Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas from WebMarketCentral


Merry Christmas and best wishes for a blessed and joyous holiday season from WebMarketCentral. It's the time of year to enjoy time spent with friends and family, see the priceless expressions on the faces of children, and remember those less fortunate by giving back in any way you can.

The WebMarketCentral blog will take the Christmas to New Year's week off, but interesting stuff is planned for January. In the meantime, season's greetings to one and all, and enjoy a couple of photos—the Pick homestead at Christmas time, and Santa watching over the neighborhood from the tree deck.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Social Media Now Top Information Source for B2B IT Buyers


Following up on its first study on the value of Web 2.0 social media sites by B2B IT decision-makers, researchers at ITtoolbox and PJA have just published their second report on the topic. ITtoolbox/PJA IT Social Media Index Wave II updates the earlier findings and concludes that "IT decision-maker and influencer audiences (now) spend more time consuming or participating in social media than they do consuming editorial media or vendor content." IT buyers spend an average of 3.3 hours per week consuming user-generated content (such as blogs, podcasts, wikis, social networking sites and online forums) versus 3.1 hours for published editorial content and 2.9 hours on vendor-produced content.

Other key findings from the new study include:

  • Executive decision-makers spent more time with social media than any other level, at nearly four hours per week. This group was also the heaviest consumer of online content in general.

  • Discussion groups and peer-to-peer networks were the most frequently used types of social media, followed closely by social networks (e.g. LinkedIn, Facebook and Wink) and blogs.

  • More than half of IT decision makers said it was extremely or very valuable to reach out to peers beyond their personal contacts when considering a technology purchase.

  • Search is the most important source of information during the research phase, while discussion groups and blogs are the most heavily used tools for narrowing a vendor list and conducting a final evaluation.

  • Social media consumption is higher than traditional online editorial content, and the gap is increasing as nearly all groups of IT decision makers increase their use of social media content.

For B2B vendors, the message is clear: participating (properly) across social media venues is now the most influential way to reach buyers. B2B IT decision makers are increasing less interested in advertising and more eager to get unbiased information from their peers. Vendors can participate as well, but will be effective only by adding valuable content to these discussions, which enhances credibility and leads (ultimately though not immediately) to higher sales.

Again, the ITtoobox/PJA report on social media use by B2B IT buyers is available here.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

4 Ways to Use Social Networking for B2B PR


As noted here previously, from both the B2B vendor perspective and buyer perspective, social media is becoming an increasingly important channel for B2B communication. It's no longer just about teenagers discussing their favorite bands. Vendors are using social media to raise awareness and build market credibility, while B2B buyers are using these sites to seek out "the real story" on suppliers, products and services. With that in mind, here are four ways B2B vendors can use social media to spread their messages.

1. Get connected on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Creating and maintaining a profile on both sites, then creating connections to other people you know, can pay B2B PR dividends in at least three ways:

- Profiles (particularly those on LinkedIn) show up well in searches for terms related to your position (so make sure your profile includes those key terms). This makes you—and ultimately your company—easier to find.

- You can link names of your executives used in press releases back to their profiles on these sites. This helps anyone curious enough to learn more about their backgrounds and connections, and is good interactive PR practice.

- Your prospects want to know who you are connected to. Having connections in common or to names that they recognize and trust builds credibility for you and your organization.

2. Participate in online discussion forums, such as ITtoolbox for technology issues.

While these forums are not a place to promote your products or services directly—and indeed, doing so is likely to earn you the scorn of the community and do your brand more damage than good—it is a place to build credibility by contributing knowledge to discussions, and it is okay to mention that your product/service does x, y and z if you are directly asked.

Suppose, for example, that a business prospect asks a forum question about your particular technology area. John Doe, a consultant with your company, provides a helpful and unbiased response. Then the prospect views some other discussion threads and notices that John Doe has provided thoughtful, non-promotional responses in several instances. The credibility of your company has been greatly enhanced in the eyes of this prospect, even though none of John Doe's responses were promotional or even mentioned your product or services.

3. Participate in blogs.

If your product/service is complex enough to warrant the effort, and you can make the time to devote to regular posting, then consider creating your own blog.

