The Marketing Guy

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Social Media as a Strategic Campaign

I was talking to a group of friends the other day about social media and some of the digital marketing work that they do at their companies. And as we got to talking about how our respective firms think and approach social media, we got into a heated discussion about having structure within a social media plan.

Now it may seem like a paradox that in a medium that is highly reactive and subject to the whims of everyone using the platform that anything could actually be “planned.” And to be fair, there are many times in social media where you need to move fast to get in on a topic or react to a customer complaint, and those aren’t the types of events that allow for a great deal of forethought.

However, as much as social media is about listening and observing, it’s also focused on driving opinion and trends—getting out in front of a topic and setting the tone; leading the market and your competitors; and owning a subject by being the thought leader. And it’s here that forethought and planning signify the difference between those that are reaping the benefits of a social strategy and those that wonder why no one really cares what they are saying.

Just as companies set up their editorial calendars in days of yore based on what the key publications were going to talk about in a given month, so too can a planned out and thought-out social media calendar help drive awareness and positive perception of you and your organization in the marketplace.

Say you’re in the IT retail industry, and you’re trying to establish your company (or yourself) as a leader in customer insights and analytics, a very hot topic in that industry today. While you can follow and monitor the leading retail analysts, retailers, and manufacturers to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s interesting to your audience, savvy social marketers are finding ways to not only insert themselves into the discussion, but start to lead it as well.

And they’re doing it by thinking of social media in terms of a campaign. There’s the “awareness” phase, where they use their credibility to lend some gravity to a topic, say by raising issues with data integrity in analytics and asking questions that require an answer. Then there’s the “interest” phase, where they can point to some thought leadership or expertise they’ve garnered that will lead people to click through the Twitter feed to the website and to the white paper they and an independent third party have co-authored on the importance of analytics to customer insight; third, the “consideration” phase, where the thought leadership is tied into the campaign offer, trial, or incentive, like a free online diagnosis or the offer to chat with a consultant; and finally the “purchase” phase, where prospects can be closed and turned into customers.

This process doesn’t happen by accident, and believe me, it takes time—you can’t do the above paragraph by accident, and you can’t do it in a day.

It’s understood by most marketers that having a social media strategy doesn’t equate to setting up a Facebook pages and a Twitter account. To drive opinion, results, and influence, companies are rapidly seeing that “social” a deliberate process that demands your time, attention, and creativity to drive demonstrable results.

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Do you market to where your customers are—or where you WISH they were?

One of the great paradoxes of marketing today is in explosion of ways that people access information from which to make a decision. And as the waves of all things social media and online crash up against the tried-and true methods of generating awareness like webinars and white papers, it presents a significant challenge for marketers at all sizes of companies: do I continue to market in ways that my customers are saying they use today to find out more about us, or do I market to where the market for marketing is ultimately headed—all digital, all the time?

Now in some cases this trade-off exists only within the minds of some marketers because the online and digital environment is new and exciting—it invites creativity in ways that a formulaic 60 minute packaged call just cannot, and it’s natural for us as marketers to look at what’s new and interesting and try to have the next big viral marketing hit on the web.

But smart marketers don’t get so far ahead of their customers and prospects that they’re ultimately talking to the wrong people—those that have an opinion, but ultimately have no impact on the decision making process. While Twitter and Facebook are amazing marketing engines, if your buyers are still making decisions based on face-to-face meetings and a day on the golf course, while you’re re-tweeting a blog post, something’s out of alignment.

Ensure you bring your customers with you on the journey, and don’t get so far ahead of them that they can’t see you anymore and decide to stop following you. Savvy digital marketing may win you lots of site hits and marketing awards, but they don’t always win you the business of the people you’re trying to market to.

Are You Taking Advantage of The Down Time This Month?

The dog days of summer are clearly upon us with heat wave after heat wave bringing lots of fun in the sun and time away from the office with family and friends. As it should be. However…

That doesn’t mean that you can’t use this time productively. As a marketer there’s nothing more I like than do have the August block of time to myself, without meetings and interruptions, to recharge my batteries and hone my insights for the Labor Day-New Year’s rush. Spending time surfing blog sites I’ve bookmarked, researching competitors, going through my team’s development plans. All these are tasks that I never seem to have enough time for during the year. But now’s the time to allow yourself to be creative, find out what others are doing, follow some Twitter feeds, and get creative.

Because you know what? Your competitors are definitely doing this now. They’re plotting their fall campaigns, their offers, their prospect targeting and outreach activities, and finding out what your latest marketing plans are as well. And while we all need vacations and a break, don’t take your eye off the ball totally—get sharp and get ready.

What Happens When You Can’t Keep Up with Your Customers?

It’s virtually impossible to keep up with all the new technology available to marketers these days. I somehow am on the subscription list for Chief Marketer Magazine, and while informative on specific issues, it’s about as up to date on what’s happening out there as last Sunday’s New York Times. Technology is moving so fast that in some cases, while companies are just figuring out what their social media strategy should be, their customers have already moved 2-3 programs beyond Twitter and Facebook. There are so many geo-locator apps on the marketplace now that they too have their own aggregation applications like TweetDeck and Tweetmeme have done for Twitter followers out there.

