Newsletters, the Jewel in the Crown of Content Marketing

Email marketing remains a highly effective way to engage and connect with clients, prospects and referral sources.  Email marketing can take several forms and according to marketing experts, newsletters are the most effective format.  There are few content marketing tactics that do a better job of attracting, retaining and even winning back lapsed clients than a newsletter that contains well-presented, relevant information that arrives on a regular basis.

Whether readers discover your newsletter while browsing your website or it’s delivered to inboxes by an email marketing service, a newsletter (or blog) will build and enhance your brand, keep your business at top-of-mind, drive traffic to your website and encourage prospective clients and referral sources to learn more about your products and services.  Listed here are building blocks that will help you create a newsletter that will reflect well on your expertise, your business and your brand.

  1. Goals   The newsletter will be one component of your overall marketing /content marketing strategy.  Acknowledging that your newsletter is the cornerstone of your content marketing strategy and that your content marketing strategy plays a leading role in your overall marketing strategy will help you to identify appropriate goals and metrics that will monitor the success rate of your marketing activities. Consider how launching a newsletter will support your organization’s marketing goals.  Are you looking to generate leads and sales? Or are you attempting to establish yourself as a thought-leader and expert as a way to build trust and attract more prestigious clients, expand referrals, get a teaching appointment, or speaking engagements?
  2. Frequency   Decide what your schedule will allow you to do in terms of researching sources and publishing original content.  Be realistic about your time, because sticking to a predictable publishing rhythm will be important to your readers.  Choose as your publishing schedule a date (like the 1st, 15th, or 30th of the month) or a day (the 3rd Tuesday, for example).  A monthly newsletter will help you to build readership most efficiently, but a bi-monthly schedule might be OK.
  3. Template   Reinforce your visual brand and use the colors and graphic style elements used in your business cards and website also in your newsletter design.  An online search will bring you to numerous free newsletter templates and email marketing services will have templates as well.  Choose a template that you like and that will be easy to read.  Readers should be able to quickly scan topic headlines.  Make sure that your template will allow you to upload images as desired. Hubspot, the Cambridge, MA content marketing firm, in a recent survey found that 65% of email marketing readers prefer images to text when reading newsletters.  It’s also important to choose a template that will give sufficient “above the fold” space for you to create headlines that encourage readers to dive in. “Above the fold” is a newspaper industry term that describes the area above the fold in the newspaper.  In a digital newsletter, above the fold refers to what readers can see without scrolling.  Place your best headlines above the fold to reel in readers.
  4. Mobile friendly   A 2018 study by Adestra, a U.K.-based email marketing service, found that 59% of emails are first opened on mobile devices but according to Marketing Land, a digital publication whose target readers are marketing professionals, only 17% of marketers regularly send responsive emails.  Take the steps to format your newsletter in responsive design, so that it will be easy to read on a smart phone or tablet.
  5. Newsletter content   Create a newsletter that consistently delivers to readers  information that they are likely to find interesting and useful.  There are those whose idea of a newsletter consists of links to articles that have appeared in industry journals, sometimes accompanied by a personally written prelude.  That’s probably OK to do two or three times a year, but I highly recommend that you research a topic or two and write 800 – 1500 words of original content.  Your newsletter does not have to exceed two pages, including photos or short videos.
  6. Subscriber base   Your mission will be to capture as many email addresses as ethical behavior allows (no spamming please!).  Take a passive approach and make it possible for readers to subscribe on your website.  Take an active approach and initiate a business card exchange as you meet people in your travels.  Mention that you have a newsletter that covers a particular topic and ask if they’d like to receive it.  If the answer is yes, then you’ll add a new name to your list.  Include an unsubscribe feature in your newsletter template.  Check the statistics of your newsletter, in particular the bounce rate and open rate.  Correct or remove bad email addresses, to keep the list clean and your statistics accurate.  According to Mailchimp, the average newsletter open rate is 20%.  However, when you publish a newsletter that consists of original content that readers value, the open rate can be much higher.  From 2012 – 2016, I was the principal author of a women’s club newsletter (I am still a member) and the open rate approached 70%.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Bob Bernstein (l) and Carl Woodward at The Washington Post in May 1973. The two won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1973 for their reporting on the Watergate story.  ©Associated Press

