By By Harrell Kerkhoff
Maintenance Sales News Editor
It’s easy to become overwhelmed when trying to manage a company’s website, along with specific social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. When done right, there is new business to be found through the Internet. However, it takes time, effort and knowledge when trying to reach the right markets online.
According to Larry Mersereau, a business growth speaker for PromoPower, in an age when buyers spend more time staring at a computer screen, many companies need to better connect with their target audiences. Mersereau presented “Conquer The Screen, Corner The Market,” during an educational session at the recent ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America 2014 trade show in Orlando, FL.
Mersereau reviewed a complete planning, execution and measurement process for an online content marketing program that can be implemented right away.
“It’s important to have a step-by-step plan in place to help your company stand out in the crowd,” he said. “It’s also important to provide content that is specific to the people who are buying from you, specific to their needs, and especially specific to their problems. As a company, you want to be a problem solver.”
Whether it’s attracting potential customers to a company’s website or trying to generate interest in specific social media networks, Mersereau said proper planning is essential for success. A good plan includes five basic components: goals, target audience, measurement, platform and execution.
“You have to know what you are truly trying to accomplish. When it comes to marketing in general, the No. 1 reason for failure is ‘lack of destination.’ There are people in marketing who just throw stuff out there and hope something sticks,” Mersereau said. “They may spend money, energy and effort, but they fail because they don’t focus on a specific goal and market.”
The second step to a good online plan is understanding the target audience, and how to successfully reach that audience.
“It’s important to know who the person is you’re talking to, and what media outlets they are likely to frequent. Where are they going to be?” Mersereau said. “Step No. 3 is measurement. How do you know you are succeeding? This is followed by step No. 4, which is platform. Is it best to reach customers through text, audio, video, photos, etc.?”
This is followed by step No. 5, the actual execution of an online plan. Throughout this process, Mersereau said it’s important to keep things “simple, doable and effective.”
Important goals many companies have when looking at online marketing include improved presence, improved sales leads, and/or improved engagement with a target audience. This can be done through various forms of content provided on a website and/or such social media networks as Facebook and Twitter. However, according to Mersereau, providing a “ton of information” about a company will not lead to automatic success. A specific goal must be put into play.
“There are a lot of people who become active on social media, such as Twitter, and still fail to attract new customers. They don’t have a specific goal to follow,” Mersereau said. “Maybe their target audience is not looking on Twitter. Or, maybe the company fails to properly promote itself.
“There is more to it than just putting stuff out there. You have to find your audience. This is true with any medium, including print advertising. In every industry, there are specific magazines that your customers read. There are probably magazines that they read cover-to-cover, and print advertising available online can include a link directed to your website.”
There are specific organizational goals for business-to-business (B2B) content marketing that, if achieved, can make a difference in a company getting noticed and followed online. Mersereau credited these goals to the Content Marketing Institute (www.contentmarketinginstitute.com), which he said provides valuable information for companies looking for help with their marketing objectives.
These goals are: brand awareness, lead generation, customer acquisition, thought leadership, engagement, customer retention, website traffic, lead nurturing and sales.
According to Mersereau, “brand awareness” centers around the importance of a company increasing its Web presence.
“You want to have your brand out there so that people will see it everywhere. This doesn’t just happen by accident,” he said. “Brand awareness is also about being where your customers likely will show up, and being there consistently with information that they want to see.”
“Lead generation,” meanwhile, focuses on getting people to respond to a company’s online presence such as a website.
“If you are going to use your website and/or specific social media to generate leads, it’s good to make no-risk offers that (your target audience) cannot resist,” Mersereau said. “How many times have you seen an offer through an email for a free deal, and then there is a whole page of information that the company wants from you? It wants way too much information.
“If you are asking for anything more than an email address and maybe a first name, then you are asking too much. People are not going to respond.”
Mersereau emphasized again that it’s vital that a company reaches its true target audience when providing online offers.
“You can offer free iPhones and receive 1 million responses. But, these 1 million people might not be your true prospects. You want to offer things that are specific to your prospects,” Mersereau said.
Two other organizational goals that Mersereau discussed included “customer acquisition,” which is the act of attracting people to a company’s online presence so that they can place orders; and “thought leadership,” which is when a company offers various insights for the benefit of current and potential customers.
“(Thought leadership) is what a lot of people are trying to do on Twitter. They are thinking, ‘If I come up with all of these clever things to say, people will provide me with recognition,’” Mersereau said. “You can spend a lot of time being a ‘thought leader.’ To me, being a ‘thought leader’ doesn’t pay the rent. ‘Likes’ from a posting don’t pay the rent, but this is the goal that some people have.”
The organizational goal “engagement” sets out to establish a relationship with a potential customer via an online presence, while “customer retention” focuses on the act of staying connected with a customer online to keep that person “in touch” with the company and remain part of the company’s community.
“The objective here is to keep them involved, so they will buy from you on a continuous basis,” Mersereau said.
Other organizational goals are “website traffic,” which is closely related to the already discussed “lead generation,” and “lead nurturing.” The latter goal is important when trying to take a customer lead to the next step, which is “sales.”
Mersereau said he has found it’s best to focus on one organizational goal at a time when working on an online marketing plan. Trying to reach too many goals at once can become a daunting task.
