Best Online Marketing Practices For A ‘Bionic’ Business: Part I

For those of you who are Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, you’ll probably remember a popular TV show from the 70’s called The Six Million Dollar Man. The lead character was Steve Austin, also known as the ‘bionic man,’ as he had abilities to do things at an exceptional level, compared to other people. Well, the following are real-life questions I’ve received from readers, subscribers, clients and colleagues.

[Editor’s note: This is the first installment in a series of three blog posts.]

For those of you who are Gen Xers or Baby Boomers, you’ll probably remember a popular TV show from the 70’s called The Six Million Dollar Man.

The lead character was Steve Austin, also known as the ‘bionic man,’ as he had abilities to do things at an exceptional level, compared to other people.

Well, the following are real-life questions I’ve received from readers, subscribers, clients and colleagues. Little useful nuggets of information and best Internet marketing practices—all to help make your business ‘bionic’—that is—better, stronger, faster.

Today’s best practices focus on online press releases and social media marketing. Enjoy!

Question: When it comes to online press releases, I know that PRWeb.com has been the defacto standard. However, I just came across another one that appears to offer a very well-rounded option called: www.prleap.com. Have you heard of them? What do you use/recommend?

Answer: I try to use ‘free’ online press distribution services whenever possible. PRLeap used to be free, now they charge a nominal fee. They do, however, get good listings on the search engine results pages (SERPs). But if you don’t have a budget for press distribution and you’re looking for top notch free sites, check out www.i-newswire.com, www.prlog.org, and www.free-press-release.com. I use these all the time. Another great paid press release distribution service is, PRWeb.com. They provided added distribution to traditional media outlets, publication and periodical websites. Online PR is great tactic to increase your website’s visibility for SEO and traffic generation.

Question: What are some tips for getting the best results with online PR?

Answer: With online PR, the most important things are creating a newsworthy release which is keyword dense. It should also contain useful information for your target audience as well as media and bloggers. Releases that do well with pick up are usually about a company milestone, contrarian viewpoint, trend or forecast, important statistical data, launch of something (product, book, website) and similar information. The headline and sub-headline should have your top 5 keywords. In addition, your keywords should be sprinkled throughout the body of the release. There should always be a link to the longer version, which should be housed on your website in a ‘Press Room’ or ‘News’ section. And of course, there should be an ‘About’ portion of the release containing information or bio on the focus of the release. Having a call to action in the bio section is another great way to drive readers back to your site. For instance, having a ‘For more information or to sign up for our free enewsletter, click here now’.

Question: Can social marketing efforts be measured?

Answer: Yes, they sure can. Even better, the tools are all free and based off of good old fashioned direct response and public relations metrics—the 3 O’s-outputs, outcomes and objectives.

The tools are all free and based off of the 3 O’s:

  • Outputs measure effectiveness and efficiency. For our example, I’d look at Google Analytics for spikes in traffic and ezine sign ups the days following social media efforts.
  • Outcomes measure behavioral changes. For example, for this metric, I’d look at customer feedback… emails, phone calls, or website comments following social marketing efforts, and ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ on posted articles. Relevant Google Alert results.
  • Objectives measures business objectives and sales. For example: The most obvious and directly related metric is direct sales of the product that are tied to the editorial that may be linked to your social marketing efforts.

For each of the above, I would compare the current campaign data versus the year-to-date (YTD) average and year-over-year data to clearly illustrate pre- and post- campaign performance.

Question: Do I need to market my social media accounts? Won’t people find me with the right keywords.

Answer: Not really. You DO need to market your social media accounts. Sure the right keywords in your account profile and bio page will help, but think of your social marketing efforts as an extension of your brand and implement ‘social marketing branding’. Remember to include your social media account profile name, link, or icon in most everything you do:

  • Email auto signature
  • Ezine issues
  • RSS Feeds
  • Website home page
  • Business cards
  • PowerPoint Presentation cover page, footers and end slide
  • Press releases
  • Cross-market on other social sites

Get Your PCRM On!

Never heard of PCRM? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist—not yet, anyway. But it should. For those who are unfamiliar with Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, it describes a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. The key to any CRM program is that interactions are with your customers and prospects—and that means you know something, usually a lot, about them.

