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Virtual Events: Six things to consider on the way to the New World

Ian McGonnigal, Web Content Volunteer
March 10th, 2009

virtual event

My friend Loree Stark recently wrote a great article called “A Whole New World” on Virtual Events in Expo magazine. In this article she gives three great examples of companies that have participated in Virtual Events. She also lists “10 Steps to Get You There” which offers some excellent points on what it takes to begin planning a virtual event.

As marketers, its important we make a plan before we charge into any tactic, virtual or not. Without a thoughtful strategy, we increase our risk of exposure and the chances of missing ROI objectives.

This is normally a mortal sin for marketers, and especially risky in this economy. Adopting reactive postures for short term gains at the risk of long term success is a recipe for disaster.

Before taking the first step into this “Whole New World” its critical now more than ever marketers understand what they are getting into.

Today I’ll discuss a few things to think about as you consider adding Virtual Events into your marketing mix. But first, lets make sure we’re operating from a common definition.

What is a Virtual Event?
A Virtual Event is a gathering of individuals who meet through a computer-generated environment at a prearranged time in order to acquire knowledge, share information, interact with each other and engage in activities of common interest. Whew! That’s a mouthful.

Here are the key elements of the definition that should always be top of mind.

Computer-generated environment: Audiences experience Virtual Events using their desktop or notebook computer, and like anything else done on a computer – the surrounding environment (complete with distractions) competes with the experience.

Pre-arranged time: This drives the critical mass of an audience, which in turn fosters interaction.

Interact: Interaction among audiences and between sponsors drive engagement and to some degree, immersion in a Virtual Event. It also promotes a higher level of value for attendees and sponsors alike.

Types of Virtual Events

Webcast - Live audio, video or multimedia distributed via the Internet or on digital networks. Webcasts can only be considered events when the content is live.

Webinar - A seminar conducted over the Internet. In contrast to a Webcast, a Webinar is designed to be interactive between the presenter and the audience.

Web Conference - A group meeting or live presentation over the Internet. Web Conferences use screen sharing accompanied by voice communication via telephone or VOIP. Text chat is sometimes used to complement, or in place of voice communication.

Virtual Trade Show - Similar to a face-to-face trade show, a virtual trade show includes: an exhibition hall, a conference center for keynotes, panel discussions, and breakout sessions, a lounge for attendee networking and a resource center for distribution of content.

Virtual World Events – Meetings that take place in virtual worlds like Second Life. These can be as simple as a speaking opportunity, or as complex as a full-blown virtual conference, with robust multimedia, multiple speakers and sessions, networking opportunities, product demonstrations, virtual tours, etc.

Why now?
We are experiencing a perfect storm where Virtual Events are becoming a viable tactic for marketers to consider adding to their marketing mix.

  • Economic factors: Brands are looking for lower-cost alternatives to engage their audiences.
  • Technologies and platforms: Several platforms using different technologies are widely available to host Virtual Events. These are simple to use and robust enough to warrant participation.
  • Bandwidth: Broadband technologies make it easier and more effective than ever for audiences to engage and participate in Virtual Events.
  • The speed of business: Virtual Events allow employees to be accessible or present and allow knowledge and content sharing, education and interaction without disruption.
  • Green: The impact of a virtual activity on the environment is far less than that of a face-to-face tactic.

Here are six things to consider:

1.  Virtual Events are not the same as Face-to-Face Events

  • Virtual Events are another (different) tool you can use to qualify and acquire leads, reinforce thought leadership, or distribute information. They are not, and will not behave the same as Face-to-Face events

2.  Virtual Events do not immerse attendees in a multi-dimensional interactive brand experience

  • They are at the end of the day, a two-dimensional attendee experience.
  • Outside of software, attendees cannot experience your product(s).
  • Audiences participating in Virtual Events are subject to the same distractions, as they would have during any other computer-based activity. 

3.  Virtual Events cannot facilitate relationships as well as Face-To-Face activities

  • No one ever got married as a result of participating in an online dating site based solely on that experience (at least I hope not). There was a live in-person courtship that took place. The same goes for valuable, long-term business relationships. You cannot fax a handshake, and a virtual beer lacks flavor. The human experience requires humans.

4.  Virtual Events are best used as part of an overall marketing mix

  • Identify marketing objectives first, and employ the most effective tools to meet those objectives, virtual or otherwise.
  • Avoid one-off activities – understand how Virtual Events strategically fit within your overall program alongside all marketing tactics.

5.  Virtual Events can take the place of *some* live face-to-face events

  • Understand marketing objectives, number of attendees, how technically savvy your audiences are, the degree of interactivity required, etc.
  • Again, your audiences will behave differently at a Virtual Event than they do in a Face-to-Face event.
  • Brands experience a different level and kind of performance from Virtual Events vs. Face-to-Face Events. Plan for this.

6.  Virtual Events can be used to complement live Face-to-Face events (a hybrid model) 

  • Hybrid models bolster attendance, increase access to content, extend the life of a physical event, leverage and reuse assets, increase reach, drive buzz, enhance attendee value and improve ROI.

Conclusion
As Cece Salomon-Lee mentions on her blog PR Meets Marketing, “Going Virtual Isn’t Necessarily the Answer to Replacing Your Physical Events.” Its important marketers “take a step back and look at the larger picture.” Understanding your business objectives, your audience and all the tools in the marketer’s toolbox will help you ensure your marketing mix is balanced, and your relationships with your audiences are addressed appropriately at every stage in the sales cycle.

Nine Rules of Engagement… Marketing

Ian McGonnigal, Web Content Volunteer
February 17th, 2009

Long before the social web, people would get to know those who they did business with on a personal level. Now we have built Customer Relationship Management systems so that we have some understanding of who our customers are, how often we are talking to them, what products they are interested in, etc. to help us manage customer service and automate sales and marketing. This has not changed the fundamental truth that,

“People do business with people they know, like and trust.”

~Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, PhD

By engaging our communities through face-to-face experiences and the social web, we have a new opportunity to reconnect our brands with the people we do business with. Here are a few tips to get you started.

1. Don’t focus so much on Second Life that you forget people have a “first life”

My 14-year-old son was talking to his best friend about “leveling” his character while playing World of Warcraft. I asked them what level they were in real life. A deeply philosophical discussion ensued, and then, for the rest of the afternoon, they played with each other outside.

In all the buzz about social media and web 2.0, we seem to be forgetting that the most important interactions take place in person. Make sure you allow opportunities for people to experience your brand in person. This is what builds real relationships.

2. Experience Matters

I saw John Mayer perform at a BlackBerry event in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. There were some folks in the audience that were so focused on taking pictures of the concert with their mobile devices to share with their friends, they seemed to forget that there was a special experience happening that was just for them.

Without experiences we would have nothing to share on blogs, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the like. Engage your audiences face-to-face in a meaningful way, and they will become your brand advocates, both on and offline.

3. Its Not About You

While I was at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, I was amazed at the inward focus most of the leading consumer electronics companies had about their brands. Some products were larger, some were faster, some were better looking, but at the end of the day, it was all about them.

It reminded me of a band of gorillas standing around and beating their chests in the hopes of attracting a mate.For face-to-face experiences to be successful, they need to be customer-centric among other things. The same holds true for engagement online. Think of your most successful personal relationships. No one likes to hang around people who talk about themselves all the time.

4. Engagement Marketing Hasn’t Driven a Single Sale…

…its influenced millions of them. According to Forrester Research, the traditional sales funnel has radically evolved from awareness, consideration, preference, action and loyalty, to a maze of recommendations from friends, peer reviews, competitive alternatives and user-generated content resulting in both buyers and contributors.

Make sure your legacy linear marketing and sales models reflect this, and adjust as necessary. How are you influencing both contributors and potential buyers in the sales process? Marketing and sales efforts need to be community-focused. This is true for both face-to-face and online interactions.

5. Engagement is Even More Important After the Sale

According to Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company,

  • “Businesses may lose as many as 1/2 of their customers over a 5 year period.
  • “Acquiring a new customer can cost 6 to 7 times more than retaining an existing customer.”
  • “Businesses who boosted customer retention rates by as little as 5% saw increases in their profits ranging from 5% to a whopping 95%.” 

Make sure you balance your face-to-face and online marketing activities to address everyone in your community all the time. This includes influencers, suspects, prospects, customers and brand advocates.

6. Engagement is an Ongoing Conversation

Earlier this week, I was reviewing the social media presence of some of the world’s largest brands. Some of which have been my clients, and some have not. I was interested to find that many had set up FaceBook Pages, Twitter profiles and the like, but have long since abandoned them. Instead, the communities have taken over and driven the conversation, sometimes in a very unfavorable way to the brand.

You wouldn’t open a restaurant or retail store, or set up a tradeshow and not show up. Why behave that way online? Have we learned nothing from Dell Hell and the Comcast technician asleep on the couch? Listen, and participate in the conversation.

7. Mobility Brings the Conversation Full Circle

In the beginning, there were face-to-face interactions with a brand. Then these face-to-face interactions would drive further community engagement online. Mobile engagement takes place at the same time everywhere. You can be having a face-to-face experience while you are engaging your mobile and online communities. A person can truly be in more than one place at once!

The opportunities and potential for the integration of mobility, online and face-to-face marketing are boundless. Consider tapping into the power of mobility and integrating it into your engagement plan.

8.“What We Do in Life, Echoes in Eternity…”

~Maximus, Gladiator - (I loved that movie) …or as Forrester puts it,

“what brands do offline echoes online.”

Long before there were mobile devices, computers, or even telephones, people would have a brand experience, either positive or negative, in person. This would influence their perception of a brand. Sometimes, they would share this experience with their friends which would in turn influence them. According to Jack Trout,

“Marketing is not a battle of products. It’s a battle of perceptions.”

A study conducted by the Event Marketing Institute found,

  • 98% of people will recommend your brand after a positive experience(50% will tell at least 4 people)
  • 95% will trash you based on a negative experience(62% telling at least 4 people)

Create a strategy that integrates your face-to-face activities with online and mobile activities. Helping to facilitate the conversation across your marketing portfolio, or before, during and after an event will ensure your investment has reach well beyond the original point in time of the event, creating a ripple effect. This long tail will not only help foster new acquaintances, but build deeper relationships.

9. Measurement is critical to continuous improvement and ongoing success

As marketers, we’ve been searching for the end of the rainbow for some time now. Understanding the optimal number, frequency, cadence and type of tactics helps us improve our art and our science. Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer writes,

“The problem with trying to determine ROI for social media is you are trying to put numeric quantities around human interactions and conversations, which are not quantifiable.” 

I understand Jason’s point, but would add human interactions and conversations are quantifiable to a point. We can quantify number of engagements, and through the application of semantic technologies, we can understand whether these engagements were positive or negative, but social media alone does not provide ROI.

Events on the other hand are quite measurable. In a recent BrandWeek article, the latest EventView study was discussed. Twenty-six percent of survey respondents said event marketing is the discipline that drives the greatest return-on-investment.

By combining social media and face-to-face strategies and measuring the relationship between the two, we can understand how engagement marketing moves the ROI needle. Monetize portfolios and campaigns, not just individual tactics, and we’ll get closer to finding the end of that rainbow.

