Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McCain, Obama, and Marketing

Between the two of them, John McCain and Barack Obama will spend close to $400 million trying to convince you to vote for them next week. Four hundred million dollars. One would think, with that kind of money to spend, their marketing would be a whole lot better.

I decided to save all of the direct mail I received from one of the candidates for a while, just for the heck of it. This is three weeks' worth of mailings. From one candidate. I sometimes got two or three letters in a single day. This isn't environmentally friendly, it can't be cheap, and worst of all, it's not even effective.


Rather than wiping out our forests to produce more junk mail, here are a few ideas the political parties and candidates might want to consider (they work for businesses as well):

Be creative

Both sides have been spending a ton of money on video, both TV ads and online. Has any of it been memorable? Has anything from either campaign gone viral? Everything seems very standard, safe, formulaic and boring.

On the other hand, there's the McCain-Obama dance off video. It wasn't produced by any campaign and won't sway any votes but is extremely funny, creative, original, and viral, having been emailed prodigiously. (Thanks to Mike Keliher at Provident Partners for Twittering this link.)

For $400 million, how about stepping outside the box? Give a few thousand bucks to some college kids who are passionate about your ideas and see what they produce.

If you're going to use direct mail, do something interesting

Postal mail doesn't have to be flat (literally or figuratively). Instead of sending a dozen letters, all slight variations on a theme, to the same person over a two-week period, send one big, lumpy, memorable piece.

Create and send out a construction game that lets people "build a better world." Or borrow an idea from business like the supply chain superhero mailing. Yes it was expensive, but it was very effective. Such ideas aren't much of a stretch for a $400 million budget.

Follow The New Rules of Marketing and PR, and Reduce Interruption Marketing

Most of the candidates' marketing expenditures are still being spent either interrupting your favorite TV show with commercials, or worse, interrupting your dinner with phone calls. Has any candidate, ever, annoyed voters into pledging their support?

Instead of producing expensive commercials which are going to be TiVo'd or making phone calls that will be caller ID'd into uselessness, how about focusing more on building relationships with your most passionate supporters and giving them the tools to influence their social network?

Make Data-Driven Decisions

Considering how much of that $400 million supposedly goes to polling, focus groups and the like, you'd think the candidates would know that sending blizzards of junk mail is an expensive waste of time. They've got 50 states to experiment in, and the budget to figure out what works and replicate it.

In the famous words of MarketingSherpa's Anne Holland, "test, test, TEST."

Buy, and Use, a CRM System

Much of the wasteful spending on direct mail and phone calls could be avoided by proper use of CRM (and it's not only political candidates who need one; businesses such as Internet service providers are notorious for screwing up their own promotions).

Knowing, for example, that Chris responds best to direct mailings sent every couple of weeks, while Fran always takes phone calls and Pat doesn't mind being emailed, could save a lot of money, and trees, while solidfying their support.

As a final benefit: if politicians spent their campaign funds a bit more wisely, voters just might trust them a bit more not to squander our tax dollars once they're elected.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Why PPC Will Always Cost More Than SEO

In The Disconnect in PPC vs. SEO Spending, Rand Fishkin demonstrates that "SEO drives 75%+ of all search traffic, yet garners less than 15% of marketing budgets for SEM campaigns. PPC receives less than 25% of all search traffic, yet earns 80%+ of SEM campaign budgets," then asks: "Why does paid search earn so many more marketing dollars?"

No doubt the comments to Rand's post will reveal many reasons for this differential, but here are three that spring immediately to mind:

1. The perception that people click on natural search results when they are seeking information, but on sponsored search ads when they are ready to buy. This presumption certainly justifies proportionately greater spending if it's valid. I suspect that just the opposite may in fact be the case, but don't have sufficient data to back that up.

2. The "media cost" is inherent in PPC. Companies can spend very similar amounts for SEO activities and SEM program management--in fact, they can even spend more on the former than the latter--yet still have much larger budgets for PPC than for SEO. That's simply because PPC includes a "media cost" of paying for the sponsored search clicks from Google, Yahoo, MSN, or another search engine.

3. PPC is applicable to a broader set of search terms. Some terms (most commonly one- to three-word search phrases) are simply very, very difficult to SEO for, either because they are highly competitive, very common, or ambiguous. With SEO, you can spend a lot of money to try to rank well for these terms yet still end up with disappointing results. With SEM, you can guarantee your site will appear, then control total costs through day-parting and geo-targeting.

It's also very difficult to show up well in the natural search results for a competitor's brand name. PPC not only gives you a spot on page one for these phrases, it lets you customize the message (e.g., "consider the more cost-effective alternative").

