Make Your Meetings Work for You

October 22, 2015
If you have been wondering how to make your meetings more effective and successful, look no further. Lane End Conference Center recently came out with this amazing infographic, which compiles some interesting facts and figures about office meetings along with some great tips on how to make them work for you. For example, did you know that you could encourage attendee participation in your meetings and keep things lively by including activities and vibrant visuals? Or that conferences held in an outside location, built specifically for that purpose, can have a greater impact on the participants?
Check out the infographic below.
Meetings Infographic

Click for larger version

For additional tips and tricks to avoid wasteful meetings and ensure you make the most out of meeting time, check out a book I wrote on “Running Effective Marketing Meetings“.


What’s Wrong with Marketing Education?

July 30, 2012

If you ever hired a recent college graduate for a marketing position at your company, odds are you were amazed at their lack of knowledge. Not of basic marketing concepts like the 4 P’s, advertising, or branding but their utmost ignorance of modern marketing tactics and tools like webinars, marketing automation, and even CRM software.

The video roundtable below from CRMSoftware.tv, What Colleges Should Be Teaching Marketing Majors, is worth watching and reflecting upon.

What Colleges Should Be Teaching Marketing Majors

What are College Students to Do?

If you’re in college (or know someone who is), there are things you can do now so that you don’t flunk the next marketing job interview. More importantly, you’ll  be ahead of other candidates if you show that you are aware of the following terms, topics, and technologies:

Webinars: you should attend a webinar to understand what the experience is like, and if possible present a webinar as well. That’s easy today with free trials of the major players, like WebEx, Adobe Connect, and GoToWebinar, and with free webinar platforms like AnymeetingMeetingBurner, or FreeWebMeeting. What hiring companies want: someone that understands how to prepare for and conduct a webinar (aka the logistics), how to market a webinar, and how to use webinars effectively as part of  the marketing mix.

Email Marketing: according to MarketingSherpa, email marketing is still a top tactic employed by marketers to reach out to their prospects and customer base. You’ve got to understand how email marketing works, how it is used successfully and what pitfalls to avoid. Part of this is the CAN-SPAM act, which you should familiarize yourself with (interviewers will like if you show that you at least have an idea of what it’s all about). Setup a free account with MailChimp and play around creating an email and landing page, send out your next party invite to your friends using it to see how it works.

Marketing Automation: the typical step-up from email marketing, marketing automation software (such as Marketo, Eloqua, Act-On, Pardot, and others) allows you to automate the sending of your emails and, more importantly, of nurturing your leads. If during an interview with a potential employer you can demonstrate that you know the concepts behind the sales and marketing funnels, lead nurturing, lead scoring, and what is the ROI of a marketing automation platform then you will be regarded as someone that is keeping up with the latest trends in marketing.

Social Media: just because you use Twitter and Facebook in school, it doesn’t mean you really know how to use it for marketing. So read up on success and failure stories, play around with tools such as Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, check out Klout, and be prepared to articulate what role does social media play in a company’s marketing program and a good understanding that when not used properly, social media can backfire.

Content Marketing: content marketing is not new, but it is all the hype now. A good understanding of the difference between whitepapers and ebooks, along with other forms of content publishing and distribution will give you valuable points during the interview process.

Trade Shows: companies of all sizes at one point or another in their lives end up attending or exhibiting at an event. The closest example you, college student, might have of what a trade show is might be your next career fair. Next time you attend one, pay attention to how different companies exhibit their services, how the people behind the tables or booths interact with the attendees, what handouts or giveaways they offer, and the overall experience. Having an idea of trade show tactics and what goes into trade show planning can be tremendously helpful especially if the company you are interviewing for attends trade shows (check their “about us” page or usually under “news and events” section of the website for a list of their upcoming appearances at local and national events).

The Modern Marketer

We’re just scratching the surface here, but these I think are some of the key marketing tactics employers would like you to know about when they interview students for marketing internships or junior marketing positions. Sure, there is always on-the-job training but if you are a marketing student, make it easier on yourself (and the hiring company) and brush up on your modern marketing skills and terminology.

If your current educational institution is not including the list above in your marketing curriculum, you have to either a) tell them to read this blog or b) learn it on your own. Good luck!


The Danger of Automatic Feeds in Social Media

January 31, 2012

Note: This is a guest post by Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North. See Brad’s bio at the end of the article.

