Category Archives: Marketing

Marketing

IBM strides towards inbound marketing

In a recent interview with David Meerman Scott of Web Ink Now, Ben Edwards, VP Digital Strategy and Development here at IBM talked of the move from outbound to inbound marketing.

See an excerpt of the interview:

What exactly does this mean? If you aren’t aware of the term ‘inbound marketing’, HubSpot has an excellent definition. Essentially, rather than pumping a message out through broadcast channels like billboard advertising, inbound marketing is more concerned with finding people that are researching your products or industry and engaging with them at that point.

This has a particularly strong fit with online marketing, whether that be a traditional channel like search or an emerging discipline like social media. On that note, Ben points out there are over 400K employees at IBM: 200K have profiles on Facebook and roughly the same number have a presence on LinkedIn. Add to that 30K declared IBMers on Twitter and you’re looking at a lot of connections! The communication through these channels is more about engaging in conversation. It’s more about helping those prospects that might be interested in your products and services speaking with employees who have expertise in that area.

For instance, if an IT architect from the retail sector is looking into a business process management (BPM) solution, she can join an IBM BPM group on LinkedIn and ask questions of IBM experts before synching up with the regular sales process.

To make this a reality, we’re seeing more integration between the IBM website and IBM social networks. Take a look at this section on the newly revamped Software Overview page:

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There’s a virtuous circle at play here. Giving prominence to social media on the corporate website helps drive up community involvement. As these communities grow, whether they be on Twitter, Facebook or on IBM’s own domain, they will channel more visitors back to the IBM site. All without spamming email inboxes or cluttering freeways with billboards:

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On the subject of advertising, IBM has been experimenting with a new generation of online ads that moves away from the traditional broadcast model and lets the viewer interact and provide feedback through the interface. Here’s an example on Slashdot:

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The inbound marketing model serves as a good framework to look at the future of marketing where the communications are conversational, relevant and requested, rather than authoritative, broadcast and pressured. Social media usage at the business level shows no sign of abating, and it’s encouraging to see major corporations like IBM embracing this change at the highest level.

The end of email marketing is nigh

Or at the very least it needs to adapt or it’s going to die.

Given that an open rate of 20% is considered an industry high (more data from MailChimp, in case you were in any doubt), 80% of the emailed population don’t get around to open these sterling email missives. Now let’s be conservative and say half of them have either switched email, gone on vacation, departed their mortal soul or not reported back the open rate for some technical reason, that still leaves around 40% of all those emailed who consider the message spam.

In the past, that has been a hit the email marketer has been willing to take, given that this was primarily a numbers game and only a small percentage of responses was needed to declare victory on a campaign.

(image courtesy of Google)

However that small percentage is very likely to shrink given a couple of recently announced features. Both Google’s Priority Inbox and Facebook’s updated messaging system prioritize the display of mail from friends and respected sources. This could have a significant impact on bulk mailings: rather than these messages appearing as part of the stream of messages that makes up an inbox, these messages could be considered unwanted and get buried. In effect, this will slash the open rates from email marketing campaigns. Given that the Gmail and Facebook systems are used largely by consumers, you can expect to see a hit on B2C campaigns first.

Now is this only a B2C issue? I suspect not. Most companies acknowledge that email puts a considerable dent into productivity of their workforce. As corporate email vendors start offering companies the ability to make email communications more efficient, expect to see the performance of traditional B2B email marketing campaigns tank.

Earning respect

‘Respect’ is a key buzzword in all of this. Email marketers will have to have more respect for their constituents’ inboxes. They will have to engage through other channels (like social media) to earn the respect of the target audience so their brand hits the priority list.

They will also need to ensure their messages are more relevant. Marketing analytics tools (a subset of the emerging business analytics sector) can be used to look at past data on the behavior of the target audience to pinpoint those most likely to open an email and respond. For instance, a mailing can just be sent to those individuals who have clicked on a related link in a past campaign.

These same tools allow for more customer-centric marketing practices such as creating content using messages that marketers know have proven to have the strongest resonance. Relevance breeds respect and if you can become that ‘respected source’ to your target audience, you stand a much better chance of having continued success with email marketing campaigns in the future.

So, pardon my apocalyptic hyperbole, but be aware that recent developments in the email industry have the potential to shake down the marketing industry in 2011 and beyond.

Cognos 10: what does social networking bring to business intelligence?

In my previous life as a webmaster I was called on to develop monthly web performance reports for consumption by the whole marketing organization. At one time these had been documents that were mailed around, but we decided the best approach was to build a web interface with charts and diagrams that would be updated monthly.

