Archive for July, 2009

Are your webinars losing their audience?

I recently found a Marketing Sherpa study from March of 2008 about why people drop off of webinars before the presentation is finished. The study had 880 respondents, and found that the top 6 reasons people leave a webinar early, in order of importance, were as follows:

  1. The content was not as advertised
  2. The presenter read directly from the slides
  3. The webinar began with information about the company, or selling its services
  4. The information on the first few slides was already familiar to the attendee
  5. The webinar was an hour long
  6. The presenter spoke slowly

You can read the statistics behind these reasons here.

I know that I have dropped off of webinars for all those reasons, so I was not surprised to hear that others had too. But there is one key reason that causes me to drop off webinars that wasn’t mentioned in this report. That is, there was nothing to keep my eyes occupied while my ears were listening to the speaker. When a speaker is physically in front of an audience, they occupy the audience’s eyes both with the slides and their own physical presence. If those aren’t enough to keep all the eyes in the room occupied, then the venue and the rest of the audience usually provides enough visual interest to keep the audience in the room, and hopefully listening to the speaker.

Many speakers, including myself, have been trained to pare down our slide content to a bare minimum, so that the audience will focus on what we are saying and not just read the slides while we talk. That seems to work OK when the speaker is physically in front of an audience. But when they are on a webinar, it creates problems. Webinar audiences are typically sitting at their desks, and so there are lots of distractions all around them. If the speaker’s slides can be understood quickly, they don’t keep the audience’s eyes occupied, so those eyes will wander off to manage email, read a report that was sitting on the desk, or whatever else they can do “while still listening” to the webinar. This lack of attentiveness reduces the productivity of the seminar for the firm delivering it.

The slides that are most able to keep my attention are slides with a lot of visual appeal, and something that I need to figure out or have the speaker explain to me embedded in the content. So, for example, I love a good graph that contains something more than a simple “up and to the right” story. I’ll start by trying to figure it out myself, and also remain engaged with the speaker to hear the point that they want me to take from the chart. I also love a good built up slide, where the punch line is not displayed until the speaker gets to the point, because those keep me guessing long enough to remain engaged. These aren’t typically the highlights in a presentation delivered by a speaker who is physically in front of the room, but they work really well to keep me engaged during a webinar.

One last point on visual interest during webinars: pacing. Webinar speakers always lose my attention when they don’t move through their slides fairly quickly. Perhaps I’m too much a product of the TV generation, but when I am sitting alone and looking at a screen, whether it’s a computer or a TV, I have an expectation that the visual environment will change frequently. When it doesn’t, my attention turns to the work on my desk or some topic other than what’s on my screen. I recommend that webinar presenters try to cut their time per slide to about half what they would do if they were physically in front of their audience. That way, even if the slides themselves aren’t super visually interesting, the visual environment is changing at a pace that will maintain audience interest. This can be accomplished by increasing the number of slides, or cutting back on the prepared remarks, or some combination of both approaches. The key point is that a good webinar presentation does not use the exact same slide deck and script as a good presentation delivered in person. The presenter should re-work a presentation that was delivered in-person, before delivering it online.


Resources needed for a world-class social media program

I mentioned a Wetpaint/Altimeter study I had read in an earlier post, and thought I would post on one more topic from this report. At the end of the report, there are case studies from four firms whose social media programs were ranked highly in this study: Starbucks, Toyota, SAP and Dell. They represent a diversity of approaches to social media, but all provided their best practices that might be useful to other firms.

Key Learnings from these 4 World-Class Social Media Marketers

Significant internal advocacy is necessary to successfully launch a social media program. Starbucks, the highest ranking firm in this study, had the CEO introduce and advocate for its new program, along with an “everyday” advocate.

Engagement, by definition, needs to involve many people in the firm at different levels and in different functions. If you delegate it to a few social media experts, they aren’t credible to the audience, and their programs aren’t scalable. SAP, the 9th ranked firm in this study, has 35 employees dedicated to social media, and also 1500 employee bloggers and 400 employees actively publishing content in other forms, including personal Twitter accounts that discuss the activities of the firm. Starbucks has 6 employees in its social media group, and they reach out to others for input, rather than empowering the others to engage personally. Toyota does the same with 3 employees. Dell delegates some social media responsibility throughout the firm so that those employees have direct exposure to what is being said in that channel, rather than having it filtered through a central group.

