Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Tag

If Content is King, What Does that Make My Writer’s Block?

I have been suffering from writer’s block for about a week on my blog. I even had an editorial calendar and the blog titles written. I got busy in meetings and I couldn’t concentrate on writing. Although, I actually have some really cool perspectives on social marketing and CRM that I have been developing, but nothing that was ready for prime time. It was interesting to watch my blog traffic to see how it would hold up without my daily posts.

As I only posted one time last week, my traffic dropped slightly, but actually held for most of the week and spiked on the day that I posted. Now, I was looking for how close the relationship between the activities that I do to promote my blog (and myself) are tied to my traffic. I am doing a guerrilla level marketing program leveraging my blog, my social networks, and a $50/mo email marketing program. Essentially, the tools available to every small business without a budget. I don’t expect to become the next Seth Godin, famous marketing blogger, but I do expect that I can build an audience with very little resources. My results tell me that I have gotten outside of my own direct marketing efforts and I am now getting residual traffic from my prior marketing activities.

In addition to assisting me in finding my next opportunity(s), I am using my blog to provide a tangible case study of what can be done on a very little budget as representation of what the strategy could accomplish with a much larger budget. I am also using the concept of the blog as a repesentation of a corporate website. In my new social marketing model, the website is becoming the focal point of all the marketing activities. Prospective customers do not really care where the interaction is, they just want to get the information they need where and when they want it. I call this post-digital because when everything is digital; then digital doesn’t matter.

To that end, you have heard the phrase “publish or perish?” That describes blogging. Also, is an apt expression for creating fresh, compelling content with strong emotional hooks into your website.

So, back to my writer’s block. If content is king, then there are a few lessons that can be applied for companies looking at building content to help drive interest in their company:

1. Editorial Calendar – You need one for your content. It saved me last week in that it still kept me on pace to do at least one post. It also will help a team of people on track.

2. Be Consistent – I was getting great traffic when I was writing every daily, sometimes twice daily; even to a simple wordpress blog.

3. Be Relevant – I write for my audience, which is my contacts, who are business executives. I try not to write for techo-wonks about the infinite depths of a technical topic. My audience is also whom I partner, work, and sell so I want to be as approachable; to appeal to the “decision maker.” I can get more technical about software and infrastucture when talking with a CTO or CIO, but I save that for particular face-to-face meetings. I find technical specs hard to swallow as “easy reading.”

4. Content by Committee – Realize that it is almost impossible to sustain a huge torrent of content by yourself; let alone make it relevant, compelling, and fresh. That is why communities are so appealing with different voices, perspectives, interaction, and ideas. It doesn’t hurt that it drives SEO through the roof, provides a larger pool of contributors, and allows for different audiences.

5. Get it Viral – Keep in mind that you already have a relationship with your network, but you need to reach a broader group of contacts that don’t know you to drive more business. Sherry Heyl, Atlanta-based social media goddess and friend, talks about building consumble bites of content that can be distributed easily. The key to success is to get your morsels of content, “sound bites”, into circulation and distributed beyond your first and second degree contacts to go viral.

To that end, I am working on creating a social marketing planning framework that I will share over the next few weeks. The social marketing plan will assist companies in building online relationships, leveraging integrated website communities, building compelling calls to action to generate website traffic,  managing effective customer experiences, and developing effective measurement systems for the above activities.

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Unhorsing an Entrenched Competitor

Since my last post was about first mover advantage https://rosenhaft.wordpress.com/2009/06/02/web-marketing-leveraging-first-mover-advantage-on-the-web/, this post will be a how-to on enter a market with an entrenched, but less capable competitor. The assumption is that your offering is of superior quality or has unique attributes for the market at large. There are different strategies for purely niche products, “me-too”, or purely local offerings that are the subject for later posts. This post is for that company that has developed a better mouse-trap and needs a market entry strategy to unhorse an less capable, but established competitor.

My last post discussed the micro-economics behind the marketing and this post will do the same. Displacing a competitor is all about two costs:

1. Opportunity Costs – the value of your opportunity outweighs the switching costs; time, money, resources, pain, risk, etc.

