Archive for the ‘B2C marketing’ Tag

Listening and the Art of Social Web Marketing

At the DMA 2010 Conference, Chris Brogan, President of New Marketing Labs, spoke about the importance of listening as an enabler of social web marketing.  Active listening is a critical skill in both life and business – just ask anyone who has a spouse or a boss.  [Fill in own joke here.]

What is active listening?  It’s a process that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what they hear.  In the context of the social web, active listening is what enables a business to understand, measure, and take action.  It’s the foundation upon which are built the four Cs of social media: Connect, Content, Capture, and Capitalize.

During his presentation, Brogan gave a personal example of the social web and the wisdom of crowds.  An impulse shopper, he used the collective intelligence of his broad network of followers to research an electronics purchase.  His search started on Google, friends offered their suggestions, and a tweet from H&H Photo in New York closed the deal.  “The next thing you know, I’m shopping.  I’m shopping, when I was just kind of complaining.”

In this short video clip, Brogan offers some very practical advice on how people socialize and interact with each other across the Web.  Learn how business can engage in the conversation, better connect with consumers, and nurture relationships.

Social media veteran Chris Brogan is a prolific blogger and co-author of the best-selling book Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.


Social Media Meets Main Street

On Friday after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, stores open early and shoppers stay late.  For those not wanting to fight the crowds, Cyber Monday shoppers go online in search of bargains.  Now, enter a new retail holiday tradition.  The inaugural Small Business Saturday, organized by American Express, encouraged holiday shoppers to support small, independently owned local businesses.  In this, the season of miracles, a new tradition is born.

Small businesses fight year around for a share of consumer spending.  This is never truer than at the holidays.  Local merchants in the village of Southampton, NY have turned to social media to share some holiday cheer and remind area residents why they should shop locally.  On Facebook, Shop Southampton, NY, promotes shopping events, sales, and the village’s picturesque setting.  Looking for other ways to promote local business, a group of merchants helped with production of a promotional video featuring local kids dressed as elves frolicking through the village and its quaint shops.  Posted to YouTube, the video has been well received by area residents.

Here’s hoping your holidays are bright and as cheerful as that of the Southampton Elves.  Click through to YouTube and share the magic of where social media meets main street.


Structure an Effective PowerPoint Deck

PowerPoint is the tool marketers love to hate.  At least that’s what I hear at almost every conference, seminar, and workshop.  At a conference I attended this fall, the moderator of the two-day event declared it a “PowerPoint free zone.”  Within five minutes he called up the event agenda… on a PowerPoint chart… so much for a PpT free zone.

There is a lot of good information on-line about PowerPoint design principles.  Here’s a tip about how to structure a good PowerPoint chart deck.  Use the onion approach, build content layer-upon-layer.  This approach can be especially helpful when as a presenter you may not be in control of your time on the agenda.

Chart 1 Title Slide: Often thought of as a placeholder, this could be the most important chart in your deck.  Use it to own the topic.  If this is the only chart people see from your presentation, it should convey your organizations expertise and leadership.  It should include your name and contact information as the thought leader on the topic.  If presentations are made available following an event, the only chart from your presentation some people might see is the title slide.  Make it good, capture attention, and take ownership of the topic.

Chart 2 Presentation Summary: Skip the agenda and bio slide, make this chart the elevator pitch.  Everything the audience needs to know about your capabilities should be summarized on the second chart.  That doesn’t mean using 3 point font and cramming in dozens of lines of text.  All the rules of effective design still apply.  (Large font, limited words per line, etc.)  Use images and bold text.  Drive home a single take away message about: 1) Features or Background; 2) Benefits or Opportunities; and a 3) Call-to-Action.  I’ve been in meetings where the audience (usually a group of executives politicking for advantage) has interrupted the presenter who never got past the second chart.  Structure your talk so that if your time on the agenda is hijacked by others in the room, you can still deliver the central message.

Charts 3-5 Key Points: Expand on the three points from the second chart.  If time is running short, these three charts provide a bit more detail and can quickly highlight your most important take way messages.  If time is not an issue, they can serve as an overview for details to be discussed later in the presentation.

Charts 6-20 Main Talk: If as a presenter you’ve reached this point in your talk, time on the agenda is yours.  Use the remaining 15 charts in your presentation to finish your talk.  In most cases, 20 charts should be enough to cover your topic.  Remember, the charts are not your presentation, you are the presentation.  Charts serve to illustrate and reinforce your message.

