9 B2B Marketing Lessons from Judging Online Campaigns

b2b-marketing-contest-judgingI recently judged the online marketing category of an internal marketing competition for a B2B company. The marketers chose their best online marketing campaigns and submitted the details of their strategies, activities, creative work and metrics of success. There were a lot of great ideas and great effort on the part of the marketers. The following lessons are derived from my feedback to the entrants and some reminders for all marketers that occurred to me as I reviewed their entries.

1. Marketing Goals Must Align with Business Goals

Marketing cannot exist in a silo. This is one of the biggest issues that marketers, especially social media marketers, have. They create their own set of goals that are not important to anyone else in the company. While those goals may be important to the marketing team, you also need goals that relate to the high level business goals. These are the things that executives care about. These are the things that you must report on. These are the things that have material impact on the business.

2. Tactics without Strategy Will Only Get You So Far

It is easy for marketers to do things to look effective, and maybe on small levels, they are effective. But unless those small tactics add up to the overall strategy, you will never truly grow the business. Can you get more people to like your Facebook? Sure, but how does it relate to growing sales or improving the customer experience? You need to make sure you understand how to leverage that larger audience to meet the strategic goals. Grow your audience for the sake of having a bigger audience is not going to win any points with anyone. And if your boss wants a bigger online audience just so the numbers look bigger, tell them they are wrong. It’s about more than that.

3. SMART Goals are the Best Way Ensure Solid Marketing

Make your marketing goals:

4. Great Results Don’t Count if They’re Not Against Your Goals

Every so often fantastic things happen as a result of a marketing campaign. Maybe you achieved a big bump in sales that you weren’t counting on. Whether or not you can attribute this to your marketing efforts, or it just occurred in the measured time period, you cannot take credit for this success if it wasn’t one of your goals. The point of goals are to plan what is going to happen and what success looks like. So that success can become repeatable. Happy accidents are not repeatable. Your boss might be happy with the extra sales, but if you don’t know how to make them happen again, they are not one of the success points of the campaign.

5. Present the Context of Your Success

Measurement is a key to understanding your success. Did you meet your goals? Did you grow your business? Did you drive traffic back to your website in significant numbers to make the effort worth it? Just like marketing doesn’t work in a silo, neither do metrics. How do your increases compare to a similar period? That could be the previous period or the same one last year. This context is required to understand the success of your marketing. And if you are doing something new, look to industry averages as your baseline. Even if a click-through-rate sounds good to your gut, you need to compare it an industry benchmark to know if it really is good.

6. Let Your Customers Tell You What They Want

Your customers are your marketing audience. Even if you are trying reach new prospects, they are like your current customers. Make sure you know what things are important to them. And not just as they relate to your products and services, but in the running of their business. What are their typical business problems? How do they like to receive information? And how do they communicate back with you? Thankfully we have stopped using fax machines to communicate.

7. If You Can’t Explain the Value of Your Efforts to Your Boss, What Are You Doing?

One of the more interesting evaluation elements of the marketing contest was to view the submission from the perspective of a company executive. This is very different from looking at it from a marketing perspective. Does your boss understand what you are doing? Do they understand the value of it to the business. If not, there could be one of two main problems. There could be a communication problem. You are just not explaining it very well. The other is that your efforts just don’t have real value to the business. This happens when you are chasing the wrong things. The ones that don’t have enough business impact, or they don’t lead to something with business impact.

8. Focus on One Core Campaign for the Best Results

Sometimes marketers get caught up in big, complicated campaigns with lots of moving parts. Not only are these expensive, but they are harder to measure. Marketing campaigns should have a core strategy and all the elements pointing in one direction. Successful campaigns should have multiple elements, but they’ll be more successful if they are ultimately trying to do the same thing.