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Storytelling Made Simple

What would be useful for my audience to learn and how can I package this lesson or bit of information in a compelling story format?“—Travis Bernard, content marketing guru at TechCrunch, the leading technology industry blog based in San Francisco, CA

Whaddaya say we learn how to put together a good story for your marketing content? Some people are natural storytellers and others aren’t, but it’s always useful to develop and hone the art of storytelling when one is a public speaker and that includes Freelancers, business owners and sales professionals who must speak with prospective clients to generate sales or billable hours.  Your story need not be long and elaborate.  In fact, a concise narrative will be more memorable and impactful.

Your content marketing story will describe a client experience journey.  The story will feature three main characters—the hero, the villain and the mentor.  The story will have a beginning, middle and end.  A call-to-action, when you encourage your content reader to act on the information that you’ve shared, will be the story’s epilogue.

The hero of the story will have a problem to solve or avoid, a challenge to overcome, and that is the goal.  The hero will be waylaid or deceived by the villain, that is, an obstacle that is preventing him/her from achieving the goal.  The hero must seek knowledge and guidance from a mentor during the journey and that is your role, storyteller friend.

Act I is when the hero acknowledges that there is a problem to solve.  There is a goal to achieve and an effective solution will be necessary.

Act II will describe the magnitude of the problem and the failures of various less than stellar solutions that the hero has tried and discarded (homegrown remedies or competitive products).

Act III is where you come in, the mentor who helps the hero make sense of the possible solutions and explains how your product or service can resolve the matter.  The hero agrees to adopt your product or service and the problem is resolved.  The hero looks like a genius to his/her superiors and colleagues.

The Epilogue features the call-to-action, when you show the content reader how to obtain an effective solution for his/her goal, a solution that will overcome the challenge and make the content reader look like a hero to the higher-ups.

Be advised that the hero of the content story is never the product or service.  The hero of the story is the protagonist, s/he who takes action and moves the journey forward to its triumphant conclusion.  The client is always the hero of the story.  You, the storyteller and possessor of expertise, serve as a mentor, to ensure that the hero will prevail and achieve the goal.  Your product or service supports the hero by overcoming the challenge and enabling achievement of the goal.

The purpose of your content/ story is to persuade the reader to act upon the information that you’ve delivered.  Integral to persuading the reader is to build trust in you as a mentor/ expert and confidence in the solutions that you recommend and provide. You may be able to persuade content readers to give your post a Like, or share it with others.  The ultimate validation is when content readers are so confident in your proposed solution that they click through to your website shopping cart or contact you to ask questions about how you might handle a project.

Finally, you’ll need a specific story to tell (and eventually, you’ll have two or three more). Without naming names, your content/ story will the based on a client who has successfully used your product or service.  If you will tell your company’s brand story to promote awareness, your content story will illustrate why company founders were motivated to form the venture and include mention of the mission, values and guiding principles.

Client experience journey content stories, or your company’s brand story, can be included in your blog, social media posts, white papers, videos and so on. You’re sure to find that they help prospects envision their own circumstances and how your products or services can be useful.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Portrait of Clementina Maude (circa 1862) taken by her mother, Lady Clementina Hawarden (Viscountess Hawarden of England, 1822-1865)

Content Marketing Survey Findings

In 2016 the PA based marketing services company Clutch surveyed 300+ producers of online B2B content to obtain insight into how readers find, engage with and act on digital business-themed content.

