Social Media Is NOT Free

Ever been in a meeting with a senior executive who says, “So why is your budget this big? I thought we were relying more on Twitter and Facebook and all that social media stuff. And that’s free.”

There’s a widespread myth out there that social media is free. It isn’t. For a social media marketing campaign you need people, time, and technology – all limited, non-renewable resources in most marketing departments.

In fact, maybe the executive who poses a question about social media being free doesn’t understand that there is a near 100% overlap between the items that go into the marketing budget and the resources that generate nearly all of the company’s revenue. Think about it:

  • Head count
  • Digital/online marketing
  • Advertising
  • Call center(s)
  • IT (software, hardware, bandwidth, support)
  • Marketing (collateral, email, creative)
  • Sales
  • PR
  • Events (webinars, trade shows, conferences))
  • Accounting/Compliance/Legal

Aren’t those the major marketing cost silos in your company? And the silos that generate new business and new revenue for the company? So, given that, why wouldn’t a business invest in social media and other marketing tools? The question becomes, “Where is the money to fund my social media plan for 2012 going to come from?”  (It’s almost a given that it isn’t going to magically appear  — to fund new initiatives, chances are you’ll have to spend less somewhere else.) 

When making the case for the return on your social media investment, you’ll want to look at two primary areas: cost reduction and revenue generation. Where can social media help to cut costs? For many companies, it’s in customer service and business intelligence or market research. (Solving customer service issues through online interaction, especially by local managers and agents, brokers or channel partners, is the #1 area where companies are finding savings, although a good multi-channel distributed marketing automation system may be the best place to cut costs in large marketing organizations.)

On the revenue side, top managers want to know whether new spending will result in more transactions, more new customers, increased customer loyalty, and higher revenue. Unfortunately, that’s where many social media experts run into a brick wall. They understand how to measure the non-financial impact of social media (website visitors, click-throughs, impressions, delivered emails, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, social mentions, etc.).    

But traditional marketing managers and social media mavens alike seem to have trouble with the financial impact of social media. And the truth is that business executives don’t care about website visitors, Google Analytics, Twitter followers, and the number of Facebook or Google+ friends a campaign generates.

Management needs to spend money where the company can make money.  So simply measuring and reporting on social media in social media terms isn’t good enough to build a business case for social media spending. 

To do that, we have to go back to Business 101, and look at changes in company revenue that can be attributed to social media. For instance, if the company was growing at 10% year over year (YoY) before the social media campaign started, and it is now growing at 20% now, then social media increased growth by 10%, right? Wrong. Why? Because spending also increased – and there are other factors that have to be measured.

Looking only at YoY growth before and after social media marketing started shows only that something happened to change the baseline, not what changed it. For that, you have to create activity timelines, and match them exactly to sales revenue, week by week, and day by day. How many transactions took place?  How do the transactions align on the calendar with marketing efforts? How many new customers have been added – and how does the new customer timing track against marketing?

The mathematics geniuses behind marketing metrics call it transactional precursors – what happened, when did it happen, and exactly how did it affect revenue. Michael John Baker, author of Marketing: Critical Perspectives on Business and Management wrote that the search for patterns requires overlaying at least five (and often more) different timelines to see how activities, social data, Web data, transactions and loyalty metrics compare. “You must gather the data and build the equation that proves the relationships between them, and eliminate the doubt by isolating the patterns and looking at the real costs (including any savings) and revenue gains are,” Baker wrote.

Luckily, there are a number of tools that have the metrics to prove social media’s ROI – marketers don’t have to morph from mad men to math men just to get their budget approved. What social media ROI tools do you use? Let us know!

Cartoon credit: The amazing Geek & Poke blog is filled with cartoons sure to have anyone interested in technology laughing out loud.  The cartoon above is used under a Creative Commons license. 
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Six Ways to Improve Email Marketing

Got a great email marketing solution?  Got a solid opt-in and scrubbed contact list?  That’s half the battle to a great return on your email marketing investment.  Here are six simple tips you can use to improve almost any email marketing effort.

