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The Holidays Can be a Great Time for B2B Email Marketing

Christina Inge, Contributor, AMA Boston
November 1st, 2008

With the holidays fast approaching, those of us in B2B marketing are probably wondering what kinds of email messages to send to our customers. We are not, after all selling a product that is going to make an appropriate gift, so there is little need for holiday promotions—indeed, they would seem a bit odd for a company selling data center services or enterprise software.

Chris Marriott at iMedia Connection suggests that B2B marketers maintain their visibility during the end of the year with engagement-heavy messages. He suggests sending surveys as one idea that will help your company gain awareness as inboxes get crowded with seasonal offers. The question of appropriate B2B email campaigns for the holiday season is also addressed in a blog post by Mark Brownlow at Email Marketing Reports. Quoting Linda Bustos, the post urges B2B marketers not to cut back on their standard messaging schedule at this time of year. Instead, marketers should keep their frequency the same, but change their message to a more lighthearted, less information-filled content model. Bustos suggests sending a Season’s Greetings message, as well as a lighter-on-content version of one’s usual newsletter.

End-of-year satisfaction surveys and seasonal messages are all great ways to round out your email program as 2008 closes. Nonetheless, I’d suggest looking at your audience and overall messaging strategy before cutting back on substantive content. Winter is a traditional time to regroup, think, and plan. If you’re in the technology space, your messaging likely includes a lot of educational content. Throughout the year, you produce white papers, podcasts, application notes, and other documents that your audience turns to in order to be well-informed. If they are technical staff, keeping up-to-date on new developments is important to them, but they often lack the time. When they are crazy-busy, your audience may only glance through all the technical documents you offer. Many of us take advantage of the slower time of year to do a lot of the reading we simply don’t have time for when business is hectic.

The quieter B2B environment during the holidays may provide just the opportunity for your audience to sit down and actually digest some of your more substantial reading. This may be the perfect chance for you to send out that longer white paper—now, when your audience might actually read it while sitting at their desks, instead of putting it away for later. There are fewer interruptions at the office over the holidays, and not everyone is partying 24-7. Test out at least one mailing this holiday season that contains an offer for a white paper or other educational document. In your email message, emphasize the key points in the document, and home in on the benefits of the topic. Underline how much can be learned from the white paper—if your readers are in the mood to expand their knowledge, they’ll respondyour message will stand out.

Although, for your audience, it might be best to keep most of your emails light over the holiday season, bear in mind that you might have an opportunity to reach out with great content that could be lost in the shuffle at a busier time of year.     

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Christina Inge is the marketing manager for Spinwave Systems, a Westford-based tech company specializing in energy management solutions. She also serves as marketing and public relations coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum. She has over ten years’ experience in communications for both B2C and B2B audiences.

Economic Crisis can be Opportunities with the Right Planning

Kevin Flavin, Contributor, AMA Boston
October 20th, 2008

It’s that time of year again, the leaves are changing, the nights are cooler, the school buses are rolling, and, if you’re lucky, senior management wants to know what and where you want to spend next year. They aren’t making any promises, but it looks like the current financial crisis means that you should think long and hard about what to spend at all. On the other hand, those that have the resources may come out aggressive and try to take your market share. Everyone is looking hungry, including your clients. Should you go for broke or pace for the marathon? Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?

A well-thought-out, or even a mediocre-thought-out, strategy involves a lot of thinking and a lot of ideas. Sometimes that takes time, sometimes that takes effort, usually it takes both. I’m right in the middle of our annual planning sessions for the upcoming year, but I have an advantage. I have a fuzzy idea of where we’re going to be in the future. Knowing that helps to plan for the next year because I have a benchmark that I can shift-up or shift-down throughout the year depending on industry issues and opportunities.

At the very beginning, you need to know what do you do, how do you do it, how well do you do it. This involves some internal analysis and navel-gazing. In addition, include external things that impact you, like regulations, customers, even the potential ones, technology, best practices, and finally competitors. Knowing the long term trends in your industry will help you allocate to the right initiatives and helps to plan on where to put your resources to the best effect.

As you begin to plan, you can use a pre-made system, and there are many, many out there, just check your favorite search engine. Here’s one that I don’t endorse, but I liked their web url: Bplans.com. As a note of caution, it is unusual to find an exact pre-made format for everyone’s needs, so take a flexible approach, glean what you can and discard the rest.

One thing to remember, and this has a lot to do with your audience and your role in an organization, I’m focusing on Marketing plans, not business plans. Business plans address financials and other non-marketing topics that marketing doesn’t have responsibility for. If you find a business plan you like, cut those sections out rather than comment that it doesn’t apply. A good place to get the right perspective is to check out the SBA. They have some good plans, at least to get you thinking about how to write your plan.

Finally, spend the balance of the strategy explaining how you’re going to get there. Feel free to borrow other resources in the plan. Let some other departments do some of the heavy lifting - they’ll reap the benefits with you as you succeed. If you have metrics, detail them; proof is better than benefits, which is better than features.

