Top thoughts from BRITE 2014

brite_logo_2013[1]Last week I was at the two-day BRITE conference, organized by the Columbia Business School “brand leadership” think tank. BRITE is for the most part a series of reflections on the impact of technology, delivered by high-level marketers from large companies.

If there was a common thread, it was the impact of technology on a company’s ability to “tell a story.” That is, craft the brand image. We heard plenty of big-budget successes, and savvy marketers can indeed adapt to truly leverage the technology.

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12 Hacks for Picking Web Apps

The world of web services has mushroomed in the past few years. This is great for buyers, except the vendor selection process has become more time-consuming.

You can easily build a comparison chart in a spreadsheet with feature comparisons, integrations, support and prices, but you’d miss the qualitative part of the story.

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Is your firm running uphill?

Have you got that intimidated, guilty feeling? About how much better your competitor ranks for the good search terms, has more Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and has more online “gravity”?

This post is for you:

The Rich Get Richer: True in SEO, Social + All Organic Marketing

The writer is an SEO expert, but his main point touches on why online marketing needs to be thought of holistically.

High search rankings can earn you lots of visitors who might subscribe to an email list. Thousands of Twitter followers can mean direct SEO benefit and second-order effects like more links and branding. A popular LinkedIn group can drive traffic that turn into more RSS subscribers, getting you noticed by industry lists, which then feed into more media attention and links, which delivers higher rankings. It’s a virtuous circle — unless you’re sitting on the sidelines.

Or running uphill. Read the whole thing.

Forget the guilt of “I should have begun all that online marketing earlier.”

Take heart because of these things:

  • Online marketing tools are getting cheaper and work better together. This means a small or midmarket company can have big-company infrastructure for lead generation and development.
  • Customers may slow down their buying during a recession, but search engines don’t. Crank out good content, get people linking to you, and you’ll be better-ranked when spending conditions improve.
  • Competitors make mistakes, even when they are running downhill*. How often have you heard of a company getting more nimble and efficient as they grow?
  • Knowing what will engage customers is critical to marketing, but is always changing. If you find out what your buyers are interested in right now, you’ll have a more accurate perspective than your competitor.

Start Now! You can catch up. Interview customers, come up with a content strategy, integrate your marketing, and measure it all.

*True story: The first cross-country race I ever won was when the guy in front of me took a wrong turn and ran off the course.

Research shows: Content development is a winner

La-di-da, the very day I sing the praises of content development, MarketingSherpa shares this chart.

It shows what “highly effective” SEO techniques are being used by B2B companies.

chartofweek-11-09-10-lp

All the large circles on the left (labelled in white) are basically one-time projects, requiring little ongoing maintenance.

Content development is the ongoing marketing project that gives the best SEO benefit. And, as I pointed out yesterday, it helps you convert more search-engine-referred visitors into leads.

Making new content is hard, but pays off.

Better Content for Better SEO and Lead Conversion

Is a search engine optimization program just for lead generation?

Nope.

On the face of it, you might think that high Google ranking = more site visitors, end of story.

But perhaps you’re stuck at the #3 position, or the #7, or can’t even break into the first page. Or you see a lot of visitors coming into your site, but they don’t raise their hand.

In that case, you might need to upgrade from SEO Program A to SEO Program B.

 

SEO Program A: Onpage keyword optimization, Links from irrelevant sites.

SEO Program B: Onpage keyword optimization, Better website content, Links from relevant sites

 

 

The Difference Between Two Inbound Links

Let’s imagine two realty firms in San Antonio, who have the same website content.

Rae Lynn’s site has inbound links from 100 sites, including a Las Vegas ultrasound clinic, a Phoenix hair extension shop, an acupuncturist in Maryland, and so on. (This from a real-life example, by the way.)

Billy Bob’s firm has links from 100 sites, including the San Antonio newspaper, the local Chamber of Commerce, the local hospital foundation, and so on.

The site with the more relevant links will ALWAYS rank higher (all other things being equal), and thus get more site traffic.

Now, I cannot gainsay a SEO program of type A that gets you high rankings. Some links are better than none, and you may also be in a noncompetitive keyword space. You certainly will pay less for it, since SEO firms usually have a financial relationship with the ultrasound clinic and the acupuncturist. (Those websites are termed “link farms”.) And obtaining valuable links takes time and money.

But the “high road” positions you better for long-term online marketing success, not least because the  value of an irrelevant link usually goes down.

Then there is the matter of visitor conversion… which, after all, is the goal of a website.

Give the People What They Want

The middle item in SEO Program B, “Better website content” is the key since it helps you two ways. It simultaneously leads to 1) greater conversion of visitors into leads; and 2) links from better-respected sites.

