1 0 Archive | May, 2012

Find the Right Marketing Agency for Your Company

Most industrial companies, large or small, can benefit from having a marketing agency to help strategize, develop plans, buy media, and execute campaigns. With so many marketing channels available and the state of the market constantly changing, it may be tough for any marketer to go it alone. Whether you’re thinking of switching agencies or are in the process of hiring your first one, the first step is to develop a list of agencies (at least three and up to six) that you believe might be a good fit for your company. Referrals are a good source for your list as well as your own search efforts.

Once you have your list, here are some tips to help you make the right choice and establish a solid and successful relationship with an agency.

Know what you need done
Be clear about what exactly you need an agency to do for you. Just some creative work? Help with strategy in the industrial marketplace? Develop content such as white papers, articles, presentations, and collateral? Purchase media?

Approach those agencies that have the resources to fulfill your needs. This doesn’t mean that the agency has to have all of the experts on their staff. Many agencies are “virtual” firms who contract with and manage designers, public relations specialists, writers, media buyers, and others. Neither approach is better than the other. What’s important is that the agency can get done what you need.

Remember bigger isn’t always better
Big agencies with long client lists across many industries may appear impressive, but that doesn’t mean they are the right agency for you. If your marketing budget is small, you might not get the attention you need from a bigger agency. Find an agency that has clients with marketing budgets similar to yours. Ask the agency for references from companies that are about your size and spend about the same as you will.

You’ll also want an agency that knows the industrial sector and has familiarity with your target audience. They should know the relevant media companies that serve the industrial sector. At the same time, you don’t want an agency that works with one of your key competitors.

Another point to keep in mind is that when you bring an agency in to make a presentation, they might wow you with their pitch. But be wary of agencies that use senior executives to pitch and close deals, then assign junior people to manage and work on your account. You can avoid this “bait and switch” issue by asking that the agency brings the people who would be working on your account to the meeting.

Craft a good RFP
Ultimately you will end up putting out an RFP and asking agencies to respond. If you write a good RFP, it will be easier for an agency to respond appropriately with the information you need to compare proposals and make a more informed decision. In the RFP, provide background information about your industry, including its structure, growth, and your company’s position in the market. Describe your company’s history and structure, as well as your current marketing and selling channels. Clearly state the challenges you face, what you want an agency to help you accomplish, and how you define and measure success. Detail the decision-making process you will use in choosing an agency.

You should also include information about your marketing budget, or at least a budget range. This will help agencies self-select (they might remove themselves from the process if your budget is too low) and it will help you get comparable proposals from prospective agencies. If you don’t include budget guidelines, you could end up with wildly different proposals and then end up focusing on the low bidder rather than the agency that knows how to optimize your marketing budget and is the best fit for your company.

Have you hired a marketing agency? What advice would you give a company going through this process? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Take Time for Strategic Thinking

I was speaking with a director of marketing at a mid-sized industrial supplier the other day and she said, “I have so much to do I need someone to help me think.” When she explained herself further, it turned out that the tactical demands of marketing were overwhelming her ability to step back and think strategically about marketing. She’d almost lost sight of her company’s goals.

All marketers have been there. You have campaigns to execute, leads to track, content to produce, results to analyze, price quotes for sales to deliver, social media to participate in. Then you have all the fires that ignite and need putting out: the white paper is behind schedule, there’s an error on your Web site, and the boss needs updated budget numbers on his desk right now. Your time gets sucked away, day after day. It’s enough to make you cringe. It’s more than enough to block your ability to think strategically.

And the fact is, when you are simply in “go mode,” trying to get stuff done, you aren’t providing the value that you could to your organization. So what do you do?

Carve out time
Simply, you need to set aside time to think strategically. Yes, easier said than done. But if you can apply the 80/20 rule and set aside 20 percent of your working time to think strategically, you might be able to provide 80 percent more value to your organization.