The bottom line is that SEO is both more effective and less expensive than PPC, which makes it a no-brainer for any website.

*****



Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Best of 2008 (So Far) - Social Media Optimization, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Social Media Marketing on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Friday, October 24, 2008

LinkedIn B2B Surveys - Will They be Social?

LinkedIn yesterday announced a new service that enables market researchers and investors to conduct market intelligence research using LinkedIn’s network of over 30 million professionals worldwide, approximately half of whom are IT and business decision makers.The news was quickly picked up by numerous bloggers including Doug Caverly and Bill Holmes (an indication of how adept the PR folks at LinkedIn are with interactive PR).

Essentially, companies that want to conduct market research among difficult-to-reach B2B and IT decision makers will now be able to slice and dice profiles of LinkedIn's large member base to reach groups with very specific attributes. From the participant side, "LinkedIn members who participate in a survey can choose from a variety of rewards including gift cards from Amazon, Starbucks, Best Buy, or make a donation to charities."

This is all good—vendors can get valuable feedback from the right sample groups based on accurate LinkedIn profiles, LinkedIn gets another revenue stream, and participants get token rewards. But it seems to me there may be an opportunity missed here.

People join social networks for lots of reasons, but I've never of anyone joining for the purpose of collecting $10 gift cards or Starbucks coffee coupons. Among the top reasons people join are to get recognition and to form new relationships. Bloggers often join, for example, in order to both drive more traffic to their blogs and to connect with like-minded readers and other bloggers.

So...any company can spend some money on gift cards and use the new LinkedIn offering to collect market research data. But the really smart ones will find a way to tap the motivations of LinkedIn members and create a mutually beneficial social experience that provides not just data, but understanding.

*****


Contact Mike Bannan: mike@digitalrdm.com

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fishing for B2B leads? Choose the right bait.

Fishermen (fisherpeople?) choose their bait based on the type and quantity of fish they hope to catch. On the lakes of Minnesota, worms and small leeches are great for catching sunfish, and if find a good spot, you can catch a lot of them in a short time. However, it's likely that you'll also end up throwing many of them back because they're too small to be "keepers." Bait such as sucker minnows or spinner lures will attract larger, more exciting prey like northern pike. These larger fish are more elusive, so you likely won't end up catching many, but each one will be larger and more fun to catch than a small panfish.

The same principle holds true in b2b lead generation. Different types of b2b lead generation programs can be used to draw visitors to your landing page, but once there, your incentive for response is the bait that determines the quality and quantity of leads you'll "catch." The greater the involvement you require of respondents, the lower the quantity but the higher the quality. Several examples are shown in this illustration:


Sweepstakes require very little involvement; a site visitor gives you their basic contact information in hopes of winning an iPod, a trip to Hawaii, or whatever. They are great for collecting a large quantity of names, but often few actual sales leads.

White papers are a popular and productive incentive for response. They weed out the pure prize-seekers attracted by sweepstakes because anyone willing to take the time to download and (hopefully) read a white paper at least has an interest in the particular technology area addressed. White papers also have far more branding value than sweepstakes. They are one of the most commonly used response incentives because of the balance of relatively high quantity and quality they provide, although sales will still often end up "throwing back" many of these leads.

As the level of involvement required increases, so does lead quality, but the numbers get smaller. A respondent willing to sign up for a free trial and actually use a software product—particularly in a corporate environment where IT approval is needed—has a relatively high probability of becoming a buyer (assuming the software actually works as promised). And at the far right of the diagram above, if the only incentive for response on a landing page is to be contacted by a sales person, the conversion rate will usually be very low, but the leads generated will be serious prospects.

The diagram above shows just a representative sampling of incentives for response that can be used; there are many other creative incentives that can be offered. The point is that the level of involvement required of the visitor is the key to estimating both the probable response rate and quality of the resulting leads in your bucket.

*****

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

12 Steps to Successful SEO

This content has been moved to 12 Steps to SEO Success on the Webbiquity blog.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Best of 2008 (So Far) - Search Engine Marketing, Part 2

This content has been moved to Best of 2008: Search Engine Marketing on the Webbiquity blog.

*****

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The 8 Layers of a B2B Web Marketing Plan

One way to think about designing a B2B technology web marketing plan is as a series of layers, like an onion. At the core is SEO—simply making your website "findable" through organic search to buyers who are looking for what you offer. Working out from the center are concentric layers of additional investment and sophistication.

Small companies and start-ups with modest budgets will focus most of their efforts on the inner layers or rings, which are primarily designed for lead generation. As the company and its marketing budget grow, efforts can be expanded to the outer layers, which are aimed more at branding but support lead generation efforts. Ideally, a company eventually reaches the outer layer where pure branding activities (such as print advertising) help to maximize the effectiveness of lead generation programs (such as SEM) near the center of the circle.