1.    Remember why it’s called a “message”. 

If you think of your email campaign as an ongoing dialogue with each prospect, it will change your strategy.  For instance, in a dialogue, you have to keep the conversation going – and that means listening to the people you’re talking about.  (How are they responding?  What actions are they taking?)  It also means staying relevant.  (If they visited your blog after your last email, but have never been to the products page after several messages, stop sending them messages that try to drive them to the products page – offer them an incentive to take some other action instead.)

2.    Automate the process so you can focus on strategy and great creative.

In the post-recession economy, is there any marketing team that’s operating at full strength, with all the help they need?  A marketing automation solution can become the extra marketing resource you don’t have – use it to set up automated campaigns based on event and behavioral triggers. 

3.    Test, don’t guess.

Testing is fast and easy – and it makes a huge difference in return.  All you need is two subject lines, two versions of an image, a piece of copy, or a promotion, and you’re on your way.  If you don’t test, you’re guessing – and you can’t be sure what will work at a particular time with even a well-scrubbed list.

4.    Add periodic “check in” emails (with or without surveys) to improve your relationship with prospects and get feedback continuously.

Recently, an experienced marketer was overheard telling someone that he was reluctant to send an email asking customers for feedback for fear of a high unsubscribe rate.  What a sad commentary on his knowledge of his customer base (and the quality of his email list).  Most prospects and customers will appreciate a “check-in” email every once in a while.  Ask them what you’re doing right – what they’d like to see more or less of – and how their interest levels in your company and product vary over time.  Yes, some will unsubscribe – most will do nothing – and a valuable few will respond with important information you can’t get anywhere else.

5.    Deliver consistent quality – but mix up the style & content to maintain interest.

We all know how important it is to deliver messages from a real person (or a corporate persona like Betty Crocker who seems real to customers).  But did you know that experimenting with a variety of email campaign types can make your audience more receptive and engaged?  Vary your HTML messages with Outlook emails, marketing messages with messages from sales or customer service, and use your metrics (click-through, open, and online activity) to identify new ways to interact with your audience. (And don’t forget other ways to communicate with customers.  Sending a hand-written thank-you card, especially after a large sale, is always a good idea.)

6.    Go beyond “standard” segmentation approaches to improve data quality. 

Chances are you know whether your prospect is a current customer or not — and if they are a customer, you know what they’ve purchased in the past, and what kinds of contact they’ve had with your company.  But what else do you know?  Do you know if they’re male or female?  Married or single?  Living with kids or in a child-free home?  Home owners or happy renters?  What about their interests — sports, hobbies, pets, movies, music — and their social media usage?  It’s true that the more you know about your audience, the better  your messages and interactions with them can be.  It can be as simple as the kind of illustrations you use for your marketing materials, or the color scheme on a landing page — or it can be as specific as segmenting your list by age, lifestyle, or specific interest.  One of the most important factors is understanding how your customer prefers to be contacted.  A preference engine like the one from Gryphon Networks or a social media profile from a company like FlipTop can help you segment your target audience in ways that can dramatically improve your results. 

What other tactics do you use to improve your email marketing results?  Share them with us — in the comments section, or as a guest blogger for The Distributed Marketing Blog.  Contact us if you’d like to share your marketing tips with our readers!

Fusing CRM and Marketing Automation

Few organizations today could thrive if they relied solely on Rolodexes, paper lead sheets, or Outlook address books.   Whether they use a SaaS solution like Zoho or Salesforce.com, or a robust customized CRM solution, most organizations are convinced that they’re getting an excellent result from their CRM investment.

The question is, could they be getting more if they added a robust distributed marketing platform to their CRM solution?  According to Edgar  Rodriguez, Distribion’s EVP and a 20-year-veteran of the industry, the answer is yes.

In the example below, a local insurance agent uses a system that seamlessly links corporate marketing’s distributed marketing platform with his own local contact list and the corporate lead management system to streamline and automate the day-to-day sales process — with real-time reporting, activity notices, and metrics available at the local and corporate level.

“The fusion of CRM and a comprehensive marketing automation solution will increase the ROI of your sales and marketing organization, improve your close rate, and deliver more revenue,” he says. 