2. Switching Costs – hard AND soft costs; time, money, resources, training, risk, pain, etc.

The entrenched competitors barriers to exit are your customers barriers to entry for your offering. Many companies under estimate the switching cost equation in displacing a competitor. Many times a company has a much better offering than their entrenched competitor, but cannot seem to get traction. When you di deeper, you find out that there is much more to the “cost” of switching beyond features or a small price difference. You find out a customer has to go through extensive training, has an extended contract that is not up for renewal, or doesn’t perceive the value of the offering as worth the hassle of switching for such a small price savings.

The keys to switching are really about changing the rules of the market. Bringing something new in terms of capabilities, changing the cost structure through planned commoditization, providing a different focus, bringing a targeted solution, AND FINALLY – being easier-to-do business.

Major Factors

1. Price –  Competing on price alone is a very difficult as it actually devalues the offering and discourages loyalty. “Cheep” is different than “economies of scale”. At the onset of the article, I positioned “me-too” offerings as a different strategy. This is why… “me-too @ a lower cost” has a place in the spectrum of the market targeting the cost-conscious buyer. Knock-offs are a good example; however, this takes a different type of positioning to target the cost-conscious buyer with a specific call-to-action. This is a particular market strategy that, in reality, is a niche. If done poorly, or not by design, it can lead to devaluation and rampant commoditization. If you can match the quality with 20% less cost, you generally can attract a portion of the market’s attention depending upon the industry and the competitor (see relationship below).

2. Capabilities – Features & Functionality – This is the secret-sauce approach. We are better because we can provide better capabilities that the competitor cannot. This may be a segment of the market or the whole market depending upon your capabilities. Features tend to not be sufficient on their own to motivate switching.

Better functionality may not necessarilymotivate a buyer to switch either. If you are higher priced with better functionality, you will have trouble with major displacement . The cost factor will be weighed into the equation unless your capabilities significantly change the buyers value equation; ie you save them much more money than the offering’s cost. “Our product saved the buyer 35% in processing time which translated into $250,000 in savingsover 3 years.” If your product costs $75,000 installed, which is $25,000 more than your competitors, but you save them $$225,000 in total cost over 3 years, you can make a case for displacement. If you are more expensive and cannot calculate a hard $ ROI, you will have to rely on a combination of techniques for displacement. For products that are truly revolutionary in which you change the cost structure of the market, you can introduce a lower price, and show a better ROI; then you have an opportunity to displace a large part of the market.

3. Relationship – Customer Support /Responsiveness /Ease-of-Use / Easy-to-Do-Business – Most companies provide mediocre service by definition. Whether by scale issues, complacency, or distraction; a majority of entrenched industry players are vulnerable to displacement based upon customer dissatisfaction. The notable exceptions are the ones that really shine. Service is particularly challenging for product companies.

If you are a new entrant, make service a hall-mark of your offering. Take the time to put in place the processes that will enable you to demonstrate your responsiveness to the challenges of the market. If your competitor’s customers are annoyed by the amount of training it takes to get people productive, then this should be your focus. If a competitor takes 2 business days to answer an email, then this should be your focus. My guess is that average companies probably have 10-20% of their customer base vulnerable to switching due to service. Below average service companies probably have a lot more.

4. Speed– the axiom of “time is money” is a great selling point for a potential customer if you can demonstrate the ROI from the change. Selling that we are faster (slightly) in itself does not generally motivate buyers. Proportionality is critical. Did you upgrade your last PC because it was milliseconds faster? If so, you were a minority; hence why the PC & chip industries are rethinking the “speed is better” industry sales pitches. Save 20% in a major operation & improve quality; you have a customer’s attention. Do it at a lower cost due to changes in technology; better. Now, do it without disrupting their organization’s operations while they switch; you have a “winner”.

5. Tailored Solutions –A large competitor’s niche or market segment, may actually be your market. Once again, proportionality applies. For your competitor, a segment may be 10% of their total market. A niche may be 1 or 2% of their revenues. For a company with $2B in revenues, $50M may not be sufficient to focus. For you, $50M is a sufficient market to enter and begin your market domination. If you competitor is not focused on a part of the market, then the obvious strategy is to pick a small enough market segment that you can dominate with a more tailored offering.

