include a link to a video (You Tube or other), or to pictures and/or photos (Picasa or other) of relevant material. With photos, it is usually a good idea to show pictures with clients interacting with your brand.


You need to put it all together in a way that it simple enough for you to maintain. The glue is your email marketing. You use the social media sites to promote your company, and to drive prospects to provide you with information. This information, in turn, feeds your communication campaign, which perpetually encourages your prospects to engage with your brand. But do not restrict yourself to email only. Vary your contact media; use snail mail for birthdays for example. Don't allow your communication strategy to become predictable and mundane.

Finally, if it still remains overwhelming then contact Dialogue Marketing. We will put it all together for you, show you what and how to maintain the strategy (or do it for you).

Find a downloadable copy of the article here.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Drip Marketing: What Is It?

Geez, it seems marketers like to busy themselves coining new phrases, as if they have discovered a new light bulb, when in reality all they have done is highlight the obvious.

Drip Marketing is another of those phrases; as is Closed-Loop Marketing, but we will discuss that one next time.

Quite simply Drip Marketing is the technique that is applied to prospects, to nurture them towards a state where they are ready to transact. You might recall we discussed lead nurturing previously.

Essentially, Drip Marketing is a planned series of timed messages, that are dispatched to a targeted set of prospects. These dispatched messages could be in any form; the most common being email, sms, postcards, snail mail and the like. The purpose is to communicate product information and/or helpful advice, in order to keep your brand top-of-the-mind, so that when the prospect is ready to transact, they will be more inclined to remember, and select you.

That's it, short and sweet.

The good thing about Drip Marketing is that it forces you to actively create a system that caters for your prospects; which means actually thinking about the process.

Usually you would be best advised to use an automated service, due to the affordability thereof. It's also good to select a service provider who can help you establish you Drip Marketing strategy, and who will be able to customise your effort. Nobody likes to get messages that appear to have been designed for the masses. Make a little effort, and personalise them a tad.

A Marketer's Review: Bill C-27, the Electronic Commerce Protection Act

Sigh. Today I want to spend a little time housekeeping. Canada is about to pass its own anti-spam legislation, and it may have some implications for you Canadian marketers.

The new legislation will be known as ECPA (Electronic Commerce and Protection Act). No real surprises, given that anti-Spam legislation is nothing new around the globe. What is a surprise, though, is that Canada has chosen to go the opt-in route, unlike the USA CAN-SPAM legislation, which is opt-out. Although this could make the legislation more effective, it also makes me nervous, given Canada's proclivity to over-burden industry with onerous requirements, and in so doing, stifle entrepreneurship.

Like all good things in life, they always have to be ruined by the spoilers; in this case the nasty spammers of the world. And I use the word nasty with intent. Hard core spam is like pornography, you know it when you see it. But many legitimate marketing emails can also be defined as spam, since spam is ultimately defined by the recipient; and it is these emails that concern me. There are those pious genuises that will claim that this issue is content and timing related. Perhaps, except that what works today doesn't always work tomorrow.

A few years ago some of us had telemarketing Do Not Call Lists (DNCL) imposed upon us; and again, because of some spoilers. This has had the effect of reducing those annoying calls during dinner. It is hoped that anti-spam legislation will have the same effect. We'll see; and if it does, do you think the corporates and the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will lower their filters? I doubt it.

Legitimate and professional email marketing efforts incorporate many things; unsubscribe functionality, bounce management, blacklist monitoring, whitelisting, opt-in, opt-out, message design, personalised from addresses, privacy clauses, accurate subject lines, relevant content, metrics and more; all in an effort to get into an inbox.

The majority of service providers already include most, if not all, of these functions. However, much of problem lies with the marketers; the users of the email platforms. Email marketing, traditionally, has always been seen as a cheap marketing tool. So some marketers may have been careless in its application. That being said, a lot of that has changed and let's not lose sight of the fact that the bulk of email traffic is illegitimate, hard core spam.

So what is my point?

My point is that good email practice has to become a given, and is increasingly moving in that direction. Let's not throw the baby out with the bath water. Remember to focus on the real enemy, the hard core elusive culprits. In the same breath; it is high time that email marketing was taken seriously, and probably outsourced to those professionals that stay abreast of the industry best practices.

To state my case; I applaud any efforts to minimise hard core spam BUT, and there always is a BUT. It is unlikely to reduce the levels of illegitimate spam, given that spammers can operate from anywhere on the planet, with many tools at their disposal, and seemingly with impunity. I hope it isn't the legitimate marketer, that is going to be brow beaten.

Legitimate marketers are going to carry a burden. Your ability to prospect targeted individuals will be severely curtailed, like with the DNCL, and this is potentially a business killer. Also, you will have difficulty implementing a win-back strategy too, if it falls outside a certain time period (Well, actually no difficulty. You simply can't do it). In all liklihood, I can see the day, in the not too distant future, where it is virtually impossible to prospect via email, fax or telephone. Who knows how a new business will be expected to generate awareness? Social media? I don't think so.

So it may end up being a case of wanting to pass legislation to protect consumers from the "most dangerous and damaging forms of spam", but which has an alternative, undesired effect. Personally, I think we need to move in the direction of IP Reputation services.

Download a printable copy of this article.