9. Don’t Get Left Behind Best Practices

Today’s marketers need to keep up with trends in the marketplace. This means paying attention to their own industry verticals, but also marketing trends in general. Social media practices have evolved over the last 5 years and what made sense then no longer makes sense. For example, merely growing your social media followers as an end goal is one of those activities. Nobody cares how many people like your Facebook page. But if you are growing your audience on Facebook and other platforms as a means better serve your customers and drive prospect traffic to your website, that makes sense. As overloaded everyone is, you need to make a little time in your day to dip into some of the top marketing blogs. You will get a better sense of what other marketers are doing and where they are finding success.

Photo credit: Flickr

10 Rules for Epic B2B Blogging

Blogging is a core component of a B2B company’s approach to social media. Not only does it show how the people at a company think and what is important to them, but it provides regularly updated, keyword-rich content that search engines like. Expanding reach by building followings on social media networks is important, but it is more important to drive those contacts back to your blog. This way they can respond to offers through calls-to-action and share your remarkable, and educational, content with their networks.

Follows these 10 rules to build an epic blog for your B2B company.

1. Blog on Your Own Domain
This cannot be said enough times. Do not create a standalone blog at a different domain, including blogger.com and wordpress.com. Your business blog should be located at blog.companydomain.com or companydomain.com/blog. This search engine-friendly approach provides regularly updated content for your website. This way you can get maximum benefit for your website from the traffic that you drive to your blog.

2. Create an Editorial Calendar
Planning is the key to any large, ongoing project, and blogging is no exception. An editorial calendar can help you determine how often to blog, what topics to cover and what kind of content to create. This can also be overlaid with upcoming marketing activities and industry events for maximum impact of your other initiatives.

3. Use Keywords in Your Titles
You want your blog posts to be found and read, and whether that is through search or on social media platforms, keywords help readers discover them. While search engine discovery may be automatic, social discovery happens when you use words that describe what people are looking for or topics they are interested in.

4. Be Human
Writing a blog post is different from writing a press release. While you should seek to educate your readers, you should also try to create a connection. An informal writing style, personal anecdotes and humor can start to make those connections. If they like you, you increase the possibility that they will come back to read another day or that they will share your posts.

5. Educate Your Readers
The difference between a good blog post and a great blog post is what the reader takes away from it. Build regular readerships, and potential customers, by providing quality educational content that helps your readers in their business. The more you can educate them, the better prepared they will be if they become a prospect for your products or services.

6. Break Up Your Posts With Headers
Scanning is the way people read on the web. Make it easy for readers to scan your blog posts by providing headers to break up the copy. Creating section headers will also help you organize your writing into appropriately-sized chunks. If you have a list (like this), make sure the headers have numbers.

7. Speak in Your Customer’s Language
Marketers frequently stick to company preferred terms in their communications, but a blog is a place to test alternate terms, especially those that your customers use. Be aware of how your customers describe your products or services and adopt some of that language in your posts. It is likely that company prospects use similar terms, so using them can make your blog posts more accessible and discoverable.

8. Make Posts Easy to Share
The nature of social media encourages sharing, even for B2B companies. Make sure to include sharing buttons so your readers can share your posts with others in their networks. Test which buttons work for your readers, and keep them to a minimum. Too many buttons could reduce how it’s shared. Also ask yourself if the content is worth sharing. Would you share it with your network? Is it helpful, valuable and educational?

9. Include a Call-To-Action
Blogging is the best method for generating leads using social media. Oh yeah, we did write a book about that (The B2B Social Media Book). But the only way to generate those leads is with a call-to-action at the end of every blog post, or at least in the side bar of the blog. What can you offer your readers to turn them from prospects into leads? Is there an ebook or webinar that extends the content of the blog post? What about a case study that shows how other companies dealt with industry situations? What would your prospects trade their contact information for? That’s what you should offer as a call to action.

10. Publish Consistently
Once you decide to start a business blog, the pressure to publish is on. The way to develop good habits and readers is to set a schedule and stick to it. Start with one day per week. Once you have worked that into your schedule, see what it takes to add a second day per week. Start looking for others in your company to blog to expand beyond what you can do on your own. Do not scale too quickly, as you want to maintain the schedule you set, not slide backwards.