Never heard of PCRM? Well, that’s because it doesn’t exist—not yet, anyway. But it should. For those who are unfamiliar with Customer Relationship Management, or CRM, it describes a strategy for managing a company’s interactions with customers and prospects. The key to any CRM program is that interactions are with your customers and prospects—and that means you know something, usually a lot, about them.

And as any experienced database marketer knows, knowledge means power—power to tailor the marketing message based on what you know or learn. Essentially, it’s a marriage of marketing and data. Unfortunately, however, many CRM programs miss the boat when it comes to taking advantage of this fact, and fail to communicate with customers and prospects on a 1:1 basis. Hence the need for Personalized CRM, or PCRM, instead.

Personalization is important because, let’s face it, we live in an age of information overload. According to an article in the New York Times published in 2007, at the time Americans were exposed to 5,000 ads a day—and it’s safe to say that number has continued to climb since. And unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 10 years, this fact has been painfully obvious. For marketers, it’s meant a steady and inexorable decline in response rates across the board, in an increasingly futile attempt to get the attention of a distracted populace. How pronounced has the decline been? While a 3 percent response rate might have been the gold standard for a prospecting direct mail campaign 10 years ago, for example, today it hovers at around 1 percent, according to the DMA.

One effective strategy to cut through the clutter is personalization, or 1:1 marketing-a strategy you should be implementing across the board on all your CRM initiatives. Think about it: These are your customers and prospects, and you’ve captured tons a data about them. You know when they became customers, and how. You know what campaigns they’ve responded to, banners they’ve clicked, emails they’ve opened, and so on. You know their gender. You may even know their birthdays. So use this data to drive personalization!

When it comes to implementing 1:1 communications, the good news for marketers is two-fold. First, in our multi-channel world there are increased opportunities to add a personalized touch to your communication strategy; email, direct mail, landing pages and mobile can all be personalized based on your CRM data. Second and perhaps more importantly, the past few years have witnessed a proliferation of new and exciting technologies that make it ridiculously easy for rank-and-file marketers to communicate on a 1:1 basis, much of it not requiring any IT support.

Direct mail, for example, can now be personalized using Variable Data Printing (VDP) software, a technology used by virtually all digital printers in business today. Never tried it? Well, maybe it’s time you did, as the days of ‘spray and pray’ are long gone. And although VDP may be more expensive than traditional offset, the improved response rates can mean improved ROI. On the Interactive side, email marketing and demand generation software have grown up to the point where it’s a snap to personalize both images and text in an email message based on profile data, not to mention trigger multi-touch drip-marketing campaigns based on lead scoring.

When driving customers of prospects to the Web, keep in mind that a personalized landing page can convert traffic up to five times better than a generic Web page ever will. The fact is, keeping customers and prospects focused on the marketing message interlaced with personalized content is a winning combination.

Is Blogging the Online Dinosaur?

A friend and fellow marketer said something to me recently that caused my eyeballs to nearly pop out of my head. Her comment was short and to the point: Blogging is dead. I beg to differ. 

A friend and fellow marketer said something to me recently that caused my eyeballs to nearly pop out of my head. Her comment was short and to the point: Blogging is dead.

When I asked what made her make such a profound blanket statement, she responded that with the increasing popularity of social marketing, as well as the inundation of free ezines (or free e-magazines), blogs have become the online dinosaur.

I beg to differ.

You see, each platform has its own communication style; thereby, attracting different types of readers:

  • Blogging is a more raw experience for the reader. Informal undertones which are unedited and uncut. Giving the inside scoop.
  • E-newsletters or similar still contain valuable information, but the content is more polished and editorial in nature.
  • Social marketing is typically a combination of short, pithy posts that are fun, friendly, or business-related. Sound bites that grab attention and allow followers see the writer as both guru and virtual friend.

When it comes to marketing, I never like to put all my eggs into one basket. I don’t totally use social marketing as my platform of choice. Nor do I totally rely on email marketing or blogging as a prime driver for sales or leads.

What I like to do is diversify my online marketing mix—similar to when you diversify your retirement portfolio—and deploy several means of organic and paid Web marketing strategies based on target audience, budget and business objective.