I try to break mine down into three sections:
1. Initiatives - goals, objectives, industry initiatives (client, regulator and competitor), corporate initiatives.
2. Product, services, solution - a description of positioning is the important part as it makes sure everyone is in agreement, or you know who isn’t. I recommend that you discuss market segmentation here, with backup in an appendix. You can also, if there is relevance, talk about changes in distribution, changes in pricing or value, and the other Ps. Use your best judgement when discussing People…
3. Influences - these include external factors such as regulations, competitors, etc. If your products are so mutually exclusive that it makes more sense to discuss these topics in the prior section, go for it. But most firms, and I state this rhetorically, have products that are extensions, complementary, or otherwise tied together, and so a separate section is easier to read than re-stating the same points in each product strategy.

I hold a few sites out on a small list to remind myself of topics I may have forgotten, or new issues that need to be addressed. A very good place to look after you’ve finished your first draft, is the wiki on marketing plans. If you’re like me, I update the plan once a year with notes from the past year, new ideas that we’ve been bouncing around, and any other chaff that comes my way. Since the wiki is updated constantly by donated content from global sources, you can get some good fodder for new ideas or threats to your firm that you may not have thought of or seen yet.

Four additional tips for a lasting strategy (and have learned the hard way):
1. Write it for beyond your known audience, including the timing. I’ve found old strategies that I’ve written switch the e-mail referred to at other companies.
2. Condense the executive summary, the current state, and the future state onto the first page of the document. If you find yourself defining, explaining, rationalizing, and proposing, start again. Finally, the Executive Summary should state any significant change to the current process, like a creation of a cross-departmental-strategy-execution team.
3. Use appendices for tables of data, include expense by product, by intitiative, market move segmentations, etc.
4. Don’t define the obvious. It’ll make your document a dull read and lose its efficacy. If you’ve always sold through VARs, or direct sales into prospects, and continue to do so - then, so what? Don’t waste type, space and reader’s attention span with the mundane.

Finally, be creative, have fun, but make sure it’s professional. This document has your name on it, make it good enough to look at next year as the foundation of your next one. It should be a pleasure to read. It’s a stake in the ground and you’re holding the sledge hammer - wear your best shoes.

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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.

The crisis continues – Funding the “gap” and redeploying

Bev Freeman, Contributor, AMA Boston
October 15th, 2008

 Especially if you are a small nonprofit ($ ½ million or less) or you have barely 3 FTEs to run your organization, you are feeling horribly right now. If your budget hovers around $1 million -$3 million, you probably feel like a small nonprofit, no matter how the Dow Jones is doing today.

Get organized to push ahead - Hopefully your fund sources have been diverse so you’re not suffering from the downfall of Merrill Lynch. In the crisis is opportunity, as a wise person said several millennia ago.

This is when having a good database of emails for your constituents - especially donor prospects or civic-minded leaders in your community - comes in handy. If you don’t have one now, create it. Put people to work on this. Name-address-phone-affiliation-email and a column for “notes.”

Email push  - Most people will be generous even in this terrible time. People want to do something positive and feel good about some gesture toward others they’ve made. A well-written email push to prospects could yield $25 to $100 each. If this audience is mainly middle class ($250,000 and above), you may be successful beyond your dreams.

Example: In your pitch, please tell them about the gap you’re experience, how the money would be used, how much money is needed and when you need it by. Assure them they will get an immediate receipt and thank-you and that their help during this time will help your organization continue to operate reliably (supplying services to your constituency groups).

Ask the recipient to kindly forward to three friends or colleagues. Provide a “back-end” (as mentioned last time) to accept credit card purchases online. Be clear about where checks can be sent and, again, your deadline. Include a form to complete if the person wants more information or wants an occasional or periodic update. Evan Shapiro, Meerkat Technology, in Massachusetts, has an excellent tried-and-true back-end for nonprofits, especially theaters and other types of arts organizations.

A premium? Offer a prize for giving that makes the recipient of your request laugh - perhaps a coupon for $20 for take-out for two from your local favorite chicken-dinner place. Offer this for donations @$50 or above. You’re going to make money anyway.  The plus about the premium is it signals the seriousness of your intent, and gets people’s attention.

Redeploy? - Even if you have 3 FTEs (or fewer) you have to be smart and strategic about how you prioritize and focus your daily activity.

Example: If you have been doing a newsletter in-house - consider getting pro bono help from the outside (e.g., a graphic designer) for a shortened newsletter, but punchier and with a simple, clean look. Pour whatever talent you have in to creative fund raising. Give morale boosting small potluck dinners for your program directors, coordinators and caseworkers. Hang together. Be specific about what you can do together to keep your nonprofit viable and lay groundwork for a healthier future.

BasecampTM - This tool will help you through a time of workforce assessment. You may have staffed a lot of board committees or task forces. You’re agonizing over how to keep these going. Basecamp is a platform that organizes conversations, sharing of documents and even writing together. There is a brand-new live chat function; Basecamp is always adding and improving.