Charts 21+ Supplemental: If your talk is very technical in nature you may want to have a collection of charts that provide a very detailed, deep dive on the topic.  These can be helpful if the presentation ends with a closing Q&A.  They can also be useful information if the chart deck is provided in PDF following the conclusion of your talk.

PowerPoint is only a tool.  In my workshop I have hammers, saws, wrenches, and a lot of tools I have no idea how to use.  I don’t hate my collection of hammers.  When I need to drive a nail a hammer works quite well.  When used correctly, it’s the right tool for the job.  It’s not much different with PowerPoint.

Enhance Marketing Effectiveness with Actionable Social Media

We’ve all seen the statistics about the incredible rise in use of social media as a marketing tactic.  To be used effectively, social media must not only engage customers in two-way conversations, it must provide actionable information that helps build relationships and drives forward the selling process.

Social media marketing has captured the attention of publishers and an army of business writers.  Read the publication headlines or check your email for any of the dozens of webinars in praise of social media, and it’s easy to come to the conclusion that all B2B and B2C marketing efforts are now social.  That’s not entirely true.  For most organizations, the largest percentage of the overall marketing budget is still dedicated to traditional (think outbound) marketing activities.

Today’s marketers are increasingly being asked to manage a growing number of marketing communication activities.  Each should play a specific role in meeting marketing objectives.  When done seamlessly, a marketer develops a number of touch points with both prospects and customers.  This is where social media fits in, as an enabler to enhance marketing engagement.  As a tactic, social media should be thought of along with other technologies that have social elements: wikis, social tagging/bookmarking, web feeds, and blogs.

A recent study from King Fish Media, Hubspot, and Junta 42 reports that nearly three-quarters (72%) of surveyed companies have social media marketing strategies.  As organizations embrace the use of social media, the amount of data available for gaining true marketing insight grows.  According to a Gartner Special Report, “There are millions of terabytes of data on the web (5 petabytes added each day) that reflect the attitudes, intentions and venues within which both business and consumer buyers are expressing their opinions and influencing the actions of their peers.”  It’s this wealth of resource that needs to be harnessed by marketers for social media to transform conversations into market opportunity.

With implementation of social media still in its early stages, organizations are seeking ways to track conversations and better gage their impact on brand perception and sales.  Organizations are measuring page views, the numbers of followers (fans), and the amount of traffic delivered to the corporate website.  It’s a start, but organizations need to do more.  Actionable information from social media channels requires a greater understanding of overall customer brand sentiment and the ability to proactively monitor social conversations on channels like YouTube and Twitter.

The Gartner Special Report points out the need for organizations to harness the power of social media to facilitate engagement with customers, business partners, and employees – to effectively capitalize on their investments in social media marketing.  “Over time, the boundaries between social and collaborative applications (such as, e-mail, instant messaging and “texting”) and business applications (such as, finance or sales) will blur, and transactional activities will be augmented by socially-enabled capabilities.”  This investment is largely one of human capital.  Many social media channels are available free of charge.  Its employees who listen to the voice of the customer that creates opportunity for engagement.

A growing number of software solutions are available to help organizations capture data and glean insights that can grow the business.  Such solutions help organizations monitor online conversations, understand customer sentiment, and react more quickly to customer needs and market opportunities.  As social media takes an increasingly prominent role within an overall marketing program, market leaders will turn increasingly to business analytics to convert social media data into strategic, actionable, information.

Employee Empowerment Lead to Profits

This week I had the opportunity to attend The Economist conference on human potential and developing ideas that matter to both society and businesses around the world.  There was great debate on the big issues of how to boost productivity by harnessing the potential of individuals and societies.

During the conference a new report released by The Economist Intelligence Unit focuses on many of the challenges faced by global organizations in the coming decade.  Sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the report is a wake-up call for what corporate leaders must do to prepare their organizations for the challenges of operating with a workforce spread worldwide.  Survey respondents report their organizations will become larger and more global in the next ten years.  They will be less centralized with local operations having the freedom to pursue opportunities that fuel the global organization.  Organizational hierarchies will become flatter.  At an earlier stage of their career, employees will have more responsibility and greater decision-making responsibility.  More contingent workers will reduce traditional organizational loyalty, leading to an increase in employee churn.