What other rules of B2B blogging have you written on your whiteboard and followed?

10 Steps to More Inbound Links to Your B2B Blog

If you’re a B2B blogger, you know that links are the currency of SEO. Building credible, authoritative and relevant links back to your blog is an excellent way in which to tell the search engines that your blog is valuable to their many customers (i.e. searchers) and needs to be ranked accordingly.

But you also know that link building is not an exact science. Despite the fact that they work through algorithms constructed by meticulous geeks, search engines tend to be flaky and subjective when it comes to compiling their rankings, and keeping up with their ever-changing tweaks can be quite a task.

The following tips and ideas will help ensure that your link building strategy doesn’t run aground.

1. Remember, quality trumps quantity
As with any business endeavour, and most things in life, you’re better off focussing on building a few, high value links than trying to pepper the web with as many links as you can create. In the world of search engines, status is everything, so take time targeting a handful of sites that you know to be influential.

2. Find out who’s linking to your competitors
If you’re a serious blogger, you will know who you’re up against – who’s blogging to the same audience as you? Who’s trying to hog your subject spotlight? Then find out who is helping them by identifying links to their blogs (go to yahoo and type ‘links:’ followed by the URL for a list). These sites will likely be easy targets for your own links.

3. Become a guest blogger
By finding complementary sites and offering your expertise as a blogger in exchange for a link, you will be building your own blog’s profile as a leader in the sector. Be sure to provide a reciprocal link to reinforce your blog’s relationships in the eyes of the search engines.

4. Register with blog directories
While the quantity of blog directories has exploded over the past few years, the quality has really floundered. This means that finding directories that are worth registering with requires a bit of digging, but this remains an important element of a link building strategy.

5. Request links where you probably deserve them
If you’ve gone to the trouble of reviewing someone’s product or blogging about their event, take the time to drop them an email asking them to link to your post from their website.

6. Use article marketing
Rewrite some of your blog posts into articles for free article submission sites. Many of these allow links and some can be well optimised.

7. Publish something unique and newsworthy
Create a survey or an index and invite an online news site to run the story with a link to your blog. This might be hard work, but it does tend to pay off as these are links that your competitors will struggle to imitate.

8. Offer awards
Create a badge that links back to your blog, and award it to top achievers in your target field. This is a win-win situation: they get recognised for their hard work, while you get your link.

9. Pick up the phone
So many B2B marketers forget about the old fashioned dog-and-bone. If you’ve identified a website that holds some authority in your sector call the webmaster and ask what it takes to get a link. You’ll probably be surprised at how receptive they are to being approached in this manner.

10. Make your blog worth linking to
If your content is super and your blog meets a need that no other blog even comes close to, you’ll find webmasters, journalists and the Twitterati simply won’t be able to resist linking to it. This is, of course, a best case scenario, but one to aim for.

What are some other strategies you have used to build links to your B2B blog?

Talking Twitter with Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs)

While at the MarketingProfs Digital Marketing Forum, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ann Handley, the Chief Content Officer of MarketingProfs, and talk about the company Twitter account that she runs (@MarketingProfs). In a previous blog post about B2B companies on Twitter, I specifically mentioned this account as being a personal account, so it was not included in the list of company accounts. After Ann replied in the comments, we decided that it would be instructive to discuss her thoughts on setting up the Twitter account, and how she uses it. This shows the evolution of social profiles, and how sometimes you are more successful by doing what feels right for your brand.

If you are managing a company Twitter account, do you use the company logo or your own picture?

Thinking about a B2B Social Media Crisis Communication Plan

Once a B2B company reaches a certain size, you begin considering hiring a public relations firm to help get your message out using an earned media approach. One of the first recommendations of many PR plans includes developing crisis communication documents. There are two primary reasons for this. Your new agency wants to encourage you to make good decisions and craft well-thought-out responses when your company is not under the pressure and scrutiny of a crisis. This will make your ultimate response better. They also want to be aware of any skeletons in your closet as a means of assessing the need for a crisis plan. This is a big part of PR and people who specialize in this field can give you many more justifications and examples for why this is a good idea, but I just want to use its essence of being prepared with regard to social media.