The basic fee is $24/month. I have found this level sufficient for most of my purposes to date. It’s intuitive and fun. Feel free to write me with questions about how it can be applied or how it works. Basecamp (run by 37signals) has very good short tutorials and is intuitive to use if you pause for a few minutes to think (and don’t rush yourself).
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Marketers and Technical Folks…Living Happily Ever After

Anna Barcelos, Contributor, AMA Boston
October 13th, 2008

I’ve spent most of my career marketing for technology companies.  I still chuckle when I remember the old Saturday Night Live skits about the IT guy, Nick Burns (played by Jimmy Fallon), who always had to fix someone’s computer, and it was usually something minor.  One skit involved someone in the marketing department that didn’t know what they were doing on their computer.  Impatient Nick instructed the marketer to get out of his chair with the famous “MOVE!” so he could fix the issue rather than trying to troubleshoot the problem with him.  Seth Godin put it best – “Different people have very different agendas.  The key in understanding someone’s actions is understanding their agenda.” 

Marketers and technical folks often run into challenges, and in the end it comes down to having different agendas.  Marketers and technical folks need to communicate more openly – learn about each others’ agendas – and realize they have common goals of achieving success for their organization. 

What are the challenges between these two distinct groups that often cause them to butt heads and what do you do about it?  Here are some insights and pointers I’ve learned along the way.

Marketers create the brand perception and recognition; technical folks think they already know it.

It’s amazing how many times products have been developed without much customer feedback.  Techies feel they know what customers want, build it and then tell marketers to go out and tell the world about it.  Often it turns out that these products aren’t very user friendly in the real world. 

I have been involved in numerous product development meetings where I’ve seen demos and wondered, “How in the world are users going to know what to do with this thing?”  As a user, I’ve been able to contribute feedback that has been implemented into the products.  I’ve convinced technical folks that although the product has a lot of benefits, unless these products are intuitive and easy to use, they won’t be a success.

Marketers argue “customers won’t want to use this” while techies are convinced “they want it, they just don’t know it yet.”

Technology folks often feel marketing people don’t understand the product well enough to communicate its benefits.  That’s been a fun time for me.   I’ve been told by technology folks in my early years that marketing is “just fluff.”   Try to convince someone like that about the true value of marketing! Usually I will test the product (as a user) and communicate the challenges from my perspective in the way they understand it – documents with bullet points of exactly what I tested, results and recommendations for making the product more user-friendly.   I realize I may be lucky to even be involved in this process compared to organizations where products are created under lock and key away from the marketing department.  I have earned the rights to barge into product development, but it wasn’t without a fight.  Remember, not all organizations have product managers – marketing’s only hope of learning about upcoming products and features. 

What’s a marketer to do?
OK, so there are a couple of challenges between these two strong-minded groups.  We got that.  How do we do our jobs, co-exist and even develop warm and fuzzy relationships between each other? Well let me tell you how I’ve been able to do it.  To date there has only been one way for me.

Make marketing “technical!”
On-line marketing has quickly evolved, and marketers are now able to track marketing efforts better than ever.   Having the luxury of working for a marketing technology company, I can say I’ve become a marketing geek.  I have used on-line marketing in conjunction with traditional marketing efforts to measure marketing programs much more effectively and present data to technical folks that they can use.  For example, through the use of email marketing and surveys, I’ve collected and tracked product feedback that can be communicated back to product development; anything from new feature suggestions to existing features that are hard to figure out.  Another example is working with my technology group doing A/B Testing – testing variable elements of email campaigns to see which produce the best results.  Collecting and reporting measurable results helps bridge the gap between marketers and techies.  Most importantly, it helps techies realize the true value of marketing and why organizations can’t survive without it! 

Marketers and techies can co-exist and learn from each other.  In the end, always keep in mind that despite the differences between these two groups, there is one common goal – customer satisfaction.  If you keep your eye on the prize, you will realize technology folks aren’t much different at all. 

Have you had similar experiences in your organization?  I would love to hear about it!

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Economic Crisis Is a Social Media Opportunity for Smart Nonprofits

Bev Freeman, Contributor, AMA Boston
September 30th, 2008

Hi to all. I’m sending you this quick post during this time of extreme economic crisis in our country and around the world as a possible result of greed on Wall Street.

Sad economic state of affairs - I don’t mind saying this to you because on behalf of nonprofits everywhere, doing the hard work of keeping people together, this next year or more will be very difficult. See this special report by the Philanthropy Journal. Read this article with a grain of salt in the palm of your hand.

Keep learning - I find that the traditional national associations of nonprofits or even grant makers are a little behind the curve where communications strategy is concerned. By this I mean, many senior folks are not tuned in to social media. Everyone says they don’t have time to learn how to use the media. This is a silly excuse. I am sorry to sound tough on people whose leadership has resulted in the wonderful array of 501 (c) 3s in the U.S. that competently serve the disenfranchised. But during the next year, not a single CEO or communicator can afford not to think about how to use social media. Also, join the Center of Nonprofit Excellence in Charlottesville. I have not yet seen a more nimble web presence able to provide info and wisdom to nonprofits. 

Debating the value of social media vs. use of traditional media - see my letter to the editor in The New York Times Magazine, Sept, 21.  It is a comment on an article published two weeks prior in the New York Times Magazine, Sept. 7 (Clive Thompson, “Digitally Close To You”).  All of you should/could read and benefit from this.

