Friday, June 20, 2014

On Becoming a Client

“Welcome to the Dark Side!” he said with an evil laugh.

That’s not how I would characterize it, of course; that’s how one of my new colleagues put it when I explained that my whole career had previously been with agencies. He, a veteran of stops at a few ad agencies, had given a knowing smirk.

I joined LiftMaster at the end of April, transitioning from a senior digital leadership role in a small B2B agency to a senior digital leadership role with the world’s dominant manufacturer of professionally installed garage door openers (and gate operators and commercial door operators, among other related products). I am very excited to be part of a thriving company that is transitioning from a traditional, sales-driven inward-focused manufacturer model to an innovative marketing-driven company focused on its customers. The Digital/Social/Mobile spectrum is acknowledged as vital to the future of the company, and I feel invigorated to be a part of this movement and be able to bring my own experience and skills in a way that will make a difference.

Transitioning to the corporate side has so far been pretty smooth. But I have to admit that I entered under some apprehension. The behavior of brand-side clients has often been viewed by agency people (affectionately for the most part) with a raised eyebrow. There are many stereotypes that agency people have about brand-side clients.
  • It takes them forever to get things done
  • Nobody can make a decision
  • Corporate life is easier than agency life
  • Politics are sometimes more important than smart choices
  • Clients take advantage of the relationship

I knew that these were probably exaggerations…but it is very interesting (almost as an intellectual exercise) to see how quickly I have fallen into some of this stereotypical behavior. And why.

It takes forever to get things done. Some clients are impossible to pin down for approvals, response to questions, or clarification of requests. Usually the excuse is that they are so over-strapped and busy that they cannot respond in a timely fashion. And you know what? It’s true. Within my first week, my days were filled with meetings, review boards, and weekly update sessions. I even had to interview somebody for a job (not my direct report)! For us on the digital team, we have two major website redesigns underway, including an agency review and selection process; plus two ongoing websites that are actively being managed and operated; plus we have Search Marketing, and Social Media, and Email blast requests that we manage internally. There is a lot going on, and it doesn’t get any less crazy as you move up the chain. Did I mention we are transforming the company? That takes a lot of energy.  I am guilty of the non-response and the push-to-the-back-burner on items that really need to be addressed. But sometimes, I just don’t have the time or I cannot connect with the right internal people to get something answered.

Nobody can make a decision. That’s not true at all; I remain as decisive as ever. However…in a matrixed organization, there are lots of people that should know about or have input in many different kinds of decisions. That sometimes creates a logjam because if different stakeholders have differing views, the decision can get stalled because nobody is quite sure who has precedence. For me, particularly when it comes to things related to a website, I have pushed ahead with priorities and decisions based on the overall needs of the project…making sure to explain and inform at every step of the way. So far, nobody has yelled at me. And we are mostly on schedule. However I do admit to missing deadlines as I try to manage the approval process up the chain and sideways through the company. It just take a lot of time to get some people’s attention.

Corporate life is easier than agency life. Sometimes it seems like clients punch out at 4 pm every day: this one is definitely not true. Brand-side marketers work seriously hard. Especially for a global organization, where night-time conference calls to Asia are the norm and travel is constant. Leaving early is sometimes just a time shift. I have to say the work ethic is unquestioned. There are plenty of days when I am here at 6 pm and the place is still humming.

People make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. Often, clients like myself J are not sophisticated when it comes to digital technology. So we often see the “pretty penny” syndrome where the flashiest option, or the one mentioned in the radio story during the drive in, becomes the must-have solution. Another variation is that the majority owner or the CEO knows somebody in a family that has somebody in a position of authority with one potential vendor, for example, and they want to make sure that company “gets a fair consideration.” (Or, in other words, gets selected.) The fortunate truth is that our Purchasing Group is very good at making sure any potential vendor is vetted and capable, so even if a little cronyism comes into play, most potential partners can actually get the job done. Maybe just not the one that might actually be best for the job.

