Customer-Brand Relationship Strategy and Social Media – Why, How?

I recently had the opportunity to examine some cases of companies that did, and did not utilize social media as a part of their branding and communication strategies. Social media has a variety of powerful uses for an organization, some of these I have discussed here on my blog. However, one use, commonly overlooked by many organizations, is the customer-brand relationship strategy.

The fact that many firms overlook the ability to build their customer brand relationship through social media (in fact I would argue social media is the easiest way to do so) is definitely unfortunate. Companies spend millions in advertising and branding in non-conversational channels to build brand, but customer brand relationship is unique in some ways to our classic view of “branding”. The most obvious way being that it is a two way tactic.

Customer brand relationship takes two most common forms, both of which have power and purpose, but they apply to products in different markets and times. These forms include Loyalty / Intimacy and the other is Passion. Loyalty / intimacy requires a great deal of interaction, but investment in this strategy means that a brand becomes more protected from severe reputation swings or damage in the face of a disaster. The passion relationship is known to drive interest and buzz, but tends to lend less credibility and trust to the brand.

Building out a social media strategy that accomplishes one of these relationships with your target consumers is complex and requires dedication. I would recommend doing research to see how other brands have accomplished the task (see a case study on how Commonwealth Edison did it a few years ago). I can assure you, taking the approach of simply sharing neat things, will not get you there. It is surprising how many firms have yet to realize that there is so much more value that can be pulled from social media than driving people to one of your blog posts or pretty picture (see Home Depot’s Twitter account).

How much is investment in something like this worth? I would say, quite a bit for sure. Organizations spend a great deal of time and money on risk management, crisis management and reputation management. A dedication to building a consumer brand relationship of loyalty / intimacy gives you a foothold on each of those, and if your network is large enough, and your strategy is targeted, your brand becomes far more protected in a time of crisis. Take a look at the Nestle – Greenpeace, Palm Oil case. Had Nestle taken this seriously, and taken Greenpeace’s social network capabilities seriously, they would have avoided significant brand damage from the occurrence.

So my recommendation here is this, determine which consumer brand relationship your company, product or service would benefit most from, then research how to achieve this relationship and then create the strategy to make it happen. Far too many companies still overlook social media’s true potential. In this case, it is brand protection, risk management and reputation management, all wrapped up together.

EC-Council’s Certified Internet Marketing Practitioner Certification Class

I recently had the pleasure of working with the EC-Council to help develop the framework for and then teach their iBusiness line’s certification, the Certified Internet Marketing Practitioner class. The experience was great. They flew me out to beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico to teach a pre-recorded version of the class.

The content of the class is great, its a very tactical / application based internet marketing course which gives direction to someone relatively new to internet marketing. It starts by painting the broad picture quite well, laying out strategy, reasons for different approaches etc. The we dig down into tactics, how to implement strategies within the big picture strategy. It definitely has great content.

Here is the “pitch video”:

 

There is more to come for this as I have agreed to become a board member on their Cyber-Marketing Advisory Board. Very fun stuff and I am honored! I’d like to thank the EC-Council folks!

Which Social Media KPI’s Should Marketing Leaders Monitor?

Much like the rest of digital marketing, social media provides marketers with measurable results. Marketing automation platforms, web analytics programs and social analytics programs all offer the ability to paint a pretty clear picture of how your team is doing growing your company through social media. As a person in charge of a marketing team, you can’t possibly look at every last report and micromanage all scenarios. For a marketing leader that has an already mature process in place with his or her team, what Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) define your social marketing success other than the obvious ROI? What should be measured about your team’s social media marketing strategy to determine whether or not profitable revenue from social media marketing will be growing next quarter?

One could make the argument for a variety of deeper factors, but to me, when considering the whole, big picture of modern marketing, these three KPI’s stand out the most, and contribute to successful revenue generation, ROI and critical growth factors for your other marketing and communication channels. Lead Generation, Increasing Following and Influencer Outreach are measurable, assignable KPI objectives that will ensure growth each and every quarter. Put them in place, guide the strategies and the positive reports will follow.

I have intentionally left social media advertising completely out of this equation. This is intended for organic social media marketing growth, to me, ad spend falls under its own channel.