Why B2B Companies Should Consider Affiliate Marketing

Anna Barcelos, Contributor, AMA Boston
February 17th, 2009

I was at a Boston AMA bloggers meeting and affiliate marketing came up.  That sparked some thoughts for this month’s post:  What is affiliate marketing? How can B2B organizations get the most return on investment from affiliate marketing programs? This post serves as a baby step into the huge world of affiliate marketing and how B2B companies should consider starting an affiliate program, whether for their own products or partnering with organizations that have complementary products or services.

What is it affiliate marketing?

In the simplest terms, affiliate marketing involves selling third-party products and services for a commission.  According to AffStat, 80% percent of affiliate programs today use revenue sharing or cost per sale (CPS) as a compensation method, 19% use cost per action (CPA), and the remaining programs use other methods such as cost per click (CPC) or cost per mille/thousand (CPM).

Affiliate marketing has been widely used for years, primarily in the B2C market.  A Forrester Research report indicated that B2B affiliate marketing is a multi-billion dollar market.  More and more B2B companies are taking a closer look at affiliate marketing because it’s a quick, cost-effective way to deliver brand awareness and generate revenue.  Affiliate marketing is done on-line; therefore, it’s trackable, and compensation is performance-based depending on the action (e.g., lead, click, or sale) keeping customer acquisition costs very low.

How can B2B organizations succeed with affiliate marketing?

As with any marketing programs, it’s critical that affiliate marketing fits within an organization’s marketing plan.  It’s also important to have a specific set of goals for an affiliate program, resources to coordinate it since a large portion involves business development and relationship building, and an excellent knowledge of targeted niches or markets that compliment your company’s products/services.

Affiliate partners can range from product/services providers to blogs/bloggers to industry associations.  Affiliate marketing also enables companies to cost-effectively reach or test new markets or niches, identify strategic partners or place their products and services where others may not search for them.

Affiliate marketing companies

If you do a Google search you will come across hundreds of affiliate marketing companies in specific markets.  Top affiliate marketing companies like Kowabunga! And LinkConnector are currently working with B2B organizations like Marketing Sherpa and Getty Images, respectively.

Many B2B organizations are still not putting enough attention in this area and should.  The benefits far outweigh the costs.  Two great resources on affiliate marketing include Shawn Collin’s AffiliateTip blog and the Affiliate Tips website. Have you considered or are you currently using affiliate marketing within your organization? Please feel free to share your experiences.  We’re always interested in learning from you!

Anna Barcelos has over 15 years of experience in both traditional and on-line marketing.  Recently she was the Director of Business Development & Marketing for Business Link International, a messaging services provider where she worked directly with top B2B/B2C clients to put together effective consumer satisfaction and lead generation programs.  You will find her writing about the importance of integrating classic with the latest marketing media and how to achieve the best results.  Currently she is a freelancer helping and educating small to medium-sized businesses on how to use marketing tools to drive business. She’s an AMA member, monthly AMA Boston blogger, and you will always find her on Twitter.  Feel free to follow Anna at @abarcelos.

Retrench or Rejuvenate?

Myles Bristowe, President, AMA Boston
February 15th, 2009

As President of the American Marketing Association in Boston, I am uniquely privileged to have my finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the market. Practical business intuition would suggest that a down economy is the perfect time to invest in your company. However, due to the rolling effects of “Black October” and the lack of confidence demonstrated by consumers during the holiday season, some marketing executives are retrenching. It may be tempting to freeze salaries, cut marketing budgets, and take on a “Marketing for NOW” attitude, but now may not be the time.One consequence of marketing for NOW might be to eliminate tactics that are not readily familiar to you as a marketer. New marketing tactics such as social media, online video, digital media outreach, viral marketing and event search marketing are sometimes not perceived as “safe” if they haven’t had a few successes already. With our clients, we’ve found that when executed properly, these new media tactics can increase your lead generation by up to 25%.

A second effect of focusing on NOW is the temptation to axe your nurture programs. These important programs may fall off the budget table because the yield is too far down the road. However, these nurture programs are your future. There are some creative ways to keep your nurture programs running in the background.

The third result of focusing on NOW is that your cuts could create holes in your message. At a time when companies desperately need marketing, cutting important online and offline channels can create unfortunate gaps in your unified marketing message. If you are not careful, retrenching can also create campaign silos, which will eat away at the effectiveness of your total marketing investment.

Marketing is always important, in good times or bad. As your competitors pull back in fear, they create extra space for you to fill. You may have an opportunity to create a bright spot for your brand to shine through the economic darkness. What will you do?

Myles Bristowe
President, Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association
http://connect.amaboston.org
http://www.amaboston.org

Chief Marketing Officer
Commonwealth Creative Associates
Framingham, MA
http://www.commcreative.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mylesbristowe

Email and Branding: Avoiding Hype, Staying Ahead of the Curve

Christina Inge, Contributor, AMA Boston
February 12th, 2009

Now more than ever, consumer caution is something we all have to contend with; and it’s thus becoming increasingly essential to examine fundamentals such as branding, which can play a pivotal role in marketing, but can fall by the wayside in the struggle to gain immediate ROI. Nowhere is solid branding more important than in email marketing, which is the single most frequently-seen messaging that many of your customers will see.  Email to fax is green technology. If you have a solid grasp of branding in this medium, you’re well on your way to messaging that is consistent, provides value, and makes your brand stand out from the rest.

What are some of the fundamentals of branding that are most relevant when you sit down to compose that next email message? It all boils down to an understanding of your market, a lack of hype, and a reason for consumers to connect with your brand. Branding is about relevance, and so is email marketing. Following the basic tenets of branding is a vital way to ensure that your email program has the essential relevance it needs to remain a must-read in your subscribers’ inbox.

