I love the New Year. It’s a fresh start. New beginnings. A clean slate. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s a chance to learn from the past and put that to work creating success. Like many businesses, 2009 is one year we at PWB are happy to see in the rear-view mirror. We survived it, while many in our industry weren’t so lucky.

For myself, I’d like to see 2010 become a year of growth for PWB and our clients. With the recent economic correction/crash/recession the world of marketing changed yet again. PWB and our clients made some surprising discoveries. Some were the result of focused efforts to test and learn, others were simply happy accidents. In 2010, I think we can all start putting what we learned in 2009 to work creating success.

A couple of examples illustrate my point.

One of our clients enjoyed a rousing success at a series of regional trade shows targeting end-use markets. At one show, they found new prospects so numerous that they ran out of materials to give them (even business cards!). Trade shows are far from dead, but the ways we need to use them, and how we select which ones to attend have certainly changed.

Another client adopted extensive analytics tools for their online marketing efforts. The configuration and deployment were painful, but the resulting data is immensely useful in so many ways. In 2010, I hope to put this data to even more effective use in testing creative variations and media selection tactics. Without this data, much of the selection process was about gut instinct – now it’s about results delivered and cost metrics.

So, think about it, what did YOU learn in 2009 that you could put to work for you in 2010?

Brave New World

If you’re considering a technology shift in your product, take a moment to consider something most companies don’t – your customers. When I worked for a large chemical company years ago we were always changing some formulation without considering that many of our customers had optimized their processes for a modulus of X when running ABC123. Recent events with my cable provider have extended this into the brave new world of integrated communications.

These folk are currently doing a migration to a digital system in my area. I learned about it with a rather abrupt letter that arrived in my mailbox. No real discussion of benefits, only that I needed to get some new hardware, hook it up to all my TVs, and then activate with them.

This is a great example of where marketing communications can help. Instead of positioning this with customers through direct mail, spot cable ads, and online we get no communication of benefits, only what we’ll give up if we don’t migrate. Then when it comes time for the migration, I wait an hour in an understaffed office to get hardware. When I hook it up, only 50% seems to work and the support person on the phone has an urgency to get me off the phone quickly. Again, with no promise of benefit to me as the customer.

But, in today’s world of social media, the stakes are far higher. When I added a mention of my frustration to my Facebook page, it immediately lit up with comments (mostly critical) from friends. A quick scan on Tweetdeck shows pretty heavy traffic on this topic. The moral of the story? If you don’t handle marketing communications properly up-front, your customers may handle it on the back end, and you may not care for the result.

Story Telling

During a recent meeting with a partner we were discussing the shifts in media, the rise of social media, our thoughts on a print resurgence and more when I realized – it’s about the story, not the channel. With apologies to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is NOT the message. Yes, the medium influences how you deliver your message, but crafting a story that takes the buyer on the journey from awareness to purchase is key.

Think about it, as prospects become aware of and eventually consider and purchase your products they need different types of information. At the early stages they’re becoming family with your product and perhaps your company. Are you reputable? Do you have good quality? Are you priced right? Then as they move into selection they’re evaluating whether this product or service will meet their needs. Will it fit? Does it function like they want? Is it available in their favorite color? The story can even extend into repeat purchases (the best kind of customers) where they had still more needs for information. Have you improved the product or service? How? Does this present any challenges? Any benefits? Is it still affordable?

Whether you’re using advanced tactics like Twitter, or tried-and-true modes like print advertising or direct mail, spend some time thinking about your story BEFORE you invest a lot of time considering media channels. The story may even suggest the channel.

Balanced Diet

With the tightening economy and increased focus on ROI, we’re seeing a number of folks forget that integrated marketing is a real response to buyer behavior. Potential buyers make a journey from awareness to consideration to purchase. And they use media differently at every stage. So when you’re tempted to shift your entire spend into one channel, think about your own behavior as a buyer.

For me, sometimes I find things through online searches. Other times as a result of an e-mail. But when I form an impression of a company, it’s primarily driven by ads in magazines. I find that I only move online when I’m in the process of consideration. And, I tend to gravitate to the brands I have a positive association with.

The exception is really, really niche products. The SUPER small companies who make some sort of specialized gear that’s not available anywhere else. I’m talking left-handed springs for Ross fly reels made before 1987. For that oddball stuff, I go right to search engines, or sometimes forums.

The point is that different buyers consume different media in different ways. And those ways change as they move toward purchase. If you put all your focus into one channel, then you miss all the others. You could eat steak all the time, and it’s tasty, but it’s not a good idea. Balance is healthy, in diet and marketing.

Thank You.

I was talking to a friend the other day about the importance of feeling appreciated in my decisions on where to spend my money. Consistently, I find I patronize places that show me they value my business. Which got me thinking about how that applies to our business here at PWB.

We try to be very good about showing our appreciation, but it seemed like a more public thank-you is in order to:

    • Our clients – who can choose to spend their budgets at many places, but put their confidence in our creative and strategic talents
    • Our production partners – who help us do more with less (and faster) for our clients
    • The media – who help us optimize and select the best channels to reach target markets
    • Our resources – who help PWB operate smoothly by providing legal, accounting, IT and other advice
    • Our prospective clients – who thought enough of PWB to consider us as a resource
    • Our team – the great folk who work here and help the magic happen

To one and all –  a heartfelt thank-you. We couldn’t survive in this challenging economy without you.

Be Different. Be Simple.

Just returned from a major industrial trade show in Chicago. It was interesting to see some things surprisingly it seemed a pretty healthy show.

