Tag Archives: corporate communications

Olivier Taupin on crappy content

The truth about crappy content

By Sharon A.M. MacLean who invites your comments following this blog.  You can also find more modern marketing strategies for business here.  bit.ly/1JuaV8k 

“You need articles for the website?” pressed the CEO. “Words are cheap; buy them from one of those content farms.” I instantly knew we would not be working together very long given such little regard for his corporate image or for the reputation of his employees, customers and partners. Including mine.

Irresistible content comes from knowing what you stand for and what makes you unique. The clarity that comes from truly understanding what you offer—and for whom—is the promise that informs everything you say, write, record, produce and post.

Content farms are websites that hire a large number of freelance writers, editors, and videographers to pump out dirt cheap content at $15 per article. You can spend as much time searching their enormous databases for possible writers than you will to research and write the piece yourself.

Don’t get me wrong. There are excellent services who hire experienced journalists such as www.TroyMedia.com and www.NewsCred.com that vet their editorial teams and supervise the editorial process from start to finish. (Full disclosure: I contribute to Troy Media which distributes to news desks primarily in Canada and the U.S.) As a former magazine publisher, I can tell you it takes time to become familiar with the strength and style of any writer to determine if they’re a match for your story. We want you to rise above the clutter in your industry by getting to the vision behind your mission and telling us what nobody else has bothered  to say.  You don’t get that from bad prose.

Olivier Taupin knows a thing or two about building communities in social media. He’s established over 100 groups on LinkedIn with 1.4 million members. Olivier sees a gulf, though: The community builder too often receives regurgitated crap from companies who won’t pay for quality content to keep their prospects’ attention. After all, you want these people to become your customers.

The social media strategist urges you to, “Think about creating rich content that is useful and intriguing to your audience. For example, Oliver would not share a product brochure on Internet security from a Telco but he would be happy to share a well-written white paper on how to protect your business from hackers from that same Telco.

He encourages you to, “Demonstrate your expertise and forget about pushing self-promotional brochures.”

Today’s budgets are gradually moving towards providing good content—just not enough. The seduction is to avoid creating original content by professional writers in favour of buying cheap material that everyone’s seen before somewhere on the ‘net. People are smarter than that and expect more.

Marketers rely on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to improve search rankings, website traffic and lead generation. In June 2015 research by Ascend2, 72% of marketers cited relevant content creation as the most effective SEO tactic.

So, what are you going to write about?

First, you need to find the “why” and how it relates to your audience. That will be easier to do after you’ve identified your personas to satisfy the ABCs+ for your company.

A customer persona is more than a description of a target market. In addition to the traditional demographics, each profile describes:

  • A day-in-the-life
  • What keeps them up at night
  • Criteria they use to make a decision
  • Purchase cycle: impulse vs considered purchase and one-time vs recurring
  • Timeframe for making a purchase
  • Websites they frequent
  • Social footprint

The ABCs+ for your content 

Think about classifying your content into these categories: Acquaintances, Best friends, Champions, and Community. Your challenge is to create a digital hub that includes content to share, like, comment and refer on the social platforms. When content attracts and informs customers, it drives leads and sales.

Acquaintances. The first thing to appreciate in this group is that you barely know the person who has visited your website. Please don’t presume they immediately want to know you or like your message enough to purchase your products or services. They are researching other websites, too, and generally want to see value before returning for a follow-up visit. If they are intrigued enough to leave their email address, ask them a few discovery questions in your own lingo to know them better such as:

  • Have you identified a problem that needs a solution?
  • Is there a sense of urgency?
  • Have you had previous experience dealing with the same problem?
  • What will be the key factors driving your decision on this project?

Invest in this content:

  • Well-written blog
  • Infographics
  • E-books combined with video, audio, and written text
  • Landing page with CTA (Call-to-action)
  • Case studies
  • White papers
  • Curated content from quality sites such as swayy.com

Best friends. Just like personal friends, your top customers are those you trust in the best–and the worst of times. These clients purchase your products and services while you help them to grow individually and professionally. You can feel comfortable asking your Best Friends in business for references and introductions to their networks.

Invest in this content:  

  • Live and on-demand video
  • Newsletters
  • Photo albums
  • Landing page with CTA (Call-to-action)
  • Webcasts
  • Podcasts
  • Short videos
  • Open sessions with thought leaders

Champions. Business champions are your board members, investors and ideal customers as well as leaders of commerce and the community in the media and in politics. They take exceptional interest in your success and evangelizes your ideas within their networks.