What does this mean in practice for how organizations will be managed now and in the future?  At Manpower Inc. Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Joerres spoke passionately about how the role of leadership must change, with senior executives serving as coaches – replacing the traditional role of mangers that control every aspect of their operation.  With an increasing number of younger workers, organizations must operate in new ways.  That is exactly what Scott Cook, Founder and Chairman of the Executive Committee, has done at Intuit Inc, North America’s leading payroll service supplier.  Cook believes the role of the CEO is two-fold: first, set strategic direction and goals; and second, make available the resources necessary to enable employees to deliver on the objectives.  Creating such an employee-empowered organization is increasingly essential for workers worldwide to develop a common sense of purpose and belonging.  Dr. Jim Goodnight, Chief Executive Officer of SAS, believes in challenging employees to achieve great things and drive the company forward.  At the height of last year’s economic downturn, Goodnight made a commitment of no employee layoffs because of economic conditions.  The result, in 2009 SAS grew revenue through a dedicated global workforce, despite the most severe economic conditions in a generation.

The economic collapse of the past couple of years points out the difficulty of forecasting how market forces will affect companies over the next decade.  Regulatory changes, scientific breakthroughs, and geopolitical events will greatly influence how business executives set strategic direction and goals as Scott Cook is doing at Intuit.  Who will succeed?  Over the next ten years the businesses that thrive will be those that successfully manage the complexities and paradoxes of operating on a global basis.

The Buzz on Viral Video

Working at a high technology company often requires me to provide very specific, technically-detailed answers.  This is particularly true when a technologist wants information about what they consider the soft field of marketing.  It’s important to answer in their language in order to get your point across.

In a recent meeting about an upcoming marketing campaign, several people asked me how to go about creating a viral video.  We talked about this for awhile but I sensed those in the meeting were looking for more.  Later, back in my office I thought about the elements of a successful viral video.  I thought of the 4 Ps of Marketing and then offered the team a formula for creating viral videos.  My suggestion was:  (.60Product + .10Price) + .10Placement + .20Promotion = Opportunity.

There are all kinds of viral videos, but for purposes of brevity this post looks only at the creation of viral video for B2B and B2C companies.

Product ‑ Delving into the formula, 60% of the effort in creating a viral video should go into creating the Product.  That is the content as well as the production.  It’s critical to keep in mind that a viral video does more than deliver a singular message, it represents the company brand.  There are many creative ways to create viral content, but not all fit well within a brand framework.  Common themes for viral video content often include: humor, surprise, interactivity, and of course sex.

  • Humor:  Everyone enjoys a good laugh and comedy is a frequent component of many successful viral videos.  Of course humor is very subjective and requires a deft touch when used within a corporate brand strategy.  The Mac vs. PC ads went viral because of the passion Mac users have for their computers and the clever use of humor to drive home the message.  Including Brazilian model and actress Gisele Bündchen added to the effectiveness of the spot promoting iMovie capabilities on the Mac.
  • Surprise:  The wow-factor that makes viewers want to share a video with friends and colleagues.  In the interest of fair play, Microsoft scored on the viral video charts with their fake Greatest Slide Stunt Ever video developed for Microsoft Germany.  Who cares if the stunt was fake?  That’s not the point… it’s all about the buzz.
  • Interactivity:  Many sites offer users the ability to dynamically insert pictures or names into an animated presentation for sharing with others ‑ turning themselves into virtual brand ambassadors.  Think Jib-Jab and the famous Elf Yourself campaign.  Office Max’s 2008 holiday promotion proved amazingly popular and was the viral hit of winter 2008.
  • Sex:  It sells, but won’t work for all organizations.  The Carl’s Jr. ads featuring a scantily clad Paris Hilton washing cars while devouring a burger created a lot of buzz, drove million+ web views, and the scorn of many.  What it did for burger sales, I have no idea.

Price ‑ Coupled with Product is the element of Price.  Developing outstanding creative content most often comes with an associated cost.  Producing a viral video may involve an outside creative agency; will require crew, equipment, and other below-the-line costs; and could involve celebrity talent.  A forewarning, in discussing viral video, someone is sure to mention a video created in 10 minutes, without a budget, and using low end equipment.  They’re out there, usually involving animal or pet tricks, cute kids, or a “thank goodness it’s not me” video.  The question you must answer is, would such a video reflect well on the company brand?  In most cases the answer is no.  As the viral video market has matured, you can point to a growing number of successful viral videos that both deliver impact and support brand attributes.

