I'm pleased to have Paul Gillin as a guest for our fourth episode of PowerViews. Paul is a veteran technology journalist, author of several books, a consultant and speaker. He is a regular contributor to BtoB Magazine and was founding editor of TechTarget and editor-in-chief of Computerworld. Today we discussed several of the latest marketing trends and the impact new technologies are making in the B2B business climate.
Below, you can read highlights from our discussion or use the links to start the video from different parts of the conversation.
Social Media: What's Hot?
Click to start video at this point—Paul notes social media going mainstream is hot. Social media is becoming an integral part of the marketing mix for companies looking to grow their presence with both business and consumer clientele. He notes, “I've been impressed by the amount of research that I've seen lately on both B2B and B2C marketers talking about the commitments they're making to social media—very large increases in spending and planning for this year.”
Marketers are making major financial commitments to grow their presence in social media as digital media closes in on traditional media as the largest source of funds in B2B spending. Paul comments, "I think it's a realization on the part of marketers that social media has gone mainstream, that it’s part of the mainstream marketing mix now, and not something to be played with or experimented with. It's got to be a solid budget item".
Paul believes the “big four” social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube—will continue to cement their positions at the top of the social media world as they continue to grow at the expense of smaller operations.
Of note are several interesting vertical social communities like Spiceworks for IT professionals (2,000,000 members) and hr.com (800,000 members) that are hitting critical mass with people who have very specific interests and want to connect with other professionals who share those interests.
The Magnification Power of Social Media Comes From Sharing
Click to start video at this point—In reference to an article Paul wrote for BtoB Magazine in which he mentioned his slide decks have been collectively viewed 95,000 times, he notes that the real magnification power of social media comes from sharing.
With content being red hot this year, Paul hears a lot from marketers that they don’t have enough content, and he adds that the point of that post is, “You probably have a lot more content than you realize.”
After Paul gives a presentation, he shares it on SlideShare, and he encourages marketers to look at other ways they can leverage existing content: “Corporate videos prepared for sales meetings can find new life on YouTube, or the old ads created for a campaign two years ago that you’re not running anymore can find life on YouTube. Your photos from your annual customer meeting can be slides on Flickr.”
He challenges marketers to move from thinking in terms of one-to-one interactions (like with email) to one-to-many interactions and how they can take content created every day and share it with people on a global basis. He adds, “You find out you have a lot more stuff that you’re creating than you probably knew about, and the real trick is just figuring out how to get it out to the right audience.”
The Mistakes Being Made in Social Media
Click to start video at this point—Paul says there are two major mistakes companies make regarding social media:
- Treating social media like a press release outlet and using it to push out press releases and company messages is a non-starter. Companies will quickly reach a limit on the number of people interested in following them with this approach.
- Another common mistake made by B2B marketers is spreading themselves too thin across numerous sites without specific goals in mind. Companies are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and have a blog—very often with just one person devoted to maintaining all these outlets.
He says, “When asked—‘Why are you in all these places? Strategically, what are you trying to accomplish by being on Facebook?’—they don’t have an answer because they’ve never thought about it.”
Strategic thought should be given to the social media outlets you become a part of as it takes a large time investment to actively participate. He suggests the remedy is for a company to narrow its focus and concentrate on one or two spots and get really good at a limited number of social media sites.
Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing.
Click to start video at this point—Asked about the inbound/outbound mix, Paul notes both are being changed dramatically. He adds that inbound marketing is generally thought of as search optimization and links so that prospects find you either through a search or by reading something interesting that is linked to you. He adds that those prospects should be considered more highly qualified because they have expressed an interest in something you do.
Paul also describes the way LinkedIn has created a whole new dimension with the ability to research leads and better understand both who the influencers are in a target company and who you may have a connection to. This supports making a more informed outreach to those companies using traditional outbound modes.
Paul adds, “Outbound marketing through traditional channels such as cold calling, direct mail and email can all be made better by using analytics to understand the people we’re trying tor reach. For example, if I’m using email marketing, the ability that we now have to target our messages and to create effectively customized email messages according to the characteristics of the audience members we’re trying to reach—that adds significant power to your email marketing and dramatically drives up your response rates.”
Inbound Marketing Is Not A Way to Reach Strategic and Named Accounts
Click to start video at this point—Asked about inbound marketing in the context of strategic account management, Paul notes that you can’t control inbound marketing:
“These are leads that come in over the transom. If you’re doing things right, if you’re search-optimized well, if you have the right links and right relationships in place—they can be very good leads, and they can effectively cost you nothing, because you haven’t had to do any work to get them. You need to treat them like that, though. These are cold leads, and they are usually not very well qualified. Chances are you do have named accounts—you have accounts you target, and you want to know a great deal more about those people. Inbound marketing is not a way to reach those accounts.”