Clients take advantage of the agency relationship. Clients sometimes, it might be said, either take advantage of the relationship or do things that might legitimately be viewed as exasperating, just because they can. Most of the time there is no evil intent, so the “Dark Side” phrase is clearly tongue in cheek. I do admit however that I sometimes engage in behavior that is not particularly noble, because I feel I have to and because I know I can get away with it. Rescheduling meetings at the last moment, or not being able to show up for calls, is a prime example. I know how hard it is to align multiple schedules, and I know how hard agencies work to prepare for meetings. Yet if I am pressed for time or face unexpected schedule impacts, I have summarily bounced a long-scheduled meeting or skipped a regular status that really I needed to attend. One does what one has to do, and the unfortunate reality is that the agency just has to allow it. I try not to be arbitrary, and I am appreciative of accommodation, but I know that sometimes it sucks to have this done to you. So I try not to do it….

I think that I am doing an OK job of being sensitive to the challenges faced by my agencies and not taking them for granted. Hopefully they can understand that although we are working towards a common goal, corporate clients do in fact face a different set of priorities and have a complex set of relationships to support. Thanks to my former agency brothers and sisters for all their hard work, and I look forward to being a good client from now on.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Social Media in Highly Regulated Industries

This is a pretty general discussion, but it does call out some of the specific challenges those in highly regulated industries (especially pharma and financial) face when it comes to social media.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The New Rules of B2B Demand Generation

Things have certainly changed for B2B marketers. The advent of the Internet and all the associated sociological and technological revolutions, coupled with the severe economic downturn of the last few years, have significantly altered the way industrial brands sell their products. The old ways of doing business are increasingly outmoded. Advances in digital/social/mobile space along with reductions in budget, bandwidth, and body count have ushered in a new era.

The modern marketer needs to be savvy in the ways that Demand Generation can be used to connect with qualified buyers: dynamic websites, SEM, email, analytics, display advertising, and social media. Expense account lunches, golf outings, and trade show parties don’t cut it anymore.

With due apologies to David Meerman Scott, author of one of the most influential books of the Web 2.0 era, I put together a few thoughts on B2B marketing and what the new rules are for Demand Generation.

Old rule: When a lead was captured via the website, it might begin the selling process.
New rule: A website lead is already close to the buying decision, and must be pursued immediately.
The Sales vs. Marketing dynamic is legendary. Sales, with limited time and manpower, only wants to pursue opportunities with a decent chance of success; in extreme cases, they are heavily weighted towards existing customers and ignore any new chances unless they are obvious slam dunks. Marketing, on the other hand, wants to bring in as many leads as possible and has limited facility for deeper qualification. The website has traditionally been viewed by Sales as a blunt instrument, frequently effective at generating lots of leads but not very good at producing clear winners. Many prospects would reach out to manufacturers and request some catalogs or samples when they were just beginning their product consideration or wanted to refresh their binders. At best, most prospects were only beginning their product consideration and were many months from any serious purchase decision.

Frustration occurs when Marketing reaps the fruits of its labor from the site or other channels and passes along hard-earned leads…which Sales ignores because of quality questions. The entire art/science of lead scoring, nurturing, Marketing- and Sales-Qualified Leads and CPL/ROI/VPL has sprung from this conflict.
The new reality is that now it is much more common for prospects to only connect via the website or other channels once they have conducted a significant amount of research and have proceeded as much as 60% towards the buying decision, according to several recent studies. Buyers are accustomed to being able to answer all basic questions via online resources, so that when they reach out it means they represent much more value as a lead than they used to. This has impact for both sides of the Sales/Marketing dynamic: Marketing needs to ensure that the website can meet all of these preliminary needs that a prospect might have (so they can effectively self-serve until they reach the point of contact), and Sales should understand that a website lead automatically has significant value and is worth proper response.

Old rule: Trade shows might start the prospect relationship.
New rule: Trade shows should culminate the prospect relationship.
Smart companies have evolved new ways of approaching the use of trade shows as business-generating vehicles. Traditionally, the trade show is approached like a fishing expedition: we know that there are some number of prospects that will gather at one bend in the river, so we set up shop and toss out our lines in the hopes of catching a few leads as they stream along. Big banners, flashy presentations, and colorful giveaways are all intended to attract attention and pull in people to the booth; whether or not any are actually qualified prospects is never determined unless you capture a business card or swipe a badge. Possibly, the show will provide a list of registrants in advance, but frequently these names come only with street addresses so any pre-show communication have to be via expensive and questionably effective direct mail.