  • Creative Concept:  Viral videos can be conceived internally, or may require hiring an outside agency.  The key is the big idea, something perceived as remarkable and that communicates your message.  Dove’s Self Esteem campaign is one of the most successful web-based viral campaigns.  Web video, combined with a comprehensive website, provides thought-provoking, confidence-building programs and messages that embrace all definitions of beauty.  For Dove, it’s not a product pitch, it’s about brand association.
  • Production Expenses:  Some believe that web video should have a decidedly low-cost look – inaccurately often referred to as a YouTube video.  My suggestion is to push back with reference to more traditional media.  A client would never permit their “official” product brochure to be written by a brilliant technologist from R&D, illustrated by someone’s kid known for drawing nice pictures, and printed on the copier down the hall.  The product brochure is viewed as a key sales tool, and production quality reflects on the product as well as the company brand.  The same holds true for a viral marketing vehicle.  Keep in mind the old adage, “Good, fast, or cheap – pick any two.”  How much time, effort, and money did T-Mobile spend in driving 20M+ web views of their highly choreographed dance number shot at Liverpool Street Station?
  • Celebrity Talent:  A viral video does not require celebrity talent, it’s a tactical decision.  But people are fascinated by celebrities.  There are countless websites devoted to following every aspect of a celebrity’s life and which will embed these videos and help extend the audience.  The cost of using a celebrity can be a major expense item, often beyond available budget.  And to prove that celebrities never go away, much as would like many of them to fade away, advertisers have turned to wrestling icon Rick Flair to WOOO state lottery players with jackpots of mega millions.

OK, it’s entertainment time.  The hottest viral campaign currently running is the Old Spice ads featuring a shirtless Isaiah Mustafa showing off his six pack abs.  The campaign is an excellent example of strong product and illustrates the issues of price as a component in delivering a viral video campaign.

Millions of views and major brand buzz

Placement – Viral videos appear in many places on the web.  Each media channel has unique attributes and publishing requirements.  The critical element of placement is less about the channel than it is about how you describe (tag) your video.  Tagging information is the metadata that search engines and viewers use to locate your video.

  • Title & Description:  Your video title and description should be both descriptive and engaging.  Review carefully the visible word count in the description field provided by each media channel.  Then limit the description to the visible information field.  Anything accessible only from the <More Info> section of the description will seldom be seen.
  • Tagging:  Add tags… lots of relevant tags.  The more keywords used to describe your video, the more likely your video will appear within search results and be found.
  • Single Posting:  If the video is part of a series of presentations, each should be posted to a single page with its own title, description, and tagging information.
  • Embedded Links:  These enable other content authors to link directly to your video.  The best example is the use of embed code from YouTube.  (As I did above in posting the Old Spice video.)  Many of the views of your video will be driven by blog posts, included in emails, circulated via Twitter, and on and on.

Promotion – Videos posted to the web with compelling title, interesting descriptions, and rich metadata tags have a head start in the battle for eyeballs.  Promotion takes work and is not an overnight process.  It involves multiple elements and communication tactics.

  • Thumbnail:  The major media channels all show a visual from within the video, along with the title and description.  Unfortunately, each media channel handles this in different and unique ways.  It’s well worth the investment in time to understand the unique way each video sharing site determines the thumbnail image deployed with your video.
  • Channels:  Of course there is YouTube…  and there are other channels as well, Google Video, Yahoo Video, Facebook Video, specific industry websites, and of course your company’s own website.  Publish to as many sites as are relevant and that you can support with follow-up communication.
  • Social Networking:  Create communities of interest for your content and share regularly.  As you befriend more people ask them to invite others to subscribe as well.  Reach out to bloggers and others of influence and allow them to help spread the news.  Send them the embed link along with some unique information (previously unpublished) and you may gain access to an audience you might otherwise not reach.  Promote your video project and keep the video front and center in as many communication opportunities as possible: blog, Tweet, post, comment, email, advertise… above all stay engaged.
  • Bubble Up Ratings: Videos that create a buzz (comments, ratings, views) will move to the top of the search listing.  Ask for comments and respond to those comments.  These actions not only drive views, but move your video higher in the results list.

So that’s my formula for a successful viral video.
(.60Product + .10Price) + .10Placement + .20Promotion = Opportunity.
I would like to hear your thoughts and comments.  What’s been your experience?  Comments welcome.

For more ideas check out the post Make Me a Viral Video and Super-Size It!

