Sunday, January 22, 2006

New PR Tactics for the Word-Of-Mouth World

Bloggers are opinion leaders. They can influence brand awareness, set customer expectations and reward or punish service delivery or lapses. I buy these arguments. What I’m not sure about is how to address them to get the best spin for my clients.

In one instance, I searched Technorati, Ice Rocket, Sphere and Google’s Beta Blog Search tool to identify people blogging in our category, industry or product category. I built a list of 65 people and personally e-mailed each of them. I wrote a straightforward e-mail identifying myself as a representative of the company, soliciting their opinions and offering a free product trial. Five responded. Three took the trial. Nobody wrote a syllable about our product.

The next time I sent the same universe a press release announcing a product innovation. The release resonated with several trade papers and consumer reporters. My “press” mailing yielded several inquiries, a small wire service story and three product reviews in desirable specialty magazines. The bloggers remained on radio silence.

Since then I’ve been mulling the problem – how do you reach out to and influence bloggers who can in turn influence your customers and prospects?

Then I read an essay by Andy Sernovitz on iMedia Connection which opened my eyes to a radically different approach to these citizen journalists. He essentially argues that you need to join their party rather than invite them to yours. Like journalists, bloggers set their own agenda. Those seeking to influence the agenda have to intersect it on its own terms. Influencing their posts and their audience requires following their threads, commenting on their posts and presenting your product or your point of view in their context.

You still have to be forthright, upfront and clear about who you are and who you represent. You cannot disguise yourself or pretend to be an uninterested civilian inserting product or brand references. But it’s about aligning what you are pushing with what they are thinking, talking and writing about.

Sounds right doesn’t it? I’ll give a whirl and report back.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Google Threatens to Change Media Buying Forever

Google’s purchase of dMark Broadcasting will bust open the media world. Attaching the AdSense easy-to-use interface and auction engine to the inventory of America’s 8000 radio stations will put local advertisers on a par with national players, disintermediate all the mediocre media buying shops and force the big media buyers to circle the wagons and take aggressive, proactive steps to protect their TV buying cash cow.

The simplicity of the move is elegant. Think about the value of Google’s functionality. AdSense helps almost anyone get their arms around a dizzying array of details. It takes 20 minutes to learn how to use it and the navigation is intuitive. The dashboard is easy to read and easy to change. Sites, audiences, sizes, creative, prices, placement and yield are all easily and sequentially managed and displayed. The details of radio buying are equally confusing.

But it’s a no-brainer to manage format, audience demographics, daypart, length or creative execution. [DF1] And while the Google interface won’t necessarily handle production or promotions, it could easily cut out the middle man for thousands of retailers and small businesspeople who could benefit from radio advertising.

Keep your eyes on the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio Advertising Bureau to see if the radio industry is for or against this development. Radio guys can truly benefit from this development but every so often they cut off their noses to spite their face. It’s a fair bet that they will initially reject Google as a show of loyalty to their longstanding reps.

But the writing is clearly on the wall. Google has a way to make sense of a billion little media details. You can make your own strategy and price decisions. You can track results in real-time and adjust on the fly. And if you don’t want to do it, a very junior person can in minutes per day. Who needs a middle man to take a cut and annoy you along the way?

And if Google can manage radio – notoriously hard to keep track of and labor intensive even for sophisticated media buying firms with extensive relationships and high-powered software tools, just imagine what they can do with cable or local broadcast TV?

Jeff Lanctot of AvenueA/Razorfish kicked off the pre-emptive defense in today’s Wall Street Journal by saying “ The traditional media world is a very relationship-driven marketplace. You’re supplanting personal relationships and replacing them with technology and that’s a pretty daunting task.”

Right. But only if you are a media buying firm like AvenueA with a practice to protect.
Stay tuned. It’s about to get interesting.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Ad Agencies Are Groping for Relevance

Adweek and Ad Age announced their picks for Agency of the Year this week. They both picked BBDO and Crispin Porter & Bogusky for snappy ads and new business wins. Ironically Jaffe Juice reported that some of the most notable interactive work from the highly touted campaigns of the winning shops was actually jobbed out to smaller interactive creative shops.