Participating in social media is time consuming, so it’s only natural that people look for shortcuts. However, some shortcuts become disastrous detours, and this is often what happens when a company relies on automation for significant portions of its social updating.

Automatic feeds come in two flavors. Fully automatic feeds publish to a social media platform without any human intervention. An example of this is setting up your Twitter updates to automatically feed into your Facebook company page.  Semi-automatic feeds require intervention. For example, my HootSuite social media interface allows me to publish the same message simultaneously on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and soon, Google+.

Why to Avoid Automatic Feeds

The catch is, while automation is tempting for publishers, it is often annoying to readers. The following three consequences of overfeeding are why you should avoid automation, or at the very least use it judiciously.

1. Stream clogging. Automation encourages publishers to over communicate. If you overload any given platform with updates, your connections will either mentally tune you out, or physically tune you out by removing you from their stream (think Facebook) or disconnecting from you altogether (think Twitter). Most social platforms enable users to finely tune and personalize their incoming content, dooming any type of mass merchandising effort. And even though you can’t stop your mail to prevent junk mail, social media users can and do stop messaging they regard as spam.

2.Redundancy. Publishers sometimes lose sight of how many of their connections frequent multiple platforms. When I see the same update on three platforms, I remember it, but not in a good way. My assumption is the sender either doesn’t understand me or doesn’t mind bombarding me. Either way, the sender is not inspiring me to interact or do business.

3. Inappropriate style. The composition of a tweet, which is limited to 140 characters, does not lend itself to doubling as an effective Facebook post. Conversely, updates from other networks feeding into Twitter may be severely truncated, rendering them cryptic or entirely incomprehensible. Each platform has its own stylistic conventions that encourage conversation and action. Ignoring them only renders your social media activity less effective.

How to Avoid Automatic Feeds

Why do companies use this sort of indiscriminate messaging? Besides the convenience factor, I believe many companies simply don’t have a clear and distinct communication strategy for each social platforms on which they engage.

For example, a B2C firm might use …

  • Twitter to announce daily Twitter-only promotions
  • Facebook as a place for customers to upload photos of themselves using the product
  • LinkedIn for business updates relevant to employees and stakeholders

A B2B firm might use …

  • Twitter to distribute industry news and analysis highly relevant to its customer base
  • Facebook to provide in-depth information on its products and solicit feedback
  • LinkedIn as a recruiting channel

You’ll notice that each example necessitates targeting a particular audience segment and then theming the message to appeal to that segment.

Putting a purpose behind social communication not only eliminates the temptation to use automatic feeds, it allows companies to give audience segments a clear and persuasive reason to connect and much more important, stay connected and engaged. A constant barrage of thematically unconnected updates might accomplish the former, but never the latter.

Any business in social media for the long haul needs a strategy that employs something other than convenience as the linchpin.

 

About the author:

 Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, an Internet marketing, Chicago-based agency. They specialize in niche, middle market B2B industries such as flame resistant apparel and thermoplastic injection molding. Follow @bradshorr on Twitter for non-automated discussion of all things marketing.


Listening to Your Customers In the Digital Age

January 19, 2012

“You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new” – Steve Jobs

What do customers want?

Let’s do a focus group and find out. This tried-and-true approach to innovation leading to brand extensions, new product categories, and new marketing approaches has and continues to be used as a cornerstone of market research efforts.

In an interesting BusinessWeek article dating back to 2005, titled “Shoot the Focus Group”, the author states that although there are plenty of examples and ample evidence that Focus Groups fail time and again, companies keep using them.

“The old-fashioned focus group still has its believers even with fiascoes like Pepsi Edge and a decades-long new-product failure rate of about 90%.” – BusinessWeek

You probably know the famous examples of the failure of Chrysler’s Aztek car and the surprising success of PT Cruiser, Coca Cola’s “New Coke”, Ford Edsel, and plenty of others horror stories of focus groups gone wrong.

And why is that? I like Gerald Zaltman’s explanation that “The correlation between stated intent and actual behavior is usually low and negative” which also reminds me of an episode of Mad Men where Don Draper chastises a hired researcher to do a focus group for one of their clients, see below.

Excerpt from Mad Men, Season 4. “The Rejected”.

Faye: Well, I’ve done everything but finish the report.

Don: How’d we do?

Faye: Well, it turns out the hypothesis was rejected. I’d recommend a strategy that links pond’s cold cream to matrimony– a veiled promise.

Don: Hello, 1925. I’m not gonna do that, so what are we gonna tell the client?

