Have Whitepapers Lost Their Strategic Purpose?

As the strategy of using whitepapers has become more common, too many marketers have missed (or forgotten!) their strategic purpose.

White PapersI first encountered the concept of a “whitepaper” in the late ‘80’s while working on a B-to-B technology client at Ogilvy & Mather Direct. Our strategy was to run a full page ad in several prominent technology print publications and offer a free copy of a scientifically-based study — one in which our client’s product performance had been proven to be superior when tested against its competitors.

To help ensure the credibility and integrity of the report, the client hired a third-party research firm to conduct the study, and an outside technical writer had crafted the document with a blind eye towards trying to slant the copy in any direction other than factual reporting. The paper provided some compelling and helpful facts and figures on metrics that we knew would interest our target audience, and it concluded that the client’s product was, indeed, superior.

The paper itself was completely non-branded — it looked and felt like the scientific research paper that it was, and therefore was entirely credible. Thus the term “whitepaper” — as it was an unbiased view based on fact.

As the strategy of using whitepapers has become more common, too many marketers have missed (or forgotten!) their strategic purpose. In fact the pendulum has swung in the exact opposite direction as brochure-ware is now mislabeled as a whitepaper.

Stop calling it a whitepaper. It’s a brochure.

Giant client logos now dominate the document from the first page to the last. Some have gone so far as to take the first three or four pages of the report to provide information on the brand — who they are, what they do, why their products are superior, or profiles of key executives. This defeats the entire whitepaper strategy, and instead of providing credible support to the brand, it is a thinly disguised brochure … and one that isn’t even helpful because it’s lost all its perceived objectivity.

Face it: We all know the drill. An email is blasted to a prospect list offering a free “whitepaper” download on a topic of interest. We click and hit a landing page where we have to fill out a form. (Don’t get me started on the inane questions like “How soon do you plan to make a purchase?” or “How much budget have you allocated?” knowing that if I click on the drop-down menu choices of “In the next 30 days” and “$50 – $100,000” I’ll get a phone call before I’ve even had a chance to download the paper.)

As business buyers, we’re all seeking unbiased information to help us make a purchase decision. We research online, read articles, ask colleagues and peers for their point of view and experiences; we seek out product reviews from industry publications or associations, and try to build a business case for the purchase if we need to get final approval from others.

As marketers, our job is to help those prospects in their journey by providing helpful and timely information that can support the decision to purchase our product. If you can claim your product can deliver “speed that is 3x faster,” then why not pull that scientific evidence together into a real whitepaper?

If your brand conducted product testing in a lab, then why not publish those results in an unbiased manner? What are you afraid of?

Do you fear the reader won’t be smart enough to recognize there is a clear winner? Are you concerned that your product didn’t score 150 percent on every metric? That’s okay — in fact it actually adds credibility to your story.

So for all you marketers who agonize over the creation of valuable content, instead of writing fluff pieces that don’t buy you much of anything but a few eyeballs, try digging a little deeper into your organization to find the real meat for your message. Try crafting a real whitepaper based on scientific fact, and then watch your target actually move your brand into the “consideration” phase of their buy cycle.

Who Should Run for President? Effective Marketers Who Get Results!

As a marketer, how do you know that your work has made a difference in the world? It’s not whether you made an audience laugh, cry or remember the words to your jingle. It’s not because your brand name can evoke a Pavlovian response to make a purchase. For me, the most impressive result is when a smart strategy and innovative creative solution have a major impact on solving a business problem. I’m proud to report that this year’s ECHO entries were no exception.

As a marketer, how do you know that your work has made a difference in the world? It’s not whether you made an audience laugh, cry or remember the words to your jingle. It’s not because your brand name can evoke a Pavlovian response to make a purchase. While these are certainly all impressive outcomes, for me the most impressive result is when a smart strategy and innovative creative solution have a major impact on solving a business problem. And I’m proud to report that this year’s ECHO entries were no exception.