Lead Generation
This is an obvious one. High visibility on social media can generate leads. As your team grows your social media following, outreach and activity, leads will increase. Typically, this consists of
1) Passers by who are curious about your company via a post or your profile description. The person then checks out your site, then converts.
2) Conversions generated by posts and messaging that includes direct or indirect company promotion.
3) Also, the obvious soft lead generation through content marketing is a primary way to move a social following into your funnel.

Increasing Your Following
Clearly the main goal of social media for business is to increase your following. Being comfortable with a smaller following than your competition or a stagnant following means that you aren’t moving the needle well enough. Improving your following, expanding your reach, growing your numbers are critical to generating revenue and improving ROI through social media marketing. There is almost no follower that is a bad follower. If you have 10 people within your industry that retweet a key message, thats great, hopefully their followers see the message, click through, retweet or take some form of action that then spurs another couple of layers of eyeballs on the message and additional action takers. If you have 100 followers who see your message, take action at a similar rate, obviously your reach is exponentially greater. This is key to your content marketing efforts and PR capabilities. Plus, as an added bonus, a large following lends greater credibility to your organization.

Influencer Outreach
How well is your team obtaining influencer relationships? How well is your team making friends with influential people? Influencer outreach is key to content marketing, PR, affiliate lead gen, SEO, branding, credibility and more. In order to take full advantage of these relationships, your marketing team must have certain channels built out and ready to deploy. However, when things are in place and your influencer outreach strategy is effective, the publicity, branding and lead generation power improves exponentially.

Going forward, measure your team’s social media marketing success with these three KPI’s. It will make the management process and reporting back to the CEO both easier.

Web Intelligence and Data Visualization for Competitive Analysis

Dissecting the digital marketing assets of your competitors is relatively easy to do these days. Many tools are available that can help marketers pick through the majority of the online marketing efforts and buzz of another company. Leading marketers are keeping a database on their competition with insight that can paint more clear lines for their own strategies. By accumulating your own marketing data and the data of your competitors, you can improve your efforts more quickly, spend less money and accumulate market share faster.

When keeping a database on your competitors its best to break the data into logical groups that may lead to future actionable trends. For example, create sheets in Microsoft Excel with lists such as influencer mentions, product discussion, key product / service line appearances, geographical relations, keyword focus, target market demographics and more. Distinguish your lists as you sort through collected data based on the things you find and that data can later be merged later into an analytics platform.

One commonly known tool is Google Alerts which will provide you with regular updates on newly indexed appearances from a company, brand or other key term. Google Alerts is by no means perfect and only gives you a very loose following of the online marketing efforts of whomever or whatever you are tracking. Moz also provides a product with their Pro service that is a bit more meticulous than Google Alerts, and performs a similar function. Some common opportunities for marketers coming from the use of these tools can be low hanging fruit link building opportunities, positioning data, market size data and media appearance opportunities.

Another fantastic tool for competitive analysis is the social media tracking tool Needtagger. Needtagger allows you to set up multiple keyword searches that alert you when mixed with other terms such as buying signals or actionable phrases. Needtagger can notify you of any social conversation that your competitor may show up in. It can also help you to identify the influencers that are engaging your competitors brand or assisting in spreading your competitors name and reputation online. By tracking these types of occurrences and the information that Needtagger provides you with, a marketing team can retrieve many actionable strategies such as new influencer targeting, positioning data, market size data, market share data and additional target segment demographics, data and trends.

Another essential element to tracking your competition is to somewhat frequently dig through their backlink structure. This is a very common practice in SEO and many tools such as the Open Site Explorer are great for this practice. This will give you a little more accurate look into where your competitors are getting coverage and backlinks online.

Also, part of the Moz Analytics Open Site Explorer platform is the anchor text tab. Checking up on your competitor’s keyword focus is essential to watching what direction they are moving in. Exporting this information on a monthly basis can help you to later visualize a clear path to what their marketing team is working to actively promote, or perhaps what is right around the corner for them. Another tool that can go along with this is Spyfu, which not only provides keywords, but also gives you an assessment of what your competition is spending on search ads on a daily basis. Very helpful!