Faye: I can’t change the truth.

Don: How do you know that’s the truth? A new idea is something they don’t know yet, so of course it’s not gonna come up as an option. Put my campaign on tv for a year, then hold your group again, maybe it’ll show up.

Faye: Well, I tried everything. I said “routine”, I tried “ritual”… all they care about is a husband. You were there. I’ll show you the transcripts.

Don: You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.

So, what’s the problem with focus groups?

In a Harvard Business Review article, Turn Customer Input into Innovation, Anthony Ulwick says “companies go about listening to customers all wrong”. Customers are asked to offer a solution to a problem but they aren’t informed enough, aren’t experts in the field and have a limited frame of reference.

“The problem, when there is one, is simple: Companies ask their customers what they want.” – Anthony Ulwick

The solution, according to Ulwick, is to focus on outcomes. This means that instead of asking for customers to submit solutions to a particular problem, they should focus on understanding what customers value most.

Leveraging Social Media for Market Research

But how about using social media? I strongly believe that traditional marketing tactics can be greatly enhanced by using digital tools and when it comes to market research, social media channels should be top of mind. That includes paying attention to comments on your blog, using your Facebook Fan Base to test new ideas, monitoring Twitter feeds, and more.

“I’ll take the status update that someone wrote from the couch in the comfort of their own home as more accurate than the comment they made in a focus group room when they are given a $100 gift card to show up.” – Mike Volpe, CMO at HubSpot

Whether social media will replace traditional market research is up to debate, the active use of social media to complement market research can dramatically improve a company’s success ratio for new product launches and maybe take away some of that bad rap focus groups have.

Additional Reading

Here are some interesting articles if you’d like to dig deeper into this topic:

Note: Mad Men is Copyright of American Movie Classics Company LLC.


What Are Your Brand Touchpoints?

December 8, 2011

White fenceA nice post by Nick Westergaard on the “12 Most Underutilized Brand Touchpoints” talks about the stuff many people relegate to second plan when thinking about their company’s brand.

You have your logo, your tagline, your website… but how about product packaging,  brochures, and holiday cards? Yup, holiday cards deserve some branding love too. It’s all about how you present yourself and your company to customers and prospects in every single touchpoint. This means every place where someone will see your company (or read about it) should have the same consistent message, look and feel.

So what are the 12 touchpoints? They are:

  1. Packaging
  2. Invoices
  3. Packing Slips
  4. Price change letters/ renewal notices
  5. User guides
  6. New business proposals
  7. Vehicles
  8. Search ads
  9. Holiday cards
  10. Inter-office / company newsletters
  11. Employees
  12. The back of the fence (this is a Steve Jobs analogy, about what goes inside your product or at the back of the fence where people usually don’t even look)
Check out the full article here: http://12most.com/2011/12/05/12-underutilized-brand-touchpoints/

What is your list of touchpoints?


How Great Content Can Solve Problems

August 18, 2011

This is the third post in a series of “Principles of Great Content Marketing”. The first post talked about creating simple content, and the second post discussed timely content.

The Principles of Great Content Marketing series is based on three core ideas:

  1. Create simple content
  2. Create content that is timely
  3. Create content that solves a problem

The Problem with Content

Content abounds, and no matter what we call it (Whitepapers, eBooks, Videos, Infographics, etc.) we have been getting more and more of it every single day. Via email, via Twitter, Facebook, and word-of-mouth. The problem? Most of the content is not looked at. Or, if it is, is not shared.

Content that isn’t shared usually die without having made an impact.

Useful content will be shared. Even if only internally in your company. Even if only when you call a friend and say “hey, check this out!” and even if only mentioned during lunch with friends when you say “oh, and I just read this interesting article that talks about…”.

Getting Read and Getting Shared

Besides being simple and timely, great content has a third element. It is focused on solving a problem. But not just any problem, YOUR problem.

You see, even if you come across something amusing and decide to pass that on it doesn’t mean you will actually take any action because of it. Entertaining videos are just that, entertaining. Funny quotes are also just that and nothing else. But content that speaks to a problem you are having right now is golden.

If you are struggling with creating your own WordPress website, for example, and there comes a content piece that addresses your current issue (“How to get your WordPress site up and running in 5 easy steps” kind of content, for example) you will drop what you are doing and check it out. If it’s good you will even forward it to a couple people that you know are also dealing with the same issue or maybe send a Tweet about it.

