More Reasons to Hone Your SEM Skills

Take a good, long look at David Carr’s article in New York Times about the continued decline of traditional media companies.

Companies from the Christian Science Monitor to the Los Angeles Times to the Tribune Company are hemmorrhaging people, dollars and advertisers. Of course, the reason is the shift of both consumers and ad dollars online.

The paradox of all these announcements is that newspapers and magazines do not have an audience problem — newspaper Web sites are a vital source of news, and growing — but they do have a consumer problem.
Stop and think about where you are reading this column. If you are one of the million or so people who are reading it in a newspaper that landed on your doorstop or that you picked up at the corner, you are in the minority. This same information is available to many more millions on this paper’s Web site, in RSS feeds, on hand-held devices, linked and summarized all over the Web.

This article, from an old media bastion like New York Times (itself losing staff due to declines), should be the only cue you need to hone up on whatever traditional online tactics, Web 2.0 technologies, mobile targeting capabilities, new Google products, and social media strategies you aren’t comfortable with right now. The shift is only growing stronger, as you know, yet when these slow-movers really focus on the online space the pace of consumer shift will pickup rapidly.

Will you be ahead of the game? Then now is the time to move.

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A Friendly Reminder

I pass it along to you because I just got it myself.  The reminder is to never, ever forget to talk to your customers.

And by “talk to” I mean ask questions and then listen.  Actually little talking involved on your part.

As marketers we spend alot of time talking to our customers.  Sending out materials, calling them, and interupting their day with emails, ads and other communications.  Sure, sure…we may ask them their opinions and needs along the way.  Yet kudos to you if you spend time getting real qualitative feedback from your customers, and use that knowledge to change things for the better.

And by “change things for the better” I mean taking a good, long look at (and listening to) their communication preferences, creating products or services that fill unmet needs, and changing products or services you offer now that don’t meet needs very well (or could meet them better).

Some customers have different communication preferences — you need to find a way to respect those preferences and build your strategy around their preferences.  Stop expecting your customers to build their preferences around your strategy, budget-based decisions or skillsets.  And if your products or services aren’t fitting needs just right, grab a whiteboard and sketch out a better way to make them fit.  If they’re too expensive, find a way to add more value.  If they’re missing something, find a way to add it.  If they’re one-size-fits-all, find a way to segment — maybe there’s a brand extension in there somewhere.

Anyway, I just held one of the bigger events in my portfolio, and had a lot of quality face time with customers.  That feedback was a greater source of rich ideas than any quantitative survey has been (at least this year).  And honestly, that’s the way it’s going to be in the future.  In the middle of a busy day, week or life, quantitative surveys are proving hard to sell to customers.   So when you have face time with customers, use it wisely.  I held a focus group with 12 customers (in return for a great lunch), and separately I had meaningful conversations with at least two dozen others.  I am so ready to charge ahead with great ideas, and feel confident and energized that they will serve my customers’ needs.

If you’re a marketer, feel free to siphon off some of that energy and go spend time talking (i.e., listening) to customers right now.  If you’re at an agency, do the same thing even faster — it provides the kind of insight that is hard for clients to argue with.

The Need for Green

No, I’m not talking about money. Of course we all need that.

I’m talking about “going green” with your marketing message. And it’s not just a fad. Many marketers are doing meaningful things not just by greening their messaging, but with actual green actions that provide a meaningful impact to business and the environment. On one end of the spectrum you have Nike, which is actually making sneakers from recylcled trash. Ok, not all of us have the resources to do that grand of an effort. Yet there are plenty of marketers doing small things that make difference internally as well as with customers.

In my own company, and throughout the CME business in general, we print less paper for our events, and put information online or on CDs or on USB drives that attendees can download whenever. For our staff we use metal name tags instead of paper, so they can be reused. There are also a bunch of other little things we do to make a tangible difference in our practices.