Cut the Bull: Avoid Idiot-Speak

The paradigm shift empowering leading-edge advantage towards world class leadership is building momentum for… cut the bull, plain English please.

We’ve all read endless streams of corporate-speak: jargon-filled, filtered, and antiseptic ‑ rendering real communication all but impossible.  For communicators it’s a slippery slope.  While every industry has a unique language, accepted acronyms, and technical vocabulary, the trap for communicators is when we yield to company-speak and avoid the battle for clear, concise, communication.

In the wonderful book, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, authors, Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway and Jon Warshawsky offer a compelling alternative.  For those of us working in the communication trenches, the book is a valuable reminder of the slow brainwashing that over time can influence the way we choose to communicate.

And yes, it’s a choice.  If your ambition is to serve as a mid-level bureaucrat using Mad-Libs fill-in-the-blank jargon for your next assignment, you will be well on your way to an all but invisible place on the org. chart.  While remaining hidden behind fact-free, mind-numbing bulls*it seems a safe place to remain unseen, in a difficult business environment it’s also a sure way to an unceremonial pink slip.  In a tough business climate, organizations need communicators who help strengthen the business, create compelling dialogues, and develop innovative ways to influence people.

The book exposes several common traps that can transform the unwary communicator into a boring business stiff:

1.      Businesses focus on themselves over their audience
Too often those creating business communications aim to impress, not to inform.  Rather than using plain, simple language everyone understands, business communicators fall back on the use of jargon or insider phrases.  The authors describe it as becoming “a kind of intellectual powerhouse, generating concepts that are too lofty to be expressed in something as mundane as English.”  We too often fear that straightforward language might make us look dumb.

2.      Business people fear concrete language
Avoiding commitment, and thereby liability, has evolved into something of an art form.  The problem with this approach is that through “vagary and verbosity,” the credibility of whatever follows is reduced.  In short, people recognize B.S. and give up looking for meaning.  Remember, for communicators the bottom line is to connect, convince, and help the organization move ahead.

3.      Business is boring
How can you not purchase a book with a chapter titled “Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll for Business People”?  The authors offer a hilarious look at why business-speak is so ridiculous.  They remind everyone in business that connecting with an audience, any audience, is about gaining their attention.  “Make it relevant.  Make it vivid.  Make it compelling.  Whether you like it or not, you’re in the entertainment business.”  This admonition applies to everyone within an organization, none more so than those responsible for crafting communication messages.

The authors offer this key take away, “bullshit eats away at your personal capital, while straight talk pays dividends.”  Make the wise investment, fight the bull and make clear, compelling communication the hallmark of your personal success.

Drive Click-Through Rates with Video

The numbers are almost meaningless… ≈ 170M unique web viewers/month, 14B streams/month, time per viewer up nearly 60%.  The bottom line is that the growth of online video has exploded and will continue to grow ‑ becoming as ubiquitous as text on the web.  Don’t believe this?  Ask any IT manager responsible for data storage and content delivery.

The explosion of video has been driven by user generated content; commercial content distribution; and web-based video/multimedia, much of it supporting promotional campaigns.  The naysayers point out that for promotional campaigns, overall advertising click-through rates are disappointingly low.  Point taken.  But, those websites and marketing campaigns that customize ads and multimedia content to fit individual customer interests have demonstrated markedly higher click-through rates.  Two of the most well know examples of successfully tailoring content to the interest of their users are Apple, with the iTunes Store, and

 As video has become an accepted part of the web experience, marketers are looking for ways to exploit the engaging qualities of video.  Video has the unique ability to convey a story through sound and motion – creating a more powerful emotional response among users.  Results of recent studies by DoubleClick show that when used for direct-response online advertising –the click-through rate– online video ads perform extremely well.  The data shows online video ads deliver click-through rates ranging from 0.4 to 0.74 percent depending on the online video format.  By comparison, click-through rates for plain GIF or JPG image ads ranges between 0.1 and 0.2 percent.  Given these data, it’s no wonder that in the troubled economic climate of the past year, marketers have rushed headlong to enrich their websites, direct mail campaigns, press releases, and corporate communications with various forms of digital multimedia.

 A recent industry report from StrongMail Systems highlights the trend.  As reported in BtoB Online, Kristin Hersant, StrongMail’s director of corporate marketing, the “2010 Marketing Trends” survey finds that online marketing spending will be up in the coming year, with video a key driver.  “We also think that marketers will be able to increase relevancy by using video in e-mail,” Hersant said.  “Video is going to make it a lot easier to promote the things that their customers are interested in, such as webinars, training, and product education.”

