Intelligent versus brainless marketing


Gerry Brown, a Senior Analyst with Bloor Research, has just posted his ‘view from the floor’ at the recent Technology For Marketing & Advertising show at London’s Earls Court.

Ironies abound. A show devoted to cutting edge marketing developments was undermined in some quarters by silly attitudes:

The behaviour of some exhibition stand personnel was unexpected. Mentioning no names, some stands were manned by sales people who preferred to talk to each other rather than to customers. A product demonstration was mostly hard to get. To be fair, some stands were excellently managed, but many were not.

And do some people have ears?

Finally, the sales follow up. As an analyst, I am not buying. I really am “just looking”. One vendor’s follow up was: a sales email, a tele-sales call, and then 2 resellers rang me. Conversely, some vendors promised to send information and never did. Strangely the show’s organizers followed the former track — bombarding me with email messages “your last chance to register!” when I had done so months before. I got so paranoid I dug out my ticket to reassure myself I was not going mad!

These behaviors are disappointing as the show was about marketing, and marketing is about (amongst other things):

  1. crafting marketing messages that communicate competitive differentiation and uniqueness.
  2. engaging customers and stakeholders (which I was) in a positive, helpful, and congenial manner.
  3. listening to customer requirements and responding in a correct and appropriate manner.

Also curious that for all the current talk of building conversation and relationships:

The main focus at the show was Campaign Management, Email Marketing, CRM, and Digital / e-marketing. These can be perceived as “push” technologies i.e. more campaigns, more marketing messages to more desktops with more sales propositions. This is how the show’s organizers targeted me (see above). Luckily, most suppliers have now clearly recognized that the customer requirements are changing from volume marketing towards intelligent marketing.

And hard to argue with Gerry’s plea for more “intelligent marketing”

Intelligent marketing means using technology to be smarter and slicker at marketing processes. To be better at customer segmentation and targeting, better at marketing messaging delivered via the right mix of media and channels; better at engaging and tracking customers’ decision making processes, and better at delivering products and services via operationally excellent and seamless sales execution.

The Technology for Marketing industry has been too focused on customer acquisition, with too little focus on customer care. The balance is changing. However, marketing technology vendors themselves need to represent ‘best practice’ in marketing behaviors to be credible to potential ‘technology for marketing’ customers. The cobbler needs to ensure his children are well shod with good shoes to send the right message to potential customers. For those vendors that achieve this, there lies a rich vein of opportunity in the marketing marketplace.

Measuring the ROI of a blog post (or the Law of Unexpected Consequence)


The reaction to my post yesterday about Can Journalists Write Great Marketing Content has been interesting.

It is by no means my most widely read post (my snippet on Mike Magee’s last hurrah for PR gets that honour – though that one clearly benefited from a Stumbleupon recommendation). It has however generated comments from the likes of David Meerman Scott, Sally Whittle and Ian Betteridge. And as my blog posts get automatically posted to the Marcom Professional social network site, others have picked up on it there.

I also had a comment from Joe Pulizzi at Junta42 in the US – I’ve never had any dealings with Joe before, so I took a look at his website – and what do you know, there is some good content there. Indeed, he has a useful e-book on content marketing – which he is happy for people to freely share and distribute – so in the spirit of co-operation, here it is. Get Content, Get Customers – Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett

However, the really interesting feedback to yesterday’s post was in relation to a new business lead. We’d been recommended to someone and arranged to talk to them today. A few days earlier, I’d suggested checking out our website and my blog to get an idea of our approach and ethos. Speaking to our prospect this morning, they remarked how interesting this particular post had been – it also encouraged them to look at David Meerman Scott’s site and gave them a pile of ideas as to how they might approach PR and marketing.

Now at this stage, I’ve no idea if we will win this business or not. But even if we don’t, I’m sure that this person will recommend us to others.

So what has all this got to do with measuring the ROI of a blog post?

