Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Measuring ROI - the real digital divide (business reality against practitioners' theory)

By Glen Bowman

Aside being a beta junky (please leave a message if you are launching anything, any time soon), I'm addicted to LinkedIn discussions. I cannot resist butting in when somebody makes unrealistic, pompous, half-baked or old-hat assumptions about digital marketing. 

Yes, I love reading US, up-to-the-minute industry newsletters but often there is a big divide between theory and practice or, more to the point, what you should be doing and the budget/time you have. Mind the budget gap!

For me it's a given that for small businesses you can do internet marketing using free tools. But what about ROI, that slippery, hard-to-measure bane of any digital pro's life? Well, if you have zero budget for fancy tools, you use Google analytics to monitor visitors and Google Trends/Adwords Tool for keywords (for the website, blog posts and campaigns). 

You might well ask, yes, but what do you do? I help a customer to rank organically, do some targeted social media, use a few new free tools (beta commitment always pays off) then I ask the client if sales have gone up. 

A high Google ranking is useless if it doesn't convert into sales. So that's how I measure ROI for small businesses: I find out how many visitors have visited the website and then ask the client for sales figures. Of course it might not work out, but it's rare that you don't net any sales at all. And if sales are disappointingly low, you better have a quick, backup plan or the client will do some simple comparative maths and walk away (i.e. sales versus your fee).

Digital marketing on a shoestring

I come from a content marketing perspective and to me you write good copy that attracts customers, find the customers, engage them and get the sales. I used to work for huge brands with lots of money to throw into marketing activities, but when I'm managing the whole process for a small business, I have to roll my sleeves up and do what I can with a very small budget. 

But that's fine, because that's my personal journey. I set up my own website and ranked it all by myself. I built my own reputation from zilch, so I can do this again and again.

Simples as the meerkat said. But not really simple if the client gives you very little time. All this A/B testing people are raving about is time consuming and most clients want to see results pretty quickly, they are not impressed if you take a guru stance and ask for 6 months to calibrate the campaign, you are lucky if you get 3. 

One of my clients wanted a monthly report, which is a pretty tough call if they have just hired you and they have done zero social media beforehand. So you do your best, scratch your head, use any resources you can think of and try to educate your client so they can actually follow what you are doing, which might buy you a bit of time and some respect/empathy. 

But it might not work and you have to use all the knowledge you have and some to pull a rabbit out of the SEO hat (an ethical, white hat, of course). And it never stops, because Google is relentlessly changing ranking criteria. You need to keep learning or you are obsolete in a matter of weeks. Which is fine by me - internet addict and compulsive learner rolled into one small package.

Sometimes I'm allowed to use paid tools, but what if they don't perform? When the editor of an email marketing system refused to work for several days, I had to design email marketing campaigns by rewriting a template's html code. Which is pretty tedious, but brings me back full circle because that's how I designed my professional website in 2008 and before that, that's how I used to manage my fun London Cheapskate website in 2001.

So the moral of this tale is that reality is very distant from digital theory. Unless you work for 'moneybags', you'd better work out which free tools can help you do your job.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

LinkedIn, B2B, email marketing law, my business bootcamp & mavericks

So far I have done SEO work for B2C businesses, but my own business is B2B. I sell writing, editing, design and optimization services (including content marketing, SEO, social media, PR/reputation management) to businesses.

LinkedIn, the most popular social media platform among professionals and industry leaders, is where B2B businesses (I'm a small fish there!) engage through content (including Powerpoint presentations, articles, videos, infographics, etc.) and conversations.

I love LinkedIn, although I'm often irritated by people who mistake it as a hard sales tool to flog their wares. This is a no-no and in most groups these transparent efforts are flagged by members or the group's manager as promotions. 

LinkedIn is the perfect digital platform to create and nurture relationships - it's not a tool for direct marketing or spam. Yet, I get sales emails from members of groups who think they can just email everybody in the group to plug their product/services. This is not acceptable.

There are rules and laws regulating email marketing in the UK, so if you want to dabble in it, please visit the ICO's website and proceed accordingly. If you are not based in the UK and want to trade in the UK, you need to read it too. (If you are wondering, ICO is the UK’s independent authority dealing with information rights.)

Engaging potential customers on social media - aka the soft sale
As I've mentioned before, sharing content and expertise are efficient ways to find customers through LinkedIn. It has worked for many businesses and my own. Sharing expertise is a straightforward process, but what about content? You can share a link to your blog, an infographic, a photo or give away a pdf report through your website. This is a legal and acceptable way to get email addresses and build a customer database. You don't have to write your pdf/ebook from scratch, think content re-purposing, basically recycling articles you have written in a new form with an eye-catching design.

You can also refresh old content - unless the topic has dried up, all you need to do it to update it with current trends. A pdf can also be the resume' of a book you want to sell, a taster you give away to entice readers to get the full Monty. Or you could prepare a presentation in Powerpoint and upload it to Slideshare, then share the link on LinkedIn.

Do you feel some people don't get you? 
Apparently, I'm a maverick. A former client once defined me as a pair of safe hands, but the impression I give to people who glance at my CV is that I'm a maverick. I'm seen as a maverick even when I make comments/offer ideas that make business sense. Is it because I'm a foreigner, is it because I'm a woman? 

I recently realised that there are marketing managers out there who haven't got a clue about digital marketing. Some bluff their way, others hire consultants and believe anything that these people tell them. Which is fine if they picked the right consultants. I will say it again, SEO is an unregulated industry and there a plenty of cowboys out there. I can suss them out as I can analyse a website's structure and see if the work has been done or not. As I mentioned before, in one case a poncy London agency had claimed authorship of the very technical content of a website, which had been written by the client. And to add insult to injury, they had done zero SEO work but billed for it.

Latest example is a marketing manager dismissing digital badges just because this person didn't understand them. Most marketeers know what their value is in engagement and brand promotion, especially with young customers.

So again, a word of warning, before you snob the one-man band SEO consultant for a shiny agency, make sure you know what you are paying for. Maybe they have better offices, but that doesn't guarantee a job well done. And if you are maverick and people don't get you, don't fret, it's their loss not yours. You don't want to work for morons or the client from hell.

Business Ignition Bootcamp - what I have learnt
I have just completed a virtual bootcamp with Danny Iny of Firepole Marketing, which was very interesting as I learnt more about starting/running a business. I won one of 200 places worldwide and all the hard work was worth it as I learnt about the five Business Model Components from Randy 
Komisar's and John Mullins’ Getting to Plan B - basically the Revenue Model, the Gross Margin Model, the Working Capital Model, the Operating Model and the Financing Model.

I enjoyed it much more than studying economics at university because the theory was applied to real businesses (case studies and my own business). It was intense and culminated into a 'graduation' project in which participants formed teams to draft a marketing strategy for a non-profit organisation.

With this new perspective, I will surely find other ways to assess businesses. What the course confirmed is that with digital businesses you can achieve massive savings in the working capital and operating models - you can really reinvent the business wheel and slash costs with a bit of creativity. I have come away with a few insights, some from the course, others from the participants - we networked a lot in the forums.