Tag Archives: SEO

Why Earned Media sucks (#5 of 5 Marketing Tactics that suck)

This company opened its doors three years ago inspired by two decades of B2B ‘Earned Media’ experience. The goal was to build the best boutique media relations firm Europe has ever seen. Things changed fast. As intended, we built a team of PR and Social ninjas who ‘earn’ indecent amounts of exposure for our clients in national and business media, vertical press and the technology blogosphere.

But what we do now is very different from Old Skool PR. Earned Media sucks because it can suck you dry of content and fresh approaches. The reason? Consider these five radical changes to the media landscape –

1. Freelance blogger/analysts now vastly outnumber in-house journalists and work differently.
2. The editorial ‘action’ moved online and mobile – with radical consequences for content.
3. ‘Stories with legs’ have a shelf life of minutes, not days or weeks.
4. Done right. Social Media is finally proving as effective for B2B brands as B2C.
5. Publishers prefer to curate, rather than create, content – it saves cost

Another print title ends up as fish and chip wrapping

Newsweek’s last issue

On both sides of the flack/hack divide, these changes to Earned Media, what purists still call PR, have proven hard. Pleasingly, this meant Positive Marketing has flourished, growing six-fold as we did what all start-ups do – adapt. Our lesson learnt ? If you can learn fast, evolve and execute it is possible to create great advantage from the market forces bearing down on Earned Media (N.B. the opposite also applies).

1. Smaller editorial teams mean more curational opportunities for original content.
2. Stealth editorial outsourcing via ‘contributed articles’ makes editorial skills more valuable.
3. Brands can win or lose in the course of a Twitterstorm requiring social teams who are ‘on it’.
4. Despite the rise of gadget tech, B2B stories are more relevant in economic downturns.
5. Apple/FaceBook/Google link baiting is an editorial ‘fact of life,’ PR leveraging this is crucial.

On this last point means we regularly have to persuade cynical European media of the merit of a story without major brand as linkbait. This requires more planning than ever plus the sort of tenacity which generalist in-house teams may, understandably, not naturally possess – theirs is a wide scope of skills, but not necessarily those needed to succeed in today’s new world of Earned Media.
Speaking from experience, most in-house teams, are more natural content curators and storytellers than frontline ‘story sellers’ and may not have the stomach to hear a time-pressed journalist ‘call their baby ugly’ (rejecting their new product launch). In-house teams are also handicapped because they have only one flavour of story to sell (theirs), whereas agency teams sell many and frequently switch between clients in a single email or, increasingly rare, phone pitch.

All this makes content consultants, who can create great pitches and can convert these to great stories more valuable both to clients and writers, who still have to ‘feed the beast’ which devours online content, despite their much-reduced staffing rates.

Earned Media has changed irrevocably, so how do B2B brands make the most of it? Firstly, editorial coverage is still powerful, especially in reaching non Digital Native senior decision makers, who are partly for historical reasons, or, just because of time pressure, less likely to devote time to surfing blogs. For instance, The FT’s pink paper still rightly holds a jealously-guarded place in the heart of CEOs.

Second, as news reporting becomes commoditised and democratised, exactly the opposite is happening to news analysis, which is becoming a rarer, more valuable commodity, increasingly protected behind paywalls. Once a news story breaks, whether read first in a magazine or newspaper, on a tablet, PC or phone, readers immediately seek strong, trustworthy editorial opinions. This makes news analysis stories which make it through editorial scrutiny more valuable than ever as part of a brand’s customer perception. It is this ‘second bounce’ which is the entrance point for many B2B brands stories – especially when they missed out initially on editorial stories driven by link baiting.

The point of Earned Media is that it is earned. The harder earned, often the more valuable. This is why, while we do less media pitching these days, it is valued more highly than ever by clients who realise the newfound scarcity of quality B2B media outlets, drives value for their brands. If they needed any proof, they need look no further than the publishers, who while struggling to justify print advertising rate cards, are only too happy to capitalise on the demand for internet usage with higher-than-ever website reproduction fees once the story is online.

Earned media ain’t dead it just grew up a lot and now gets on better with its neighbours. What was once B2B PR, and unthinkingly labelled ‘free advertising’ by some, is now more complex. As publishing economics blur the lines between owned, earned and curated brand communications, it remains a tough, but worthwhile benchmark of a brand’s credibility. Customers know editorial endorsement matters, even though they will no longer pay directly to receive that editorial.

