November 22, 2014

How much do you “charge” for your content?

Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
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Okay, so it’s difficult to actually pull money out of buyers for your marketing content (though there are rare exceptions: McKinsey has been doing it for years with the McKinsey Quarterly).

Yet while generally we can’t put a price tag on our content, we do charge for it. The price is the forms we make people fill out to download white papers or sign up for events. Trouble is, we take a one-price-for all approach to our content.

That has to change.

In many cases, we’re charging too much for our content and in other cases not enough. For example, there is no way that the typical Webinar is worth as much as an in-depth research report, yet we make buyers give us the same amount of information for both—we charge them the same price.

Make no mistake; buyers understand the prices behind marketing content. We’re the ones who don’t pay enough attention to it. Here are the components of the price from the buyer’s perspective:

  • Time. They have to spend time filling out the form and predict the amount of time they will need to absorb the content—and probably deal with the emails and calls from pesky salespeople after the fact.
  • Privacy. Buyers understand that they give away a piece of their privacy every time they fill out a form and engage with content.
  • Intention. Buyers want the most valuable content they can get. They decide how to reveal about their intentions based on the value of the content to them. They may also assume that a higher level of intent will net them more valuable content either in terms of quantity or depth.
  • Hierarchy. Buyers are all-too aware of their positions in the chain of command. Those lower down on the corporate ladder are more willing to “spend” their information because they realize that it has less value than those higher up, whose buying power gives them more information riches combined with less willingness to spend it (kind of like rich people in the real economy).
  • Access. Buyers understand that there are different levels of access to content depending on certain factors. They don’t always know what those factors are, but they value access enough to lie. For example, many assume that a higher level of buying intent will get them more goodies, so they say they are ready to buy when they aren’t. Many also assume that if they say that they are vice president instead of a director that they will receive better content and probably better treatment overall.
  • Relationship. This price is one that high-level executives have been calculating for years as providers woo them with memberships in customer councils and invitations to private events. But it’s less familiar to lower-level buyers, who are only beginning to calculate this piece as the economics of social media open up the privileges of relationship from cheesy tchotckes at trade shows to online social networks.
  • Account history. Buyers assume that the price of content will change depending on the number of times they have engaged with you. Even the most basic lead scoring mechanism raises the price of content as buyers consume more of it—i.e., If you download two white papers a week for a month, you should expect a call from a salesperson. Buyers get that—or at least they will probably see the logic in the pricing.
  • Culture and location. Culture, both corporate and social, affects the price that buyers are willing to pay for content. For example, research shows that Europeans value their privacy more than Americans—meaning that their information may cost you more. And some companies have disclosure rules that make it hard for their executives to participate on customer advisory boards.

The price will change
We should evaluate our content pricing models to see if we’re charging the right amounts. We should expect those prices to change as social media takes hold among buyers. For example, 99.9% of the links I click on in Twitter take me directly to the content advertised in the tweets. And when there is a gate, most Twitterers take the precious real estate needed to say that registration is necessary. Just as the web has gutted the business model of publishing it has also reduced the price of marketing content. It has also changed the scope of our content process, as Jon Miller points out here.

Mobile raises the price
But the price can go up, too. That possibility hit home with me this week as I read Steve Woods’ post about the B2B implications of the iPad. Steve points out, among other things, that the richer environment of the iPad could revive the “print” advertising market.

As publishers are able to present content that doesn’t look like crap like it does on a web browser, they can charge more and advertisers can grab more attention. And the multimedia possibilities mean that subscribers to the New York Times might be willing to pay for that embedded video interview with Lady GaGa.

No doubt marketers can also charge a higher price for a white paper that embeds a video case study or a how-to in a great looking media environment. I’m not sure whether the iPad is that environment or not, but we all know that some kind of portable media device will replace our dead-tree publications if the experience is as good or better than we can have with print.

And no doubt the location abilities of mobile devices like the iPad and smartphones will also raise the price we can charge for marketing content. CK Kerley and I went back and forth on this issue as she prepared an excellent piece about how mobile will affect B2B.

My thinking is that we’re so busy assuming that we need to bang down the door to reach buyers that we forget that sometimes they actually want to be found—not necessarily by us but by each other. By acting as a matchmaker at events and perhaps by creating communities with location-based functions, we can help them find each other and get to market to them as the price of fostering the connection.