We showed standard metrics. Stuff like this:

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Each month I’d send out an email with a link to the latest report with my notes on site performance each month. For instance, I’d point out from looking at the graph on the left that although traffic had dropped this month, this is a seasonal variation. For the graph on the right, I’d say I wasn’t sure why our search traffic had grown: this is something I’d investigate with the various individuals running search campaigns (meaning for 90% of the people on the email distribution, the answer would end up in an Inbox far, far away).  

How much smarter we could have been if we’d have had access to a system like Cognos 10 that marries business intelligence/analytics with social networking capabilities that allow you to add that layer of insight on top of the data.

For instance, here’s a standard chart:

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and here’s the same chart with the addition of related Lotus Connections discussions:

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Going back to my examples above, if I was showing yearly traffic figures, I can use this discussion area to record what I know about seasonal variations. Now if someone receiving the report didn’t agree with my evaluation, they are free to comment on it. As for the discussion I’d need to have with my search marketing folks about why the search traffic has spiked, I can set this up from the same page:

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…with the thread of the discussion unfolding below the graphs and charts to which it relates. Anyone wishing to follow up on the status of the question can go to that page and scan the thread to see the outcome.

I should point out that the Cognos folks have taken this a step further: integrating activities as well as discussions. The data is now more ‘actionable’. Let’s say you are looking at global sales data and you notice a slump in a certain geographic region. You can use the new functionality to setup an Activity to address this, with a number of associated tasks assigned to different sales people or teams. Over time you can evaluate their actions against the performance data all from within the same interface.

And while we’re talking about the sales team, another new feature in Cognos 10 makes it easier to access reports while on the go, directly from your smart phone:

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One feature I’d love to see in future releases of Cognos is the ability to tie conversations/activities to given points on a graph, as opposed to just having these attached to the page of a report. As an example, the popular SoundCloud music hosting service has gained a lot of traction by allowing music enthusiasts to comment on a particular point in a music track:

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(each blue bar represents a separate comment)

Maybe something for a future release?

Delaney Turner has a post with more information on Cognos 10, including a link to an excellent interactive demo.

Also check out the Cognos product pages.

IBM’s marketing automation solutions: a primer

Christopher Hosford over at BtoB Magazine ran an interesting piece on IBM’s foray into the field of marketing automation focusing on the recent spate of acquisitions here at IBM. I thought it would be worth expounding on how each of these acquisitions fits into the notion of a holistic marketing automation solution – using an example that hopefully most of us can relate to: internet retail.

Coremetrics

Internet retailers use web analytics to explore which parts of their site are most effective, which channels are driving most visitors and what are the common paths taken by visitors who buy. Conversely, analytics can also highlight problem areas such as product lines that receive heavy traffic but little conversion to sale, expensive marketing channels that provide little revenue-generating traffic and navigational bottlenecks. You can take this further using a solution such as Intelligent Offer, which exposes the analytics to the visitor: much like the recommendation engine used by Amazon bookstore on their individual listing pages to say ‘if you like this book, you may be interested in these books too’.

Unica

An internet retailer that exploits different marketing channels, eg. email, web, social networks, can use Unica’s Interactive Marketing solution to track responses across the different channels and use this data on past behavior to tailor future messaging. It also allows you to uncover those prospects that have been most responsive and are more likely to cross over and become customers.

Netezza

Netezza can help the internet retailer wherever there are large sets of structured or unstructured business data. For instance you can use Netezza for bid price optimization of search marketing campaigns where you might have 100s or 1000s of keywords covering product inventory, coupled with multiple text ads and landing pages, leading to millions of permutations. Predictive analytics can help you determine what is the optimal paid search campaign structure.

Sterling Commerce

When it comes to order processing, Sterling Commerce can help internet retailers ensure consistency across different channels (eg. keep consistency across different web sites with different experiences). As one example, the system can help dealing with coupons and the correct application of discount codes across all channels.

I should point out that these are only individual examples. Each of these acquisitions have plenty of other offerings, many of which touch on different components of marketing automation.

I’d be remiss not to mention Cognos, SPSS and ILOG, all of whom offer business analytics offerings that can be customized in a marketing automation context.

IBM’s Business Analytics solutions are set to mature as these acquisitions are woven further into the fabric of each other and the expansive IBM quilt of offerings. Early indications are positive however, as IBM’s Business Analytics revenue has grown 12% over the last year to a net income of $3.6 billion. This would suggest we’re in for some interesting times ahead!

BtoB Magazine article on IBM’s marketing automation solutions

Rebooting the news: what this means for marketers

I’ve recently been turned on to the Rebooting the News podcast hosted by web/media luminaries Dave Winer and Jay Rosen. Their experience is manifest in the low key, dare I say low-fi, approach to podcasting. If you’re looking for scripted professionalism, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is the rumpled jacket Columbo of broadcasting. What you will find is a couple of guys who share a common interest, but often a different viewpoint, speaking their mind.