One big takeaway was the benefits of two things:

1. Being different.

2. Being simple and direct with your message.

Blue and grey are the new business camouflage. What was once comfortable and conservative now seems just dated in these new economic times. That doesn’t mean if you logo is those colors you have to drive everything off that. Be different. This show had a lot of European companies more willing to experiment with vibrant oranges, greens, and other colors. And it works. These booths really caught your eye. Machine builder Sidel was an excellent example. All black tombstones, highlighted with bold neon color stripes and VERY little messaging. Really stood out.

Another trend was overcrowding. Many booths looked as if someone just walked in and sneezed on the walls. Just a machine-gun spray of tech specs. But a few had given thought to integrating a clear, simple message everywhere. And those exhibitors were hard to overlook. Do your products make manufacturers more green? Say so. Do they cut operating costs? Then tell people. But pick one. And then stick with it. No one needs to see that your cycle time is 3.5 seconds, or that your new chiller has a 1,000mm by 1,500mm footprint. Save that for other tools.

Be different. Be simple. Be noticed.

Social Media: Should or Shouldn’t I?

LOTS of buzz in marketing about social media – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, YouTube. Seems like everyone wants to talk about these channels lately. For business-to-business marketers, I must admit I’m skeptical about many of these tools. I hear lots about Twitter, but find it rather hard to imagine what it could do for b-to-b branding or demand generation. Ditto FaceBook.

But blogs seem solid. They deliver timely content, fuel search traffic, and give marketers an opportunity to get into content areas that they couldn’t do in traditional channels and so much more. Certainly, effective blogging isn’t without its challenges. If you’re going to commit to a blog, keep it fresh. If visitors see that the last update was 3 months ago, they likely won’t be back. I’ve seen this with my personal blog – consistent fresh content delivers traffic. I heard a comment at a presentation the other night that also rang true, “If you’re a good writer, blogs are a good idea.” Just because you CAN publish easily via a blog, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Have someone with a solid writing background either author, or at least edit content.

YouTube is another interesting channel. All talk of “viral marketing” aside, YouTube is a simple, low-cost way to distribute video. Have a cool new machine tool you want to show people? Shoot a nice 30 second video clip, stick it on YouTube, and post a link on your website. Done. No muss, no fuss.

But Twitter and Facebook – while they may have applications in consumer marketing, I really don’t see how the effort/results ratio is worth the distraction.

Let’s Get Small

In the current economic correction/downturn/recession, I see an alarming trend. The biggest organizations seem to be the most effected – GM, CitiGroup, Bank of America. Something I’ve noticed is that bigger organizations seem the most disconnected, both from their customers and from themselves. All the layers and functional roles seem to cloud people’s thinking and judgement. Many are afraid of losing their job, so they’re thrashing about trying to implement SOMETHING, rather than the RIGHT thing. You even see it in government – witness the NYC/Air Force One debacle this week. Did we REALLY need to spend $328,000 for a new photo? Really? And maybe someone should have stopped to think that perhaps it was going to trigger panic in Manhattan?

But what to do about it? Think small. Another trend I’ve seen is that I have many clients in the Small/Medium Business (SMB) segment who are doing quite well. They’re not caught up in the panic, and they spend their time thinking about how they can serve unmet needs in unique ways. With segmentation, any business can be an SMB. I work with a division of a Fortune 100 company who has chosen to not get embroiled in the politics of the parent and focus on their marketspace. The result? Last year they set a 10-year sales record.

Banners Aren’t Dead

The lowly banner has been much-maligned in the trade press in recent years. But like so many things in the marketing equation, banners can have a place if used appropriately. I would concur for mass-market consumer sites. Banners are likely dead. The victims of too many re-finance ads, credit card offers, and mass branding efforts.

But in b-to-b the banner is alive and well. We recently ran a banner for a local CPA firm on the business section of a regional news site that pulled a 1.18% click-thru; about 4x the industry average. Another client’s programs are often exceeding 1% CTRs as well.

I think the secret is in your strategy for using and deploying banners. Too many marketers view them as advertising – much like print or broadcast. A more helpful perspective is to think of them as a direct marketing tool. In this model, the list, creative, and offer fuel success. With online you can target more tightly (like direct mail) and you’re motivating a response behavior (like direct mail) with impactful, relevant creative (like direct mail). And, unlike direct mail you can perform testing of these variables with almost real-time feedback.

If you have a solid message, the need to target, and a compelling call-to-action, consider an effective banner program for your next campaign.

What does it look like?

A couple of weeks ago I had an interesting coincidence of ideas. On my morning ride to nowhere (my elliptical trainer) I was reading Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. The authors told an interesting story of how Joshua Bell, the brilliant young violinist was in the subway, opened his violin case, which held a million dollar Stratavarius and started giving a concert. Few of the passers by recognized him or appreciated just what they were hearing and seeing, after all how often are the street musicians you hear in the subway brilliant virtuosos? People where swayed in their appreciation by the surroundings.

Later that day, in the office, I looked at a proof for a brochure we were producing for one of our clients. The brochure focused on using their technology in health care applications, an area they were hoping to penetrate using this tool. Our client’s reaction to the brochure was, “Well it sure looks like we’re in healthcare.” They were clearly hoping that this piece would help them to make that claim a fact.

Whether we like it or not, we, and our prospects are influenced, swayed as it were, by how we look. We’re often called upon to help clients move into new areas. They find it is easier to do if they look like they belong there. Some may be concerned that this is deceptive, we prefer to think of it as prophetic.