In addition, I like to use tactics that complement one another.

Know The Flow: Understanding “Push” vs. “Pull” Marketing
Blogging, social marketing posts, and free ezines/e-magazines (email marketing) are all conduits; that is, ways to communicate with readers albeit subscribers, friends, followers, or fans.

The initial goals of each are virtually the same: To provide information in exchange for a readers’ interest (bonding) and interaction. The information can be editorial, marketing or random thoughts. And the interaction can be in the form of a free subscription (email address), website visit, retweet, ‘Like’ or sale (cross-selling, affiliate or third-party ads).

With blogging and social marketing, you’re deploying “pull” marketing—you’re pulling people to your “home-base hub” whether it’s your blog, profile page or wall with “content nuggets.”

Once live, that content has become part of the Web and is now subject to search engine spiders and similar tactics that will help your nuggets get increased exposure in organic search results pages; thereby, pulling like-minded visitors from your “nugget” to your “hub” with more of that great useful, valuable, and actionable information such as SEO, SEM, article marketing, or what I call SONAR marketing.

Now, since these readers are seeking you out and visiting your “hub,” you don’t have a direct line of contact with them. In other words, you don’t have their direct email address and have permission to correspond with the user personally.

… Which leads to ‘push’ marketing.
E-newsletters and e-magazines are correspondence being “pushed” out to your audience. Since the direct message itself is going through an email service provider and then to a specific individual, it is not widely available on the Web for all to see (including search engine spiders) and will not show up on organic search engines results pages.

You already have the recipients’ email address, so the main purpose of your effort is typically bonding or cross-selling (via newsletter ads and solo emails in your sales funnel).

So you see, as long as there’s different ways to reach people and different ways people prefer to be reached, blogging isn’t dead. For some marketers, it may be on pause; but for smart marketers, it’s still part of the big plan.

I think, nowadays, marketers need to test all online platforms to see which one is right for their business, audience, and objectives.

Don’t rule anything out. Learn how to be strategically creative to satisfy YOUR specific goals and communication flow.

7 Customer Survey Tips, or How to Know Your Customer For Increased Leads & Profits

Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you, one of the most important rules of thumb is “know thy customer” (KTC). For many years, I’ve found the best way to KTC is implementing periodic customer surveys, then creating a “customer profile” sheet. 

Ask any business owner and they’ll tell you, one of the most important rules of thumb is “know thy customer” (KTC).

Knowing who your customers are—not just on a superficial level, but also on a deeper level—is fundamental for business longevity. It can help your business with most any targeted marketing efforts such as social media marketing (communities with like-minded interests), direct mail and email list selection, copywriting, media buying, affiliate marketing and more. It can also help with bottom-line goals such as bonding, lead generation and sales.

For many years, I’ve found the best way to KTC is implementing periodic customer surveys, then creating a “customer profile” sheet. Ideally, you want to survey at least two times per year, especially after large attrition or list growth.

The profile sheet is important, as it’s a quick reference of your “Joe and Jane” customers, as well as your ideal ‘target’ lead. After all, your prospecting efforts should be a reflection of your current customer base.

But surprisingly enough, not every business knows how to effectively implement and data-mine its online surveys and the respective results.

Here are some quick tips to get the best performance from your customer surveys for business growth and retention:

1. Keep surveys easy and short. The ideal length should be no longer than 10 to 20 questions and questions should be easy to answer. That means thinking of typical questions and having pre-populated multiple choice answers that only need a mouse click.

2. Go 360. Questions should cover demographics, geographics and psychographics. Also, for potential joint venture or advertising opportunities, it’s smart to also ask some competitor and purchase-behavioral type questions.

3. Segmentation is key. Send at least two separate emails to your list. One survey to paying customers and one survey to non-paying customers (leads). It will help later to have these two segments separated when you review response results. If one segment is less responsive than another, you can isolate future “bonding” strategies.

4. Offer incentives. I like to offer free, immediate and easily accessible gifts for survey participation after completion of a survey. Once users submit their last response they are redirected to a download page to free reports or similar. People are taking time out of their schedule and should be “rewarded” accordingly.

