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Onward, to Total Immersion!

My next challenge has arrived, and oh what a challenge it will be.

It’s certainly no secret that I have a passion for the digital space, and all it entails. I see digital (web, internet, online, or whatever you want to call it) as a marketing battleground of equal or greater importance to any other that exists. We humans spend a huge amount of time with our faces glued to screens of various sizes; consuming, sharing, interacting, engaging, ranting, raving, recommending, and questioning. For a business to deny this fact simply ensures its demise, be it fast or slow.

Beyond that, however, advancements in digital over the last several years have enabled us to forge relationships between businesses and customers that were at the very least highly improbable, if not impossible. What used to take place within the confines of a businesses walls, or in the isolation of a one-to-one phone call, now takes place online, across multiple social channels, in full view of the world. Now, you can interact with a business online as if they were an old friend, and businesses in turn can in turn take advantage of word-of-mouth on an unprecedented scale. Local businesses can have global impact, and global brands have the ability to relate to customers on a local level. Lines have blurred, and in my opinion, it’s better for everyone.

Over the last several years, my career in marketing for an industrial B2B equipment manufacturer has evolved dramatically. Way back in the distant year of 2003, we used to play almost entirely in traditional media. Print ads in trade mags, directories and guidebooks, trade shows, etc. The web was typically just a supporting piece. An online catalog, in essence. Over time though, we saw a huge shift over to digital as the main resource for anyone researching potential suppliers like us. Being findable online was no longer an option, even for well-established B2B brands. You had to be present, and your presence had to be awesome enough to hit page 1 of Google’s results.

Then social media came along, and things changed again. Your website is now just one touchpoint in the digital space. Your blog, YouTube channel, LinkedIn presence, Facebook page, Twitter feed, etc, are all now weighed and measured against everyone else’s, and your relevance is calculated by factors out of your control. Namely, Google’s algorithm and the opinions of the people your customers talk to. Your brand isn’t what YOU say it is, it’s what THEY say it is.

While initially apprehensive on how an industrial manufacturer could really capitalize on these new channels, we made the decision to go for it in 2010, and the benefits of it became apparent almost immediately. The reasons were pretty obvious, even in the early stages of businesses using social media and content marketing. Who would read an ad when you could read a blog article that actually helps you solve a problem? Who pulls out a 2000 page directory when Google sorts the most relevant businesses for you? How would your business stack up if you’re the one who willingly helped a customer BEFORE they were ready to buy? Hmm…. I wonder.

We interwove social actions and content marketing in to our existing marketing efforts. We integrated social tools in to the website, published more content of a variety of types, expanded our presence at industry events, forged stronger relationships with customers, and connected with the community.

Fast forward to 2014. Content marketing, inbound marketing, and social marketing now play a huge role for almost every business, even industrial B2B niche brands. It doesn’t matter if you sell a $10 widget or a $1 million piece of machinery, customers want to know that you’re the most relevant. Period. Content marketing accomplishes this, but only if done right. The question each business now faces is this; What is our ‘right way’ to do content marketing?

Which brings me to the entire reason for this post; I’m moving on. I’m now going to be completely immersed in the world of content, social, and inbound marketing. I’ve accepted a gig as a marketing strategist and content architect at gShift, a company that has developed an incredible software tool that not only enables businesses to compile all their web presence stats in one powerful dashboard, but also enables them to overcome many of the obstacles currently plaguing marketers in the digital space. Struggling with the ‘not provided’ situation Google has thrust on you? gShift’s software can help. Under pressure to prove impact and ROI from your content marketing? gShift’s software can help. Want to know how your web presence stacks up against your mortal enemies? gShift’s software can help.

I’m pumped to begin this new challenge and be a member of the team that is at the forefront of developing the tools and techniques that businesses use to connect more effectively with their customers, become more findable online, and build a thriving brand. I believe that businesses who approach content marketing in the right way, and truly understand the impact that they can have in their industry by changing their mindset to deliver real value in their marketing, will be the ones that customers desire to do business with above all others. That’s the goal, and it’s an admirable one.

And now, onward! To total immersion!