This diagram shows how different types of web marketing programs can be prioritized in order to maximize the return from any size B2B technology company online marketing budget. (It also shows why I don't try to make a living as a graphic artist.)

Starting from the center and working out, a phased web marketing plan can be developed:


Layer 1. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Since (ballpark figures) 75% of b2b buyers use search engines to research vendors when making a purchase decision, and 75% of clicks are on organic search results rather than paid links, SEO alone has the potential to expose your company to half of all sales prospects. That makes SEO—keyword research, meta tag and content optimization, and link building—the logical starting point for web marketing.


Level 2: Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Using the figures from the paragraph above, running text ads on search engines offers potential exposure to roughly another 20% of buyers. Since Google is the dominant search engine, it's AdWords search program is the place to start. Once the program is fine-tuned and results are maximized there, SEM efforts can be expanded to the AdWords content network, then progressively to Yahoo Search Marketing, Yahoo's content network, MSN AdCenter, and finally to Microsoft's content network.


Level 3. IndustryBrains

B2c marketers have a wide variety of ad networks to choose from, but for technology-focused b2b vendors, IndustryBrains (recently folded into Marchex Adhere) is far and away the leader. This networks enables you to run text and print ads across popular technology websites like PC Magazine, Network World, PC World, Intelligent Enterprise, InformationWeek and InfoWorld with a single buy.


Level 4. White Paper Syndication and Guaranteed Lead Generation Programs

Guaranteed lead gen programs generally promise X leads for Y dollars, and are offered by individual publications as well as aggregators such as ITtoolbox, TechTarget, FindWhitePapers.com and NetLine. These are also referred to as white paper syndication programs as white papers are most commonly used as the incentive for response (though other assets including case studies, reports, even podcasts and recorded webcasts with some media outlets, are also used.)

Though primarily used for lead gen (as the name implies), these programs provide some branding benefit as well. The quality of the leads tends to improve as more targeted media are used.


Level 5: Banner Advertising

Unlike search marketing and targeted network ads, which are priced on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, banner advertising is sold on a cost-per-thousand impressions (CPM) basis. While network buys are common in b2c marketing, b2b banner advertising is generally purchased directly from media publishers.

Because of the low click-through rate of banner ads, they are generally viewed as primarily branding, secondarily lead generation. Again, however, this varies with the publisher: broad titles such as InformationWeek are mostly for branding, while banners on narrowly-targted sites like Wall Street & Technology are reasonably effective at lead generation (though this particular publication may not be the best choice at the moment).


Level 6: Email Marketing

Email marketing comes in two varieties: enewsletter advertising and email blasts to targeted, purchased (or rented) lists. Enewsletter advertising is generally the less expensive alternative, on a CPM basis since your ad is "sharing" space with editorial content and, in most cases, with other advertisers. However, these ads may also be better for branding as they are seen as less intrusive and your company benefits from the association with the publication and surrounding content.

Email blasts are more targeted as you can send to only a selected subset of the publisher's overall subscriber base, filtered by title, company size, industry vertical, geographic location and/or other criteria. In addition, your ad isn't competing with any other content in the email message.

Because the effective cost per click tends to be much higher than search engine marketing (often by a factor of 10 or more), the value of email marketing is generally viewed as primarily branding with a lead gen component.


Level 7: Webinar Sponsorships

Many publications sell "turnkey" webinar sponsorship packages where the publisher provides most (or all) of the content, promotes the webinar and delivers it; sponsoring vendors are then provided with contact information for all registrants and attendees. Although webinar sponsorship is primarily a lead generation activity, it is in an outer layer of the web marketing bullseye because of the level of investment required: programs generally range from $20,000-$30,000 for a single webinar.


Level 8: Print Advertising

Although various types of "print-to-web" programs are offered, and some publications offer print advertisers comparable space in their digital editions at no extra charge, the value of print advertising is almost strictly branding. Because companies willing to invest in print advertising are often perceived as industry leaders, this activity definitely supports online advertising and other lead generation efforts. However, costs are high and benefits difficult to measure with any precision.


Summing It Up

A "well-dressed" web marketing plan starts with solid SEO, then works outward from direct lead generation programs to more expensive and beneficial-but-difficult-to-measure branding activities. Vendors with limited budgets necessarily begin with core activities that provide easily measurable, short-term payback. As budgets increase, branding activities in the outer layers can be added to enhance the performance of core lead gen programs.

