Monday, July 26, 2010

To Blog Or Not Blog Is Not The Right Question

If an agency is going to offer legitimate advice to their clients on how to grow their business, social media must be a topic. So with humblest apologies to the Bard for my play on Hamlet's famous words, let's talk about the real questions your clients should be asking before they launch a corporate blog or upload a video to YouTube, or whatever social media they may think they want to use. Even if your clients are already using social media, it's not a bad idea to help them stop, take a deep breath, and really think through what they want to accomplish with the new digital marketing tools that are available.

Here are the real questions that should be asked when considering social media:

1. What is the goal for social media?
It is certainly logical to start with the big picture, but you would be surprised at how many companies say "let's start a blog" without a clear understanding and articulation of its value for their company and its role in an integrated communications plan. As with almost every new technology advancement, there are risks for companies that jump in without understanding what they are getting into.

If your clients are already using or considering how to use new technologies like blogs, podcasts, online video, wikis, widgets, etc. they need to make sure they know what they want to accomplish or they may end up using the wrong tool.

2. Who do they want/need to reach? Can social media reach that audience?
Technology has added a new dimension to analyzing and defining the optimum target audience. In addition to understanding their demographics and their psychographics, we also need to factor their technographics into the evaluation. How comfortable are target prospects with using the new technology tools? Do they have broadband access on their home computer if that's where they want to reach them? What new technology tools are target audience members currently using? How would they prefer to interact with the company?

Good marketing still requires the basics of understanding the target audience and the benefits their company (and your agency) can deliver.

3. What are the best strategies and tactics to reach this target?
This is a critical question that must be answered in order to optimize ROI. Notice that I used the plural "strategies and tactics", not the singular. In most cases, they should be considering multiple social vehicles, but before they jump in they should make sure they've mastered one vehicle before launching another. I believe that many companies that are failing or disillusioned with social media are simply trying to do too much at one time. They've launched a blog, added a Facebook page and Twitter account, are trying to monitor and evaluate, etc. with limited resources or without a realistic understanding and appreciation for the time and effort it takes to mount a successful program.

You should show them how to take advantage of the many free reports and white papers on social media for guidance on who's doing what. For example, in a recent post I referenced a new study from Hubspot that concluded that Facebook is more popular for a B2C company, while LinkedIn is used by more B2B companies. And, there are numerous case studies that show the effectiveness of Twitter for business.

Internet search can help you gain better understanding of the best strategies and tactics to consider for your client's social media program. Just type "social media research" into your search engine and see how many hits you get!

4. What resources are available and what do they need in order to implement an effective, on-going program.
Contrary to popular belief among many companies, social media is not a free alternative to traditional media, and you can do your clients a favor by making sure they understand this. It takes time, money and patience to use social media effectively, and these soft costs may not be as apparent and visible (especially to upper management) as a line item for the advertising budget. Too many companies jump into social media without understanding how much it really costs. There are many tools to help post on multiple sites and to monitor efforts and responses, but it will still require time on some one's part.

And it will require someone who understands the company and the audience, as every social media "expert" will tell you that content is king. So if your client thinks they can just hand it off to that recent college graduate who is more comfortable with technology than some of the older staff, you should advise your clients to make sure they not only understand the technology, but also know how to write well and can represent your company brand.

There are many other questions that come up along the way, but these are the basics for anyone who is considering starting or expanding their social media effort. And if your clients have been using social media for awhile, it never hurts to show them that you understand the importance of social media by recommending that they stop, take a deep breath, and analyze what they've been doing based on these questions.

Whatever your clients do, don’t let them make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse, as my dad used to say. Help them to know the basics of who they need to reach and what they want to accomplish before deciding which new technology to explore. Good marketing still requires good marketing, just like being an advisor to your clients on more than income-generating advertising can build relationships.

Monday, July 19, 2010

What's Hot and What's Not in Social Media

Everyone's talking about social media today. How do I use it? How do I measure the ROI? Etc. Etc.

I've written more than one post about the importance of helping clients to navigate these new waters, and have had mixed reaction from my readers. The most common objection stems from the question of "why should an agency promote an area that doesn't represent a defined revenue stream". My answer to that argument is that if your agency doesn't find a way to help your clients understand these new tools, then another agency will. Agencies can do their clients a great favor by helping them to figure out if social media can help to grow their business. Here are some thoughts on how to do this.

I recently came across a report on The State of Inbound Marketing, published by Hubspot in February, 2010. The primary focus of the report is on the growing importance of inbound marketing tools for lead generation, including blogging, content publishing, search engine optimization, social media and social networks.

While I'm not in agreement with their self-serving conclusion that traditional outbound channels like direct mail, telemarketing and trade shows have become "less effective over time as buyers have behaviorally and technologically (e.g. TIVO, spam filters, "do-not-call" lists) tuned these interruptive campaigns out", no one can deny the growing power and impact of inbound tools, especially social media. Many businesses are aggressively changing their lead generation marketing efforts to explore and add programs that allow customers to find them.

