Search Marketers Pack ‘Em In at BMA Gathering

It was a packed house last week at the BMA Minnesota monthly breakfast meeting to hear three local B2B pros talk search marketing. Clearly there’s interest in what can seem like a mysterious black art. (relevant infographic from Webmarketing123 below)

The local BMA team has the balance right here with two marketers sharing real-world experiences and one consultant-side specialist to go deeper into the science. In this case we had Nina Hale bringing the consultant perspective, paired with Heather Hayes, interactive marketing supervisor at Stratasys, and Craig Berdie, search marketing manager at 3M.

Hale observed that paid search marketing and natural SEO are great complements to each other. We all like the credibility and lower cost that comes from great natural search placement. On the other hand, when people click on those search results, we can’t control as well where they go, while with paid – while more expensive – we can set up campaign-specific landing pages to track ROI and optimize campaigns more effectively.

I found it interesting that Hale believes B2B buyers don’t want to see B2B ads on Facebook. I’m not sure it’s true. I would say, however, that you probably do need to be promoting a different kind of content to be effective in that more consumer-oriented “entertainment” environment. I believe it’s less effective for straight product or service promotion but could be quite effective for promoting engaging thought leadership content. But of course, that’s not as lead-gen-oriented, and thus the ROI is harder to assess.

All that said, Hale notes that having a good social presence – even without a huge number of followers or a lot of engagement – is quite important to the search engines. At this point, it’s probably the primary reason to consider a Google+ presence.

Hayes then shared the Stratasys approach. Stratasys makes 3D printers, ranging from lower-cost desktop models to huge systems that can “print” pieces several feel long. (disclaimer: Stratasys is a public relations client of ours) She talked about the need to balance keywords that generate lots of clicks with keywords that convert to leads, which is a great point.  A click is not an end in itself.

The other key part of Hayes’ effort besides the science of keywords is a detailed multi-channel content calendar. This builds in discipline to generate consistent content and also ensures that the content is aligned with the keywords. She confirmed what Hale said about the value of having a good social presence, claiming that engineers (her target audience) don’t engage well on social media but they effort improves their search results. She did note correctly that younger engineers use these channels more. (I saw that last year with our work with IEEE.)

The final presenter was Berdie from 3M. That company has really stepped up its commitment to search optimization, and in fact, they have an SEO Council in place to serve as a center of excellence.  Berdie observes that SEO was “once seen as shady” and is now seen as “a legitimate practice.” They get C-level support now because they have been disciplined about detailed analysis about which pages are getting exposed to search and how they are doing. Because they are able to show a significant potential financial pay-off, they are getting some funding and staffing increases to expand what they do in search. They expect every piece of content they produce to consider keywords.

All of the panelists said personalized search presents a new challenge. Personalized search refers to the way companies like Google give you personalized results to your search queries. Just because your company is listed first when you search on key terms yourself doesn’t mean the same will happen when your neighbor does it. Personalized search reduces access to information about how your search efforts are doing. For instance, Berdie says he has no access to information for the approximately 30 percent of searches on Google from logged-in users. On the other hand, the whole point of personalized search is to improve the relevance of the searches people do. That means that search should be working better. But it’s harder to track and assess.

I’d like to see more collaboration between folks focused higher up on the marketing funnel – like myself – and those farther down – like most marketers in lead gen roles. It’s great to see how we can benefit each other by producing the most compelling content that generates lots of engagement and conversation but that also motivates the right people to take action and move towards purchase interest. A healthy marketing communications program is carefully balanced across these phases.

SEO Captures Biggest Share of B2B Digital Marketing Budget

Socialnomics: The Revolution is Us

A Book Review

If you didn’t read Socialnomics, by Erik Qualman, when it originally came out in mid-2009, a revised and updated edition just came out in November. It’s worth checking out.

