Why Blogging Works: Influence and Reciprocity

January 8, 2016

Once more, with feeling.  Blogging is just about the best way to influence buyers and build loyalty.  Here’s why.

Why blogging works - highfive for reciprocityIn re-reading the book “Webs of Influence” by Nathalie Nahai lately, just to refresh on some principles of User Experience, I am once again appreciating the depth to which she lays out the basic human principles behind online influence. Side note: I really like that Ms. Nahai highlights a “Make This Work for You” segment in each book section (multiples in each chapter) where she outlines a real world use case, bringing her writings beyond the realm of theory and science and into the world of practical use for you and me.

Triggering Social Obligations

In her book, Ms. Nahai quotes social psychologist Robert Cialdini’s statement “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay” in human society,  explaining that the easiest way to initiate reciprocity is to begin by offering a gift.  At any dance party, are you waiting for someone else to make that first move?   Be that first mover.  Your gift can of course be a blog article, where you offer free advice to your audience.  Importantly, Ms. Nahai mentions that the gift you offer must actually be something of value. Upshot: skip the listicle theme and the pleas to “like” your content, and just offer authoritative, helpful content.

Gift Ideas that Build Reciprocity

If you’re not yet an active blogger, other gift ideas might include a free Skype session or Webinar, a free eBook or PDF, a special Subscriber benefit such as access to exclusive premium-value content, or a concession or compromise such as a discount on published prices in exchange for deeper insight or other value.

Online Presence Establishes Credibility

By now you probably know that diligent people check out your online presence (LinkedIn, website, social media accounts) before they decide to offer you the gig. By offering a free Resources page on this blog, as well as making blog articles searchable by topic, we establish credibility and facilitate the reference check process, building confidence in the client that s/he has made a wise selection in selecting us.

All of this may sound obvious, but bear in mind that closing the loop of reciprocity begins and ends with you.  It begins with acknowledging when a prospect or customer has visited your blog, downloaded free content or some such action.  It continues when you thank them personally (not just auto-reply) and continue the dialogue toward helping them solve their challenge, whether or not they buy.  If they buy, good; if they don’t, they still may become a referral source, a colleague, and perhaps even a friend.

Case in Point: Closing the Sale

We recently were hired by a financial services firm to help with a combined website content refresh, social channel buildout, and CRM transformation project. Closing the sale was easier because they acknowledged they had received substantial value just from our blog articles and from a handful of conversations where we discussed the practical application of our knowledge to their set of challenges. In essence, the Discovery phase of the engagement, for which we typically charge a fee, had already been substantially accomplished through that preliminary dialogue and resource exchange.  When we pointed out this concession, the Prospect agreed about the value they had already received, as well as their comfort with the progress of that dialogue and their assurance that we present a wise choice. Reference check done. Confidence assured. Deal done. Bam.

Accelerating Sales through Reciprocity

In preparing for the coming year, our team reviewed our own CRM reports, looking at the Sources of client revenue, analyzing the specific events that helped advance dealflow to successful sales.  We found a high correspondence between deal closure and the Reciprocity loop that involved prospects accessing our online content, combined with our follow-through in highlighting value already delivered before asking for the sale.  In situations where the reciprocity relationship was rather more tenuous, the client interactions seemed marked by more tentative, hard negotiations.  In deals where the Reciprocity was high, we also saw a greater incidence of multi-year client relationships.  This is the year we build on making Reciprocity a standard, repeatable process.

Over to You

As fellow humans, how can we build better reciprocity into relationships to help one another discover and solve challenges?  Can we improve on the habit of acknowledging others’ contributions to our relationships?  As sales professionals, can you use your online presence to establish credibility, begin the Reciprocity loop, and close it with your own follow-through? Love to hear your comments and stories.