Just Do It - All is not lost. I am not encouraging you to fold up your nonprofit tents and go home. Quite the contrary: keep in mind that social media can boost your fund-raising, help reach an audience or audiences you haven’t even touched yet, and give you hope for the future. Also look for upcoming information about a new media conference sponsored by the Society for New Communications Research on November 14 in Cambridge, Mass.

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Integrating Online and Offline Marketing

Christina Inge, Contributor, AMA Boston
September 22nd, 2008

In his September 10 post Are You Too Much Online, Duct Tape Marketing’s John Jantsch cautions against being so enamored of Web 2.0 marketing channels that we forget about traditional channels that can still serve us well. Online channels are so cost-effective, Jantsch argues, that we can often put too much emphasis on them, at the expense of a fully rounded effort that integrates online and offline messages in ways that synergize both channels, for greater ROI.

Or perhaps worse still, I would add, forgetting to fully integrate our online and offline marketing, seeing the two channels as so disparate that we create divergent messages for each channel. As more and more channels become available to us, we need more than ever to work hard at ensuring that all our messages are saying the same thing.

When it comes to integrating online and offline efforts, email marketing programs face some challenges that are unique to the email medium. Email has unique capabilities, and limits, that make it so different from say, our websites or our trade show marketing, that we may see it as an entirely separate entity:

Image suppression: For email, integration can be especially tricky in the age of image suppression. Most of our other marketing efforts, both online and offline, depend on images: our website, advertising, brochures, are highly graphical. Even whitepapers are likely to be at least partially dependent on graphics for their overall message. Thus, most of your online efforts can have the same overall feel as offline messages, such as print ads. Unless you advertise on radio, email is likely to be your only channel where you can’t depend on any image, not even your logo, to convey your message. This makes it fundamentally different from your other channels, which makes integration that much harder.

The importance of the subject line: Emphasis on the subject line means that other aspects of the email sometimes receive relatively less attention. For offline efforts, we can rely on several elements to catch potential consumers’ attention, so we tend to view offline creative more holistically. For instance, print ads can catch consumers’ attention with not just images, but headlines and copy as well. Emails catch subscribers’ attention through that subject line, which means we tend to put so much attention to that line, that we may not view each email message as holistically.

Personalization: Even if you don’t personalize your email messages, your messages are still personal in a way that no other marketing medium is. Let’s face it, few people are likely to forward really good email marketing communications in the same way they might bookmark a website, or share a widget. They might forward a newsletter, but other messages are likely to stop with the recipient. We can take advantage of email’s personalization. We can have dozens of potential messages for different segments. This is a great thing, but it also makes email even more divergent from other channels, which again, makes us think about email differently.

The way we conceptualize email is simply not like the way we conceptualize other channels, both online and offline. This doesn’t mean that we can’t integrate it just as completely with offline efforts. If anything, email makes you get down to basics, thinking about what aspects of your branding can be expressed in just a few short lines of text. And this focus on the essentials is what integration is all about.


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Christina Inge is the marketing manager for Spinwave Systems, a Westford-based tech company specializing in energy management solutions. She also serves as marketing and public relations coordinator for the New England Quilt Museum. She has over ten years’ experience in communications for both B2C and B2B audiences. 

The Nonprofit build-up—More important than the event itself

Bev Freeman, Contributor, AMA Boston
September 15th, 2008

Hi all. I want to refer back to a point made in my previous post (Nonprofits-Begin to learn about the social media) about the “build-up” required when implementing a strategic marketing plan for your nonprofit. This post will explain how to get started when thinking about a build-up.

Myths: When using social media, e.g., blog, creating an excellent Web site, doing an email blast to notify people about an upcoming event, most communicators have the mistaken impression that one email blast is sufficient. Or, if you build a Web site, they will come. Or, if we just make the blog long and meaningful, it will draw an audience.

Build-up is more important than the event itself: These beliefs are understandable if your experience with social media is limited to using email and producing print publications and posters. Let’s say you want to raise crucially needed funds by staging an event. The build-up is actually more important than the event itself. This phase of creating excitement about your organization presents huge opportunities to:

(1) Clarify the mission of your organization
(2) Communicate energy and commitment, and
(3) Get people prepared to read, absorb and use the crucially important request or announcement you are planning to distribute in the future.

Build-up components: The build-up phase includes two aspects. (Plan ahead because it will take some time.)

 (1) Creation of substantive, irresistibly engaging information

Develop brief and well-written content about your nonprofit’s work. (Borrow generously from previous writing.) For example, post on your Web site a lively, engaging article profiling a young person for whom you identified services. (Look at MercyCorps for an excellent example of emotionally moving profiles spotlighted on the home page.

Or, develop a bibliography of relevant, informative articles or an index of occasions when your nonprofit organization has been in the news. Create a brief photo gallery of gorgeous images of your kids, your families, your staff at work, or of your facilities.