Qualman is an unabashed cheerleader for all things social media, which for someone with a skeptical bent like myself can be a little hard to take at times, but most other social media authors are no different – as Gartner analysts would say, the depths of the “Trough of Disillusionment” for social media are not yet upon us (though 2011 may be the year). This book is written primarily as a guide to social media for marketers and entrepreneurs. Like most, it comes at it with a B2C emphasis, with the rare exception. But that’s nothing new. The fact is that B2C is still ahead in social media so those of us focused more heavily on B2B need to learn from those experiences.

Here’s Qualman at a recent TedX event.

The Good:

  1. Word of Mouth to World of Mouth: This is the heart of Qualman’s thesis and it’s hard to argue with. As I’ve said on this blog ad nauseum, every bit of research I’ve ever encountered shows word of mouth as the most powerful influence on the purchase decision-making process. This is at least as true for B2B purchases, and maybe more so. But traditional word-of-mouth influence is slow and each individual only influences a few of the people they know. Grease word-of-mouth with social media and suddenly reach and speed explode with little loss of impact. He calls that “World of Mouth.”
  2. Silence is Not Golden. Qualman cites a study by the Strategic Planning Institute that found that 96 percent of dissatisfied customers don’t bother to complain, and yet 63 percent of those silent dissatisfieds will nevertheless not buy from you again. Yikes! Thanks to social media, it’s getting much easier for those customers to complain when something doesn’t go right. The author emphasizes for skittish companies that this is An Opportunity, a chance to take that feedback to make your product or service the best it can be. Of course, you also don’t have a choice because you can no longer hide the things that aren’t working. It’s better to face up to reality.
  3. Stats. Those of us who have to give presentations on social media are always trying to keep track of key trend stats, and not only has Qualman peppered the book with many, as you’d expect, he did us the courtesy of assembling most of them in the last chapter of the book under Eye Opening Statistics.  Oh, okay, I know you want a couple right now.  One out of eight couples married in the U.S. last year met via social media. Also, 50 percent of the mobile Internet traffic in the UK is for Facebook. There are pages of these handy stats.  (Too bad they’ll all be hopelessly out of date in a year, but so it goes. Maybe he’ll keep updating this.)
  4. Thoughtful Case Studies, without clear villains, just like real life. Sometimes the big companies get it right, sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes there’s more than one winner, and sometimes it takes two tries to get it right. And when we think we get something right, inevitably hubris sets in. I loved the travel example, where ACME Travel, a big player, gets something right on Facebook, but not quite right. A newcomer, Where I’ve Been, one-ups ACME. In turn, TripAdvisor tries to buy Where I’ve Been, but the latter gets a little greedy so TripAdvisor builds their own travel sharing app for less than it would have cost to acquire Where I’ve Been. In the end, TripAdvisor ends up with the most users. Fascinating story.

The Not So Good:

  1. It’s Not All Rosy. Although Qualman does acknowledge that there may be some downsides to social media, he doesn’t try very hard to think of many. I’m certainly a fan of the concept of “Socialnomics” but the fact is there are threats posed by social and digital media besides the possible decline of interpersonal communications skills in some young people. One of the great things about social media – really the Web in general – is we can really open our eyes to new ideas if we want to. On the other hand, you also have the opportunity to surround yourself only by people who think as you do and to read news and information that only conforms to your narrow point of view. This can actual reinforce socioeconomic and cultural isolation. Here’s a New York Times piece about that from way back in mid-2009.
  2. The Future is Not the Present. This is mainly something for marketers to be cognizant of. Qualman will often state emerging trends as if they are already the current state of affairs. He notes, for example that the media now do interviews via email instead of by phone or in person. Well, some industry media do, in some instances, but certainly that’s not the way any tier-1 journalist conducts interviews today. (The Washington Post ran such a story today on Chinese President Hu Juntao, but not because THEY wanted to. Rather, Hu insisted.) The author also says, “People are now living their own lives rather than watching others.” Presumably, because you see other people doing cool and amazing, you’re less satisfied spending days working, washing clothes and mowing the lawn, and are now taking up skydiving and treks to the South Pole. I’m sure some are but it feels more like wishful thinking.
  3. Search Engines Subsumed by Social Media. Qualman’s concept here is that I care more about what my neighbor thinks than what Google thinks (true) and so we don’t need to go hunting around on search engines.  I would note that most searches on search engines are not for products. Look at Bing’s top 10 searches of 2010 and none were product-related. And most of what we buy, we never did find on search engines. A B2C example: I want a new car. I don’t know about you but before social media, I wasn’t punching in “four-door sedan with good gas mileage” into a search engine. I was talking to my dad over coffee and emailing my friends. Doing that via social media doesn’t strike me as a radical change. A B2B example: Did I ever hire an accounting firm by trolling search engines? I don’t think this trend is as big as he makes it out to be.
  4. It’s Weber, Weber! Sorry, I’m the only one who cares about this, but in his Social Media Rolodex, Qualman gives a nod to Larry Weber, who founded the Weber Group, which merged with us to become Weber Shandwick.  But it’s “Larry Weber” not “Webber.” Had to be said.