How?  A distributed marketing platform helps:

  • Automate marketing and sales support campaigns, saving time and money, and allowing you to do more with less.  “It’s a question of ability,” Rodriguez says. 
  • Convert and nurture leads.  “The more automated the process, the easier it is for local and field sales people to follow up on all the leads that marketing generates — whether they are initially ‘BANT’ qualified or not,” Rodriguez says.  (BANT = Budget, Authority, Need, and Timeline — the traditional sales qualification process developed by IBM.)
  • Prioritize leads and contacts, by centralizing reporting.  “A distributed marketing platform gives corporate marketing and local marketing far more information about each contact, because information is shared and consolidated,” Rodriguez explains.  “And with real-time tracking of every interaction, you can do things that just aren’t possible any other way.  For instance, if you get an instant notice when someone downloads a white paper from the corporate website, it’s a pretty good indicator that it’s a great time to call them because you know they’re at their desk and you know that your company and brand are top of mind.”
  • Consolidate and improve CRM data quality.  By integrating CRM and marketing automation to avoid multiple data silos, it’s easier to avoid duplicate data and to keep data up to date.  “In marketing and sales, it’s all about the accuracy and timeliness of the data.”
  • Validate and prove marketing strategy and execution.  With sales and marketing metrics in one place, it’s easy to identify and correct problems, predict revenue, and see precisely how marketing and sales activities contribute to the bottom line.

“CRM is great, and I couldn’t live without it.  But CRM by itself isn’t enough in the highly competitive world that I work in — and it isn’t enough for our customers, either.  It’s important to remember that CRM systems are designed to deal with individual leads — while marketing always works with segmented groups of leads,” Rodriguez adds. 

“By integrating a comprehensive distributed marketing platform with your existing CRM system, you optimize the entire process for maximum return.”

Graphic credit:  The graphic used to illustrate this blog was provided by Distribion corporate PR, and is used with permission.

Google+: A Basic Cheatsheet for Marketers

Less than a month after it launched in late June, Google+ had over 25 million registered users — a milestone that took Twitter 29 months, and Facebook 3 years to reach. 

Have you tried it yet?  Or are you waiting to see whether it’s a useful tool for multi-channel marketing?  If you haven’t made up your mind yet, here are the absolute basics that marketers need to know.

What is Google+?

It’s not exactly a social network — it’s a sharing network where people create contact circles.  Here’s how Shimrit Ben-Yair, Google’s product manager for the product describes it.  “Google+ Circles solve the tough sharing problem that Facebook has failed to crack.  On Facebook, I have 500 friends — my mom’s my friend, my boss in my friend,” she says.  “So when I share on Facebook, I overshare.  On Twitter, I undershare, because it’s public.  Google+ hits that spot in the middle, where social interactions are shared based on types of contacts.”

What can you do on Google+?

  • Connect with online contacts, and identify nearby contacts to connect with.
  • Upload and share pictures and videos.
  • Chat or video chat with friends and colleagues.
  • Search by topics, or find contacts interested in the topics you’re interested in.
  • Share thoughts, links, and information.

How is Google+ organized?

Like Facebook, Google+ is organized around your profile and your “Home/Stream”.  Think of your Home/Stream as your Facebook Newsfeed, with the option of filtering by one of your Circles to cut down on the clutter.  (A feature that Facebook added to its own Newsfeed in mid-September, causing much uproar among long-time users upset about the changed appearance of their home page.)

Also like Facebook, you can share photos, videos,  “+1” (Likes), status updates or posts.  There are a number of privacy options — you can edit profile visibility, search visibility, who can see other people in your circles, who can send you email, what users can be blocked, and other options.  One note:  regardless of your privacy settings, if you comment on someone else’s post, assume that your comment will be public. 

There are four components to Google+ beyond the profile and stream:

  • Circles — Organize your contacts by dragging your contacts into the appropriate circle.  People can be in more than one circle — friends, family, following are the default group, but you can add your own.  Customers, clients, suppliers, professional contacts, prospects, peers — you define the groups, then determine what content you share with your circles.  You can even add contacts from your address book who aren’t on Google+ — they’ll get an email from your Gmail account when you post new content you want them to see.
  • Sparks — Sparks is a topic-aggregator, which works much like Guy Kawasaki’s All-Top.   You can choose one of the featured interests, or pick a topic of your own.  PC World published this tutorial on Sparks early in the site’s life, and there are a number of videos on this feature available (you guessed it) on Sparks.   Sparks is a great tool to find information to help in your professional development, as well as tracking area of interest from movies to fashion, sports cars to recipes.
  • Hangouts — The simplest way to describe Hangouts is as a group video chat room, which holds up to 10 people.  You invite people to join a hangout — either an entire circle or individually.  The video switches from person to person based on who is talking, and the group can all watch an external video on YouTube. 
  • Google+ Mobile — iPhone and Android users access Google+ through their own mobile site, optimized for their phones.   It works like the desktop version of Google+ but includes a group text feature similar to GroupMe or Beluga.  The group text feature within Google+ Mobile is called Huddle.    One thing to note about Google+ Mobile:  if you take a photo with your camera phone, and you’ve installed Google+ Mobile and enabled instant photo sharing, the upload is AUTOMATIC.  On one hand, this can be a good back-up — but you might want to think twice about it if you’re prone to using your camera phone for photos of the more intimate variety, and if you don’t have unlimited data in your cell phone plan.  (Restrict the automatic uploads to WiFi access only to minimize battery and data charges.)

Here’s a quick comparison between Google+ and other social networking sites.

Will you be adding Google+ to your social media marketing mix?  How soon?

Managing Complex Marketing Projects

September 30, 2011 2 comments

Ever feel like your to do list requires you to keep nine hula hoops going at once?

Multichannel marketing is a given for most marketers.  None of us can afford to bet our company’s success by trying to reach our customers through just one channel.  

In large, distributed marketing organizations where creative and brand management are handled at the corporate level and local or field sales and marketing organizations execute their own campaigns, the process of planning, managing, executing, measuring, and reporting on marketing activities can become very complicated, very quickly.

So what do you do to simplify a process that isn’t simple?  Start by recognizing the three basic problems that are inherent in a complex marketing project:

  • Competing needs of corporate, local and partners
  • Lack of brand integrity/compliance if the process becomes disconnected
  • Long campaign, creative and development cycles

Once you’ve taken a look at the three basic problems, look at each one from the viewpoint of the three groups most intimately involved in the process — corporate marketing, local marketing and sales, and the vendors or service providers (agencies, printers, graphics artists, web designers and others) who support both groups.

Corporate marketing requires tools for:

  • Brand management
  • Legal/regulatory compliance
  • Message quality management
  • CRM and data management
  • Measurement / ROI
  • Campaign intelligence and management
  • Partner management
  • Integrating disjointed systems

Service providers require tools for:

  • Efficient communication
  • Automated ordering
  • Automated approvals
  • Integrating disjointed systems

Last, but hardly least, local and field sales & marketing need tools for:

  • Searching and identifying the best marketing materials
  • Rapid localization
  • Automated personalization
  • Assembly and presentation tools
  • Campaign management
  • Targeting and segmentation
  • Reporting and monitoring

Point solutions designed for a single communications channel may meet many or even all of those requirements for their niche market.  But when you multiply the number of point solutions for individual communications channels times the number of stakeholder groups, the cost and complexity of the resulting system quickly becomes overwhelming.

That’s where a comprehensive distributed marketing platform comes in:  to provide an integrated set of online tools that empower users at the local level to easily search, find, select, assemble, customize, distribute and track campaign assets across multiple channels while allowing central or corporate marketing the ability to govern system usage through permission based business rules, automated workflow approval processes and centralized reporting.  

However, even the best distributed marketing platform can’t supply everything that corporate marketing needs.  “When you’re shopping for a solution, think of the distributed marketing platform as the core solution, and look for a vendor who has strategic partnerships with specialized vendors, and an open API for custom integration or out-of-the-box integration with solutions you already use,” says David Potter, Vice President of the professional services division at Distribion, a leading supplier of distributed marketing solutions for regulated industries.

“What you want is a vendor who can make your life simpler,” Potter says.  “Not another single-channel solution that adds complexity.”  

Photo credit: 10-year-old Kameron Badgers rehearses for a performance with Slappy’s Circus Camp, a summer workshop for children in Dallas, TX.  Photo ©2011 Deb McAlister-Holland; all rights reserved.  Published with permission.