If you had gotten content related to your issue but that doesn’t solve it (“Why use WordPress for your website” for example), it won’t get shared, commented, and more importantly, acted on.

The Content Solution

How do create content with the “problem – solution” in mind? You’ve got to know your audience. Draw buyer personas. Talk to sales and ask them about the prospects they engage. Discuss the typical questions tech support gets during lunch with the tech support manager. Ask around your company, but more importantly, ask outside what are the challenges facing the industry you serve.

Make a list of 5 to 10 items. Then, break those down into small problem statements. You don’t want to have to address something like “world-wide retail operations are low margin, companies are struggling to make a profit” because is too generic and too daunting. Go down a few levels until you have something more tangible, like “apparel retailers are pressured by increasing labor costs in China”. Then, look for what could be a solution to this problem (I’m assuming you sell products or services to retailers) and create content addressing the issue (maybe “5 ways to squeeze more cash out of your sales” or “The new retail mindset and five steps to improve your margins today” for example).

Regardless of the topic, you have to ensure you are addressing a need that your target market has. And, the need could range from basic (“Trends and opportunities in apparel retail”), to more advanced (“How new inventory solutions are transforming the apparel retail industry”), all depending upon your target’s knowledge of the issue and their stage in the buying cycle.

As mentioned in the previous post about timely content, Marketing Automation is a great way to get the right content out to the right person, but you still have to think through all the stages and understand the different needs. It goes back to understanding your market.

Principles of Great Content

In conclusion, you can spend a lot of time creating content in different formats and for different buying stages. What will set your content apart (because you can bet your competitors are also creating as much content as you are) are the three key components:

  • Simple content
  • Timely content
  • Problem-solving content

Keep these three elements in mind when crafting your messages and you will be on the right path to creating great content.


Why Timely Content Always Wins

August 16, 2011

This is the second post in a series of “Principles of Great Content Marketing”. The first post talked about creating simple content.

So just to recap, there are three key principles for creating great content:

  1. Is it simple?
  2. Is it timely?
  3. Will it solve a problem?

Simple content was explained earlier and is a sure way to create engaging and direct content. But, even simple great content can’t win you over unless it is timely.

If you don’t need it, you won’t look at it. It’s that simple.

What is Timely Content?

There are three different perspectives to consider:

  • Content that is a hot topic
  • Content that meets your needs
  • Content that creates urgency

The first perspective deals with the hot issues at the moment. Maybe your industry is going through additional regulations or new certifications are being required. Or maybe there’s this new methodology everyone is talking about. The hot topic is not necessarily something you actually need to do right now, but is top of mind, it will get looked at because is part of the trend.

Content that meets your needs is not necessarily about the hype, like the previous perspective, but rather something related to a mandate or a need. If you were told by your boss that you have to close down one of your locations and you come across a Whitepaper that talks about how to calculate which plant to shut down you will be interested in checking it out. Or, you have to start outsourcing the IT function overseas and a webinar invitation for a “how to outsource IT and not regret it later” just came to your inbox so you decide to register.

Finally, the urgency perspective is also related to creating timely content, but content that has an expiration date attached to it. Promotions that will only run for the next 5 days or those offers that gives incentives to you to act now (or be the first, or among the 10 first) before it’s too late.

Timely Content Perspectives

Being urgent or a hot topic doesn’t help much though, unless the content meets the needs of the reader. Content that answers a need will always win. The best content is one that combines the three perspectives to create something that meets the prospect’s current needs, is a hot topic, and creates a sense of urgency. That’s the best timely content you can create.

Timely content needs to evoke the following reaction from the reader: “I’ve gotta check this out now”. And there is either a download, registration, or whatever the call to action is. That’s how you know you nailed it.

Crafting Content for the Right time

Sending content at the right moment (when there’s a need) is tricky. How do you get to send content to a person who is at the right moment to receive it? That’s one of the big promises of Marketing Automation software, of automating the sending of the right content to the right prospect at the right moment in time.

Easier said than done? You bet. That’s because someone has to actually think through what “right moment” really means and also has to understand what clues will tell the software that the right moment approaches.

Regardless of whether you automate or not, one thing is certain. Timely content can only be created if you intimately know your audience. You’ve got to know what their daily activities are, what their challenges are, and what their hopes are as well. It means talking to customers and prospects, getting out of the building, and learning about the industry you are selling to.

Want some shortcuts? We’ll approach them in the next segment, when we talk about creating content that solves problems.