Building Your Web Intelligence System
The key to building your web intelligence system is to find a comfortable rate at which you extract data about your industry and competition from the tools above. Some of the tools make it very easy, some, are more time consuming. The more time consuming data extractions are best to keep at an infrequent rate, maybe quarterly, go through and spend some time extracting some pre-identified information. Spend more time on the easier data extractions such as keyword and anchor text information, these also have more marketing actionability to them.

As mentioned earlier in this post, an Excel document with different key tracking points will work just fine. Once you have that data in Excel, you can easily import that into the majority of tools that are out there for data visualization. Some of the tools that I can recommend include the free MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop tool and Tableau Public. For a full service data collection and visualization, the people at Recorded Future are doing some exceptional things. Their licenses are not cheap, but their service is definitely out in front.

Either way, simple and infrequent data extractions on your competitors can be plugged easily into free data visualization tools that can lead to actionable pattern identification, with just a little bit of effort. Not many marketers have embraced this, but it is extremely powerful. I’ll write at some point in the future about some other opportunities in data visualization for marketers.

Why Big Brands don’t Focus on Content Marketing like Smaller Brands

I recently came across and then shared on Twitter a post about how smaller brands generally dominate content marketing. The point here was that smaller brands, who operate on typically much smaller marketing budgets, but greater effort into generating more quality content and in general, great content marketing campaigns from smaller brands are much easier to find than those from big brands. The post was written by Johan du Toit and can be found here.

I’d have to say that I agree with that theory in general, but I do not believe the reason is because smaller brands try harder to do so and are therefore winning a race to great content. In my opinion, big brands simply don’t need or benefit from the value received from content marketing in the way that smaller brands do.

Content marketing provides businesses with a dose of all of the above, brand recognition, credibility / thought leadership growth, leads, backlinks and social mentions for the most part. The power of a big brand alone takes care of the first few benefits in this list, the power of a big budget can typically handle the rest.

For example, take the total annual conference speaking engagements for the average mid-sized IT company. A company like Cisco will produce the same number of conference and event speakers in a day globally. Brand recognition, credibility, thought leadership and more, a fantastic content marketing piece wouldn’t be able to match that level of results.

Other benefits of content marketing such as leads, backlinks and social mentions, organically, most big brands produce a far greater volume of these than what a small brand / medium sized business can manufacture.

To add to this, I also think that if orchestrated, big brands could very easily dominate content marketing. Obviously from the potential reach, but I mean more in terms of quality in this case. A company like Cisco, to use them as an example again, could more easily pool together some of the most respected and recognizable minds in the networking field, probably some of which are full-time Cisco employees, to create a white paper on networking best practices. The smaller business with the same idea wouldn’t necessarily be able to do something like that all that easily, and maybe employs one or two SME’s to the white paper. Cisco likely gets higher quality content in this case, you have a handful of the world’s best SME’s each contributing in a category that they specialize in, versus the smaller number of professionals, spreading out their contributions a bit more.

I think that this is a good thing, if big brands needed content marketing the way that smaller brands do, then the opportunity wouldn’t be there quite as much as it is now for smaller brands.

Are You SEO’ing Your Lead Gen Devices? Why Not?

No one will argue that content lead generation devices such as white papers, videos, webinars, etc. can be fantastic at generating industry relevant, top of the pipeline new leads for many organizations (obviously). Most companies content driving strategy includes using their social media following, sometimes press and perhaps their email marketing lists to move the message that their new lead gen device is available. In some cases, I’ve seen companies help co-market each other’s content in the form of emailing, social and blog posts.

In many cases, these content ideas have a downward sloping lead production curve. The campaigns come out blazing, several channels hit at once, heavy tweet schedules, email lists spaced out by a few days, etc. Then, the burst of new leads and re-engaged leads slowly dwindles, until the content has no other purpose but to be re-used lightly in drip campaigns or other short life campaigns.

A downward trending return on good content is really easy to avoid. Too many companies I know overlook the fact that a little SEO investment into a lead gen content piece, can go a really long way. Obviously, take the same opportunity research approach you take when evaluating any traditional hard lead, landing page, keyword opportunity. Where do you rank currently -> how much traffic currently – > how are conversions (from organic traffic) currently -> if those signs are positive then -> who ranks above you currently and how do they rank for the best keyword terms -> what work will it take to move in to a ranking that returns significantly higher results.