Different channels require different resources. Programs in certain channels, like Twitter, are organized around a concept of immediacy that requires full-time attention from a dedicated employee. Other channels, like blogs, can be attended to with less frequency, and with more than one voice, and so lend themselves nicely to delegation throughout the company.

World-class firms largely started with one channel and built confidence and skills there before moving on to the next channel. For every one thing they did right, there were likely one or more that they didn’t do right, and had to take down.

Once you’re engaged in social media, you can’t pull out. Unlike traditional media, where you can walk away from campaigns that aren’t working for you, you’ll need to stay engaged in social media and figure out how to make it work for your firm.

If you would like to read all about these four companies’ approach to social media, the report is here.


Is social media driving revenue?

I read an interesting study yesterday produced by Wetpaint and Altimeter that showed that a company’s use of social media is highly correlated with its financial success. The study started with a group of 100 companies found in the BusinessWeek/Interbrand “Best Global Brands 2008.” After eliminating the private companies from this list, and any other companies for which the researchers couldn’t get financial data, there were 66 top brands left in the study.

The researchers counted the number of social media channels that each of these companies were involved in, and assigned an engagement score to their level of involvement in each channel. The methodology for how the engagement score was calculated wasn’t really spelled out in this report. I suspect it’s the “secret sauce” they are selling as consultants. They then plotted each of these companies on a graph showing the depth and breadth of their involvement in social media. This suggested that there were four sub-groups in the study population:

    Mavens: brands that are engaged in seven or more channels and have an above-average engagement score.
    Butterflies: brands that are engaged in seven or more channels and have a below-average engagement score.
    Selectives: brands that are engaged in six or fewer channels and have an above-average engagement score.
    Wallflowers: brands that are engaged in six or fewer channels and have a below-average engagement score.

The most important finding of this study was that the firms that operated in the most social media channels and had the highest level of engagement in those channels, the Mavens, experienced the highest level of revenue growth, gross margin growth and net margin growth over the prior 12 month period, as compared to the other groups.

One might think that this is merely a function of industry, and there were some industry differences, but there were many industries represented in the Maven group, and they all outperformed their industry peers whose involvement in social media was less. So, the researchers concluded that the difference is explained by social media activities and not industry.

Of course, correlation is not causation, but I thought the study was interesting nonetheless. Clearly these firms are doing something right, to have experienced such consistent growth in this difficult economy.

If you would like to read the Wetpaint/Altimeter research report, you can find it here.

If you prefer a more interactive experience, or would like to see how your firm measured up in this study, you might be interested in visiting the website associated with the report, which is here.


What does Web 2.0 have to do with burritos?

I have noticed lately that the expression “Web 2.0″ has died away. Marketers now talk about the various channels that were developed as a result of that concept (e.g. blogs, wikis, social networks, online games, virtual worlds, viral messaging, consumer generated messaging), more than the concept itself.

Web 2.0 shifted marketing’s focus on the internet from firms sharing their best static information to virtual communities - some of which involve the firm, and some of which do not - creating new and better information and experiences by sourcing from throughout the community. This has historically been a “no go” zone for marketers, because they fear that they will lose control over their messages, and perhaps face some unintended consequences. But the improved applications, widespread consumer adoption of the technologies and challenging economy in 2009 has caused many marketers to overcome those fears and start down this path.

To date, it seems the B-to-C companies have gone farther down this path, and been more successful with the tools, than the B-to-B companies, but that may be more a question of visibility than ability. Some consumer brands have tried virtually everthing in an attempt to learn the tools of the trade. Other consumer brands appear to be taking a more conservative approach, for instance encouraging their customers to produce user generated content, but keeping it in the form of a positive experience structured by the marketers, and at least somewhat in control of the marketers.

For example, Chipotle is currently soliciting user-generated content about their customers’ favorite meals at the chain restaurant. They have set up a special section on their website, called where customers can upload their content, and post comments on other user generated content. This positive structure, soliciting content on only the customers’ favorite meals, not on any aspect of the Chipotle experience, puts some control back into the hands of the marketers. I don’t work at Chipotle, but as a marketer, I’m guessing they would also not post, or take down after auto-posting, any inappropriate or negative content or comment submitted to this site. This further enhances marketer control, and likely gave the Chipotle marketers the confidence to go down this path.

