I know you hate paying for social media and content marketing

The reluctant success of content and social

 

Here is an actual quote from an actual client two weeks ago:

“I pay you this money and I see you doing these things on Twitter and Facebook and my LinkedIn, and I don’t understand it. Like that article you put on there last week, which I didn’t think was interesting at all. But then I look at my web traffic and I see that it’s going up and it’s coming from your links. So I guess I’ll keep paying you. I still don’t understand it, though.”

I hear some version of this comment with some regularity: I work with a lot of small/mid-sized businesses, all of which have super-tight marketing budgets, and usually no in-house marketing department. So I’m generally working directly with a VP or President who knows their business really well, but doesn’t have a lot of experience with marketing.

The problem is the classic one: You can set up as many A/B tests as you want, track your clickthroughs til you’re blue in the face, and evangelize about engagement rates until someone invites you to a fake TEDx talk, but at the end of the day it’s still just as difficult as ever to draw a straight line from a single tweet to a single sale.

Remember print ads in magazines?

I’m old enough to remember the received wisdom that brands couldn’t expect a significant uptick in sales until they’d run a given single-page ad in a magazine for 3 months in a row.  (I say ‘received wisdom’, because all we had in those days were survey-based data and they were about as reliable as the cell reception in the back of the Metro grocery store at Yonge and Eglinton, which is to say, ‘not very’.)

It’s called ‘build’: The idea that if you provide a consistent message in a consistent format in a consistent channel for a significant amount of time, eventually consumers will take the action you want. And it worked.

Social media and content success is all about ‘build’

Social media and content marketing seems immediate: The tweets responding to some pop-culture moment and go viral, the blog posts commenting on this week’s hot-button topic, the comment sections that go nuts for 24 hours.

But sales success – because, ultimately, all this engagement and clicks and sharing and commenting is only effective insofar as it drives sales – still depends on build.

Which is why I liked this infographic.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t ever buy banner ads or do some targeted programmatic. But short-term bursts of ‘advertising’ just won’t get you the results that the build of long-term social media and content will.

Sarah Welstead content marketing

 

Why aren’t your employees driving your content creation?

Sarah Welstead content creation

 

I know what my clients think when I suggest that they have their employees write blog posts or whitepapers or post an industry-related opinion piece on their LinkedIn profile: “Yeah, right. If I could get these guys to string together 3 paragraphs without holding a gun to their heads, I wouldn’t need to be hiring you.”

Other times, I know they’re thinking – and they often say – something like, “Look, I need my guys focused on what they need to get done. I don’t need them wasting half the day trying to think up tweets or whatever.”

Most of your employees know more about your business than I ever will

I listen to what my clients tell me about their business, I do my own research, I tend to work with clients over long periods of time and – it has to be said – I’ve been around the block a few times, so I’m pretty good at grasping my clients’ business models and what they’re looking to achieve in the marketplace.

But I’ll always be an outsider: I don’t know what the business is like on a day-to-day basis; I’m rarely on the front line with clients; I don’t have to use the industry-standard-but-hopelessly-complex enterprise software that everyone hates – and I don’t get to hear the thousands of anecdotal stories from trade shows or client visits or competitors that even a junior manager is exposed to in their first year on the job.

So there are some insights I just won’t ever have – but it’s these insights that can drive great content across all kinds of channels.

(And make no mistake, a thoughtful-but-humorous piece on that terrible industry-standard software is going to be more interesting to your audience than another blog post about how you just made a new hire.)

It’s good for your business in a whole bunch of ways

I know many companies think that if they let employees spend 3 hours of company time working on a blog post or article, they’re just ‘losing’ that 3 hours – it’s a non-productive time-suck that doesn’t do anything for the bottom line.

But in fact an employee-bylined piece that’s well-distributed can deliver benefits in all kinds of ways:

  • It can reach new audiences, especially if the employee publicizes it across their own social networks
  • It can deliver a boost to SEO for similar reasons
  • When customers/competitors/potential employees see that there are lots of people in your organization with interesting stuff to say, they naturally assume your organization must be cutting edge/smart/market-leading
  • It can spur other employees to come up with their own insights to talk about – which not only means additional content, but an organizational culture where insights and inventiveness are valued
  • It might turn up some valuable insights hitherto unknown to senior leadership
  • Over time, it can contribute to a reputation for thought leadership that gets your organization on more shortlists for more business

Is it hard to quantify all this? Yes.

Will it happen overnight? No.

Will it happen if you stick to it? Absolutely.

They don’t actually have to write the stuff.
They just have to tell someone who can.