Continuously Evaluate The Landscape in Which Your Brand Operates:  In a succinct, yet remarkably comprehensive post at Brand Positioning Basics, Jack Trout looks at essential points to bear in mind in any brand positioning endeavor. Trout reminds marketers to first identify the product space in which you are competing, then clearly identify the attributes of that space. It’s this fairly basic advice that many can lose sight of in the daily rush of devising email creative. And yet, it’s essential to consider, at least briefly, before launching any email messaging. Markets change rapidly, and a message that was relevant last quarter may be completely irrelevant this quarter. While your branding needs to stay consistent (as Laura Lake points out in another great post), you need to remain flexible as to how you express your brand’s value.  Nowhere is this more important than in email marketing, which consumers expect to be up to the minute and highly relevant, especially when they recognize that the emails they receive are closely targeted to their specific demographics and buying patterns. Look at how your space has been performing this week or month, and how your brand fits into the current landscape.  Design your email’s creative around what is relevant to consumers now, and how your brand addresses a current need-this relevance can boost response rates, and cause a gradual increase in opens, as consumers come to recognize your emails as a source of current, timely information, not just another attempt to sell them your product.

Emphasize Real Benefits: Whitney Hutchinson, writing for MediaPost’s Email Insider, offers some valuable advice on branding when reaching out to the senior demographic in “An Important Market to Remember”: “hold back on the hype,” be transparent, and respect the fact that you are targeting an incredibly savvy demographic. She also emphasizes bearing in mind that fixed-income buyers will look for discounts before buying. This advice applies no matter what demographic you are addressing. In a tough economy, consumers are not going to make many impulse buys, so emphasizing the value your brand offers-in terms of concrete benefits, such as free technical support or industry-leading quality. Offering discounts will probably not depend solely on marketing, but if you can initiate some discounting programs, they can be a great benefit to emphasize in email-as long as they are straightforward, and provide genuine value to your customers.

Realize that Your Brand Means Different Things to Different People: This is segmentation done with a real understanding of segments not just as a statistic, or a list you can pull from your database, but as a way of perceiving your brand. Think of the last time you were approached by a journalist about your organization, or spoke about it at a workshop. It was likely an interesting experience to see how someone from outside your industry saw your company-both their misconceptions, and the surprising insights they had. Now think of your core subscribers and regular customers-their perception of your brand is often very proprietary, and yet each individual customer no doubt has her own take on your organization. While you can’t take into account all the individual customer ideas of your brand, you can segment your email list according to groups that likely have very different perceptions of that brand: new customers, long-term customers, and those who are on your opt-in list but have never bought. They will each have their own ways of understanding your brand, and the most effective email communications will be targeted to what you know about how each group perceives your company, based on your research.

 When many of us think of branding, we tend to think in terms of online and print ads, and other more glamorous messaging than the humble email. Yet, email is one of the most important venues for your branding efforts. Taking the time to make sure that your email creative follows the fundamental tenets of good branding will ensure maximum effectiveness for your email campaigns.        

Move over football, there’s a new Super Bowl spectator sport: Ad Tweets

Sarah Montague
February 3rd, 2009

I attended four Super Bowl parties last Sunday; one was physical and three were virtual parties. Along with thousands of other Twitter users, my party check list included assorted chips, beverages, savory treats and hashtags. According to New Media Strategies, there were 49,000 posts on Twitter that referenced Super Bowl advertising.  From kick off through Monday morning, we all commented on the TV spots using 140 characters or less and tagged these comments with either #SuperAds09, #SB43Ads or #Superbowlads so that we could track the conversation.

The hashtag #SuperAds09  was introduced by  media critic Steve Hall and tweets also streamed live on Steve’s site Adrants . Edward Boches, Mullen’s chief creative officer, and his team introduced #SB43Ads and also streamed it from a separate site entitled “Trash Talk from Section Twitter.” Prior to Sunday, Boches told the Boston Globe  that in participating in the Twitter experiment on Super Bowl ads, “We’re looking to use a new medium to comment on an old medium.”

Lisa Hickey, creative strategist, joined Steve and Edward to explore how pre-game advertising exposure online and real-time reactions to Super Bowl television advertising may begin to change the nature of  the “Water Cooler” chatter and how consumers interact with brands.

Is this Twitter Super Bowl party idea an example of online community, just an event or a little of both?

@stevehall:. “I think it’s a little of both. You have TV event with an online event and with the tools you have to interact online, Twitter makes it a gigantic group chat.”

@lisahickey: “To me, it’s highlighting the way Social Media will evolve in the coming months and years. I was sitting in a room with my real-life friends and family watching the game. At the same time, I’m connected with hundreds of Twitter friends. A commercial plays. I get instant feedback from people in the room. I process that, add my own thoughts and broadcast it to the Twitter world. My family then shouts out ‘What did everyone say? Did they like that?’Advertisers would be smart to realize that their commercials can be an event as well as a message.”

@edwardboches: “Things moved pretty fast. I think it was less of a community and more of an experience, like going to a rock concert. You’re sharing the same thing in an interactive way so you’re sort of feeling connected.”

Will real time group interaction change people’s perception of the advertising messages or judgment of creative?  (I’m thinking of the group think you often see in focus groups — peer pressure to agree or disagree)@stevehall: “Well, with Twitter, I think there is enough physical detachment that people feel they can be more truthful.”@lisahickey: “I looked for the effect of peer pressure, but didn’t see it. Everything was happening much too quickly – and that’s a direct factor of Twitter itself. In that sense, I think the feedback was perhaps more real and honest than what you might find in focus groups.”

@edwardboches:  “No, there is enough difference of opinion that you can always find something that validates your point of view.”

Many of the Super Bowl spots had been online for at least a week prior to game. Does this help brands or take away the suspense or interest in creative?  Will some feel they’ve seen it all so it will seem like a big “so what?”    