I always go in to content idea analysis with an organic SEO, keyword potential approach first. If I invest the time of one of my Subject Matter Expert’s, I want long term value, if it is indeed there for the taking. You can take this approach with anything in the content sphere, white papers, videos, webinars (turn webinars into accessible video with contact capture after the webinar) etc. First, plan the landing page out to include enough content to drive organic traffic and have all on-site SEO done correctly. Then build conversion optimization in to the landing page, include teaser vine videos, a snapshot of some of the white paper content, content quotes etc. Use some of your other web properties (micro / niche blogs, microsites) to assist the SEO on your landing page and to convert more traffic from those properties. Take some of the other steps you would follow to build inbound links. Also keep in mind, you don’t have to use your prime sources to build links for a piece of content like this, save those for hard-lead landing pages. With something like this, lower-end link building is usually sufficient.

But I Have So many Different Landing Pages for the Same Piece of Content…
Its not always the case that there is only one landing page for your content piece. In some cases, affiliate tracking url’s, session ID’s etc. can cause duplicate content issues with your content piece that may prevent it from performing to its SEO potential. I saw this recently with a client. In this case, be certain to establish a robots.txt rule to all other instances of the landing page other than the primary url. This may require a dev, but if you take the time to set it up properly initially, the results will be well worth it.

What to Expect
Obviously, as with all good SEO, the growth curve is generally slower and takes time. Do your on-site SEO work, do some initial off-site work, revisit in a couple of months, re-examine the ranking potential and do some more off-site work if its appropriate. As you can see from the Graph 1 below, we rolled out a somewhat niche content piece that we thought had some potential to reach a certain type of target customer in late March. We did on-site and off-site SEO in the next month and a half. In June, we moved the message to our social following. Obviously, the initial social push returned some solid results, but as the the next two months came, we did nothing else in the way of promotions. Graph 2 will show you the search traffic broken out of the overall traffic. The SEO worked, and now with steady rankings, we can expect a monthly lead flow from this content piece, without having to spend any marketing budget or human hours (this is a targeted piece, the conversion rate started out great and continues to increase). We can go ahead and move on to the next great content piece.

Growth Graphs

A Recent Mobile Optimization Data Set Example

It blows my mind that many fantastic websites and companies have yet to embrace mobile optimization. A couple of months ago I discussed (in this post) my recent studies on mobile conversion optimization. I had recently spent time learning and then putting to use the mobile optimization skills that I had learned on my company’s website. The results are in and they are more than I had initially hoped for.

Prior to the mobile responsive redesign (and yes, responsive is the only way to go – not a mobile subdomain) we had put some lead gen mechanisms in place that made mobile / tablet conversion, and desktop conversion for that matter, a touch more easy. So the 60 days post adding those lead gen mechanisms we saw an increase of about 20% across the board on both desktop and mobile / tablet. I was pleased, obviously.

Post Mobile Optimization
Here is where it gets good… We designed the site around the mobile experience first, and then adjusted the desktop user interface to meet those demands. Most mobile experts will tell you this is the way to come at your design, think mobile first, desktop on the backend.we were able to incorporate mobile best practices, without overthrowing the desktop side. In fact, in doing so, it appears as though we slightly improved the desktop experience, probably because of a ease of use factor.

In the first 60 days post mobile optimization we saw an increase in desktop conversion of around 30%, that’s excellent, especially considering desktop is still the majority of my traffic. BUT, on the mobile side of traffic, we saw an increase in conversion of 100%, it doubled! But thats not all…

Mobile Versus Tablet
Here is where it gets even sweeter!

The mobile conversions I was referring to above is a combination of mobile (primarily cell phone) traffic and tablet traffic. When you break down the numbers a little further, the picture gets a little prettier.

In the 60 days post mobile responsive redesign, we experienced a percent increase in tablet traffic of about 100% and a percent increase in mobile (again, primarily cell phone) of 425%, yes, 425%!! This increase brought mobile (cell phone) conversions up to almost the exact same percentage as tablet conversions. So obviously, the new, responsive design, combined with some of the mobile conversion best practices I had wanted to try, really worked on the much smaller screens of cell phone users. Getting a cell phone user to convert into a lead at this new rate was something I was really proud of.