Invest in this content:

  • Digital publications featuring your champions and their missions
  • Annual reports with a video message from the president
  • References in your blogs etc. to their efforts
  • Annual thank-you slideshow

Community members: Fever Bee, the people who study website communities, reports that technology has not made us better at building communities. The key is authenticity in your relationships…respect for your fans and followers… and recognition there’s a human being on the other end of a Tweet or website query. Communities can increase customer loyalty, buying behaviour, brand advocacy, and the exchange of knowledge while reducing the tendency to engage in negative behaviours.”

Invest in this content:

  • Weekly video updates
  • Groups discussons on LinkedIn with trained leaders
  • Webinar sessions on Facebook with trained speakers
  • Hangouts with subject experts on Google+

The list of ideas grows daily.  I like what Guo Guangchang had to say in a blog recently posted on LinkedIn. “An opportunity sustains an enterprise for a year; good management sustains an enterprise for a decade; good corporate culture sustains an enterprise for a century.” Guo is the chairman of Chinese conglomerate Fosun International with assets of $160 billion under management.

Lifelong communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine for over 21 years for business people. She is certified in Integrated Online Strategies from the University of San Francisco and the Instant Customer Mastery Certified Professional Program.

 

Mad Men

Forget Mad Men: Here’s the new office setup

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

You’ve finally decided to take the plunge.

It’s time to update your company marketing using digital strategies and tactics. Where do you begin; even the job titles are confusing.

What’s a content manager, anyway? Does that person also refresh your website built five years ago? Does the IT techy handle social media? Who looks after the website once it’s created and hosted among the other 876 million websites in cyberspace?

You’re not even sure if a website contributes to your sales funnel, anyway.

Frustrated executives

I’ve spoken with five business executives this week, alone, who are frustrated with knowing how to invest in modern marketing. Let alone understand why they’re doing it.

It becomes a vicious cycle. Most don’t know what to expect from digital marketing. Business owners know it’s a good thing to post comments, pictures and video somewherel; they often relegate that role to people without much experience. Once hired, those assigned to the task don’t have experience showing results.

“The truth must be told,” replied veteran communicator and published author Les Brost in reply to my prospecting email. “There are more social marketers, networking specialists and web designers than there are store clerks imaginable!”

Les was right. By 2020 there will be nearly one and a half million open jobs in the tech sector (in the U.S. alone). Those skills are 20 of the top 25 most sought after skills by employers on LinkedIn, and all 10 of the fastest growing keywords in job listings are tech related.

Here’s more confusion: employers are lumping in new roles for marketing with IT engineers, web designers, and technicians. Home-office workers posting 140 characters to social media sites, who don’t have any experience at all in marketing, also call themselves social media marketers. These posting services are sometimes called content farms and they often are located in the Philippines and India. There’s also heavy recruitment going on now in Canada and the U.S. for the same role—no experience required.

This cycle of confusion will cost you in nonperforming websites, budget overruns, and lost sales.

Whether you’re a business owner who needs to upgrade your website or hire a social media manager to market what you’ve already built, keep on reading. As ever, when it comes to marketing for small business, solopreneurs must do for themselves; larger businesses want their digital marketing mangager to do it all; bigger business have full-scaled operations.

Here’s a list of job descriptions drawn from Skills Crunch with my editorial comments thrown in for good measure.

Digital marketing manager: This role is intended to understand customers, the stories they tell, and determine how to find them online. Instead of magazine ads and radio commercials, digital marketing managers advertise on new media platforms like social networks, handle email, blogs, assemble newsletters, establish editorial calendars, and measure their success with hard data.

The digital manager gets the ball rolling by helping to define personas, create/curate content, understand email marketing, SEO and web analytics, branding and storytelling, and A/B testing. Of course, each of these categories have specialists who deliver best practices in each category. An email marketer, for example, knows about automated systems, writes copy for better opening rates, and manages event campaigns.

Content Creator:  We used to call them writers, editors, photographers, videographers and graphic designers. The difference is that the new breed also knows the technical tools used in digital marketing.

Content makes the search engines go ‘round. Even if you have dedicated blogger and ebook writers, that material still needs to be adapted to each social network.  This includes positioning content in under 140 characters, creating images to accompany posts, creating variations of posts for each piece of content. 

Content creators and social media coordinators are like reporters; they need to have their eyes and ears open to what’s changing on social networks and in the industry. A successful content creator will be able to find new opportunities for the company by keeping a pulse on the industry.

Graphics Designer, Photographer, Videographer, Podcaster: Some content creators are able to use the tools that create online banners, flyers and infographics. Others are able to whip out their phones to capture images, video, and podcasts to publish on websites and across channels. It’s important to know when it’s time to engage the professionals, though, and have them produce materials for either traditional print or digital requirements. They are not the same. Please repeat.