Today, digital and social communications allow marketers to use the trade show as the culmination of a relationship-building process. The actual show provides the common ground where brand and prospects meet, but it is the pre-show preparatory work that provides an elevated chance for conversion and ensures a measurable return on investment. Instead of a haphazard approach that might result in some leads, use digital tactics to do the following:
  • Seed the bed. Via email and social media, convince your audience of prospects, current customers, and previous or lapsed customers of the added value they will get by visiting the booth
  •  Know your audience. Use online registration for an incentive that will guarantee your audience will visit in person; that gives your sales team time to prepare for these particular clients and maximize the face time at the booth
  • Create in-show interest. Most major trade shows now provide extensive social media support, with FourSquare check-ins, designated hashtags, and continuous news update via social channels. This allows savvy marketers to use social channels to access a broader audience of show attendees and use “flash” techniques to draw crowds quickly; and crowds at a booth will always draw bigger crowds to see what the excitement is about, reaching those not on social media too.
  •  Follow up automatically. Use email to provide an immediate “thank you” and link an item of added value (such as a white paper or a sales promotion) to all who attend the booth. CRM or marketing automation systems make this very easy and also allow further timed follow-up to sustain the relationship and encourage prospects to take the next step in the buying process. The sales team will also be directly pursuing the best prospects met at the show, but this ensures all contacts receives at least a minimum of continued engagement.

Old rule:  Advertising in trade pubs connects brands with buyers.
New rule: Content marketing connects brands with buyers via Search.
It used to be that trade publications were the “farmers markets” of their given niche industries, the only places where buyers and sellers could come together to learn about new products, evolving techniques, or business news (along with trade shows, many also sponsored by the industry media publishing groups as well). Marketers who did not advertise, or work with the media on features about their products and services, faced the “out of sight, out of mind” danger.

The economic downturn of the last few years has significantly thinned the ranks of business publishers and many niche titles, focused on very specific industrial markets, have folded. Others have merged, reducing further the channels for information flow, and many have also shifted focus to broader categories. The result is a content void in almost every industry, precipitating a significant shift in how B2B buyers get information on products. The key considerations are now:
  • Smart B2B brands must think like a publisher, putting out content that not only describes their products but answers questions for their audiences
  • Google  is now essentially a content curator and editor-in-chief for every information need

Brands have stepped into the void by providing increasing valuable thought leadership to their industry, irrespective of whether readers are customers or not. Blogs, e-newsletters, white papers, and application studies provide detailed information with great value to prospective customers.  No longer can manufacturers afford to depend on the trade media to help spread word of new developments; now they take matters in their own hands with e-newsletters, links via social media, guest blog posts, and search engine marketing.

Google, in particular, has continued to increase in importance as a tool for getting the right content into the right hands. Among similar search providers or industry aggregators like GlobalSpec, Google has assumed the dominant position of content curator. In every discovery interview our agency has conducted in the last two years, design engineers say that searching online is the primary way they find new products or research their application needs. This fact indicates the importance of search engine optimization in conjunction with content planning. All new content elements not only have to be relevant and worthwhile to the target audience, but the structures need to conform to a central plan intended to ensure that the content is exposed to, and accessed by, the highest possible number of targets. When engineers now turn to Google, instead of turning publication pages, we have to make sure they see our stuff.

Old rule: Do more.
New rule: Do more with less.
It is an acknowledged reality that the world of brand access now operates around the clock. The Internet provides the platform for any user to connect with any website at any time and from any place; the concept of “office hours” has gone the way of the mimeograph machine. B2B customers now, like their consumer counterparts, want to be able to get information whenever they need it. The increasing ubiquity of social media has further accelerated this trend; for many, direct contact with a brand representative via social channels is expected at any time of the customer’s choosing.