(2) Development of a strategic approach. Here are the rudiments:

- With every communication (electronic or print), encourage the recipient to forward the information to interested colleagues and friends.
- Give the recipient the option to opt-out with each email blast.
- Use brief, punchy text-only messages – include no images. Avoid using a Constant Contact™ newsletter platform unless you have a graphic artist and IT specialist who can devote a lot of upfront time to this.
- When ready, prepare a communication to your current database of constituents advising that you will be emailing important information to them occasionally.
- Think about how often you can refresh your engaging information for your audience, e.g., perhaps a new, uniquely important communication every 4-6 weeks.

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Nonprofits—Begin to learn about the social media

Bev Freeman, Contributor, AMA Boston
August 27th, 2008

In this post, I want to repeat what I mentioned in my first post: Set aside time every week to learn more about the social media. Nonprofit communicators have a unique opportunity to employ any of an array of social media tools – these are low-cost (often downloadable for free) and very often effective. Here are some suggestions:

Combat your biases: Shel Holtz, marketer par excellence and observer of social media, warns in a recent podcast about communicators who have a “visceral” reaction to social media and therefore don’t explore it. The emotional reaction is palpable: it often has something to do with feeling “old”, perhaps out-of-step and feeling self-conscious about it.

New resource: Every Dot Connects is a group originating in Austin, which has opened a store online (via Facebook) to help you with social media:  Every Dot Connects.

FIR produced by Shel Holtz – Go to the latest podcast and see what you can learn about social media applications: FIR.

Pass “Go:” When you identify a tool or platform that might have an application to your campaign, you can pass go after you do some thinking and planning. Example: If you work with the fundraising unit (or person) at your nonprofit:

(1) Define your audiences and their preferences,
(2) Identify all the media to be used and sketch out some deadlines, and
(3) Set your financial goal. Be sure to include a build-up in your marketing plan.

Example: Think about how to “reel in” your audiences, i.e., inspire interest and potential loyalty. Entice donor prospects with not only new information but also real-time, breathtaking reports about the issues you represent. You have to build your audience’s loyalty step-by-step, decide how you’ll identify the point at which you can make your “ask.” Think hard about how to ask, what medium to use, and what sort of repetition will work for you. If anyone has examples of the “step by step” to increasing loyalty to your nonprofit, please share.

Alerting NASA: Planet 2.0 Discovered

Alice Stein, VP Membership, AMA Boston
August 22nd, 2008

Imagine a world where your personal and professional contributions are measured by the perceptions of your peers. Would you act differently? Would you become more extroverted or covert in day-to-day actions to avoid getting judged or eliciting potentially negative feedback? Can you fathom a world that no longer measures you on your productivity but rather defines you solely on the assessments of your peers? Could this be the future for all of us in Planet 2.0?

If everything was riding on the words of your peers, would there be a cultural change and would your friends and colleagues become virtual informants? I pose these questions at 2 am on a Friday night (and my first blog submission is already two weeks overdue…) attempting to understand the future implications of Web 2.0. According to Tim O’Reilly, “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them, harnessing collective intelligence.” For those of you unfamiliar with Tim O’Reilly, he’s widely credited for coining the term “Web 2.0” amongst his many other achievements.

As a marketer, I am completely fascinated by human behavior, not only buying habits of certain segments but the surge in popularity of viral marketing and the  prominence of highly networked influencers. These people who are classified as “influencers” tend to be just like you and me in physical form and appearance but walk through life possessing clout and credibility that causes others to take action. Tim O’Reilly would be classified as an influencer who through his books and efforts has made certain technologies top-of-mind in many circles.

With my first blog submission, I am by no means attempting to influence you to remove your profile from Facebook or never again critique a book on Amazon.com, but I want you to understand that despite the brilliance of Web 2.0, there are cultural implications of social media that we do not yet understand. I leave you with a question: what are the cultural and social implications of Web 2.0 and does society have a contingency plan or simply a crisis communications plan if as reviewers and auditors of those around us we become too exposed or inaccurately portrayed? The personal brand that you once owned now ceases to exist and metamorphoses into something beyond your control – are you ready for a disaster recovery of yourself? Or, in order to generate positive assessments from colleagues and peers, you start to modify your behavior to such an extent that you eventually lose sight of your own uniqueness. As you can see by these extreme scenarios, the implications of social media are both exciting and petrifying.

My biggest fear is that with all the advancements within social media, we are nearing a long term cultural shift where opinions become the qualifiers of greatness and the human spirit is put into question. Our new web enabled reality is almost like a new planet; let me coin it, “Planet 2.0” for our immediate purposes. Whether it’s a film or book review, Facebook photo, or comment on LinkedIn, your words have the power to permeate cyberspace so be extra careful with your words. The old adage still applies, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Final comment: social media is viral and operates on a virtual microcosm of influencers. Please take precautions when posting.

Nonprofit Marketing – Using a Plan, Considering Social Media

Bev Freeman, Contributor, AMA Boston
August 19th, 2008

Hello nonprofit marketers. This short article will review the benefits of a plan, encourage you to engage in planning and help you understand where social media may fit in. See the rudiments of nonprofit marketing in my earlier post Nonprofit Marketing Really?.

