Want Your Content to Succeed? Begin with Strategy

Strategy-ImageSales leads. It’s the holy grail of your marketing efforts. You likely use a host of implements to get them.

You have a website. Maybe you’re using a mix of digital marketing tools, like e-mails, social media, a blog, and possibly, some online display or pay-per-click ads.

Is it all working? Maybe. And maybe not.

Back up a minute.

  • Have you created a measurable objective?
  • Are you executing a defined strategy against that objective?
  • Have you built a strong enough sales story to make your efforts successful?

At face value, the sheer number of digital tools seems to make marketing easier than ever before. Sure, you have more channels at your fingertips, but you still must have a strategy — and strong messaging — from which all marketing tactics should flow.

As SMB marketers, many companies still throw a variety of tactics against the wall, hoping something will stick. Usually, they’re trying to do too much on too many different platforms, with no real ‘what’ or ‘how’ behind it.

What’s Missing?

Strategy – Strategy is a given for larger companies and experienced marketers but seems to be a missing component that is MIA at many smaller firms.

Assuming you have created a very specific objective (like growing your sales in one market by 10%), you then need to determine your strategy or strategies — how you plan to get there.

A strategy is NOT the same as a tactic. A good definition of strategy is: “a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.” An easy way to understand the difference between objectives, strategies, and tactics is with an analogy to travel:

Your objective: Vacation in New York

Your strategy for how to get there: Take a plane

Your tactic: Fly out Friday at 10 a.m.

Strategy forces you to map out how you will reach your objective. Lacking a coherent strategy, companies often jump right to tactics – doing a little of this, a little of that. Haphazard tactics without a true focus don’t have the desired impact.

“We need to be active on Facebook.”

That may be true, but, does it fit your strategy?

 Work the tools that fit your strategy.

In short, don’t work the tools just because they’re available. This is especially important for SMBs. There is a limited budget and no room for waste. Instead, work the tools that fit your strategy.

Tactics should flow from strategy, and there is where you detail exactly what you will do.

Let’s look a few sample strategies against a growth objective, and a few of the possible tactics that would naturally flow from them:

Strategy: Better leverage our website so visitors take some kind of action.

 Tactics:

  • Add lead capture and ongoing lead nurturing using content of value
  • Make sure there are calls to action throughout your site – give visitors a reason to contact you
  • Use and apply site analytics regularly (this shouldn’t need to be said, but needs to be said)
  • Make sure prospects have a reason to go to your site by keeping content fresh
  • Add content that speaks more directly to a vertical market, or your campaign
  • Feature and link to the most educational parts of your site on your Home page

StrategyReach target through thought leadership via online content marketing.

 Tactics:

  • Regular and relevant (to your market and your message) content for social channels
  • Ditto above for blog posts
  • Ebook, webinar, video, presentation, etc. showcasing your subject matter expertise
  • Email campaign to share your content in complete or shortened form

Strategy: Leverage the sales team and their interactions with customers and prospects; equip them to better sell what you’re offering.

Tactics: Before you determine tactics here, this is a golden opportunity to engage the sales team in your gameplan:

  • Is there sales support you can provide?
  • A comparison with competitors you can compile?
  • A more persuasive way to tell your story?
  • A different way to approach current customers versus prospects?

You get the idea. Listen, and reap the benefits of their direct interactions with the market, in the form of new tactics, or maybe even new strategies.

By plotting your strategy before your plot your tactics, you will have a cohesive program. Everything you do tactically – emails, blog posts, content and social media marketing – will then be working cohesively against the same goal, in varying ways.

Many companies neglect creating a hard-hitting positioning statement. 

Messaging – You know your product or service is different. Better. Your customers believe in it, and so do you.

How you capture this in your marketing?

Many companies have a mission statement, but neglect creating a useful, hard-hitting positioning statement. While a mission statement typically describes the company’s goals and values, positioning is an externally-facing statement that should directly compare your offering to competitors, and explain why it’s different and of course better. It should also describe, very specifically, its ultimate value to customers.

Positioning is a science and an art with too many nuances to discuss here. But even this simple straw-man model can help:

Who: Who are you?

What: What business are you in?

For whom: What people do you serve?

What need: What are the special needs of the people you serve?

Against whom: With whom are you competing?

What’s different: What makes you different from those competitors?

So what: What’s the benefit? What unique benefit does a client derive from your service?