You may have heard of the recent coordinated attack on the Nestle Facebook page. If not, here’s a search result page. Even though much has been written about it, and it’s not the point of this post, here are my thoughts on what Nestle should do in this specific situation:

  • Create a statement that addresses community concern and clear change of policy.
  • Post this statement on their home page.
  • Resume tweeting and continue to post this statement.
  • Create a landing page on Facebook with this statement. This way the first view of their Facebook page is the statement, not the wall filled with negative comments.
  • While there is no way to stop the comments on the wall, they should create discussion topics and encourage commenters to leave their comments in the discussion threads. This gives Nestle a bit more control and starts to move the comments off the wall.

As you begin thinking about a social media crisis communication plan, look at your pr crisis communication plan. Based on that approach and those documents, here are some steps to begin developing a similar plan for social media outlets.

  • Review all potential issues that are included in your pr plan and prepare social media content around each one.
  • Create tweets that respond to issues with a link to a statement.
  • Determine if you will respond directly to other Twitter users, and if so, in what tone. Social media responses differ from pr responses, as you are communicating with individual people directly, but in a public forum.
  • Know when to take conversations off-line. The answer may be for anything beyond the initial public statement.
  • Establish a Facebook response approach. Because wall posts become permanently associated with your brand, unless you take them down, you must understand how to respond, if you are responding at all.
  • Think about a response on LinkedIn, where there may be no mention of the crisis issue at all. Publish your statement in any groups in which your company or employees are active. This pro-active approach will earn you some respect on the most professional of social networks.
  • Consider a video response for YouTube. While many CEO or executive videos seem canned or stilted, remember that you are communicating with people, and a video may be another way to speak directly to people. The preparation for this would involve determining the appropriate person for different situations and determining the shooting location. It might not be the corporate video studio.
  • Review your social media presence and craft a unique response strategy for each online community where you have a following. This includes forums, social bookmarking sites and industry specific communities.
  • Don’t forget about your employees. They are all now public representatives of your company and they will want to share information with their networks. And they will want positive and honest information that they are comfortable sharing. The last thing they want to do is promote corporate double talk around an issue. Their mom might even be their friend on Facebook.

Have you started thinking about a social media crisis communication strategy? What other things have you included?

Don’t Over Complicate B2B Social Media Policies

Social media can be a source of fear for many people within B2B organizations. For example, the legal department whose job is to mitigate risk can often feel that social media has the opposite effect. As a result of situations like this, many companies are working on internal policies to help guide employee and organizational behavior when it comes to communicating using social media. Establishing core guidelines for employees is a good thing. However, it is easy to over complicate employee social media guidelines to the point where you have a 50 page document that very few people read in detail.

This week Coca-Cola released their social media policy. It is a three page document that pretty clearly outlines corporate expectations. If one of the largest companies in the world can condense its guidelines into three pages, then so can you.

Coca-Cola Company’s Online Social Media Principles

I am not saying that Coca-Cola’s document is perfect, however, it organizes information well and uses lists and bullets instead of using long paragraphs that sound like legal documents.

What do you like about this policy? Does you organization have a policy? How is your policy organized?

Twitter Best Practices for Business

Twitter has launched their own version of a Twitter guide called Twitter 101. If you are looking for advice on how to use Twitter for your business, this is a good place to start: Twitter 101 – Best Practices.

While I won’t go into too much detail, the high level points are as follows with a brief explanation of how that relates to B2B marketing on Twitter:

1. Think about Twitter as a place to build relationships

It is continually acknowledge that B2B sales are all about relationships. Customers buy from companies they are familiar with. While Twitter may seem insignificant and informal at first, the short, casual nature of the messages are a great way to begin engagement with customers and prospects. These relationship are driven by providing value, rather than sales pitches.