The challenge is to balance the entry into the niche without pigeon-holing yourself or awaking the sleeping giant. Your ability to service this niche with ramifications for the rest of the market, may be just the wake-up call and the validation for upgrading their offering. You could create your greatest competitor; who then leverages their relationships to the market with a “me-too” offering. Your competitor could even use your “newness” against you as a risk mitigation strategy.

Figuring out how you will enter, how you will communication the value, how you will expand beyond the entry point, and how you will evolve your offering to stay ahead of the competitor is critical. You don’t want to win the initial battle and find yourself losing the war….

6. Risk Management – Most new entrants fail to gain traction because they fail to account for the buyer’s fear of change and overall inertia. “I am not really happy with our vendor, but….. we would have to go through training, we have a contract, saving that little money isn’t important, we are comfortable, we are used to it, etc.”

Pick your excuse…. what they are really saying is that your offering isn’t worth the trouble in switching. You haven’t built a sufficient case to risk switching. Contrast that with a resounding YES that certain products and services elicit. These offerings provide a significantly, measurable, emotional, and tangible improvement over what they are doing today. AND these offerings do it in a way that seems easier and doesn’t involve much risk of switching.

Pull all of the above together to build a multi-faceted, multi-stage market entry strategy and you have the potential for a “disruptive” offering. The reality is that most companies don’t have a disruptive, “home-run” where they can drive word-of-mouth merely by “building it and they will come”. The majority of younger companies will have to focus on the fundamentals and build upon their slight advantages. In essence, they will have to manufacture runs from their singles and wait for the “right pitch”. Understanding your competitors strengths and weaknesses, the market opportunity for improved offerings, and understanding the market’s risk equation are the keys to successfully entering a new market. 

There is a concept that I call “switching point” which is the micro-econmomic version of Malcolm Gladwell’s “tipping point”. The switching point is the threshold in which you have created sufficient value to convince the potential customer that the opportunity of your offering outweighs the switching costs from the competitor. This is not an absolute, in fact may be unique to each customer, but a good market analysis should incorporate an identification of this equation into the sales process. Understanding the buyer motivation, switching challenges, and pain points will assist you in displacing an entrenched competitor.

Leveraging Linkedin for Business Development and Marketing

I was at a networking event on social media strategy this week. One of the networking topics was how to leverage linkedin for networking. When I shared my approach to managing my linkedin profile with an account manager and a CEO, they were shocked to find out I was doing some things radically different and getting much better results.

We first compared numbers of contacts. Mine is close to 4000, theirs were approx. 100. I shared with them that I get unsolicited consulting requests because my profile is searchable by about 1/3 of the Linkedin network, approx 15,000,000 people.

Secondly, I solicited requests for recommendation from all of my contacts that I have worked with; colleagues, partners, employees, and customers. I had 25 or so recommendations, they had 1 or 2 each that they got for giving a recommendation. I give them appropriately and I request them appropriately. If you have a couple of people saying nice things about you, may or may not be true, but my feeling is that if you have sufficient volume, it speaks much more clearly about your abilities than you could ever tell. You don’t ask, you don’t get….

Next, I put up links to my blog and I put up powerpoint presentations. My goal is to credential myself so that when people find me they can evaluate my thought leadership. Obviously, I want them to think highly of me and want to reach out to engage me. Very similar to your marketing strategy; have an outbound marketing outreach program, but also make sure that when they are inbound that you provide them with a compelling interaction when they arrive. How would I know I want to do business with you if there is nothing on your profile to interest me. So, here are basic recommendations:

1. Fill out your profile completely, including jobs, roles, interests, contact information, etc.

2. Use key words liberally. We all do searches for key words to find people, make sure you are found by your key words.

2. Link to everyone you know & meet. Keeping a closed database works if you want to stay closed. If you want to be found, then make sure you connect and help others connect.