And the statement model:

  • [Company name] is a (business description) for (audience served) seeking to (special needs of those served). 
  • Unlike competitors, [company name] (what makes us different from competitors).
  • This gives clients (unique benefits clients derive from the service).

Usually, in composing your positioning statement, you find you can’t fit it all in. There’s simply much more you want to say. From a marketing perspective, that’s a good problem to have. So attack it – list out all of the key points you want to make, and below each one, expand upon and capture all of your differentiators and supporting points, one at a time.

Once these are laid out, your marketing team can then easily select and use those points in your marketing, across a variety of tactics, in creative and compelling ways.

A critically important point here: It is crucial that you create your your positioning from the outside in. Not necessarily what you think is important, but what your customers think is important.

If you don’t have insight into that, speak to several customers and prospects regarding what they care about when it comes to your product or service, why they chose you, what they value most about your offering, and so on.

Listen to your customers

To gather this input, you simply MUST have conversations – you should not rely on a written survey sent over email. Nor should you just add a few questions to the end of your company’s annual customer survey. There is simply no substitute for the back-and-forth exchange made possible by a real, live conversation. Like any good interview, you never know where it will lead. Very often, you will gain feedback you would never, EVER get through a written survey. (And also very often, the customer will appreciate being involved in your research, because it shows you value their opinion.)

In addition to talking with customers and prospects, get feedback from your salesforce on what prospects are saying, and from employees outside of sales about what they’re hearing from customers.

After you’ve gathered the raw input from all of these sources, hold a messaging session with a group of your co-workers from various departments. Take the time to brainstorm further, categorize, flesh out, add to and eventually, prioritize those points that are most compelling. Then use them to create a new set of differentiators, a new positioning statement and a new, full set of key messages.

Now, you’re ready to market. You have messaging that is relevant to your prospects, and that clearly sets you apart from competitors.

The perspectives revealed from customer interviews as well as group brainstorming are guaranteed to enhance and improve what a handful of marketing people can come up with alone.

So before you embark on your next marketing tactic, outline the following:

  • Who do you want to reach, and what you want them to do? (Your objective)
  • How will you reach them? (Your strategy)
  • What does your target care about, and how does your company uniquely meet their interests? (Your messaging)
  • What exactly will you do during the next three, six or 12 months to accomplish your goal? (Your tactics)

Taking the time to think through strategy and create and apply strong messaging will help you orchestrate your marketing against specific goals, apply concentrated energy against one or more strategies, and give you multiple selling points to use across tactics, enabling you to reach your target with messages that matter to them.

You’ll greatly enhance the likelihood of achieving your goals – or even exceed them.

 

 

The B2B Social Spotlight: Jill Castilla

 

Jill Castilla

Citizens Bank of Edmond has people and businesses personally asking the CEO to take their money.  

Over Twitter.

Really.

How did a 114-year-old, single location suburban community bank get to the point of generating business over social media and compete head to head with institutions many times its size?

President and CEO Jill Castilla says the bank is thriving because she and her staff connect deeply, positively and consistently with the people, businesses, and institutions in and around Edmond and nearby Oklahoma City.

This Army vet and mother of three has kept community banking in the family. She is the 4th generation of ownership and management of the bank, founded in 1901 (before Oklahoma was even a state).

Like many banks, Citizens Bank of Edmond saw difficulty after the Great Recession. Upon returning to Edmond after stints as CFO with a community bank in Minnesota and various posts with Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, she applied the force multiplier of social media.

Leveraging it and positive messaging, Castilla and her staff have made the bank a vibrant and award-winning institution. It competes with 50 different financial institutions, yet is consistently ranked in the top five banks in the region.

Castilla was recently recognized as Woman of the Year award by the Edmond Chamber of Commerce, American Banker Top 25 Women to Watch and was named by Independent Community Bankers of America as a top social media influencer.

What did Citizens Bank of Edmond intentionally set out to do – or do differently – using social media?

I recognized early on, from my first interactions on Facebook and then Twitter, that the next interaction I had after the initial connection could go much deeper. Social Media allows a relationship to grow more quickly than even after years of being in a community. It allowed me to gain a lot of credibility, to connect with service organizations and really become a leader in the community very quickly.

Coming out of the financial crisis, I first used Social Media to optimize our search results to help shift the stories about the bank from negative to positive. From there, that was the focus: deliver positive messages, advocate for the bank, the industry and the community. So, in the beginning it was mostly me on Twitter developing relationships.