Cheers, ~Ed


Content and Event Marketing that Fills the Room

January 18, 2013

It’s all about the Value Exchange

In 2012 I co-developed and produced the North by North Shore (#NXNS) digital media event series, and proved a few content marketing concepts along the way.  Starting from zero in April, the program attracted a capacity, on-target audience in June – just 90 days – and attained an over 90% program satisfaction index, based on survey responses.   We repeated the event in September, with a few audience driven improvements, and again achieved that result.  Another success indicator: two-thirds of all event attendees paid less than full price to attend, driven by an assortment of social promotional programs that let each attendee run their own “friends and family” plan.  Anyone who says you can’t prove the ROI of social media…well, have them call.

How did I target various micro-audiences to get these results?  We could talk about the usual suspects like speakers, topics and location, but, speaking more broadly, I attribute the success of NXNS to the use of Choice Architecture and a Value Exchange framework  in guiding program and content development.  Now with two successful events in tow, we continue to engage our audiences to tune the program further to better address their challenges and learning needs:

  • SBO – small business owner
  • PRO – career professional, practitioner, specialist or solo-preneur
  • MSO – marketing services organization or consulting firm
  • CXO – senior executive

Understanding Motivation

We Content Marketers talk a lot about the buyer’s decision journey, the buyer persona, landing page optimization, and the like.  All of this seems to assume we are adept at understanding motivation and that we use this knowledge when we develop content. Frankly, considering the repeated high demand for relevant content, I thought it would be nice just to ask the question:  how good are you at building motivation into content?  Often a simple “buy” button just doesn’t cut it.   We’ve all felt a bit pushed at times by out-of-synch content.  Here’s how to fix it.

The Value Exchange Continuum

Value Exchange Continuum

The Value Exchange Continuum

I created this graphic to help decide what type of voice to use to appeal to different target audiences.  Executives, for example, act, think and decide differently than other audiences.  If you’ve developed a buyer persona or two to help you think about the frame of reference your micro-audiences are using when they encounter your content, then you are probably somewhat familiar with these concepts.

 Keeping it Real

It’s helpful from time to time to ask: What do you want?  What do you seek? What does any of us want out of life?  If you think those questions are unnecessarily broad or existential, consider this:  Neuromarketing experts suggest that up to 90% of decisions are made unconsciously, guided by our value frameworks.

This is a job for the Choice Architect, the User Experience (UX) practitioner.  These are great people to have on your team when you are designing a website, a sign, an event, a white paper, a presentation, or just about any type of audience-focused content.

Next up (You In?)

If you like the NXNS concept and want to participate, by all means use the handy links at the NXNS site to get started as a speaker, sponsor, media partner, attendee or content contributor.  Let me know some specific event or other opportunity you might have in mind.  And if you are interested in Sustainability topics, consider attending the Sustainable Network Summit, another new event series I am co-producing.

Your Take

Do you have a content development framework that guides your content creation?  Do you have an experienced Editor on your team who is tasked with hewing to a particular point of view or tone of voice that personifies your brand?   Love to hear your stories.  If you’d like to have this case study presented to your audience, contact us.

Cheers,

Ed


How Lead Nurturing Improves Sales

September 3, 2012

In your quest for sales, do you leverage the value of lead nurturing?

Sales leaders know that in the process of converting a raw Lead to a Prospect, and then to a real Opportunity, and ultimately to a Customer, there are often many nuances and inflection points in the conversation, with the result that the sales process is almost never linear.  Those nuances can include shifts in the Prospect’s priorities, needs, and role in the buying process.  These things must be verified repeatedly to detect changes in Prospect status and respond accordingly.  If you don’t frequently check them, your sales forecast becomes a fairy tale, and you won’t know where your next meal is coming from.   You could be ignoring imminent buyers or focusing too much on long-shot prospects, and not even know it.  Either way, you lose.  Lead Nurturing helps you keep on top of the changes.

Click here for a free, crowdsourced process guide to help improve your forecasting.

Recent Experience

A recent project we performed for Pluris Marketing, provider of OCDP (omni-channel dynamic profiling) solutions for large consumer marketing organizations, transformed from simply securing executive appointments to also nurturing leads, and illustrates how lead nurturing contributes value to the sales pipeline.