Another factor exacerbated by the recent economic downturn is the reduction of resources coupled with an increase in expectation. Pressure on the sales team ratchets up even as supporting staff has been reduced. Marketing budgets are slashed even as the demand for measurable results grows strident. Every dollar of every spend is scrutinized for the value it returns.

As a result, the importance of marketing automation and online functionality is now critical for many organizations. Smart marketers are choosing to invest in systems and applications that reduce manpower requirements, standardize lead nurturing, and improve the effectiveness of outreach and maintenance programs. Consequently, activities that cannot easily measure the value they bring (such as lavish trade show booths, print advertising, and traditional media relations) are losing traction. Doing more with less means being more efficient and more effective. Online tools can demonstrate the value they provide by tracking Key Performance Indicators and Success Metrics that tie closely to business objectives, such as lead generation or even attributable sales. This allows smart decisions based on real results and leads to continuous improvement month over month and year over year.

Old rule: Relationships are vital to the B2B selling process.
New rule: Relationships are vital to the B2B selling process.
There’s no question that good relationships are vital to the long, considered process of researching, specifying, deciding, and purchasing highly engineered industrial products. Trust is a core component of such a complex decision.

But whereas in the past the individual relationship between a sales representative and one key deciding client was most important, today it is equally important that there be a positive brand relationship between end user and the provider, one that is primarily nurtured online or via social channels. Because access to information is expected 24/7/365, the end user must be as comfortable with website resources and online functionality as he is with his sales engineer.

This puts pressure on website designers and social media managers to ensure their properties meet specific needs of the audience and are as user-friendly as possible. Product information must be easy to find and sort; questions have to be answered before they are even asked. Just like a sales representative builds value in the client relationship through responsiveness, follow-through, and diligence, the online channels must prove their worth in a similar fashion. This online success will improve the chances of “real world” success and make the sales team that much more successful.

Ultimately, people are people. The selling process comes down to convincing one or more individuals that your product is the best for their needs and your company will provide the best service in delivering that product. In that way, nothing has changed. But the ways in which your buyers can and do connect with you are certainly different than they were even just a few years ago, and to maximize those opportunities for a sale, it is very important to understand the new era of B2B Demand Generation.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

One More Big Reason Why Facebook is Wrong for B2B

OK this was conceived, and should have been written, several months ago. Since then Facebook has taken a few steps, like rolling out dedicated newsfeed for brand pages, which might address some of the points here. Still, I am growing more and more convinced that Facebook is hurting itself in ways that make B2B marketers even less interested in using the channel. So in that spirit, here is my post.

There are some B2B companies and brands for whom Facebook makes sense as a social marketing channel. However, the majority of companies that sell highly engineered products to a technical audience via a long and complex buying cycle do not see much value from Facebook, either as a communications channel or an advertising medium. Primary among the reasons: lack of measurable results. Most companies do not know how, or whether, Facebook “likes” and engagement translate to any kind of measurable success, financial or otherwise. In addition, many B2B brands view Facebook as only a place for personal peer-peer interaction rather than a way to connect with their own highly targeted business  audiences.

On top of this understandable prejudice comes the news that Facebook has changed the EdgeRank algorithm that decides which members see what content. As a result the amount of newsfeed items seen by all of the followers of a particular brand page, for example, has been dramatically reduced. Each post is now being seen by a fraction of one’s Facebook audience; Facebook acknowledged  publicly that messages now reach, on average, just 15 percent of an brand page’s followers.

Facebook and its apologists claim that this is intended to improve overall functionality and maximize the user experience, but the overwhelming majority of bloggers and commentators feel that his change appears to be intended primarily to make money. Facebook personalities have encouraged the use of sponsored posts from advertisers as a way to reclaim the reduced reach; their advertising head Gokul Rajaram somewhat blandly explained, “sponsoring posts is important.” But think about that for a moment; through “Sponsored Stories,” brands, agencies and artists are now being charged to reach their own fans that they used to reach for free.