Subject Matter Expert: The go-to person in their respective field. They have in-depth knowledge and access to information about the business including products, billing issues, customer data, or industry trends. So, they might not be actively monitoring social media, but there will be times they’ll need to get involved in social conversations.

Choose a title: Funnel Marketing Manager or Social Media Manager: Funnel marketing expands the reach of your content, attracts visitors to your website, generates leads, and nurtures them to become customers.

They need to share content that generates leads, and run new campaigns to find the best ways to do lead generation via social media. This person also engages one-on-one with potential customers who are considering your product or service, or simply need your help. Social media is particularly effective as a lead nurturing tool because prospects use multiple media (not just email) to consume information and social channels allow you to engage in a timelier manner.

In order to do all of this effectively, social media managers need to have a strong understanding of sales and marketing which leads to moving prospects  to the next stage in the process.

Database manager: I believe the database manager is a key ingredient in the whole enchilada. A good database is the only real estate you own when it comes to managing your existing customers and attracting new ones. Other platforms can disappear and take names of your contacts with them. This person can also help tag photos and keep your files backed up. Databases can be managed by a virtual assistant using a good automated marketing system, in an excel spread sheet, in the sales department, or by IT.

This all brings me to whether you have a CRM platorm and have people trained in analytics research to bridge marketing with website activities, as well.

These next position descriptions are for the people who build your website and are more IT related. Don’t let the number of positions scare you off; they typically are managed through the website builder you contract.

Front-end designer: Front-end designers can do a lot of different jobs, from seeing designs through prototyping to implementing to focusing on coding existing designs.

The main responsibilities of a front-end designer are to transform mock-ups into web pages, create and optimize graphics for the web.  

Information architects create site maps and user flows, define data flows/delivery, and research concept and usability testing. They spend time with web analytics, organize information, and translate user behaviour into site structures. Think about a WordPress expert in this category, too.

Make sure to ask your website developer who handles DevOps to bridge between developer, quality, and technology teams. This role helps them understand each other’s tasks and situations so that they can work together to get the best results.

By the way, what experience has your website team in developing ecommerce with proper security certificates in place?

UX Designer: A relatively recent addition to the website scene, user experience designers spend more time testing copy, design and work flow to discover visitor habits and improve traction to the site. It cost extra but the additional effort translates to a more productive website, especially when it comes to ecommerce.

Mobile Developer: It’s become increasingly important for websites to be  turned into apps. You want a mobile developer to optimize code for mobile, take designs from prototype to code, and test and analyze code for mobile.

Security Specialist: It goes without saying how important security is in tech nowadays.

Investing in  the digital space may sound daunting to business leaders with more experience within traditional marketing. Still, understanding the most common mistakes made when going digital, and how to avoid them, will help you tremendously during the planning stage. Remember, you want to produce the highest quality content and reach the widest possible audience—don’t let easily avoidable misunderstandings cost you money and time.

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Need help with modern marketing? Contact me through LinkedIn or by email: sharon@worldgatemedia.com. You can also pick up more ideas from my website: http://www.worldgatemedia.com

Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.

Dr. Donald Norman founded UX or user experience

Is your website losing money for your business?

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

I’m hearing this lately: “Our website isn’t performing…we don’t get any leads…prospects never contact us, let alone customers.”

The message hits close to home for many businesses. Website owners often think the conversion of site visitors to full-fledged customers happens automatically–just because they’ve hired a website designer to launch their digital property.

In 1997, my magazine’s first website performed much like a print brochure. Read: old school. After seven or eight iterations over the next 12 years, we had yet to publish a blog, link with Facebook or host a PayPal account. We weren’t able to accept advertising, register for special events, or engage subscribers; Twitter was eight years away from driving followers to the site.

Thank goodness we had the prescience to build and maintain a database of about 5,000 fans.

In those early days, ecommerce was in its infancy. Amazon had launched their first site on July 5, 1994, while retail giant Marks and Spencer was opening its online doors for the first time – becoming an early ‘bricks and mortar’ entry into the world of credit card commerce.

My own next big web experience came with an investor-backed portal that provided marketing services to wellness experts such as family physicians, dentists, psychologists, nutritionists, and personal trainers. The website drew on big talent from IT engineering, graphic design, social media, live streaming television, web radio, and content creation.

There was a lot of ‘making it up as we went along’ combined with tried-and-true methods for sales and marketing. The concept had merit, yet, we rarely tested copy and there was no time to ask about our visitors—what they liked and disliked, their online habits or purchasing behaviours. For example, Google analytics allowed us to track visitor activities but we did not know who they were and why they behaved as they did.

The missing piece was knowing more about the website’s user experience—affectionately known today as UX.

