Pick up any contemporary marketing book and you'd think that marketing has completed changed over the last few years. Online marketing, social marketing, conversation marketing, traditional marketing; there are so many angles, it is easy to feel like you are constantly behind the curve. So here is a back-to-basic approach that helps you focus on what you need to do to be successful.
The core of any marketing program entails only three goals lead generation, brand building, and thought leadership. You need to achieve all of these to some degree, so it is important that you understand the purpose of each marketing activity. Here is a short description of the three goals:
- Lead generation: locating future customers. The goal here is to identify potential customers in order sell them a product or service, or to reach out to them in the future with additional messages.
- Brand building: making customers, partners, and influencers aware of your offering (and organization), so that they understand your value proposition.
- Thought leadership: clearly articulating your company’s area of expertise, so customers, partners, and influencers understand why when they should look to you for information and assistance. Thought leadership is not the same thing as brand building. Thought leadership is often built around an adjacent aspect of your business. Thought leadership is an extremely effective method of marketing for the same reason that word of mouth works. Namely, messages are well received from trusted sources.
To make that hat trick happen, you could use any of these traditional or emerging techniques.
Event marketing: examples include exhibiting at a trade show, sponsoring a conference, or hosting a partner meeting. Although these are classic lead generation activities, I urge you to take a broader view. Think about how you can use an event to build your brand: run contests to generate fun, post infographics or give out ebooks to provide valuable information, or give away items related to your product or service. Just make sure these activities are closely associated with your brand and the image you wish to create. Hiring a magician might be good fun, but if it doesn’t connect with your brand, don’t do it.
I once worked at a company where the event manager hired two models to stand in our trade show booth. He brought a camera so he could take pictures of attendees with the models. We did get thousands of leads, but they were all junk. I am amazed at how many companies waste money at shows with such silly promotions. Another good idea is to secure speaking opportunities for company executives at industry events. Have them speak as experts, not as salespeople.
If they are willing to stay away from your brand, they can establish themselves as ‘go-to’ people for information by sharing experiences, insightful anecdotes, or market trends. Just remember, the topic has to be related to your business. Getting hundreds of people to attend an event is worthless if the attendees can’t tie the person’s expertise to the company’s business.
Pay-per-click advertising: examples include Google Adwords and advertising on Facebook or LinkedIn. This is a classic lead generation activity, but it can also be used to build the brand and create brand awareness. Many companies run contests or promotions using paid online advertising to get people aware of a new product or service.
Social media: examples include creating a blog, using Twitter to communicate with your ecosystem, or maintaining Facebook pages. This is one type of activity that very few companies get right. Social media channels are not usually good for lead generation. The worst abuse is sending out product messages by Twitter to followers several times a day. It’s a major turnoff. Rather, these channels should be used to exhibit market expertise and highlight topics that interest your market ecosystem. Blogs are a wonderful way to tell a story in your own, unfiltered way.
One good example I saw last week was by Sophos, a security company, which has created a site called NakedSecurity. This site highlights new security threats and related news and draws people to come and get important information. Without ‘pushing product’ the company is able to establish itself as a ‘go to’ authority on security issues. These channels are usually best for establishing thought leadership. The most important thing to know about social media is that it is a two-way communications channel. So, if you are not engaging with people via discussions or feedback, you are not going to get any value from these activities.
Public relations: As more media go online, PR takes on more and more characteristics of social media, but there are still some important differences in the level of editorial oversight, professionalism, and responsibility. PR is a classic channel for brand building and thought leadership and one you should embrace wholeheartedly. An often-squandered opportunity is the ability to respond to articles online—almost all outlets have a comment section where you can provide feedback and engage with the reporter. Two caveats: comment in a timely fashion and have something intelligent to say. Don’t try to use the platform as a lead generation tool. Seeing ads in the comment sections of article is another big turnoff. Rather, take advantage of the change to get many people to see your comments. It would often cost you gobs of money to get that kind attention.
Content syndication: the idea here is to create valuable information and post it in popular places. Some examples include creating infographics of industry trends or running surveys, then posting the results on relevant LinkedIn groups or as presentations on Slideshare. While this sounds like thought leadership or brand building, some of the posting platforms actually offer ways to generate leads. For instance, Slideshare allows professional users to ask viewers to complete a form at various points while viewing a presentation. Whether you should make use of this offering depends on whether you want to generate leads, build your brand, or create thought leadership.
Of course to be successful, you still need to define your target market(s), craft appropriate messaging, and come up with innovative programs to cut through "the noise." None of these are particularly easy, but they should be easier when you have the proper focus on what you are trying to achieve.
Author David Lavenda is a high tech marketing and product strategy executive who also does academic research on information overload in organizations. He is an international scholar for the Society for the History of Technology. Tweet him at @dlavenda.
[Image: Flickr user Ryan Hyde]