At least one prominent blog, Dangerous Mindshas labeled this a “bait and switch.” Their post calculates that it could take $3200 a day for them to regain the reach originally afforded them by 53,000 followers, and this underscores the secondary outrage—the cost Facebook is charging for its Promote capabilities. Dangerous Minds calculates that it will cost $200 a post to reach 100% of their audience. Needless to say, this cost is unsupportable by a small organization; because the cost of sponsoring posts is scaled according to reach, larger companies with bigger audiences could face annual costs in the tens of millions of dollars…all to reach their own fans.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. Post after angry post has seen Facebook business users complaining and/or vowing to cut back. Most are especially chagrined at the sheer greediness of the effort; if Promote functions were only more reasonable, the outcry would be far less vituperative and adoption more widespread. But the high cost has turned champions into bitter enemies.

One can argue, and some do, that nobody is forcing anybody to be on Facebook. If you don’t like it, get out. Facebook has a right to monetize whatever they want and to whatever level they think is best. Some argue that the claim of financial motive is simply untrue, including TechCrunch. Everybody however seems to accept the fact that reach has been severely curtailed, and brand pages in particular are suffering.
For large consumer brands or media organizations that have invested heavily in building a Facebook presence, and leveraging Facebook traffic for their own revenue, leaving would be very problematic. However, the reality of the drop in organic reach will create serious pain while what seem to be usurious rates will almost certainly prevent any significant use of promotion to bring back more exposure. Brands are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place—can’t live with reduced traffic, but can’t afford to sustain their reach.

In this light, the B2B brand that has avoided much investment in Facebook appears very foresighted, and is likely to see even less value in now pursuing FB as a viable marketing channel. Even as lines blur between business and consumer use of social media, and even if one accepts Facebook as a worthwhile B2B option, one still wouldn’t invest time, money, or energy in a nominally organic channel that seems to be engineered to fail in favor of a revenue-generating promotion-based alternative. One has to wonder about the longterm viability of Facebook’s very existence when it has done such unnecessary damage to itself; the growth of Promotion, with corresponding increase in revenue, could probably have been very successful, with just a little less greed.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why You Need Mobile-Optimized Website Content (and Not Just Because Google Says So)

It's been more than a year since I posted here at e-Motes. I've been incredibly busy working at Symmetri Marketing Group, leading the Digital and Social Group, and frankly have not had the time to share thoughts and insights. I am making a renewed commitment to the blog, though, and would like to start with a topic near to my heart: mobile web use.

Google recently teamed with Sterling Research and SmithGeiger to survey nearly 1,100 U.S. adults about website user experience on smartphones. While their focus was more on general consumer use of websites, the results are certainly illuminating and applicable for the B2B customer as well.
  • ·        Almost half of the respondents said they feel frustrated and annoyed when they get to a site that is not mobile-optimized, and 52% said a bad mobile experience made them less likely to engage with a company.      67% of respondents said a mobile-friendly site makes them more likely to buy a company’s product or service, and 74% say they’re more likely to return to the site later.
  • ·        61% said that if they don’t find what they’re looking for on a site accessed from a mobile device, they’ll click away to another site. Half said that even if they like a business, they’ll use its site less often if it doesn’t work well on their smartphone.
  • ·        96% have visited sites that are clearly not designed for mobile devices, indicating the widespread lack of optimized web content.

Non-mobile sites are considered irritating at best and indicate a lack of respect for the mobile buyer: 48% of the respondents said that if a site didn’t work well on their smartphones, it made them feel like the company didn’t care about their business.

Most pundits reacting to the survey tout it as “a wakeup call,” to quote Jason Spero, Google’s head of global mobile sales and strategy. He warns that lack of mobile optimization will cause brands to “lose customers at the moments that matter.”

Our own research into B2B customer mobile website access reveals that in one particular “moment that matters,” mobile-optimized content is especially important: email marketing.

Symmetri provides website, microsite and landing page hosting for a variety of clients in B2B industries ranging from healthcare technology to manufacturing to professional services. We provide analytics consulting for many of these clients and regularly review server statistics as a way of identifying customer behavior and determining actionable information that can help our clients reach business goals. Some of the web properties we host are completely mobile-optimized; others feature responsive design that can adapt among the variety of browser platforms, mobile and otherwise; others still provide only minimal mobile-friendly content. The most active site sees about 15,000 visits per month, and the least active might have 50.