For at least a few minutes or so every day, head to a conference room without your mobile phone or close the door to your office with the phone muted and your computer shut down. Or get out of the office and head to a coffee shop. Or try taping a sign over your desk with your strategic marketing goals spelled out in a big and garish-looking font and measure everything you do against these goals. Anything to get yourself in a strategic mindset.

Five ways to think strategically
When you do carve out time to think, here are some ideas to get your strategic mindset jump-started:

  1. What are the latest trends in your market and is your company on top of them? You can catch up by reading industry blogs, e-newsletters, and white papers.
  2. Visit your competitors’ Web sites. What are they up to these days? What are they saying? Ask the same questions about partners, regulators, and other industry players.
  3. If you need more information about your industry, trends, and competitors, plan to conduct research in the form of surveys. Or access research by third-party analysts or media companies. You can access GlobalSpec’s research reports about the industrial sector and engineering audience.
  4. Put yourself in the mind set of your customers. Better yet, talk to some of your customers. What are they thinking about? What problems are they facing? Where do they look for answers?
  5. Pretend you are the CEO. What are your strategic concerns? What decisions are you facing? Where should your company be one year from now?
  6. Challenge current ways of thinking and mindsets, including your own. Consider alternatives you might have disregarded in the past. Always ask ‘What if?’
  7. Gather the data on the performance of your marketing programs. What’s working? What’s not? Should you re-allocate your budget or resources to take advantage of better performing marketing options?
  8. Be willing to shift course if you discover your marketing is off track.
  9. Share the insights you gain through thinking strategically with others on your team and across your organization.
  10. Encourage others on your team to think strategically and offer up new ideas.

If you take the time to think strategically, you also might find that it’s easier to prioritize your tactical tasks and get them done more quickly. You’ll also know the direction your marketing organization is heading, and you’ll deliver value tactically as well as strategically.

In the words of baseball hall-of-famer Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.” Take the time to think strategically to end up where you want to be.

How do you find the time to think strategically? What are your ideas for developing a strategic mindset for yourself and your team?


Getting Satisfied Customers to Spread the Word

People like to talk with other people. Industrial professionals, in particular, like to be expert sources of information for their colleagues. They like to share their experiences. That’s why satisfied customers may recommend your company’s products and services to other potential customers, without you ever knowing about it. This basically amounts to free advertising, but only better. Peer recommendations don’t come with the level of burden of the skeptical eye that prospects often place upon advertising.

Industrial marketers understand the value of customers speaking for them. That’s why we put so much effort into developing case studies and testimonials. Written case studies and video testimonials are the bread and butter of customer references. Going further, you can also invite customers to jointly present a Webinar with you, or ask them to speak at an event.

These are important tactics, but they require resources and management on your part, and often take a long time to develop due to finding the right customers and working through their company’s approval processes before a testimonial or case study is made public.

Where Social Media Shines
Successful marketers go beyond these tactics, and have a way of getting satisfied customers to speak up without too much prompting. They can do this through social media, which is on the rise with industrial professionals. Public-facing platforms such as blogs, Facebook or Twitter give companies an opportunity to interact with customers, and for customers to share their own opinions.

One company holds contests on Facebook, asking customers to share a unique or innovative use of their products and then allowing everyone to vote for the best one, with the winner receiving a prize. This type of activity gets your customers spreading the word about you, without your team having to go through extensive work to recruit customer spokespeople.

Another company invites customers to submit guest blog posts about their positive experience with the company. Why would a customer go through this effort? Sometimes happy customers simply enjoy spreading good news — and getting their own company name out there. Other times, offering an incentive will help, anything from discounts on orders, to access to key product managers or executives, to some kind of a giveaway.

A third company tried a campaign using Twitter. It invited customers to submit their own humorous videos showing them using, explaining, or talking about the company’s products. The marketing team discovered that a lot of aspiring and creative filmmakers were out there, and suspected that the request for humor helped increase the submissions. Videos were posted on YouTube, the company’s Web site, and linked to from their profile page on GlobalSpec.

