White House ‘Big Data’ Review Recognizes Innovation and Self-Regulation

When the White House announced its intent to study the rise of “Big Data,” as a citizen, I guessed there might be a lot to say about government surveillance, public safety and terrorism, in light of Snowden. As a consumer, I suspected there might be a lot of attention to data breaches, in light of the recent Target incident among others. As a working individual whose livelihood depends on data access and use for more relevant marketing, I was nervous

When the White House announced its intent to study the rise of “Big Data” and its impact on business, commerce, government and consumer’s everyday lives, with privacy protection as an underlying theme, I have to admit I was bracing myself.

As a citizen, I guessed there might be a lot to say about government surveillance, public safety and terrorism, in light of Snowden. As a consumer, I suspected there might be a lot of attention to data breaches, in light of the recent Target incident among others.

As a working individual whose livelihood depends on data access and use for more relevant marketing, I was nervous there might not be a practical discussion of how information sharing and privacy protection can (and is) successfully provided through a combination of peer regulation, enterprising technology and sector-specific legal regulation where information protection and security is niche-based and designed to prevent harm from data error or misuse (credit, financial, health, for example).

Then the report, titled “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values” (pdf), was released.

As a citizen, I was left wanting. Government surveillance of law-abiding U.S. citizens is parked for another report, another day. Some reforms have already been announced. Perhaps this is a blessing—there never should have been a link made between government spying and private sector use of data for commercial purposes anyway.

As a consumer, I was glad to see a call for a single national data breach notification standard. A few years back, I received several notices of “my” data being breached in a few months’ span—two of which offered a year’s worth of identity theft and fraud protection (which I continued to purchase on my own). Whether by luck or design, those notices have declined in number—I’ve had none in the past year. As I hear and read about more recent major data breaches, I haven’t been directly affected (to my knowledge), and maybe—just maybe—some organizations and brands in which I’m involved have gotten better about security. (Indirectly, we all pay for fraud—in higher prices for products and services, insurance, bank fees and the like—and perhaps in our collective loss of trust and carefree.)

As a marketer, I have to say I was happily surprised at the clear-headed conveyance of facts and reporting of opinion in this report—and, importantly, the steer-clearance of political grandstanding. I will leave it to our trade associations to comment on the policy recommendations, but as one our industry’s leading practitioners stated in Adweek, “If anyone of my clients wants a 101 on big data, I’m going to send them this report. This report is very relevant because a lot of what drives this business is programmatic media buying. There are millions of places to advertise on the Web, so an algorithm will decide what your likely audience will be.”

The report either cited or recognized such industry initiatives as the Data-Driven Marketing Institute’s “Value of Data Sharing” report, the Digital Advertising Alliance (disclosure, a client) and its own recent research on data sharing’s role in increasing advertising’s value, as well as DAA’s YourAdChoices.com site and consumer opt-out program for online interest-based advertising. There was care to note—even in the report’s title—that innovation is one of the benefits made possible by big data, and that this economic and social value needs to be enabled, if not fully supported and facilitated.

The report did raise red flags about commercial redlining, eligibility issues connected to employment, healthcare, finance and insurance, and data security (as noted)—but these important areas for consumer protection largely are already regulated, and even have industry backing for further regulation in certain areas such as breach notification. Most of these topics don’t have much to do with smarter marketing, even if some privacy advocates and academics hypothesize about that stretch.

Where do we go from here? The report did make several policy recommendations—and while there were some seeking to codify in law Fair Information Practices Principles (a Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights), there was no attempt to call for an omnibus privacy protection law that treats all data and all data usage the same. If you haven’t had the chance, give it a read—I actually learned from it, and avoided tears and rage.

Have We Achieved ‘Peak Mail’?

In the energy industry, a couple of years ago, there was active discussion of “peak oil”—the very point where half the world’s known, proven oil reserves had been extracted and put to use, leaving less than half yet to be tapped or discovered.  In the U.S. mail industry, perhaps, too, we’ve reached “peak mail”—except there’s no extraction and no finite supply here: simply the notion that pricing, and changing use and acceptance of mail by consumers and businesses, is driving demand elsewhere, and that we’ve entered an era of post-peak mail in volume.

In the energy industry, a couple of years ago, there was active discussion of “peak oil”—the very point where half the world’s known, proven oil reserves had been extracted and put to use, leaving less than half yet to be tapped or discovered. The thought then was that oil still available would become more dear (read, expensive) because our unrelenting global appetite for the stuff would far outstrip supply.

Of course, conservation, increasing fuel efficiency, and alternate sources of power could mitigate demand in such a way that the pricing effects of past-peak oil could be less severe. What if the world, in fits and starts, simply transformed to an economy that relied on other, less expensive, sources of energy (nuclear, natural gas, hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, biofuels and the like). Perhaps this scenario is happening now.