A red flag goes up for me when a CEO puts off the idea of communications planning. Or she says, “This (being strategic) is my communications manager’s responsibility.”  Communications planning is by its very nature an organization-wide, integrated enterprise, concerned with constituencies inside as well as outside our agency.

A marketing plan is not a “ho-hum” one-time event. It is a dynamic way to track your progress toward defined outcomes (quantifiable or qualitative) and keep you from tumbling off your seat when additional demands on your time occur. For once, it is a way to be proactive – not reactive as most communications managers find themselves.

Nonprofits fail to realize there are economies to be realized in a strategic multi-layered plan. They sometimes don’t realize they can leverage existing materials to support different marketing needs. Planning helps you identify these opportunities.

Example of using what you’ve got: A national mental health organization was funded for some years by one large federal grant, a risky prospect for a nonprofit. As the grant was about to end, the urgent need to generate new and diverse sources of income put the senior staff in crisis mode.

Staff had initiated a few webinars as a customer relations-education effort. In a strategic planning meeting, their attention turned to webinars as a marketing tool for cultivating other audiences such as clinicians and educators. Staff realized there was a strong match between the professional development needs of busy care providers and the expertise of the organization.

Thus, recruiting and enrolling eager clinicians in webinars (at a minimal cost to participants) provided the basis for generating a council of allies, who could in turn champion the training kits published by the nonprofit for use in a wide variety of settings. These allies can also serve as informal ambassadors for the agency’s mission. Later, social media can be employed, in conjunction with the webinars, to bring together people with similar questions or concerns, consolidating their relationship to each other and to the organization.

Recognition of these potential, interlocking opportunities and the leveraged use of available tools and resources requires strategic thinking. A plan puts boundaries around your strategic thinking and gives you a road map.  Here are a few ways to take steps toward developing your marketing plan.

Become a trusted channel – Like any for-profit, your agency will gain from a disciplined marketing effort. A recent webinar offered by Forrester Research and Umbria refers to being a “trusted channel,” meaning this: Make your organization a trusted communication channel for your audiences. If you gain their trust, you can better guide their thinking and even their actions.

Optimize by using the Internet and social media - In your agency, a marketing or communications budget per se may not exist. You can optimize your scarce resources by using social media. This is a Web 2.0 world – the huge variety of social media (Facebook, Basecamp, iTunes, blogging, etc.) that are advancing communications across the world – and rapidly transforming business, politics, medicine, public health and all the human services. Many of these platforms are free or low-cost. Here are a few key things to think about and execute.

• Know thy audience. Conduct a brief survey or a few focus groups to clarify and confirm your constituencies’ needs and, importantly, how they receive and use information.

• Second, create an informative Web site and have a strategy to tell people about it. Include ways to bring your customer closer (something interactive such as a sign-up for an e-newsletter). Resolve to measure traffic and think hard about ways to increase it.

• Third, reconsider your direct mail. If you are as well resourced as The Nature Conservancy or the Mayo Clinic, print mailings may make sense. Perhaps you are so local (or Internet is unavailable in your area) so that distributing regular mail is a sensible approach.

The humanitarian effort profiled in my first post is now using Basecamp to work collaborative in working groups on new ideas (deliverables) for the next summit meeting.. Discussion, co-writing, communications is all organized by Basecamp. This means no matter where one is – or what time zone – it’s possible to look in on the activity and provide input.

Social media – yes! Skeptical about Web 2.0? Over half of adults are buying services online and a much higher percentage of young people use social media on a daily basis.

And for you skeptics – There is growing evidence that Web-based communications launches a pervasive word-of-mouth, ultimately encouraging the transmission of information in the old-fashioned way – face-to-face. 

How does this happen? When you get an open invitation to a local fundraising event, you might forward this to a dozen or more friends and colleagues. This quickly builds interest in the event or the cause. Recipients can click on the agency’s Web address for more information. This sort of “fast-forwarding” can produce new inquiries for a nonprofit. It can lay a foundation for a conference call to discussions issues in greater depth, or an important breakfast meeting with new donor-prospects.

If your agency’s funding doesn’t grow on trees, consider reducing your direct mail and print budget. You will save trees, and more importantly, probably be more effective. Revert to online communication. Try a brief, focused electronic newsletter, archived and indexed on your Web site. Minimize the graphic art so that it downloads easily, especially by someone without a color printer. Consider offering the option of a text-only file

Think before you leap - The Web may be wonderful for some, but a small nonprofit may solely focus on a strong relationship with the local news media because newspaper coverage generates just the type of inquiries it seeks. On the other hand, for those of us ready to reap the benefits of a lively Web presence, avoid the pressures to blog or to incorporate any other social media unless these tools are imbedded in a well-thought out communications strategy. Compelling narratives about your services or  advocacy effort will stimulate people to sign up for more information. See www.imcworldwide.org as a good example of this.

So, put your toe in the water - You are not behind the curve – yet. It’s safe to say that we in the nonprofit sector are still sorting out the best social media tools to use. Facebook master Chris Hughes said, keep it real and keep it local, mirroring the offline world. Think of the Internet as simply the connective tissue.  Internet aside, on-going your agency’s meaningful one-to-one relationships with clients, the quality of care and your nonprofits distinctiveness and relevance will determine if your organization stays on top.