The Clutch Content Marketing Survey 2016 interviewed 300+ expert content marketing writers from across the U.S. to determine how those who produce B2B content can most effectively create, publish and promote content for their organizations.  Key findings were:

  • 88% of online B2B content consumers read business content at least once a week
  • 45% of online B2B content consumers read content to stay current with trends in their respective industries
  • 20% of online B2B content readers use content to help make decisions about whether to purchase products or services
  • 45% of online B2B content consumers read about technology, 24% read about small
    business and 21% read about workplace/ HR topics
  • 87% of online B2B content readers visit search engines to look for business content
  • 85% of online B2B content readers commonly find business content on social media

Robert Rose, Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute in New York City, emphasizes that “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable information to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience, with the objective of driving profitable customer action.” In other words, the goal of your content marketing posts, videos, podcasts and images should be to develop a relationship with your customers, using relevant content to win them over.

main goals for content marketing

Furthermore, the expert content marketers surveyed advised that target audience personas are the most important attributes to consider when developing your content marketing strategy. “Most businesses have an idea about their audience and how it is segmented but, when it comes to taking those audiences into a content marketing strategy, they often flounder,” said Quinn Whissen, Marketing Director at Vertical Measures, a content marketing agency in Phoenix, AZ.

types of content enterprise companies create most frequently

Although challenging, clearly identifying and defining target audience personas is the foundation of an effective content strategy.  Understanding who will read the content determines the information to include and the best platforms for presentation.

content that performs best

Content marketing can be an effective tool for creating brand awareness and generating leads that convert to sales or billable hours, but realize also that it can generate benefits that go beyond a page one article ranking in Google or driving traffic to your website. Consider how content might help your organization to meet key business objectives.  How can your content increase sales?”

HubSpot, a marketing services firm based near Boston, MA, found that the more marketing content a potential customer reads on the company website, the more likely s/he is to buy their software.  Jeffrey Vocell, Senior Manager of Product Marketing, reports that HubSpot follows up with a customized email after a user reads three or four articles.

Metrics matter

  • Expert content marketing writers prioritize their brand story, mission statement and content types when creating their content strategy
  • 49% say that brand awareness is their main goal for content marketing
  • Research/original data, infographics, product reviews and blog posts are the most effective types of content
  • Metrics that reflect sales (32%), content readership (29%) and lead generation (29%) are more important than content sharing metrics (10%)
  • Paid advertisements outperform organic efforts when promoting and distributing content

content marketing metrics

Survey findings yield three core recommendations for content marketing:

  1. Tailor all marketing content to specific audiences.  First identify the different reader personas, then create content that matches their needs, interests, aspirations and behaviors.
  2. Identify the business goals you aim to achieve and consider how your content can enable that. For example, if you want to obtain more links back to your website, be sure to generate research/original data, infographics, product reviews, videos, blog posts and case studies.
  3. Spend less money on content creation and more on distribution.  Creating high-quality content is useless if you don’t dedicate enough effort or resources to getting it in front of your target audience.  If you can’t afford paid advertising, focus on media outreach, such as traditional journalists and influencers.

tactics used to distribute content

Regarding the most effective content distribution methods, the survey found that expert content marketers most often use paid advertisements  including pay-per-click (71%), organic social media (70%) and traditional marketing channels (69%), i.e. print media, TV, radio and direct mail.

Distribution and promotion of the content must be customized to the target audience.  For example, “If content distribution and promotion is done for recent college graduates, it has completely different channels and focuses, compared to content aimed at executives,” explains Andrea Fryrear, Chief Content Officer at Fox Content of Boulder, CO.

Finally, remember that content marketing can deliver benefits to your company that go beyond achieving a page one Google listing for an article you’ve posted or driving traffic to your website. “We don’t simply want to have an impact on marketing, but rather on the entire business unit within that organization,” said Chad Pollitt, Vice President of Audience at Relevance, an online content marketing publication based in MD.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Vaudeville and film star W.C. Fields as a carnival sideshow barker in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount Pictures, 1927)

What Kind of Consultant Are You?

According to Winford E. Holland, co-founder and partner of the Houston, TX consulting firm Holland & Davis, Inc. (now Endeavor Management) and author of Change Is the Rule (2000),  there are four types of consultants—Expert, Process, Coach and Temporary.  When deciding whether to enter the realm of Freelance consulting, or when you reassess the business model and branding strategies for your existing  consulting practice, think objectively about the type of services that you are qualified to offer, the type you like to perform and what you have the skills and relationships to sustain.