In the U.S. mail industry, perhaps, too, we’ve reached “peak mail”—except there’s no extraction and no finite supply here: simply the notion that pricing, and changing use and acceptance of mail by consumers and businesses, is driving demand elsewhere, and that we’ve entered an era of post-peak mail in volume.

In 2010, the Boston Consulting Group in its “Projecting U.S. Mail Volumes to 2020” report stated:

The U.S. Postal Service will experience profound declines in its volumes of mail and its net income over the next decade under its current business model, presenting a grave threat to its viability. Massive structural changes are required to avoid this outcome. We forecast U.S. postal volumes to decrease from 177B pieces in 2009 to around 150B pieces in 2020 under business-as-usual assumptions. Notably, volumes will not revisit the high-water-mark of 213B pieces in 2006 – on the contrary, the trajectory for the next 10 years is one of steady decline, which will not reverse even as the current recession abates. Expressing the decline in terms of pieces per delivery point highlights the challenge: we project pieces per household per day to fall from four pieces today to three in 2020 – driven by decreasing volumes delivered to an increasing number of addresses. We also project a rapid mix shift from very lucrative First-Class Mail to less-profitable Standard Mail. The volume decline and the mix shift, coupled with an increasing cost base, will cause profits to experience steep, unrelenting declines. Starting with the 2009 loss of $4B, we expect a steady string of increasing losses, culminating with an approximately $15B loss in 2020 (based on USPS and McKinsey cost forecasts). These declining volumes are unlikely to reverse.

So far—four years, and two years of data—toward 2020, this striking scenario is largely playing out: “USPS: A Decade of Facts and Figures.” (See the chart in the media player at right.)

None of this is to say there is a diminished role for direct mail in a post peak-mail digital age. Quite the contrary, the role of direct mail is simply changing, gaining efficiency in targeting, response and engagement—and learning its space and place in an omnichannel marketing environment. In its various postage promotions for 2014, the USPS is testing and encouraging such innovation and integration.

In a recent presentation to the Direct Marketing Club of New York, Bruce Biegel of The Winterberry Group, saw direct mail spending in 2013 actually grow by 1.2 percent, and is projecting another 1.1 percent uptick this year. (Postage hikes in 2013, and coming in 2014, well exceed both these growth percentages.) “Direct mail should be growing because it works,” Biegel said as he announced his findings and projections. “Digital doesn’t do enough in customer acquisition.” This is encouraging news following years of decline.

Volume, however, is not immune to increases in postage, paper and print costs, and to digital migration, and in this scenario, we are really in a situation where USPS infrastructure must continue to adjust to changing mail composition, shape, class and purpose—while continuing to serve all its stakeholders. First-Class Mail peaked in 2000, and Standard Mail in 2007—and we most likely never will return to such volumes ever again.

Assume Nothing

It’s completely coincidental that the mayor of Las Vegas and I share the exact same name … including our middle initial. But unlike me, that Carolyn G Goodman was elected to office and has a huge following in cyberspace. Unfortunately for her, I acquired the Twitter handle @carolyngoodman before she even discovered Twitter

It’s completely coincidental that the mayor of Las Vegas and I share the exact same name … including our middle initial. But unlike me, that Carolyn G Goodman was elected to office and has a huge following in cyberspace.

Unfortunately for her, I acquired the Twitter handle @carolyngoodman before she even discovered Twitter. And unfortunately for me, Madame Mayors’ followers (journalists, critics, and other LV lovers) tweet and reference Mayor Goodman by referencing my twitter handle regularly.

While I enjoy her spotlight for a nano-second, I always reply to the offending tweeter that they’ve referenced the wrong twitter handle, and they usually apologize and quickly do their homework and issue a correcting tweet.

It serves, however, as a great reminder that when pushing content, sending emails, lasering direct mail packages, etc., etc., you should assume nothing.

  • Don’t assume I know who you are when you call me to follow up on an email introduction or direct mail letter you sent. Over 800 emails a day land in my in-box. I don’t read them all, and if I do, it’s probably because they’re client or employee-related. Start the call by introducing yourself. Quickly state your business purpose and then move into your relationship building techniques. Don’t spend a lot of time trying to remind me about the email or direct mail package you sent me because clearly I didn’t see it/read it/absorb it.
  • Don’t assume I want a follow-up call from a tradeshow booth chat within 24 hours of the event. While you may want to “jump while the iron is hot,” I am overwhelmed with other issues since I’ve been away from my desk for a few days. Give me a few days to settle back into the routine and then call (if indeed I expressed an interest in your product/service and didn’t just stop by to drop off a business card to win the free iPad).
  • Don’t assume I want to be your friend on Facebook just because we do business together. Facebook plays a key role in my personal life, and I post regularly with family updates, photos of my dog and things I’m doing locally with friends. If you’re a business colleague, let’s stick to being friends through LinkedIn. Period.
  • Don’t assume I want to be added to your email/newsletter list just because I met you at a conference/trade show/friend’s party and we exchanged business cards. Spamming is no way to start a relationship.
  • Don’t assume I follow the genderization rules of your software program. While the name Carolyn is most likely female, all too often folks named Pat, Leslie, or Chris are offended by being addressed as “Mr.” in your direct mail letter or email. Just ask a boy named Sue.
  • Don’t assume I have interest in or empathy towards your organization/product/service. Starting an email or letter with factual information about your company is meaningless and more than likely to trigger an instant finger on the delete button or a careless toss in the recycle bin. Lead with a story, a benefit statement, a problem/solution … just don’t start by talking about yourself. To paraphrase the great Bob Hacker, all the reader cares about is, “What’s in it for me?”
  • Finally, don’t assume that I have a problem and I’ve just been waiting for your sales call in order to solve it. Do your homework. Understand my industry. Look for case studies within your organization that solve issues that I’m probably facing, because I’m in the same industry. Don’t start your call by asking me “a little bit about myself and my company.”