If not, you can still build awareness and credibility for your organization by commenting on existing blogs related to your industry, and/or reaching out to bloggers in your field with interesting information about your product/service (such as a white paper or report) that they may want to write about.

4. Tag your content on social media sites.

When you come across an interesting article or blog post pertaining to your industry (including your own content, if helpful and not just promotional), tag it on sites such as Searchles, ClipMarks, Zimbio and StumbleUpon. Participating in these sites helps increase visibility for your content and organization both directly and through search engines.

Used properly, social media can be powerful and cost-effective way to build awareness and credibility for your organization.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Wii Would Like to Clarify

I came down a bit hard on Circuit City in yesterday's post—not unfairly, but a brief clarification is in order.

Essentially, at the corporate level, Circuit City appears to have a policy against treating customers with dignity and respect. Their automated email on the topic of Wii game systems basically states, albeit politely, that we don't have any Wiis so quit bugging us. Their automated phone system (try this: 1-800-843-2489, option 1) somewhat courteously says: we can't help you, goodbye (CLICK).

At the store level, however, beleaguered but decent managers are doing their best to take care of understandably frustrated shoppers, despite corporate policy. The corporate folks could learn something about customer service from these individuals.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Wii Don't Want Your Business


If you're a parent of a child anywhere from five to 17 years old (and quite possibly even if you're not), you know that THE hottest gift this Christmas is the Wii game system. You also know that these overpriced, screamingly popular yet appallingly underproduced gadgets are as elusive as Vikings Superbowl victories.

The ultimate blame for the situation of course falls squarely on the manufacturer, Nintendo. This product has been on the market since March--one would think that, in nine months, the company's management team would have figured out a way to beef up production for this obviously hot item.

Where the rubber hits the road with consumers, however, it at the retail level. True, retailers have no control over the supply of Wii consoles or their allocation, but they do control their response to the situation. That response to date has ranged from blatant price-gouging to forcing potential customers to wait in absurd and often ultimately pointless lines, sending most home empty-handed.

Among the worst offenders are Circuit City and Best Buy, though in fairness, no major retailer has handled the situation with any degree of integrity or dignity.

Customers deserve better. And no retailer who behaves this way deserves a dime of your money. But they'll get it, because you have a child (or an inner child), and that child wants a Wii.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

WMC Interviews: Jeff Rusinow


I recently spoke with Jeff Rusinow, a very busy guy who now heads up the Web 2.0 site TopNetPix, which has been described as "a combination of Mahalo, Yahoo and Netvibes." Jeff has been an active member of the early-stage venture capital community in the Midwest since 2000, when he founded Milwaukee’s first angel network, Silicon Pastures. He earlier spent 22 years in retail management, holding senior executive positions at Macy’s, Gimbel’s, the Hudson Bay Company and, most recently, Kohl’s Department Stores, where he served as an Executive Vice President until leaving the company in 2000.

Here's our conversation.


WebMarketCentral (WMC): What did you do before TopNetPix? What’s your background?

Jeff Rusinow (JR): I've been on the Board of Directors of a number of private and public companies over the past several years. Most recently, I was Chairman of Internet retailer Buyseasons, Inc., which was acquired in 2006 by Liberty Media. I'm currently Chairman of Neurognostics, a life sciences spin-out from the Medical College of Wisconsin, and also President of ETR Group, LLC, which recently sold the world’s largest Christmas-specific portal on the Internet, Christmas.com.


WMC: What made you decide the world needed a website like TopNetPix?

JR: There are so many results that are returned with a traditional web search. It can be overwhelming for an end-user to find exactly the information they are seeking. We decided that our editors could provide their Top Net Pix within given categories and users would be appreciative to avoid visiting sites with an excessive amount of advertising and a low amount of useful content. We strive to find high quality sites that get right to the point of what a user is seeking.


WMC: Is there any particular demographic group or groups you're targeting with this, or is pretty much for everyone?

JR: The site is pretty much for anyone, although there is a definite focus on individuals that want to make their Internet experience more efficient. We work to take the noise out of more traditional searches by selecting the top five to seven sites in a given topic.


WMC: I've seen TopNetPix described as "a better mousetrap, sort of a combination of Mahalo, Yahoo and Netvibes." Can you expand on that? What makes TopNetPix different?