@stevehall “As a critic, I had seen about one-third of the spots ahead of time, so there were still spots I had not seen. In fact, a few of them I missed during the game and watched them later at AdAge.com.  I don’t think your average person would have seen much before the game. Most people out side of media don’t seek this out in advance.”

@lisahickey: “This year, I found there to be an enormous amount of pre-game chatter. And I found it interesting how many companies released their ads to the public before the game. In the ultimate irony, you would often have to watch a commercial before you could see the commercial you were looking for. Advertisers, take note: the ads I liked the best, and talked about the most were the ones I hadn’t seen ahead of time.”

@edwardboches:  “I almost prefer not seeing them before hand. The majority of people don’t see them ahead of time.  It’s mainly those of us in the business.”

What was your overall Twitter Super Bowl Experience like?   Anything surprise, amuse or impress you? @lisahickey: “I loved participating with so many people in real time. At first it was actually quite stressful. My kids (in the room with me), let me know in know uncertain terms that they didn’t like my attention being divided between them and the rest of the world. And it was all happening so fast; it was really hard keeping up.”@edwardboches:  What I thought was very interesting was the momentum we created only by sending out a few tweets, emails and invites to the #sb43ads and our site stream. It seemed like within days we had thousands of followers.  So an individual can create this attention but the key is you have to create something that people want to participate in.”

Anything stand out for you in terms of TV spots demonstrating interesting integration with social media platforms?  Or Tweets providing link to that integration?

@stevehall:  “I didn’t notice anything specifically integrated within the spots themselves. In fact, someone at the (physical) party I attended had said, ‘If the brands had put their twitter ID on the spots they might have had instant followers.”

@edwardboches:  “Watching all the spots made me realize that television is getting old.” 

Which brands did you notice participating within the tweet chat? Anyone demonstrating that they are using the medium to really listen to the consumer?

@stevehall: Definitely SoBe (@sobeworld) was very active. They got involved with Twitter prior to the game and during the game they seemed pretty engaged.  I noticed E-trade showed up on Twitter after the game started and they were on for a bit afterward.  I didn’t notice anyone else.

@lisahickey: “I felt like SoBe was really trying to listen, where e-Trade was more intent on just broadcasting. No brands really got involved with the conversation while it was happening. That is one of the fascinating things about this medium that I have been tweeting a lot about recently. How can you participate in rapid-fire, real time dialogue without getting yourself in trouble as a brand? Is it possible?”

How did the experience affect your participation in watching the game itself?

@stevehall: “Well it was multi-tasking and hard to react quickly to everything real time.  When you critique ads, it is hard enough to pay attention to the game itself, but now you have tweeting and reviewing ads and oh, yeah, there is a game too.”

@lisahickey:  “I thought one of the funniest things someone said was ‘I’m trying to concentrate on the commercials, but a football game keeps breaking out.’  It was a little hard going back and forth, especially at first. But, my overall experience was great. In my observations, this is the way the world is evolving: Moments where individuals have short, discreet, focused activity followed by moments of connection with the entire world.”

Final thoughts?

@lisahickey: “For me, the biggest thing is: what’s next? For example, next year, a commercial might show in the first half without an ending. People could vote in real time, and in the second half the ending voted for could air. That’s just one idea… there are so many amazing things that can be done with this media. I, for one, can’t wait to participate.”

@edwardboches: “Well, the Super Bowl was a fast moving event. But in thinking of everyday use of Twitter, I’m struck with how collaborative the users are. People encourage the sharing of ideas and attribute ideas to others. It’s really a pretty positive experience.”

Please join us in the conversation on Twitter: @edwardboches, @stevehall, @lisahickey,@sarahmontague 

Sarah Montague, an AMA Boston blogger is a brand strategist and marketing communications professional that has directed integrated marketing programs for diverse, emerging and high-growth national and global companies. Sarah’s first advertising agency experience at Arnold Worldwide included working on the Digital Equipment Corporation account where she was part of the world’s largest global email system. Sarah remembers the time everyone asked her, “What’s an email?” and is fascinated with how technology continues to shape new ways to connect with the constituents that matter most. Join in the conversation with Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmontague

AMA Boston launches Buzz Award

Rina Rub, Director of Blog Communications
January 30th, 2009

The Boston chapter has launched a Buzz Award for the top contributor to the Chapter’s blog. The award will be announced in July 2009. We will also recognize the top contributor of each quarter. We are pleased to announce that the winner for the fourth-quarter of 2008 is Bev Freeman. She has posted a number of excellent entries throughout the year. Be sure to read her latest:Don’t retrench. Self-assess and The crisis continues – Funding the “gap” and redeploying. Those who are interested in contacting me about the blog can send me an email at rinarub@amaboston.org.

How an Organization is Using Social Media to Increase Awareness and Significantly Impact Lives

Anna Barcelos, Contributor, AMA Boston
January 14th, 2009

On-line networks are filled with information about social media and how companies are using it as a way to increase brand awareness and form closer, more meaningful relationships with their customers.  However, the skepticism among B2B marketers remains.  You can Google dozens of blog comments and articles where marketers still don’t associate social marketing with bottom line results.  Marketers are demanding more quantitative data on social marketing.  As a B2B marketer, I am continuously looking for examples of how social media has created an impact, whether financially or socially, and have provided one for my January post.I had the pleasure of chatting with fellow marketer Danny Brown about social media and how he’s using it to get the word out on his latest project www.12for12K.org, a charity organization that focuses on helping 12 charities, a different one each month, for 12 months.  January’s charity, War Child, provides relief for children of war torn countries like Gaza and Afghanistan. 

