Tuesday, April 26, 2011

An Error Page Error: How Hootsuite Missed the Mark on Effective Marketing Communications

I use Hootsuite daily. 

You likely know that Hootsuite is a useful social media dashboard application.  It helps manage client’s multiple social networks from one website.

Specifically, I spend a few hours each week writing relevant Tweets of interest, and scheduling updates to my client’s Twitter account, as explained in previous blog postings.

You might also know that late last week, Hootsuite was one of the applications that was affected by a severe service outage.  Hootsuite crashed for almost a full business day.

How Did The Crash Happen?
I’m over-simplifying here, but here’s how I understand it. Hootsuite is one of several applications that use Amazon web services and databases to provide “cloud computing” capability so users can log onto the applications from the cloud. 

There was a total, unforeseen failure of Amazon's web services and database functionality (not the Amazon site itself, but their web services). Unfortunately all recovery or fail-safe strategies crashed as well.

Other popular websites and services that went dark that day were Reddit and Foursquare. They were crippled or outright disabled well into the early afternoon.

A Marketing Communications Challenge
My concern in this post is a little more mundane, but relates to marketing communications.  

Hour after hour, as I tried to unsuccessfully log in to Hootsuite, what was displayed was very snarky error page.  (pasted above). 

More than snarky, it was downright rude.  As the error page said in multiple languages:   “Owls need a break sometimes, too. We’ll be back in action, but in the meantime go outside and flap your wings around, you may find that flying aint’ very easy.”

Granted, after about five or so hours a more professional and “Kinder” error page was displayed, but this one really missed the mark.

Missed Opportunity for Positive Branding

The error page bugged me every time it was displayed.  

It created a certain perception about Hootsuite's service and brand.

Even though it wasn’t a critical situation by any means (nobody died), I lost a few hours worth of work since the outage resulted in losing 4 or 5 days worth of Tweets scheduled in advance.

So here’s to paying attention to content on an error page.  Seeing a directive to “go outside and flap your wings around” set quite a negative and dismissive tone, and wasn’t an effective use of positive branding or marketing communications.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

If More is Better, Then Less is More

I recently attended a Marketing Roundtable event at Ann Arbor Spark.  The group is a gathering of marketing and online communications professionals that provide useful business information.  

Google Analytics
This particular “Roundtable” focused on using Google Analytics to track web visitors, time on pages, conversion rates (how many of your web visitors take an action like download a paper), and other important metrics that indicate how visitors behave on your website

As you likely know, Google Analytics is a free tool that delivers web traffic reports in the form of easy dashboards, summarizing page views, the most visited pages, trends showing time on site, referring websites, etc.

Does Your Website Work?
The event was a great reminder that in marketing, if the purpose of a website is lead generation, the most important consideration is to keep tabs on how folks behave when they visit your website. 

Google Analytics is an easy way to ask: are you getting web visitors to “do something?”

At the conclusion of the event, one of the most interesting questions from the gathered attendees came from colleague Jen Jendo of IPD Solution, who asked the panel a great question about the significance of watching the behavior of web visitors when a business-to-business sales cycle is extremely long (12 – 18 months).

With such a lengthy sales cycle, she asked, how can a website support the sales process?

The presenters made the case that, even with lengthy cycles, a website is a useful marketing tool for prospects in the early stage of discovery.  Complex purchase decisions can be supported with white papers, online demos, case studies and other collateral. 

Make it Easy
The key is to make it easy for the prospect to scan over the resources, select what is of interest, and download.   

Don’t overwhelm visitors with highly technical information that folks won’t even read, since people only spend seconds scanning a website. (very hard to keep this focus with some projects I can yell you!)

Instead, provide summary titles of materials in a Knowledge Center. Make the content easy to scan and digest.  Let the visitor select the material of interest, to get to the next level of detail.  

Then be sure to follow up with a call or other outreach to move those folks to the next stage of the buying cycle.

In this way a business to business website supports the decision making for those early in the cycle, and moves them along in complex decision making.