Don't Discount - Learn How To Get Your Price

This week I was pondering price objections, since we are all occasionally confronted with these; namely that our products or services are pricey in comparison to other competitors. Of course this necessitates painstakingly explaining the differences. So what is it that gets consumers to determine a "fair price"?

It's quite straightforward. Consider yourself, when you go shopping. Small, insignificant purchases, don't require you to make a value judgement. But larger purchases usually have you more involved; and what tends to happen is that you place a subjective "price" on the product or service.

If the price is below your "established price", you perceive the product to have value, and you need very little coaxing to purchase. Think of a new computer; you determine that a computer with the features you require is probably worth $500.00. If you walk into the store and find this at $350.00, you will feel that you found a "bargain", and vice versa.

The difference between reality and perception leads to a performance gap. This is the principle upon which a blowout sale works; pricing is so ridiculously low that transactions take place regardless of whether the customer has a definitive need or not. In other words the item is so cheap that the consumer doesn't think about the purchase, because his risk has been reduced. A performance gap can be either positive or negative.

A pricing benchmark is usually derived by loosely using a larger market participant as a benchmark. The problem is that this participant may be a market maker, in other words they have influenced the market to see things their way. It is logical to want to influence the market to the extent that your product offering is considered the standard by which everything is measured. But this may not suit your customer's reality; they just don't know it. Remember this maxim:


In the case of a pricing objection, this will mean probing the prospect for the objection, and overcoming that by demonstrating your product or service benefits. In other words, comparing apples with apples.

In the earlier scenario this usually means focussing the prospects attention on his needs, and then highlighting the benefits of owning your product. This will usually get the prospect to stop measuring you relative to a competing product, and will justify your pricing.

Now, in a face-to-face sales environment, this is relatively easy to do, although seldom done properly. But what do you do when your prospect hasn't even displayed an interest in transacting yet?

You will recall our chat on Lead Nurturing and Closing A Sale, where we emphasised that it will invariably take more than one contact to secure a sale, and that this requires you to nurture your leads.

A large part of this nurturing process must focus on the benefits of using your product or service. Only through repeated emphasis, and guiding a prospect through a process of discovery designed to uncover needs, can you position yourself apart from your perceived competitors. And this positioning is achieved through the use of dialogue, in the form of closed probes, where you uncover a prospects needs and respond with appropriate satisfiers. All of this can be achieved automatically.

An alternative, instead of using a dynamic, prospect driven process, is to anticipate what many of the objections may be, and to provide a static solution on your website or blog, in the form of FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

Your ultimate objective is to create a positive performance gap, where significant value is realised, by having the perceived benefits far exceed the price that you have determined. In order to do this requires you to present your offering in a way that allows you to differentiate yourself, by focussing on your strengths; those areas that give you a competitive advantage. There is no point competing with the large discount operators, on the basis of their price or their features.

Dialogue Marketing: Keeping Email Marketing Efforts Effective

There are so many Email Service Providers (ESP), that the product has almost become a commodity, where only price is the issue.

At the same time, a lot of businesses already have some form of email campaign or other. And in the midst of all of this we have email recipient fatigue, with declining read rates, reduced click throughs, increased unsubscribes, and all around reduced effectiveness.

What now?

Well, for starters, it never was about the technology. The technology was, and is, only a facilitator. The technology is almost at the point where you can expect a certain minimum, like CAN-SPAM compliance, unsubscribe and bounce functionality, auto-responders, customised fields, and such like. So now it is up to you.

Email was never the panacea, or the silver bullet. Like everything else, it boils down to your strategy.

The Strategy Centres Around Dialogue

You cannot rely on mass email alone, and expect to simply blast out message after message, expecting business to come flooding in. If you did expect that, then you clearly still believe in the Tooth Fairy too. Even segment, batch and blast has lost its shine.

You can only reverse the trend through dialogue. Yes, two-way communication. But you will surprised how many people don't get it, are too lazy to get it, too arrogant to listen or are just stupid. I have repeatedly explained the process to many businesses, only to have them email me their standard monthly newsletter, or their standard monthly specials. Sigh.

However, email marketing is still the most effective marketing tool available, but it cannot operate in a vacuum. You have to combine it with other mediums and strategies, incorporating fax, voice, sms, web, blogs and snail mail.

You have to engage in conversations, and you have to nurture your contacts to the next stage, whatever that may be. All of this requires a well devised communications strategy that dictates when and how to deploy these instruments.

Establish Some Goals

The goals are obvious, establish how many phases there are to the sales cycle, and then design a communication strategy for each phase. Use a combination of communication mediums, and create opportunities to communicate with your contact within each phase. Use these opportunities to re-affirm your relationship, and to gather information. This gathered information should advance your awareness of the contact, and should, in turn, lead to new opportunities to communicate.

The collection of meaningful data, and the creation of relevant communication opportunities will greatly reduce unsubscribes, and all the other myriad problems, but at the same time produce revenue producing opportunities.

The Key Ingredient

The magic is you. You have to be completely dedicated to your strategy, and once you implement, you have to persevere. I have seen too many businesses with fantastic communication strategies, the best of technologies BUT no will to support the vision.

Too many commentators and ESPs go on about the details, like dealing with bounces, or the subject line, or the correct time to dispatch a message. These are important, but too many assume complete competency on the part of the business. Without you engaging in the process, there can be no dialogue. So go on, you be the champion.