Not part of the original project scope, Lead Nurturing quickly grew in importance, for three reasons:

  • Establishing a dialogue with as many prospects as possible enabled us to train our ears to the “Voice of the Customer” so we could determine what value people derive from Puris’ solutions – in their own words – and tweak our campaign messaging to improve relevance.  In short, what you call yourself is often not as important as what your customer calls you.  Example: the phrase “Dynamic Profiling” is a term borrowed from a Prospect – not something Pluris dreamed up.
  • Nurturing leads enables us to captivate and sustain a broader, interested audience, improving our place in each prospect’s “Initial Consideration Set” of potential options when they decide they need a relevant solution.
  • The sheer number of “nurturables” far exceeded the number of immediate sales appointments generated under this project.  The number of nurturables alone caused our client to take notice of the opportunity.

Why Nurture Now

Certain human behavioral tendencies make it difficult to convert a new Lead to a current Prospect, let alone a sale:

1) Relevance – People typically perceive immediate needs as more relevant and more urgent than future problems.  No matter how relevant you think your offering is, your Lead’s opinion matters more.  You stand a far greater chance of converting a Lead to a Prospect if they view your solution as currently relevant.

2) Consequences – People tend to discount the importance and consequences of future events.  A distant goal or pain is less motivational than a current one, even if delay portends grave consequences.   Moreover, people tend to see future consequences – even grave ones – as less important with every year such action is delayed.  The farther into the future a need is projected, the less likely it will be perceived today as ever becoming important.

Surprise! Researchers Find Humans Illogical

Illustrating the Relevance and Consequences phenomena, Columbia University researchers found that the average person finds little difference between getting $250 now or $350 a year from now.   Imagine that!  You could opt to wait a year and earn 40% on a surefire outcome, or you could take the money now and forego the potential 40% greater financial benefit.  You don’t need to be Warren Buffet to know that no investment vehicle can guarantee you a 40% one-year return on principle just by delaying receipt, and yet most people queried would rather have the money now, consequences be damned.

Heavily discounting future benefits or consequences can greatly distort corporate thinking, behavior and beliefs.  As maddeningly illogical as human nature may it may seem, your appreciation of this phenomenon actually becomes your competitive advantage if you have a Lead Nurturing program that helps prospects learn, appreciate and promote the importance of your solution.

Lead Nurturing Includes Content Marketing

An effective Lead Nurturing program, including content marketing mapped to each prospect’s unique persona and information needs, enables you and your prospects to keep the discussion channel open and lively.  Rather than attempt to drive each prospect toward near-term action, you instead conduct periodic relevant communication, build productive relations, and assist prospects in evaluating your offerings, so that they can intelligently shift priorities toward considering and adopting your solution – perhaps even sooner than they expected, but in any case, willingly.  If done well, you can identify the “hand raisers” worthy of greater attention and likely to buy, and even determine their decision time frame.

Driving toward a sale too hard or too soon can be viewed by the Lead as pushy, inattentive and ignorant, and typically leads to a fall-off in response, inattention to your future communication attempts or, worse, unsubscribing from your feeds and possibly treating your ill-timed, irrelevant communication as unwanted spam.   We’d all like to believe that prospects discount our pushy, sales-y human failings and focus instead on the merits of our offering, but you are more likely to hold one another’s attention over the long term if you actually listen, check for understanding and nuanced changes, and respond accordingly with relevant information.

Patience Pays

In your eagerness to bring in more sales this calendar quarter, don’t risk alienating a next-quarter sale. The Leads you start to nurture today rarely move as quickly as you’d like, but a constructive, open dialogue helps you understand your relevance in the Prospect’s view so you can tune your messaging to match, while also giving them something to share within their own circles of influence to build consensus toward adopting your  solutions.

Patience and persistence pay, and lead nurturing is the currency.

 

 

 


Content Marketing: A Day in the Life

February 27, 2012

Keeping to the plan of openly sharing our playbooks with clients,  friends and followers, I’m hoping this overview of a typical Content Marketing routine helps you think about ways to be more productive and get better results.  For more Playbook tools, visit the Resources page and help yourself.  As usual, more links apppear below this article. Enjoy!