So, aside from being relatively safe, why is this a win? Well, Chipotle probably spent very little on this program, other than the store merchandising that advertised that they were doing this. They got a lot of great content, that is being used to promote their brand online. This content was not only cheap, but is also highly credible, because it comes straight from their customers’ mouths, without any editing by the company. All brands benefit fairly directly from positive testimonials from their customers. In addition to the direct benefits, there is likely also a indirect benefit of this program in terms of market research. I suspect Chipotle is mining the submissions for ideas for great new products, promotions and messages that they can leverage to further inspire their customers and attract new customers. That’s a lot of benefit for a fairly small upfront investment, so their ROI on this program is likely pretty high.

I know I’ll be contributing to Chipotle’s ROI today. After checking out a bunch of their user generated content for this post, there’s no way I’m eating anywhere else today.


Maintaining balance in your marketing skillset

I mentioned in an earlier post that I am currently reading The Marketing Accountability Imperative, Driving Superior Returns on Marketing Investments by Michael E. Dunn and Chris Halsall. Yesterday, I read a passage about the “Four Compentency Domains” that got me thinking about how marketing managers manage their groups, and how marketers manage their careers.

The Four Compentency Domains in the book are: Strategy, Creativity, Execution and Analytics. The authors make the case that great marketing requires strength in all four areas, and the people who work in all four areas must be willing to take inputs from, and share their outputs with, the people in the other three areas. Makes sense. They also make the case that many companies have a greater strength in one or two of these areas, than in the others, which can lead to less effective marketing.

I’ve held marketing leadership positions in four companies during my career: Advent Software, Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, and Chevron. The marketers in each of these companies, or at least the departments I worked in, had a diversity of strengths and weaknesses as individuals, but as a group, tended to be stronger in one or two of these competency areas than the others. For example, the department where I worked in Wells Fargo was highly analytical. I’m convinced that I worked with some of the best analytical minds in financial services marketing. We also were amazing at execution. We wrote incredible marketing briefs, that were perfectly aligned with our strategy, found creative vendors who could cost-effectively deliver the requirements in the briefs, and always executed our programs on time, and on budget. The group was like a well oiled machine, and our efforts were rewarded as the business grew over the years. I didn’t think about it at the time, but it’s likely also true that my old group at Wells Fargo was less strategy-oriented, and less creative than it could have been. We were certainly successful, but we may have left money on the table because of our bias toward analysis and execution quality.

So how did this happen? Well, I suspect it relates to the strengths of the leader of the group. We had an amazing woman in charge of that group, who we all still look to as a mentor and friend. Her strengths were definitely analytical and operational. She likely hired people who were already oriented in that way (I certainly am). To the extent that she hired folks who were more creative or strategic, they likely quickly adapted to the culture of the group, and took advantage of the opportunity to round out their skillset by building their analytical and operational skills. Or, perhaps some felt that we were too analytical and operational, and left the group. I’m not sure, but over time, we were left with a lot of like-minded people, who didn’t focus perhaps as much as we should have on the weaker of our competencies, strategy and creativity.

I have since managed groups in this same way, playing to my/our strengths, and maximizing the value we can glean from those competencies, without a focused effort to build competency, or better integrate with folks who have competency, in the areas where we are weak. I suspect that I, too, have left money on the table using this approach.

Marketers as individuals may manage their careers in a similar way, seeking (or getting) opportunities that play to their strengths, and not really focusing on achieving balance between these four competencies. This may lead to being an expert in a particular competency, but likely will not lead toward being a leader who produces great marketing overall. Depending on one’s career ambitions, that may be OK. I, personally, aspire to be a CMO some day, and so it clearly won’t be OK for me. I’ll need to make sure that I have clear competency in all four areas, and strive daily to balance the four competencies within my group, so that we, collectively, can produce great marketing.

If you would like to read more about this topic, check out the book here.


Is influence marketing the future?

With the rise of social media in recent years, some have suggested that influence marketing is the most important skillset for marketers going forward. A few in this group have even gone so far as to say that influence marketing will replace traditional marketing some day. I’m not so sure that’s true, but I certainly will agree that influence marketing has an important place in a marketer’s toolkit, whether it is done through social media or more traditional channels.