Interactive PR and social media engagement also provide branding benefit by increasing awareness and credibility for vendors. Like outer-layer web marketing programs, these activities have little direct lead generation value but can increase the return on SEM and other lead gen expenditures.

*****


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Five Strategies for Improving Channel Sales

Channel executives at IT hardware and software companies are being asked to sell more through their reseller channels, and both they and their channel partners know what kinds of programs can help make resellers more successful. Yet new research indicates that, despite knowing what to do, technology vendor channel chiefs don't always act on this knowledge.

A channel sales effectiveness study just concluded for PRM vendor BLUEROADS by Sirius Decisions shows a "clear link between the types of partner programs that top channel executives emphasize and their impact on revenue growth in the indirect channel." Of executives "who said they focused on sales ‘effectiveness’ strategic activities such as lead management and deal registration, 62% reported an increase in revenue. Paradoxically, 80 percent of the channel investments by the vendors that were surveyed focused around tactical issues such as training, partner portals, and partner communication tools – all activities that simply automate the relationship with partners. Of those who focused investment on these types of ‘efficiency’ programs, only 40% reported an increase in channel revenue."

In other words, the study says that channel executives, on the whole, know what works—they just don't do it. They're all hat no cattle, all show no go, they talk the talk but can't walk the walk, pick your over-used idiom.

Charles Watson, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales for BLUEROADS, suggests that many channel chiefs lack the "alpha mail" orientation of their direct sales counterparts, and thus continue to make small, "safe" investment in low-return activities like training programs and partner portals. Such investments are focused more on reducing costs through improved efficiency than increasing revenue but typically don't require executive team buy-in because they have low visibility and little impact on the enterprise. An alternative explanation may be that the corporate culture in many organizations discourages precisely the type of risk-taking that is needed to significantly improve channel sales effectiveness.

Based on this study as well as past research focused on channel partners, BLUEROADS recommends five practices that should be employed to improve channel sales performance:
  • Invest in high-quality leads for partners; depending on the product category and price point, this can range from a quick visual screening to making pre-qualification calls before handing leads to the channel.

  • Ensure that leads are delivered rapidly. Particularly for near-commodity products, leads can "cool off" quickly, and first-to-respond often beats best product offering.

  • Get the right leads to the right partner, every time. Besides checking for named accounts and pre-established relationships, this may include sorting and routing leads based on industry vertical, company size, geographic location and product. (The folks at BLUEROADS are quick to point out that their PRM software automates this process.)

  • Protect partners from channel conflict. Okay, that one's pretty obvious.

  • Help partners accelerate sales cycles with selling guidance and coaching. Engaging with channel partners as they need assistance—learning by doing—is less common though much more effective than "train and forget" programs.

Finally. the most sophisticated vendors are creating feedback channels that enable them to collect valuable market intelligence from channel partners, to answer questions such as:
  • How does our product compare (in detail) to competitive offerings?

  • What new capabilities are most important to the market?

  • What is the "whole product" that customers (and potential customers) are buying?
The study concludes that channel chiefs, in many cases, know that they need to focus investments on high-visibility, high-impact programs aimed at increasing channel sales effectiveness, yet continue to invest in safer but lower-yielding efficiency improvements. this research from BLUEROADS suggests that those vendors willing to improvements in channel effectiveness a higher priority will ultimately prevail over their more cautious counterparts.

*****

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Examining Google's Practices

In the Disney movie Smart House, "Pat" (for Personal Applied Technology) turns from a helpful cyber-maid who makes life more efficient and convenient into an intrusive, abusive and overbearing omnipresence who attempts to take complete control over what her charges are able to see and do.

Is Google turning into Pat? I hope not; I remain a fan and prefer to believe there's still hope for Google—and I'm not saying that merely out of fear of retribution. (Actually, I think that's past tense, considering that this copycat page gets a spot on the first page of Google while my original article on how to get bloggers to write about you doesn't show up in the top 100 positions. That's just not right.) But the search giant seems to be doing everything it can lately to alienate all of its core constituencies.

Death to SEOs

In order to determine how well their tactics are working (and to report results to clients), SEO practitioners use automated tools to determine how well a specific web site is showing up, for a number of different search phrases, across the major search engines. These tools have been used for years, but Google apparently decided recently that it no longer likes them. As Chris Lang reported, "Google (has) implemented a feature which is transparent to searchers but really messes up tools that are used to check your rankings in Google. WebPosition Gold as well as other ranking report tools (scraper based tools - including the SEO Firefox plugin) have been impacted." In fact, Google doesn't even like it if it thinks your query "looks similar" to automated requests—it will then limit the number of pages of search results it displays to you and give you a really scary error message.