Principles of Great Content Marketing

August 10, 2011

Whether creating a Whitepaper, an eBook, a new Email Marketing campaign, a web page, or any other type of marketing content there are a few basic principles you should follow:

  1. Is it simple?
  2. Is it timely?
  3. Will it solve a problem?

If you can answer “yes” to all three questions above, you’re on the right path to coming up with great content.

Three Key Questions for Creating Quality Content

Simple content wins all the time. It doesn’t matter how many pages, nice graphics, or famous quotes it has, simplicity is key. Making it simple, though, doesn’t mean dumbing down the message. It also doesn’t mean forgoing colors, trying to fit it in one page, or even chopping it up so that people get it in chapters instead of a full book. Simple content means creating something devoid of distractions that don’t contribute to having a better understanding of the message.

Here are three key questions you should ask for each content you create:

  • Is it worded in a way that anyone will understand the message we are trying to convey? Are we using too many technical terms, acronyms?
  • What part of our message do we want to have the most impact? Is it clear and prominent? As journalists usually say, “don’t bury the lead”.
  • Are we providing action points for the reader? Is there a “call to action” clearly defined that is immediately obvious and enticing?

Want a good way to test your assumptions? Get someone in your office outside the marketing department to read the content you just created. It doesn’t have to be finalized, formatted, and nicely designed. Just a draft or mockup would do. Get a few different people (i.e. the accountant, the receptionist, the IT guy) to read it and tell you what they think. You may get some interesting reactions and questions that can help further fine tune the message.

The Message Behind the Content

Want to make sure the content you and your team just created is really the best you could have done? A good practice is to let the content alone for a while (hours or days). Then, go back to it and read it as if you were reading it for the first time. Then, think about the following:

  • What is the core message?
  • Why is this message important?
  • What does the message mean for the reader?
  • If you were to summarize the core message in one sentence (5 to 10 words max) what would it be?

Write it down (for greater impact, ask another team member to do the same so you can compare notes). Then review it and see if the content you had created still looks like the best you can do.

Sure, in most situations content you create today was due yesterday. We’ve all been there… if we only had more resources! But I challenge you to say that the content you created can’t wait 1 more hour before being sent out (or published, or uploaded). Whether you have 1 hour or 1 day, let it rest. Then come back refreshed to it and honestly assess if there’s a better way of crafting the message.

How Simple Content Will Win Always

A principle of simple design (designing interfaces or products that are simple to use) is to always think of what features can you remove from the product that will make for a better user experience. Think of the iPod, for instance. Steve Jobs removed buttons instead of adding new ones (the iPod never had different “stop” and “pause” buttons, only a “pause” button that was the same as the “play” button).

So think of your content and ask yourself what can you remove? What images, what copy? What content, if removed, will make the remaining content stronger and more appealing? It comes down to asking “what can I remove in order to make the main message stronger?”.

No, is not easy. But it is worth trying.

Next up I’ll talk about the two remaining points, creating timely content and focusing on solving problems.


Email Productivity Tips for Marketers

July 26, 2011

A recent article on LifeHacker talks about tips to get faster email responses. They talk about:

  1. Write shorter emails
  2. Write fewer emails
  3. Ask for a response
  4. Start with a deadline
  5. Only email one person at a time

Those are good, but I’d like to expand a bit on them and also put it in the perspective of a marketing manager.

Five Email Productivity Tips for Marketing Managers

Email Subject Line1. Make subject lines work for you: Use subject lines with deadlines and action verb in order to help people spot your email easily in their inbox and to get them to act. Examples of subject lines might be:

“Webinar Email – Review Copy by Wed 10am”

“eBook Copy Approved with Changes – Finalize by Thursday”

“For review and approval – deadline is Wed 9am”

I like using either a campaign name or something that will help immediately identify the task at hand. If you start showing good use of this tactic and encourage your team to do the same, spotting the useful emails from the junk or from the typical corporate communication will be much easier.

Bonus tip: Transform your email into an action item! If using MS Outlook, just click and drag the email to the Tasks panel to create a task. Or you can also flag the email for later follow up. Other email clients have similar options.

2. Write with a purpose: Short, clear, and action oriented (what do you want to happen?) emails will get faster and better responses. So cut to the chase and get down to what you want as a result of your email. Examples are:

“Here’s the revised copy for the email invitation to the July 16 webinar. Please a) edit copy; b) send to Mark for design by Wed, c) email me the final email for approval”

or

“Jen, I have reviewed the presentation for the webinar and here’s what you need to do: a) add the company logo to the master slide (upper left corner); b) replace slides 3 and 5 with the new ones I mention in my notes; c) review once more for grammar and style; d) send to John for formatting by Tues noon.”