Less is More
What hit a nerve with me was when one of the panelists made the case  “if more is better, then less is more” – don’t overwhelm with information on a b-to-b website.  

Marketers need to choose carefully how much content the website delivers, then be sure to follow up with those visitors who have taken the time to request additional levels of detail.

It’s tempting to slap a bunch of content on a website, especially in-depth details about complicated business software solutions for instance.  

Research and analytics prove otherwise.  

The best way to help your prospect is to present digestible bites of information that lead to more complete content. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Twitter as a Brand Expression: 5 Tips for Effective Branding Using Twitter

This is a topic I’ve been mulling over for some time, but how to begin? 

The most useful place to start is to talk about the term “brand” so let’s begin with that.

What is a brand? 

A generally accepted definition of the term “brand” is “the emotional relationship a product, company, organization or even person has with their customers, audiences, consumers, community.” 

This is a definition modified from several sources including Marketingspot.

B-to-B Branding
In terms of business-to-business marketing, a brand elicits thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and responses from business customers. 

Responses are based on many key elements such as the product/service itself, the company reputation, the company history, the logo, the website, product packaging, the company employees, news articles, etc. 

(Quick side note – remember that logos are not the same as brands.  In fact they are design representations of a brand.  In a way, they serve as a brand “symbol” when they are created effectively.)

Twitter as a Branding Tool
So how can business-to-business marketers use Twitter as a branding tool?

A previous blog post about the basics of Twitter etiquette made the case that “a brand is a collection of perceptions in the mind of your prospect. A Tweet stream contributes to that perception.  It’s wise to operate within the constructs of common courtesy to lock in positive branding. Your Tweets are a reflection of your brand!

5 Tips for Effective Branding
To explore this concept more thoroughly, here are 5 Tips for Effective Branding via Twitter.

1)    Do the hard work first.  A Twitter or social media program can only reinforce your brand if you’ve taken the time to develop one in the first place.  Is your organization striving for a “thought leadership” brand?  If that makes sense for you, then Tweets can reflect cutting edge information, leading industry trends, and other materials supporting that brand image.  But you can’t be effective until you have a sense of the brand.   Are you hoping to brand the company as a leading edge innovator?  Then Tweets should reinforce that brand image by directing followers to innovation success stories, accolades and awards for innovation, breaking news of other innovators in the marketplace, etc. Again, this only makes sense if that branding work was done beforehand.

2)    Be Consistent.  Branding must be consistent across all media and programs.  As an example, a financial consultant might use print and online ads and its website to portray a conservative and trustworthy brand. Thus it wouldn’t make sense for the financial advisor to Tweet goofy jokes or off color comments, personal observations about the weather, Charlie Sheen or unrelated topics.  Be human, yes, but don’t go off-brand. The advisor’s tweet stream should reinforce a consistent brand image that relates to other programs.

3)    Use common sense. Courtesy goes a long way.  This was covered in another post, but it is worth repeating.  Mind your manners!   Don’t be reckless, use profanity, or insult.  That makes a terrible brand impression! Don’t Tweet or post when angry. Refrain from being intoxicated when Tweeting, as many organizations have learned.

4)     Be timely.  This is a pet peeve. What does it say about a business consultant’s “brand” when the Twitter feed hasn’t been updated in over 12 months?  It doesn’t say anything good that is for sure.   If you start a social media marketing program, by all means maintain it in a timely fashion.  It is a detriment to the brand if a blog, Twitter account, or Facebook goes through a ‘set it and forget it” process, and the last post was over a year ago.

5)    Be thoughtful.  It is a mystery to me why so many business to business companies don’t take time to draft an effective Twitter biography profile.  Many also neglect to include their website’s URL. Other relevant followers search Twitter bios using keywords when looking for folks to follow.  If a corporate trainer, for instance, leaves the bio blank, or doesn’t use keywords in the bio like “training’ “corporate training” “learning workshops”, they are missing out on a great branding opportunity.

 Parting Thoughts
A brand is the foundation of all marketing activities. 

It takes thought and effort, but social media marketing can effectively reinforce your brand, and deliver a favorable perception in the mind of your prospect.