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.

 

 

 

Content Marketing: Beyond the blog

Statistics on content marketing 2016

I think we can all agree at this point that for almost every brand, company, product or service, content marketing makes sense. It particularly makes sense for B2B and SMB companies, who are often working with limited budgets, highly specific target markets, and a need to educate their targets on their services or the specific problems they solve.

But then the big question becomes: Exactly what kind of content marketing should you focus on?

The subhead on this infographic says “Marketers aren’t creating the content their audience actually wants.” Since when have any consumers anywhere actually said, “Oh yes, that content created by Acme Inc was exactly what I was looking for! It was just perfect.”? They never say that. No one wants to admit they actually liked anything with the word ‘marketing’ in the title.  So let’s just approach every data point (or ‘datum’ for purists) with a healthy dose of scepticism, and dig a little deeper into what this infographic is telling us.

People are more likely to read long-form content more thoroughly than blogs?

Well, sure. Sometimes blogs are just some random infographic with an introductory paragraph, or a link to a corporate video, or a picture of someone’s breakfast table. You can’t consume a picture of a breakfast table ‘thoroughly’. Long-form articles are, by definition, the kind of thing you either commit to reading or just skip over entirely.

Does this mean that you should start getting your office intern to write 2500-word articles on your corporate philosophy and post them on your blog? No. A ‘skimmed’ blog can be just as effective as a ‘thoroughly-read’ one, depending on the context.

45% of people want to see more ‘social posts’?

I’m not even sure what this means. If your target audience is teenagers and your product is makeup, then yes, more social posts are a great idea – nothing keeps your brand top-of-mind better than an endless stream of attractive Instagram and Snapchat posts. If, on the other hand, you’re selling waste-to-energy technology to foreign governments, then I’m 100% certain that adding more posts to your Facebook page isn’t going to move the needle.

43% want more video content?

Of course they do. Because, when you ask people a direct question, they assume that it’s going to be more fun to watch catvertising than to read your blog. But that doesn’t mean they want to watch a series of 7-minute videos in which your CEO discusses your corporate philosophy and Commitment to Customer Service. You’ll get more hits if he blogs pictures of his breakfast table every day.

They’re right about diversifying your content channels

It’s the same old story: For marketing to be successful, it has to reach the right people at the right time in the right place. And these days, people aren’t all in one place all the time. They’re consuming content on phones, iPads, laptops, desktops – and they’re still consuming content via traditional channels like tv, radio and print, even though everyone keeps forgetting that. A content marketing strategy that relies entirely on blog posts on your corporate website just isn’t going to give you the reach you need.

Anyway, as usual I’m in danger of veering off-topic (into a discussion of how getting the channel mix just right can mean that every marketing dollar works like $5) here, so I’ll simply encourage you to take a look at the infographic below and give some thought to how your content marketing strategy will look in 2017.

 

 

Statistics on content marketing 2016

Down the Rabbit Hole: The podcast

Down the Rabbit Hole podcast

Down the Rabbit Hole podcast

I was going to preface this by saying that my obsession with podcasts started when we got a dog and I needed something to keep my mind busy on long walks, and then really kicked into high gear when my daughter was born and I needed something to keep my mind busy through long nights of nursing a fractious infant.

But then I realized that it started long before that – like in the late 70s, when I was given a Holly Hobbie radio for Christmas. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep, even as a young child, and while my parents were pretty permissive about letting me read in bed long after my ‘official’ bedtime, they didn’t want to see their 9-year-old with her light on all night. So I’d tune the radio to CKOC, turn the volume down really low, and drift off to Trooper songs and the DJ’s patter and the news. Even now, hearing ‘The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car’ on my headphones late at night can give me a safe, secret cozy feeling.

These days, I still fall asleep (and walk the dog, and clean the kitchen, and do the laundry) listening to the radio – but now it’s podcasts rather than AM Top 40, and it’s less about the hit parade than it is about interesting voices and stories in my ear.

Which brings me to Down the Rabbit Hole, a podcast that Alanis Walker and I have started.

I’ve known Alanis for almost 20 years now: We worked together at Anderson DDB back in the day, and she taught me more about PowerPoint than I have ever learned before or since (there was a time when knowing how to ensure a font stayed true when you moved a PPT deck from a Mac to a PC was a critical job skill). She was an early contributor to StayAwake (which started life in 1992 as a zine) as the author of the popular ‘Malaprop Corner’. Most importantly, we share a love of language and learning new stuff.

While we don’t always geek out to the same things (I tried, and failed, to match her appreciation of Mystery Science Theatre 2000, but we do both agree that PG Wodehouse was a genius), we do tend to have the same approach: We catch the end of a thread of something, we want to know more, and before we know it, we’re down a rabbit hole. Four hours later, we know everything about, say, the science behind Stephen Fry’s QI explainer on why horizontal stripes don’t make you look fat.