Now, that alone sounds pretty great right? but wait, there is more… Mobile (cell phone) traffic is a number that is about 4X tablet traffic. So this increase in converting the mobile / cell phone user has meant huge things to our lead flow. So far the sales conversion side has been status quo as well, so all in all, great things came from this investment.

Maximizing Your Organization’s SME’s – Grow Traffic, Leads and Social Media Reach through Your Talented Employees

Most leading organizations have Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) that they turn to for things like heavy technical work, high profile speaking engagements, consulting jobs etc. Within many SME’s lies tremendous marketing potential. Also a characteristic of these tremendously talented industry thought leaders is their lack of knowing how to market themselves or how to transform their marketing potential into action. This is where a marketing team can step in to harness this power. With a few simple changes and steps a marketing team can use this power to their advantage and can charge forward with high return campaigns with relatively low involvement.

Build an Internal Affiliate Program for Lead Generation

The question that marketers have to ask here is; what is the best way to get in front of this traffic with the buy-in of the employee. The answer is an internal affiliate program. I have personal experience with creating this type of program and the buy-in is usually VERY easy to acquire. These SME’s typically don’t have any form of monetization on their sites. An affiliate program can change that for them. Setting this up is quite easy. Build an affiliate form with an offer attached to it and have the SME post it on their blog. The affiliate form can be built via iFrame, and in cases where the blogging platform rejects an active javascript form, you can have your affiliate form then default to a more simple text link that refers the traffic to an internal page on your site that captures the affiliate ID and gives the appropriate credit. Both functions of this form can be tracked through your analytics package and with your CRM. That way, you can automate monthly reports to show the SME how their affiliate campaign has performed. Depending on how much you want to invest in the function of the form, other features like dynamic ip address location recognition can be added to do things like optimize the message on the form. Since you are creating a relatively simple iFrame form, multiple versions of the form can be set up to allow easy A/B testing.

Obviously, in order to keep the program alive, you have to show results / commissions to the publishers. Your sales staff should be notified of the source and nature of the lead. It also helps if you have a Marketing Automation or Revenue Performance Management platform that will nurture the leads, depending on how direct your affiliate offer message is. Leads can be scored and then put into a salesperson’s hands when they meet the criteria to do so.

Get Traffic and Link Juice from Your SME’s

High levels of targeted web traffic is relatively hard or expensive to acquire. In most cases you either need to invest in developing a powerful SEO presence (this obviously doesn’t work over night) or you need to buy the traffic via ads or a few other referral sources, which can really bite a chunk out of the monthly marketing budget. So typically, you are looking at making a large investment however you get your traffic.

Most organizations do not think to tap a resource that they have in their back pocket, the network of websites that their employees own. Many SME’s run industry blogs where they talk about things that they come across in the day to day challenges of their job. Many of these blogs get steady, really really targeted traffic.

So, this is an easy one. Hopefully your company is running a content calendar or some form of high output on quality content, in the form of blog posts. Tap your SME’s blogs for traffic and link juice by offering content or content ideas and request appropriate pieces be placed as posts on your SME’s blogs.

Utilize their Social Media Potential

The first thing to do is to use the applications that are managed within your organization’s social media marketing team to build up the social media presence of your SME’s. SME’s carry an inherent ability to pick up followers because aspiring professionals in their field often want to follow the messages of these experts so that they can learn. Many of these followers have a network of friends and so on.

Create branded social media profiles for your SME’s, ie. include the company brand in their handles, always. Have them include these handles in all of their interaction, business cards, presentation boiler plates etc.

Your SME’s should be trained to acquire followers wherever they appear and wherever they go. Beyond this, the social media team should set the SME up to help build their following. A mature social media marketing team will have tools and applications in place that build social media followings for the company. Most of these platforms allow for multiple user management. The social media team should set campaigns and even automate certain activity at the discretion of the SME that will allow for following growth. Also, acquire the OK from the SME to very rarely promote certain things that the company is doing. This shouldn’t include sales pitches on products or services, but rather, the promotion of company lead gen assets like white papers, contact capture videos and free downloads.

Social following also builds PR outreach capabilities. The social media team can monitor the profiles of your SME’s following and identify people with PR potential (and other potential like websites, co-marketing opportunities etc.). Request the SME to reach out to these followers when an appropriate message needs to be moved. Press Releases, white papers etc. Much of social media is about relationships, as relationships build, favors can be asked.