JR: TopNetPix provides links to editor selected sites along with some commentary on what makes this site one of our pix. We try to be a balance between too many results from the big guys and content overkill from the other guys. In addition to the selection of high quality sites in a variety of categories, TopNetPix also provides a tool for customization of your TopNetPix experience.


WMC: What’s your "elevator pitch"—how do you describe the value your service brings to your users?

JR: We take the noise out of search by providing cleaner results and getting you quickly to the sites you will find the most informative in a variety of subjects.


WMC: How do you market and promote TopNetPix?

JR: We have run a few advertising campaigns on Facebook and have had a few press releases. Currently we have been focusing our marketing attention on our new MyTopNetPix application on Facebook, which allows users to add their favorite websites (and corresponding favicons). The tool will also allow you to share your favorite with your friends.


WMC: What’s the biggest or most important marketing lesson you’ve learned since
you got started in all this?

JR: Viral marketing in this day and age of the Internet seems to be the key. You need to design "kick-ass" applications and interfaces and then get as many people excited about them as possible.


WMC: Anything else you’d like to add?

JR: Keep your eyes out for new developments from TopNetPix and the ETR Group. We have some exciting projects in the works that will add to and enhance the user experience on TopNetPix.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, December 10, 2007

Book Review: Your Inner CEO -- Unleash the Executive Within


When I first began reading Your Inner CEO: Unleash the Executive Within, the eighth book from best-selling author and executive consultant Allan Cox, I honestly didn't think I would get much value from it. "Too squishy," I thought. "Not going to be much here I can use." The book begins with such lines as "Successful CEOs, I have discovered, share power with others...and treat all stakeholders in their enterprise with kindness, generosity and humility" and "By looking at boundaries (those ubiquitous dividers you seldom see) in a new way, you'll master the art of redefining your life on a daily basis, consistently connecting to a spiritual dimension that adds richness to all aspects of your work and life." See? Squishy.

However, as if anticipating just such an objection, Cox writes on page 34: "Does all this strike you as too touchy-feely, too abstract and philosophical, too ephemeral and ungraspable? Trust me. It's not. I'm as straightforward, level-headed, and down-to-earth as any of the CEOs I've consulted, and believe me, they and I always gain a lot by spending time reflecting on the intangibles in life." That, plus the fact that Allan's consulting clients have included organizations such as Avery Dennison, Bacardi, Cummins Engine, Kodak, Board of Owners of the Minnesota Vikings (my team!), and Travelers Insurance, convinced me to give the book a chance.

Wow, what a ride. This isn't a book about tweaking marketing tactics or even setting grand strategy—it's about changing your life in ways that make you a better leader, whether as a CEO, department manager, community leader or the head of a company of one. Best of all, unlike some other books of this type, Cox doesn't try to turn the reader into someone he or she is not, but rather guides the reader to discover and become the leader that he or she truly is by finding the authentic self.

Again, in Cox's own words, "I've found, almost without exception, that by the time executives get married, take on a mortgage, raise kids, cope with the crabgrass, climb the corporate ladder, do their best to manage career pressures, and build their net worth and get into their forties, they've lost touch with what they believe in and care about most deeply." How close to home does that hit?

Throughout the book, Cox provides exercises (yes, this is a book designed to read actively, not passively) that help the reader to define his or her style of life by completing the statements, "I am...," Life is...," and "My central goal is to...," decide whether these statements indicate a Guardian Presence or Looming Threat, and take action to recognize and navigate boundaries, ultimately becoming more grounded—a better person and a better leader. Each chapter ends with an "Inner CEO Punch List," which is a helpful device to take advantage of the chapter's advice.

Some of Cox's points border on folk wisdom, but even well-known truisms sometimes bear repeating. While everyone knows these things, we don't all internalize them. For example, "Instead of listening to your words (the least reliable indicator of what you're going to do), watch your feet!" Or as it's commonly stated: "Actions speak louder than words." Another example is that none of us are ultimately in control of the external forces that affect us, but we can control how we react and respond to such forces.