Net-net? Stop assuming and start doing your homework before you decide that I’m responsible for the woes of Las Vegas. Because if I am, I should be writing the script for The Hangover, Part 4.

Content Marketing on a Shoestring Budget

On July 10, 2013, Cyndie Shafstall (Founder and CEM of Spider Trainers) and I spoke at our second “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” webcast—this time we focused on the topic of Content Marketing. While you can still listen to the webcast, the event triggered many questions from participants, and I thought it might be helpful to address the most popular topics in this column.

On July 10, 2013, Cyndie Shafstall (Founder and CEM of Spider Trainers) and I spoke at our second “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget” webcast—this time we focused on the topic of Content Marketing. While you can still listen to the webcast, the event triggered many questions from participants, and I thought it might be helpful to address the most popular topics in this column.

Q: How do you keep regularly scheduled content fresh (and keep me, the marketing director, from burning out)?

A: Commitment to regularly publishing content can be a daunting assignment for any business—large or small. To be perceived as an expert, you need to publish expert content.

Sit in a room with three or four others in your company (ideally the sales folks), and stand at the whiteboard and ask for ideas on any relevant topic to your industry. To get the conversation going, ask the sales folks the top 5 questions they each get asked during the sales process. While each question may not be fodder for content, you’ll quickly see a few themes emerging. I usually sit with clients and after a 30-minute discussion have over 100 topics on our whiteboard!

Then organize those topics into the most logical groupings: Topics that will have fairly short answers/discussion are probably most appropriate for a blog, while topics that require a lot of background, and supporting charts/graphs, are best used in a whitepaper. If your first meeting only yields 10 topics, hold the meeting every quarter and ask your team to keep their eye out on what topics interest them—and probe them for their areas of expertise. You’ll quickly discover that there are many possible topics available; you just have to use your journalistic instincts to ferret them out of staffers.

Q: What’s the difference (and how do you leverage) a blog vs. a whitepaper vs. other marketing content? And how should you decide which method to use when?

A: This is probably the question I get asked the most. So let me try to address each channel:

  • Blogs: Not every company needs (or should have) a blog; If you don’t have an industry thought leader in your organization (or somebody you can position as a thought leader who will let you put words in their mouth), you may want to hold off creating a blog in the first place. If you do, post blog topics that are timely and relative to your industry. Read trade publications and identify the “hot topic” du jour, and blog thoughts about that topic. Attend industry conferences, gather information from other speakers’ presentations and blog about what you liked and didn’t like about what they were saying. If you run a travel company, you can certainly blog about “hot” travel destinations—but even better, blog about “how to” at the destination … like “How to throw a wedding in Thailand” or “Best surfing vacations in Mexico.” You need to think like a journalist who is writing a story that others will want to read.
  • Whitepapers or Educational Primers: You can expand a blog topic into a more robust whitepaper or primer (a whitepaper provides a strategic point of view on a topic; a primer educates by taking the reader through the basics of a topic). Whitepapers should include quotes from outside sources to give it credibility and value. Primers can be simply “How to” guides that teach your audience the ABC’s. But be careful NOT to chest pound within your content. A whitepaper is supposed to be just that—a document, written by a 3rd party, on a particular topic of interest to readers in your space. It is NOT an advertorial for your product or service.

I carry around a notebook, and when I see/read/think about an idea for my blog, I jot it down so, when the time comes to sit down and write, I have a number of ideas to stimulate my thinking. Since I’m committed to Target Marketing to write this blog every 2 weeks, I’ve already got a notebook full of ideas!

DM 101: A Small Business Primer

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall of Spider Trainers. Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier

Yesterday, Target Marketing hosted a webinar called “Direct Marketing on a Shoestring Budget.” I was honored to be a speaker, along with Cyndie Shaffstall, of Spider Trainers.

Considering all the resources available for DM information, I was completely surprised when I learned that over 1,000 people registered. During the live event, we were deluged with questions and there wasn’t enough time to answer them all, so I thought I’d dedicate this blog to trying to cover a few DM strategies that might make your marketing life a little easier.