2. Understand the real-time nature of Twitter

Twitter is all about the now. You can engage with people instantly. If someone mentions your company or industry, respond now. Make sure employees are empowered to engage customers to solve problems now, rather than getting approval up the line. In long sales cycle purchase decisions, buyers often have many questions. Find those questions and get the prospect answers. Use common industry terms, or brand names, so your public answer (via an @ reply) will be seen by others who may have the same question.

3. Measure the value of Twitter

All campaigns need initial goals against which to measure success. Develop your own metrics for Twitter. Pure numbers (followers, mentions, etc.) are a good way to start, but as you progress, determine other things to measure to tie those mentions to leads and sales.

Click through the Twitter 101 pages to read the business case studies, however, they are all consumer based. If you have any good examples of B2B success on Twitter, let us know in the comments. We will also be looking for our own to write about.

10 Business Blogging Best Practices

There has been lots of talk lately that micro-blogging, using sites like Twitter, has taken the place of blogging and blogs are just no longer relevant. Not only is there still a place for blogs, but it is a perfect way for companies to begin to understanding social media and begin to engage with their customers and prospects. We recently wrote about the four-year old Boeing blog, which by many measures is a successful blog, so this seems like a perfect time to list some best practices for business blogging. Even though this site is geared towards business to business companies, these best practices are for anyone planning, or even currently writing, a company blog.

This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but is to help you get started or improve an existing blog. Each one of these points could be expanded to a full blog post, and probably has by others. There are lots of resources for blogging help, but one of the best is copyblogger.com. You can also leave comments below with your own suggestions on starting and maintaining a quality blog that communicates a business message.

1. Establish a Strategy

A business blog needs to begin with a strategy, which does not happen in isolation. Every company should have a marketing plan, or at least a targeted list of customers and prospects. Your blog needs to be part of that strategy with a specific target audience, whether it is for brand building, increasing sales, or communicating with employees, customers, prospects or vendors. A blog without a strategy will not survive. Do not create a blog just to create content for search engine optimization purposes. It will wither and die, as many have.

2. Define an Editorial Policy

Once you know what you are trying to accomplish through your company blog, you need to determine what kinds of articles you will post. If you have regular press releases (and quarterly statements for public companies) posted in a news section on your web site, and you should, there is no reason to re-post them on your blog, unless you are commenting or adding more information to the release. You need to decide whether to blog about employee activities, client projects, internal processes and other things that reveal the human side of your company. This is generally a good thing, but the information on your blog must be relevant to your target audience.

3. Find a Voice

You blog should have some personality and not sound like it was written by committee. This can be conveyed through the voice of a blog, which is the way you speak to your target audience. There is a tendency to write blog posts in a more informal, breezy style that can be skimmed easily. This definitely is driven by your content and readers. If your blog is about complex technical solutions and you are writing for engineers, snarky copy written with broad strokes is not the way to communicate with them.

4. Create Compelling Content

A blog is not just an exercise in creating content and tossing it over the wall at your readers. The content must be compelling, informative and relevant to your audience. Think about your blog from the point of view of your target and decide if your latest article provides any value. If you are using your blog to find prospective customers, you can blog about industry topics, or conduct interviews with industry leaders. After your readers find your blog, you want them to return. Or better yet, subscribe to your feed (ours is in the upper right), so they don’t miss one word of your compelling content.

5. Use Keywords

One of the jobs a blog can do is help improve the search results. You do this by making sure your post titles and posts contain the keywords that your customers and prospects search. Search engine dynamics and algorithms are constantly changing, so you can think of this as relevance to your readers. If you will be writing for an audience outside of your company and customer lists, your blog and site must be found. Writing about topics relevant to this audience will naturally contain appropriate keywords, but you should make sure your titles are keyword rich. Search for the term “keyword density” to gain a better understanding of this topic. Search marketing is a huge topic and is best digested one concept at a time. SearchEngineLand.com is a good site for search help.