The following routine is – like most – idiosyncratic, but after some weeding and winnowing, I now have a handful of “go to” resources that work well for many situations. Your own results may vary, and certainly your own audience and goals will affect your choice of routine and toolset.  That said, here’s one routine.  Will it be the same a year from now?  Probably not.  Audience requirements change, tools evolve, and our “learning lab” approach reveals new findings every day.  How does yours compare?  Holla back, friends!

Overview

Digital ink

In about an hour a day, two to five days a week, I create, share, comment and research interesting, relevant content among my online community of Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, and several membership and nonprofit organizations I have joined or for whom I give presentations by invitation.  I perform versions of this process for clients who have outsourced their Chief Revenue Officer and content marketing roles.

Overarching Goals

Simply put, the goal of any content marketing effort should be twofold: Uptake and Intake.  Uptake refers to the echo effect of communities sharing and re-using original content.  Intake refers to the process of linking all content to intake processes – landing pages, email responders, mobile apps, microsites, interactive tools, events, documents, etc.

To fulfill those goals, it helps to have the following workout goals:

  • Cultivate an online voice
  • Generate original noteworthy content
  • Promote others’ noteworthy content
  • Link it all to intake processes for  generating business leads and monitoring/managing community dialogue
  • Continually explore tools and techniques that facilitate “scale-up” i.e. maximizing results of time and effort.
  • Link Content, Community and Conversion using a content mapping and planning tool like the one shown below.

Blog Routine

I write two articles per month for my two blogs. I write one article per week for each client blog I curate. When very busy, I let my own blogs lapse.

e-Zine Routine

FanFoundry Daily and SocialClimate Daily (Paper.li)
Weekly: Rotate the hour of publication each week to hit the 8 am and noon hours across US / EU  .

Daily: Browse articles matching my pre-set keywords; re-tweet articles from the source where possible; move tweeted articles “above the fold”.

Hootsuite

Daily: Review the handful of Twitter accounts I own, as well as those I curate for clients – Stream, Mentions, Re-tweets, keywords, client community dialogue, as well as personal friends and professional groups; Re-tweet relevant content (see Paper.li above and Alltop.com below); Post relevant original Tweets – an article link, a meeting note, a convo thread, etc.; schedule client promotional Tweets to occur in the 8 AM and noon hours across US / EU  time zones.

LinkedIn

Daily: Scan Profile for InMail, Visits, LinkedIn news, and Connection updates. Send notes to Connections with noteworthy Updates (new job, interesting article, etc.); respond to discussion threads, invitations and queries.

Semi-weekly: Visit Discussion Groups; post article links; comment where my expertise warrants; start a Discussion (usually a research question for my own or a client’s business).

Alltop (virtual “magazine rack” of noteworthy bloggers)

Review the blogs I follow for timely and relevant articles. Re-tweet them, and flag interesting ones to link at the end of my relevant blog articles.

Databases

Each week we add new contacts to our main CRM database, classifying them by source, organization, industry, and several other criteria.  Sorting on multiple criteria, we can usually find anywhere from a dozen to several thousand relevant audience members to whom we may email, Tweet or otherwise reach out and initiate or sustain conversations.
The database numbers around a hundred thousand, yet we are able to keep conversations personalized and theme-specific.  This generates significant inbound interest and keeps us touch with clients, partners, friends and prospects.  Shameless plug:  our lifetime average open, click and conversion rates exceed industry norms.

They say you can only have about 150 members in your personal network before things break down; you can easily triple that number – or more – with an effective CRM database, compelling content and mobile/social/email marketing.

R&D / Sharpening the Saw

I condense notes from interesting and relevant magazine subscriptions (Forbes, Fortune, Wired, AdAge, BtoB, etc.). I file them under appropriate topics (in a list of 20).  I update my portfolio of presentations with relevant statistical references from all sources.

I follow a handful of industry analyst heavyweights and key businesses.

I review my meeting notes and generate follow-up communications using my database, private email and, for larger audiences, email marketing software.  I review trending topics on Twitter etc. to determine best topics for timely articles.