There’s not enough room on this page to cover everything I’d like to say, but based on the questions, here are my top five pieces of direct marketing advice:

1. Before You Begin Any Marketing Program, Decide Where You’re Going
Start with your company’s business objectives (Grow revenue? I certainly hope so!), and work backwards.

There are really two key marketing strategies to achieving this objective: Retain existing customers (i.e. retain existing sources of revenue), and add new customers. Duh. But retaining existing customers should include measurable marketing objectives like increasing average order size, increasing number of transactions per customer, and increasing frequency of purchases. Marketing to cold prospects might include metrics like increasing the number of qualified leads into the sales pipeline, or driving more traffic to your web store. Depending on your objective, different marketing strategies and tactics will be utilized.

2. Know Who Your Existing Customers Are
If you can’t profile them by the data you collect, you can append data from a reliable third-party data provider—and many of them offer analytic services so you can get a good handle on your buyer profiles.

Another option is to think about your product/service and how you might market it differently if you knew your customers better. For example, if you knew your customers had toddlers, would that drive a different set of messages than, say, parents of teens? Do a survey and ask your customers to share key information with you. (An incentive to fill out a SHORT survey often works; make sure you only ask questions you can use the insights from in future marketing efforts.)

On the B-to-B side, do your customers tend to come from a handful of industries only? Then you have a better chance of selling to more customers in those industries than in a brand new industry. Knowledge is power, so it’s difficult to plan and execute successful marketing efforts if you don’t understand your customer base.

Don’t forget about taking a deeper dive into your data to find your “best” customers. Chances are 20 percent of your base is driving 80 percent of your revenue. Better know who they are—and fast—so you can make plans to protect and incent them to stay loyal.

3. Clean Up Your Act Before You Try to Make More Friends
Since most customers will visit your website first, make sure it’s optimized for site visitors … and for smart phone users (yes, the future is NOW). On the B-to-B side, you better have your LinkedIn profile updated with a professional picture and solid bio, because, yes, people do judge a book by its cover.

4. Choose the Right Media Channels
This is probably the hardest one to get right. Do magazine ads work? Yes, if your audience reads a particular publication. Does cold prospecting work? No. End of statement. Does direct mail work? Yes, if you spend time identifying who your best customers are, profiling them, then overlaying that profile on a list to find look-alikes, and you combine a meaningful offer in an appropriate format. There are lots and lots of nuances in direct mail, and most folks get it wrong. So how do you make the right media decisions? If you know who your best customers are, find out where they congregate—that’s where you want to have a presence.

In the B-to-B world, this can be made a little easier as business people get together at industry events, join industry associations, read industry publications, etc., etc. It’s a little easier to figure out ways to get your message in front of them.

In the B-to-C world, you need to be much more analytical. Go back to the profile of your best customers. What do they have in common? In what context would your product/service appeal to them? Instead of trying to “interrupt” their behavior by placing an ad where they’re not even thinking about your solution, try to place your ad in an appropriate context. For example, if you’re a nonprofit trying to reach high net-worth prospects for charitable giving, use your PR skills to try and get a story placed about your efforts. Then, purchase banner ads on the publication’s site so they run next to the article about you—or place an ad within their publication when the article runs. Use Google Analytics and AdWords to understand the most popular search terms for products/services like yours. See what your competitors are doing and figure out how you can differentiate yourself with your message.

5. Format Matters
I’m often asked if postcards work. Or is a #10 package better than a self mailer. And what about Three-Dimensional packages—are they worth it? The answer is yes, yes and yes … but here are a few things to consider:

  • Postcards work best when you have a single, simple message to convey. Keep it short, sharp and to the point.
  • Self-mailers work better if you need a little more real estate to tell your story. Plus, they can be quite “promotional” in nature, so they’re not taken as serious communication.
  • Envelope packages work best if you have a more complex message. A letter (with subheads, please, as we’re all scanners of content), order form, brochure and business reply envelope (yes, they still work like a charm), can all work if your audience is older. (Here’s a hint: Not everybody wants to go to your web site, fill out a form and give you a credit card number if they can check a box on your form, add a check and mail it back to you on your dime.)
  • 3D packages can work like gangbusters if the item inside is engaging and makes sense as it relates to your brand/message. Inexpensive tchotchkes don’t usually work very well—they don’t garner attention and they don’t make your brand look smart.

Net-net, marketing is a skill. And, considering you will invest to get financial gain for your business, you really shouldn’t try to do it without professional help.

Are You Buying ‘Smart Media?’

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Media buying, or online advertising, is more than just a Web strategy to help grow your business. It’s both a science and an art. It involves a bit of finesse, competitive research, creativity and good negotiation skills.

Sadly, with most online advertising experiences, the lagging partner is typically the business owner by no real fault of his or her own … it’s simply from sheer lack of industry knowledge and media savoir-faire.