I also loved the time efficiency of having meaningful conversations while multitasking at your desk, instead of shaking hands at traditional networking events.

Social is about producing business outcomes, but it begins with developing relationships and supplying valuable content. What did Citizens Bank of Edmond do to build dialogue?

We lift other people up and offer assistance. It’s similar to overhearing someone talk about banking, your community, your industry and then interjecting your perspective/assistance. If there’s a way that you can help them — being very genuine in how you interact with them — you are accepted and welcomed into that world.

With most of my local Twitter community, we’ve gone the next step to meeting in person. It’s how I met one of my greatest mentors. I’ve been following him for a long time and then tweeted that my New Year’s resolution was to meet him. He has a huge following on Twitter, lives in my community and shares wisdom that resonates with me. His response? Let’s make it happen! Now, we meet for coffee frequently, and he’s become a great advocate for our bank and such a great resource for me.

I don’t use Social Media as a targeting mechanism to try to get particular business. I don’t promote our products and services. It’s really just being part of the conversation that people start viewing you as more of an expert, or as a resource at least, for banking, and our community.

What other tools do you use besides Twitter?

While Twitter is my Social Media of choice, we utilize Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. I also experiment with the Social Media tool du jour so that we can stay relevant and engaged with our target audience.  We use Instagram for many of our photos when we do what we call “Cash Mobs”, which is a way we interact with some of the small businesses. It’s produced amazing results for us, including traditional media coverage.

We give money to our team to go to a particular business on a specific day. And while wearing their Citizens Bank of Edmond T-shirts, and on a prior day, coordinate with the small business so that they know that we’re coming in, our staff goes in and takes pictures, and puts it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and then that business also does the same thing.

I use LinkedIn extensively to connect with peers as well as build on relationships that start via some other interaction, either on Social Media or in real life.

Twitter is the primary driver we utilize to interact with our customers and our community. It’s an amazing way for us to connect with financial technology firms because many of them are early adopters of Twitter, and so they’ll interact with you quite a bit. In some cases, you get to be on the leading edge of adopting a new technology because they feel like they know who you are.

I just got back from a large banking conference, and it’s amazing how many vendors and bankers that I saw there that I had previously interacted with on Social Media. As a new conference attendee, having so many “friends” made it very easy to network and further deepen relationships.

How did you arrive at your content and engagement strategy?

We have a social media plan, and structure, but we have no contrived content strategy. I have never scheduled a tweet.  I enjoy being in the moment and accessible so that I can have authentic engagements.

We’ll talk about what’s happening in town beyond the events calendar. We celebrate others – it’s the whole “rising tide lifts all boats” strategy.

I think other banks can make a mistake in maybe engaging a third-party service that’s going to provide generic financial information and banking information that’s being broadcast by five thousand other people, and kind of generically put out there. We want our personality to shine through.

How have your social media activities influenced your company’s bottom line?

I can easily say yes. I probably don’t measure our success in social media like people typically track their success on social media by boasting about the number of followers or interactions. I get at least one new account per week from a relationship that originated from social media.

I consistently gain loan referrals from my interactions on Twitter and LinkedIn. It opens many doors with the prospect of millions in commercial loans for our institution. It also solidifies relationships to acquire that next loan with little to no competition. Social media has made my bank more profitable and increased our loan volume.. The possibilities to develop the pipeline through it are a gold mine.

What’s the one thing people would never know about marketing a bank?

We’re regulated, and that can be scary. But I think the thing that would surprise everyone is how much freedom you have to communicate via social media that don’t trigger the regulatory concerns.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I love rap music. My family has rap battles at home.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

Scott Williams and bigisthenewsmall.com is my favorite.

Oomphcast.com, is an Oklahoma-based marketing podcast.

Becky McCrea, at beckymccray.com and smallbizsurvival.com, talks about entrepreneurship and small business issues.

How can people connect with you?

Twitter is super easy, @JillCastilla, and via LinkedIn. Email is the most terrible way ever.

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Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them and share their story. Drop me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter at @RAReed.

The B2B Social Spotlight: Joy Gendusa

Joy Gendusa

To hear some marketing gurus tell it, social media is the only game in town. While they may not want to hear it, every channel has its place.

When it comes to reminding, thanking, inviting and acknowledging customers, the simple paper post card continues to be connective and effective.

No one knows that better than Joy Gendusa, Founder and CEO of PostcardMania.