That common interest is the effect of technology on media and journalism. Not surprising given that Dave Winer is attributed (among other things) with the creation of RSS, the engine which revolutionized blog publishing, and Jay Rosen is a journalism professor and strong proponent of public and  citizen-based journalism.

So, why would a B2B tech marketing dude like me be interested in the impact of technology on the media industry? Because I feel the lines between marketing and media are in danger of blurring, or should I say, melting. As social media continues to seep into every crevice of our lives, marketers can no longer broadcast messages as we once did. We need to be more relevant. More informational. More like a news outlet than a brochure. For this reason I feel there is much we can learn from the massive transformations underway in the mainstream news industry. They arguably have had a lot more experience than us marketers in creating emersive, engaging information-rich content.

In a recent issue of Rebooting the News hosted live at the Online News Association annual convention, Dave and Jay layout the major themes they have covered on the show. Although aimed at news outlets like the New York Times, some of the issues strike me as deserving of special attention in the context of online marketing…

Give traffic away

A key factor in building successful online information systems has been the notion of giving your traffic away. Google is perhaps one of the most extreme examples of this. We go there in droves to find answers. But the answers we find aren’t generally on Google. It drives us elsewhere for the answers – few of the links presented to us on search results pages are on the Google domain. It’s effectively an algorithmic curator, desperately trying to retrieve the best, most relevant content on the web and deliver it to us. Dave Winer points out that the major news outlets have not picked up on the value of this service. They still act as know-it-all walled gardens, reluctant to link off their own domain. Looking for further information on a particular news story? The only links proffered are from other stories across the same publication. There could be more background on Wikipedia and explanatory videos on YouTube: but you’ll have to go find them yourselves.

The same argument can be leveled at corporate websites. We talk about how social media breaks down the walls of the enterprise, connecting the pieces between our ecosystem. A company has suppliers, partners, customers, industry analysts, press, all now apparently in closer communion. However, how much of this ecosystem do we expose on our pages? For instance, on a page explaining the application of a software product, we could link to a partner blog showing an innovative implementation, commentary form a respected analyst, or customer testimonials from Twitter (Radian6 offer this on their homepage). Each serves to bolster up and add color to the claims we make on our pages.

Rebooting the News: give visitors away

Why isn’t this happening? I can think of a few reasons: we spend so much time working on the content of our pages we forget to work in the inter-relationships with other relevant pages out there on the web. Perhaps more importantly, we are currently not incentivized to do this. As web marketers, our performance is measured in terms of behavior of our visitors on our site. We use engagement metrics that are specific to our site: like average number of page views and registrations completed. If we start sending our traffic away, the numbers by which we prove ourselves will tank. External links do also need additional curation. Relationships tear, whereas links can be more permanent. If you no longer deal with a partner and they have stripped your reference from their site, you’ll need to update your links accordingly.

The key point here is that this effort in giving traffic away can offer the kind of third party validation that could inch your prospects closer to that all-important sale. We just need the processes, tools and discipline to be able to apply this in a consistent manner.

News updates and background knowledge

Dave and Jay also describe how the web gives us unprecedented access to the back story around any given article. As stories unfold, news articles can be plotted as markers on the timeline of the lifespan of the story. Often readers will pick up an article half way along this timeline. The beauty of the web is that an article can link to content further back on the timeline tracing the story’s evolution and context (and multiple perspectives). Unfortunately, this theory isn’t often applied.

We can relate this to corporate websites too. When we build content or put up an asset, we can contextualize it. Want to go more in-depth? Check out the experts on our forums. On the other end of the spectrum, here’s some 101 resources for all you newbies. We’ve also got blogs, YouTube videos and Wikipedia pages crammed with more details. (Check out this post from Jeremiah Owyang on the subject of linking social media content to corporate websites). Again, all this makes for a richer, more immersive experience for the visitor.

Wrap up

I understand that in Rebooting the News, Dave and Jay are trying to improve the flow of information and the communications process in a democracy. Maybe I’m soiling their pretexts by reducing them to the grubby world of commerce, but I feel their recommendations do bleed over into the world of online marketing, and if adopted can improve the overall web experience for those seeking information in this domain.

Do you agree?

What is the ideal blog template width?

Got caught up on a discussion around what screen resolutions most people use these days to view blogs. Made me dig into the trusty Google Analytics to see if I could discover anything for this very blog.

This is what I found:

Less than 10% of the audience use 1024×768 or less. Given that the majority of visitors are using around 1280, I’d suggest you can happily design a template at 1,000px with the sound knowledge that practically none of your audience will have a horizontal scroll. This is slightly wider than the advice from BloggingPro earlier this year.