At Positive Marketing the game is on to achieve the optimal blend of Earned, Curated and ‘Paid For’ media and we think we play it more enthusiastically than anyone else. This post is one of a series of five exploring the myths surrounding today’s B2B marketing buzzwords and is designed to stimulate debate, reconsideration and in some cases mild nausea. Please do add your comments below. Sign up to the blog as a subscriber and we will let you know how to turn these five disparate marketing tactics into campaigns which work in today’s market.


Why Inbound Marketing sucks (#1 of 5 Marketing Tactics that suck)

Inbound marketing is hot. Who says so? The opportunists taking lots of VC money and building fast-growing businesses ‘while the sun shines’ and before the inevitable ‘consolidation of platforms’. We too love fast-growing technology businesses but the hype level here is off the scale. As one prospect we met last week acknowledged, the high-pressure “Create Marketing People Love” message is just not credible.

Full disclosure, Inbound Marketing competes directly for marketing budget with one of our core offerings, influencer relations. But that is not why it sucks for its buyers. It sucks because the vendors who are selling high-ticket item solutions for Inbound Marketing are claiming they have a Holy Grail a One-Size-Fits-All ’ERP for marketing’, a panacea to make B2B marketing easier.

Of course it is great to have a ‘Web to Lead’ process more sophisticated than first generation web forms and for SEO it is also fabulous to have click tracking which can automate the A-B Testing of headlines, copy and images, especially as Web Designers charged so much for these basics in the past. However, automation alone is not a strategy and the dirty secret is

A better mousetrap is useless without cheese

Without a compelling message and great content , it doesn’t matter how you track ‘website journeys’. If you just don’t have the traffic, you just created your own Zil Lane, which a select few travel up and down as they please, while the world moves on around it.

As the ultimate creator of content, Einstein, once said ‘Not everything that matters can be measured and not everything that can be measured matters.”. Belatedly, to address this gaping hole in their offerings, some of the leading players have been farming out a ‘commoditized’ version of content creation out to their partners. You can see this sneaking concession to the all-important content buried here on a leading inbound marketing provider’s website. This in itself tells a story – not so much ‘Who moved my cheese?’ as ‘Please sir can I have some more?’.

The truth is while you want an industrial strength mousetrap to be built sturdily in a factory, most of us prefer the taste of hand-crafted cheese to processed squares (even if the barcodes are great for tracking where we buy them). Great content is a pre-cursor of Inbound Marketing. Without it, the promise of torrential leads effortlessly flowing into websites rings as hollow as ‘jam tomorrow’. Just check out the outbound emails in your inbox and sales calls from inbound marketing firms for further proof.

Next time we debunk another ‘great white hope’ of modern B2B marketing – Content Marketing. Feel free to comment on what you have read so far and expect us to come out swinging again next time.

POSITIVELY NEGATIVE – Five B2B Marketing tactics that, individually, suck

With a brand like Positive Marketing, you would expect us to be upbeat. We are – ridiculously so. Our clients notice how much we high-five and giggle as we create results. In fact we know how important it is to laugh hard while working harder.

To change things up a little and be contrarian, our next series of blogs looks at five of the hottest, some would say over-hyped, buzzwords in B2B Marketing and explain how, on their own, they portray a negative impression of our sector’s progress, especially compared to our slicker B2C brethren.

1. Inbound Marketing sucks
2. Content Marketing sucks
3. Thought Leadership sucks
4. Corporate blogging sucks
5. Earned Media sucks

Given we do all of the above, you may wonder why we are so down on them. Well, all will be revealed as we conclude the series with an article which explains how you can change these buzzwords from sucking the life out of you to sowing the seeds of career-defining success. As always, we welcome your feedback, negative as well as positive. After all, it helps if marketing creates an impression…

Now let’s get going, with our first critique

B2B PR – commodity, or gold dust? PART TWO

In Part One, we looked at B2B PR’s identity crisis caused by the rise of Social Media, free press release distribution and corporate short-termism due to the recession. In fact all is not as bad as it seems, PR is reinventing itself as the creator of online brand discussions and the guardian of content-creation, moving away from commoditised roles such as unquestioning information distribution (a role which even the world’s largest music and print moguls are discovering how to monetise).