I’ve been buying online ad space for more than a decade. Here are my personal powerful and money saving tips to buying smart media. These are “must ask” questions that will help you get the most bang for your buck:

1. Competitive analysis—Find out what the typical industry rate is for that particular ad spot and placement in your niche. For instance, if you’re interested in running a 300×250 banner ad, do some research. Call some ad networks and find out what that ad unit costs on the home page and ‘”run of site” within your target niche. What ad units typically get the best clickthrough rates (also known as CTR)? Read some online e-zines or blogs and get an idea on average metrics so you have a benchmark to measure your campaign against.

2. Ad targeting—Find out if the publisher allows day parting (running ad during specific time periods). This can save you money on ad rates, especially using the CPM (cost per thousand) pricing model.

3. Dedicated email—Find out the size of the list you’re thinking of renting, the frequency the list goes out, and the average unit sale (AUS) per subscriber. Ask the publisher who’s mailing for you if there will there be a lift note (an introduction or implied endorsement). Lift notes help “warm up” the list (subscribers) and boost conversions.

4. Out clause—Ask your account executive if the media agreement has an out clause or termination right. This is important as if your campaign is not working, you don’t want to have to ride it out and waste money. You want the ability to end it and cut your losses. Also find out if you can pause your ad during a slow traffic times (i.e. summer, holidays) as not to waste impressions (CPM).

5. Reporting—Ask your account executive if you will be given daily/weekly reporting OR access to the online ad serving system. This will allow you real-time access to clickthrough rates and more to evaluate if creative (banner and landing page) is striking a chord with the target audience.

6. Seasonality—Each industry and niche has its highs and lows. But, generally speaking, it’s typical to see drops in website traffic during summer (June to Aug.) and around certain U.S. holidays. Research your industry and use consumer purchase behavior to your advantage. For instance, in some industries, the days around Thanksgiving are slower than usual. If you’re running a campaign that falls on this timeframe, ask about getting lower rates or pausing your ad during the slowdown. DoubleClick and ClickZ are great sources of information and often release quarterly consumer Web reports on buying patterns and traffic.

7. Exclusivity—Similar to economies of scale (where the more that’s produced, the cheaper the unit price), if your banner ad is sharing space with other advertisers for less “solo” time, you should be paying less. It’s important to ask whether your ad will get 100 percent of the rotations or sharing ad exposure. And if sharing, find out what percentage of exposure you are ultimately getting during your ad run. This is known as being “fixed ad placement” or “shared ad placement.” If you’re told you have shared placement, this is a great bartering tool to get a more competitive rate.

8. Site targeting—You’ve heard in real estate it’s always about location, location, location, right? Well, online real estate is no different. Find out if your ad will be run of site (ROS), run of channel (ROC) or on specific high-traffic pages. Typically, the further you drill down, the more you pay. It’s known as “site targeting.” Similarly, the higher you go up, the less you pay. ROS is the highest (most broad) level, so it’s usually the cheapest ad location. Next is usually ROC, whose ads appear on certain channels or sections of a website. Then there are also specific pages or demographic targeting. Your goals and budget will determine which placement is best for your needs.

9. Remnant space—Often the forgotten about query, remember to ask if remnant space is available. Remnant ads are those ad units that the publisher or ad network is having a difficult time selling for whatever reason. They can also be last-minute specials or units that are now available due to another deal falling through. With more popular, high-traffic websites, you can save a fortune buying remnant media. Just pay close attention to the terms and conditions in the insertion order, as with most special deals, there are usually restrictions and little leeway.

All of these factors will help determine the value of your ad space and, ultimately, the cost you’re willing to pay to access that audience. Good luck!

If You Speak, Will They Listen?

Yesterday, I was one of two speakers at a webinar hosted by Target Marketing. During our prep call earlier in the week, the host advised us that over 1,000 people had signed up to attend this free event. Now I know from past experience that only 50 percent will likely attend, but another 10 percent to 20 percent will listen to the podcast after the fact. But despite providing case studies, facts and figures based on industry best practices, the disappointing reality is that very few “attendees” will ever try to implement the lessons that I shared

Yesterday, I was one of two speakers at a webinar hosted by Target Marketing. During our prep call earlier in the week, the host advised us that over 1,000 people had signed up to attend this free event.

Now I know from past experience that only 50 percent will likely attend, but another 10 percent to 20 percent will listen to the podcast after the fact. But despite providing case studies, facts and figures based on industry best practices, the disappointing reality is that very few “attendees” will ever try to implement the lessons that I shared.

How do I know this? Because I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and have spoken at dozens of conferences and am continued to be amazed at how many companies feel the need to reinvent the wheel.

For example, when presented with a prospect’s particular marketing challenge and we recommend a fully integrated campaign solution that includes online and offline initiatives, the client says “let’s test to learn what will work best.”

Really?