Check out the awesomeness that is gShift -> http://gshiftlabs.com 

4 Questions to Ask Anyone Trying to Sell You Ad Space

You can never know 100% for sure if something is going to work before you try it, but their reactions to these questions may help uncover if they’re offering you a real solution, or just trying to make a buck.

As the marketing manager for a B2B company, I get solicited. A LOT. Industry trade magazines, pay-per-click ad providers, online directories, and trade show organizers are but a few of the kinds of people calling me asking for a piece of my precious marketing budget. The thing is, I’m no pushover. Never have been. But in today’s business climate, there’s no way you can afford to throw dollars at every marketing option that calls you up. The vast majority of them simply don’t work, and even those that are worth your time and money only work if you use them in a way that makes sense for your business.

So how do you determine which options are worth a dollar, and which ones you should tell to kick stones? I wish there was an easy way, but the truth is that it can be very difficult to figure out. Effectively evaluating marketing options in today’s world requires you to look deeper than the traditional criteria of ‘page views’ and ‘circulation’, and examine the information that few of those solicitors are able or willing to provide to you.

I’ve put together 4 key questions that I use as the starting point whenever I get solicited by someone trying to sell me space in a magazine, online directory, or trade show. I’ve also noticed that there are certain ‘red flags’ that seem to consistently appear when dealing with some types of solicitors that can be early warning signs to tip you off that you’d best be cautious moving forward. I’ve included these after each question.

Let’s take a look at the questions now:

1 – First thing: What’s the range of costs?

This sounds really, really obvious. And it is. What you should be aware of is that very rarely is actual cost discussed up front. Most of the time, they’ll open with a ‘what is the #1 problem facing your business?’ kind of question that forces you to think of a negative aspect of your current situation, and give you the impression that they can help solve your problem. This is intentional, as it tends to disarm us a little bit, and leaves us more open to their suggestions. Solicitors who are confident in their product/service and can prove a real benefit/ROI will have no problem letting you know cost right up front. After all, if you don’t have flexibility in your budget to accommodate their product, then going in-depth just wastes your time and theirs.

Red Flag: If you answer a call from a solicitor, one of your first questions should of course be ‘What is the cost range for all your different options?’. If they answer with something like: ‘before we talk about that, let me ask what your goal is?’ or just flat out won’t tell you immediately where their prices start and where they end, be very wary.

2 – Who’s the REAL audience?

This goes for all types of marketing options. Magazines, directories, trade shows, you name it. Typically the solicitors will make available very basic stats that don’t really reveal much about who their actual audience is. For example, lets look at the infamous ‘circulation’ information for magazines, which outlines how many copies go out to their ‘readers’, and what kind of businesses they are sent to. The thing is, these commonly-used stats can be very deceiving. They may simply be pulling the information based on the name of the person on the address label, like the owner of the business that it is sent to. But who’s to say that this is the person who actually reads it, or even receives it in their hands? Especially in larger businesses that receive many MANY different pieces, only the most crucial pieces ever get opened by anyone. The rest? Either gets junked or ends up on the coffee table in the lobby. Make sure they can prove that their recipients are also actual readers.

Red Flag: If the solicitor can’t quickly back up their claim with readily-available hard data and testimonials from actual audience, and vaguely cites their own ‘internal’ surveying data, chances are they are making some pretty broad assumptions about who actually reads their rag.

3 – Can I do a short-term trial?

Contracts abound in the marketing world, and you’ll often find yourself staring down the barrel of a big fat commitment before you even know it. Smart solicitors who truly believe in what they are selling will be eager to have you try it out before you make any major commitment. If they don’t suggest it first, make sure that you do. Sometimes they’ll offer to do a short-term trial period at the same rates as a long-term program. Occasionally you may even find they’ll offer a free trial, depending on what kind of service they provide. Companies that openly offer a short-term trial are displaying not only confidence in their services, but also flexibility to your needs.

Red Flag: Sometimes the very suggestion of a trial period can offend some solicitors. If you find their tone or demeanour changes dramatically for the worse after suggesting a trial basis, you may be headed for a very inflexible and rigid relationship further down the road.