5. Be creative with the email subject line. I’ve found that response is greater if the focus of the subject line is more on the reward, rather than the goal. Readers respond better to the mention of freebies and gifts (the “what’s in it for me”), than asking for survey completion. Survey subject lines are viewed as clinical and boring, thus glared over in the inbox.

6. Embrace online tools. Use an easy, cost-effective online survey, such as SurveyMonkey.com. There’s different options and price points, varying on need and robustness. But ideally, you’d want to be able to collect emails and tie responses down to the user (email) level.

7. Allow feedback. Always have an “other” field for open comments. People like to either vent or add praise, so don’t limit them with only having all multiple choice. I tend to make this option the last question.

If you’ve set up your survey correctly where you can drill down responses to the user (email) level, you can then created “buckets” (categories) of common themes. For example, buckets could be based on RFM (recency, frequency or monetary) or on other categories such as interests.

You can then use this information for database marketing efforts and send more personalized messages to your list by group (or “bucket”). This targeted marketing approach has been proven to increase open, click, response and conversion rates by more than double!

Not surveying your list is really doing a disservice. You are not really getting to know your customers; thereby, aren’t offering your best editorial or promotional messages, or creating the best products.

If you’re truly looking for better retention, more customer engagement, and increased sales or leads, then make the time to survey your list.

If you’ve never done this before, then you’re truly leaving money on the table, my friend.

Marketing as a Function of Your Entire Organization

In a world where earned content is increasingly influencing marketing programs, marketing as a function is changing. Marketing can no longer live solely in your marketing department. From customer service to product development to human resources, it must live everywhere in your organization. If marketing isn’t tied to your overall business strategy, it’s pretty much useless.

In a world where earned content is increasingly influencing marketing programs, marketing as a function is changing. Marketing can no longer live solely in your marketing department. From customer service to product development to human resources, it must live everywhere in your organization. If marketing isn’t tied to your overall business strategy, it’s pretty much useless.

The most telling example is the synergy between marketing and customer service. Do your customer-facing employees sit in the marketing department? No, they work on the front line, in the field, in your stores and service centers. Depending on how they interact with your customers, they foster either customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Your customer-facing employees thus wield incredible potential to influence your earned content.

Earned content is content that’s created by your customers on behalf of your brand. It could be a great review on Yelp, a gripe on Twitter, a user-generated YouTube video, a Facebook “Like” or a Google +1. Earned content has a powerful impact on your online marketing. It’s word-of-mouth marketing on search results pages and social networks. Your marketing department stays awake at night brainstorming ways to generate positive earned content and minimize negative earned content. But ironically, it’s your customer-facing employees — not your marketing department — that largely influence this content.

Consider this famous internet video: “A Comcast Technician Sleeping on My Couch.” This video is five years old and still ranks No. 15 in a search for “Comcast” on Google. It’s gotten 1.7 million views and 1,600 comments on YouTube. The video’s comments section is a gripe board for Comcast customers. The video is a thorn in the side of Comcast’s search marketing department, negatively affecting its reputation for years. Yet the video would never have existed if that one technician didn’t fall asleep on that customer’s couch. This example reinforces John Battelle’s point that the search engine index is the modern-day equivalent of carving our stories into stone.

Redefining performance marketing is about making the investment needed to bake marketing into every function of your organization. It’s about ensuring that all functions embrace your universal value proposition, central brand methodology and key benefit statements. This increases the likelihood that your customers actually get what your marketing department is promoting, including the right service, the right product, the promised benefit or the promised reward.

Baking marketing into every function is also about ensuring that each department knows that what it does influences marketing (sometimes in a huge way, as in the Comcast example or the recent Netflix price change which created an uproar in earned media). This not only includes how your customer service employees act, but how your product team develops products, what your executives say to the media, how your HR department screens job candidates and so on.

Making marketing an integrated function of your organization fuels the earned marketing engine. It sets the performance marketing spiral in motion as that earned content informs brand perception for the next person in market for your product or service.

Do You Know Where Your Customers Are?

Imagine people sitting in a bar boozing at 8:00 a.m. It’s OK. Most of these morning drinkers work the night shift and this is their cocktail hour. Could these be some of your customers?

