Thursday, December 29, 2011

End of Year Musings: Outputs or Outcomes?

What kind of outcomes did you generate this past year?

To me, it's a red flag when a marketing consultant, department or any marketing/PR professional stresses "outputs" of their service offerings - meaning the volume of programs they help generate (number of press releases, amount of creative materials designed, volume of marketing plans delivered, volume of outbound direct marketing programs executed, number of web sites launched, number of tradeshows managed, etc.)  

While marketing output serves as a way to measure activity, it is usually a poor measure of performance. 

Outputs represent the programs or services produced and not the results generated from those outputs. 

In marketing and PR, one gains insight when seeing how folks might describe themselves. The following types of output-based statements serve as an example: 

  • A PR specialist positions her performance by the number of press releases she writes,or amount of speaking engagements secured.
  • A web developer describes his performance by the number of websites launched over a certain time period.
  • A marketing consultant stresses a laundry list of service offerings such as volume of plans delivered, number of social media programs managed, number of campaigns launched.

What's the Result?
What is far more important is to consider the outcome – the impact or results from those outputs.

  • A PR specialists might stress  performance over the past year by how press activities increased media placements, increased web traffic, or changed attitudes of audiences. Outcomes from speaker placements might include closed sales or more qualified lead generation. 
  • A web developer demonstrates how launched websites improved key metrics like time on site, reduced bounce rates, or increased page views. 
  • A marketing consultant's services quantify the metrics showing increased direct marketing open rates, engagement via social channels, expanded business development, increased quality of the pipeline, and ultimately increased sales. 

In Relation to Grant Writing
This perspective is familiar to me from the years writing and obtaining grants for various clients.   

Output vs. Outcome positioning is quite common in the grant writing projects I’ve done for business clients and non-profits.  This focus is paramount because grant making organizations don't evaluate a grant application based on outputs.

Organizations award grant money for programs most likely to produce measurable outcomes.  They must be sure that grant dollars result in true effectiveness in terms of outcomes, or results. 

Considering Content
The "output vs. outcome" topic is also critical for anybody in content marketing.  
It's a challenge to create marketing collateral that stresses how a product or service results in positive outcomes.  

Take a look at a company's b-to-b marketing content (such as advertising copy, case studies, web copy, eNewsletters, direct marketing).  Very often the content stresses outputs (number of people served; number of years in business; laundry list of product features), but that's not the value proposition that motivates the prospect.  

A prospect  evaluates a product or service based on what it can do for them, or what result can be achieved.  

A previous post refers to this marketing content as "we we" text... To paraphrase that previous post, marketing content must stress the outcome or value provided. 

A Bias for Outcomes
When it comes to marketing, let’s not focus the New Year on outputs or deliverables.

My hope is that 2012 be the year of "outcomes" or the results and value our outputs truly achieve. 

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Here Comes 2012: Survey Reveals Top B-to-B Marketing Priorities

It’s that time of year for the pundits to weigh in on 2012 marketing programs, goals, and resolutions.

This makes for worthwhile reading.  In fact, the B2B Blog joined in the fray with “2011 marketing resolutions” posted about a year ago.  (Look for a follow up “year in review” post in early 2012.)

Revealing Findings

The topic this time, though, is insight gained from a recent StrongMail survey.

Last month, StrongMail posted the results of its 2012 Marketing Trends Survey [PDF] -- revealing how businesses plan to spend their marketing dollars in the upcoming year.

The timely survey of 939 b-to-b marketing professionals showcases planned marketing budgets, priorities & challenges for 2012. Key findings include:

  • 60 percent of respondents will raise email-marketing budgets
  • 54 percent will invest more in social media
  • 37 percent will increase mobile and search budgets 

The Power of Email Marketing

(One caveat:  it is worth noting that an email-marketing vendor sponsored the survey.) 