Comparing 12 months of data from our servers, we see that mobile access on each of our client sites, which span multiple industries, consistently averages between 10% and 13% of traffic each month. The one key exception is when we engage in email marketing. It is consistently true that whether we directly manage an email campaign via Symmetri’s email service provider or partner with trade publications, regardless of the size of the mailing list or the message in the copy, the landing page or site linked from the email will result in a big jump in mobile traffic. On average, 48% of ALL site traffic during the day of an email campaign release comes from mobile devices.

This confirms a couple of anecdotally accepted wisdoms of email marketing:
  • ·        A large number of recipients open and read email on mobile devices.
  • ·        A significant portion of those who open any email will follow included links.

This should prompt two important realizations:

When you send a marketing email, make sure it is mobile-friendly. Many recipients are going to receive and hopefully read your email on a smartphone or similar device, so anything you can do to make that experience as easy and effective as possible will improve your chances for successful conversion. Heavily designed emails with large images – sized for a desktop screen and high-bandwidth internet access – may not play as well on a handheld device.

Make sure that any links in your emails connect to web content that is mobile-optimized. The goal of most email marketing is to drive recipients to a landing page or web content, usually to convert them into a lead by capturing their data. Degrading the user experience in any way is an invitation to abandon your site. Tiny fonts, dark backgrounds, small input fields – all can make it hard to read web content on a mobile device and potentially cause users to skip the data capture form. Make sure the transition between email and website on the mobile device is seamless and efficient, with properly sized display and functionality. With the rapid growth of 3G networks and better, it is no longer as important to tailor content towards lower bandwidth, but the mobile user must be in the forefront of any email-related functionality.

Google commissioned and released the survey in part to bolster its own mobile-focused ad offerings; Google provides more mobile advertising than every other provider combined. More mobile-optimized sites will support more mobile-friendly advertising. But for our B2B clients, the email factor is just as important a reason for ensuring we optimize content and functionality for today’s smartphones.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Capturing the Lurkers

Why “Engagement” May Not Be All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Featured in last week’s PR Week White Paper Update is an offering from SAS titled “Social Media Metrics Listening, Understanding and Predicting the Impacts of Social Media on Your Business,” labelled as insights from a May 2010 workshop on social media metrics at the eMetrics conference in San Jose, CA. One of the key participants in the workshop was Katie Paine of KDPaine & Partners, and she made an observation that I think is keenly important:

Now the Holy Grail is “engagement,” Paine said. “Proctor & Gamble last summer said to all of its media folks, ‘We’re no longer paying you for eyeballs. We don’t care about how many eyeballs there are, all we care about is engagement.’ Needless to say, the media folks said, ‘What’s engagement?’ And they said, ‘We want some evidence that the people you’re reaching are at least alive and at least somewhat interested in the brand. If they clicked on something, bought something, downloaded something, retweeted something, or said they liked us, then we have some sign of life out there. That’s what we’re going to pay for.’ Good thinking.”

The paper also references a 2009 IBM study of 250 chief marketing officers, which indicated that organizations are shifting significant amounts of money away from traditional advertising and into public relations, particularly mobile and online channels. Paine is further quoted as saying. “So measurement is shifting away from ‘impressions’ and ‘eyeballs’ and toward ‘engagement’ and ‘impact-based metrics.’ This isn’t me saying this; this is 250 CMOs out there who are predicting that most of this will happen within the next three years.”

Paine classifies information consumers into five levels of engagement, based on how they interact with online channels, each more valuable (in her estimation) than the previous:
  • Searchers: most passive, they scan online resources to find specific information and largely ignore social media
  • Lurkers: those who listen in on the conversation but don’t participate
  • Casuals: followers/fans, but participate only lightly in social media
  • Actives: more valuable, in that they retweet to others, regularly participate in interactive threads, and post comments frequently
  • Defenders: your most influential ambassadors, advocating, recommending and defending the brand and helping police your critics in the community space

On the one hand, this is all well and good. Clearly it is easier to claim value from a more active audience, and most social media marketers will say they want “engagement” with their audiences, as if we all understand and agree on what that means.