I know most people struggle with writing magazine articles or whitepapers or blog posts or even clever Instagram captions. (If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job.)  That doesn’t mean they don’t have great insights and information to share – it just has to get out of their head and into some kind of form that other people can see.

The solution? Allow and encourage employees to spend some time with – and be interviewed by – whoever is tasked with doing your content and social media.

No, allowing the social media/content person to corral several mid-level managers for an hour or two every once in a while is not a shameless squandering of resources. (Do I really have to say this?) And no, it won’t mean that your employees are suddenly so ‘distracted by marketing’ (I get that objection a lot, BTW) that they can’t return to their desks afterward.

Let the content person do the writing, while the employees take the credit. At worst, you’ll end up with better content. At best, you’ll help build your brand as an industry leader in all kinds of ways.

 

Want your marketing to work? Answer these questions first.

You know you need some marketing.  But where do you start?

For small-but-fast-growing companies in the B2B space – which is mostly where I work these days – marketing is often a leap of faith. You know you need some kind of marketing, because you have to ‘get the word out there’ and your website looks like it was designed in 1992. But how can you prevent that smooth-talking marketing consultant from leaving you with a dysfunctional (but so sexy!) website, empty pockets, and zero incremental revenue?

Well, despite what the Big Data guys will tell you, it’s always going to be tough to draw a straight line from $1 spent on marketing to $1 earned in sales.

But the best way to get the most out of your marketing investment – and avoid costly marketing mistakes – is to know as much as you can about your business and where you want it to go in the next couple of years. Saying “We want to sell more stuff!” and then hoping for a marketing strategy that will magically make that happen won’t work.

Here are the 11 questions you should ask before you spend any money on marketing.

The 11 answers you need if you expect your marketing to work

1.  What are your top 3 business goals for the next 12 months?

All marketing initiatives need to be tied to specific business goals – with specific revenue numbers.  There’s no point in increasing retail sales if what you really need is to increase sales via sales brokers.  Answering this question will also help you arrive at a realistic marketing budget.

2.  Where do you see the business in 3-5 years?

While the answers to #1 should be highly specific (“Increase revenue on X product by X%”), the answers to this should be more ‘visioning’, like “We’d like to be the leading provider of X in X area”).  However, it’s important to keep this realistic:  If you’re currently the #10 player in a saturated market, know that 3 years probably isn’t long enough to get to the #1 spot.

3.  What are your top 3 most pressing business issues?

Are you suffering from a lack of awareness?  Not being considered in the competitive solution set?  Not being able to communicate with customers?  Operational delays?  Confused employees?  Marketing and communications can help with all of these – and sometimes it’s more effective to spend marketing dollars training and educating employees than to build a fancier website.

4.  Which of your products/services is currently making you the most money right now?

The product/service with the best margin may be the best place to start spending marketing dollars, because you’ll get more bang for your buck.  Once you’ve tested the market, you can invest in other products/services.

5.  What are your top 3 barriers to sale/sales objections right now?

Are your salespeople having trouble getting meetings?  Are they having trouble closing them?  Are potential clients having a hard time finding you, or are they worried about your credibility in the marketplace?  Do you have a great sales team but a confusing message?  Before you start undertaking television advertising, it might be best to focus on sales materials or a more coherent brand identity.

6.  What are your 3 most lucrative target markets?

Small businesses always want to sell to ‘everyone’, but a limited marketing budget just won’t let you reach 22-year-old urban dwellers and 60-year-old senior executives. Identify the 3 target groups that buy the most, and sell to them first.

7.  Do you have a ‘brand story’?

Do you know what you sell, why it’s different or better, and how it will make the lives of your customers and clients better?  In my experience, most small-but-growing businesses do have a compelling story – they wouldn’t have made it this far if they didn’t – but it’s not being clearly and consistently articulated.  Sometimes this is where an outside marketing consultant can help the most.

8.  What are your current communications assets (website, infosheets, social media, etc.)?

‘Marketing’ really includes everything that your business uses to communicate with stakeholders: This includes the big stuff like the website or online advertising, but it also includes stuff like infosheets and promo items, RFP templates and graphics, conference materials and even reports and email footers – all of these things have a role to play in building your brand and communicating who you are to clients, employees and other stakeholders, and they all count as part of your overall marketing mix.

9.  What are your customers/employees/other stakeholders saying about the way you’re communicating with them right now?

Employees who are on the front lines, talking to your customers and each other every day, probably have a more accurate picture of your customers than you realize. Ask them what they’re hearing – and don’t dismiss the answers.