What are they willing to “pay?”
So there is a price for marketing content. Maybe I’m focusing too much on semantics, but I think lead scoring only gets it half right. We assign points to buyers based on their actions, but we don’t think about it from their perspective. Lead scores don’t ask, “But what are they willing (and happy) to pay for our content?

Thinking about a pricing model for content also helps us target our content to the specific segments of the buying process. I talk more about how we need to vary the amount of information we take from buyers in this post, but the idea that there is a price to be charged and paid makes it clearer in my mind.

How about you?

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Why the volume and quality of interactions with customers has to pass for social media ROI

Google Analytics - Number Nerd
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I wish I could say that social media leads to sales. I really do. But I can’t. And I haven’t encountered anyone else who can either, have you? So when we think about social media ROI, we need to make a leap of faith. We need to believe that more engagement between our companies and the people we want to reach is a good thing that ultimately leads to sales—but down a long, narrow, winding path with a few jumps between cliffs thrown in there.

To make ourselves feel a little more comfortable with this idea, we may need to categorize social media with something whose hazy ROI we’re more familiar and comfortable with: PR.

There have been research attempts made to uncover and evaluate methods for measuring the ROI of PR. But you’re not going to like them.

Jumping through ROI hoops
Techniques include measuring the:

  • Value of impressions. We track the marketing mix (including PR) over time against trends in sales. Lots of variables there.
  • Return on media impact. This is the number of articles or blog posts that mention the product or service measured against the trend in sales. Again, tough to isolate PR’s role.
  • Value of earned media. This is what it would cost to place an ad in a magazine vs. the cost of getting the story placement. The PR cost is usually less and the value is usually larger, but by how much? Old beliefs about the relative value of earned media vs. advertising are all over the map—and probably need to be revised in the age of social media.

But ROI has to be there, right?
Still, we know in our bones that positive word of mouth has a positive effect on sales. We just have a hard time proving it. The only effective argument I’ve heard recently is that we embed calls to action in social media that drive readers to a landing page where we capture their information and start nurturing them as leads. But without good systems for tracking those leads from social media all the way through a sale, it’s difficult and expensive to do. And it leads back to the problem we have with PR. Did the social media impression really lead to the sale?

As with PR, perhaps all we can do is establish that social media was at least a guidepost along that narrow rocky path to a sale.

Volume and quality of interactions
So if you buy that leap of logic, let’s say that blogs are another channel, like PR, in a marketing mix designed to familiarize customers and prospects with our companies and us. And if that’s true, then we should try to increase the volume and quality of interactions with have with customers and prospects through social media, no?

That’s when things start to get easier. We can more easily measure engagement in social media. Especially on blogs.

For this reason, I think we need to think about blogs as the center point of a social media strategy. Aside from the corporate, a blog is the mother ship of social media interaction and content. And blogs are really measurable. In fact, we can do a lot of it for free. Here are some metrics, mostly for blogs, that help build engagement with customers and prospects. Please tell me what I should add or take away. And if you have the magic sauce for social media ROI, please douse us with it!

(For much more on the social media ROI topic, see this terrific list of resources compiled by Robin Broitman at Interactive Insights Group called the Social Media Metrics Superlist.)