Paul recommends using new tools, especially LinkedIn’s approach to company profiles, to find the right titles inside the companies you’re targeting. You want to learn more about these people and their companies so you can make an informed pitch when you reach them.
For named accounts, you want to be using social tools for different purposes: researching and building an organizational map to reach the right people.
The Challenges in Measuring Social Media ROI
Click to start video at this point—Asked about social media ROI, Paul comments, “ROI is a squishy topic. We have seen some recent research that says the ROI of social media marketing is actually among the lowest of all the different tools that are available to B2B marketers. A survey I saw just last week—a MarketingSherpa survey—listed social media marketing as a very low ROI generator.”
But he adds that a lot of this discussion depends on how ROI is defined, and continues, “Is the ROI bringing in a lead? I can see that the metrics for bringing in a lead may be different from the metrics of qualifying a lead. If you have a search optimized website that’s generating 30% of its traffic from search engine queries, then those are leads that are coming in at virtually no cost to you. Any one of those that converts is going to be a high ROI.”
Paul says a problem with ROI is people define it differently—and most companies are not defining it at all: “Most research I’ve seen still establishes most companies are not applying hard ROI metrics to social media, yet they are more than willing to comment on the ROI of social media without really knowing what the numbers are. This is characteristic of any new field where we are still feeling our way around and still learning the tools. And we haven’t figured out how to connect the dots and say what generates revenue.”
Good Content Is Hard and Expensive Because the Stakes are Being Raised
Click to start video at this point—Paul believes the bar is being raised with regard to web content due to increasing demand: "Content is hot because customers and prospects have tuned out just about everything else. Really the essence of inbound marketing is content that attracts people who are looking for help or advice or answers. So you have to have content that will satisfy those people.”
He adds that a major challenge is differentiation by noting, “Good content is hard and expensive because the stakes are constantly being raised. As more people pile in to these different social channels, your ability to stand out from the crowd—the stakes get higher for your ability to do something really different. As soon as you figure out something different, everybody else piles in.” He cites the example of infographics that were cutting edge two years ago, but inexpensive, widespread and no longer differentiating today.
He also notes that all marketing organizations are becoming mini publishers that have to produce content that comes from a different angle, is unique and is well-prepared.
Social Media: The Opportunity for a New Relationship Dimension
Click to start video at this point—Paul sees a major strength of social media being the way it encourages and even requires interacting as individuals rather than as corporate entities. He notes, “People relate to individuals differently than they relate to entities. Individual interactions are much more likely to be more intimate in that we share matters of personal opinion and personal observation. They’re stronger bonds than people form with companies.” People are more likely to bond to individuals.”
This presents the opportunity to create a new dimension of relationship with your customers and your prospects by exposing the people in your organization to them as people, rather than as “customer rep 123,” the PR department or the support department.
Marketing Executives: We’re Done Playing. Pick Your Spots and Focus
Click to start video at this point—Asked about advice to senior marketing executives for the balance of 2012, Paul is clear:
“Pick your spots. Do your research. We’re done playing at this point. We’ve spent the last two or three years playing and learning how to use the tools, and that was fine. That’s important. We have to play. That’s how people learn.
“But at this point, this stuff is getting expensive. Picking your spots and figuring out what you do well and where your customers are and how best to reach them is the most effective way to spend your money. You can pour a lot of money into chasing audiences that don’t matter to you or audiences that simply don’t exist.
“So focus. Do the research on your customer base. Figure out are there online channels where you have a good opportunity to enrich the relationship with them and where you can find new customers. Now that we’re past this playing stage, you really have to focus on what’s going to return value.”
Content Marketing Models Worth Checking Out
Click to start video at this point—Paul also points out several content marketing models he finds interesting and distinctive. He likes both Cisco’s The Network and Intel’s Free Press for reinventing their press rooms as media organizations.
Cisco is hiring former BusinessWeek, Wall Street Journal and Forbes reporters to write lengthy thought pieces under the Cisco brand about topics that don’t promote Cisco products—i.e., how networks are transforming education or how television is becoming an interactive experience.
And because newspapers were cutting back their book review sections, Barnes & Noble launched its book review site to address reader needs.
All are great examples of differentiating content marketing in action.
You can connect with Paul and learn more about his work advising marketers and business executives on social media strategies by visiting the following resources:
Paul on Twitter: @pgillin
Paul’s Website: Paul Gillin Communications
Paul’s Blog: gillin.com/blog
Paul’s Book on Facebook: Social Marketing to the Business Customer
By Dan McDade