10.  What does business success look like?

Business success can be reducing the sales cycle, attracting investors, recruiting better talent – there are plenty of factors that contribute to the bottom line that go beyond “sell more stuff”.

11.  What does marketing success look like?

Marketing can’t be successful if you don’t know exactly what you want it to do for you – and again, “sell more stuff” isn’t specific enough. Do you want reduced customer acquisition spend, increased customer retention, more brand awareness, more cross-selling opportunities…? Marketing can help you with all of these, but only if you know what you want when you start.

Write it down.

I know you think you have better things to do. But I promise, if you take a couple of hours to codify (i.e. articulate, then write down) the answers to these 11 questions, your marketing efforts will be exponentially more successful than if you don’t.

 

The twisted path of social media attribution

Sarah Welstead social media marketing

Sarah Welstead social media marketing

The other day, I happened to notice a Facebook post from a friend: “Taking a trip to Quebec this summer. Looking for recommendations about places to go/stay.”

I haven’t seen this friend in a while. Like, it’s probably been 20 years since we’ve actually seen each other in person even though we live in the same city, which sounds bad when I write it down like this, but [insert something about modern living, social media, and how the internet ruins relationships blah blah blah] – but he works in media, we share some music interests and I remembered us having some conversations about design and architecture back in the day.

So I immediately thought of this modern ‘cabin’ I’d seen in Quebec.

I should clarify that when I say “seen”, I mean “seen online” – I haven’t actually been there. But I do social media for a couple of real estate/architecture-adjacent clients who like to tweet and write about interior design, plus I often seem to fall down rabbit holes about tiny homes on YouTube. So in the past couple of months, one way or another, this cabin had popped up on my radar more than once, and I had spent a few minutes looking at pictures of the interior on more than one occasion.

The problem, of course, was that I couldn’t remember its name, or where I’d seen it. All I remembered was that it looked interesting and minimalist, was in Quebec, and that it was available for short-term rentals. It took me a few minutes on Google, but I tracked it down and then posted the link to my friend’s Facebook feed.

Three hours later, he’d booked the place for a week (around $2000).

Social media marketing success! But how do you track it?

This is the problem with social media: Based on the story I’ve related above, it’s easy to say that [social media = sales], and in this case we can even say [social media = $2000 in sales].

That sounds terrific! And we quantified it!

Except no one on the other end of this – i.e. the person running the social media or other marketing efforts for the Villa Boreale – has any way of knowing the role social media played in the sale they just made, or just how it worked.

They may ask my friend how he heard of their cabin. He’s going to say “from a friend”.  He’s not going to say: “From a friend via Facebook, who came across it on Twitter, and then tracked it down through some Instagram pictures.” So on the big marketing spreadsheet in the sky where they try to connect ‘marketing dollars spent’ to ‘revenue earned’, this is probably going to go down under ‘word of mouth’. Which is wrong. Mostly.

So what can we know about measuring social media marketing?

Since it often looks like this:

Sarah Welstead on the difficulty of measuring social media

(Yes, I know. If I were any good at diagramming this stuff I’d have a degree in semiotics.)

There’s nothing worse than someone who highlights a problem and then just sort of leaves it there without a solution, so here are my handy bits of advice for you regarding the measurement of your social media marketing efforts:

  • Accept that you’ll hardly ever be able to draw a straight line from $1 spent on social media to $5 in sales. But you know what? This is true for about 95% of marketing initiatives – social media shouldn’t be required to follow different rules
  • ‘Engagement’ isn’t always the holy grail. I didn’t like, fave, retweet or comment on any of the posts I saw about Villa Boreale – but that doesn’t mean they didn’t influence my behaviour
  • ‘Word of mouth’ is a big umbrella, under which social media relationships and real-life relationships have a whole ecosystem of their own. Stop trying to separate social media from everything else
  • It’s a longer game than you think. If I’d seen Villa Boreale just once, I might not have remembered it. By seeing it repeatedly, over a few months, it stayed top of mind. An effective social media strategy is long-term and consistent
  • Social media works best when it’s done on more than one channel. My diagram up there looks a little ridiculous, I know – but it’s also representative of the way people use social media. Hardly anyone uses just one social media channel, and everyone’s usage patterns are unique. You don’t have to be on every social media channel in the universe – but you should definitely be on more than one.

 

 

For small business, social media builds trust (and the brand)

branding for small business

branding for small business

 

Yes, even in B2B marketing.

Okay, so by now you’ve accepted that social media can be a great marketing tool.

But you’re probably thinking: “Sure, social media’s great for selling Kylie Jenner’s lip glosses, or all that Wayfair product placement, but my company sells relocation services to HR companies/LED light systems to architects/replacement parts to independent autobody shops. Our audience doesn’t buy stuff off social media.”