  • Connect to your most important keywords. SEO is really a fancy term for constructing your sentences carefully—especially your headlines. If the intention of your blog is to drive traffic to your main website for lead generation, then you should be using the keywords on your blog that matter most on your website. To oversimplify it, if you want to sell more ERP software, you should use keywords like “enterprise software,” a lot on your blog so that Google associates your blog with your company’s area of expertise.
  • Grow the number of influential referral sites. “Owning” a keyword term in Google searches is nice, but building traffic to your blog through references on other blogs and websites is the key to sustained, long-term growth. Obviously, the more influential the referral site the better. But we’re not talking just sheer numbers here. For example, being listed on the blogroll of a highly respected blogger, analyst, or journalist not only generates traffic; it also establishes you as an authority among the people who care most about the subject you’re blogging about. That authority begins to have exponential effects over time. You and your posts are referred to more often as the network of referrals grows. The growth in traffic then confers its own authority—you get lots of visits so you must be smart. It becomes a virtuous cycle.
  • Don’t forget the outbound links. We all tend to obsess over the number of mentions with get in blog rolls or our influence rank in Technorati. But we often don’t stop to think about whether we’re linking to anyone else’s blog. One of the cornerstones of social media is sharing. Be generous with links to other blogs and websites and others will return the favor and build your traffic for you.
  • Understand the location of your audience. In Google analytics, you can drill down by country—even by city—to see where your traffic comes from. Comparing the geographical distribution of your blog to your company’s website should give you a sense of whether your blog is hitting with the same areas of the world as your website. It could also reveal potential new areas of focus for your salespeople.
  • Measure endurance. Good blogs hold people to the page they’re viewing. So time spent is metric to track to see if people spend more time reading over time. Bounce rate is a good metric for websites because it helps show whether people are finding what they’re looking for. But it’s not so good for blogs because blogs generally only have one or two pages—a page for the posts and a page for “about me” or “contact me—so the bounce rate is going to be higher for blogs by default. You read the post, you leave. Google analytics also has a metric for loyalty—the numbers of repeat visits over time—that shows whether people are sticking with you.
  • Find and nurture your VIPs. It’s hard to measure the number of people who care about and are really influenced by your blog. So I apply the old subscription model. If people care enough to want to know when your next post comes out, they are engaged. If they also comment on your blog, they are friends. Make a list of the people who subscribe to your blog through RSS and e-mail and match them up to your comments. Those who both subscribe and comment regularly are your VIPs. RSS+comments=VIP. These are the people who matter; they should receive responses to all their comments and an e-mail thanking them for being such a valuable collaborator. If they happen to also be customers, then all the better. But just don’t try to sell them. They know where to find you.
  • Use Twitter for blog PR. If Twitter isn’t one of your highest-ranking referral sites, you’re not using it properly. Twitter is the logical front end to a blog post. It’s where you distill the post down to a nugget and put a link next to it. There are even tools like Tweet This, that can be set up to send a tweet based on the title of your post automatically. Or a tweet can be the inspiration for a blog post later on. Regardless, blogs and Twitter accounts should be joined at the hip, because Twitter is a powerful traffic builder to blogs.
  • Use URL shorteners to gauge subject interest. By using a URL shortener like bit.ly within a Tweet, you can track how many people click on the content link you offer in your tweets. Sure, the language of your tweet counts in building interest, but if you link to content that is directly related to your tweet, it’s a good gauge of how popular the subject is among your followers.
  • Use social networks as water coolers and newsstands. LinkedIn and Facebook have groups where you can post elements of your blog post as a question, or post the entire thing as a news item. Track the number of comments and views to the things you post. The numbers aren’t too big here generally, as the group tools on these sites are crude and many group leaders don’t spend much time filtering out the self-promoting jerks that litter these things with spam. But it’s a way to expose your blog to new faces and engage in dialog away from the blog.
  • Build cross-referencing across social media tools. No social media tool is an island. All should cross-reference each other at every opportunity. So for example, your blog comments on other’s blogs should contain your Twitter handle and a link to your blog. The communities you belong to should all Your LinkedIn profile should display your most recent posts and tweets, and your blog should display all of the above. There’s no real way to measure all this from what I can tell, but it isn’t hard and it can’t hurt.
  • Embed and measure calls to action. If we can get people to a landing page, we should. Social media offer plenty of opportunities for doing that. And sometimes social media becomes the end in itself. For example, the landing page could be for a LinkedIn group you manage rather than the traditional white paper, newsletter, or Webinar. Social media gives us ways to build relationships with customers that white papers or newsletters can’t.

What do you think?

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Social media isn’t enough. We need a marketing transformation.

During one of the first few days I went to work at CIO magazine in 1995, I had what we called a “vendor visit”—one of many I would have in the coming years. The idea behind the visits was to avoid having us journos become isolated in our ivory tower. We needed to hear from marketers who were out there day-to-day listening to CIOs’ problems and aspirations. Plus, many were advertisers, so the visits made it seem like we weren’t completely ignoring what they had to say.

But mostly we were.

Back then what marketers had to say was all about their offerings. And why not? The IT industry was on fire and the stuff was flying out the doors. Marketers and salespeople didn’t have to do much coaxing to get CIOs to buy, so why get complicated?

But a quick read of our magazine showed that we didn’t write about products. We wrote about the typical concerns of a C-level executive, such as strategy, leadership, organizational design, and change management. Kind of a Fortune magazine for IT executives.

Bibles, vacuums, and boxes
But the vendors had little need to engage with CIOs at that kind of level. And the guy that showed up to see me that day was a representation of the times. Big, stony-faced and intimidating, with a lapsed football player’s gut and a big school ring buried into one of his fingers. He wasn’t a marketer, but he had been sent by a marketer, who hadn’t bothered to accompany him or even send an agency PR person for translation and kind supplication. So much for hearing about the latest strategic trends affecting CIOs.

