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What We Can Learn About Tech and B2B Marketing from Comic Books

3 Sep

My  deep, dark secret is that I like comic books.  I was hooked on super heroes the day my 5th grade teacher gave away his comic collection to his class, and though I stopped collecting years ago, I never stopped being a fan. I still follow the industry, and even pick up a title or two (or three) for escape or inspiration.

So with the planned acquisition of Marvel Comics by Disney making the news, I can’t resist the opportunity to combine my vocation with avocation.  And I’ve thought for a long time that corporate communications and marketing — especially B2B and technology marketing — has something to learn from an entertainment business like Marvel Comics.

The comics industry is fun to watch, and they do a number of things that translate into B2B and technology marketing.  To wit:

1. They remember that it’s about people. In comics, Marvel’s breakthrough was superheroes like Peter Parker and the Fantastic Four, who acted like real people with real problems.  It’s all about real people doing extraordinary things.

Beyond the product, your people vital are characters in the company story — from the visionary technologist to the insightful marketer (hopefully) to the customer service rep who goes above and beyond, businesses can grow awareness and loyalty by pulling back the veil and making the corporate more personal…and real.

2. They know that the customer owns the product. At a company like Marvel that has shared the soap opera of its character’s lives for nearly 50 years, the editors and creators clearly recognize that the characters and stories live in the hearts of the fans.  They are stewards of the story, responsible both to respect what came before, and to innovate in ways that keep the stories vital and break new ground.

There’s a parallel in B2B and technology — every purchase impacts the livelihood of the purchaser. It may be a part of their day to day business, or fuels productivity.  The customer, in other words, is invested in your success. So it’s only natural that they want to be respected and heard.  It’s why users groups and conferences are so important for many tech businesses, and why companies that are socially engaged in their markets tend to be more successful.

3. They know that being social gets results. Comic books are largely sold in specialty stores and online rather than through mass market retail.  Comic publishers like Marvel deal constantly with the push and pull of B2B channel marketing — their audience is store owners as much as the comics fan — often simultaneously.  Their channel to the audience is an often bewildering array of online and traditional magazines, national and regional cons, fan blogs, gossip columns, discussion forums, social networks and even a couple national newspapers.

The result is an industry where the channel, fans and media are incredibly close to the creators, editors and publishers. You get weekly interviews with the Marvel editor-in-chief, a teriffic ‘inside baseball’ blog by their executive editor, Q&A’s with writers on major storylines via podcasts and text, individual creator websites and forums, writers’ Twitter feeds…et cetera.  They produce news themselves, and participate in the hurly burly of the media market.

Of course, not every business generates the kind of passion that comics do.  The point is, they’re out there participating. And they are out there producing.  As a media business, they recognize that they have something to say every day, their customers have something to say every day, and they use all the tools available to say it.

Any other secret or not-so-secret comics fan/marketers out there?  What say you?

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4 Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications

25 Aug

I thought I’d collect my last few posts into one big ‘ol post.  The point to all of this is to show that you can think about social strategies in terms of “valuable activities you can measure.”

The challenge, as always, is to measure them in sales. But in many ways, that’s just not fair. First, it’s clear that we know that marketers firmly believe that many online public relations activities work — and traditional PR activties — without being able to tie them back to sales.  Second, there are many corporate activities that either support critical operations (i.e., accounts payable, accounts receivable, running an IT network, maintaining office space, etc.) that you can’t necessarily tie back to sales, but you know is important to the business.  They, like communications, are part of the basics of doing business.  The key is to do them — and measure them — efficiently, strategically and with focus — not just on sales, but on your goals for the kind of business you want to be.

Herewith, four strategies… and there are more from whence they came:

Idea #1: Doing a Better Job at PR and Media Relations.

Do the reporters and editors that follow your company post on Twitter? Do they have blogs? Are they using RSS?  Are you outsourcing all of this to the agency?

You may be missing out for a couple reasons. First, reporters and editors appreciate having direct relationships with representatives of the company. Next, tools like Twitter and blogs make it possible to reach certain reporters in ways that you never could through email — commenting on what they do, sharing ideas and more.

But what is more interesting to a reporter — a Tweet or blog comment from the director of marketing at COMPANY, or one from an agency representing…who knows? Use the agency for strategy, ideas and formal pitching…in between, if you’re not connected with them, you may be missing opportunities.

Measure by clicks to your website, search ranking on key topics and sales.

Idea #2: Getting in front of…or catching up to your competitors.

You might do a few searches and find that no one is talking about your brand and think, “My customers aren’t using social media — I don’t have to worry about this yet.” But…are you sure about that? Maybe they just aren’t talking about you… The first, most important step is to make sure you’re watching — that you’re monitoring the forums, topics and keywords that are important to your reputation and sales.

If your competitors are being discussed without you, there’s an issue to address — how can you become part of the conversation?

If customers are complaining about competitors’ products, is there an opportunity?

If no one talks about what you do…there may be an opportunity to start something new — a web portal, blog or partnership — or an indication that online resources need to better support offline interactions.