Those who work on UX (called UX designers) study and evaluate how visitors feel about your website. Such things as ease of use, perceived value of services offered, and efficiencies are tested along the way.

UX designers also look “under the hood”. For example, they might study the checkout process to see how easy—or frustrating—it is to make a purchase. They also pay close attention to Web forms.

UX is relatively new. The term “user experience” was coined by Dr. Donald Norman (pictured above) best known for his books on design, especially The Design of Everyday Things. His message? Systems that ask the user to carry out many tasks must be regarded as a walk in the park: pleasant and without potholes.

Business owners thinking about ecommerce websites risk big losses in revenue by neglecting the user experience. Please trust me on this one.

UX AND USABILITY DIFFER 

By the way, user experience and usability are not the same. UX tells us how a visitor feels about your website system. Did they love their experience? Usability is about how well the interface works.

Of course, usability is important. Yet, it’s the human considerations such as psychology, information architecture, and attractive design that also play major roles.

3 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT UX

There are often two types of website visitors today– those who know what they are looking for and those looking to be inspired. Like window shoppers. Here’s how UX contributes to both sides of the ledger: expense and revenue.

USER SURVEYS: A UX designer interviews existing and potential users of the system to gain insight into what would be the most effective design. Because the user’s experience is subjective, the best way to directly obtain information is by studying and interacting with users.

WIREFRAMES AND PROTOTYPES: Based on their findings, UX specialists might develop wireframes showing different layouts as well as prototypes presenting higher-fidelity devices. A nice touch, especially when you’re thinking about incorporating, say, expensive live streaming.

USER PROFILES AND PERSONAS: A thorough understanding of your audience enables UX specialists to develop experiences that reflect the voice and emotions of potential clients. In my estimation, this is the only safe way to go. Otherwise, the train you want to build won’t even even leave the station.

CAN YOU AFFORD UX?

Small and medium-sized businesses often carry out much of their own sales and marketing activities by themselves. If there’s a budget for their website, the focus is more on the build process and less on planning, research and analysis. Companies with small budgets will be driven more by the launch of the final product.

LARGER COMPANIES WITH MORE COMPLEX INITIATIVES–AND TIME

Digital designers can supply anyone with a website template–fast. Adding a new element to the process will extend the timeline. It’s the advance thought that benefits website owners by saving costs down the road in revision phases and missing the mark of delivering a good experience for their users.

A useful website caters to researchers as well as to window shoppers. We want clear navigational links, solid search tools, and stimulating content with  good images for clients and prospects to do business with you.

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Need help with modern marketing? Contact me through LinkedIn or by email: sharon@worldgatemedia.com. You can also pick up more ideas from my website: http://www.worldgatemedia.com

Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.

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Know your persona

Persona: The online version of your target market

By Sharon A.M. MacLean who invites your comments following this blog.  You can also find more modern marketing strategies for business here. 

Last week, I was asked by a young marketer about the word “persona”. He heard the term from an online gooroo who talked about personas when it came to finding more customers online.

Traditionally, the phrase, target market, was the default to identify groups of people we wanted to reach for almost any reason.  A target market identified those who might buy our products…register to attend a special event…read our books…or donate funds for a charitable cause.

Building a persona for digital media is different when compared to traditional marketing; it’s more detailed. As a publisher, I can tell you that understanding your personas will help you focus and save time by creating content that people care about.

You also save time by avoiding confusion. When you can truly see the individual you need to reach, you’ll create better content for your website and email campaigns, videos, blogs, and social media.

Here’s a complementary cheat sheet to define your persona: Strategic Who_5 Steps

Each persona describes the day-to-day life, his/her likes and dislikes, the type of vehicle they drive, where they live, their hobbies. Today, the big brands call it being “customer centric” which means they want to focus on their customers rather than on themselves.

There are multiple ways of developing personas. An easy method is to collect data from a customer survey. Here’s what we’re looking for:

  1. Goals
  2. Challenges
  3. Interests
  4. Preferred publications
  5. Content preferences
  6. Social media preferences

It’s also a good idea to keep track of the collected data in a database for future connections. For example, some people don’t like receiving newsletters; they like ebooks. Knowing their social media platforms is a good idea, too: Some will respond through LinkedIn more than Twitter. Others want to receive your messages through email. Probably the majority.

Below are a few example questions I would ask in a survey.