Q.     What sparked your desire to start the 12for12K initiative, what it is, and why use social media to do it?

A.      I’ve been involved with charities for a while. I don’t know when it was that the idea for 12for12k came to me – maybe it was an epiphany? I guess it started as “What can I do for 12 months?” and then the numbers came – 12 months, 12 charities, 1200 people, $10 per person per charity, $12,000 per charity.Once the idea was in place, I knew social media was the way to go. The outreach you have on places like Twitter and Facebook, as well as the connections that you make and that they make in return, made social media an obvious channel for the 12for12k project. The first week has been slow as people come back from the holidays, but we have some big plans for promotional pushes over the next couple of weeks.

Q.   With all the mixed press out there about social media (i.e., it’s a fad, doesn’t deliver ROI, etc.).  Describe two ways you think social media will endure the test of time and provide value for organizations.

A.    I think the main reason for organizations to get involved and use it is the cost factor. For example, instead of spending $50,000 on a PR campaign, why not spend $5,000 on a coordinated social media PR campaign instead? Use the tools that are available and spread the word that way? Of course, still have some form of traditional PR working alongside it, but nowhere near $50,000 worth.

The other real benefit is the connection social media can offer between businesses and their customers. With the unsure economy and reduced consumer spending, you need to keep your customers – connecting with them via the likes of Twitter and blogging and actually interacting with them will reap its own rewards. I always liken social media ROI to “Risk of Ignoring” – that’s where the value comes in.

Q.  How has social media benefited your own business and how do you measure its value?

A.  From a business point of view, it’s allowed me to get my brand and services in front of people I may have otherwise struggled to (from a logistical point of view). I can have a short bio on Twitter, people know what I do and how I do it, and that’s on view 24/7 to potentially 4 million people. Just the other day I met with a potential new client who found me on Twitter, liked what I was saying and set up a meeting.

Of course, it’s not just Twitter – there’s LinkedIn and FastPitch and many others, as well as using my blog to offer views on something that might help people. As far as measuring its value, it’s a waiting game, and I always advise my clients of this. It won’t be an overnight success; it won’t happen within a few short weeks.

But if you can build solid relationships with people through social media and offer as much of your service as you do promoting it, you’ll build a link that’s hard to break. People will come to you first and that kind of connection and trust is where the real value lies.

Danny Brown is a long-time corporate communications, marketing and promotions professional who has been involved in social media for six years.  He owns PressReleasePR, a boutique agency specializing in search engine optimized press releases and social media PR.   He has guest authored at Web Analytics World , is a blog partner of WebProNews and iEntry, and regular contributor to the  Dad-o-Matic project.

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Anna Barcelos is an AMA member and monthly blog contributor with 15 years of B2B/B2C marketing experience.  She is constantly on the look-out for best practices in both traditional and on-line marketing and likes to share it with fellow marketers through her blog and social media sites like Twitter (@ableo2).  Currently she’s the Director of Marketing & Business Development for a RI-based messaging (email/voice/surveys/SMS/fax) technology company.

Conducting an Effective Online Survey

Christina Inge, Contributor, AMA Boston
January 6th, 2009

Kicking off the New Year right might mean conducting a customer survey to gain a better idea of how your company can improve their products and services, identify new markets, and hone its message. If you’re conducting the survey in-house, you will want to make it a speedy, yet professional exercise, one that produces immediate actionable insights. Conducted right, an effective survey can have a wide-ranging reach, so here are three tips on how to create, deploy, and analyze a customer survey:

1. Emphasize in your email cover letter why responding to your survey is a good idea. In her 2-part  series Getting a Good Response to Your Surveys, Constant Contact’s Caroline Shahar notes two key ways of demonstrating the benefits of answering a survey to potential respondents. These tips are echoed in Zoomerang’s 10 Tips to Improve Your Surveys:

     a. offer an incentive and
     b. assure customers that responding will have an impact.

For incentives, the standard is to enter respondents in a drawing to win something, but Shahar notes that sharing a report on survey responses can also be a valuable incentive (I know I’ve responded to surveys where the results were the only incentive). I would add that it also makes sense to use the incentive as a way to drive conversions (I was going to write sales, but this advice applies even when you are not selling something).

For instance, offer respondents 10% off their next purchase, an exclusive online seminar, or an upgrade to a higher level of service, if the cost is not too high. This will not only encourage customers to respond to the survey, but will also realize the additional, ultimately more essential, benefit of more sales and/or conversions. If possible, include a link at the end of the survey to a landing page where respondents can immediately complete the desired conversion. Send an email reminder to survey respondents who arrive at the landing page and don’t complete the conversion.

As for assuring customers that responding will have an impact, clearly state what you intend to use survey responses for, rather than using a generic statement that survey responses help serve customers better. For instance, if you will use the information to improve products, say so specifically. Which brings up tip number 2:

2. Respond to the feedback–and make sure customers know how you’re responding. Using a multi-step process is the best way to demonstrate your commitment to listening to your customers. As noted above, start with your email cover letter requesting participation in the survey.

But don’t just stop at the cover letter–indeed, don’t just stop when the survey is finished. Follow up in a few months or weeks with concrete information about how you have put the survey results into action: release the survey results in a report made available on your site, or mention in your newsletter that a specific product revision came about as a result of feedback from the survey. This kind of concrete assurance that you are listening to customers via your survey, and acting on their feedback, will help boost response rates to future surveys, as well as the quality of responses.

Most importantly, it will help demonstrate that your organization is responsive to customer needs. Of course, this kind of utilization of survey results requires buy-in from many departments, which can be a challenge. But ultimately, the rewards are significant in terms of expanding market reach, increasing customer retention, and growing revenue.

3. Make the survey as easy, and as unambiguous as possible. Avoid respondent fatigue by asking a maximum of 15 questions. If you have more than that number of questions you really want to ask of your customers, consider segmenting your list, and creating two surveys, each with questions most relevant to that segment; Shahar offers excellent tips on sending out surveys to segments of your customers. For instance, she suggests targeting only retail store customers, or only online customers. Zoomerang’s 10 Tips offers a basic roundup of survey best practices for marketers, including several ways to reduce respondent fatigue, such as using closed-ended questions, logical ordering, and pre-testing.