How to Become a Marketing Legend

September 28, 2011 1 comment

Modern-day knight in shining armor, Geoff McAlister.

By Deb McAlister-Holland

Once upon a time, there was a brave knight who rode into battle and (a) slew the dragon (b) rescued the princess and (c) earned fame and fortune, becoming a legend for his many deeds.  At least that’s how the story goes. 

In real life, deeds of derring-do are rare but it’s possible to accomplish great things by following the example of a modern-day knight in shining armor.  

What can a marketer learn from a knight-in-shining armor?  Quite a lot, as it turns out.  I know this because I happen to have my very own knight-in-shining armor — my son, Geoff McAlister — and I’ve learned quite a bit about my own profession by watching him advance in his. 

Here are four practical marketing lessons that I picked up from my son as I’ve watched him travel the world as a professional stuntman performing in movies, videos and live shows. 

The first step in becoming a marketing legend is finding a dragon to battle.  (You don’t have to kill it — just master it.)  What kind of dragon?  A problem or pain point that’s costing your company market share, revenue, or competitive advantage.  For example, in a large distributed marketing organization, the biggest dragon in the kingdom is often the disconnect between corporate marketing and local sales teams.  The second is winning the battle by applying some medieval lessons to the problem.

  1. Arm yourself with the right weapons.  To become a knight, you need to master the tools of the trade (a variety of swords, javelins, spears, a mace, flame throwers, shields, and horsemanship, for example).  You also need to know when to use each one, and how to use them effectively and safely. Yes, in the modern world stunt performers rehearse the battles but the fire stunts involve real fire, “breakaway” lances don’t always break, a sword or a mace can do real damage if someone misses a step, and a galloping horse can do an awful lot of damage.  In marketing, picking the wrong weapon in the battle for market share results in a different kind of pain.  But we still have to master an ever-changing collection of tools, and know when to use each one.  I’d feel completely unarmed without a solid distributed marketing platform to manage my digital, print, email, and social media campaigns.
  2. Recruit a band of loyal knight companions. A knight knows he’s unlikely to achieve his quest without his loyal companions — and those of us who are in a quest for business success can’t do it alone, either.  McAlister says that his career requires him to connect with stunt coordinators, other performers, stable hands, trainers, weapons and prop masters, costumers, dancers, actors, casting agents, souvenir vendors, photographers, ticket takers and, of course, his audiences.   He has to be scrupulous in following up, keeping in touch, reaching out via phone, email, social media, the web, trade associations and conferences and (whenever possible) through face-to-face meetings.  For a marketing professional, the “knight companions” includes a diverse contact list of vendors, freelancers, agencies, sales reps, journalists, analysts, researchers, bloggers, peers and mentors who can be relied on for help, referrals, advice, and new ideas.  (If you don’t  participate actively in your trade association, the LinkedIn group for your profession, and local networking groups, it will hurt your career and make it harder to do almost any job.)
  3. Suit up and show up, ready to do battle, no excuses.  “I was in the show at the Excalibur Casino Hotel in Las Vegas for several years,” McAlister says.  “We usually had two sold-out shows per night and like they say, ‘The show must go on.’  Your audience doesn’t care that your horse stepped on your foot — or that you’re tired or bruised from something that happened during the first show of the night.  The ‘meet and greet’ sessions after the shows are critical, too.  Whether you’re meeting a superstar who’s brought his kids to the show, a little girl who just wants to pet the horse, or a medieval history buff who wants to critique your hand-to-hand combat techniques, it’s important to listen, engage, and respond appropriately to every single one.  They bought their ticket, and they deserve your full attention,” he says. It’s not that different in the business world. The work has to get done — and deadlines don’t wait because we’re tired or cranky.  Engaging with customers, suppliers, co-workers, vendors, and all the others you deal with daily is important, too. 
  4. Be gracious when you lose, and even more gracious when you win.   McAlister recalls being in a show once where most of the performers got along well, and understood that sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose.  But he ran into one guy who never seemed to get that he was just one part of an ensemble cast.  Everything was personal, and he was hyper-competitive and quick to criticize everyone around him.  “He didn’t last long, and no one was sorry to see him go.”  In business and marketing, one of the most important actions you can take is to reach out to your contacts when something bad happens.  Didn’t get the job or the account?  Write a thank-you note anyway.  Stay in touch.  Things change — and the nicer you are, the more likely your contacts are to reach out to you in the future.  Being gracious when you’re selected for a promotion over other team members, or you have to fire a vendor or take an action that could hurt someone makes a huge difference in how they react — and it’s one of the hallmarks of truly successful people.