  1. How do you like to receive your online messages?
  • Articles from experts delivered by email once or twice a month
  • Bite-sized information delivered to you on a daily basis
  • Short videos (90 seconds to 4 minutes) emailed to your inbox once a month
  • By mobile phone
  • Through your social networks

 2. What type of content would you prefer?

  • Industry insights
  • Video tutorial
  • Podcast
  • Case study
  • Webinar
  • News
  • Opinion Article
  • Other

3. Please indicate which social media networks you prefer 

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Google+
  • YouTube
  • Instagram
  1. The time of day you prefer to receive your messages?
  • 7 to 9 am
  • During the work day
  • After the work day

Here’s an example of a persona that I built for my company.

  • Name: Business Owner Bob
  • Company President
  • Age: 55
  • Location: Headquartered in Edmonton
  • With 5 branches in Alberta and B.C.
  • Annual Sales: $7.5 million

The scenario: Bob started his company 25 years ago.  He’s a commercial developer and owns five large facilities in Alberta and British Columbia. The native Edmontonian, married for 30 years, has three adult children, gives back to his community, and is contemplating buying property in Palm Springs for quick golf trips.

An A-type personality, Bob likes to feel in control; he grew his company from scratch. Bob’s a frugal man with strong work ethics carried on from his parent’s generation.

A savvy entrepreneur, Bob traditionally has done all the marketing himself. He invites clients to golf and dinner; came up with marketing strategies himself with friends who provided free advice; always buys local print advertising, maybe some radio; ran direct mail campaigns (too expensive); built a website (very pretty).

The needs: Bob likes to think of himself as a smart business man. However, he’s experienced 7% attrition in gross sales and worries about the numbers trending south. Bob and his company need help with online marketing because that’s where his customers now live. He’s willing and, in some cases, eager to learn how to proceed.

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Lifelong communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine for over 21 years for business people. She is certified in Integrated Online Strategies from the University of San Francisco and the Instant Customer Mastery Certified Professional Program

Sharon Romank

How to get a 49% email open rate

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

I’ve been thinking a lot about newsletters and automated email marketing that evolved from direct mail in the 80s.  Both methods have been used diligently in my career.

Newsletters certainly offer a solid tool for staying in touch with clients. My blog titled, “We still revere newsletters with a twist” remains the highest read among missives this year. I still love the medium.

A really good example of a newsletter program developed for Affordable Storage Sherwood Park  that included a personalized email letter averaged the highest open rate: 49.6%. Yes, you read that correctly. Company President Sharon Romank is pictured above and I’ll tell you how we achieved results that exceeded the industry average of 16% a bit later.

It makes sense.

We like to feel as if a company from which we receive email is speaking directly to us. Email expert Karen Talavera backs this up: “Those one-to-one email messages are the key to revenue and response optimization, because they convert at 10 to 20 times higher than generalized broadcast campaigns.” And, according to Epsilon, triggered email messages average 70.5% higher open rates and 152% higher click-through rates than traditional bulk messages.

Everyone craves personal attention, especially in a world so reliant on technology for relationships. It might sound ironic that it’s possible to automate your email messages for a more personal connection with each each customer. That is company gold.

What’s the first step? Forget using Outlook or Gmail; they’re too cumbersome. Standard email services just don’t give you enough flexibility or information to study results. It’s more useful to discover how many emails were opened and how many links were clicked for more detailed analysis and follow up. Certain Email Service Providers (ESP) can also add photos, short videos or landing pages which are like flyers that lead to a certain action.

Companies that use marketing automation have 53% higher conversion rates than non-users, and an annualized revenue growth rate 3.1% higher than non-users, according to the Aberdeen Group. And B2C marketers who take advantage of automation for everything from cart abandonment programs to birthday emails have conversion rates as high as 50%, eMarketer reports. As mentioned earlier, Affordable Storage Sherwood Park averaged 49%.

It’s true that installing email automation needs some time to get off the ground. But automation doesn’t need to be complicated—and it shouldn’t be daunting. The decision is to select software to carry out the task of automating your email campaigns such as Instant Customer, which I use, Infusionsoft on the high end or Mail Chimp on the low end. These services automate marketing communications with customers on a regular basis.

ESPs help with monitoring your email deliverability and bounce-backs and ensuring your compliance with anti-spam regulations. When you send your email campaign through an ESP, it will include a standard opt-out and global opt-out link as well. If you have no design experience, ESPs can help provide templates to make email campaigns look professional.

We now know that email tops marketing preferences. This is because not everyone is always logged into Facebook, Twitter, or Google+. But most people constantly check their email, even when they are not at their computers.