Bottom Line: If you read a lot of books on social media, you’ll have heard most of this before. If not, this is one of the better ones for describing the fundamental impacts of the social media era on business and society.  Plus the sources and references in the back are handy.  Just go easy on the Kool-Aid.

You can follow the author on Twitter at @equalman.

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Integrating Social Media With Corporate Website: How Far Can We Take This?

I had a great time at MarketingProfs’ SocialTech 2010 conference earlier this week drilling into B2B social media for high tech companies. I was particularly impressed by the big-name brands represented at the event, from Facebook to Cisco, Microsoft to Xerox. For what it’s worth, I did not see a lot of large agencies represented.

Jeremiah Owyang of Altimeter Group had the opening keynote. Unlike the keynotes from Robert Scoble and Guy Kawasaki later in the day, which seemed weighted more towards bemusement and social media curiosities (not that we weren’t ready for a mental break by then), Owyang kicked things right off with a challenge to improve integration between the corporate website and social media presences. I agree. At Weber Shandwick, we sometimes call the website a “home base” property and social media sites “outposts” of the brand. The two need to work together a lot more than they do today in almost every case. In fact, according to an Altimeter Group survey from earlier this month, social integration onto the corporate website is the No. 1 social strategy objective of 2011.

Jeremiah Owyang (photo courtesy Thomas Hawk, flickr)

It’s a bit of a no-brainer but one challenge is the teams are usually different. And in the case of social media, especially at a larger company, there may be multiple teams all over the place, at the corporate level, at the product or division level, at the country level. Compounding it is the fact that, technologically, social media properties are designed to be agile, radically scalable (most are cloud-deployed), and interoperable, leveraging published APIs. In contrast, a lot of website platforms feel like extensions of the enterprise application architecture, with lots of custom programming and integration to back-end systems.

Fortunately, Owyang shared an eight-step framework to let us get there in stages, learning as a team and evolving our technology along the way.  I don’t have a full presentation I’m at liberty to share but I did find a Slideshare presentation from earlier in the year that does outline the framework (albeit with just B2C examples):

Essentially, we’re talking about moving from no social integration all the way to seamless integration where a visitor doesn’t see a difference between being on a home base or an outpost. Nobody’s really there yet. In fact, most are only one or two steps in.  The problem with being at no integration is that people are having conversations about your brand and your website isn’t supporting those conversations in any way.

A couple interesting examples:

  1. Cisco Support Community is integrating the brand with social channels so no matter where the audience goes, they have a consistent brand experience. You can check out the Cisco Support Community across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to see what that looks like.
  2. HP Labs is aggregating discussions on their corporate site, which surely would scare some brand owners.  Instead of just having conversations about your brand taking place out on Twitter or Facebook, aggregate those conversations on your website, so the site is the first place your audience thinks to go. Now we’re really making the corporate site a lot more influential and putting supplemental information at the fingertips of our audience without separating ourselves from the authenticity of those social conversations. But it’s a leap to make because there is a loss of control over just what shows up on that site. has been able to do it.