I was first exposed to influence marketing early in my career, when I held a low level position in a Wall Street firm. When we had a security underwriting that was complex and expected to be difficult to sell, we didn’t just take it to market as we would a more straightforward offering, but rather shopped it around among key influencers in that marketplace first. The influencers in this case were largely employees of institutional money managers, folks who regularly spoke to money managers and ultra-affluent individaul investors about upcoming investment opportunities. Our tools of the trade in those days were in-person meetings and overhead projectors and plastic sheets with graphs printed on them, not social media.

In many businesses, influence marketing is still done through in-person meetings. The technologies used for these meetings have changed a bit, of course, now involving Powerpoint, laptops and projectors, or, in some cases, web-conferencing. But the most important aspect of this strategy — the ability to establish and nurture a personal relationship with the influencer — hasn’t changed at all. In my most recent position, at Advent Software, influence marketing was done through traditional influencers (e.g. industry analysts, and media dedicated to the industry), and also through non-traditional influencers (e.g. large hedge funds and fund administrators, implementation consultants). In both cases, the goal was the same, to educate and inform these key influencers about Advent’s products and services, and build a personal relationship with them so that they felt comfortable recommending Advent to their clients/readers. Largely, this strategy was effected through in-person meetings.

Many companies, particularly those that operate in a broader market space than Advent, have now moved on to using social media as their tool of choice for influence marketing. It is a great way to identify influencers who wouldn’t already be known by your company. It’s also a great way to build relationships with many small-sized influencers, in markets where there aren’t just a few respected authorities. Social media can also help you improve your relationships with known influencers, in that it can increase your perceived transparency when you release information to all of them at once, and can provide a forum for the influencers to speak to each other about your products and services, which many will perceive as value-add. It wouldn’t be cost-effective for you to do these things without social media, so social media has expanded your influence marketing opportunities in at least these key ways. That said, I don’t think it will replace other forms of communication (e.g. in-person meetings, phone calls, emails) anytime soon. Real, not virtual, personal relationships will still dominate the world of influence marketing for some time to come.


Reasons you want a strong brand

In an economy like this, I know it is sometimes hard to convince yourself or your management that you should be investing in your company’s brand. It is often hard to a return on brand investment, and when revenues are falling, investments without a measurable ROI tend to be the first cut. No need to get discouraged, however. I am currently reading a great book that lists 10 benefits of a strong brand. These may not all be important to your company at the present moment, but I’m sure that some of them are key to helping your company emerge from this recession unscathed. They are:

  • The ability to grow faster than the market — by stealing share from competitors or by earning the trust needed to expand usage occasions.
  • The ability to price at a premium — particularly when your goods or services are functionally undifferentiated.
  • Lower customer acquisition and retention costs — which means you don’t have to bribe new customers to join you or existing customers to stay with you.
  • The ability to leverage your equity into new margin pools — customer permission to extend your brand into contiguous categories and beyond.
  • The freedom to reject less attractive customers — or at least price them according to their real value (net of the cost to serve them).
  • Greater influence over intermediaries — who must offer you their customers and collaborate with your strategies to be successful.
  • The ability to win the war for talent — attracting a stronger cadre of staff, who will in turn create superior value for the company.
  • The resilience to survive catastrophes — Tylenol is the classic example of a brand strong enough to rebound after an unexpected PR disaster.
  • Higher share prices — investors are willing to pay more to acquire your stock and are more likely to hold on to it despite temporary dips in earnings.
  • The ability to command a higher transaction multiple — creating either more value for shareholders or greater freedom to spurn unattractive suitors.
  • If you are interested in reading more about this, the book is The Marketing Accountability Imperative, Driving Superior Returns on Marketing Investments, by Michael E. Dunn and Chris Halsall, 2009. I took the list above from pages 37 and 38. You can learn more about their book here.


    Hiring great marketers

    I am currently looking for work, which got me thinking about the hiring process, and how little it has changed in the 20 years I have been working. Most hiring managers still rely on the intuition they form about a candidate during the interview, and a careful read of a candidate’s resume to make their hires. That’s certainly how I have hired people over the years, and also how I have been hired. Sometimes, that approach produces the right person for the job, but accoding to Geoff Smart and Randy Street in Who: The A Method for Hiring, about 50% of the time it does not result in making the right hire. So what will work? The authers suggest the following methodology.