Starting her business at her kitchen table 15 years ago, Joy now oversees 200 employees at PostcardMania’s production and fulfillment facility in Clearwater, Fla. The self-proclaimed artist, designer, foodie and entrepreneur built the company on the simple premise that business owners need to be informed marketers.

Joy has generated an impressive quantity of content about direct mail and marketing, eagerly and regularly helping her customers become smarter, years before the term “helpful” became part of the modern marketing lexicon.

What did PostcardMania intentionally set out to do – or do differently – using social media?

I didn't put a lot of attention on social until it had a lot of attention from just regular people. We just kept concentrating on adding content and driving traffic to our website. I wrote most of the content until I started hiring copywriters and getting people to help me with content probably five or six years ago.

I would try something to market my own company and either fall on my face or have success, and I would try something else. I just felt it was my duty to educate my clients and prospects about it so they wouldn't make the same mistakes I made.

How did you arrive at your content strategy?

I was creating content for PostcardMania's website when there was no content,“online”.  I was literally winging it for years. I wanted to educate people on what I was learning. I simply started writing article after article.

What kinds of useful or helpful information do you deliver to your customers?

We supply a real basic how-to approach with case study data. When we explain something, like I did in a series on PPC in my newsletter, I get a lot of real good feedback from people.

I present things simply; this is my story, this is how we do it, this is what this means. We really give good information, usable information, and we don't throw in a lot of terminology. Those kinds of articles get the best responses and the most downloads.

How does PostcardMania target its social outreach?

We have over 60,500 customers, and we only have a few thousand people following us on Facebook. A lot of them follow me personally, but not even a lot of them if you look at the numbers. Of course we did all the normal things like putting our "connect to me" buttons all over the blog and the website and the bottom of email, etcetera.

Now we're on a campaign to actually reach out specifically with email and phone calls to get those people connected with us, so that we can use social media to build trust and get them to like us.

We can make our customers into much better customers, just by being interested in them, and staying in communication with them on social media. That's kind of what gave me the idea to reach out and actively grow that list with our customers, and reach our prospects.

Any traction in closing business through those efforts?

A couple of Valentine's Days ago we did a little project where we took our top 500 customers, and we sent them wax mustaches and wax lips. We said if they'd take a picture and post it on our wall, we'll give them some kind of discount. I think it cost us about $3,000, all said and done.

In the end, we only had a handful of people actually post pictures, and I think we gained maybe 20 likes on our Facebook page, but we wound up selling to 68 of those 500 customers. Those 68 customers, that week, I'm talking about Valentine's Day week, spent $120,000 with us.

What’s your primary channel that connects PostcardMania with prospects?

Our primary channel is direct mail and secondary is PPC. Our newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers and each week we email it out and it routes prospects and customers to our blog. There I can kind of get in their face and say, "Okay. Buy this now; this is a good tool you could use, and this is what it costs; get a deal if you click today," or that kind of thing. But mainly it’s helpful data and not ads at all.

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"We can make our customers into much better customers, just by being interested in them, and staying in communication with them on social media."

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What do you regularly measure to see what is working?

We are measurement FREAKS… we measure everything and primarily it’s calls we receive via our marketing efforts because, in my particular business, a call indicates a hot prospect – the hottest. We also track downloads, through the information we would offer directly, and via Google through sponsored ads. Of course we measure all the usual things too – email open rates, unique visitors to the site, but conversion is where it’s at in the end.

On the social sites, where people aren't expecting to be sold to, and where it annoys them, we're just trying to make them like us enough to go back to our website where we can get serious.

How have your social media activities influenced PostcardMania’s bottom line?

We don't really use social as a revenue generator, except for that one little thing that we did with the wax lips. While it was effective, it’s not yet a business driver. I don't have a big enough list in social to affect my bottom line. We send out 140,000 postcards every single week to generate PostcardMania's revenue, and we spend between $15,000 and $20,000 on PPC a week. That's really how we affect the bottom line.

In the age of social media, is it a bit ironic that you’re promoting items that rely on regular mail?

People are somewhat surprised that our business is still growing as much as it's growing, because it is snail mail and there's so much bad PR about the post office and the expense of postage. But direct mail is still the very best way to target and enlighten. There's a whole group of people searching for what you have, and another large group that have no idea they need what you have, so they're not searching for it. THOSE people need direct mail.