First, I hear from a lot of people who are very cautious and sceptical about the value of blogging and its ilk. They want to know what kind of return you will get for investing time and energy in this activity.

The point is, when I wrote this post, I could never have predicted the response it would get (and this is only in the space of 24 hours). My reward for spending, at most, 15 mins reading some RSS feeds and writing the subsequent post could be worth £000s of business. Even if this particular lead goes nowhere, it has helped to enhance our word of mouth reputation a little further. And brought to my attention useful info I probably would never have come across in any other way (and by definition, it brings it to the attention of my readers as well). So a kind of Law of Unexpected Consequence is at play here.

I don’t want to go too overboard about one blog post – but if someone asks you about blog ROI, ask them how they would best maximise 15 mins of their valuable marketing time. And then point them point here.

Can journalists write great marketing content?


David Meerman Scott clearly thinks so. In his latest post, he says:

“At every speech I give, I suggest one of the best ways to create great Web content is for companies to hire a journalist, either full or part time, to create it. Journalists (print or broadcast) are great at understanding an audience and developing information that buyers want to consume.” (My emphasis).

On a similar subject, Roy Greenslade at The Guardian points to former Sunday Telegraph editor Sarah Sands in her Independent on Sunday column:

“Once I stopped being a newspaper editor, I began to notice a discrepancy between the sorts of things journalists were interested in and what their readers liked. Journalists like crime and politics and sex. Readers care about gardening and, as it turns out, singing. The BBC series The Choir … has been one of the best things on television. There has been little fuss about it in the press, but at the school gates and in the garden centre it is very big news.”

Last year I was discussing an editorial promotion with one of the big financial trade mags – the ad sales guy was giving me the full sales pitch about reader demographics – I asked the editor for the rationale behind the editorial feature our client was being asked to support ie what rational basis did he have for choosing the subject matter. He cheerfully admitted it was “a gut feel” and he didn’t really know much about his readers at all. You could hear the ad guy audibly wince as we decided that perhaps this wasn’t something that we’d recommend our client spending thousands on – given the lack of hard evidence.

In summary, I don’t think journalists are automatically great at understanding audiences (and neither are PR and marketing people for that matter). I’ve often found that when journalists write PR or marketing copy they often produce something they think the customer wants ie full of the jargon and buzzwords they get subjected to themselves. Or when magazines try to do their own PR, it often falls into the traditional cliche they normally deride PRs for.

Truly understanding an audience is a lot harder than most people think – whether you are a journalist or a marketeer. However, proper investment in this area – backing it up with hard analysis and genuine listening – can reap rewards for hacks and flacks alike.

“Embrace digital till it hurts”: Chime Communications CEO


Well, almost. The latest Daryl Willcox digital PR video is now up – and according to Chime Communications CEO Chris Satterthwaite PR agencies should “embrace the digital world so firmly that sometimes some of your clients say you’re almost excluding everything else”.

Couldn’t agree more.

Why PR companies act like 3rd rate direct marketing agencies


Danny Bradbury has been having a problem getting PR companies to use his designated press release e-mail address. In many instances – and in spite of repeated polite requests – some PR firms continue to send press releases to the wrong e-mail address. As Danny says: “Some of these companies are well-intentioned, I’m sure. Judging from the silence, and the continued spray-and-pray press releases blasting to my old address, others simply don’t seem to give a damn.”

He also has had something of an epiphany: “What was interesting for me was the confirmation of something I already suspected — that many companies don’t have central press release distribution lists. They either seem to manage them on a client-by-client basis, or each executive has their own distribution list. This leads to a situation in which getting e-mail addresses changed with PR companies is like turning a supertanker around. It happens very slowly.”

I’d argue there are more fundamental underlying issues of which this problem is actually a symptom rather than the cause. Consider the following:

Q: Who starts PR companies?

A: People who previously worked for other PR companies.

Q: How are PR companies structured?