A final thought - If you push marketing to the bottom of the priority list, you will always feel like you’re not doing enough or that you’re constantly playing “catch up.”  If you have this nagging feeling, your communications manager or your board’s media committee may not be the culprit—the absence of careful planning is.

Consider the biggest hurdle to marketing success in the nonprofit sector: organization-wide commitment to setting strategic goals, developing a marketing strategy to support those goals, and identifying the funds to support the marketing effort. Jump this hurdle and you are well on your way to reporting to your board that your goals have been met.

Market Research Hall of Famer Gives Insights on Marketing Consulting

Rina Rub, Director of Blog Communications
July 25th, 2008

Kevin ClancyKevin J. Clancy, Ph. D., CEO of Copernicus Marketing Consulting, was recently awarded the prestigious Market Research Council’s Market Research Hall of Fame award. Clancy has co-authored seven business books, including his latest, Your Gut Is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head. Clancy gave a presentation to the Boston Chapter of the American Marketing Association earlier this year. I recently asked him to give his perspectives on obtaining high-quality marketing work.

QUESTION: According to your book, Your Gut is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head, there is currently an interest in marketing “from your gut,” and you strongly endorse marketing with marketing science. In the many years that you have been working in marketing consulting, has it been your observation that this trend has been gradually evolving and now people are really interested in the “marketing from your gut” idea? Or do you believe this is fad?

CLANCY: I see a definite trend, and I see a trend in two dimensions happening simultaneously. One, I see a trend toward more and more gut marketing, and I see a trend toward greater and greater marketing ineffectiveness. And they’re related, they’re causally related.

QUESTION: When a company needs to hire a marketing consulting firm, what questions should be asked to ascertain whether or not the firm is going to be producing high-quality work?

CLANCY: The first question that I would ask if I were looking for a marketing consulting firm, I would ask somebody to show me their case histories, to tell me about their case histories of marketing success. We have a lot of case histories of what I call transformational marketing. By transformational marketing I mean strategies which change brand trajectories, career paths, they sometime change entire companies and even sometimes industries—that’s a transformational strategy. So I would ask, give me an example of great case histories. Don’t just give me a presentation. I want to read something, I want to see it in writing. Because I believe if you put something in writing, it’s more likely for it to be true than if you simply talk about it. Second, I would ask whether the principals of the company are going to be involved in the engagement. For example, if you go to McKinsey for a marketing consulting project, they have a large marketing consulting practice, but the people who actually do the work are junior associates. They are people who know very little about marketing. They are kids who are fresh out of MBA programs and don’t have much experience. And they are the ones who are billing all the hours in marketing consulting. The third thing I would ask is to share with me the proprietary tools you use in your practice to develop these transformational programs. Do you have unique approaches, or are you just like everybody else?

QUESTION: If they do have unique approaches, how do you know that these approaches are effective?

CLANCY: In part because of the other two things. But in part, I am assuming in my organization I have people who can differentiate between really good stuff and not so good stuff. So I would ask people in my firm, maybe it’s the manager, maybe the director of research, or the head of IT. It all depends. But I would ask some serious people in my firm to make a serious appraisal of these proprietary tools. I would then go on to the fourth point. That is, I would ask the firm for examples of academic papers or published presentations relating to their tools that would help persuade me that they are serious people. Now a lot of companies start today by asking questions about costs. “What do you charge and how long will it take to get this done?” I think those are dumb questions. The question you want to answer is do I have a company that is proficient to accomplish the objective for which I am hiring it for.

QUESTION: When you hire other companies to work for you, what do you look for? Let’s say that you hire somebody to collect data for you. How do you know if the companies that you are hiring will do the work accurately, proficiently and thoroughly?

CLANCY: First, we don’t look for companies very often because we have a relationship with a number of firms. That goes back to the origins of Copernicus 14 years ago. I’m dealing with the same firms all the time. But if a firm came along and had an exciting new data collection methodology, we would spend our money to test them. We would give the firm a problem to work on, we would give them a sample questionnaire, a sample sampling plan, and we would treat it as if it were a real-world assignment. But it wouldn’t be. It would be an assignment just for us. We would take a test drive—at our own expense.

QUESTION: With regard to managing your own firm, how do you make sure that the people in your own firm continually produce a high-quality product? When you bring people in, what do you look for?