I’ve been involved in testing for my entire 30+ year marketing career. And I’ve tested offers, colors, premiums, even signature lines, and those can yield very different results client to client. But here’s the one thing I don’t need to test: A fully integrated marketing campaign will outperform a single medium campaign every time. Why? Because different people consume information differently.

Some spend time online and click through banners, buttons or SEM results. Others gather information at conferences and webinars. Still others open and read email and direct mail.

Net-net, at some point, if they have a need, they will raise their hands in some way, whether they accept an inbound call from your sales rep or make a call into your call center. Perhaps they’ll visit your website and download something? Or visit your booth at a tradeshow?

The source of the “lead” will be misleading if you’re trying to measure and prove ROI, because they were exposed to your message in a number of ways and just because they finally raised their hands, you assign them to one channel and credit it with being the driver of leads. The next thing you know, you’re shifting marketing dollars to that one channel, and yet a year later you’re wondering why lead volume is down.

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ll meet new prospects who say their last (single channel) marketing campaign didn’t work. Therefore the (single channel) is a waste of money.

After digging a little deeper, the prospect didn’t really know where the “list” came from, or what the “offer” was or whether the campaign ran during a hurricane which meant that no one was online searching for their particular product during that particular week.

Here’s the key takeaway: Well planned, fully integrated campaigns usually yield the highest number of leads at the lowest cost. And the key to real sales success is the follow up.

Follow up those leads with an intelligent combination of emails and phone calls based on lead value (oh yeah, don’t forget to ask two or three questions when acquiring that lead so you can score its value to the organization), and—here’s the most important part—actually follow up with emails and phone calls that demonstrate to that prospect that you understand his or her pain and have the experience and solutions that can help solve the problem. In other words, talk to them in a language they can understand.

When prospects complete an online form and complete the box that asks “Industry” by choosing “Manufacturing,” don’t contact them as if they are in healthcare. If the forms asks for “Company Size” and the respondent chooses “1 to 10,” then treat that respondent like the small business it is. Demonstrate that you understand the challenges facing small businesses in manufacturing and you’ll gain far more credibility and brand engagement.

The next time management asks you to reinvent the wheel to solve the marketing challenge, tell them you already know what to do, because you’ve done your homework.

Social Media Is a Waste of Time for B-to-B

There. I’ve said it out loud. Now let the crucifixion begin. But before you write a retaliatory remark, hear me through. While I strongly believe that B-to-B marketing strategies can leverage many different marketing channels, I don’t think social media is at the top of my “things-I-must-do-to-help-drive-my-business-forward” list. Why? Because too many brands still need to get their act together in the basics, before spending precious resources chasing their tails on platforms that will yield very little to the bottom line.

There. I’ve said it out loud. Now let the crucifixion begin. But before you write a retaliatory remark, hear me through.

While I strongly believe that B-to-B marketing strategies can leverage many different marketing channels, I don’t think social media is at the top of my “things-I-must-do-to-help-drive-my-business-forward” list. Why? Because too many brands still need to get their act together in the basics, before spending precious resources chasing their tails on platforms that will yield very little to the bottom line.

So before you write me a nasty post suggesting that I’m old and out of touch with the times, consider these basics about your B-to-B product/service:

  • Website: Yep. This is where first impressions are made, so it better be designed and organized for easy navigation. And, it better be intuitive—allowing visitors to find their way around and get to the information they’re seeking without having to fall down a rat hole or two. Is the information arranged in a logical fashion (no, not the way your company wants it, but how your target audience THINKS)? Can information be downloaded and printed without sucking my printer dry of ink? Are there high-end videos to watch that are informative, engaging and helpful? Relevant case studies to my industry? Quotes/endorsements from users? White papers that truly examine an industry issue without making self-serving claims about your company? On a scale of 1 to 10, what score would you give to your website? If it’s less than an “8,” stop spending time on social media initiatives and get your website in order first.
  • Customer Service: Have you ever called your own toll-free line or emailed your own company as a “mystery shopper?” Who answers and how quickly? How are you treated? Is it easy to get your questions answered without being transferred? What kind of follow up is in place? Many companies separate this step from the rest of their marketing efforts and it often exemplifies everything that is wrong with your organization, which no amount of social media can fix. Remember, it’s easier to sell more to an existing customer then it is to find a sell to a new prospect, so if the after-purchase experience is less than stellar, stop chasing your tail and concentrate on getting your customer service house in order.
  • Industry Presence: No matter what product or service you sell, there are probably one or more industry organizations/conferences/events that attract potential prospects. This is where many targets go seeking information and your brand needs to be part of the discussion. Attending trade shows does NOT necessarily mean plunking down cash to have a booth on the trade show floor and handing out useless promo items, although that can be helpful if done right. What it does mean is that you need to get engaged in the event. Find out how to become a speaker, or participate in a roundtable discussion. Build awareness of your brand and your knowledge about issues facing the industry and the role that your product/service plays to help solve that issue. This is the original world of social media—not an online, digital presence that has no real value unless someone “clicks” but true engagement and dialogue between two individuals where one has a pain and the other one can solve it.
  • Relationship Building: Before LinkedIn and webinars, we all attended conferences, listened to speakers, met over cocktails and exchanged business cards. We followed up, stayed in touch and reconnected when we needed help finding useful products or services. I admit that I love LinkedIn as a tool for organizing my contacts, but the Discussion Groups can be quickly taken off topic or slow to take off in any meaningful way. If you have a solid topic that is of value to your industry, hire a researcher/writer and get an article/whitepaper written. Then share it with potential prospects, post it to one of your industry sites, send it to an editor of your trade publication. Every digital outlet is begging for valuable content and you could place yourself at the top of the knowledge chain through this endeavor. And everyone likes doing business with someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Speaking of LinkedIn, if you’re in sales, you need to have an up-to-date LinkedIn profile posted. And please, use a professional picture of yourself, and not one of you and your dog or the one taken by the camera on top of your computer (which is creepy looking, by the way). When you talk about your current employer, make sure you’re using consistent language about your brand. Look to your marketing or PR department for the 25-word description you know exists. Make sure you create a thorough profile and reach out to past customers / clients for endorsements—they do get read, believe it or not.