4 – Give some examples of your success.

Prove it. That’s ultimately what we all want to know. Ask them to provide stats showing what other advertisers have seen as a result. Have them show you data and testimonials from other advertisers/exhibitors that are similar to you. What works for one won’t necessarily work for another, but at least you’ll have a general idea of what kind of businesses are generating results. This is easy to do these days. Web tracking makes monitoring conversions and success nearly effortless. They should be able to tell you things like the number of referrals they’ve generated for specific types of businesses, as well as provide qualitative testimonials from companies similar to yours.

Red Flag: Any web directory or online ad provider should be able to give you buckets of reports that illustrate how their advertisers have benefitted from their services. If all they are able or willing to show you is ‘hits’ or ‘page views’, RUN AWAY.

Ultimately, B2B marketing people like us are trying to do the most we can with limited resources of both time and money. If they’re trying to sell a product or service to you, they need to realize this. Selling ad space to people like us really all boils down to a simple two-part strategy: Be to-the-point, and be able to back up any claims. If they don’t waste your time with a lot of preamble and vagueness, and they can prove to you that you’ll see a real, tangible benefit, I’m sure that you’ll be much more successful by doing business with them.

Bonus Red Flag: When they won’t let you get a word in.

This one really gets me riled up. The thing about providing effective service is that you need to listen to your customers. In my experience, you can’t really do that very well if you won’t let your customer finish a sentence. I’ve been solicited by countless salespeople who inexplicably decide that the perfect time to begin their next sentence is right in the middle of the one I’m currently speaking. It’s maddening, because I’m TRYING to let them help me. I’m TRYING to communicate my needs so that they can figure out how to help solve them. In a nutshell: If you’re the one trying to sell someone something: Know when to shut up and let them talk. if you encounter a salesperson who seems to follow this pattern, flee.

4 Guaranteed Ways to Tragically Fail at Social Media Marketing

How several small bad decisions can lead to tremendous failure.

After reading it once already, I recently started skimming back through “How to Lose a Battle”, a collection of epic military failures gathered and edited by Bill Fawcett. I came to the chapter relating to the Battle of Agincourt, in which Henry V succeeded in producing one of the most lopsided victories in military history. After many weeks of exhaustive fighting had whittled his already relatively small force down to approx 17,000 soldiers and archers, Henry’s army still managed to decimate a well-rested, well-equipped force of 60,000+ French Knights. How did this happen? Well, the simple summary is that the French general did everything possible to lose the battle. There are many parallels that can be drawn from the details of the disaster and applied to marketing in social media, and I’ve pulled the 4 most prominent of those to explain how you can easily produce a tremendous failure in the world of social media marketing:

#1 – Wait until the time is wrong.
    Henry’s forces landed on the shores of France 30,000 strong. They first laid siege to the port city of Harfleur, at which time the French Army could have simply marched up and sandwiched Henry’s forces between the French ground forces and the city, forcing the English to be attacked from two sides. But the French waited, and waited, and waited until every noble knight could be gathered in Paris. In short, they failed to recognize the urgency and left Harfleur to defend itself, without the support of the main French forces, and as a result the city soon fell to the English. After the city fell, Henry V left a small contingent in the city as a garrison, sent the sick and wounded back to England, and marched on with a force approx 20,000 strong, continuing his attacks against other French cities.

What to take away from that: When marketing in Social Media, don’t ignore small problems that can grow in to major problems. Any hint of customer dissatisfaction that goes unaddressed, any positive comment that goes unthanked, any question that goes unanswered simply gives your competition more opportunities to serve your customers in a better way. If something (ANYTHING) happens, be the first to have a presence in the discussion. Those seemingly ‘small’ issues can be the precursor to ‘large’ issues that are decidedly more difficult to manage later in their life cycle.

#2 – Say ‘no, thank you’ to valuable tools and resources.
    While gathering their forces in Paris, a group of 6,000 militia crossbowmen offered their services to the French general. They were promptly told ‘No, thank you, we’ve got this under control.’, and were sent on their way. The French army viewed them as ‘low-rent’ soldiers, hardly worth using in a real war.