Related to making a survey easy to complete is eliminating ambiguity. Responses can drop off when respondents get frustrated by confusing questions. In addition, if a statistically significant number of respondents misunderstands a question, the survey’s validity can be called into question. To make sure that ambiguity is reduced to a minimum, make sure that not only the questions themselves, but also the available answers that respondents can choose from are clear: eliminate open-ended questions, offer a reasonably large number of options for multiple-choice questions, and err on the side of writing somewhat longer items (for instance, writing “Once a Week” for a frequency question, rather than just “Once.”)

Conducting a survey can provide a host of benefits, not just for the marketing department, but for the entire organization. Implementing a survey well can make a big difference to your marketing efforts, providing a wealth of insights. Take steps to ensure a robust response rate, maximize utilization of results, and make the survey itself an effective vehicle of communication with customers. This will greatly enhance the usefulness of your survey.

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Christina Inge is a marketing consultant, and serves as Marketing and PR Coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum in Lowell, MA. She has over 10 year’s experience in communicating with both B2B and B2C audiences. 

The best way to spread holiday cheer is singing loud for all to hear. *

Kevin Flavin, Web Content Volunteer
December 20th, 2008

It seems like every day brings more depressing news from the papers, television, radio, blogs, and other outlets. Coupled with the recent ice storm here in northern New England, things appear pretty dire. Since my power is back on for now, I’m enjoying my third cup of hot cocoa, thinking about the things that make us happy in difficult weather, seasons, and this economy. The first thing that comes to mind is shopping, followed closely by getting a good value, and finally, getting a great value!

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the message from marketers and advertisers that we are going to see more “feel-good” ads. The ads are effective during poor economic times for suspending the malaise of the customer, at least for the brief moment that the products and services are being introduced. Combining the thought of shopping, which feels good with all these “feel-good” ads and we have a confluence of imagery and sound that begs for action. So, imagine how grateful and pleased customers would be if they got a great value for very little or no cost to them.

A typical approach is to offer significant discounts on products, but this can backfire as it may appear that the firm is in financial difficulty and needs the cash flow. Lowering prices gives the appearance of desperation and can lead to backpedaling, or worse. Also, another risk is that current customers may resent both the firm and the new customers, and ultimately the product or service itself as it reminds them of their perceived bad decision. Only significant market strength and flawless execution in other areas can offset this type of mistake. A good example of this was Apple’s reduction of the cost of the iPhone after their most die-hard fans rushed to purchase it first.  Media outlets covered this extensively in the fall of 2007, here is an article from the Huffington Post discussing one reaction.

There are hundreds of little ways that a customer can feel great about their purchase, and more than a few are in the control of the vendor firm, to wit:

  1. Price – decreasing prices is very risky in a difficult economic environment
  2. Assumed or associated risks – including risk of adoption of a solution, risk of replacement, and a myriad of financial risks could be mitigated by vendor firms
  3. Additional or unexpected costs – costs of implementation, cost of carry or ownership, and cost of use are just a few, but each industry is unique and has its own nuances that can be researched and potentially reduced or removed entirely.

Of course, there are other stakeholders in business besides customers; employees are marketing channels “on the ground floor” as they talk to customers, potential customers, and even suppliers. Doing something special for employees pays dividends that multiply throughout the season but also into the New Year.

I mentioned suppliers in the previous paragraph and they should not be overlooked. If a supplier offers a discount for early payment, firms should take advantage of it, its good for the firm and its great for the supplier. In these tough economic times, giving suppliers liquidity can bank some goodwill for later if better payment terms are needed.

You never know, if enough firms actively give during this holiday season, maybe the economic environment will improve, and that will spread the holiday cheer for everyone.

*Apologies to the movie Elf. Copyright New Line Cinema (2003)

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Kevin Flavin has almost 20 years experience in the financial services industry. Balancing the first half of his career as a buyer, he has spent the last ten years as a vendor in a range of roles from sales, product management, but always marketing. He is based in the Boston area. He is also a monthly contributor for the AMA Boston blog.

Don’t retrench. Self-assess.

Bev Freeman, Contributor, AMA Boston
December 16th, 2008

Build an organization ready for a unified trip into the future. Prepare the hearts and minds of the junior staff to senior level managers during this terrible economic time. I wanted to share one of few bright lights in the economic darkness in today’s “Inside Higher Education.”

It is tempting to freeze hires and cut budgets, but now may not be the time. Adjustments are surely needed. We can learn now from the crisis of higher education endowments and from Bard’s president Leon Botstein as reported at Inside Higher Ed.

Name the programs that should prevail and grow them.  Everyone and everything cannot be treated equally. We can all take a lesson from the endowment debacles of most large universities and the announced plans to cut programs equally across the board.  Think about it: Given the sprawling nature of the large college or university, there may have been no other decision to take. Higher ed is not in the habit of differential treatment of valid programs and less-effective research centers or teaching programs. (Community colleges may operate differently, when current income is by necessity closely tied to program expansion or contraction.)

Set expectations. A college president who has always thought differently, Bard’s Leon Botstein is focused on the current endowment crisis. Importantly, he has already set an expectation within Bard about change and growth, although I expect this dynamic approach has earned detractors as well as supporters. I think Botstein’s wisdom pertains to nonprofits in the present moment. Just substitute “income” for the word endowment in the following:

Institutions should be going through programs, eliminating some, but building others — and spending their endowments to make institutions (themselves) more creative. Operating on the assumption that endowment growth or losses matter “ is a tragedy (says Botstein) that makes everyone risk averse.”