The ECHO Awards, represented by a new and beautifully designed glistening crystal statue, were handed out at a gala celebration on Monday night, complete with live band and TV-personality/stand-up comedian. But the highlight of the evening were those entries that truly impacted change – whether by driving a politician to introduce groundbreaking legislation or by disrupting an entrenched competitor. From campaigns for a little known travel destination in India to a clever recruiting campaign that sought to identify future code breakers for The U.S. Navy, the 2015 ECHO Awards were a testament to the brilliance of marketers who have honed their craft.

Even though I was honored to be this years’ ECHO Judging Chair, I was too busy administratively during the judging process to spend any time actually reading or judging entries this year. But when the dust finally settled and I was able to review all the finalist entries and partake in the discussion around who should be the Diamond Winner, I was astounded at how many times I marveled “I wish I’d thought of that!”

The judges, recruited from across the globe, were a tough bunch. While they included agency strategists, art directors, copywriters, account planners, project managers and client-side marketing pros, not one was unimpressed with the breadth and depth of the campaigns they reviewed. I saw many partake in lively discussions around the merits of an entry – and wished I could be part of that debate process.

In the end, those that were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze statues on Monday night, should know that they are among an elite few. From nearly 1,000 entries, their work stood above the rest. Their work helped a client meet a financial goal… Or improved the lives of those less fortunate… Or helped drive revenue… Or helped drive sales. Most importantly, every campaign was thoughtful, innovative, and delivered on their promise to meet the stated measurable objectives. That’s no mean feat.

And that’s certainly more than I can say for most politicians.

 

Make Me an Offer — But Set My Expectations

What’s the ideal offer expiration date? Any good direct marketer knows that you have to test and learn what works for your brand, but in the early days of direct mail the rule of thumb was six to eight weeks (long enough for the recipient to receive the offer in the mail, write a check and mail it back).

What’s the ideal offer expiration date? Any good direct marketer knows that you have to test and learn what works for your brand, but in the early days of direct mail the rule of thumb was six to eight weeks (long enough for the recipient to receive the offer in the mail, write a check and mail it back).

But now that brands can communicate with customers instantly via email, text, Instagram and Facebook, offer windows can be shortened to a hours. And, when positioned appropriately, can drive a quick hit of revenue.

But here’s a case of what NOT to do …

On Friday, September 4, I received an email offer from Travelocity to click the link which would reveal how much I’d save (with the promise that it would range from 10 percent — 75 percent off on hotels). Given that I travel a lot, and I often book with Travelocity, it was an offer worth my click time. Plus, the button was kind of fun with a “Surprise Me” action message.

Naturally I was disappointed when I learned I had only earned 10 percent off and with another click had deleted the email message from my desktop and my memory bank.

But two days later, on Sunday, September 6 at 6:50 pm, I received another Travelocity email. This time the subject line was “Don’t Forget to Click. Reveal. Redeem.”

Given that it was a long weekend I didn’t check my emails until Monday, Sept 7 and, since I had completely forgotten about the earlier Travelocity email (since my inbox is filled with hundreds of email exchanges a day), I clicked the link in this email too. Only this time I got the message “Sorry! The Coupon is no longer valid” with a little clock icon reinforcing that time had run out.

My first reaction was that somebody at Travelocity had screwed up. Surely any email offer was going to last more than a day or two.

First, I found the original email offer in my deleted folder and it told me the offer expired on September 7. But instead of telling me I only had a few days or 72 hours, the email just gave me a calendar date — which, at the time, seemed like the distant future.

The September 6 email also noted that the offer expired on September 7 … but it should have said “24 hours” which would have given it the sense of urgency it deserved.

Instead, this Travelocity customer had a negative experience with the brand — and all over a potential 10 percent savings.

The point is, it’s critical that you think carefully about your offers, their activation windows and how you position it in your communication. Travelocity could have created a lot more interest and excitement if their original subject line had said “72 hour sale” in it … and their follow up email had “Final 24 hours of our sale.”

Motivating your target to act is one of the many challenges facing marketers today, so if you’re going to include an offer, make sure you give it the urgency it deserves.

Are CMOs Really in Charge? Should They Be?