If content creation and stewardship are the services required, then Social Media is B2B PR’s best friend. Here are Five reasons Content is more valuable than ever today;

  1. Sales Teams need stories
    Selling on features was always tough. Features without clear benefits are irrelevant in this market. Benefits need narratives. Who cares if your car has traction control – until it saves your family’s life in a blizzard, then, all your friends want it.
  2. Customers need proof points
    Budgets these days do not allow customers to ‘take a punt’ on technology working. Real examples of the success of others, not BS, is what counts. Almost all of Positive Marketing’s new business is won via referrals. Writing up success, is seldom straightforward, as any PR professional knows, often this requires negotiation between two sets of communications professionals. Once approved properly though, this content is tailor-made for Social Media.
  3. Content requires writing
    Writing is, or used to be, a core skill of PR professionals (despite the dyslexic juniors we have all witnessed hiding in large agencies). Online writing requires even more precision and brevity. Once it may have been acceptable for amateurs to ‘knock up’ content for brochures. Online, comparison to the competition is a click away. This requires professional writing.
  4. Even Microblogs need feeding
    Some believe Facebook updates and Tweets are the new newsletters. This is just not true; it is difficult to see how 140 Characters (minus a shortened URL) replaces in-depth explanations of customer proof points, product descriptions or targeted offers. ‘Feeding the best’ of today’s Real Time brand monitoring presents a challenge tailor-made for switched-on PRs.
  5. You pay for it any way
    Search Engine Optimization may attract eyeballs, but what happens when the attached brains land on your page? Satisfying them requires persuasive, compelling content. A Home Run for PR. Why not try reducing your SEO costs by 25% and invest that budget in a great writer? Your SEO will benefit from more sticky content and customers will be more engaged with your brand for longer.

In the concluding blog of ‘Commodity or Gold Dust?’ we will look at how to exploit the new gold rush for content with examples of creative content which work today. If these Five Reasons resonate, positively OR negatively with you, please feel free to leave a comment. If you want to learn more about how Positive Marketing is helping more and more B2B marketing teams to deploy effective Content, email our Chief Goldminer at pmaher@positivemarketing.org.

Not everyone should (or can) be a goal hanger

As anyone involved in online marketing will tell you Andrew Walmsley is a smart guy, starting up i-level and presiding over its growth into a multi-million dollar business winning international clients such as Orange, Proctor and Gamble and Sony is impressive. Although he is not a football fan, his analogy that Search Engine Optimization is just a ‘goal hanger’ works well.

For the non-soccerati, a goal hanger is the annoyingly telegenic forward who seemingly flicks the ball easily past the goalkeeper in the final stages of a move and celebrates his team’s goals as his own – often in an over the top way. Sound like SEO salesguys claiming your marketing budget?

Goal hangers need to be team players too

Goal hangers need to be team players too

Now the market sentiment has changed and the ability of natural search alone to ‘create’ sales has seemingly deserted them. Successful strikers can’t overcome the deficiencies of a poor team alone. These days online customers expect ‘journeys’, patient interplay between the various marketing disciplines as the attack builds and anticipation spreads that a coherent team is working them patiently to the goal.

As usual Mr Walmsley and his team are ‘on it’ creating campaigns which add core skills to SEO ‘goal hanging’. In the tech marketing arena, there is a lot to learn here, from their non-goal hanging methods – retrospective click analysis (buyer-driven market research to analyse buyers’ journeys), buzz marketing (campaign building using PR to create awareness) and the ultimate ‘long ball’ of online communities (with advocacy built up from user groups, trade events and affiliates).

While a lot has changed and I am not suggesting for a second that SEO is dead, these ‘joined up’ campaigns require much more than knowledge of how to insert Meta tags into HTML. Vital thought it is, SEO is rightly a specialist role, not everyone in the team can, or should, sign up. The good news for all us ‘midfield magicians’ is that our team-mates are learning that goal-hanging is not the only way to please a crowd.