A: Most often, in pretty much the same way the founders’ previous agencies were structured.

In short, in spite of tinkering at the edges, the basic structure of PR agencies has remained fundamentally unchanged for decades. Here’s the typical PR agency growth pattern. A couple of people working at an existing agency go off to start their own business. Their motivation is usually a mix of feeling undervalued by their current employers and a belief that they could “do things better.” They proceed to start the new business, win some clients and then hire a few people. In spite of their original desire to do things differently, they end up using the one model they are used to – ie the one they got away from in the first place.

In practical terms, this means you end up with different account teams who are incentivised on the basis of the fees their group brings. The company may espouse a philosophy of openness and sharing – but in reality, unless senior management invests in ensuring the right values are understood and adhered to – it tends to encourage information hoarding. So account exec A finds out that journalist X has changed e-mail addresses or wants to be contacted in a certain way. Although he/she should update a centralised database, they keep it to themselves because they think it gives them some kind of advantage over other account groups.

This is clearly dysfunctional behaviour. So why does it continue to happen? There are a number of reasons:

- senior management are happy so long as they hit their revenue targets. So they ignore this dysfunctional behaviour. They will only bother about it when it appears to have a seriously detrimental impact on revenues.

- one of the curious paradoxes of PR companies working in the technology sector is that while they pump out information on behalf of their clients regarding best IT practice, etc, the number of agencies with a robust and properly documented data management strategy is rare.

- the odd journalist like Danny or Chris Anderson might complain about the situation, but until there is a radical revolt by hacks on a wide scale, there is no real motivation to do much about it.

In the end, many PR companies seem to treat press releases and media relations as a form of direct marketing – and do it in such a way that even a 3rd rate direct marketing agency would be embarrassed by. Bog standard things like opt-in, unsubscribe, data protection standards, etc seem to be resolutely ignored by many.

How long can this behaviour last?

As Danny says: “Add to this that most releases seem to be irrelevant to an awful lot of people, and it seems to me that press release distribution, which I suspect is a fundamental revenue generating proposition for many PR agencies, is becoming an increasingly pointless and irritating way of communicating with many journalists. I just wonder how long it will take the PR agencies’ clients to realise it.”

The only thing I’d disagree with here is that press release distribution itself is profitable – it isn’t the distribution that PR companies make money on, but the actual writing of the releases. In order to justify the fees they charge, the easiest thing in the book for an agency to recommend (or to agree with a client to do) is write a press release.

It has to be a key explanation for the volume of irrelevant releases that get sent to journalists.

And it is worth repeating from an earlier post: “leading business journalist Peter Bartram noted that in 2006, a sample of 89 UK tech and business journalists received on average more than 19,100 press releases a week. Put another way, 993,200 per year. According to Bartram, “the vast bulk of these releases, say the journalists concerned, are either irrelevant to their interests or contain no discernible story.”

You can get a feel for the kind of press release hitting journalist in-boxes by looking at Daryl Willcox’s Sourcewire or Response Source. For example, would you put out a press release to “pay tribute” to someone holding down the same job for 5 years? You might if you were the Prime Minister – but a call centre manager?

As Danny says, how long before PR agency clients start to realise what is going on – there is a world of opportunity for those PR firms who are genuinely taking a different approach.

This blog on your mobile phone


Following the tip from Mr Waddington at Rainier, I have now got a shiny mobile optimised version of this blog at http://www.mippin.com/escherman.

Now you can enjoy these pearls of wisdom on the move – or something like that.

Iain M. Banks, Charles Stross and Andrew Bruce Smith: One Magazine


One Magazine - Issue 3

The latest issue of the Edinburgh-based literary and culture magazine One is now out. Excellent interview by Andrew J. Wilson with Iain M. Banks. And SF author (and one time Computer Shopper columnist and Linux guru) Charles Stross has a good piece on his recent trip to Japan:

“They’ve got our future, damn it! It’s not the shiny future of jet packs and food pills—oh no, that’s not what Japan is about—nevertheless, they’ve got it and they’re living in it.”