Having the greatest online marketing plan in the world will make no difference if it doesn’t reach the desired audience. When it comes to success with websites and specific social media networks, those in charge of marketing should truly know their target audiences, and where they can be reached.
“Most companies already pretty much know what size of businesses they serve well, and what their customers’ true needs are, due to past success. Therefore, it should be fairly easy for them to figure out their target audience,” Mersereau said.
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“The next step is, where do these customers hang out (online). That is the hard part, to know where these customers most likely will run into your content.”
Mersereau listed a wide variety of social media websites and references that are used everyday to help connect companies with current and potential customers. He recommended that a business getting started on social media should focus on one network at a time. Too much, too soon can lead a company’s online presence without a steady anchor.
According to Mersereau, when it comes to B2B activity, LinkedIn is the most popular social media network, while Facebook remains No. 1 for those companies conducting business-to-consumer activity.
“For B2B, LinkedIn is pretty much where everybody is now. If that is where you think your target customers are active, then I would say it’s time to set a goal and start posting information on LinkedIn that only your target customers would want,” he said.
Mersereau added that a successful online marketing campaign is not necessarily about a large following.
“If you have 1,000 online friends and 950 of them are people who are never going to do business with you, then you are working real hard reaching out to people who hold no value to your company. That is why choosing the right medium is so important,” Mersereau said.
Once goals are identified, and the target audience is known, the next critical step to developing a strong online marketing plan is “content.” Company marketing officials should ask themselves: What exactly is it that our company should provide in the form of content that current and potential customers will see as having real value?
Mersereau said there are three different kinds of content: created, curated and consumer generated.
“Created content involves ‘your own stuff,’ such as a blog. I would recommend that if you are not a writer, then don’t start a blog. Some people can write, and some people can’t write. If you can’t write, have somebody on your staff who is talented in this area maintain the blog,” Mersereau said.
He cautioned that the number of blogs which haven’t had an entry in the past 12 months is staggering.
“People often start a blog, post four or five things, and then get busy with other stuff. All of the sudden, the blog is totally forgotten,” Mersereau said. “The nice thing about a blog, however, is that as you are adding information, the older material is still available. People can use a search box to find that information.”
The second classification of content that Mersereau discussed was “curation.”
“Curating content means you find other sources that have information that you think are valuable to your target customers, and you connect them to that information,” Mersereau said. “The hope is that you will become your customers’ search engine for information. Curation takes place all of the time on Twitter. You can provide a ‘tweet’ with information that may send a person to somebody else’s website. The problem is, you can be sending potential customers somewhere else and they may not come back.
“Another way to curate information is to get permission to use things and then display this on your own website or social media cage.”
Mersereau recommends the latter, saying it’s important to have control over things that are posted, including videos and blogs. Today’s cloud storage capabilities can help.
He noted that videos posted on YouTube, for example, are changed to the YouTube proprietary format, thus giving YouTube control over those videos.
“If you are going to build an empire of information, try to build it within your own property. At the moment, it might be easier for you to post your video somewhere else due to a lack of tech savviness,” Mersereau said. “That is OK. Go ahead and post it on YouTube, but keep your video in the original format somewhere else. Therefore, when the time comes to put it on your own website, it will be ready.”
The third type of content Mersereau discussed was consumer generated. This is when customers provide content in the form of reviews, comments, participation in “ask the expert” articles, etc. This can be done via a company’s website and/or through specific social media networks.
When in comes to content, Mersereau said video remains a very popular device for reaching people.
“People love to watch video. It’s spoon-fed. When they are watching a video, they don’t have to think a lot. They get the visual, they get the sound, they get the motion, they get everything but the aroma,” he said. “People are often afraid to post video online, however, because they feel the quality level will not be very good.
“I have seen some bad videos, but you have to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to get started if you have valuable information to share,” he said. “It’s good to think about video topics. What are the topics that your target audience is the most interested in? What questions do they have? Think back to sales conversations. If you are not in sales, meet with your sales people. Find out the important questions customers have that can be turned into good video presentations.”
Mersereau also spoke of the importance of posting an editorial calendar pertaining to online content. This informs members of the target audience what to expect on a scheduled basis.
“You want people looking for your information, and to know when they can receive it on a regular basis. This is really important,” he said.
For those who are wanting to start an online post it’s Mersereau’s recommendation to have at least a month’s worth of product ready. This is true whether it’s in written, audio and/or video format.
“You don’t want to post three things and then get interrupted, and all of a sudden nothing happens for another month,” he said. “It’s a big commitment to be active online with information that is going to gain attention. Make sure you are organized before you start. It’s important to have continuity. The planning process is so essential.”
According to Mersereau, the type of content most B2B buyers seek when looking at a company’s online presence, such as a website, includes pricing information; technical information about specific products; case studies such as articles, blogs and white papers; and shipping/delivery information.
Finally, Mersereau said it’s important to accurately measure how well an online marketing program is working.
“Measurement can include the number of views on a video, the number of clicks to a website, the number of responses being received and/or the number of people who are ‘following’ you,” he said. “If you are not getting noticed, you need to adjust.
“Don’t let the measurement just be about ‘likes’ or ‘friends.’ Remember, ‘likes’ don’t pay the rent. You want to attract new people to your company who will provide true leads. You can then send your sales people to call on these leads. In the end, it’s all about creating more business and taking home more money.”
Visit www.promopower.com for more information.