Prospects are more likely to “raise their hands” on your site if you begin to help them fix their problem. How can you? By educating them about the problem and the solutions, by establishing your credibility, and by answering their most common questions.

People who run other websites are more likely to link to you if your site provides value for their readers.

Content achieves those things. Basic examples of content are case studies, engaging videos, and commentary and/or curation of relevant news.

So in a fantasy world, you would have all this great customer-friendly content on your site and be #1 on Google.

The tradeoff, of course, is that it takes money and time to create that content (and also to ask people for links).

Is it worth it?

Well, we now arrive at the consultant’s “It Depends” moment.

Factors affecting your decision to create compelling content include:

  1. Your “authority opportunity” – can you credibly establish that you’re an authority on something?
  2. What are your competitors doing?
  3. Are you patient enough to wait months for results, and understand that SEO has uncertain results?
  4. Do you have existing and noncompetitive relationships with other authorities in your industry?
  5. Are your current search engine rankings good enough?
  6. Are search engines going to become a more or less important customer acquisition channel?
  7. Can you reuse content in other marketing programs?
  8. Can customers create that content for you?

As complex as online marketing has become, it still boils down to giving prospects what they need to move to the next stage of the buying process. Content is central to that, and it can help your SEO too.

 

All About Online Content, for the Business Owner

Most of the material on this blog is about improving the online reach of your company’s selling message. Or getting the message out in less time, or for less money, or higher conversion effectiveness.

Of equal importance to the distribution of the message, though is the message itself.

The content.

Herewith, some basics about online content…

Is Online Content Important For My Business?

If your customers are online when they do any part of their research or buying, YES.

If you have a national footprint, YES.

If you care about your position in the search engines, YES.

 

A Definition

Content is anything you produce other than your product that your customers choose to spend time with, and tells them at least indirectly how your company can fix their problem.

Let’s break that definition down into three parts.

“anything you produce other than your product”

The most obvious example is a description of your product or service – which can be written and/or photographic and/or video. More examples include customer case studies; testimonials; FAQ; user forums; press releases (sometimes); the About Us page on your website; a newsletter; your company blog, your LinkedIn/Facebook page; etc.

“that your customers choose to spend time with”

This bit is here to indicate the context: a person is actively evaluating your product or service. They have a need, they are looking for a solution, and their mind is open. This is your sales and marketing opportunity.

“tells them at least indirectly how your company can fix their problem”

Here is where you convey your own differentiating selling message, conveying the truth about your products in an engaging and relevant way.

Another way to look at content is thus:

Content Not Content
Copywriting
Videos
Pictures
Blogs
Newsletters
Advertising
Adwords
Graphic design
Direct Mail
Forms and other response mechanisms
Pricing
Event planning

 

What’s The Role Of Content In The Buying Process?

  1. Advertising attracts.
  2. Content answers questions, engages and educates.
  3. Systems qualify, move prospects (i.e. develop leads) , and measure.
  4. People close.

 

Two Types of Content

The content your marketers churn out is one of two kinds.

  • The static, evergreen sort like brochures, FAQ, executive bios, and so on.
  • Another sort, which I’ll call the “Steady Stream” of content. This is the rest: the engaging, the promotional, the conversation, and the personality. Steady Stream comprises blogs, bylined articles, PR, newsletter articles, photos, videos, tweets, Facebook page updates, and so on.

The time and money commitment for Steady Stream content is an order of magnitude greater than that for static content, but the upside is equally great.

So Why is Online Content Important?

First off, content is the best way you can develop your leads, without talking to a prospect. And it’s scalable. Content usually doesn’t generate leads on its own. But better content helps revenue by improving your conversion to sale.

Second, content is the most important factor in search engine optimization. If you want a long-term high position in Google for high- and medium-traffic search terms, you need good content.

Third, the effectiveness of online content can be measured, and thus optimized through A/B testing.

Last, Not all companies produce online “steady stream” content effectively. (As compared to producing basic websites, business cards, voicemail etc.) Since your company’s peer group will have “haves” and “have-nots”, there is a competitive opportunity for the firm that creates online content consistently well.

 

Migrating from Movable Type to Drupal

Movable Type was my content management system (CMS) of choice in 2004. Installation and configuration was easy enough for a non-developer like me to handle, and I had a couple of reliable business partners for coding and design projects.

However, the open-source movement captured interest and attention of the development community, and Movable Type began an inexorable slide into comparative irrelevance. (Evidence at Google Trends.)

One of my clients has several Movable Type websites, and this month we’re moving them all to the very solid Drupal platform. All but one of the sites have a manageable amount of copy, making it  feasible to copy and paste the content. The last one had 181 blog posts, which demanded an automated solution.