The remedy is to actively monitor, evaluate and plot a strategy that delivers for your company.

Measure by links back to your website from social networks, tone of key messages visible online, search engine positioning.

Idea #3 sits right in the wheelhouse of corporate communications:  Being ready for the crisis.

It’s true that if you keep your head down, you’ll probably be OK for a while. But eventually, something will happen. You’ll recall a product. Or well-connected customer decides to vent their product/customer service frustrations on you.  Or some ‘enterprising’ employee decides to make a video ‘unbecoming’ of the brand. Or an energized group of consumers decides to be offended by your new ad campaign.  Should your brand’s first participation consumer and influencer communities online be an apology?

Again, it pays to be watching…and listening.  The earlier you catch wind of a brand or reputation crisis the better.  What if, like Comcast, you keep an eye on Twitter for service complaints and make sure they are handled? The better connected you are with those online communities, the easier it will be to respond.  The better you understand online communities and social networks, and how you’ll get the word out in crisis, the better for your reputation as well.

Measure in how long the sales hit lasts — if at all.

Idea 4: Empower Employees…and manage them.

Employees are consumers. Employees are people. Employees have networks both professional and personal. And you never know when that will help … or hurt … your corporate goals. Employees engaged online — through blogs, private forums, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or industry forums — are ambassodors of the brand. They are problem solvers. They are recruisters. They are sharers of the promotions you want to “go viral”.

The Knowledge@Wharton blog offers some great case studies in a recent post — Del Monte Pet Foods chats with consumers about problems and ideas to shape new products. HP has 50 bloggers engaged in product communities every day.  E&Y uses Facebook for recruiting.  As Joe Kraus of Google is quoted in that post:

“What all organizations need to prepare for, said Kraus, is a completely social web, where “your users will simply expect to be part of the conversation.”

What communications needs to provide is policy that guides engagement but does not constrict.  Or, to put it another way, to encourage employees who want to help the company, while offering reasonable advice on how to do so without hurting the company, or their own livelihood.  Charline Li offers an informative listing of corporate policies that are great examples of how very different companies come at the challenges and opportunities of online social engagement.  Worth a read…and a whole new post that I’ll save for next time.

Measure by improved search engine positioning, increased media attention, greater website traffic and sales leads.


Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 4

6 Aug

Here’s the fourth of this week’s ideas for measurable online social engagement strategies.  I’ll collect these into a single post for easy viewing tomorrow.

In many ways, I think this is the most important idea of them all.

Idea 4: Empower Employees…and manage them.

Employees are consumers. Employees are people. Employees have networks both professional and personal. And you never know when that will help … or hurt … your corporate goals. Employees engaged online — through blogs, private forums, social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or industry forums — are ambassodors of the brand. They are problem solvers. They are recruisters. They are sharers of the promotions you want to “go viral”.

The Knowledge@Wharton blog offers some great case studies in a recent post — Del Monte Pet Foods chats with consumers about problems and ideas to shape new products. HP has 50 bloggers engaged in product communities every day.  E&Y uses Facebook for recruiting.  As Joe Kraus of Google is quoted in that post:

“What all organizations need to prepare for, said Kraus, is a completely social web, where “your users will simply expect to be part of the conversation.”

What communications needs to provide is policy that guides engagement but does not constrict.  Or, to put it another way, to encourage employees who want to help the company, while offering reasonable advice on how to do so without hurting the company, or their own livelihood.  Charline Li offers an informative listing of corporate policies that are great examples of how very different companies come at the challenges and opportunities of online social engagement.  Worth a read…and a whole new post that I’ll save for next time.

Measure by improved search engine positioning, increased media attention, greater website traffic and sales leads.

Further reading:

Idea 1: Doing better PR

Idea 2:  Geting in front of…and catching up to competitors

Idea 3: Being ready for the crisis.

Contact me to work with your company.

Measureable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 3

5 Aug

We’re on day three of ideas for measurable social engagement strategies for corporate communications.  If you haven’t found a good reason to get your organization engaged in online social networks — even in a small way — as part of your day-to-day business, here’s a good place to start.

Idea #3 sits right in the wheelhouse of corporate communications:  Being ready for the crisis.

It’s true that if you keep your head down, you’ll probably be OK for a while. But eventually, something will happen. You’ll recall a product. Or well-connected customer decides to vent theirproduct/customer service frustrations on you.  Or some ‘enterprising’ employee decides to make a video ‘unbecoming’ of the brand. Or an energized group of consumers decides to be offended by your new ad campaign.  Should your brand’s first participation consumer and influencer communities online be an apology?

Again, it pays to be watching…and listening.  The earlier you catch wind of a brand or reputation crisis the better.  What if, like Comcast, you keep an eye on Twitter for service complaints and make sure they are handled? The better connected you are with those online communities, the easier it will be to respond.  The better you understand online communities and social networks, and how you’ll get the word out in crisis, the better for your reputation as well.

Measure in how long the sales hit lasts — if at all.

Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Idea 2

4 Aug

We’re talking about measurable social engagement strategies for corporate communications — reasons to get started for public relations professionals who haven’t made engaging in online networks a part of their day-to-day business.  I’ll be sharing an idea-a-day this week.  I’m suggesting ideas that can become part of your daily routine, and part of strategic programs, along with ideas for how to measure their success.  Here’s idea #2:

Idea #2: Getting in front of…or catching up to your competitors.

You might do a few searches and find that no one is talking about your brand and think, “My customers aren’t using social media — I don’t have to worry about this yet.” But…are you sure about that? Maybe they just aren’t talking about you… The first, most important step is to make sure you’re watching — that you’re monitoring the forums, topics and keywords that are important to your reputation and sales.

If your competitors are being discussed without you, there’s an issue to address — how can you become part of the conversation?

If customers are complaining about competitors’ products, is there an opportunity?

If no one talks about what you do…there may be an opportunity to start something new — a web portal, blog or partnership — or an indication that online resources need to better support offline interactions.

The remedy is to actively monitor, evaluate and plot a strategy that delivers for your company.

Measure by links back to your website from social networks, tone of key messages visible online, search engine positioning.

See also:

Monday — Intro and Idea#1

Contact me to talk about communications strategy, positioning and messaging for your organization.

Measurable Social Strategies for Corporate Communications – Part 1

3 Aug

The question at hand is this:  In corporate environments — primarily B2B — where the only new communications and marketing investments are those that deliver a return, what opportunities are corporate communications departments missing when they don’t engage with online networks?

As I’ve noted in the past, even B2B companies where there is little online conversation about their producuts or issues need to recognize at minimum that the ways people want to interact with businesses are changing.  Which means that “getting the basics done” in corporate communications requires a new look at activities that once seemed like unnecessary distractions — like monitoring and participating in online social networks, managing company blogs and making use of RSS feeds and mobile features — are now part of “the basics” that need day-t0-day consideration by internal resources.

What are some initiatives that deliver a measurable return — either in advancing the corporate reputation or protecting it? I’m going to post some ideas each day this week.  As always, I’m available to meet, discuss and deliver excellent counsel and support to help you make these initiatives happen in your organization.

Today’s idea #1:  Doing a Better Job at PR and Media Relations.

Do the reporters and editors that follow your company post on Twitter? Do they have blogs? Are they using RSS?  Are you outsourcing all of this to the agency?

You may be missing out for a couple reasons. First, reporters and editors appreciate having direct relationships with representatives of the company. Next, tools like Twitter and blogs make it possible to reach certain reporters in ways that you never could through email — commenting on what they do, sharing ideas and more.

But what is more interesting to a reporter — a Tweet or blog comment from the director of marketing at COMPANY, or one from an agency representing…who knows? Use the agency for strategy, ideas and formal pitching…in between, if you’re not connected with them, you may be missing opportunities.

Measure by clicks to your website, search ranking on key topics and sales.

Tomorrow:  Getting in front of…or catching up to…your competitors.

Justifying Social Media — Are We Still Running on Faith?

30 Jul

I’ve been turning over in my mind a social media survey highlighted this week in eMarketer. The study surveyed nearly 2,000 social media marketers on what works and what doesn’t in their world.  For example, social media marketers see these strategies and tactics as an effective way to do things that have typically fallen into the realm of public relations — influence brand reputation and increase brand awareness — as well as digital marketing practices to increase website traffic and search engine rankings.  They report less effectiveness at improving internal communications, generating leads and increasing online sales.

Marketing Sherpa Study, posted by eMarketer

Marketing Sherpa Study, posted by eMarketer

Perhaps more telling are their responses on their ability to measure social media effectiveness.  In a nutshell, that which the marketers feel are the most effective tactics are deemed the least accurately measured.

Over on the ShoppeSimple blog (a client blog), we noted that reports highlight the gap between creating and participating in social conversation, and turning converting that conversation into sales — there is a need for a way to connect consumers to brands and product offers outside of email.   

From a corporate communications standpoint, the study highlights the dilemma of where and how to invest in social media.  The most effective social  tactics appear to be seen by respondents as only marginally more measurable than that traditonal media relations — where you counted clips and assumed they were having an impact on awareness and attitudes (and while the web makes this more cost effective, most businesses do not have or spend the resources to directly measure impact of media relations on customers).

And yet…and yet…

It’s clear that we believe this stuff is working, just like PR has always worked, and maybe even more so.

There is not doubt that corporations ignore the online communications channel at their peril.  If only from a crisis preparedness standpoint, no company should want to risk becoming the next big case study on what happens when blogs and social networks your gaffe goes viral.  That’s a good place to start.

Beyond that, if you don’t look, you won’t see.  In an uncontroversial environment, the issues won’t be obvious.  I have some thoughts on the matter that I’ll save for my next post, but what do you think?

In corporate environments where additional spending is only for initiatives where you can demonstrate a return, what opportunities does corporate communications miss when they don’t engage with social media?

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