Your consulting category should be reflected in the elevator pitch you use to meet and greet colleagues and potential clients, in your marketing strategy and talking points/messages and your sales strategy, even if you don’t necessarily use the words “expert” or “process” or “temporary” (if you’re a coach, you’ll describe yourself as such).   Communicate to prospective clients what you’re best at doing and succinctly articulate what they’ll gain or solve when they bring you in.  Make your value proposition known straight away.

Your consulting category will become the core of your branding strategy.  There are so many consultants hunting for projects—you must differentiate.  Furthermore, when you communicate your brand, you will attract your ideal buyers, your target market.

Expert: These consultants have advanced knowledge and a deep skill-set in a certain industry or discipline, based on the individual’s education, training and work experience.  Their unique value proposition resides in content.

Process: These consultants excel in methods of process improvement.  For example, they don’t contribute content to the strategic plan, but they can facilitate the meeting at which company goals, objectives and strategies are discussed and prioritized and they may also guide clients through the plan’s implementation.  Their unique value proposition resides in methodology.

Coach: Helping clients recognize, manage and resolve their business (and sometimes also personal) challenges, decision-making questions, or professional development plan is the specialty of Executive Coaches.  Their unique value proposition resides in process, i.e., methods.

Temporary: These consultants might serve as short-term helpers on project teams.  Others may evaluate and install IT solutions such as computers, or smart home or office systems.  Their unique value proposition resides in content, in know-how.

“Successful consultants are problem solvers,” Holland says, “They’re passionate about what they’re doing and able to market their skills—and the latter is often their biggest challenge.”

The most successful Freelance consultants are invariably those who once worked for a consulting firm (I know one such person ant she is very successful).  Experience in the corporate world is almost as helpful, particularly if one reached the level of Chief, Vice President, or Director.  Veterans of senior positions are at an advantage when it comes to building a client list, because they’ve had opportunities to create relationships with their employers’ customers, who may be positioned to green-light projects and become their first clients.

The value that consultants bring to businesses is either content (Experts and Temporary) or process (Process and Coaches) and the most successful consultants are of the Process category.  Why? Because Process consultants aren’t limited by their highly specific training, education, or experience to a particular discipline or industry.  They don’t supply content (advanced knowledge), but they can apply their expertise in certain processes and methods to many industries.

Process consulting expertise is more flexible and valuable to a consultant’s money-making potential because it can be applied to many environments.  That flexibility can make up for the lack of content expertise.  That’s something to remember as you consider the type of consulting you should practice.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, founding father of the American Republic, statesman, inventor and polymath, conducting his kite experiment in Drawing Electricity from the Sky by Benjamin West (circa 1816) courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Client Acquisition Tips

According to client acquisition coach and best-selling author Brian Hilliard (Networking Like A Pro [2017] with David Alexander and Ivan Misner), the most vital task for B2B service providers is to organize and articulate your company’s services in a way that makes it easy for prospective clients to understand what you do.  As the in-house marketing and sales expert, the Freelancer must create marketing messages and sales pitches that enable prospects to figure out how and when to work with you.

Yet the unfortunate tendency is for Freelancers to present their services as all things to all people, preventing prospects from getting a handle on what you can do for them (and I’ve done this, BTW).  Casting a wide net may seem like a winning strategy, but in reality it often results in a bewildered and frustrated prospect who doesn’t know how to use your expertise—so they don’t. It’s essential to help prospects see solutions in your services if you expect to make sales and build a client list.  Getting specific is the way to do it, Hilliard says:

  • Promote your services to prospects with the motive and money to do business
  • Define your services using terminology and selling points that the prospect will understand
  • Demonstrate that you can deliver requested services and ensure desired outcomes
  • Price at a level that clients accept and also generates a good profit for you

In your next prospect meeting, when you’re asked “Tell me more about what you do?” give an example of how you’d implement the basic option and the premium option of a service that fits with what s/he might need.  Since you will have become specific, you can expect that your prospect will then become comfortable enough to reveal specifics about his/her reason for speaking with you.  When you hear the details, you can then provide  more precisely tailored versions of your basic and premium options.