A report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLC released US results for the first half of 2009, showing that online ad spending continues to experience robust growth, increasing 38% from the same period a year ago.  As online advertising continues to draw spending away from other forms of traditional advertising, spending for online video is projected to reach nearly $500M in the US during the first half of 2010.  In a similar report from Forrester Research, video advertising will grow to account for one-fifth of European online display ad spending – nearly €1 billion in 2012.  Forrester Research also issued their US Interactive Marketing Forecast 2009 – 2014, showing 60% of marketers plan to shift marketing dollars away from traditional channels in favor of interactive marketing initiatives.

This move to interactive multimedia-supported marketing is not the sole province of big companies.  In Chapel Hill, NC a local wine, coffee, and tea merchant is taking advantage of the click-through promotional power of video.  3CUPS is a business dedicated to bringing high quality products to their customers while stimulating them to learn more about what they sell… the really good stuff.  They recently began adding video promotions as an element to their email marketing and on their website home page.  “Using video allows us to show what it’s like to come into our store and learn about our business,” says Badi Bradley a partner at 3CUPS.  The first promotion to include a video element delivered 600 views in the first several days.  Following the success of the first video, 3CUPS has released three more videos and has five projects underway.  Lex Alexander, owner of 3CUPS, believes video offers a unique way to differentiate the business.  “Video allows us to entice customers with a story that demonstrates we are very knowledgeable about the items we sell.  People don’t read as much these days; they’ve become accustomed to TV.  It helps us personalize the business.”  The video was produced in HD by Jim Fink of New Century Digital Media and shot and directed by Ken Peterson, SilverLight Productions.  The HD Flash video is hosted by NCDM.  According to Fink, “We support the concept of a full television experience that people have become used to in their home.”  Fink provides clients with more than just production and hosting, he also provides access to stats on the performance of each video.  “Clients have direct access to a lot of data about their videos.  It allows them to better manage the use of video as part of their overall marketing activities.

 For a business like 3CUPS, customizing the content of promotional video as part of their direct mail advertising has proven effective.  The high engagement factor of video, combined with better customer targeting and improved Internet tracking capabilities, offers advertisers a highly accountable way to improve response rates and deliver bottom line results. 

Thought Leadership and the Buying Cycle

Organizations claim it. Industry gurus boast their credentials. Marketers include it as a key element of their overall strategy. Everyone wants it; few have it – thought leadership.

At a recent marketing meet-up, thought leadership was a hot topic of conversation. Amidst the canapés, glasses of white wine, and the exchange of business cards, talk of thought leadership came up frequently. What struck me was the level of interest for including thought leadership as a key marketing tactic. Some of those gathered worked for organizations on the cutting edge of emerging technology. Others were marketers working for established companies in mature industries. Regardless, most of the marketers I spoke with planned to include thought leadership in their 2010 marketing plans. Those with a clear understanding of how thought leadership fits into the buying cycle have the opportunity to succeed. The others will soon be in search of the next bandwagon upon which to jump.

Marketing consulting firms, professors, and authors all publish models of the customer sales cycle. Whatever model you subscribe to, most have certain elements in common. However, what’s often undervalued in these models is the issue of market maturity. Industries transition through phases: from radical new concept; through paradigm differentiation; to the point an established market develops and offerings are seen as commodities. An analysis of the environment in which the business operates is central to delivery of an effective thought leadership program. Whether the subject is cloud computing or cloud-soft tissues, thought leadership can help differentiate a business from the competition. The key is identifying an approach that sets an organization apart from competitors while building a stronger bond in the supplier-customer relationship.

As a “pull” tactic, thought leadership or knowledge leadership is most applicable early in the sales cycle when building awareness. It also plays a role in helping organizations maintain customer loyalty. Thought leadership marketing is about conveying the image of market leadership. It should take a strong position on where markets, technology, or regulatory requirements are heading. It’s not necessary that the organization be the market sales leader. Rather, it’s about exhibiting a depth of understanding and generously offering original insight.