That said, continued investment in b-to-b email marketing is no surprise.  Print direct mail programs are expensive and results are hard to measure, so of course respondents are backing off print programs.  The companies surveyed are likely already doing some form of email marketing, and it is always easier to continue an on-going program than to launch a completely new effort. Email marketing is easy to understand, and can be implemented with a wealth of affordable tools. (MailChimp my current new favorite!)  

Ease of measurement is also likely a big factor here. Metrics like open rates, click through rates, and completed forms are fairly easy to assemble, and intuitive to understand.

What do marketers hope to achieve with email marketing in 2012? According to the survey, goals include:
  • 48 percent: increasing subscriber engagement
  • 44 percent: increasing segmentation and targeting
  • 32 percent: increasing email opt-ins (subscribers)

More Social Media

Email marketing is not the only game in town for 2012.

39 percent of respondents will strengthen their Facebook campaigns, 25 percent will focus on social media management technology, and 24 percent will increase Twitter activity.  I don’t see any mention of LinkedIn on this survey, which is surprising.

Integration will be a key factor in 2012. An impressive 68 percent of respondents look to further integrate their social media marketing directly into their email programs.

Not so Mobile?
It was a surprise to read that only 29 percent of those surveyed plan to move to investing in mobile applications, especially considering the increased use of mobile data access.  But again, this is a survey sponsored by an email-marketing vendor, so this is just one data point.
The 2012 Bottom Line
The take-away here is that 92 percent of businesses surveyed plan to increase or maintain their marketing spend in 2012.
Let’s wish them a fast ROMI, meaningful metrics, and business development success!  Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Whither the Press Release?

There’s an interesting discussion this week via the Forbes website about the role social media plays when considering the tried and true press release. It’s a topic a few clients have recently discussed, as well.

The post is a worthwhile look into the future of the traditional press release, and whether social media channels play a role in the distribution of such content.

A Communications Convention
It’s clear that the press release still plays a crucial role in business-to-business communications and PR.

When issued consistently with a regular cadence, the “lowly” press release is a conventional communications vehicle that serves as the foundation for expanding awareness, engaging relevant media and fueling public relations.   It helps with credibility, SEO and signals a company’s current business activity.

A press release powers other efforts (media placements, reporter contact, web content, blogging, marketing content development, etc.) and has a place in any b-to-b marketing program.

100+ Years and Counting
It’s interesting to note that the first press release was created in 1906, and stayed about the same until the 1990’s when newswire services began to appear. 

Now, PR pros select from a myriad of distribution channels and online news aggregators (PitchEngine for example), many covered here in this blog such as the “one sentence press release” from  (and yet another recent discovery called “WireTiger”)

An Erroneous Assumption
What bugs me about the headline of the Forbes post, though, is the underlying assumption that social media is another “broadcasting” channel to distribute press releases.

Of course press releases are an important tool for a client to shape the news and create awareness.    It’s unfortunate that some PR folks use social media as a broadcasting tool for sending out press releases and recent client news, and that misses the mark. 

Instead of a “bullhorn”, social media is a powerful listening and engagement tool. 

Social media is all about relevance in message, and relevance in community.  Twitter and LinkedIn facilitate real-time interaction, not just a one-way information flow. 

PR guru David Merman Scott puts it this way in the Forbes article:
Press releases are not a good idea for social networks, the formality of a press release with headline, sub-headline and text is not the sort of formal communications that works well in social networks.  Don’t use a press release format, re-purpose that content into a more informal piece of content, from a blog post, which is what I recommend.”

2012 Predictions
The press release will live on in 2012 and beyond.  It will always play a pivotal role in business-to-business communications.

What should not live on, though, is the assumption that social media is another “distribution channel” for the press release.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

LinkedIn Reality Check: 5 Questions to Ask about Your LinkedIn Presence

Recently I’ve been discussing with one of my clients, a professional service provider, the value of LinkedIn.  He knows that LinkedIn can have a tremendous impact on his business development efforts.