Next, although it will take both courage and discipline, stop talking and let the prospect ask questions or provide feedback on your proposed solutions. Expect to be asked if you’re able to further customize a solution and of course you’ll gladly do so.  Whatever you can do to add value will increase your chance of getting the sale.

Finally, there will be the price negotiation.  Ask for the amount of the project budget, to increase the chance that you’ll present an acceptable (verbal) estimate for your services.  If it seems to you that in order to provide the requested services your estimate might somewhat exceed the client’s budget, be willing to negotiate.  When you’ve shown the prospect that you can speak to and address what s/he needs, you’ll probably sign a contract and a new client will join your roster.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: Isidor Kaufmann (1853-1921, Austro-Hungarian) A Business Secret, 1917      private collection

Want More PR? Show Them You’re an Expert!

Recently, I gave myself another try with what is probably the most effective PR service for business owners and Freelancers,  Help A Reporter Out . I originally signed up with HARO about five years ago, but quickly discontinued when I felt overwhelmed by the thrice-daily emails that arrived Monday – Friday to inform subscribers of 20 or so potential opportunities to be interviewed. The drill is, as soon as a topic that you can speak to with authority appears, you click the link to the reporter’s HARO request for an expert and attempt to sell him/her on your ability to provide quotable information.

You will compete with numerous contenders.  But if you keep at it, the odds are that you’ll eventually speak with a reporter and get your quote.  Mentions and appearances in newspapers, magazines, widely read blogs, podcasts, or television shows is effective marketing and branding.  Include the link to your quote or interview on all of your social media platforms and download the full text (not just the link, which can be taken down) in your press kit. 

A press kit is your brand’s portfolio of verbal, audio and visual demonstrations of your credibility.  A well-stocked press kit provides third-party verification of your stature and expertise.  Whenever you reach out to the press, send a link to your press kit (remember to include your bio and photo).  If you take a booth at a trade show, bring along hard copies of your press kit.  When courting an especially desirable client, send a link to your press kit for his/her review, as a confidence builder.

When approaching journalists at HARO as they seek insights from trustworthy experts to add credibility to an article they have in development, or if you send out press releases to inform your local media of some newsworthy achievement in your business or professional life (perhaps you’ve just signed an especially prestigious client?), it’s essential that you present yourself as an authority in your industry whose story will interest the readers of the publications that you pursue.  Review your PR-worthy attributes and make sure that they’re up to snuff:

Experience and track record

Longevity in business is considered a sign of success, experience and credibility.  If your client list includes one or more high-profile clients, that enhances your presumed expertise.  If you author a blog or newsletter that has 5000 or more subscribers, that is another strong selling point that often persuades reporters to interview or quote you.

In fact, reporters will hope to attract many of those followers to his/her article when you provide the link to the item in which you are quoted.  Freelancers who’ve built up big online followings are always attractive media sources.

If you can produce links to articles in which you’ve previously been quoted or interviewed, that evidences the approval of fellow journalists and you will be well-positioned to receive more media mentions.

Enviable sales revenues

Are you a million dollar consultant (or close to it)? That’s an attention-getting descriptive  and it ensures journalists of your business acumen and therefore, credibility.  Journalists will be delighted to interview you.

Impressive credentials

If you’ve earned the scholarly degree of Ph.D, M.D., Pharm.D or Esq. in your chosen field, you will quite readily be able to present yourself as an expert.  Alternatively,  if you’ve earned one or more respected certifications in your field, you may advertise yourself as an expert in that field.

If you own (or share) a patent for a product or process that you’ve invented or co-invented, you may as well claim that you are an expert in your industry and you can do the same if you teach a subject related to your industry at the university level, especially if you teach at an Ivy League or other large institution.