  • Write a scorecard before you even post the job, and shop it around among key decision-makers internally to be sure that you are all aligned around the definition of success for this job. The scorecard should detail a set of outcomes and competencies that define the job done well. They include the current mission for the position, 3-8 outcomes that must be accomplished to succeed, and competencies that fit with both the culture of the company and the role. This isn’t a job description, but rather includes specific measurable goals that the person must accomplish to succeed in the role. It changes each time you fill the role, and so can’t be re-used over and over again like a job description. Once you have hired for the role, it also forms the basis for performance evaluations. That way, both you and the candidate can be sure that expectations were appropriately set during the interview process.
  • Source potential hires continuously, whether you have open jobs or not. This will make hiring the right person a lot easier when you do have an open position, because you will already know some candidates for the role, and can reach out to them to generate interest, rather than posting the job and hoping the right people respond. Talented people know talented people, so source from talented people in your personal and professional networks, your employees, customers and suppliers, and professional recruiters. Ask them all a simple question: “who are the most talented people you know that I should hire?” Then follow up with those people, dedicating maybe half-an-hour a week to buiding your network of talented potential hires.
  • Select the right people using a series of structured interviews that are designed to gather the information needed to complete the scorecard. I don’t have enough space to go into this step in any detail here, but the authors recommend 4 structured interviews as follows: a phone screen, an in-person “topgrading” interview, a focused interview, and a reference interview. They provide specific questions to ask in each interview. To my eye, the point of these interviews is to determine the candidate’s motivation and patterns of behavior, by asking questions in a way that forces a greater level of honesty than what hiring managers typically see from candidates. They also advocate leaving no stone unturned, by probing a number of levels deeper around each topic of interest.
  • Sell your selected candidates on the company, role, location, etc. This involves communicating directly with the candidate how they fit into the company’s vision, expressing concern for how the job might impact their family, assuring the candidate that they will have an appropriate amount of freedom to do the job well in their own way, explaining how the job will contribute to the family’s financial security and how much fun/enjoyment/satisfaction you think the candidate will get from the job. Once these points are well understood, your candidate should be excited to join the team. This sort of selling is not something you tack on at the end of the process, but rather what you do throughout the process to build a candidates confidence that the role makes sense for them.
  • My first reaction to this process, was “wow, that sounds like it would take a lot of time, which most hiring managers don’t have.” I gather others have responded that way too, as it is explicitly addressed in the book. Apparently, because very few candidates actually go through the whole process, and most are eliminated early on, this actually takes hiring managers less time than the old intuitive methods that they are using today. This hiring methodology has been used thousands of times, and the book is loaded with testimonials from hiring managers who felt it both took less time and produced a better hire than the old method. So, I’m eager to try it next time I’m in a position to hire.

    To read more about Geoff Smart and Randy Street’s A Method for Hiring, go here.


    What’s the point of this blog?

    As a new blogger, I’ve spent a little time thinking about why I want to blog, and the topics on which I plan to blog.

    Why I Want to Blog
    The why is easy. I have been in marketing for over 15 years, and over that time, I have learned a lot about brand marketing, product marketing and all the traditional and newer marketing channels, like events, advertising, public relations, web, direct mail, email, and telemarketing. In recent years, it seems like the pace of change in the marketing field has accelerated, and a number of new tools have been introduced. Marketers as a group need all the help we can get to stay on top of our game in this environment, and still be perceived as necessary and valuable. It wouldn’t be fair for me to take learnings from others, and not contribute in any way myself. So, after reading other people’s blogs for awhile, I have finally decided to start my own.

    The Topics on Which I Plan to Blog
    Given the pace of change in this space, it’s possible that I don’t yet really know what I’ll be blogging about a year or two from now. Having said that, here are the topics I think I’ll start with:

      Marketing strategy
      Marketing leadership
      Brand marketing
      Product marketing
      Demand generation
      Marketing operations

    This list should leave me plenty of room to find and/or create great resources on a regular basis. So, please check back, and watch as this blog grows over time.

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