After all, 125 million business users are active on LinkedIn.  A new member joins LinkedIn approximately every second.

Unlike other social marketing platforms this professional service provider might consider, it’s safe to say that the LinkedIn community is made up primarily of professionals, business-minded people, professional organizations and others interested in business-related networking.

He’s been up and running on LinkedIn for a few years, but it might be time for a LinkedIn Reality Check with 5 questions to ask about his LinkedIn presence.

1) What’s your goal?
As with any social media platform, this professional should consider his goals for establishing and maintaining a presence a LinkedIn.  Why bother setting a goal?  Because that way success of the program can be measured and optimized over time.

Typical goals a b-to-b company might establish for their LinkedIn program include:
  • Generate leads
  • Solicit interest in webinars or multi-media content
  • Expand awareness from interested prospects
  • Share product knowledge
  • Engage customers, facilitate customer feedback
  • Recruit talent
  • Increase traffic to company web site
Once a goal is established, set up a metrics program to measure effectiveness over time.

2) Are you doing all you can?
This professional should take a hard look at his company page – does it serve as a “magnet” that attracts relevant LinkedIn visitors?  Or does he just have a personal page and not a company page?  If so, it’s time to get on board with a company page.

Company Overview Page   - Think of the company overview page as a “reception area”.  Is it welcoming?  Is the page complete with keyword-rich descriptions, including the URL to your company website? Is the content concise so the keywords appear high up on the profile?  Do you use photos to humanize the page?

Careers Page  – If a goal is to recruit talent, is the careers page current and reflecting the most recent job openings?

Products/Services - this is a great page to solicit engagement, and expand upon service offerings.  Is it complete with multi-media content, and other useful links back to the company website?  Are relevant web pages highlighted that showcases products/services?

Be sure to solicit recommendations from fellow professionals. When LinkedIn members visit a Products & Services Tab, they see how many and which of their professional connections recommend your products and services.

3) How active are you?
Does the professional regularly post “Status Updates” and keep his profile current?  Are new products reflected on the products/services page? 

Does he join groups and associations and stay active in the discussion forums?

Are status updates providing value in the form of relevant, business-related communications to your followers?

Status updates should offer valuable information, link back to the company website, blog or other relevant online content. RSS feeds are a good option to automate this process.

Consider asking interactive questions or polls, and sharing content related folks have created that is relevant to your core followers and business.

Remember, don’t over use the Status Update feature – a few posts per week is optimal.

Note:  an active LinkedIn program should take only 10 or so minutes a day.  This blog post from SocialMediaToday shows in detail how to manage multiple social media programs in only 20 minutes a day.

4) Do You Measure & Monitor?
LinkedIn offers a robust analytics tab that is accessible only to the page administrator.  Reports show how company pages perform, the number of visits over time, and demographics of visitors.  Review reports a few times a week to note trends.  

Take the time to create a Google Analytics “content segment” on your website to track the behavior of visitors who find your website via LinkedIn.  For instance, one of the LinkedIn programs I manage pulls high conversions from those who visit the site via LinkedIn. When in Google Analytics, simply view Traffic Sources > Referring Sites > to monitor their behavior. Of all web visitors, it is the ones who visit from LinkedIn that are more likely to provide their contact information in exchange for a white paper or other piece of marketing collateral.

5) Do You Attract New Followers?
In LinkedIn, the larger the reach, the higher the chance you will meet the goals you set for your program.  Be sure to cast your net wide among relevant followers, to maximize your chance for success on LinkedIn.

Remember to include your LinkedIn URL on outbound emails, your business cards, your website, and in other printed materials.  Ask to connect with associates, customers, partners and others after meeting them at conferences.

Consistency is Key
As I’ve said to my client, LinkedIn needs tending and consistent effort.

One will be successful in attracting new followers over time, and meeting LinkedIn goals.

Learn More

The LinkedIn Resource Center offers tremendous resources, including this Company Page Guide (pdf).