I have some concerns about the focus on active participation (i.e. posting, replying, commenting) as the only way to measure social media success. This runs the risk of devaluing customers that could be equally or even more valuable than active social media participants. There is no evidence that a Lurker, to use Paine’s terminology, buys any less product than a Defender. This illustrates the complexity of determining value in social marketing; we assume that the more vocal participants in the conversation are more valuable as consumers, but in fact that may not be so.

Certainly there is huge value in a positive tone in any sort of brand conversation, whether it be media coverage or Facebook or water cooler chats. Undeniably, it is better to have more people say good things about you than the opposite or to say nothing. My point however is that the Lurkers have value too, and since they are in the majority (only 22.5% of users accounted for 90% of all Twitter activity in 2010 according to Sysomos) they represent the biggest potential as customers.

A brand’s Defenders and Actives are also arguably the ones that least need marketing, since presumably they are committed users of the product.

So how can one tap into the Lurker market, and more importantly, how can we measure success?

Make it worth their while. Social media mavens talk a lot about the importance of the conversation, and caution against overt marketing or (gasp) selling in social media channels. I would argue however that today’s social media-savvy consumer EXPECTS to get some tangible value for her interaction with a brand. The explosion of online coupons has furthered the collective desire for incentive or reward with almost any transaction, to the point where it feels wrong to purchase anything WITHOUT a coupon. Coupons are the core method for a brand to tie a marketing initiative directly to sales.

Make it about more than money. There are many other ways to bring value to a consumer and the reward does not always have to include coupons, contests, or incentives. Lifestyle and luxury brands thrive on exclusivity or supporting a kind of cultural image, and social media connections to “private” groups or preferred customer status can be compelling even for non-active consumers. Green messaging is important to many brands, so links to reassuring product or eco-action brand information also bring value.

Make it easy for them to participate. Every tweet or post should include a link to content of value, whether an online coupon or registration for a customer community or more info about brand sustainability. It is keenly important to use technology to provide the absolute best user experience. For example, you must know what kind of device your consumer is using and return content that is optimized for that device. You must have different versions of your content--don’t send somebody to a regular web page if they are linking via Twitter’s mobile app, make sure they get optimized mobile content or even better a custom app.

Make it even easier for them to participate. More and more consumers are admitting that they want a seamless user experience across all interaction channels, and they are willing to permit the technical deployments that support it. Cookies, behavior profiles, single social sign-in capability: as long as these actions are not intrusive, and as long as brands are not egregious in their targeted marketing, consumers will tolerate them and actually appreciate the resulting enhanced user experience. People respond well when they are given customized content, even in a cross- or up-selling vein, as long as it is accurate; if you “get” them wrong, then you’ve lost them, so brands must be careful.

Measure, record, report, iterate. The traffic generated via those links must be carefully measured, as must be the data from the interaction on the landing page, app, or site. Obviously, any coupon use will be tracked but must be segmented in such a way that you can see which channel gave the best result. All marketing and customer interaction activity must be viewed holistically and considered as an integrated and connective whole; social media can really help as a kind of electrolytic fluid that carries the consumer from one channel to the other but with the same connective experience. The key is to take your measurement strategy to a new level, where you are monitoring different metrics in different ways based on your audiences. Data must be regularly analyzed and should be used as the basis for positive change; do not expect the interactions to always be the same, and don’t be afraid to jettison things that are not working.

This will help you tap into the huge customer potential of a social media user segment that generally gets short shrift, and shows how the focus on engagement may not necessarily be the most conducive toward building business success. However, it also might help you convert some of these passive listeners into more active participants, and build the chorus of positive voices that ARE engaging in the conversation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Inching Closer to the Bottom Line

“Marketers appear to be inching closer to answering the question of social media ROI—or at least making a serious effort—as the stakes get higher.”
--eMarketer, “Dramatic Difference in Approach to Social Media Metrics”

“The future of social media is about math, metrics and monetization.” –Jamie Turner, Chief Content Officer, 60-second Marketer

Social media is approaching the point in its development where most channels and implementations are no longer the shiniest new toys. The buzz isn’t quite as exuberant and the wow factor isn’t quite as transporting. Those us of old enough to remember the heady days of the internet bubble probably remember the mania over “eyeballs” and “mindshare” and how the dot bomb explosion prompted a more prosaic approach to web-based business models; in other words, they had to show a road to profitability or they were left on the table.