We have integrated digital into our offerings with our Direct Mail 2.0 product, a post card with a call tracking number, a mail tracking number, and a re-targeting campaign all in one.

People don't just call a phone number on a post card anymore. They go to the website, get cookied and see the ad on all the different sites of the Google Network. The repeated message is great and it’s taken DM to a completely new level. Users are getting ridiculous ROI. It’s been a great boost to our company.

What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

We use Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. I personally don't do a lot of social except on my own personal Facebook page. I have a social media manager, and she's on LinkedIn everyday, joining groups, trying to get involved in the conversation, answering questions.

What aspects of social haven’t worked for you? 

So many things have not worked for me over all, not just social. I don't tend to keep my attention on those. We will throw the spaghetti at the wall a thousand times until it sticks. At this point, 15 years into this, we pretty much know how long it needs to boil for it to stick. We're so metric-orientated; we only do what already works.

What's the one thing people would never know about marketing a direct mail and printing company?

They don’t realize how much technology is used. It seems so brick-and-mortar, and it is, because we're a manufacturer, but full on web developers and programmers working full time on various projects are all part of the future. We've really evolved into a technology company in so many ways.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

They probably don't know that I CrossFit, because I'm so new at it that I don't post a lot of about it. I'm addicted.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

I’m also a HUGE Flint McLaughlin groupie.

How can people connect with you?

I answer all my email joy.gendusa@postcardmania.com. I'm not super speedy, because I do get a lot of communication, but I do really enjoy helping people, regardless of whether or not they ever buy from PostcardMania, or want to buy from PostcardMania. I really, really just enjoy helping small business owners. People can also reach via Facebook. I get private messages all the time.

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Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them and share their story  Drop me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

Digital Spells Opportunity (and Impact) for Attracting Customers

Jack Kraft talks digital marketing.

A conversation with Jack Kraft, business consultant, venture capitalist and former executive at Leo Burnett.

 

 

Note: Jack is a long-time advisor to Element-R.  Even a short conversation with him is thought-provoking — and always right on target.  We got together recently to talk about one of his favorite topics – marketing.

ER: We’re expanding the purpose of No Silver Bullet to provide insight on marketing and on other business issues for SMBs. Obviously, with the recession, all of our clients are looking for ways to build sales – even the larger corporations.

Jack Kraft (JCK): In every business, there is a gateway activity to gaining new customers.  For small firms in particular, the fundamental issue is managing resources.  That’s the bane of effective management for most companies.  And the one area that is most foreign is how to manage marketing resources.

Resources have to be managed. Clients have to be managed.  And you need strategies for managing those resources, to ensure you are doing the right things right.

The highest result from managing resources is attracting clients.

ER: What are you seeing in all of your current consulting gigs?

JCK: The biggest marketing breakthrough, digital technology, is not really new any more. But, it continues to evolve and continues to reduce the cost and speed of communicating with the marketplace.  It has never been easier.

The impact a company can have with even a modest investment is enormous.  Digitally, you can reach more people; address specific market segments and measure the effects quickly, effectively and economically.

Exponential growth can be achieved using only digital tools.  I continue to see it happen!

ER: In our B2B space, we see a fear of some of the newer social media tools – mainly out of misunderstanding. Plus, there is usually a lot of room for improving companies’ existing digital presence, so we generally start there, and add a set of basic social media tactics to get their feet wet.  It’s a real shift in how you ‘do’ marketing.

JCK: Yes, it takes special skills to use digital technology effectively, and those skill sets are still evolving so rapidly that professional input makes a lot of sense.

ER: What should companies keep in mind as they approach – or delve deeper – into the digital world?

JCK: The same basics of marketing apply to using digital tools, but perhaps to an even greater extent than before because results are instantly measurable:

  • Understanding your market
  • Knowing what you’re selling from the customer’s perspective (not the product per se, but the soft stuff)
  • Translate the sell into a compelling message that the market cares about and constantly measure results

Digital tools reach the market but produce results only if you know how to use them. If you don’t, find someone who does.

ER: Right.  You can’t just go in and start Tweeting the same commercial messages you might place in an ad.  It takes thought … listening … and planning good content.

JCK: I also see a strong need for PR planning in conjunction with social media.  The more “right things” companies have to say, the more exposure they’ll receive on the web.  The desired result is higher results in organic rankings.

So, the largest area of opportunity is how to use technology to build bridges to customers – how to create environments that invite conversations that lead to desired actions.