Here’s an example of how email marketing automation can work in a campaign:

  1. A potential customer registers to download a free white paper;
  2. The customer’s email is captured via the download form;
  3. After the download, a follow-up thank-you note is sent introducing the company and sales contact;
  4. A series of emails (a 3-part how-to for example) is triggered to this potential customer over time);
  5. If the prospect engages with the other mails, as well, the prospective customer will be considered to be more sales ready;
  6. You can now assign the leads by quality and buying stage. For instance, points are allocated to leads that requested download reports. Higher points are allocated when a price sheet is downloaded. The demographic of the lead is captured and weighted;
  7. Someone whose title is Vice President is given higher weight than someone with a designation like Office Manager if the VP is responsible for those decisions.

Now, leads are weighed and scored, with only the effective leads sent to business development. It doesn’t have to be a follow up; many companies just want to know better timing to present an offer.

Companies also need to set realistic expectations—based on past performance—of what a successful email campaign looks like.These are some of the reasons why a company will adopt marketing automation:

  • Save time. Multiple campaigns can be scheduled way ahead of time and released when you’re ready. This gives you time to work on something else—like your golf swing;
  • Efficiency. Time and resources can be reduced, therefore costs can be reduced too;
  • CRM integration.  Automation helps you keep track of those leads, so they don’t drop off the radar after a couple of unsuccessful contacts;
  • Data collection. Modern marketing isn’t always sales driven. Additional information can be used to collect specific details to improve future campaigns or communication;
  • Multi-channel management. So many channels, not enough time.  Marketing automation can help you keep tabs on any channel;
  • Personalization. The goal is to be warm, welcoming, and relevant in this mechanized world. They will be more open to you.

It’s also helpful to understand the various personas or target audiences that make up your customer base. Put yourself in their shoes and identify where the customer experience falls short as they interact with your brand.

I promised to tell you how Affordable achieved a 49% open rate. Here’s what we did:

  1. Clarified the company’s vision, mission, and values statements that informed all methods of communication for existing clients and prospective customers;
  2. Identified personas. These personas represented 3 different buying personalities that helped us write specifically to their lifestyle;
  3. Combined a warm and inviting covering letter from the general manager with a quarterly newsletter or landing page in the intervening months for product promotions;
  4. Introduced staff members and their responsibilities and invited clients to say hello or stop by the store for a draw to win monthly door prizes;
  5. Ensured that customers could easily reply through text messages, email, social  media or telephone while staff were geared up to respond immediately.

Newsletters combined with automated email marketing is a beautiful combination.  You save time while keeping your customers up-to-date on important developments with your company.

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Need help with modern marketing? Contact me through LinkedIn or by email: sharon@worldgatemedia.com. You can also pick up more ideas from my website: http://www.worldgatemedia.com

Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.

Crisis communications

Crisis communications—online

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

Many companies still struggle with social media strategies for their business and brands, especially when it comes to a crisis.  We’ve had our fair share of calamities over recent days in Alberta and around the world.

Traditionally, corporate communicators had well-practised systems in place to take control of events on the ground to ensure clear lines of communication. I met with one experience in my early career that I have never forgotten

A group-home emergency involving “negative behaviour management” of children led to a media maelstrom in Grande Prairie where I was working on a routine communications audit. Government personnel clearly were at fault and it made my stomach turn. Yet, as the go-to person, I was required to manage the media crisis through a telephone relay that involved Peace River, 2.5 hours north of  Grande Prairie where I was located, and Edmonton where wagons were circling around the minister’s office in the Legislature. Stressed employees later said they felt under siege by national media.

Today, the atrocity would have exploded online. Deservedly so.

It’s one thing to watch a video on YouTube go viral. It’s quite another thing to be motivated beyond clicking “Like” on Facebook to register shared outrage or re-tweeting a message without leaving the comfort of your computer—as in the case of BP’s Horizon disaster in 2010. The catastrophe has been described by media analyst, Metrica,  as “the first  new media and the first social media corporate environmental crisis.” Online activity saw the launch of an interactive website, an interactive pollution map, and the Instant Oil Spill interactive game by Cleaner Future.

In crisis communications, Ethical Corporation says, the volume, speed, and spread of opinions via social media can leave companies with a sense of being “outflanked, outpaced and overwhelmed.” Here are their recommendations combined with a few of my own to survive the instant flood of real-time reactions, comments and questions.

  1. The whole wide world: There is no option to contain a story to a local operations base. The addition of hashtags turned up the volume forever.
  2. Tell us now. Social media users won’t wait patiently until the corporate statement is worked out through an old school approval process. Leadership will appear aloof and arrogant.
  3. Tell us nicely. Users expect social media etiquette to be respected. That means being polite, humble, and transparent. Leaders who shun media interviews will alienate audiences and escalate the crisis.
  4. Get the story first. Gather as many facts early as possible from trusted sources—despite the craziness of many moving parts. The ability to separate fact from fantasy is served well by instincts like those of an investigative reporter.
  5. Citizen journalism. This element joins traditional reporting in the search for individual experiences with material that will find its way to a variety of channels in real time.
  6. Hoax sites. Another very real element that adds to all the confusion. Jump on those fast. 
  7. Credibility and influence. Credible third parties offer independent perspectives—driving hubs of conversation online and off. Best to become familiar with those influencers and their views about your brand—before a crisis hits. 
  8. Black out. Put a hold on all other messaging going out on a regular basis. It will seem insensitive. 
  9. Beware skeletons. This has ever been thus—and becomes even more relevant when it comes to online.