6. Post on a Regular Schedule

Something that many bloggers struggle with is publishing content on a regular schedule. No matter what role you play in your company, whether CEO, PR/marketing person, or copywriter, blogging is not your full-time job. Consistent publishing takes discipline and time. The first can be learned, but the second has to be found. One way to address time is to remain at least one post ahead. If you publish weekly, make sure next week’s post is written before you publish this week’s. This is obviously more difficult if your posts are timely and draw on current industry news, but this is a good reason to have a variety of post types. Hubspot provides a good post about five types of business blog posts.

7. Show Author Pictures

One reason to create a blog is to create a human face within the company. The best way to show a human face is to show a human’s face. If the blog is written by one person, a photo in the header or about section is fine. Multi-author blogs should have author photos with each post. This allows readers to easily scan posts for authors writing about topics they follow.

8. Link from Home Page

As readers of the blog may already know, this is a big pet peeve of mine. Since a blog is a very different kind of content on most corporate web sites, unless your site visitors can find, you cannot achieve your goals. All the strategy in the world goes out the window if no one reads your blog. If you cannot get approval to link from the home page, find a logical place to provide a prominent link. Some common options are from the Company page or the About page, but it still needs to be obvious. How can you engage with your audience if they can’t find your content?

9. Engage with Readers

Since one of the goals of any blog is to engage with your readers, you need to make sure you do that. You write compelling content that brings your audience back for more. They leave comments. They link to your blog from their blog or social networking sites. And you need to continue these conversations in the comments. Every real comment should get a real response. This is something that we try to do on this site. And it really makes a difference to readers to see the post authors responding in the comments. And when you find your content shared by your readers elsewhere, thank them and continue the discussion over there. Being appreciative of comments goes a long way.

10. Spread your Content

And finally, if you can spread and encourage the spreading of your content to your target audience, you will be that much closer to meeting your goals. While I was planning this post earlier this week, I saw this post about about making your website more social and knew that it would fit perfectly as a last point. I began by saying starting a blog is a good way for a company to start understanding social media. Leveraging your blog and expanding it out to other social networks is a great way to take the next step.

As always, we appreciate your interest in this blog and please leave any questions or comments below. Not only do we like them, but it’s a great way to continue what I started in this post.

Social Media Best Practices from SAS, Part 2

Recently, we had the chance to sit down with David Thomas, Social Media Manager with SAS, the business analytics and business intelligence software company, and talk about social media in a B2B environment. This is part two of our interview. Here is a link to part one.

He talked about handling multiple requests for social media information, sharing best practices among employees who don’t normally communicate externally, and the importance of social media guidelines. He made an important point for people who are reluctant to dive into social media. If you can trust your employees to interact with customers at trade shows, by telephone and email, it is easy to trust them to communicate using social media tools. And even if you don’t think your customers are using social media, you need to monitor these channels for mentions about your industry so you can be prepared when they do start using it.

Here is a link to the presentation David mentioned by Charlene Li entitled Convince the Curmudgeon.

To learn more about David and social media at SAS, read his blog at blogs.sas.com/socialmedia and follow him on Twitter @DavidBThomas

Social Media Best Practices from SAS, Part 1

Recently, we had the chance to sit down with David Thomas, Social Media Manager with SAS, the business analytics and business intelligence software company, and talk about social media in a B2B environment.

He talked about bringing people together from various parts of the company and developing a social media plan that touches everything SAS does. He mentioned six areas of focus that they built out as their approach to social media: social networks, blogs, podcasting, video, wikipedia and content syndication. And on top of everything else, the company must provide good content. The deliberate and inclusive process that David described is a good model to follow and best practice for other companies to implement as they are starting social media endeavors.

Since the conversation was rather lengthy, we split it into two parts. This is part one of the interview, and we will post the part two next week. This is a great chance to subscribe to this site by clicking on the orange RSS button in the upper right so you can view part two as soon as it is posted.

To learn more about David and social media at SAS, read his blog at blogs.sas.com/socialmedia and follow him on Twitter @DavidBThomas