Identifying Satisfied Customers
One challenge you may face is identifying the satisfied customers who may be willing to speak on behalf of your products and services. Probably the best source for case studies and testimonials is your sales team. They are closest to the customers and know who is most satisfied, has an interesting story to tell, and may be willing to speak.

Another good way to identify satisfied customers is to host an online, customer-only discussion forum. Customers can bring up topics or respond to topics that you post. You can monitor the discussions and identify customers who have positive things to say, then approach them for possible case studies and testimonials.

You can also monitor other online discussion boards or media sites. For example, GlobalSpec solicits user opinions and posts them on their site. In a poll of engineers, GlobalSpec asked: “From your perspective, which companies are creating the most innovative temperature controllers?” Respondents listed their answers. If your company name appeared, you might be able to find the customer who mentioned you.

Getting your customers to be your best spokespeople requires a careful balancing act. You can’t just pass out the megaphones and ask them to shout. Sometimes you need to identify candidates, proactively reach out, and request case studies and testimonials. Other times you need to provide ways for customers to speak up for themselves, such as Facebook contests and video requests. In both cases, the rewards are worth the effort.

One caveat: when you give customers the opportunity to speak out, not everything they say will be positive. You’ll need to take the good with the bad, and use any negative comments to help improve your products and services. Addressing negative comments about your company will be a discussion for another time.

How do you solicit testimonials and case studies from satisfied customers? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Sending More, Risking Less

One of the biggest challenges in e-mail marketing today is managing e-mail frequency. Each e-mail you send to the contacts on your list can represent a chance to build your brand, strengthen your position as a thought leader, or generate revenue for your company. However, a common complaint from contacts that unsubscribe is “I receive too many e-mails.”

A recent article on the Silverpop blog has a good summary of options you can take to increase your e-mail frequency. One item to note is to be wary of resending an original message or sending a slightly modified version of the original message. They can work as reminder but can serve to bother recipients if they did not feel the original message had value.

We’d like to hear your thoughts on managing e-mail frequency. Do you think strategically increasing your e-mail frequency is a good approach for your business? What tactics do you use to strategically increase your e-mail frequency? Leave comment below and let us know your thoughts.

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The Creativity Challenge

When was the last time you were truly creative? And we're not talking about how you were able to embed your Twitter feed on a website page. When did you last have that breakthrough, new idea that became reality and helped transform the way you do business?

Most industrial marketers are probably saying, “who has the time to be that creative?” We may focus more on the day-to-day tasks – posting our blog entries to Facebook, proofreading our latest press release and scheduling our next email campaign. Often, we'll make small changes. We send our press releases at a different time to get more pick-ups, tweak our email subject lines for a higher open rate and change how we phrase of our social media entries to be more engaging.

But where is that new discovery or innovation?

Tina Seelig is the author of inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity and holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Stanford University Medical School. She recently gave a brief Q&A to Dan Scawbel of Forbes and addressed the creativity issue.

Generating fresh ideas is actually quite challenging because most people find it difficult to get beyond obvious, incremental solutions. True creativity requires the ability to break new ground, opening up a world of possibilities.

The good news is that Seelig believes that you can develop your creative abilities just like you can take lessons to dance more gracefully or practice shooting a basketball more accurately. While creative skills can be mastered, Seelig says your surrounding work environment, including your colleagues, also plays a significant role.

Creativity needs to develop from the bottom up and from the top down in organizations because it is a characteristic of individuals, small teams, and large groups. Each person needs the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to generate new ideas. And, individuals need to be embedded in teams and organizations that support, encourage, and foster creative problem solving. Without a creative culture, individual creativity withers. And, without creative individuals, a creative culture can’t thrive.

Do you feel creativity thrives in your workplace? How do you foster a creative culture at work? Read the article and let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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