Here’s two ideas that can provide a small start for you. Greening isn’t just something you want to do for purely business reasons — it’s something to promote to your customers. Get them involved in it, make them partners in your intiative. It makes a difference in how they perceive your business. What kind of customer wouldn’t love a company that helps take care of the environment? Not one that’s the future of your business, that’s for sure. Anyway, back to the tips:

  • Help your customers learn how to be greener travelers
  • Get smarter about green marketing by taking a good, long look at this green marketing blog
  • Again, that’s a small start — we’ll come back to this topic soon. In the meantime, charge ahead with green. And tell your customers, and get them involved.

    Forge Partnerships

    As marketers, we focus most of our time on building relationships with our customers, since they of course are the lifeblood of our business (and our jobs).

    Yet be sure that you take a good, long look at potential partnerships that ultimately could bring you closer to those customer relationships you need. We sometimes get so consumed with the day-to-day requirements of finding and keeping customers thorugh traditional marketing, that we lose sight of the fact that in today’s media-cluttered marketing environment, a different (and/or subtle) approach may work better in some cases.

    A great example of a recent high-profile partnership that illustrates this approach is New York Times and LinkedIn forming a content partnership (also highlighted on Mashable). Both entities have a common interest in a specific target, and are leveraging each other’s customer networks to promote awareness and ultimately cross-over.

    Clearly this brilliant partnership came to fruition after strategic discussion about how it would be successful for both parties. And both parties had to be knowledgeable about the other one’s services and value proposition. So the moral is: are you making time to do this? Are you making the time to think creatively about how to find customers, investigate the market landscape, and consider possible partnerships? Do you know of any places where people who fit your customer profile congregate and why they do it there? In this age of social media and media fragmentation, many times word more effectively spreads through marketing tactics outside of the norm. Let’s call it marketing through relevance instead of marketing through interuption (interrupting a TV program with an ad, interupting a person’s day with direct mail or email, etc.).

    Make sure you budget some time to do think about partnerships, because it may take time to find potential partners, create a scenario that works for all involved, and it may take even more time to put the pieces in place before you charge ahead.

    Techno Babble

    This post is related to marketing in the sense that there are alot of technology options brewing right now that focus on the mobile space. So this post from Mashable highlights a technology start-up that focuses on mobile delivery of rich media content.

    Translation = savvy, shiny new content delivery means relevant, targeted new advertising options

    If you’re considering moving your brand message into the mobile space, stay aware of the latest options and technology coming down the pike (or here now) so you can package your message with the right companies, content, widgets, (don’t forget iPhone and, coming soon, Android apps) and other gadgets.

    Does Your Message Make Anyone Take Notice, Part 4

    This post is less SEM-focused than the last few posts on this topic, yet in the interest of making people take notice of your message, if you’re targeting customers in big cities (or your a transit entity looking for additional revenue) take a good, long look at this huge opportunity from NYC Transit.

    It’ll be interesting to hear from the big media brands, like History Channel, how this mass transit takeover works. Yes, advertising is a intrusion-based tactic, dropping right into the middle of TV and radio and magazines and alot of other things. And now it drops right into your communte in a big way — it was already there, of course, yet just grew from a taxi-cab-sized presence to a double-decker-bus-sized presence. You can’t help but notice messaging that is so obvious, all-over, and (in alot of cases, but not all) impactful — hell, there are even LED ads in dark stretches of tunnel! It will surely help the recall studies, but how much will it help the sales figures?

    Kudos to NYC Transit for charging ahead with a creative way to generate revenue. Let’s see which brands get creative turning the medium into tangible results.

    Does Your Message Make Anyone Take Notice, Part 3

    If you think these ongoing posts favor SEM over other channels, it’s hard to argue its value and utility. Hell, it’s hard to argue the growing budget I’m dedicating to it. It’s such a challenge not just to find the right message to get people to take notice, but to find the right channel also. Only when you marry right channel with right message does the equation work best.

    And this latest post from Search Insider elaborates more on SEM’s role in the pursuit of a goal, and its difference in tactical nature from other channels like TV.