You’re right: No one’s clicking a link on Twitter and immediately placing an order for $7500 worth of relocation services.  The thing is, that’s not how the sales for Kylie’s Lip Kits or Wayfair’s coffee tables work, either.

Except in very specific cases, social media doesn’t really deliver the instant gratification that everyone thinks is the hallmark of genius marketing. Sure, social media delivers ‘immediacy’ – but that doesn’t mean ‘immediate sales’.

Social media is about building trust – which really means that it’s building the brand.

Buying decisions are based on relationships.
B2B relationships are the same – but have different consequences.

Every consumer brand – every successful company – is built on relationships: Study after study says that consumers buy stuff from companies that they know and trust, and the only way to build trust is to build some kind of relationship. You already know this.

What you may not know is that B2B brands are built in exactly the same way: People still make buying decisions based on relationships, they still want to buy stuff from brands they know and trust, etc.

There’s one big difference: Projected potential consequences.

If I buy a Kylie Jenner lip kit, I’m probably hoping that my friends will be at least a little impressed with either the brand or the way the product looks on me. If they aren’t impressed, well, I’ve only lost a little face and $60. On the other hand, if I approve a $250,000 purchase for my company and it turns out poorly, my career, my reputation, and maybe even my job are on the line. So I need to really, really trust the company I’m buying from.

6 ways social media works for B2B marketing

 

Your company probably has a website and some basic materials. But let’s face it: Even the best-looking website and the most well-designed infosheets (because I haven’t yet met a B2B company that wasn’t in love with infosheets, especially when tucked into a glossy pocket folder) isn’t really doing a lot to build relationships with potential customers. Sure, the website confirms you’re a legit business which is sufficiently solvent to pay your hosting bills, and it may even do a good job of outlining your products and services and explaining why they’re better than the competition, and those infosheets give you something to hand out at tradeshows, but they’re not doing a whole lot to build the trust you need to get someone to write a cheque for $25,000.

I know you’re going to say that the whole ‘relationship-building’ thing is what your salespeople are supposed to do. But even the best, most diligent salespeople only have so many hours in a day. Every hour they spend trying to convince potential customers that your brand is trustworthy is an hour they aren’t spending actually selling stuff.

That’s where social media comes in. Here’s how:

  1. Reach. You may think your potential customers are old-school Luddites who look down on social media, but I guarantee you that 98% of them are more plugged in than you (and even they) think. Maybe they aren’t Snapchatting or tweeting every 5 minutes, but they’ve probably got a Facebook or LinkedIn account, or signed up on Instagram to check out their kids’ pictures. These are places your infosheets can’t reach, but social media content can – and with a more compelling message than the facts and figures on an infosheet.
  2. Better brand awareness. As any salesperson will tell you, the #1 time-suck for SMBs is simply getting their name out there, especially if they’re competing in a crowded marketplace or emerging industry, and especially in the absence of a big marketing budget. Over time, a consistent social media effort will give you the brand awareness you need to improve the number of potential customers who will actually take a call from one of your salespeople.
  3. Emotional engagement. No one likes to admit this, but it’s true: B2B purchasing decisions are made from the same emotional place as B2C purchasing decisions. So you have to engage the emotions of your potential customers, and that means your brand needs some kind of personality. Social media allows you to demonstrate that personality, with interesting commentary on industry news, amusing photographs of your office culture, a bit of back and forth with a favourite existing client – whatever. You don’t have to be ‘funny’ – you just have to be interesting.
  4. Responsiveness to customers. Social media can be a very public display of just how responsive you are to existing clients/customers. A corporate Twitter feed or Facebook page that includes responses to customer inquiries or even complaints sends a powerful message about your CRM in the longer term – and that builds trust.
  5. Thought leadership. You know your company does some of the best thinking in the industry; social media is the most cost-effective way to get it out there. All those presentations, position papers, analyses – they can all be repurposed for your blog, your employees’ LinkedIn pages, your Facebook page, Slideshare, etc.
  6. SEO and improved rankings. The first step in a B2B purchase is often a quick Google search to establish a shortlist. You can’t get on that shortlist if you don’t show up until the 5th page of search returns and/or don’t have big bucks to spend on Adwords. Social media – a consistent social media strategy over the long term – can help improve those rankings, simply by ensuring there is more content, on more sites, with your name on it. And studies have shown that higher search rankings often equate to higher levels of trust.

 

The bottom line? Stop thinking that social media is only for B2C – and start using it to build trusted relationships with your potential customers.