Replace paragraphs with bullet points and you’ll get people to actually do what you asked them to do. Keep each email related to a separate subject, this way is easier for the recipient to focus on one thing at a time and for you to follow up later.

Bonus tip: Need to follow up on an email you just sent a few days later? In MS Outlook you can “flag” the message before sending so it reminds you of the message later (you can also flag the message for the recipient, so if they have Outlook as well, they will be reminded of the message until they clear the flag).

Making deadlines clear3.  Make the deadline clear: If you don’t say when you need it by, usually you won’t get it done. Make sure to add a deadline and action required (eg. Make changes and send back to me by EOD friday) in the beginning of the email. This way the first thing the person sees is the deadline and he or she can plan accordingly. For example, you can start the email like this:

“Jen, I need this by EOD Thursday! See below.”

or

“Edited and approved copy for eBook below. Please finalize by 07/15/11 at 12:00pm ET!”

Avoid using “urgent” and “ASAP” type words. They don’t mean anything. Is ASAP something due today or by tomorrow morning? Also avoid saying “send it back to me tomorrow” without giving some kind of time reference. Otherwise it becomes a debate of what “morning” means (8am or 11am?).

Assigning email to multiple people4. Assign an owner: Send the email to only one person, or make sure each person has an action. You may be tempted to email the whole team after a meeting outlining what was decided. Or, there’s a task involving two people (editing the new banner artwork and sending to the printer, for example) and you want them both to see the same message. OK, but make sure each person listed on the “to” or “cc” lines have some kind of action item associated to their names. It could, for example, be like this:

“Team, I need you all to read and add the following to your to-do lists based on our earlier meeting today:

Jen: Review web analytics and report back to me by Friday 11am;

Bob: Edit the latest spec sheet design as discussed, send reviewed design to Mary by Thursday 9am.. ”

Multiple attachments can cause confusion5. If you attach, then make it clear: At my previous company we had a policy of never attaching a file to an email if the email was being sent internally. This was to avoid two problems, the always precious server space being eaten by files attachments in our Exchange server and to keep the latest files always in the network where it would be easier to find. Whether you have a policy like that or not, if you need to add files to your email then list and describe attachments (and name them appropriately). It could be something like this:

“… and I’m attaching the following files:

7-16-Webinar-Preso.PPT: Final version of the webinar presentation

Alpha-Prod-Whitepaper-CopyV2.doc: Whitepaper draft, please review this copy ”

Especially useful if you have many attachments, it helps ensure all attachments are accounted for when you send out the email and helps the receiver sort through all the files coming towards him/her.

Assigning Tasks Marketing Technology for Workflow and Productivity

Unless you have a system like what my company offers [shameless plug!] for Marketing Resource Management or Marketing Project Management, odds are you rely on email to keep your team in check. You use email to exchange files, to communicate, and get things done. That’s ok, and by using some productivity tips I hope you can at least make good use of the tools at your disposal and spend less time chasing down people and deadlines, and more time actually doing marketing.

Additional Outlook Productivity Tips

Additional outlook tipsIf you’re using MS Outlook, then check out additional productivity tips I have for Outlook users in this other blog post.


How Viral Marketing Can Kill You

July 13, 2011

Flu Shots Sign picture from Confluence! by smilla4 @ FlickrViral Marketing, or the spread of ideas (also called Word of Mouth Marketing) is usually thought of as a good thing. You create a video or a campaign and everyone starts talking about it. You go home happy and maybe even get a promotion. But sometimes the “viral” element more closely resembles the bad kind, the on that kicks you in the teeth and puts you out in bed for a week.

Scott Stratton, author of “UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.” tells in his book a personal account of how a viral marketing campaign went wrong. It is the best example I’ve seen so far of a)someone owning to his mistakes, and b)a marketing idea backfiring really bad.

The Start of a Good Idea

As Scott tells in his book, he was into motivational speaking and decided to put out a short video (this was in 2004, way before YouTube became the default video sharing site) in his website. It was really a rotating slide show with background music and some inspiring text on top, nothing fancy but was well done. You can watch it at www.thetimemovie.com.