Imagine people sitting in a bar boozing at 8:00 a.m. It’s OK. Most of these morning drinkers work the night shift and this is their cocktail hour. What’s more, they want their TV news during prime time when they are having breakfast and getting ready to go to work.

Meanwhile, sometimes I cannot sleep and get up at 4:00 a.m., walk the dog, make coffee, scan the headlines. Alas, the printed newspapers are ipso facto yesterday’s news. What happened overnight?

From The New York Times, August 31, 2010:

Stations in Boston, New York, Washington and other cities are adding 4:30 a.m. newscasts this month, joining a backward march that started in earnest a few years ago. And those are not even the earliest. One station in New York, WPIX, will move up its start time to 4 a.m. on Sept. 20.

In catering to the earliest of the early risers, stations are reacting to the behavior patterns that are evident in the Nielsen ratings. Simply put, Americans are either staying awake later or waking up earlier — and either way, they are keeping the television on.

In the past 15 years, the number of households that have a TV set on at 4:30 has doubled, to 16 percent this year from 8 percent in 1995. At 11:30 p.m., by comparison, when most local newscasts end, 44 percent of televisions are on, up 10 percent from the levels 15 years ago.

-Brian Stelter
“TV News for Early risers (or Late-to-Bedders)”

Do you know your market and how, when and where to reach it?

Takeaways to Consider

  • Marketing guru Axel Andersson bought a small mail order study course in Germany after World War II and turned it into the largest “distance learning” organization in Europe. Axel retired to Florida, a millionaire many times over. When he would come to Philadelphia to consult, he insisted on staying at the Clarion Suites. Why the Clarion Suites—emphatically non-deluxe lodgings in the middle of Chinatown? “Certainly I could stay at a four-star hotel,” Andersson said. “But first of all, I get a suite with a living room where I work and a bedroom where I sleep. Secondly, the price is very reasonable. And thirdly, I see real people! At the Marriott or the Four Seasons, I would be among people just like me. I see those people everywhere. You can’t learn anything from them!”
  • “If you are a marketer, take the bus, subway, train or streetcar to work. These are the real Americans that you want to reach with your messages.”
    —Axel Andersson
    Direct marketer, founder of the Axel Andersson Akademie, Hamburg
  • “Listen to the murmur of your market. Create feedback loops in your database environment so that you can record what your customers and prospects are saying about your products, your service, your company and your competition. There is no more valuable source of information.”
    —Don Jackson
    Direct marketing insurance consultant

Web Sites Related to Today’s Blog
TV News for Early risers (or Late-to-Bedders)

Jonathan Salem Baskin, Author of “Branding Only Works on Cattle,” to Keynote InterACT!

I wanted to let you in on some exciting news: Jonathan Salem Baskin, author of “Branding Only Works on Cattle” and “Bright Lights and Dim Bulbs”, and CMO strategy columnist for Ad Age, has just be named the opening keynote speaker for the InterACT! conference, an educational forum for marketers, brand owners and service providers on cross-media direct marketing opportunities and strategies.

I wanted to let you in on some exciting news: Jonathan Salem Baskin, author of “Branding Only Works on Cattle” and “Bright Lights and Dim Bulbs”, and CMO strategy columnist for Ad Age, has just be named the opening keynote speaker for the InterACT! conference, an educational forum for marketers, brand owners and service providers on cross-media direct marketing opportunities and strategies.

In his presentation, called “David Ogilvy’s Revenge: The Return of Marketing Realism,” Baskin will offer InterACT! attendees a big-picture perspective on the marketing realism emerging from the convergence of new and old media, and what the opportunities will be in 2011.

Baskin, who has been called “a merry iconoclast,” “lucid and cutting,” “groundbreaking” and “the new bad boy of branding,” looks beyond the
gimmicks and hype to uncover what really works when communicating with the marketplace. Currently, Baskin wears multiple hats as a global brand strategist, leading a global network of partner companies in The Baskinbrand Alliance and managing North American business for the global marketing consultancy Futurelab. Along with his books and columns, he also writes the popular blog Dim Bulb, co-hosts a regular podcast, Socializing Media, and is a member of the board of advisors for Social Media Today.