Your book

If you’ve authored a book, whether an industry “how-to” or the story of how you overcame business or personal struggles to launch and sustain a successful enterprise, that will be a brilliant marketing tactic that will convince reporters of your authority.  Additionally, you can use your book to obtain speaking engagements and even teaching appointments.  Plan to self-publish and expect to pay about $5000 for editing, proofing, book text lay-out, cover design, printing and professional photography.

Awards received

If you’ve received a business award from a chamber of commerce, that is a noteworthy honor.  A service award from a Rotary Club, while it is an organization composed of business executives who perform volunteer service, is nevertheless highly regarded in the business world.  Awards and prizes that you’ve earned from national or local organizations will stand you in good stead as well.  Note all official recognition that you’ve received in your bio and curriculum vitae.

Judge awards

Five or six years ago, I was invited to become a judge in the Women in Business category for the Stevie Awards, an organization that recognizes achievement in the entrepreneurial, corporate and not-for-profit sectors in organizations around the world.  I hope to be invited to judge this year’s competition as well.  If you are a member of a business or professional group that presents awards, ask to join the awards committee.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Powerful gossip columnist Louella Parsons (l) with bandleader – actor – producer Desi Arnaz and his wife, actress Lucille Ball at the 1956 Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles

Corporate Social Responsibility and Freelance Consultants

“We live in the era of the conscious consumer,” says Marco Scognamilio, global CEO of RAPP, the advertising agency based in New York City. “No longer content to separate their politics from their wallets, buyers want to know that the brands they’re supporting also stand for something.”

Freelance consultants and business leaders for the past decade or so have been encouraged by our customers and communities to disclose our organizations’ guiding principles and adherence to best practices and demonstrate our philanthropic priorities.  By the early 2000s, the term corporate social responsibility came to encompass not only standard business ethics, but also actions that promote some form of social good, as interpreted by the organization leaders.  It’s now common for businesses, in particular national and global enterprises, to take a public stand on social justice issues such as environmentalism and sustainability, public health promotion, civil rights and individual liberties.

Organizations large and small that operate in certain industries, most notably entertainment and fashion, are now well aware that publicly supporting individual liberties (that in some demographic segments are promoted as civil rights) is a must-do.  Activists are ready to quickly call out all who do not fall in line.

So it may be useful to evaluate how your organization can demonstrate some measure of your personal values as a way to show current and prospective customers that your purpose is not solely to make a profit, or even to do work at which you excel and enjoy, but also show your concern for the well-being of fellow citizens, wildlife, or the environment.

Kara Alaimo, Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY points out, “There’s huge demand right now for professionals who can teach businesses how to navigate these new consumer expectations and how corporations can  take stances on political issues and practice good corporate social responsibility.”

Hildy Kuryk, founder of Artemis Strategies, a New York City consulting firm that creates marketing messages for socially aware customers, so that consumer-facing companies can deepen their civic engagement and communicate their value story more persuasively, cautions, “What’s astonishing is that we’re consistently seeing major brands that can’t seem to apply basic principles to how to make decisions when they’re taking stances on political issues.”

I concur that wise organization leaders are advised to be circumspect when evaluating which social or political causes to publicly support.  Ms. Kuryk goes on to say, “In an unpredictable political landscape, brands need to be acutely aware and cautious (about) whom they align with.” No kidding.

But I trust her instincts.  If your company can afford the Artemis Strategies consulting fee, I recommend that you call her and commence the building of your organization’s social responsibility based marketing campaign strategy and messages.  Those who are not so flush are invited to spend another 5 minutes reading this post, at no charge, and make note of my respectfully offered observations and suggestions.

Declaring the values that guide your business practices will humanize you, differentiate you from competitors and make you less likely to be perceived as a commodity.  It’s smart marketing and effective branding.  So choose the causes that you’ll publicly associate with your organization very carefully and avoid the possible disapproval of current and prospective customers.  Keep what might be considered controversial in your private life.

Widely approved causes include libraries, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, working against hunger or homelessness, remedial education and raising money for research used to discover therapies that would eradicate or more effectively treat serious diseases.  I’m a board member at my local branch library and serve on the committee that selects local authors for our guest author series.  Previously, I’ve conducted “Dress for Success” and networking workshops for low-income women who were in a 20 week job training program and for several years I was a board member at an organization that transfers donated original art to sparsely funded social service agencies.