What’s your code of chivalry, and how does it help you in your everyday business life?

Note: Some portions of this blog post, including the photographs, previously appeared on the writer’s personal blog.  Content is used by permission of the rights holder.

How Engaged Are Your Customers?

Jasmine is a mixed-breed dog adopted from the Las Vegas dog pound.  She’s a great dog.  That’s her in the photo — patiently enduring being posed with a catalog of high-end dog beds while wearing a pair of silly eye glasses.  Most of the time, she did what she was asked, (which was to look directly at the camera) but every now and again she couldn’t resist looking over at her trainer to see if it was time to go home yet.

Jasmine was giving her attention to the humans around her — but she wasn’t engaged with what was happening.  She was simply enduring it.

Customers are like that, too.  Most of the tools that marketers use today have built-in metrics that show what slides in a presentation viewers spent the most time with, or which links in an email campaign got the most clicks, or which page on a website kept visitors engaged the longest.  So it’s easy enough to see where there are problems.  But how do you fix them?  What can we do as marketers to create content so compelling that people stop fidgeting, grant us their full attention, and take action?

Nobel Prize winning economist Herbert Simon wrote: “What information consumes is rather obvious. It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” 

When he wrote that, circa 1971, there was no Google, no Internet.  No one had a cell phone, let alone unlimited texting and tweeting.  So none of us really felt that we had to protect our time, attention and mind from a constant barrage of information we might or might not want.   Things are different now, and consumers definitely do feel inundated with marketing messages — and the same technology that helps us deliver those messages help consumers filter them out.

PR superstar Susan Young published an article recently on Ragan’s PR Daily that offered these tips.  (The whole article is well worth reading, and contains far more information than we’ve excerpted here.)

  • Accept the word “I”.  Consider using phrases like these in your marketing materials — people instinctively respond to other people.  “I’m responsible for this outcome.  I need your help.  Here is what I think your needs are — am I correct?”  Many marketers avoid personal pronouns, for fear of sounding arrogant — but Young points out that the word “I” also implies empowerment, active listing, and accountability. 
  • Chose your words carefully.   If you want to engage with someone, you have to communicate with them.  It may be a tweet, a thank-you note, an email, a blog post, or a video — but whatever communication channel you use, it will involve words.  Words have power, and they’re being heard or read by people you’ve never met and will never meet.  They may have grown up speaking a different language, or they may come from a different culture.  Jargon, slang, humor that can be misunderstood, and “insider references” hurt engagement, and drive wedges between people.
  •  Speak up or shut up: the power of silence.  Not every statement, conversation, or accusation warrants a response. Silence is an extremely powerful communication tool.  This is especially true in social media and online forums where others might have an agenda that doesn’t allow them to engage in rational discussion.  You can’t please everyone — and trying isn’t a good marketing strategy.
  • Ask good questions.   If you need good information, ask good questions. Get others thinking, feeling, reacting, and involved. Be curious, and, of course, be sure to listen to the response.  Surveys, polls, and open-ended questions are excellent tools to get people engaged with you and your brand.
  • Understand the emotions of communication in marketing.  Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, writes about “The Golden Circle” and how most companies and people try to sell their ideas based on what their product or service is. Then they talk about how it will work.  But the most successful are those who can connect with the public on an intimate level. These folks begin at the center of the circle, where the “why” resides. The “why” is what we believe and why we believe it. The “what” and “how” come later.

In a distributed marketing environment, it’s important to have the tools, strategies, and programs in place to manage true multi-channel, multi-level customer engagement.  Empowering local sales and marketing people, customer service, and regional or national sales and marketing teams can be a complex process, and it takes the right technology platforms, vendors, and rules-based access to data to be successful. What tools and techniques do you have in place to manage and monitor customer engagement? 

Photo credit:  ©2008, Krystal McAlister; all rights reserved. Used with permission. 
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