Since my earliest experience with crisis communications, I’ve come to believe that corporate communicators usually have good common sense. Company spokes people need not react to everything they hear. It’s a good idea, though, to listen first—before you engage and act.

 

Direct marketing for the digital age

A 100-year-old marketing technique—upgraded for the digital world

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

You probably avoid doing direct mail. You might think:

1. it’s too expensive;

2. you can’t track its effectiveness;

3. it’s too hard;

4. it’s time-consuming;

5. you need special skills to make it work.

I remember laboring over postal code maps with my mail distributor, Bill, analysing mail drops in Alberta. We calculated return-on-investment for every single neighbourhood throughout the province. On a hand-calculator.

We compared prices for unaddressed mail campaigns to the premium method of sending addressed mail with pre-paid return envelopes so we could increase our return rates. Except the addressed mail approach backed by a telephone follow-up was expensive and we couldn’t reach efficiencies until year two and later.  Those willing to invest in the marketing process improved results–on every level.

But things have changed.

There’s a new way of using stacked messaging. It’s something that has been nearly impossible to do until now because there hasn’t been technology in place to make it work.

Let’s say that, instead of sending out 2500 catalogues, you send an email linking subscribers to a landing page for your on-line collection. Next, send a mobile text, audio email or video email…automatically. See what happens and then ONLY send a catalogue to people who you couldn’t track on-line.

This would save you hundreds or thousands of dollars in unnecessary expenses. It saves you time and money.

Here’s a plan: Test half your catalogue list by sending out an email. Depending on the quality of the list, you might get a 20%-30% open rate. Then send a text message to the people who didn’t open the email. Then, send the catalogue to the people who didn’t engage with either the email or text message.

Direct mail remains a useful tool. See if you can track its effectiveness—and improve your results.

2013 marketing predictions gone wrong

Beware the Chicken Little Syndrome

By Sharon A.M. MacLea

1. Go mobile or go home

Six years ago, in 2008, I kept running into the new Apostles of Social Media who wailed that traditional media was dead. Oddly, these were the same people who knocked on my door the loudest looking for coverage in my print magazine.

Turned out that social media was only a piece of the pie. Networking online works best alongside SEO, community groups, web analytics, pay-per-click, email marketing, lead generation (read sales pages) and good ‘ol face-to-face special events.

Yes, mobile is here to stay and we know that over 91% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone; more than half are smart phones.  Half again of smart-phone owners say their primary internet source is their phone. That means less than 25% of all mobile users usually look up stuff on the internet. So, it’ a good idea to be aware of the trend.

The volume is not enough to rip up your marketing strategies in favour of mobile.  Your customers still watch TV and make phone calls…they’ve fallen in love with their tablets and still like working on their desktops. It makes better sense to ask your customers which type of screen they prefer to use. And then make sure you’re available for whichever device or style of conversation they prefer. It might even be the phone.

Beware the Chicken Little Syndrome

2. Marketing makes money

Sadly, we cannot yet prove this to be true.  At least, it’s not easy to prove—unless sales, IT and marketing can all work together nicely in the same sandbox. Marketers do want to be held accountable for setting the stage when it comes to achieving top-line results for business. It might be easier for small business to tie these three actions together but it gets more difficult in big business where the separate services work in silos.

Why the turf protection? My theory is that IT ruled the online world for too long and felt marketers were nothing more than the “arts and crafters” of business. Nothing could be further from the truth. A good marketer begins with a strategy that is anchored by objectives—including financial.

Don’t get me started on big data, either. Who but research geeks working in government space agencies even understand the term?

As HubSpot found in the 2013 State of Inbound Marketing Report, the biggest challenge ranked by marketers has been proving ROI. The report also notes that only one-third of businesses have a formal agreement between sales and marketing to deliver leads and customers.

The other key factor is tracking audiences across channels, sometimes with software systems that don’t talk to each other. HubSpot advises IT needs to increase its support for marketing

3. Print is dead

I’ve been listening to this one since the last decade. Yes, I did sell my magazine in 2010 to move into online communications but, as a long-time print publisher, please let me tell you that print is alive and well.  Can you hear the whirl of print presses? They’re going at top speed.