I was talking with Laura Ramos, another former Forrester analyst now at Xerox, afterwards and she pointed out that for many B2B companies where the audience target is known and small, the highest priority may not be seeing how advanced you can get with this eight-stage framework. Perhaps building a dynamic customer community with something like Jive might pay bigger dividends.  But I have one client with a very substantial audience to reach and it’s pretty easy to see the need for improved integration in those cases. Unfortnately, having the organizational structure and governance to head down this path is a challenge. There needs to be a better spirit of cooperation between IT, marketing, advertising, public and corporate communications, sales, and customer service. Wow, has this gotten that complicated?  I’m afraid so – everything is going digital, so all these groups have legitimate stakes in how this integration happens. There needs to be a brand champion looking out for the best interests of the brand, but in my mind that person is a coach and a convener, not a dictator, and someone who can remind all these parties that ultimately  your customer decides what your brand really stands for.

I’m looking forward to keeping the conversation going!

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You’re Not Marketing to a “B”, so How Well Do You Know Your “P”?

Do we do enough research into our target audiences?  What are they reading, who are they listening to, who do they trust, why do they buy, what do they care about? Consumer marketers do.  I don’t think we do enough.  Why isn’t it as culturally ingrained in B2B marketing communications programs to get the kind of research to really profile our audiences that way?  Maybe we think we’re selling to companies or institutions.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.”
Peter F. Drucker

We’re not. We like to go on and on about how B2B is different than B2C, but the fact is, who’s the B?  It’s a person. Actually, it’s probably a team of people. And as such they’re all different and they relate with each other in complicated ways, with a mix of respect, trust, suspicion, envy, aspirations and worries. And every B you target presents a different mix of such people. As Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer has said, “B2B is more P2P – people to people.” We’ve got to get into their heads and sort these relationships, motivations and interests all out so we have some chance of getting all those Ps to give our products or services a chance.

Every day I preach how we need to explain in a clear and compelling way how that product should resonate with the ever-evolving critical business challenges of the industry being targeted. But that really isn’t enough. We need to resonate with regular people. Our P2P-focused social media tools only make this more apparent.

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Using Social Networking Sites in B2B Businesses?

In the B2B Online Marketing group on LinkedIn, Rob Schmelz, E-Commerce Manager for Central Restaurant Products, asked a simple question from people:

robb2b

The question got a few good responses that hit on several key issues involved in instituting social media into the B2B space.

Kathryn Korostoff, Founder and President of Research Rockstar, notes varied successes:

kathrynb2b

A lot of success to date with B2B and social media use has been in cultivating communication with your current constituents: customers, clients, and employees.  As Kathryn mentioned, they had a ton of success using the tools for their customer support.  Other such examples are internal communities for current employees, or platforms that increase the connection to tier one clients.  She also highlights where social media tactics have room to grow: new client or customer acquisitions, or new sales.  In summary, at least in Kathryn’s experience, social media has been much more useful in making existing relationships stronger and deepter.

Scott Hardigree, CEO of Indiemark, which recently launched the mformer portion of their services to target B2B companies,

scottb2b

There is still a place for quick, viral marketing to happen in the B2B space.  A lot of people think this and other forms of word of mouth marketing are reserved for the B2C space.

Maria Colacurcio, Co-Founder of SmartSheet,

mariab2b

As Kathryn also mentioned, social media is a great way to develop your standing as an expert in your field and, ideally, an industry leader.  One of the primary ways this is done in the B2B space is to have a company blog where you’re able to post valuable information that brings readers back for more, and thus creates more brand awareness for when it does come time to make a decision on a certain product or service.  It’s icing on the cake that also boosts your SEO.

Jann LaGoy Mirchandani, Owner of Mirchandani Consulting, a graphic & web design firm in New York, commented:

jannb2b

Some B2B industries may see more success than others when it comes to sales.  Part of that, as Jann points to, may be a result of having a company with a little bit more word of mouth capabilities.  Once you have happy customers, information on a jewelry design may have the capability to be more “talked about” outside your direct network or industry connections than, say, a supply management software application.

Do you have any thoughts on successes or failures in the B2B space?  What have been our experiences?

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