Which raises an interesting question for marketers today—how “current” do you need to be with your marketing to stay ahead of your customers? We always talk about marketing where your customers are, but what if you didn’t even know that “where they are” even existed? What if they’ve moved onto where you’ve just arrived?

Now this doesn’t mean that you should attach yourself to every fad and new product that comes on the market of course. The Silicon Valley graveyard is littered with “the next big thing” when it comes to finding customers. But it also doesn’t mean just doing the same old webinar and direct mail piece with the expectation that your customers will always respond because they have in the past.

With Facebook being used as a search engine as much as Google in some months, and word-of-mouth instant reviews affecting restaurant menu’s on a daily basis, customers and prospects are moving faster and faster these days—you need to make sure your marketing strategy keeps up with them, lest the competition do your job for you!

How “Baked In” is Marketing to Your Product?

I found a really interesting article on line at warc.com (a great marketing clearinghouse website) today entitled “Brands seek to create “product experiences.”” It’ definitely worth a read, and brought up a great point that I’ve seen repeatedly in companies of all types—that being that it’s much easier to market your product or service to the customer if marketing is not treated as an afterthought or an add-on to the go-to-market process.

Too often a product is devised and readies, and *then* marketing is brought in to somehow figure out a way to differentiate it in a very crowded marketplace, where the average consumer has the attention span of a flea, given the sheer number of messages they’re bombarded with all day long.

I’ve talked to lots of marketers who get incredibly burned out by being called on to rescue a product launch or come up with a new tagline or positioning only when the product or service isn’t doing well in the marketplace or when it’s too late to change anything about the offering that may help it be better positioned to the prospective customer base. As we all know, if you’re coming into the game that late, the cause is likely already a lost one.

Instead, and as the article points out with some classic consumer-oriented examples like Apple and Virgin, consumers today respond to experiences, not just features. They want to be associated with products and services that speak to their aspirations, values, or personal view of themselves or the company they represent. And it’s marketing that’s ultimately responsible for creating the image and the feeling that the customer ultimately responds to, that provides what I call “the compelling reason to purchase,” whether you’re marketing to a consumer, a business, or a governmental agency.

To really achieve its potential then, marketing can’t be an afterthought, and it can’t be something that’s tolerated just because it’s the vehicle to launch a product or service into the marketplace. Instead, it needs to be “baked in” to the product development process, to ensure that the experience you’re trying to create for the consumer goes hand in hand with the promise of your product from the outset, not when it’s too late to make any difference to the marketplace.

What Local Marketing Resources Are You Missing Out On?

My friends and I are currently running an experiment this month to see if we can eat all of our food locally through the month of August. There are the usual caveats on what *doesn’t* have to be local, including coffee, spices, etc., but the goal is to see if we can not just live off the land, but find foods to eat where we know the growers, the farms, the producers, instead of just doing our usual pass through the Safeway without any regard for the ingredients in what we eat, or the length or complexity of the supply chain that it take the food to get to our shelves (you can actually chart our progress and follow our escapades at our blog “Backyard Eats” if you’re so inclined.)

So this got me to thinking about how to apply this challenge to marketing as well. Often times in my job I’m contacted by firms around the world that want to contract their services to me and my team. They’re in different cities, sometimes countries, and yes, their work is often fantastic. But what about “marketing locally” and doing business with a local group or agency?

While there’s great benefit in scale and reach, there’s also something to be said for shortening your own marketing “supply chain” and tying together your creative source with your marketing outcomes. Not only will you likely get a stronger say over the direction and the final product of our marketing materials, you’ll be helping out local businesses and firms that are needed more than ever right now to keep our economies above water.

There’s always a rush to bigger and better, faster and more efficient. But like the food supply chain, ultimately that can bring you to a place of very impersonal, cookie-cutter marketing that looks and feels and sounds like everyone else’s because it’s kind of designed that way. As I mentioned in yesterday’s column—don’t be afraid to knock down a heretofore unbreakable barrier and take a meeting with a local vendor or agency. You might be surprised at their skill and ability to not just produce good marketing for you, but a great relationship that you can count on when you need it most!

Knock Down the Walls Around Your Marketing

Back after a short summer break and ready to commence on some HOT marketing topics for everyone!

I read an interesting post from the all-knowing Seth Godin last week that really hit home for me—the idea around redefining the problem set around you to solve, as he calls it, “the perfect problem,” the one that seemingly has no solution.

And it applies perfectly not just to life (and the blog post is largely speaking to any type of hard decision), but to marketing challenges as well. I hear lots of marketers talk about the constraints that prohibit them from really doing “good” marketing. The phrase “if only…” comes up a lot when I talk to some of our partners and customers about why they’re not taking advantage of the amazing new ways to reach prospects, have a conversation with their customers, and jump ahead of the competition.

As Seth says, “If the only alternative is slow and painful failure, the way to get unstuck is to blow up a constraint, deal with the pain and then run forward. Fast.” And I can’t think of better advice for marketers today.

If your strategy isn’t working, and you know that it’s not, you can hope for things to change, or get outside of the proverbial box and knock down a previously unapproachable barrier. Slay the sacred cows, knock down the walls, apply whatever cliché that works for you. But find a way to breakthrough and create something meaningful and interesting.

The alternative is mediocrity.