A few more of my favorite lines from the book:

  • We often hear people boast proudly, "We have forged a values-based corporate culture." Duh. All corporate cultures are values-based. But are they bright ones (a guardian presence) or dark ones (a looming threat)?

  • In describing art, he (symphony conductor Robert Shaw) emphasized four qualities: (1) purity of purpose, (2) historical perspective, (3) craftsmanship, and (4) revelation. As he spoke, I realized that his ideas applied not just to music or poetry, but to the art of management...More than ever, people who work yearn to bring their unique gifts to bear on their own, and their company's enterprise. Shaw called that purity of purpose. Business people call it ethics, integrity or character.

  • Boundaries...define every situation, even though you often have to peer behind the facade to get to it...If you can't identify the purpose behind whatever situation you're examining, you'll never know its true nature, and...it will continue to baffle you...the purpose of even a simple, everyday object may lie far beneath your initial understanding of it. Take a humble meeting room chair, for example. You know its purpose: to provide you with a seat at the conference. But that's only its apparent purpose. Look more closely at it...That chair wasn't built for you, it was built for hotel management that needs to stack hundreds of chairs in a compact space. It's lightweight, sturdy and stackable; it can be transported easily, stored with others in a closet, and it can work as well in a dining room as in a conference room. That's reality.

Cox ties back that last point to chart of "apparent" and "real" purposes guaranteed to hit home with anyone who's spent any significant amount of time in the corporate world. Among the examples Cox cites:

A progress report. Apparent purpose: a report on how much we've accomplished. Real purpose: a tracking mechanism for our bosses to highlight what hasn't been done yet.

A management conference. Apparent purpose: it's designed to keep the team abreast of developments in the industry and add to their skills. Real purpose: corporate recreation and reward masked as eduction—attendance at trade shows builds contacts for executives who may need to change jobs in the future.

And—ouch!—consensus. Apparent purpose: "We seek consensus to create full participation by all." Real purpose: "We seek consensus to avoid conflict and straight talk." A bit later on the same topic: "The leader, eager for agreement, pushes for something on which everyone can agree, and ends up with something in which no one fully agrees. In the end, consensus makes a poor umbrella: whenever it rains, consensus dissolves into a puddle of nothing."

There is much, much more (I wore out a highlighter on this book!) but here are a few final observations and quotes:

  • It costs far less to reorient a talented-but-slightly-off-track employee (at almost any level) than it does to replace that person.

  • Three critical words of advice for any leader: Collaborate, don't control.

  • "When thinking about the future of their businesses, CEOs and their teams often start with these three questions. (1) What drives our company? (2) Who do we want to be? (3) How do we get there? There's nothing wrong with them, but they don't strike at the heart of `the vision thing.' Real vision depends on asking two deeper questions first: `Who are we?' and `Where are we headed right now?'...Looking deep inside, not across valleys, you begin to discern an excruciating level of detail, focused on the here-and-now, the way it is, for better or worse...Our actions (not our words!), and the accurate articulation of values that we glean from those actions, tell us who we are and where we're headed."

  • "I wanted them to think about the company's `keel-of-the-boat' values. `Think of a sailboat...You don't see its keel because it is underwater, but it gives the boat direction.'"

"All corporations that succeed have to be capable and resourceful in four areas..." Wait, that's enough—read the book! If you seek balance in your life and want to be a more effective leader, Your Inner CEO: Unleash the Executive Within is the guidebook for your journey.

A final note: Allan and some colleagues are also working on a wiki to accompany the book, which should go live within the next couple of weeks, providing those who benefit from the book with a place to share their experiences.


*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

How to Write a Strategic Marketing Plan


With so little written on this topic (at least according to Google Blog Search), one could easily conclude that marketing professionals must be born with knowledge of how to write a strategic marketing plan embedded in their genetic code. If you didn't enter the world with this capability hard-coded into your DNA, you may find the following helpful.

The first step in developing a strategic marketing plan is to identify your target markets. Include both current customers (can we sell them more of what they are already buying, products and services in addition to what they are already buying, or a more premium version of our products/services?) and new prospects. For new prospective buyers, develop a separate plan for each micromarket (e.g. hospitals, insurance companies and community banks, all of which buy very differently).