Trending topics I cover for myself and my clients include: marketing automation, branding, campaign management, community building, content marketing, customer care, email marketing, event marketing, interactive design, marketing communications, marketing funnel, mobile marketing, prospecting / inside sales, public relations, sales pipeline management, sales training, SEO, social media, and sustainability. Additionally, I cover trending industry topics for my portfolio of clients.

Other Tools – Analytics, Plumbing, etc.

All of the above may seem like a full time job,  but couple of years of practice have transformed it to a daily one-hour process that we have adapted to suit many clients.  It is all facilitated by an array of tools.  You can find a reasonably updated listing of tools in the right sidebar.  They include CRM, analytics, and assorted utilities that help leverage channel data for better client results.  Examples: Klout, FollowerWonk, InMap, etc.

How does your routine compare?  Got any tips to share?  Holla back!

Thanks, and make it a great day.


Inbound Marketing, PR and Web Analytics: It’s Cool at School

March 9, 2010

I was fortunate to meet Yanique Shaw, a Marketing student at Salem State College, at a recent Boston Media Leaders event, and she invited me to meet with her PRSSA chapter at her school, led by Professor of Communications Robert Brown, Ph.D.   Here is what we discussed at our meeting on-campus this week.  I think you’ll find it uplifting.

Content, Community, Commerce… in that order

First, we discussed the linkages between Content and Community, then Community to Commerce.  Anybody drinking the HubSpot koolaid (like me) recognizes and endorses that mantra.  (The folks at HubSpot are, if nothing else, infectious and clear in their branding and engagement model).  Proof: some members of this PRSSA chapter recognize the HubSpot brand.

Each member of the group was able to come up pretty quickly with examples of how content builds community, and how absence of content makes it difficult to build community.

Example: One student who works at a nearby coffee shop remarked that she is able to better serve those customers whom she sees more frequently.  Becoming familiar with customer preferences enables her to make appealing suggestions.  She even came up with a unique beverage recipe for one particular client by combining available store ingredients.  How cool is that?  Now her loyal customer will only let her serve him and his kids.   Can you pick out the content and community – and subsequent commerce – elements here?   How likely would you accept an experimental recipe sample – let alone buy it – if you were in a new coffee shop with a barista you’d never met?  Granted, some like me might take that gamble, but can we agree that this student’s trust relationship with a loyal customer increased that likelihood?

Just as our one-hour campus meeting raced by much too quickly, I too have to abbreviate here.  If time permits later, I’ll update this blog entry with more discussion examples.   Everybody had examples to contribute.  Alex, Luis, Ashley, Karrina, thanks!

Obsessing About Data

Joseph Wanamaker, the department store magnate, is credited with commenting that he always knew half of his advertising dollars were being wasted, but he never knew which half.   Like the buggy whip, that bromide has had its day.  Every mouse click is data, available for analysis.  The PRSSA group confessed lack of MS Excel chops.  My advice: get some.  You may not like the drudgery, but every job has it, and if you re-frame it as sleuthing for clues, you’ll appreciate how your discoveries help your organization improve.

The PRSSA group readily volunteered knowledge about tools like Google Analytics.  We also went on to discuss tools like Grader.com, useful for comparing your business site’s performace to empirical measures as well as competitors’ performance – both extremely useful business guidance, and very helpful when making the business case for improving your online customer experience.   We also looked at ways to use inbound marketing technology like Eloqua to more precisely guide the buyer’s journey through a considered purchase while continuing to cultivate relationships with early stage evaluators of your product or service.

This behind-the-scenes experience management practice all came across as a bit spooky and manipulative to a few folks, but we quickly turned the corner and recognized that obsessing over your data is indispensable in helping you focus your organization’s resources on improving customer service.

In parting, the group invited me to join their online Wiggio collaboration community, so we could keep in touch about relevant matters.  Done!  To my new friends at SSC PRSSA: good luck with your Bellringer Award entry!

Upshot: there is hope for the future, and it thrives at Salem State College.  Thanks a bunch, Dr. Brown et. al., for your hospitality.

How has your college experience prepared you (or not) for the challenges of a Marketing or Public Relations career?   What new realities do you face?  Love to hear your comments.

~Ed

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