Find a cause that resonates with you and your leadership team and decide what your organization’s budget will allow you to donate.  Alternatively, it’s sometimes also possible to provide volunteer labor, where your employees spend a day assisting a not-for-profit agency to deliver certain services.

Publicize your organization’s involvement in social and philanthropic causes on your website, on social media, in the local business press and in your bio.  BTW, philanthropy can bring networking opportunities and it’s possible that you might meet your next client through volunteering.  You could do well by doing good.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Mohandas K. Gandhi (the Mahatma), leader of the campaign for independence in India, meets with Jawaharlal Nehru (l), who would become the first Prime Minister of India after independence from Great Britain, at the All-India Conference in Bombay (Mumbai), July 6, 1946.  © Associated Press

Competitive Intelligence: The Role of Social Media

To those who think you know all the ins and outs of using social media, fasten your seat belts.  If you created a LinkedIn profile at the turn of the century, started out with MySpace and later jumped to Facebook, became an early adopter of Vine and now work Snapchat, I have news for you.  Social media platforms are not just one-way PR broadcast channels that let you tell the world how brilliant and popular you are.  You can (and should) do some of that, but there is more.

Maybe you already do more?  You regularly use social media to encourage comments from customers about their experiences when doing business with your company.  You understand that social media is a two-way street.  But, still, there is so much more.

Social media can be effectively used not only for inbound and outbound marketing, but also for keeping tabs on competitors.  Social media is ideal for gathering competitive intelligence that can make you a smarter marketer, salesperson and business owner.  Here’s how.

First, determine who your competitors are, something that’s not always easy and obvious for B2B service providers.  Discover who your competitors are by meeting them.  The most efficient method to meet your competition is to join a professional society, where you’ll meet fellow accountants, life science marketers, event planners, etc., or join one or more chambers of commerce.  In four or five visits, you’ll meet a good cross-section of peers who do what you do, or something very similar.

Make it a point to talk to these people. Get to know them somewhat and exchange business cards, for they are not your enemy.  In fact, they can probably give you some valuable advice.  You should be willing to share a pearl or two of wisdom with them in return, as long as you don’t give away any proprietary information.

Once their business cards are in your possession, the second thing you’ll do is set up Google Alerts, so you’ll receive notice of their company’s print or online mentions, at no charge.  Whatever your competitors choose to publicly announce, you’ll quickly know.  It will be so enlightening to have the PR of competitors delivered directly to your inbox.

You’ll learn who will keynote at a conference, who will moderate or serve on a panel, who’s released a new product or service, who gets quoted in local or national press, or who will teach as an adjunct professor this semester.  Discover who’s quoted you, or if there are sites linking to your website or blog.  Monitor the content marketing of competitors (e.g., blogs and newsletters) and assess the perspectives and even the expertise of those whom you’re working against.

You can also receive alerts for your own company, to reveal what others are saying about your enterprise.  You’ll learn whether you have supporters who give you compliments in newsletters or blogs, or if someone is undermining you on social media.  Use competitive intelligence to shape your response and support your reputation management.

Regarding the successes of competitors, there’s no mandate to imitate what they do and that’s all to the good.  Be yourself.  But what you learn may inspire you to take, or not take, certain actions based on information you’ve gleaned from the three or four competitors you select to follow.  Set up a Google Alerts account to track key words and phrases and you’ll be happy that you did.

You might also try Hootsuite, a paid service, and use it to search podcasts and webinars by topic and engage in social media listening, for less than $20/month.  The primary role of Hootsuite is to allow users to write posts and manage all of their social media accounts from one site.  Those who are active on multiple platforms find Hootsuite very convenient.  Plus, the analytics reports included with the service reveal which of your social media tactics and strategies are worthwhile and which need rethinking.