But what’s to be done with this information? Is it right that it just goes in to our heads with no chance of escape? Do we have the right to deprive those around us of what we have discovered in our rabbit holes of knowledge?

No.

So we’ve created our new podcast, in which we share the fruit of our recent rabbit holes, fall down some new ones, and provide you with some entertainment along the way. Alanis even has actual facts at her disposal most of the time.

We’ve got 3 episodes in the can right now – you can check out the pilot episode, on the subject of Guilty Pleasures, here.

Is this the best podcast you’ve ever heard in your life? Not yet. But if you’ve ever found Alanis or I even marginally interesting, I encourage you to give us a trial listen.

Let us know what you think!

 

 

 

One of your target groups is better than the others. Market to it.

Not all target markets are created equal

Do you really know who your best customers are?

Not all target markets are created equal

Okay, so the other week I talked about how it’s crucial for small businesses to get specific with their marketing goals. And last month I talked about how small businesses need to answer some very detailed questions about their business before they spend any money at all on marketing.

Look how theme-y I’m getting! Pretty soon I’ll be doing the 12 days of blogmas or something.

Just in case you haven’t spotted the theme yet, here it is: When small businesses start throwing money at marketing without doing their homework or getting very specific with their goals, they often always spend more than they need to for less than they hoped. And probably start saying things like “marketing is useless” or “marketing consultants are idiots”. (Only the second of these is sometimes true.)

Narrowing down target markets is the worst part of my job

Most of the time, when I tell clients that it’s important to articulate clear business goals so they can tie their marketing efforts and results to them, they’re totally on board. It’s easy to understand that you can’t reach goals if you don’t set them.

It’s when we get to identifying the target market(s) that we always run into trouble: “We have no ideal client!” the businesses say. “We want to sell to everyone!”

Except even McDonald’s isn’t selling to everyone – or at least they’re not trying to sell everything, all the time, to everyone. That’s why Happy Meal ads feature kids, while McCafe ads feature mildly hipster-type 30-somethings: They have different target markets.

So I can assure you, with some confidence, that your commercial office moving service, or your financial planning consultancy, or your large-scale aquarium maintenance business should also not be trying to market to ‘everyone’.

I get it. If you’ve spent the past few years of your life pouring all your time and energy into your business, the thought of losing even one potential customer makes you feel a bit sick to your stomach. But if you’ve spent all that time building your business, you’ve probably learned that chasing the wrong clients is futile: The cost of acquiring them is too high, they keep you up at night because they’re never satisfied anyway – they just don’t deliver a good ROI.

(And as so many Canadian companies saw with the Target debacle, even if you do, once in a while, land one of these unicorn clients, they can still be the kind of nightmare that demands 90-day payment terms and then skips town.)

Marketing is the same: Chasing long-shot target markets will cost you more money, time and resources than you can afford. So while I know it’s painful, you’ve got to define one or two ideal customers and then spend most of your time marketing to them. A year or two from now, when the cash is rolling in, then go ahead and broaden your scope – you’ll be able to afford it.

How to start defining your ideal client: 5 steps

If you want to get more out of your marketing dollars, you have to make decisions based on actual facts. Here’s how to determine your ideal client:

  1. Stop relying on anecdotal information. It’s easy to get sidetracked by compelling anecdotes about unexpected, easy, or huge sales wins. But repeating an anecdote at every sales and marketing meeting for 2 years doesn’t turn it into ‘data’.
  2. Pull a list of your clients from the past 12-24 months. 99% of the time, you’re going to find that your most profitable clients aren’t actually who you thought they were.
  3. Segment your client list by industry/vertical. When they actually sit down and do the numbers, most B2B SMBs discover that they’re making 85% of their revenue from a shortlist of 3 or 4 key industries. That’s where you should be spending your marketing dollars – until you’ve saturated those or have a specific business mandate to expand to other verticals.
  4. Ensure senior leadership – including the sales department – is on board. One of the biggest hurdles to marketing success for SMBs is when the CEO, the VP Sales and the VP Marketing can’t agree on which target market(s) should get the most marketing support. It dilutes the marketing message – and the marketing budget. Don’t spend any money on marketing until everyone’s on the same page.
  5. Create a profile of the individual decision maker(s). In B2B marketing, companies often don’t think about demographics/psychographics: They get focused on marketing to an industry or organization, and forget that, just like in B2C marketing, there’s an actual person who has to make the final purchasing decision. Knowing exactly what that person looks like, and what motivates them, will help you focus your marketing efforts more effectively. (And don’t forget to create profiles for the decision influencers, too!