Next, ask the question: what do these prospects need in order to buy from me? (NOT "what do I need to sell to them?"). Divide this into three sections—strategies, tactics and tools.

Begin the plan with a high-level state of the market overview, business objectives, and marketing and PR objectives to support those business goals. These needn't be dense prose, just bullet points. The market overview should include observations and assumptions about key points such as market penetration, the competitive landscape, and buyer motivations. Getting the business objectives right is critical, as these will be logically supported by the marketing and PR objectives; for example, your marketing objectives will be much different if they are supporting a new-to-the-world product launch as opposed to a goal of increasing market share for a mature product line.

Marketing & PR Strategies

These are high-level statements of how prospects will be reached, such as "Increase awareness and build credibility through PR." Broad elements to include here are:


  • Advertising
  • Public Relations
  • Online Marketing
  • Direct Appeal
  • Branding
  • Events
  • Co-op and Channel Marketing
  • Etc.

Marketing & PR Tactics

Tactics specify how the identified marketing and strategies will be implemented, and how the tools that will be identified in the next session will be used to support the stated marketing and PR objectives. This is really the "meat" of the plan, the action items. Tactics may include:


  • Trade shows
  • Conferences
  • Company-sponsored events
  • Print advertising
  • Analyst relations
  • Media outreach
  • Blogger outreach
  • Blogging
  • Webcasts
  • Podcasts
  • Banner ads
  • White paper syndication
  • Search engine marketing
  • Newsletter advertising
  • Newsletter promotion
  • Press releases
  • Website redesign
  • SEO
  • Direct mail
  • Telemarketing
  • Outdoor
  • TV
  • Radio
  • Social media
  • Lead nurturing programs
  • Seminars
  • Analyst relations
  • Co-op marketing programs

Marketing & PR Tools

The third key section of the plan details the tools needed to implement the tactics that support the strategy. These may include:


  • Banner ads
  • Print ad artwork
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Press releases
  • Bylined articles
  • Sales collateral such as product/service sheets and brochures
  • Presentations
  • Tradeshow giveaways
  • Direct mail materials
  • Online press kit (fact sheet, executive bios, photo gallery)
  • Redesigned website
  • Email template and content
  • Video
  • Email ads (HTML and text)
  • Search ads
  • Greeting cards
  • Case studies
  • Blog
  • Executive biographies
  • Photos (key people, products, software screen shots)
  • Diagrams
  • Competitive matrix
  • Media, analyst and blog lists
  • Lists of key organizations and tradeshows
  • Web content
  • Channel marketing materials
  • Product demos
  • Pricing guide
  • ROI tool
  • Surveys
  • Call scripts
  • Microsites
  • Newsletter
  • Wikis
  • Etc.

That ought to get you started if you don't already have a marketing degree! A few other resources you may want to check out are Mike Kujawski's blog (focused on public sector / non-profit marketing, but strategically-focused); Strategic Marketing: Eliminate the Bottom Half from RealBlogging; How to Write a Marketing Plan from the BucknerMeredith blog; and Louis Debrun's post on How to Create a Marketing Plan That Delivers Results.

Finally, here's an excellent book on the topic:

*****

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Excellent Podcast on Interactive PR


When two of the smartest people in blogging and interactive PR have a conversation, it's worth listening in on. Paul Dunay at Buzz Marketing for Technology yesterday posted his podcast interview, PR's Role in New Media, with Cece Lee of the PR Meets Marketing blog. Here are few of the highlights:
  • PR professionals are taking advantage of online marketing tools and back-end analytics to increase and track coverage of company announcements. For example, they are no longer just search-optimizing press releases, but also using keyword selection tools and trackable URLS.

  • Corporate blogging has to be more than product promotion or another avenue for distributing press releases. It enables companies to share their perspective of the industry and establish a dialog with customers and prospects who choose to interact that way. But while a corporate blog shouldn't mimic the firm's PR, it can't contradict public statements either—the market will notice.

  • For PR professionals to effectively pitch bloggers, they need to establish a dialog first, whether through blog commenting or directly via email. Understanding who the blogger is and what he or she is interested in is key, and having one's own blog assists in this understanding.

There's lots more, so again check out Paul and Cece's podcast here.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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