The choices document the on-going confusion and struggle among ad agencies to get out from under an ancient ruling set of creative and media assumptions and a business model that is near death. And even though Bob Greenberg of R/GA has been a Jeremiah preaching the need to integrate disciplines, abandon internal bureaucracy and aim for different creative horizons, he has been generally ignored in spite of the success of his agency in competition with those who cannot or will not change.

Long absent from clients’ strategic council’s ad agencies are flailing in search of staff, direction and new clients. Ad Age’s annual report card documents the revolving door of clients, staff and leaders. direction and some meaning point of differentiation. In a business with no barrier to entry, tiny groups of creatives are stealing global assignments from arthritic networks that can’t get out their own way.

Trapped by 1950s era business processes, underinvested in technology and still very bureaucratic, agencies are unable to move quickly, integrate emerging media or be transparent on pricing or running costs. Seeking direction, leadership and meaning differentiation, we are watching the last dinosaurs gathering around the last watering hole waiting to lie down, die and fossilize.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

How To Get More Leads from B2B Websites

There is a movement afoot to make B2B websites more productive demand generation tools. It’s about time. The key to prospect engagement is focus, perspective, content and ease-of-use.

You have 15 seconds to “hook” a prospect who is busy and is clicking through because something prompted him or her to find you. From the first nanosecond they hit your page, it’s your game to lose. Anything not clear, not easy, not obvious, not intuitive or anything irritating prompts an exit click.

Remember nobody is buying on the first visit. So the website must be geared toward the beginning of, what you hope will be, an extended selling conversation. Unfortunately too many sites are geared toward the end game.

The principle objective of that first page view is to quickly and persuasively communicate
• Who you are
• What you offer
• What makes you different
• Why you should talk to us
• What the prospect should do next

Next can be the next instant or sometime during the next year. The first page they see has to be aimed at engaging your most likely customer. You have 15 seconds to sell them on spending a second, third or fourth 15 seconds with you. It’s the business equivalent of flashing bedroom eyes across a crowded room. It’s not easy, the formula is different for each industry and each buying universe and there is no cyber Spanish Fly.

But there are “best practices” that give you a better-than-average shot at getting and keeping the attention of jittery prospective customers.

1. Create a separate “front door” – a separate home or landing page for prospects. Don’t confuse them with all the stuff your customers, your employees or your investors might care about. At this point they have no emotional or intellectual investment in you or your products and services. They hardy care so don’t overwhelm them.

2. Direct their behavior. You have their attention for a moment. Use UI tactics and design to limit their navigational choices. Point them to what you want them to see, read and react to. Don’t just apply the save navigational scheme as you have on the site your customers access. Don’t get carried away with consistency at the expense of action. Do NOT necessarily mirror the navigation on the client site because it gives prospects too many chances to escape One of my clients had 130 different possible choices on their home page. Wanna guess how many leads they got?

Limit their choices. Layout no more than 3 or 4 navigational pathways and mark them clearly. Typical pathways identify offerings by task, by job function and by product set. Make it easy to find and easy to understand what you offer. Enforce a 3 click rule -- the answer to any foreseeable question should not be more than 3 clicks away. And navigation should be consistent, persistent and interlaced so you prospects can jump from one pathway to the other without having to return to the Home page.

3. Present everything from the prospects’ perspective. Focus on predictable pain points or needs. They care about what they care about. If you intersect their concerns, the door opens a sliver. If not, adios amigo. Often their concerns are based on their job title or the functional responsibilities they have. Usually these are similar across companies in an industry or sector. Anticipate this and display your products or services in ways that speak to prospects’ roles or tasks.

4. Focus on user benefits. Prospect only care about what they win by using your products or services. They are not constantly gazing into their navels and glorying in the features of each product nor are they daydreaming about the latest and greatest refinements and additional bells and whistles baked into the next generation of your stuff. Tell them plainly how what you have will make them faster, more profitable, less hassled, happier, smarter, richer, more productive or more likely to keep their jobs.