If you can honestly say that all five of these marketing tools are optimized and working like well-oiled machines, then by all means spend your time, money and resources on Facebook pages, Pinterest sites and Tweets. If you prove their value, write me—show me the money.

The Data Show: #NBCFail, or What Happens When an Industry Faces Digital Disruption

Like it or not, NBC must accept the fact that its monopoly on broadcast content has been disrupted by the emergence of new technologies, most notably the Internet and the DVR. Instead of creating a business model that leverages and monetizes on this new reality, they’ve instead tried to ram an old business model down the throats of consumers across the U.S., essentially missing the forest for the trees. As a result, they’ve pissed off millions of people, devaluing their brand in the process.

Like most Americans, I’ve spent a lot of time watching the Olympics during the past couple weeks. Probably way more than I should. To be totally honest, I haven’t been the biggest fan of NBC’s coverage, and on this I’m definitely not alone. Look, for example, at the #NBCFail Twitter campaign that erupted online during the past couple weeks. Led mostly by bloggers and new media pundits, the campaign has relentlessly lambasted NBC for its poor coverage.

A major criticism by the #NBCFail folks has centered on topics ranging from showing only American competitors, to endless and annoying human interest stories, from snarky banter with condescending hosts, to strangely jingoistic flag-waving commentary. I must say I agree that it’s generally been an unpleasant experience. But, beyond poor coverage itself, NBC has also been taking a ton of flack for its new media “strategy”—if you can call it that—that includes no live streaming content on the Web. They have an App with some live coverage, but it’s only available to those with an active paid cable subscription that includes NBC already.

Now of course many in the industry have rushed to NBC’s defense. In his recent article in Ad AgeThe Truth About #NBCFail,” Simon Dumenco states quite correctly that “NBC is not a charity.” He then goes on to explain that NBC paid about $1.2 billion for the rights to broadcast the games. That’s a lot of greenbacks. Dumenco’s point is that because NBC is not listed as a 501c3 (non-profit) organization, it has every right to run in the Olympics in a manner it sees fit in order to recoup and hopefully make a profit on its hefty investment. Fair enough.

While on one hand I tend to agree with some of the points made by Dumenco and other critics of #NBCFail, on the other I really do feel that NBC has completely bungled its new media strategy. Like it or not, NBC must accept the fact that its monopoly on broadcast content has been disrupted by the emergence of new technologies, most notably the Internet and the DVR. Instead of creating a business model that leverages and monetizes on this new reality, they’ve instead tried to ram an old business model down the throats of consumers across the U.S., essentially missing the forest for the trees. As a result, they’ve pissed off millions of people, devaluing their brand in the process.

This is eerily reminiscent of what happened to the recording industry a little more than a decade ago. Remember Tower Records? Sam Goody? Virgin Megastores? All gone. And I could continue and list off dozens. Well, guess what happened? The world changed and the recording industry lost its monopoly on distribution of its primary product. What was their master plan? Suing Napster. And all that accomplished was putting off the inevitable by a couple years at most. Today, all the old players are gone and iTunes is the world’s largest retailer of music worldwide, and has been since 2009. The craziest part is that it was only launched by Apple in 2001. It happened so fast.

Well, why was Apple, a company with no experience selling music, able to swoop in and within a few years totally dominate a legacy industry, displacing existing firms? Two words: Disruption and Innovation. Disruption caused by the emergence of new technology—namely, the Internet as a means of Distribution—enabling firms with the best new ideas to unleash Innovation on an industry ripe for transformation.