This post illustrates how I moved the blog content from Movable Type to Drupal.

Three Methods

I found three ways to migrate the content, in decreasing order of elegance:

  • Use the new Feeds module to scrape an RSS file and publish nodes.
  • Use the Import Typepad / MoveableType module, which imports nodes in a batch from an MT export file.
  • Migrate first from Movable Type to WordPress, and then use the WordPress Import module to get the content into Drupal.

I wasn’t sure if Feeds would import the blog’s comments along with the posts, and the two-step option seemed clunky.

Down the Import Typepad / MoveableType path I went, and in the process I learned:

  • The 6.x version doesn’t work. So I installed Drupal 5.x with the 5.x version of the module, and then upgraded to the 6.x branch.
  • The module expects to import into a content type called “blog”. Any other name will prevent you from editing the nodes. For simplicity, I wiped out the other content types from the 5.x install.
  • Set up your Drupal categories in advance. Taxonomy CSV import/export worked for me.
  • Set up your users in advance, since the import module wants to map the Movable Type author to the Drupal author.
  • Tidy your markup tags and oddball ASCII characters in the export file, before you do the import.
  • Also in the export file, change PRIMARY CATEGORY: to CATEGORY:. Honestly, I don’t know if this was necessary but it took less time to do that than to type this sentence.
  • Drupal 5.x is fast, compared to my contrib-laden installs of 6.x.

With all that in place, kick off the import in your 5.x install.

You may be greeted with an “ERROR 1 State = 5″ error code at the top of the review page, and this charming screen after confirming the import:

movable_type_import_error
Yet a visit to the admin/content/node page brings relief:

movable_type_import_success

So the import does work.

Adios, Movable Type.

Business Blogging – Five reasons why it might work for you

Let’s define a business blog just as a regular stream of commentary on a topic. Here’s how it can work:

Engages and builds trust with customers and prospects.

Your prospects are looking for a solution from someone that understands their problems. Show your customers how much you know about their business challenge, and they’ll believe your product addresses those needs… especially if you don’t overtly mention your product. You can also shape the issues faced by buyers of your products. If done honestly, that can directly benefit your sales effort.

Establishes thought leadership in your industry.

If you’re an expert in your field, a blog gives you an effective channel to put your knowledge on display. Blog content is inherently more sharable than a white paper, and more timely besides. HealthpointCapital, a private equity firm, is a notable model for a firm that used a blog to dramatically expand the reach of its research output.

Helps keep your website dynamic.

We all know the the main function of most websites is to develop and qualify leads, and that drives the main content and structure. However, a blog addresses two nonstandard types of user visits. First, buyers will occasionally visit your site and want to know what’s new. Second, your painstakingly written “regular” website content may not address all problems faced by prospects. A blog engages visitors in these two situations and nudges them along the selling cycle.

Lifts your website up the search engine rankings.

Google smiles upon sites with regularly updated content. That means higher rankings on the search results page, and more traffic for your site.

Complements your email and offline efforts.

This is multichannel marcom. For example: Interview a customer, and put it on your blog. Formalize the interview into a PDF case study, which your field sales team can use. Turn the material into a “customer win” press release. Excerpt the interview for your email newsletter to customers. Blogs fit nicely into any marketing campaign.

Does so by not costing too much. Blog software is cheap, and they can fit into your website without too much effort. That said, the commitment to keeping a business blog is steady and does claim a fair amount of time from your marketing staff. (Or, you can outsource it.)

 

What gives a marketer her authority?

In a post from last week, I mentioned (almost as an aside) that marketers have to own the “What The Customer Wants” piece if they want any authority. This was a rather loose end that needed tying. I can think of three other subjects that a marketer ought to know cold, if they expect to have a say in corporate strategy.

Qualitative Market Knowledge. In other words, you’ve got to know who does the buying and what do we need to give them at each point in the process. Customer interviews form the backbone of this knowledge. Large-sample-size surveys provide hard data to back up the conclusions you gain from interviews.

Quantitative Market Research. How big is your current market? How big will it be in five years?

Prospect and User Metrics. What do people click on? Which ads motivate them? Who calls customer service the most, and the least? This data fills out your knowledge of the customer, both in how they buy and use your product.

Competitive Environment. The product manager, if he’s not in the marketing group, may own this piece. (He may own some of the metrics too.) Marketers can go beyond the typical who-has-what-product-feature by tracking competitor corporate strategy.

Note that these aren’t fungible skills like the ability to write ad copy, perform regression analysis, quote from business cases like an MBA, or do a slick Powerpoint. This is situation-specific data, which require regular monitoring. Knowing these four subjects keeps marketers from being treated like an ad agency.