5. And before they can discount these claims offer them something; preferably something they will understand as immediately valuable. Make the offer in LARGE TYPE and place it prominently and consistently above the fold on the first page they see.

6. Get prospects involved with the products or services as quickly as possible by using these well established tools and tactics to engage them.

l Trial Use from the Home Page
l A free trial download offer
l A Readiness Survey or Quiz
l Flash tours or product demonstrations
l Comparisons of your stuff versus your competitors
l Product samples or simulations
l Videos of client testimonials and use cases

7. You want to immediately communicate the idea that your product or service gives its users a competitive business advantage. And you need to prove this quickly and persuasively by sharpening the value statements and relating them to prospects’ needs and adding a sense of urgency. You cannot be bashful or reticent. The copy has to be catchy, involving and as promotional as you can be. Take a problem-solution approach to presenting products and their benefits. Images should directly relate to the benefits of using your products or services. Graphics or a grid display of products; their uses and intended users goes a long way to making things clear and easy to understand quickly

8. Prospects will trade data for valuable content but solicit the minimum amount of data to begin a back-and-forth conversation. The more information you require; the more incentive a prospect has to abandon your site and you. At this point there is no relationship and no reciprocal emotional connection. So start by asking just for an e-mail address. It gives you basic opt-in permission and it requires the absolute minimum action and commitment from the prospect. Build-in opportunities to collect an e-mail address at many points throughout the site. Once you have the e-mail address you can ask a prospect questions, gauge his or her satisfaction with your site or your tools and begin to establish if they are truly a lead by assessing their true level of buying authority, need, budget and timetable.

Good luck.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A Different Take on Field Sales Kick-Off Meetings

It’s field kick-off season. Marketing guys are spinning like dervishes to put the finishing touches on the most important internal event of the year while sales guys are wondering how much higher quotas will be, how much lower commissions will be and if the CEO will come in on a motorcycle and imitate Mick Jagger like he did last year. Yet this annual winter "rah-rah" ritual usually ignores crucial but absent participants – clients and prospects.

The perspective and focus of most field kick-off meetings is internal NOT external. The field kick off usually focuses on what we are selling, how we go-to-market, our calendar of events, our latest and greatest, our new organizational structure, our new bonus and incentive plan, this year’s President’s Club destination and what we intend to say, do and sell to them. It never addresses what tasks, steps, anxieties or constraints prospects and customers face. And so to some extent it perpetuates a disconnect between sellers and buyers.

Even after the second coming of the consultative sell, most marketing and sales organizations still push stuff at customers and prospects rather than integrate or synchronize their activities with what clients are doing. That’s why complex selling is so hard. Sellers are constantly 180 degrees opposite from customers because they can’t align their agendas. Sellers are trying to jump onto a moving train.

There is another way. It begins by understanding that buyers have a definable and often predictable series of steps they take to get from identifying a need to closing a contract. Assuming that a seller can access and influence sellers at each step in the process, sales and marketing teams need to articulate the steps in the buying process and map or orchestrate their messages, activities and resources to the process. Done well this exercise will optimize persuasion and minimize the cost of sale by adroitly deploying the right message and sales tools, using the right channels and leveraging the right people at the right time.

Taking the perspective of the buyer and facilitating the buying process is a subtle but significant nuance. The seller is not attacking the castle. Instead the seller is inside the castle a participant in the process; an advisor with relationships and credibility that is helping to solve customer problems. It is access that is not easily granted.

It also means that marketers must align their messages, their sales and demonstration tools, their media, their events, their websites and their activities on a larger playing field over a longer time horizon – from the initial recognition of need to and through the implementation of a contract and delivery of service. It requires a different tone and manner, a more informed understanding of business processes, an integrated contact strategy and a way to keep track of who is doing what to whomand when. It also demands a set of sales tools and collateral that can be customized by industry, segment, company and individual.

It’s about them not about us. But ultimtely it is much more effective and memorable than the head of sales dressed up like a character from “Men in Black” singing the blues.
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