Direct response marketing is picking up steam again. So, is the idea of sending post cards in the mail to a select few from your customer list.  Here again, HubSpot asked the question: Do you think Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos got it wrong when he purchased the Washington Post?

Nope. Print’s not dead.

2013 Predictions from Innovative Marketers

Did they come true?

 by Sharon A.M. MacLean 

New predictions for digital marketing hits and misses are out now. HubSpot leads the way with their forecasts. This visionary company follows the likes of MOZ Founder Rand Fishkin, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezoz, and Social Media Examiner Founder Michael Stelzner. HubSpot has made enormous strides since it launched in 2006. I’ve been a fan for the last four years when they drew me in with their free and irresistible content—known today as inbound marketing.

So, I’m really careful about attaching my own observations to their prognoses.  Their projections are like manna for the 47.5% of early adopters and early majority according to the Diffusion of Innovation Theory. That leaves 50% of business types in the late majority and laggard categories who contend that the life of a pioneer is an expensive one.

Here’s my take on their forecasts from last year.

1.  Real-time campaigns win over stop-and-starts

Author David Meerman Scott says, “the days of promotions planned in advance with flight dates” bookended by moments of silence from the company as marketers planned and held post-mortems are over.”  Consumers live on their devices and want instant information to their queries.

It makes sense that information be made available to consumers through mobile devices, websites, landing pages, and automated emails. It’s now easy enough and more economical. However, I do hear  struggles from business people who say they simply cannot keep up to the demands of social medial postings or creation of content. There’s a difference between casually posting a comment when we’re moved compared to producing volumes on deadline.

More time is required by business people to create or even stockpile the content they need for the search engines. And to get used to concepts such as editorial planning calendars and to use social media aids such as Hoot Suite.

2.  Inbound marketing will spread enterprise-wide

Do you even understand the term? Inbound marketing—pure and simple—is advertising a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, and social media marketing.

Except it’s a lot of work.  Before the Big Digital Makeover took hold, all that was needed by business owners or marketing reps to push out their message was to press the button that dropped an advertisement in newspapers, magazines, and billboards in their city or across the country. I called it the path of least resistance. Today,  stories need to be researched and well written, blogs created, podcasts recorded to pull in consumers who spend 60% of their buying time online doing research before talking to a sales rep.

3. Email lives on

I’m a believer. Personalized emails or those sent through segmented lists informed by a person’s habits is the 21st century of direct response marketing that took off in the early 80s. It’s always been true that our names mean everything to us, that we love to see how others care about what we think, that the sender knows about our individual habits, and that we are more than a detached number. We want to be recognized as individuals. Or, at least, to pretend that it’s true.

Marketers sent more than 838 billion emails last year—more than all the other social networks combined. Improved technologies now support ongoing conversations with a consumer based on the habit of filling out forms, downloading ebooks, or the time of day night we open our emails. Personalized email improve open rates by 14%.

 4Content and social matters even more than SEO

Yes—finally—Google is moving closer to how humans search online compared to the bots who ruled the cosmos for the last 15 years. This one came from Rand Fishkin of MOZ, the people who rank the trustworthiness of your websites and their links. I couldn’t be more happy.

Google upped the game when they started focusing on quality content, in-depth articles, and social recommendations.

Marketing for Crowdfunding

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

The idea of crowdfunding is irresistible.

Your potential investors want to see your wisdom packaged up and shared. And they want to receive that knowledge from people they know, like, and trust—not through a wall of interlopers who decide what they should like or not like.

Investor-Relations-auf-Facebook
Investor-Relations-auf-Facebook (Photo credit: koesteran)

Still, crowdfunding requires a marketing plan to take advantage of this new financing model.

 The good news is that companies don’t need to wait for someone else to control their destiny when investing in a crowdfunded proposal. Instead of buying media to get the message across, a business now owns all its media.

The solution is threefold:

1) Build a high-performing database called the Smart List—today’s new currency.
The Smart List can be segmented: the top 10 bloggers who have relevance to your enterprise in addition to reach; personal and professional champions who support your mission; circles of influence with people who can make a strong introduction.

2) Create quality content. Stakeholders invest after discovering they like your ideas–and are influenced by how you present key messages. Creating executive summaries, white papers, videos, blogs or podcasts is worth your time.

3) Publish across channels. Distribution has transformed and the rules have changed—massively. Publishing builds credibility, authority, and attracts fresh opportunity. Once a company has a clear framework of expressing thought leadership, investment follows.

Well-designed marketing informs everything said, written, posted, and produced by a passionate applicant. Crowdfunding levels the field.