This is how a marketing team can easily (and with scale) tap the resource that exists within their company SME’s.

Engaging and Converting the Mobile User

Obviously, mobile web visitors makes up a widely growing base of overall visitors for many websites in many fields. Over the course of the last 12 months or so I started to pay close attention to mobile traffic on my website. I was watching the analytics closely, looking for sources, looking for conversion trends, looking at multi-channel attribution conversion trends, looking at overall conversion. I found nothing too stunning to say the least, except for these things.

1) The traffic looked very similar to traditional, non-mobile traffic. Sources, keywords, channels, landing pages, paths, etc., all very similar.

2) The traffic converted into a lead at approximately 50% the rate of traditional, non-mobile traffic. – WHOA, OPPORTUNITY!!!!

Item number 1 above has much to do with the industry I’m in. I have read reports to the contrary in many fields, but the industry I operate in and the way I choose to acquire my traffic leads to a user with a little more cut and dry purpose.

Item #2 is clearly the piece that grabbed the heck out of my attention and made dig in, much much more. I love discoering new opportunities for more leads, it excites me. Clearly, we could stand to make that number significantly better.

I immediately started my research and reached out to friends who I thought knew a thing or two about mobile marketing. Turns out, mobile marketing is pretty stinkin new in the grand scheme of all things marketing channel related. There aren’t many that know a whole lot about it. A friend of mine from college, however, is an expert in the field, and a bit of a thought leader in the space. In fact, he was one of the creators of Google’s Mobile Marketing Playbook, his name is Mark Hendrix. Mark was extremely helpful [Thanks man!].

Through my research I found many things that looked similar but different about the user interface and conversion strategy.  The mobile user needs different mechanisms laid out slightly differently with different methods of access than the traditional user. Creating the user interface on the mobile side of your site requires you to segment the mobile users even further than norm. Obviously, I can’t get too in depth about this because my competitors may be reading, but engaging the mobile user requires more than just a mobile responsive website (some people choose the mobile subdomain for their website, that’s way lame these days).

Engaging the Mobile User
– Take a brand first and foremost approach.
– Engage with calls to action / lead gen assets that are more comfortable in a mobile environment.
– Tell the mobile user more with easy access videos that define your product and your brand.
– Reduce copy on the mobile side that appears on the desktop side.
– Make related blog posts more accessible and make sharing via mobile device front and center (especially Twitter).
– Make following your Twitter (the most mobile friendly major social platform) account way easier!

Converting the Mobile User
– Reconsider your lead gen assets conversion approach (I basically took a whole new, internal, simplified approach and am rolling it out to both mobile and non-mobile visitors). Since the mobile user is much more likely to be turned away by multi-step conversion mechanisms, simplify the process, remove the opt-in email or off site second steps. Again, you are talking about a new non-traditional approach to conversion on your lead gen assets, it may be more difficult to set up, but worth the conversions.
– Choose lead gen asset / CTA’s that both fit the segment of the viewer based on landing page qualifications and fit your mobile segment. Not all assets will apply in the same manner as they do to non-mobile traffic. Easy targeted white papers, infographics and high value quick download videos are great here.
– Present a lead gen asset / CTA at the start of your landing page and show the simplicity of accessing the asset. Presenting the asset at the start of your content, before the body, makes it more visible to the viewer and is likely the first impression it leaves. Ideally you have a mobile responsive site, so from a cell phone, the content of the landing page is viewed in a singular column (in most cases), give them 1) the header, 2) the lead gen asset and then 3) the body.

Mobile conversion is optimized when you present a clear lead gen asset / call to action immediately in the hot zone without scrolling and  you do so with simplicity. That process is obviously a little more complex for non-mobile traffic, more conversion optimization techniques like trust building etc. can be added to that equation. However, in mobile, you don’t often have that luxury in many cases. If you take that approach, even as the user scrolls, they will know where to find what they want. Since a mobile responsive site pushes everything in one column, your call to action may get lost at the very bottom and that simply won’t cut it (unless you are my competitor).

So there you have it, engage and convert mobile users requires a little different thinking. Until next time!