(Charles’ latest novel, Halting State, is now out – and seems to be generating some good reviews).

And before I forget, there are a couple articles by me in there too: Orwell’s Sound Of Silence and Orwell and the Scots. As ever, writing these features maintains my enduring respect for professional journalists who have to do this kind of thing day in, day out.

How to decide in less than 5 seconds whether to keep or kill a feed: Charles Arthur


Charles Arthur, Technology Editor, The Guardian

Technology Guardian Editor Charles Arthur has some good tips on how to deal with the modern malaise of feedcreep (key points highlighted in bold):

Kill if:
* daily content consists of “today’s links:” followed by links and no new content.
* posts consist of no new content that I couldn’t find elsewhere, or just think of myself. (Musings on the crack in their living room wall or the new curtains they bought don’t count.)
* Haven’t updated the blog for more than 30 days (a “dinosaur”, in NNW’s parlance. Though I kept Tim Berners-Lee’s blog.)
* feeds are partial. Listen, don’t try to tempt me to come to your site to read your fantastically insightful things. There are very few organisations that can manage that, and of them, most are newspapers or very high-flown analysts of a sector. I just don’t bother with partial feeds any more. Apart from anything, most people can’t (a) write a good teaser (b) come up with any sort of analysis that makes it worth clicking through. Your overall traffic will surely be higher with full feeds. I’ve made this site full feed from day 1 because I couldn’t see any benefit from making people come to it. Yes, a few sites do deserve a clickthrough. But even then, it’s a barrier to reading. Barriers online don’t help.

Keep if:
* they’re in a sector where I want to hear the authentic voice of the user or programmer or problem solver
* they’re consistently able to throw new light on things I’m interested in
* they have a track record of telling you about things before they get big
* they’ve got a full feed.

Guy Clapperton on the death of normal media


guy-clapperton.jpg

Guy Clapperton is one of UK’s most prolific freelance business journalists. So I tend to pay attention to things he has to say (as do others – I gather over 300 people turned up on Wednesday to hear Guy along with Sally Whittle, Sally Morris, Chris Wheal, Lori Miles and Catherine Cooper at a Meet The Media event).

His recent post on the death of normal media raises some key points.

He refers to entrepreneur and former Dragon’s Den panellist Rachel Elnaugh’s blog , where she says she sees evidence that her blog rather than any press coverage has made an impact on public perceptions of her. And she suggests ‘normal’ press will get “a wake-up call.” (She also says that her foray into blogging goes against a lot traditional PR advice, which is to stay silent and adopt a ‘no comment’ status – I’d like to know who has been advising her).

As Guy says: “Many blogs are written by people who are inexperienced writers and who have no training. This can be a good thing because you see their thoughts as unpolished, which can be more raw and genuine – but the laws of libel apply in Cyberspace as much as they do elsewhere.”

He continues: “There’s a lot of dross out there in blogland but then there’s a lot of dross in journalism too; but has anyone told the bloggers how carefully they need to check their facts before publishing them? Journalists, by training, are inveterate checkers and goodness knows we make enough mistakes. Bloggers, without that background, are prone to repeating anything they hear.”

And finally: “After the initial blogging bubble has subsided you’ve got to ask what’s going to be left. If this is going to continue and people are going to get it right, they’ve got to find a way to make it viable to continue. This means making it pay. This is likely to mean advertising, and that in turn will mean guaranteeing editorial quality (advertisers won’t subsidise something that’s unreadable).”

As Guy concludes: “It’ll be almost like the traditional media all over again.”

Weird themes inside the gold mine


I like puns. They deserve more of an airing in the world of PR and marketing. In which case, as Copyblogger says, let’s hear it for the lowly pun.

More good pun resources here and here.

PS The title of this post? Jim Morrison’s blog when he migrates to WordPress.

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