This guy was a salesman. Could have been bibles or vacuum cleaners, but they didn’t need sales guys for that stuff anymore. They needed guys to take orders for these boxes. He swung his expanded briefcase up onto the table, pulled out a media kit bulging with press releases about speeds and feeds and plunked it down on the table in front of me. “That’s for you,” he said. Then he launched into a pitch, delivered in a tone and with an expression that made it clear that this time could be money in his pocket if it wasn’t for me.

For my part, I made sure I conveyed the same body language, while choosing the chair nearest the door. I counted the minutes (these things go even more slowly when you have to listen).

Michael Jordan and the baseball bat
When it finally ended he said something that I’ve never forgotten. As he grandiosely snapped the buckles on the briefcase and dragged it off the table, he snorted, “CIO magazine, huh? Why don’t you have CIOs writing it?”

At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t just wasting his time. In his mind, I shouldn’t even have been working there. Given my minimal knowledge of IT at the time, I guess he had a point.

But it was clear that he had no concept of how difficult it is to write clear, compelling content about complex subjects. Assuming CIOs would be willing to accept the pay cut, and smart and determined as they are, I’m certain that few have the talent for or interest in the publishing process.

What am I paying for?
Marketers today are in the same position I was with that sales guy in 1995: Wondering how to explain the value and difficulty of creating clear, compelling content about a complex subject.

Except that today many of those sales guys are gone. Today, more salespeople are able to have business and strategy discussions with customers and take the time to listen to their needs. Thus, their skepticism becomes sharper and more justified. If I can do all this in a sales call now, why do I need you?

At ITSMA, we’ve seen investments in the things that we used to identify as the key contributions of marketing—like advertising, brochures, events, and trade shows—shrink consistently. And today we’re seeing marketing budgets as a percentage of revenue dipping to their lowest levels ever—at or below 1%.

Businesses are asking if you’re not doing all these things you used to do anymore, why should I give you more budget? And if I do, what am I paying for?

The model needs transforming
Pledging to do more with social media isn’t the answer. What we need to be telling the business is that we’re going to transform marketing completely. Getting into social media really means getting into publishing. It means creating a constant stream of idea-based content that keeps buyers interested and engaged. That’s hard, and it means a real shift in skills for many marketing departments.

I think the suspicion that we see of social media, which is justified, is mixed with fear. Let’s identify that fear so that marketers will have an easier time making the transition. I think it’s fear that the hardest aspect of marketing, content development, is ascending to become marketing’s most important role, as advertising, traditional PR, and events shrink and fall away.

The content engine
Marketing departments are going to have to transform themselves into content development engines. And just as important, they are going to have to sell the value of that engine to their businesses to prevent further cuts to the budget. As McKinsey consultant David Edelman said at the ITSMA annual conference last November, we can’t make social media an add-on to a system that isn’t adding the value that it once did. We need to look at how to do things differently.

Here are some of the key aspects of that transformation:

  • Marketing is becoming data. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of ads in the old days, but the CEO saw the ads and signed off on them, so that made it okay. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of events and trade shows, but sales people saw the crowds at the booth and the bar and so it didn’t matter. But as we shift to a content focus, it is all online and its impact is invisible. There is no visual, visceral confirmation of its impact. But a white paper isn’t just content; it is data. It can be tracked and measured.
  • Automation creates metrics. We tear our hair out trying to devise metrics that we can’t report on because we don’t have the data. If we automate the processes that matter, the metrics we need will be staring us in the face.
  • The funnel becomes electric. The impact of our content will be visible if that content is linked to an automated, closed-loop lead process. Getting agreement with sales on a sales-ready lead is critical. And with all the SaaS-enabled software available today, there’s no excuse for not automating the lead management process—at least up to the point where marketing hands over sales-ready leads. You don’t even need to involve IT anymore. And the excuse that these systems don’t integrate with old CRM systems is becoming less and less valid. If the vendors can’t help with the integration, IT can. Marketing needs a better relationship with IT.
  • Content creates relationships. It isn’t enough to develop idea-driven content and ship it out; we have to redesign the creation and dissemination processes so that readers are lured into conversations and relationships. This is where social media tools are helpful. But developing and disseminating content that builds relationships—think publishers and subscribers—takes different skills.
  • Buyers become approachable. After consolidating their power for years through internet search, B2B buyers are beginning to emerge from behind their firewalls and show up in places where marketers can find them. We have to meet them halfway. That requires a culture shift in the company and new skills for marketers and employees.
  • PR becomes conversation. We’re all PR now. Employees, subject matter experts and marketers all need to represent the company, but in a way that is transparent, constructive, and cordial. PR people meanwhile should use their thick skins and relationship skills to help build the conversation in social media. But it means shaking up the PR department and our relationships with PR agencies.