CLANCY: We have a set of criteria, that’s down on paper for every position that we hire at our company. So we know what we’re looking for. For example, at a junior level, we’re looking for either a Ph.D., an M.S. or an M.B.A. in marketing or some related discipline like psychology or sociology. And the person should be very smart, should have graduated at the top of their class and should have strong recommendations from faculty. They should be able to articulate an interest in marketing consulting and/or marketing research and an interest in Copernicus. You’d be really surprised how many people come through these doors, and when asked what makes you interested in marketing consulting, “Well, I don’t know, you know, somebody told me it was a really interesting field.” “Why are you interested in Copernicus? “ “Well, that’s why I’m here, I don’t know anything about Copernicus.” So we’re looking for people who know what they’re doing and where they’re going and know a lot about us before the interview moves very far. And then again, at the junior level, we’ll give people an assignment to work on, in their own time and at their own expense. I would say that 30% of the people are not interested in doing a written assignment. So boom, they’re gone. But those who are interested in a written assignment, they’ll do it. They’ll submit it, and we’ll have a couple of people take a look at it. In the last analysis, there will be maybe five or six people in the company who interview each of these candidates. Based on their background, their ability to articulate a personal vision, their performance in our own exam, and the sense of the interviewers, we make a decision to hire or not.

QUESTION: Do you have people that specialize in different fields, different areas of marketing or special kinds of analytical techniques?

CLANCY: The answer is “yes” to the latter. People get pigeon-holed here into functions like statistical analysis, modeling, consulting versus general management. We make decisions pretty quickly as to which people are going to be out facing clients every day, as opposed to which people are not good at that—they’re going to stay working in the back rooms.

QUESTION: How do you decide that?

CLANCY: By watching them.

QUESTION: How they interact with clients?

CLANCY: Yes. We take everybody to client meetings. Some people are really good. Some people don’t talk or have a habit of saying dumb things. If I had a bigger company, maybe we’d take the time to retrain them. A lot of these characteristics have been imprinted in people from the time they were 13 years old, and they don’t change very much over time. I’m thinking of people in our firm who couldn’t give a presentation when they first came here. And 10 years later still can’t give a presentation. But we make a decision as to whether somebody is a consultant or a researcher. If they’re a researcher, are they into statistical analysis or not, are they an inside person, are they an outside person, and then, we just see what happens over time.

QUESTION: How do you evaluate the quality of people’s work?

CLANCY: Every project has a project manager or project director, typically somebody who has been with us for six years or more, like tenure in a university. Their responsibility is to monitor the work that goes on for the people who work for them. The project manager is responsible for every single thing shown to a client. And the project manager gets compensated, in part, based on the client’s delight with respect to that project. In addition, this is not a big firm. Between here and our other offices, we have maybe 100 people. And the senior partners in all of our offices in Boston, in Wilton, Sao Paolo, Brazil, in Rio—the senior partners see all the work that’s going out to a client before it goes out.

QUESTION: How many people do they oversee, on average? Do they oversee a couple of people or larger groups?

CLANCY: The groups are small, on average, maybe about three.

QUESTION: So they have a lot of direct contact?

CLANCY: It’s an important part of our business.

QUESTION: Do you emphasize that people in your company have an overall perspective of what is happening in the marketing community or what is happening in your firm? Is it more hierarchical?

CLANCY: It’s very important that everybody know something about everything. It’s also very important to us that our people are the best at what they do. I’m very competitive. My partner Peter Krieg is very competitive, and we run the company to be very competitive. In another life, we’d be professional football coaches. Our objective is to be the best. When we go into a meeting to give a presentation to a prospect or to a client, we think we’re giving them the best they could ever buy. That means that the young people in the firm are trained to deliver the best that money can buy. It’s important to us.

QUESTION: You state in your book [Your Gut Is Still Not Smarter Than Your Head] that what you really advocate is “careful analysis of unimpeachable data” combined with “judgment and experience.” In your many years of experience, which experiences have added to your keen sense of judgment?

CLANCY: I’m not sure that it’s any one, or two, or three experiences. If you were a surgeon, and you did the same operation over and over again for a period of years, you would become very, very good at what you do. You have come to learn which way of slicing the body is less invasive and less painful afterword. You just learn a lot. I was a pretty smart guy when I came into this business. I’ve learned as much about the business as I could over the years, and I have had a lot of great experiences with my clients.

The Green Media Show Conference & Expo

John Cass, Past President, AMA Boston
July 22nd, 2008

AMA-Boston has become a sponsor of SustainCommWorld - The Green Media Show & Conference. The conference will bring insights into how to create and maintain sustainable green marketing programs.

The conference aims to get bring marketing teams up-to-speed, exposed, excited, and knowledgeable about what they can do to make media, advertising, and marketing choices more green, more sustainable, more responsible, and more profitable.

The event is October 1 and 2 at the Boston Marriott Copley Place. There are pre-conference workshops on Sustainability 101 and Design for Sustainability. AMA-Boston will be holding our October meeting at the event with a panel discussion about sustainability.

As a special benefit to AMA-Boston, members will receive a $500 discount off the cost of the conference or a $99 off each pre-conference workshop. The first 300 conference registrants will receive a signed and dedicated copy of the poster artists Peter Max created for this event. Attendance to the expo is free with advance registration.

Full conference discount code is: 5164:523
Sustainability 101 discount code is: 3348:523
Design for Sustainability discount code is: 3749:523

To learn more about this conference, download a brochure and/or take advantage of the discount, visit http://www.sustaincommworld.com/

AMA Boston • Office: 411 Waverly Oaks Road, Suite 331B, Waltham, MA 02452 • (781) 647-7555

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.