Finally, if you can budget $80/month, then take a deep dive into your competitors’ content marketing activities with BuzzSumo.  Examine which content is getting traction for competitors, the shares competitors’ content receives and how your company’s content stacks up in comparison.  It’s possible to receive an update each time selected competitors publish content and you’ll also be able to compare the overall performance of your company’s content with that of competitors.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Image: His Master’s Voice (1898), starring Nipper the dog, by British painter Francis Barraud. In 1901, the painting became the logo of what would eventually become RCA Victor.  EMI, JVC and HMV (His Master’s Voice) have also owned the logo rights.

 

Exit Loyalty, Enter Relevance: The New 5 P’s of Marketing

Which quality best supports and encourages B2B buying decisions? In the 21st century, that quality is relevance.  According to a recent survey by Kantar Retail Consulting, whose North American division is based in Boston, MA, 71% of B2B and B2C customers feel that loyalty-incentive marketing promotional programs do not cause them to feel more loyal toward a company.  It has become evident that regardless of your industry, customers are doing business with you based on the perceived relevance of your products and services to their needs and priorities.  Attempting to buy loyalty with discounts, rebates, rewards, or swag bags is not as effective as it used to be.

A 2017 study by the global consulting firm Accenture found that U.S. businesses lose $1 Trillion a year in annual revenue to competitors because their (former) customers no longer consider them to be relevant.  The study results appear to indicate that to succeed, businesses must be perceived as fulfilling customers’ immediate needs as they occur. Personalization is helpful, but it is best applied in support of relevance.  The authors recommend that companies structure the customer experience  to deliver as does a butler or concierge.

So how do business leaders navigate the paradigm shift? Joshua Bellin, Robert Wollan and John Zeally of Accenture recommend that organization leaders move on from the former gold standard of marketing, the 4 Ps—Product, Place, Price, Promotion.  No disrespect to the 4 Ps, they served companies well for decades, but customer behavior and expectations have changed over the past 10 years or so.  The 4 Ps are unfortunately rather narrow and product-focused for our times.  Today, it’s about delivering customized solutions, especially for B2B customers.

Furthermore, a close reading of purchasing data indicates that the usual product-focused market segment labels, e.g., discount, luxury, or environmentally conscious consumers can no longer consistently predict purchasing choices.  The needs of all consumers, regardless of socioeconomic status and sociopolitical ideology, vary according to their immediate priorities and context.  In response, Zeally et al. suggest that companies expand their marketing guideposts to include these updated 5 Ps:

Purpose:           Customers feel that the company shares and advances their values.

Partnership:    Customers feel the company relates to them and works well with them.

Pride:                 Customers feel good about using the company’s products and  services.

Protection:        Doing business with the company makes customers feel confident.

Personalized:  Customers feel that their experiences with the company are always  tailored to their goals, priorities and needs.

The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset has replaced loyalty, to a large degree. Perhaps it’s a sign of the entitled and narcissistic culture in which we in the U.S. live.  Customer preferences are in constant flux. Short-term strategies and goals are often the norm.

Some companies are able to thrive in this environment, perhaps most notably the global retailer Zara, founded in Galicia, Spain. “Fast Fashion” is the guiding force.  In the 1980s, the company invested heavily in design, manufacturing and distribution systems capable of reacting to market trends very quickly.  As a result, Zara is on top of nearly every trend in women’s, children’s and men’s fashion and customers eat it up.  As of March 2018, there are 2,251 Zara boutiques in 96 countries.

Smaller companies and Freelancers cannot come close to being able to match the power of Zara, but it is possible to leverage relationships and personalization to encourage your current and prospective customers to share what is important to them and discuss how you can meet their needs today and in the future.  You probably already know that all too many of your customers will move on and do business with another company that seems to offer a better mousetrap without even discussing their needs with you first.  It is discouraging, I know.

The best defense is to be found in the 5 Ps.  Start with Personalization and move to Purpose, so that you can make it known that your company can advance the customer’s goals.  Segue next to Protection and use the trust that you develop to encourage prospects to feel confident about doing business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Addams family butler, in an episode of The Addams Family  (1964 – 1966, ABC-TV)