At ITSMA, we’re calling 2010 the year of marketing transformation. We wouldn’t use such grandiose terms if we didn’t see a real need for change. When she saw the trend in the numbers that we prepare our annual budget study, my colleague Julie Schwartz asked an important question: “Do we want to spend another year doing more with less? Marketing has to do things differently.”

We’re going to offer more specific on how marketers should make this transformation backed up by selected data from the 2010 survey at our webcast, The Year of Marketing Transformation: ITSMA’s 2010 State of the Profession Address on January 26.

In the meantime, do you agree that marketing needs a complete transformation? If so, how would you do it?

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There is only one objective in social media: create learning networks

There is too much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about social media objectives and strategy these days. We all assume that our organizations are unique and that we must devote great sums of time and money to figuring out what our particular motivation is for social media and how we will carry it out.

We’re wired as humans to believe that we are each unique and different—indeed, this perception shoulders the bulk of our self-esteem. And yes, we are all unique. A little. But in most things, we’re the same and we can usually acknowledge that.

Not in our businesses, though. In the course of hundreds of interviews with companies over my career, the “yes but we’re different” mantra was a familiar refrain. Companies that made commodity products would tell me with straight faces that even their financial processes were unique—GAAP be damned—and that they needed to customize their software to fit “our ways of doing things.” This also meant they paid millions extra in consulting fees to change the software and millions more the next time they wanted to upgrade their software.

I find that we’re applying the same logic to social media. Let’s sit down and figure out our unique objectives and strategies before we do anything.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have objectives and strategies for social media. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t assume, as we do by default, that ours are much different from anyone else’s.

There is only one objective in social media and it is common across all companies—even across the infamous divide between B2B and B2C: Create learning networks.

And there is only one strategy for carrying out this objective: Find people who are good at developing and disseminating ideas to contribute to and facilitate those networks.

That’s it.

What is a learning network?
The reason I say this is that another hard-wired part of us is the desire to learn. And learning is integral to buying—especially in B2B. Recommend products and services that you haven’t thoroughly researched and you will most likely be out of a job.

But it also applies in B2C. Toyota’s market share wasn’t built by Toyota’s marketing; it was built by Consumer Reports.

Every buyer wants to learn at all stages of the buying process. But no buyer wants to be sold during all stages of the buying cycle.

The purpose of social media is to create learning networks that buyers want to join. The enticements are ideas and education. That means social media are extensions of our content development and dissemination processes. By creating content that offers relevant, timely, and useful ideas and education for buyers at all stages of the buying process, we create the incentives for buyers to engage with us in conversation and community. Whether it’s blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, or private communities that we build ourselves, the common thread is that by focusing on learning we build and retain buyers’ interest.

Here are the key elements of learning networks:

  • Create an internal learning network. You need to build an internal network that focuses on identifying internal thought leaders and building alliances with external academics and customers who can help develop and test ideas. Primary and secondary research provides the inspiration for some ideas and the objective justification for others. Internal knowledge share sessions and reward and recognition programs provide the motivation for thought leaders to emerge inside the organization and help imbue a thought leadership mindset into the culture.
  • Create a content development process. Using ideas from the learning network, marketing needs to develop content. Marketers must become publishers, with a process for refining and presenting thought leadership content through various vehicles, (such as conference presentations, white papers, social media, etc.). Marketing needs professional content developers who know how to collaborate with thought leaders to develop clear, compelling packages. A calendar helps marketing plan out the frequency and focus of its output. Marketing needs to develop materials that are appropriate to each stage of the buying process, so that customers and salespeople can get the right information at the right time. Marketing and sales need to agree on the alignment of content to the different buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale.
  • Integrate the internal learning network and content processes with social media. Your internal learning network should integrate with the ones you want to build for customers. Internal thought leaders should use social media as a test bed and developing ground for ideas that they later disseminate in more polished form. So for example, a tweet or a posting in a LinkedIn forum leads to blog post, which leads to a video, which leads to a conference presentation, white paper, or private event for top customers.

If learning is the objective, the rest falls into place. Idea- and education-based content is the fuel for building community. The rest is promotion.

What do you think?

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