Social media may be entering a similar phase in its evolution. Like earlier in this millennium , we are experiencing a financial upheaval which has changed much that was previously the status quo. For social media, breathy excitement over fandom and engagement in the early days is starting to be tempered by a practical desire to demonstrate the worth of budget investment.

This eMarketer report includes data from a study by BazaarVoice and the CMO Club in which they compare results between 2009 and 2010 from a survey of marketers about their social media measurement practices and the metrics they find most valuable. In particular, Conversions (i.e. online actions that achieve a specific objective) and Revenue have greatly increased in importance. Calculating the latter in social media remains particularly tricky, since attribution is complex to identify, but the survey results seem to indicate that social marketers are now considering it much more closely and valuing it much more highly than in last year’s survey.

This changing mindset indicates that those of us who advise and assist our clients with social media need to keep several things in mind as we move deeper into 2011.

Marketers will want justification for their spend.
While the technical costs of entry are very low in social media, i.e. zero to set up a Facebook page or Twitter handle, marketers now realize that an effective program requires significant investment in talent, time, and partnership. As social channels monetize, the hard costs involved in effective community interaction have increased as well as the person-power investment to staff a quality team or find effective partners.

Mapping social activity to business objectives is a key part of demonstrating effectiveness. While these objectives can be financial, they don’t have to be. For example, applying customer service metrics to Twitter or Facebook interaction can show a clear cost reduction value, while also bringing benefit to less-specific objectives such as issue management and corporate reputation enhancement.

We need to be able to explain the value of a social media investment to our clients in more precise terms than we have to date.

There is a difference between a value calculation and a return on investment.
ROI is a financial calculation. Discussion of ROI must be tied to revenue increase or cost reduction, something that is not easy with social media in the same way that it might be for Search Engine or Direct Marketing. (See my colleague Don Bartholomew’s blog posts about this topic for a thorough and nuanced discussion.)

However, the “squishiness” of financial benefit attribution to social media should not obviate the value discussion. The point is that there can be a demonstrable and measurable value achieved through effective social channels, though it may not be specifically financial. Traditional PR has grappled with this kind of measurement for years, but still it serves as a model for identifying value calculations. To continue paraphrasing Don Bartholomew, measurable results in social media will typically fall into four categories of increasing value: Exposure, Engagement, Influence, or Action. Only the latter can some times be tied to a financial impact, and not always. Still, value to the brand is arguably brought by any of these positive results.

Value in social media may come from multiple disciplines.
Social media for a given brand often begins via the Public Relations team, conducting influencer marketing and online editorial outreach, or sometimes via the corporate group dedicated to Marketing. In both cases, the value of social media is demonstrated through exposure and engagement metrics (i.e. impressions, replies, retweets) that might lead to influence (positive tweets) and occasionally measurable actions (e-commerce or online registration).

However, for many brands, value can be derived from impact on other business operations. As suggested earlier, a Customer Service function is frequently fulfilled via social media, and value calculation can shade into ROI through traditional CRM metrics like shortened CSR time, improved problem resolution, and reduced call center usage.

In the case of B2B companies, social media channels can often directly support the Sales operation, and lead generation/nurturing activity can positively impact Cost Per Customer Acquisition, Cost Per Lead, and other sales metrics.

Finally, all R&D activity across the globe benefits from the collaborative nature of social media channels such as technical community forums, SME blogs, and educational videos on YouTube.

One cannot necessarily ascribe a specific dollar impact in each of these instances, but it will be necessary to tie them to metrics that obviously provide value and can impact the financial factors that determine ultimate success in business. Our client partners are going to demand this more and more; even though the economy seems to be rebounding, there remains considerable focus on smart spending and we need to be able to show the specific value we can bring to their brands with social media.