What to take away from that: Free help? One more tool in your toolbox that you can call on when necessary? Always take it. If you want to learn about your customers or competition, you don’t just use one channel, you use all of them. See what’s being said on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and any other place you can find info and participate in each of them. Don’t ignore any of your available options for learning.

#3 – Be ‘too good’ to use certain tools.
    The traditional hierarchy of fighting forces was extremely ingrained in the social castes of the time. For example, it was generally accepted that a well-trained knight was a much more valuable and effective fighter than a peasant archer, even though that peasant archer could easily take out dozens of knights at a distance without breaking a sweat. That didn’t matter. What did matter was that archers were poor, lower class citizens, and knights were the elite. They decided the knights would be first in line, and the archers fell in behind them, essentially making it impossible for them to do their jobs. Oddly, archers were the most-feared part of the English army by the French, and yet were not viewed as a crucial part of the French assault force.

What to take away from that: Recognize the inherent advantages in each available tool, and use each of them to maximum effect. Twitter is different from Facebook is different from LinkedIn, etc. Trying to put all your emphasis on one channel and saying the others are just ‘not for you’ is a big mistake. Making assumptions about the options available to you without all the facts can be crippling. You can use each of them for different effects, each of which has an inherent value. Sometimes you don’t know just how far-reaching the effects can be until you try.

#4 – Disregard the basic environmental conditions.
    The ground was wet on the battlefield that day. Previous engagements with English archers had led the French to learn how devastating they can be to mounted knights, due to the lack of protection on the horses. The French general made the decision to have his army dismount and attack on foot, slowing their approach considerably, and quickly turning the wet ground to a greasy slop under the weight of thousands of heavily armoured French soldiers.

What to take away from that: Be aware of the current environment. Paying attention to how people talk, what makes them move towards you and what makes them run away. What kinds of things are impacting their opinions? The influencing factors aren’t always directly linked to your company or your competitor, but can be something as intangible as market attitudes or external economic factors. Being aware of the basic market conditions is essential to communicating effectively on what matters to your audience in the here-and-now.

So, as you can see, by simply ignoring problems, ignoring available tools, and ignoring basic environmental conditions, you too can have a social media failure as symbolically tremendous as the French loss at Agincourt. Although, by doing the exact opposite of that, you might find yourself on the other side of the spectrum. Of course, hindsight allows us to easily criticize but the reality is that each of those individual effects may have not been so tragic on their own, but when you combine them one after the other, they create the perfect storm of failure. The trick is to prevent those individual effects from occurring, so that the major disasters simply can’t form. Easier said than done, but by staying vigilant and learning from others mistakes, I believe it’s achievable.

What are your thoughts? Have you heard of any social media or marketing experiences where one bad decision after another led to a failure of epic proportions?

Social Media in B2B – Moving beyond just your customers

It’s no secret that most of the conversations happening about Social Media and how it affects businesses speak primarily to the B2C relationship between business-and-customer. However, when you get in to the world of B2B Social Media discussions, there’s one area that I don’t believe has received much attention, and that’s the effects of Social Media on the relationships between a business and it’s suppliers, and how those relationships can impact the customers of that business.

There can be significant ramifications for your company and the relationships you have with your customers as a result of the actions of your suppliers. For example, if one of your suppliers is implicated in some type of scandal or cover-up, how does it look on you that you’ve done business with them? Or if they do something exceptionally good and garner a lot of attention for themselves, how can you as their customer benefit from that as well?

There’s a great deal of give-and-take that goes on between businesses and suppliers already, so exchanging Social Capital should be a natural progression in those relationships. Let’s break it down according to some of the effects that can occur as a result of Social Media cooperation between businesses and suppliers:

1 – Greater reach & community growth

If you’ve got a great relationship with one of your suppliers, why not share that positive relationship with your community? And why not encourage your supplier to do the same? People always like to hear about successful business partnerships, so why not partner even more effectively and share your audiences? Sharing great news about either one of your businesses shows that there’s good stuff happening for your industry, and this positivity can have far-reaching effects for both of your brands. People like to associate with winners, even if it’s a second-tier connection.