Marketers who are actively engaged in, or actively exploring, social media can find many interesting conclusions in this study to help them plan their own approach. Here are a few that I found interesting and enlightening:

1. Company blogs are the fastest growing and continue to be deemed the most important lead generation service for their business, with 85% of users rating blogs as critical, important or useful. Almost half of the companies using blogs (46%) have acquired a customer from a blog-generated lead, the highest for any social media channel.

2. Twitter was ranked as the second most effective inbound tool for lead generation with 71% of users rating it as "useful or better". This was almost double the 39% of positive users in the 2009 study, and reinforces the belief by many "committed business Tweeters" that when Twitter is used properly, it can be a valuable addition to a marketer's toolkit.

3. Facebook ranked third in importance with 61% of users touting its importance, barely edging out LinkedIn, which had ranked third in the 2009 study. An interesting side note to this conclusion is that Facebook has been more effective in customer acquisition for B2C businesses and LinkedIn more effective for acquiring B2B customers.

4. Other reported inbound tools - StumbleUpon, Digg and MySpace - all declined in usage and perceived importance. MySpace has virtually fallen off the radar as a lead generation tool with only 10& of users rating the site as "useful" or better.

There are other interesting facts and conclusions in this report relating to cost per lead, lead generation budget allocations by category and company size, the importance of blog frequency, etc. You can download the full report and other useful information at

Whether you use this report, and other input, to help your clients undertand and utilize social media is up to you. If it were my agency, I would find a way.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Are You Helping Your Clients Position Their Brand In Today's Digital Marketplace?

In previous posts, I've argued that the secret to new business success and client retention is to become an invaluable asset to your client's marketing team. That means you must help them in more ways that just creating advertising.

I recently saw an article in Marketing Management by Don E. Schultz, professor emeritus-in-service at the Medill School of Journalism. In the article, he argues that the concept of positioning espoused by Jack Trout and Al Reis in the 1970's is no longer valid in the 21st century. He cites several reasons for this hypothesis, but most prominent is his reasoning that "marketers don't control brand positions, concepts, images, or even experiences -- consumers do". He goes on to state that today's marketers have "only limited means to communicate with consumers today . . . to position the brand" and that "the brand manager's voice in the branding milieu is tiny and faint when compared to the branding experiences consumers receive from other sources -- such as peers, community groups, the brand's customer service group, the technical support experts, other employees, retailers, and distributors who are not even under the control of the brand manager or marketing department".

Professor Schultz concludes his argument with the question "does any of the brand baggage we've dragged into the 21st Century have any relevance or resonance today with us, our customers, or the marketplace?" Throughout the article, Professor Schultz makes it clear where he stands, which is evident with his description of positioning as "brand baggage".

An article like this can create a great opportunity for an agency to help their client or prospect succeed in a marketing environment that continues to change so rapidly. Professor Schultz is certainly right that the idea of one brand completely owning a position for all time in the customer's mind is outdated. But I don't think that idea was ever totally valid in the first place. Volvo has always been positioned as the epitome of safety, but that brand was never the only brand with safety features. So it never owned exclusive rights to that position.

Yes, things are different today than they were in the 1970's when the original concept of positioning was coined by Messrs. Trout and Reis. Yes, the proliferation of brands, sub-brands and line extensions has increased while the ability of marketers to reach masses of consumers has dwindled dramatically. Yes, there are new tools that all marketers should be exploring to discern how best to speak to today's customers.

But I've got news for you, Professor Schultz. The consumer has always been in charge.

When the marketing mavens in Atlanta tried to foist a new version of Coca-Cola on the world, consumers said no in dramatic fashion. The marketing business has always had its share of Edsels when consumers refused to buy into the marketer's attempts to position the product in the consumer's mind. Do you remember Quadraphonic sound, Apple Newton, Apple Lisa, PC Jr., the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin, the USFL? These were all well-positioned, sure-fire winners until consumers said "no thanks".

So the idea that positioning is no longer valid for marketers because the consumer is now in charge doesn't resonate well with me. Nor do the arguments that marketers have limited means to communicate or that every exposure and every brand experience outside of the brand manager's voice and control is suddenly more powerful. The sum total of the actual brand experience has always been more powerful than the statements made in formal branding communications. And they always will be. The challenge for marketers today is to use that to their advantage.

No matter how wired the world becomes in the 21st Century, there will always be a need for marketers to try to position their product or service offering in the mind of the customer. There will always be a need for marketers to search for competitive niches and unmet needs, and to espouse the most salient benefits to a target group of consumers. Success, as always, will be based on whether expectations are aligned with the reality of the brand experience. And agencies can play an integral role in helping their clients define or refine their brand positioning to capitalize on the new realities of a wired world.

Is the concept of brand positioning different in today's world?

Is the concept of brand positioning more difficult in today's world?

Is the concept of brand positioning nothing more than yesterday's "baggage" and thus dead in the 21st century?
Absolutely not.

That's what makes this a great opportunity for an agency to become an invaluable asset to their client. And a great selling story for new business prospects.

What do you think? Agree? Disagree?