Looking at some of the top blogs out there, Mashable weighs in at around 970px wide. Politico is a royal 1,000px and Robert Scoble’s blog sits at around 960px.

Any web designers out there know how this compares with regular websites?

Building IBM’s biggest Twitter profile

Did you know that @developerWorks is IBM’s biggest Twitter profile?

With over 33,000 followers, this syndication channel has some serious clout:

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While we’re talking numbers, let’s just say this channel drives over 200,000 clickthroughs a month to the developerWorks site – surely not something to be sniffed at! I recently caught up with Frank Carlos, the man behind the profile, to get some tips on building a strong Twitter network.

Read more about developing IBM’s largest Twitter profile

Developing IBM’s largest Twitter profile: grassroots marketing the @developerWorks way

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Frank Carlos, a grassroots marketing expert on the IBM developerWorks team. Among his many accomplishments has been the development of the @developerWorks Twitter profile which has amassed a princely 33,000 followers.

@developerWorks on Twitter

In my mind, this makes Frank something close to the Ashton Kutcher of the B2B tech world.

So, how did he do it? A few lessons came out of the conversation with Frank.

Curation is the key

The @developerWorks twitter account works as a syndication channel: posting links to content from across the developerWorks site. However, rather than just automatically spewing out the contents of an RSS feed, Frank takes the role of editor, curating the content and only posting the pieces he thinks make most sense. This resonates with Paul Gillin’s claim in B2B Magazine that curation is the new creation and as the amount of information out there on the web grows exponentially, we find real value from those who can pick through the haystack and just hand us the needles.

Let’s be clear though, the role of curator involves some serious graft. Frank points out that he posts over 20 tweets a day. Every day. Obviously, in order to do this you need a large network of content to pick from.

Focus on the audience

developerWorks is an IBM resource for developers and IT professionals, allowing them to build skills around the gamut of technologies that IBM solutions touch. It covers IBM’s own platforms and tools such as WebSphere, Rational, Tivoli and Information Management. There is also a mass of content on popular programming languages and applications, including PHP, Java, Ruby, Android and HTML5, and it is in these areas where the @developerWorks account is focused. (As an aside, a recent developerWorks study shows just how important these technologies are to the developerWorks audience).

Going after popular topics is a shrewd play that has obviously paid off for the @developerWorks account. Just picking a random selection from today:

@developerWorks tweet sample

Here you can see posts covering Cloud, JavaServer, Ubuntu, RedHat, Scala.

Sure, many of the tweets are related to IBM solutions, but the relationship is made with popular tech topics of the day. The message here is if you know there is a popular theme related to your offerings, exploit that relationship!

Let folks know you’re out there

There are a few attention-grabbing tactics that have been employed to publicize the @developerWorks account: none of which have cost a dime to implement (well, beyond the internal resource).

The first, is the choice of a somewhat unusual URL shortener to post links: StumbleUpon. The advantage of this service over other shorteners such as bit.ly or the newer goo.gl is that the links are automatically added to the StumbleUpon network and Frank points out that his links receive a good chunk of traffic directly from the StumbleUpon channel.

Another technique used by @developerWorks is that of following people in the networks where you want prominence. Using the Android example, you can search on people using the ‘#android’ hashtag and follow those that appear to be tweeting on-topic. Following them also puts you on their radar. If you’re putting out quality content in that area, there’s a good chance they will follow you back.

The use of hashtags in tweets is a great way of associating your content with topics/subjects. How do you find the right hashtag? One way is just a simple search on Twitter, such as this one for ‘#android‘. What you are looking for is a hashtag with a hive of existing conversation around it. And, yep, the mighty Mashable has a primer if you want to know more on making the most of hashtags.

Prove the results of your work

Syndication is the core objective of the @developerWorks account. Frank keeps detailed records on each tweet and how many clicks it receives. As well as knowing that he drives 200,000 clickthroughs a month, he also can break that down by topic and IBM technology. All through the clever use of spreadsheets!

Much is talked about the ROI of social media. For syndication you can go beyond counting clicks and approximate the value of the channel by looking at how much it costs you to attract visitors using other channels. For instance, you can take your hashtags and find out how much it would cost you to get traffic for those terms through paid search on Google. You can take this a step further if you have a good connection between your web analytics and your CRM and calculate how many of these clicks have turned into customers.

Although I bring this up last, tracking the value of your work can be the most important piece. As you’re probably aware, if you can’t find a way to express the value of your efforts, you may find your management pulling the rug from under your campaign.

I should come clean and point out that one of the motivating factors in my decision to move to the developerWorks organization was wanting to be a part of a team that is making excellent use of social media in innovative and effective ways. Frank’s use of Twitter to build the @developerWorks profile is an excellent example of this.