2 – Improved damage control in times of crisis

If something goes terribly wrong for either the business or the supplier, you can be there for each other to help smooth things over during tough times. In the event that your facing a problem as a result of a purchased component, or if your supplier is facing a problem with a component they supplied, you can both discuss the issue openly and candidly within your communities, and publicly between the two of you to make sure that “Yes, we are aware, and Yes, we are working together to fix it.” Of course, this is provided that the the ‘damage’ in question isn’t so horrible that it completely poisons the relationship. But for your average, everyday screw-up, having another company vouch for your commitment to make things right can go a long way to improving both of your positions in the short-term and in the long run.

3 – Price becomes less of an issue for everyone

When you’ve got a great relationship with a well-known supplier, and people are aware that whatever you’re buying from them is the ‘best’ component you can get, then a slightly higher cost becomes less of a factor when they make their purchase decision. It’s one more way to differentiate yourself and your products from your competitors. The more unique you are, the less likely you are to be viewed as a commodity, and using quality parts and services from reliable, well-known suppliers is just one more way to accomplish this.

4 – More power at the negotiating table

Looking at those previous effects of utilizing Social Media to boost your relationships with your suppliers, you can easily see how by taking these steps your business becomes even more valuable to your suppliers, and much more difficult for them to let you go to one of their competitors. This can give you an improved position at the negotiating table when it comes time to determine pricing, payment terms, and other factors if you are committed to showcasing the relationship you have with your premium suppliers. By partnering more effectively with your suppliers, you can add value to your offer above and beyond ‘what you’re willing to pay’.

This is really just a short list, and as Social Media becomes more and more ingrained in to the B2B culture, I’m sure that other benefits and effects will come to light that we aren’t currently aware of. Ultimately, what you need to realize is that Social Media doesn’t just relate strictly with your customers. There are many other areas where your efforts in these new communication channels will have an impact, and if done properly will strengthen your business in ways you never could have anticipated.

What other potential impacts do you see that could result from taking a more ‘complete’ approach to Social Media in the B2B world? What about detriments or cautionary items that should be considered? Let’s hear what you’ve got to say!

unGeeked e’lite Social Media Retreat – Toronto

Last week I spent three days at the UnGeeked social media event in Toronto. Before the event began, I really didn’t know what to expect from it. I’d been to the CMA conferences for the past several years, but the format of UnGeeked appeared distinctly different. A smaller group, interactive format, heavily encouraging attendee participation. It struck me as a great idea, as I’ve always felt that discussion yields far more information than a one-way presentation, not just for the attendees, but for everyone involved.

UnGeeked did not disappoint. Even before the event began, I had excellent introductory chats with the others at my table. I really felt that the people in the room were very open-minded. It didn’t seem like any of them had any preconceived ideas about what the event should provide. It seemed like everyone was just willing to let the day unfold as it would, and to be as involved as possible.

When the speakers did begin their talks, I was struck by how friendly and humorous everyone appeared. It wasn’t that everyone just liked what they did, it was clear that everyone LOVED what they did. Each presenter was discussing a topic that ignited a passion within them, and their enthusiasm brought out the best in the audience. I am actually loathe to use the term ‘audience’, because we quickly felt that we were in a room full of colleagues and friends, not simple viewers watching a show.

It was clear, too, that the speakers that were present at the event were extremely knowledgeable about their topics, but also in a state of constant learning. This is very important to note, because when dealing with topics relating to social media, the environment surrounding them is constantly changing. What is ‘best practices’ today might be completely different next year, or even next month. It is an industry that is continually evolving, and one needs to recognize that no one really knows ‘everything’ about these new media channels. This is precisely why events like this are so crucial. It’s the best possible format to help people understand what’s happening right now, and what approaches to participating in these new channels will be the most successful.

I was impressed with the breadth of topics that were covered during the event. There was no area of social media that was left untouched. To name a few, we discussed: building trust, utilizing game mechanics, brand ambassadors, implementation tactics, psychological elements & body language communication, SM & customer service, location-based social media, green marketing factors, managing your personal brand, and social media policy.