If a CEO is responsible for overall company management and fiscal health, isn’t a CMO responsible for overall brand value and the health of their customer relationships? And if not the CMO, then who?

If a CEO is responsible for overall company management and fiscal health, isn’t a CMO responsible for overall brand value and the health of their customer relationships? And if not the CMO, then who?

Two recent blog posts hit this point home, and left me wondering if CMOs have the breadth and depth of experience, knowledge and expertise to accept responsibility for the total customer experience. Read on, and tell me what you think.

The first blog — on arstechnica.com — was titled “Best Buy has spammed me more than all of Nigeria’s princes combined.” The post from author Jon Brodkin should not only make Best Buy cringe, but generate an immediate response from Best Buy’s CMO, Greg Revelle.

It seems that during Jon’s purchase at Best Buy he unwittingly opted-in to a Best Buy email barrage. Within days, his inbox was stuffed with one or two emails a day from the ubiquitous retail store with subject lines like “4-HOUR SALE: Starts now,” “You’d be crazy to pass on this,” “Amazing deals end soon,” and “Jon, save 15% on ink and toner.”

Of course Jon did what any of us would do — he wanted it to go away so he unsubscribed. But when the emails didn’t stop, he went further: He complained on Twitter. He complained directly to Best Buy (and was told the emails would stop). But they didn’t. So he reported Best Buy to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for violation of the CAN-SPAM rules.

As a marketer, my first reaction is “Why isn’t someone managing the Best Buy CRM system to create a set of rules that will ensure any single customer will NEVER receive more than X emails from us in a given week or month?”

I can’t imagine a situation where anyone would agree to that many emails from a single brand — so for all the investment Best Buy has made in technology and automated CRM systems, they’re only as good as the humans controlling those technologies. And who controls those humans? In Best Buy’s case, it should be CMO Revelle. It should be his team that manages the CRM system. It should be his staff who sets up and manages email rules. And it should be his team who monitors customer satisfaction with email — looking at open rates, clickthrough rates, conversion rates and unsubscribe rates.

The other example was a LinkedIn post by one of my colleagues, Denise Williams. Titled “Can’t control it? Don’t promise it. [Branding 101].” In it, she complained about an unnamed telecom who offered a rebate on a phone upgrade via a direct mail offer, with the OE teaser “You’re more than our customer. You’re our top priority. Thank you for choosing [our company].”

She took them up on the offer, upgraded and received her gift card/rebate. But, like most of us, forgot she had it in her wallet. So a few months later, when she finally went to activate the card, it was too late — the card had expired.

As she notes, the card act governs how long rebate cards need to be active, and she understands that, but it’s how the organization handled her when she complained that’s the real issue.
After being transferred around and around the call center and asking customer service agents who the President of the company was (they were clueless!), she finally went online, researched the Executive Team and decided to reach out to the CMO by email. Her faith in her ability to have a peer-to-peer discussion about a system failure was encapsulated in this comment: “surely the CMO would understand something this important: that the flawed promotional offer with the expired rebate left me feeling less than a customer who is ‘Top Priority.'”

But the CMO failed her by merely forwarding her inquiry to the executive resolution team — a group from whom Denise had originally tried to contact, but from whom she was shielded. Of course they saw the error in their ways and quickly credited her account the amount of the gift card.

But shame on that CMO. This is customer relationship management 101. Get your telemarketing team up to speed on your brand values. Empower them to solve problems. Teach them how to listen to the customer and help them reach a satisfactory conclusion, because it shouldn’t be this hard to get one little expired gift card reactivated or give the customer a credit.

I’m sure many CMO’s reading this will tell me that they are NOT responsible for the email CRM system, or they’re NOT responsible for the customer service team. But as a C-suite executive responsible for creating positive brand impressions that will ultimately result in sales and happy customers, shouldn’t these customer contact divisions be part of their strategic management team?

Yes, that sounds like the CMO has taken on a much bigger job, but not one that should scare people like the Best Buy’s Greg Revelle. With a BA from Princeton and an MBA from Harvard, I’m sure he’s more than capable.