That's not the only way Google messes with SEOs. It's commonly known that title tags play a very important role in search rankings. But as this discussion of title tags on WebmasterWorld demonstrates, changing too many title tags on a site at one time can cause your site to nearly disappear from Google search results, as "Google is very cranky about title changes lately."

Then there is the matter of link buying. Since external links are very important to search ranking, the practice of buying links became common. And it way okay. Then some unscrupulous souls started to abuse it. So Google frowns on the practice. But not all the time. As the folks at Ranked Hard very creatively explain it, "link buying (got) out of control and Google’s way to handle it was to penalize both the link buyer and the link seller. The problem is, just about everyone is buying links in competitive markets, but only a few are actually getting penalized." In Using Logic to Prove that Directory Links are NOT Worthless, Will Paoletto of Big Oak SEO explains this phenomenon: "Google can’t just devalue all paid directory links in the same way that it can devalue, say, sitewide links because directories don’t leave footprints that the algorithm can discover on its own. As a result, the only way Google can reduce the effectiveness of a directory link is to manually visit a directory in question and punish it."

Kaila Colbin wraps this up nicely in The Emotionally Abusive Relationship Between Google And Its SEOs: "So Google essentially defines good practice, and then punishes you for following it too much. Got it. You'd better have the house clean and dinner ready by the time the big G gets home, as well."

Walk Like a Monopolist

Though Google isn't technically a monopoly, many observers believe it uses its overwhelming dominance in search to effectively act as one. Not content merely to let AdWords users bash each other over the head in bidding wars, Google continues to introduce "innovations" that can seem to be more about improving its own results than those of its advertisers.

The folks at the Digital Media World blog explain some of the AdWords changes here, stating that "The Google Adwords blog has announced a number of 'quality score improvements' (debatable use of the word improvements!) which will come into play for your Adwords listings in the near future...by telling people what it will cost them to appear on first page Google are prompting people to increase their bids to get the exposure."

As Tameka Kee reports in AdWords Quality Score Changes Could Signal Stronger Q3 For Google, financial analysts see the "improvements" largely on Google's bottom line. "UBS analyst Benjamin Schacter thinks...that the shift could potentially drive higher average CPCs. 'We believe that Google's decision to replace 'Minimum bids' with 'First page bids' should, over time, have an inflationary effect on average pricing for certain keywords.'"

Even Danny Sullivan, who knows Matt Cutts personally, alleges price fixing at Google. "Google already fixes prices within its own network...Since AdWords began, Google's never sold to the highest bidder. And these days it uses a 'quality score' as a way of causing some advertisers to pay a premium to show up. Let's be clear: Quality scores mean advertisers with ads deemed 'good' pay less. But the bottom line is that Google is interfering in the auction in ways only it knows."

A true monopolist not only charges high prices, but also delivers lousy service—with no real competition, there's no need to plow revenue back into taking care of customers. Judging by this post about Google lowering the bar on customer service and the ensuing comments, Google seems to be living down to this standard as well. Why is it a company that gets 1,300 resumes a day and can pick from the cream of the crop "can’t seem find anyone decent for their customer service department?"

No Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

According to John Andrews, Google isn't only squeezing its AdWords advertisers, but its advertising partners in its AdSense network as well. In this post detailing Google's Ad Manager service, he writes "Google’s kicking ass and I would be foolish to think they would do anything less than aggressively consume every last ounce of business intelligence they can get from me and my web businesses. How else did they get to be the winners? How else could they continue to dominate?"

Don Draper sums this up in his comment on Why Your Keyword Tracking Tools No Longer Work: "Google isn’t about making the rest of us money. It’s like having an elephant walk through your garden."

Privacy? We've Heard Of It

Meanwhile, Ars Technica's David Chartier has reported that Google's Street View team is undeterred by "no trespassing" signs, even to the point of getting sued for taking pictures where they don't belong. "It isn't just a privacy issue; it is a trespassing issue with their own photos as evidence...residents are complaining now that Google's drivers have flat-out ignored over one hundred private roads, 'No Trespassing' signs, and at least one barking watchdog in their quest to photograph roads and homes." And just up the road from WebMarketCentral headquarters, the private community of North Oaks has requested that Google remove all images of its private roads and homes from Street View.

Verb: It's What You Don't Do

SEOs, advertisers, network partners, property owners...who's left to abuse? Oh yeah, searchers. Google would like you to know that while you're free to use their search engine as you choose, you'd best be careful how you use the company's name. While most companies would love to have their corporate moniker turned into a verb, Google arrogantly blogs against it. "You can only 'Google' on the Google search engine."

C'mon Google, you're better than all of this. Show the world you're still not evil.

*****

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