InterACT! is a two-day, two-track program designed for marketers, agencies and custom publishers, as well as print/marketing service providers interested in improving how they interact with customers and prospects. It’s the first event that will demonstrate how to integrate print, online, mobile and social media to deliver interactive marketing campaigns that drive business results. The event is scheduled for August 10-11 at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill.

To follow InterACT! on Twitter, visit: http://twitter.com/Interact_Forum.

To register, click here: http://bit.ly/InterACT_LinkedIn_MC.

Hope to see you all there!

Two Words That Wrecked an Otherwise Superb e-Sales Pitch

When creating a sales effort, put yourself inside the head of your prospect and see what he or she sees.

[NOTE: All names and numbers have been changed to protect the inept.]

“Always see a salesman once,” said my first boss and mentor, children’s book publisher (and ace salesman) Franklin Watts.

The reason is obvious: you never know when (1) the guy has something to make you rich or (2) he is so good that you should hire him.

During 50 years in business, I have been receptive to reasonable blandishments from strangers by phone, letter, in person and—in recent years—e-mail.

James O’Malley called me and said that during this recession, many companies were having trouble getting paid. He said that his firm was employed by a number of direct marketing companies to collect overdue receivables and asked if I could use his services.

I gave him my usual line, “I’m a ‘see’ guy, not a ‘hear’ guy. Could you e-mail me some information?”

O’Malley said he would. Did I have any outstanding receivables currently that would require his services? I said that I did not, but who knows what the future would bring.

Five minutes later I received the following e-mail from James O’Malley:

your new Legal & Collection firm

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 11:02 AM

From:

“James O’Malley”

To: dennyhatch@yahoo.com

Message contains attachments

BSM 2009 EMAIL Packet (James O’Malley) PC.doc (42KB)

Denny,

We spoke today about protecting your company on current and future collection issues. Our collection ratios are more than double those of in house attempts, OR competing attorneys and collection firms, and many times we can collect within 3-5 business days. Attached please find the information you requested regarding our firm, along with a placement form.

Please get together the exact amount, invoice number, and date of invoices as soon as possible.

We are excited about the opportunity to help dramatically increase your cash flow. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at the number below.

Sincerely,

James O’Malley
Client Services Manager
800.555.8020
602.555.8041

www.b-s-minc.com

So far so good, I thought, as I clicked on the attachment. I believed James O’Malley cared about me, wanted my business and spent serious time trying to woo me. After all, he called and asked for me by name and immediately followed up with a personalized e-mail. This was a thoroughgoing professional sales effort that made me feel important.

“It’s a basic tenet of selling,” wrote the late copy guru Bill Jayme, “that in the marketplace as in theater, there is indeed a factor at work called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief.'”

The attachment—which arrived in Word—was three pages. The first page was a memo from James O’Malley describing the history of his company and why I should use his services. Page two was a description of precisely what services O’Malley’s firm could provide. And the third page was a form for me to fill out to get the ball rolling.

Alas, the first page was NOT a personal memo to me from James O’Malley. Here is how it read:

To: Potential Client

From: James O’Malley

As mentioned, the attachment was in Word format, which means he could have spent an additional two seconds replacing “Potential Client” with “Denny Hatch” and closed the loop, making me believe that he was talking exclusively and personally to me.

Instead of a highly professional personal message, O’Malley threw an e-pie in my face, saying in effect, “Yeah, I’m sending this to a lot of people. You’re a big boy. You understand.”

In short, he broke the spell and triggered what Hemingway called my “shockproof, built-in shit detector.”

In addition, the following two sentences in the memo are grammatically incorrect:

>>Our combined 75 years of experience, professionalism and dedication to our clients, allows us to exceed all industry standards and provide you with the most expeditious results. <<

(The verbs—”allows” and “provide”—should agree.)

>>By utilizing our vast resources, as well as our investigating techniques to determine the debtor’s financial condition, provides us the information needed to best collect the account. <<

(The first word should be deleted.)

Admittedly, these are small details, but they indicate sloppy preparation. Would I trust these careless people to be in direct contact with my customers and clients—those folks who hopefully will be paying their bills on time once this damned recession is over and long after O’Malley’s services are no longer required?

Uh-uh.

Click on the image below to enlarge.