I’m sure I don’t need to say, that’s a lot of discussion. And yet, it wasn’t overwhelming. The way topics were served back and forth among the people in the room made it much easier to absorb and understand. Hearing several different perspectives on a particular topic allows you to formulate a more balanced opinion, and to consider factors that might otherwise elude you.

Overall, I believe that CD Vann has put together a format that works in a way that other events don’t. One need not look any further than the stream of tweets that was coming out under the #ungeeked hashtag. The satisfaction of people at the event was incredible, and the mood and morale in the room was something that I’ve never felt to that degree in any other setting. It was a true bonding experience among the group. I left the event with some highly valued professional connections. The knowledge base that is now available to the attendees as a result of UnGeeked is astounding. I’m sure that the upcoming UnGeeked events will only continue to be as successful as the Toronto venue.

I highly recommend anyone who is able to attend an UnGeeked event to do so, and those who are not able I encourage you to do your best to find a way. I for one am extremely excited for the next UnGeeked that I am able to participate in. It was an experience that changed my perspective on these new media channels, and inspired me to strive for more as a marketing professional. Thank you, CD, for making this event a possibility, and thank you to everyone who was involved in making it such an overwhelming success. It truly was a unique and wonderful experience.

Trade Shows – A Chance to Experiment

We all hear the same things about B2B trade shows: Trade shows are dying, nobody buys at these things anymore, they’re too expensive, what a hassle, etc. While consumer-oriented shows like E3 and CES are massively popular, and attract both consumers and businesses, many industrial and manufacturing shows are mere shadows of their former selves. Of course there are a few shining stars left that still hold massive sway in their specific markets, but in general attendance is way down, exhibitors are going with smaller exhibits and sending fewer representatives.

All too often B2B trade shows are viewed through a very narrow lens: Lead Generation. This focus tends to completely overshadow any other reason to be at the show, and if attendance is down then leads will be down, therefore the show will be branded as decreasing in value.

This is bad for the organizers of the show, since they’re dealing with smaller revenues from exhibitors and fewer reasons to give attendees to show up, but for the B2B marketer these shows can be the perfect little test site to conduct real-world testing on small, very focused groups of existing or potential customers.

I’m scheduled to attend three very different B2B trade shows in the next month, and for each of them we’re conducting a very specific ‘test’ effort to see what we can get out of these shows aside from just leads.

One of these efforts is centered around our social media programs, and trying to get a better feel for the kind of content that will elicit a conversation among our followers, as well as generating an increased follower base.

Another effort will determine our customers needs for product education, and what types of materials are most desirable for them to educate themselves with.

The third effort will look at what kind of joint-branding activities our customers would be willing to engage in, and how we can best provide mutually desirable results from connecting our brand with theirs.

So, for each show we’ve set a small, achievable goal. 1 – Increase social media activity, 2 – Improve our product education materials, 3 – Determine what methods of cross-branding are appealing to our customers. These goals are each significant on their own, but to get results in all three over the course of a few weeks IN ADDITION to the leads you would have received at the show anyway? Now you’ve dramatically improved the value of those shows for your company without any additional out-of-pocket expense.

Typically, the ROI for trade shows is measured according to the # of leads obtained at the show. While it certainly is an important metric, it is in no way the only tangible benefit to exhibiting at a trade show. You can also measure the amount of competitor info that you have gathered, how many people have liked/followed you in your social media efforts, how much feedback you get on your products, or even the number of media reps you speak with. Anything you do to benefit your business  and customers needs to be identified so that you can get a true evaluation on the value of your presence at the show.

Basically, what I’m getting at is to try and not view trade shows through one single lens of ‘hope we get lots of leads’, but rather to look at all the different ‘little experiments’ you can conduct while you’re there. Set forth two or three small, achievable goals for yourself that will provide a tangible result, and you’ll find that your company’s attitude toward trade shows will improve dramatically, along with the beneficial results you’re obtaining in exchange for your cost of exhibiting.