3. Join Linkedin LIONs – Linkedin Open Networkers – you have to accept requests with LION in the invitation, but if your goal is visability in Linked, this group of “connectors” is the very spirit of business development

4. Join Groups that are relavent to you – all about visability & making sure that you are accounted for in the markets where you play. Also, there are some groups that are great sources of information on markets, technologies, and connections.

5. Create content – Q&A, status updates, add powerpoints, add your blog, video, etc. for all of the reasons stated above.

6. Dont’ assume a linkedin contact is a “real” contact & don’t assume they got your message. I get SPAM messages all of the time from people who asked to connect and then assume I am fair game… you have to make sure that your messages to your contacts are respectful, reintroduce yourself even though you are a 1st level contact, and also assume that you will have to reach them another way. Almost a 1/3 of linkedin messages get lost in a SPAM filter so don’t just blast and assume they are interested or not.

7. Along those lines, I make it a point to also reach out to my contacts outside of linked if I really want a response. At the end of the day, people are open to connecting, but you have to still make it relevant, make it personal, and get there attention.

Linkedin does work… I know one of my contacts who makes 80% of her sales through her linkedin database. She built it up and then reduced it to just the “right” contacts, but if you are connected to her, you are a player. That is the exact perception she wants to create and does it extremely effectively. CMOs know that she has an exclusive database of other CMOs and they feel like they are a part of an exclusive club. When she calls or reaches out to them, they respond because they recognize the value she brings beyond just the immediate offering she sells.

At the end of the day, social media is about giving more value that you get…. but then again, that is the secret to networking in general…

A Social Media Marketing Primer for People Who Don’t Blog (and Never Will)

Imagine a typical CEO, late 40’s – mid 50’s, has one of the bright young guns, 3-4 layers removed in the organization, comes into a meeting and proposes that the organization do something in marketing around social media. The CEO’s only experience with “social media” is linkedin, possibly logging into facebook to monitor their tweens behavior online. Twitter? Google X application of the week? Invitation to X,Y, Z community every week? Blog? Nope. “They are lucky I check email on a regular basis with as busy as I am”

Sound like someone you know? Sound like you?  Sounds like most of us. At this point, you are saying, yep, so why should I pay attention to this social media stuff if I am not going to use it?

The short answer is…. because it is changing the face of marketing and business in general. Remember they said the same thing about websites, ecommerce, online applications, web hosting, etc…  Some of these you were leading the charge and some you were dragged kicking and screaming. The real question that you should be asking about social media is not whether there is value, but what is the risk if I am an early adopter….

The reality is that most of the people I speak with about social media will never blogs, but the real value in social media is not in getting all of your customers to chat about your product 24X7, because they won’t unless they are really, really angry, but how do you get the 10% of people who sign up, which is 10% of the people who visit to interact on your website about topics that will help your business… by the way, translates into about 1% of people interact… means 99% of us won’t on a regular basis (note: I can discuss technographics and real numbers with the best of them, but I am making a point about the value of having a small percentage actually engage to create value)

Anything is a better experience than the stale, 3 year old, and boring website you have today…. anything that differentiates your company, explains why people should buy from you versus the competitors, drives SEARCH ENGINE traffic to your website, and creates credentialling in the sales process is a tool that you should be embacing to club your competitors over the head… AND yes, you can get trememdous value from a small number of people interacting.

The how it works, how you manage risks, and how you go about getting your team to figure out how to make it work for your organization is the details that can be worked out. The question is whether you can see value in social media even though you will never blog….

Social Media is Like Fishing

There are two types of social media; external and branded. External social media is the facebooks, twitters, linkedins, of the world. These are the deep sea fishing of marketing. You don’t own the ocean, but you drop a line or a net and you catch fish.

The other side, branded social media is like fish farming where you create a branded, online community where you transition them from private, modelling your sales process. You go from a public discussion of your offering and market space, to semi-private membership discussion forums, to private groups for managing customers on a one-to-one basis.

The best marketing plans tie both types of social media together to assist in outbound marketing communications with a specific call to action back to your website with a more interactive, thought-leadership driven online community for educating potential buyers, qualifying the sales interest, and managing the customer lifecycle.