What not to Salami Slice in Tech Marketing

There are clever and not-so-smart ways to bring your tech marketing budget in line as the market stays tight. Of course, the bigger the pizza (marketing budget) you start with, the less you need to trim to make given savings. Ultimately all marketing items can be cut if it means keeping a company viable. But some are more sliceable than others. To overstretch the analogy, not all slices are equally divisible, if you care about keeping the salami.

But which are most scalable?

As previously noted, Events are an in/out tactic. While some are moving on-line, there are disadvantages around networking, face time with customers and the ability to educate (or indoctrinate) users in a captive setting. There are clear advantages to reducing an event’s size, while maintaining production values, with local events. N.B.This may mean more work per show by the events team (internal or external)

Paid Web Search can easily be reduced by tracking a smaller number of Keywords and reducing bids on those that are producing average returns. This is the less-discussed flip-side of Search Engine Optimization and may indeed be what many are doing as we see with Google’s revenues dip.

Thanks to the wonder of CRM/email integration, Direct Mail Campaigns are very saleable. Want to turn them down without effecting response? Buy less and better lists, or spend more time segmenting the customer base and targeting them with a sub-set of products or features. This is Marketing Return On Investment 101, but some, who have grown up addicted to Adwords, need to learn this the hard way.

Communications (PR, BR and AR), when done well, creates content and messaging which is reusable across most other tactics. Case studies and press releases can be placed in product and sales presentations, Points of View and sound-bites, once tested with real-life smart journalists and bloggers, can become White Papers or CEO quotes or Direct Mail Campaigns. To save even more costs this need not all be done in-house.

Branding is another classic cutback which is traditionally difficult to justify short-term. However many brands make great headway in a recession and one reason as the barrier to entry reduces. Now is a great time to pick up talent and respond to competitors. When great brands can be scaled more quickly than ever (Blackberry, Twitter, Android) and others destroyed as quickly (Satyam, Skype, Sun) an ability to manage your brand can be strategic. This is not to say an army of brand consultants is needed, just that this is more than ‘Keeping The Lights On’

This will not be a massive shock, given what Positive does, but the area which provides the most ability to scale is the content-creation of Communications and Branding. Scaling back on the ‘delivery’ of messages be they Email or Direct Mail campaigns, events and PPC can bring short-term cost-savings but killing your creativity can be fatal. Scalable marketing tactics can be ‘dialled up’ quickly as confidence returns and prices rise, but you cannot build killer content in a hurry.

When Loyalty goes wrong

As part of our New Business process here at Positive we deploy a novel communication technique; the phone. Having read that calling prospects is so ‘over’, now that we have blogs and social media, it is great to know that less people will be doing this, as this direct feedback will become a yet more valuable resource, held only by those who can be bothered to pick up the phone.

The difficulty with speaking to prospective customers during their working day though is they do not always appreciate the call. But with a relevant offer, much politeness and a modicum of technique, there is no better way for you to survey the market for your services.

Often however they have a rival company already providing it. This is good, because trying to persuade a decision maker to buy a marketing service for the first time is seldom successful. It also reminds them to question ‘What has my PR company done for me lately?’ and it allows you to leap ahead of the other ‘for later use’ emails they have filed and blogs they have bookmarked. You have just raised your chances of being invited to any future repitches.

More frustrating though is when a decision-maker states that they do not know when they will ever review their agency. Having worked for, sold for, managed and repitched European PR networks, this is dumb. Expecting good service with this as a mindset, is the definition of insanity. Almost without exception, such responses demonstrate lazy-thinking and mask poor PR performance and a lack of understanding about what good communications is capable of.

SEO needed an explanation in 1999

SEO needed an explanation in 1999

Ten years ago life was different (see the 1999 Computer Weekly shot explaining SEO). Fax services were on PR bills (marked up by 17.25% – used or not), email systems were incompatible (a problem for IBM/Lotus Notes users) and there were maybe three times more IT titles. Five years ago, large PR conglomerates strutted around acquiring smaller tech PR shops for innovation, Twitter was not the communication channel de jour for the press and there was a smattering of IT stories (mainly IT disasters) trickling into the mainstream business press.

Today, PR and SEO is merging, press release distribution is almost free and poor IT can make you very famous very fast. A lot has changed, meaning the chances that the choice of ten years ago is still the best on the market is slim. This is something we shall remind all of our prospects in six month’s time, via the telephone.