NBC and the other legacy broadcast networks are now facing similar dilemma. With the emergence of the Internet as a viable distribution channel for broadcast media, their monopoly is over. Don’t like NBC’s coverage? Well, all you need to do is locate a proxy and you can watch awesome uninterrupted streaming coverage on BBC, or China’s national network CCTV, among many others. And as if this ignominy weren’t enough, Digital Video Recording (DVR) boxes in most homes mean that almost no one is watching commercials anymore. Sure, NBC can crow about its impressive ratings while it blacks out live coverage and force millions of people to watch their broadcast in primetime. But how many of these people are tape-delaying coverage by an hour and skipping the ads? Way more than they want the advertisers to think.

What this all means is that the landscape has radically changed for the networks, though they don’t seem to realize it. How long is it before most advertisers realize that the 30-second commercial is functionally obsolete? My guess is it can’t be too long. And when they do, guess what will happen? No more 30-second ads. That will mean a HUGE revenue stream dries up for the networks as the advertisers pull their campaigns en masse. In my estimation, because the networks seem completely unprepared, this shock will be even more devastating than the loss of classified ad revenues was for newspapers.

The only solution for networks, of course, is instead of fighting change and pissing off your customers with inane blackouts and insulting restrictions that don’t work, to be the harbinger of transformation and change instead of the victim. Can they do it? It’s certainly possible. Take, for example, this past year’s absolutely brilliant Final 4 strategy by CBS/NCAA. While the tournament was broadcast on regular TV by CBS without blackouts or restrictions, there was also an amazing App you could buy that offered uninterrupted access to all the games. Sure the App needed to be purchased—but the user experience was so awesome I sure didn’t mind ponying up a few bucks to install it on my iPad.

Experience after experience has shown in an effort to prevent cannibalization of their existing business model, legacy firms miss the forest for the trees and fail to innovate in time, allowing new competitors to swoop in and change the rules of the game for them. By that time, of course, it’s way too late and they’re toast. Ask Kodak about digital photography. Bet they now wish they had started the transformation to digital a few years earlier, don’t they? Or ask Borders about eBooks? I could go on and on …

So, do you think the networks will figure it out? Let me know in your comments.

—Rio

Prospecting to IT Buyers: How Nine Data Vendors Stack Up

Buyers of information technology (IT) are one of the most valued audiences targeted by business marketers. Globally, these professionals spend $3.6 trillion on hardware, software and technology services. My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently investigated the availability of prospecting data available to tech marketers for reaching this desirable group, and we found some surprises.

Buyers of information technology (IT) are one of the most valued audiences targeted by business marketers. Globally, these professionals spend $3.6 trillion on hardware, software and technology services. My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently investigated the availability of prospecting data available to tech marketers for reaching this desirable group, and we found some surprises.

We asked twenty companies who supply prospecting data to business marketers to share with us statistics about the quantity and quality of the data they have on IT buyers in the U.S. Nine vendors graciously participated in our study-specifically, Data.com, D&B, Harte-Hanks, Infogroup, Mardev-DM2, NetProspex, Stirista, Worldata and ZoomInfo. Our thanks to them for letting us poke around under their hoods.

We asked each participating vendor to report to us on the number of companies on their databases in ten industries, by SIC code. We also asked for the numbers of contacts with IT titles in a sampling of twenty firms in those SICs, ten large enterprises and ten small businesses. Finally, we sent them the names and addresses of ten actual IT professionals (people whom Bernice and I happen to know, and were able to persuade to let us submit their names), and we asked the vendors to share with us the exact record they have on those individuals. The results of our study can be downloaded here.

This is the same methodology we have used in past studies on prospecting data available to business marketers—although this was the first study we have done on a particular industry vertical. Our objective is, first, to get at the question of coverage, meaning, the extent to which a business marketer can gain access to all the companies and contacts in the target market. And second, we want to show marketers the level of accuracy in the data available for prospecting-for example, is Joe Schmoe still the CIO at Acme Widgets, and can I get his correct phone number and email address?

The answers to these questions, in general, was YES. The data reported was surprisingly accurate, especially given how much business marketers complain about the data they get from vendors. And the coverage was wide, meaning there seem to be plenty of IT names in a variety of industries for us to contact.

But the data also revealed some interesting trends in business marketing in general and tech marketing in specific.

  • Prospecting data is being sold these days out of massive databases, which makes it far easier for marketers to select exactly the targets they want, by such criteria as title, company size and industry, irrespective of whether a “compiled” or a “response” name.
  • Company counts by SIC varied widely among the vendors, reminding us that data providers may have their own proprietary systems for flagging a company by industry code.
  • Job titles are getting fuzzier than ever. We found real IT professionals using titles such as Platform Manager and Reporting Manager-which makes it tough to know what they really do.

Given these developments, we urge our fellow marketers to probe carefully on data sourcing and categorizing practices, and to specify in great detail exactly what targets you’re going after, when buying data for new customer acquisition. And we suggest that you source from multiple vendors, in order to expand your market coverage potential. Happy prospecting to all.