As a marketing tactic, thought leadership must be inexorably tied to an organization’s competence and how it plans to differentiate itself from the competition. A solid thought-leadership program has a number of essential characteristics.
Unique Voice – Take a stand with a clearly defined message. Demonstrate you are the leader and expert in a given field. Break new ground with ideas that challenge the status quo, creating opportunity for prospects and customers to take a new look at your organization.
Extend Your Reach – Take on public speaking opportunities, start a newsletter, author a blog, get published. True independent thought leadership is not about publishing ideas exclusively on your company website. It’s about creating a uniquely defined, forceful, and compelling vision so your ideas are sought out and published on someone else’s website.
Inform, Don’t Sell – While thought leadership must support an organization’s overall marketing direction, it should generously provide insights from which others can benefit. Challenge your audience to think outside the box by presenting useful information. Invite others into the conversation. Be willing to test your ideas and assumptions, especially by extending your reach through social media.
Long Term View – As a marketing tactic, thought leadership is not about filling the sales funnel for the upcoming quarter. It’s about building relationships and moving from being seen as only a supplier, to being seen as a trusted advisor. Thought leadership is not a form of marketing collateral. It’s a long-term strategy whose results are best measured over time.

As a marketing tactic, thought leadership can be applied in both B2B and B2C marketing. But, thought leadership is not for every organization. Taking a unique stand and openly sharing intellectual property goes against some organization’s culture. However, for those organizations seeking an effective pull tactic to balance the marketing investment in standard push marketing techniques, a thought-leadership program offers a unique longer-term return on investment.

Marketing and Communication in the Network Era

Finish first and people notice. Take the top position twice in a row and people get curious. I did, when looking at results of a recent report from the Association of National Advertisers. A member poll reported that creating an integrated marketing communications program was the member’s top concern for a second consecutive year. Why the sudden interest in integrated communications? As marketers, the rules have changed. In the past, traditional marketing and communication was about getting people to do things. In today’s Network Era, the emphasis has shifted from controlling every interaction to influencing outcomes.

It all used to be so simple. Prior to the 1990’s, call it the Golden Age of Marketing, represented a time of one-way communication, where marketers were in total control of the message and how the message was distributed. Marketers “owned” the brand and created awareness through mass communications in the form of TV, print, radio, and sponsorships. For example, the Women’s Tennis Association tour gained significant visibility through sponsorship of The Virginia Slims Circuit – a successful sponsorship promotion for women’s tennis, as well as Phillip Morris tobacco.

By the mid-90’s two-way communications ushered in the Age of Internet Marketing. New broadband technology, coupled with faster computers and better software, enabled marketers to solicit input and feedback from customers in ways never before possible. Massive amounts of data were collected to help improve offers and build loyalty across profitable customer segments. Launched only months apart in 1985, Amazon and eBay were companies born of the Internet age.

The explosion of Web 2.0 technology has brought about a new challenge for marketers, the Network Era. The dynamic between customers and marketers has shifted once again. Marketers must recognize it’s impossible to totally control the relationship. Influencing key stakeholders and facilitating the customer experience is the best that can be hoped for. In a customer-centric world, the old push marketing model no longer works. Customers are telling companies what they want and don’t want. The days of companies telling customers what they are going to get are over. In today’s networked word, brands need to engage stakeholders in new ways. Marketers no longer “own the brand,” they must embrace services that add value and participate in the conversation in an open, transparent, and authentic way.

Unfortunately, too many marketers still operate from the old paradigm. They have forgotten a critical lesson: people hate to be sold to, but they love to buy. In the Network Era marketers have powerful new tools that too often disrupt, interrupt, and annoy. But consumers have grown more sophisticated and capable of filtering out the distractions. Consumers have developed their personal “ignore filter,” after being inundated by the onslaught of too many email messages, direct mail promotions, and the latest scourge of marketing promotion, the unwanted text message. Marketers need to understand, it’s not that consumers don’t like a company’s product or service; it’s about consumer fatigue from the constant selling.

In a recent conversation I had with the Marketing Director for a telecommunications company, the discussion turned to the issue of customer contact. As a telecom company, access to customer data was not an issue. The company has complete profiles of each customer. The company has used this information in deciding how and when to contact a customer. If a customer is always three days late in paying their bill, the data shows this. For reasons of customer satisfaction, the company has chosen to take no action. In other cases, they may send an SMS message rather than a more formal warning notice if payment is not received on time. The electronic message is less expensive and improves the customer’s overall experience with their service provider.

In the Network Era, marketers have access to new tools and new ways to communicate. Successful marketers will be those who realized that today, more than ever before, delivering the right message, to the right customer, at the right time is their top concern.