His intent was to get people to watch the video, and contact him for a speaking engagement. Did he get what he wanted? Well, yes and no. He did get over 4 million views (yes, 4 million!) but… things didn’t necessarily work according to plan. Here’s why.

Breaking the Bank

After creating and uploading the video to his server, which was just a regular ISP that hosted his site, Scott emailed a couple hundred people from his list about it. Emails started coming back saying they were getting a “Page not found” error. Oops, what’s wrong? Well, his server had a monthly bandwidth limit, meaning only a certain number of hits to the page and downloads were allowed based on the plan he had at the time. That meant people were going to his site and because he had already exceeded his monthly allotted bandwidth, the server was denying visitors the video!

As he called the ISP and asked them to remove the bandwidth limit, the video went back online and people starting watching it. In droves. He got a $1,400 bill (a bit more than the typical $9 per month he had before the video went up) due to the hundreds of thousands hits he was getting on his video page. And that was just for that last week of the month! Ouch!

Engaging Viewers

Having put up a landing page to capture people’s email addresses was a good idea, but a friend pointed out that it was too confusing, there was just too much about him on the page and no clear call to action. With a quick redesign, he increased conversion from 8% to 24% and started amassing 4,000 new emails per day that he would later use for his newsletter.

Trying to avoid even more expenses (the scar left from the monthly hosting bill was still visible) Scott then decided against using an ESP (email service provider) and went ahead to email his newly acquired list using Outlook Express. Yup, not the full featured MS Outlook businesses use via an Exchange server, but the stripped down consumer version that used to come free with every new MS Office installation.

The process was simple, but time consuming. He would download the new emails captured by the landing page (19 hours downloads) and manually cut and paste each one into the email client. Out of frustration he deleted 140,000 email addresses. In the first couple weeks.

After also playing with free open source scripts to help get the email addresses imported into his email client, and not being able to do so, Scott caved in and went with Aweber, an email service provider which made the job of getting emails and sending out newsletters much easier.

Successful Failure?

There are those who would love to win the lottery, and those who actually play it. That’s what this next episode of his viral marketing gone wrong reminds me of. Scott was trying to get speaking engagements and created a great video that went viral. The problem is that he never actually believed, or was prepared, for the number of speaker kits he received. Back in ’04 when you wanted to screen someone prior to offering an speaking engagement, you would ask for  a “speaker kit”, which consisted of a resume, pictures, and tape reel showing snippets of that person actually giving a talk.

So after two weeks of the movie going live, 50 requests came in. How many speaker kits did Scott have prepared for the eventuality? Zero. And he was personally doing every speaker kit himself (printing, making copies, punching holes, and mailing). About 785 speaker requests came in before he was able to work out a good process to fulfill them properly. Requests for one of his “Relaxation on Demand” CDs were so many he had to refund people’s money because he couldn’t have burned the CD’s (yes, he was doing it himself) on time… and people complained they just wanted the product!

So, in the end was it all a waste? I wouldn’t say so, since Scott was able to book over $100,000 in new business but he definitely lost some potential business. The worst that could have happened I guess is if his reputation had been ruined because of that, which didn’t happen.

A Viral Marketing Lesson

“Please learn from my pain” – Scott Stratten

What can we learn from Scott’s mistakes?

  • Define success: what do you consider success? How will you be able to tell whether your viral marketing campaign was successful? Define metrics that you’ll use to make sure you haven’t wasted your time or money.
  • Be prepared for the traffic: can your website, call center, sales reps, and other relevant operations handle the potential surge in traffic? Sure, today you have YouTube to host videos but make sure you have all pieces in place before you start the viral engine. You don’t want it to break as the user is clicking your “buy now” button or similar.
  • Collect and Engage: make sure you have a way to collect information from those interested in learning more about your products or services, and have a process that will make collecting such information easy on you. Tweak your landing page, and test different versions. Also have a plan for following up and keeping up the interest and dialogue.
  • Plan for the success, and for the failure: be prepared, and react fast. Whether your success is bigger than anticipated or the idea failed miserably, know how you will handle it and make sure your team (if you have one) is ready.

Failure stories abound on the Internet, I just had not seen such a detailed account of “I screwed up” from someone like Scott. For more info on his book, check out the link below.

P.S.: If you’re in San Francisco you should come to the San Francisco Marketing Book Club where we’ll be discussing UnMarketing during our upcoming meeting.

Amazon Link to UnMarketing

UnMarketing Book cover


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