There are three “take away” messages here:

(1) Endowments gave false confidence during good times and promote growth for growth’s sake. As Botstein says, highly publicizing decline on endowment by wealthy institutions may backfire form them. Everyone knows despite the decline the institutions are still wealthy and can afford to be thoughtful about what next.

(2) It’s not possible to produce a responsive and creative leadership group mid-stream. Nonprofit leadership needs to start now to create a culture over time in which everyone buys in to effective strategies for change. Again, this may be a significant cultural change for your and your nonprofit.

(3) Today’s news of broad cuts is a cautionary tale about restricted funds and growth for growth’s sake. In the first case, take the example of creating a program to suit a particular donor) that may be related to mission but taken out of the context of the entire organization’s goals and revenue projections. 

Next steps? How does this translate to nonprofits small or large? Start now to:

-Make it safe for people to look at programs that aren’t working.

-Create ways re-deploy program directors and mid-level managers in shaping new priorities so people are more willing to shed old jobs or outdated roles.

-As the CEO or communications senior leader, be public and consistent in the ways you will encourage growth, self-assessment and change, and the best possible work within your organization.

On the marketing front - John Deveney (Deveney Communications) advises that during times like this, nonprofits can’t afford to miss the target: You must know your audience and carefully pick and implement the social media that will help you meet your goals. Shel Holtz interviewed John recently after he received PR News Nonprofit Award for his work on behalf of New Orleans.

Having done quite a bit of pro bono work on the Gulf Coast myself, I know that the recession visited the Gulf Coast at least three years ago. It takes optimism and creativity to pick ways to promote the city when so much mythology still circulates about its ability to “come back” Could there be a harder PR challenge?

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Bev Freeman is a communications consultant to nonprofits and higher ed based in Boston, specializing in planning and implementation of communications strategies to support fund raising and visibility efforts. Her clients have included Harvard School of Public Health, The Harvard Humantarian Aid Initiative, MIT, Tufts, Oxfam America, Screening for Mental Health, and leadership organizations on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (post-Katrina) where she has done visibility work, federal-state relations to keep federal sources of funds flowing to the area, and fund-raising for summer camps and mental health services. Prior to consulting, from 1991-1999 she was public affairs director at the Harvard School of Public Health and also special projects coordinator for Harvard’s provost. She was director of a national infertility counseling nonprofit, RESOLVE, Inc. for 8 years and also has experience in state-level social services.

Social Networking…LinkedIn and Facebook and Twitter…Oh My!

Anna Barcelos, Contributor, AMA Boston
December 15th, 2008

As a marketers, let’s admit it, we love to network!  OK, so I will speak for myself.  All these networking tools are a whole lot of fun!  For the longest time I have been hearing the buzzword Social Networking and not really placing great emphasis on it.  Of course the social networking epiphany didn’t actually happen for me until after I started receiving phone calls and emails as a result of it.  For about 14 years, my career has primarily revolved around traditional and on-line marketing for B2B and B2C companies.  I have many contacts in the industry but have mainly had dialogues around marketing best practices.  This past summer, my career evolved into more of a business development role, and I can’t say enough about how social networking has helped me to be more successful in forming new relationships and partnerships!  Clearly social networking has gone corporate .  The trend has really increased in the past couple months, which is interesting, because that’s when I began really getting into it.   Here are the three social networks I frequent the most and what I’ve discovered about each one.  I highly recommend you use all of them and more!

LinkedIn

Yes, one of the classics.  LinkedIn focuses mainly on business networking, and I have found great connections there.  It is also a great place to keep up with people’s careers.  You’re able to make recommendations and write about the latest projects or business ventures you’re working on.   The profiles resemble resumes, which is great for those seeking employment or finding new business prospects or ventures.

Facebook

Facebook originated as an ideal place for college students to connect.  Over the past years, however, it has also gone corporate.  Although I couldn’t convince the folks at my company to have a presence on it (hello?), I created a profile and am building connections as a result of it.  Facebook is more personal.  It extends beyond just knowing someone on a professional level.  You’re able to display photos of family and friends as well as events you’ve attended with colleagues and friends.  There are a lot of fun applications you can use to “play” with your friends.  I haven’t really checked those out in great depth yet, but they include things like sending a friend a drink or taking quizzes to see if you’re alike.  There are a lot of ads and applications on Facebook.  It doesn’t hurt to check it out to see if it’s right for your company.

Twitter

This one is very interesting (and addictive at times).   Twitter is probably one of my favorites because it’s so amazingly simple!  This simple application enables you to post statements (140 characters or less), whether business-related or personal for all to see.  The way Twitter works as a networking tool is you post items, people will “follow” you if they’re interested in what you have to say, and in turn, you can follow them.  You build your network by following and being followed by people.  You can post URLs of your website, blogs or anything you think may be of interest.  If using it for business be sure to have the user name match the company name for consistency.  It gets really fun when you start getting followed.  For me there is this challenge of building my network of followers.  I have read some great posts and met some interesting people on Twitter.  It’s another great place to plug a new product, blog posting or anything else you feel would help your business. 

There are many social networking tools and web sites.  The walk-away here is to invest your time wisely on the ones that “give back” – whether personal or professional.  Please, always be yourself because people see through that more than ever today. 

Visit my profiles

www.facebook.com

www.twitter.com/ableo2

http://www.linkedin.com/in/annabarcelos

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Anna Barcelos has over 14 years of B2B and B2C broad-based marketing experience, both traditional and on-line. She is the Director of Marketing and Business Development for BLI Messaging, a Providence, RI-based email, voice, survey, SMS and fax technologies company.  Anna is currently a member of AMA, MarketingProfs, and SOCAP. She is also a monthly AMA Boston blog contributor.

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The views and opinions on this blog are solely those of the contributors and do NOT necessarily reflect the official opinions of the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association.