Why a LinkedIn Pod isn’t the Solution to Extending Your Reach on Social Media

Over the last couple of months, you might have seen some of my posts get a large number of likes or comments, and will have seen me liking and putting bland comments on some posts that really don’t interest me. I need to confess. I’ve been experimenting with membership of a LinkedIn pod.

What is a LinkedIn Pod?

A LinkedIn pod, or engagement pod, is a group of people who agree to like and/or comment on each other’s posts. The idea is that LinkedIn will tend to favour posts with more engagement, so if you get more likes and comments, then your posts will perform better. Pods can be automated or manual, and the idea is that membership will ultimately drive a greater reach for your posts.

For this experiment, I signed up with Lempod, and joined a couple of B2B marketing pods (one was US and the other was UK-focussed).

What are the downsides of LinkedIn Pods?

In terms of getting likes and comments, there really are few downsides. You do get banal comments from automated engagement pods as they are machine generated and therefore not specific to your post. If you are happy with lots of comments like “Great post”, you’ll probably not worry about this, but I felt that the banal comments were a drawback.

One thing that will happen, particularly with automated pods, is that you lose your ability to decide which posts you like. So an algorithm will start clicking the like button for you on other people’s posts, which may not be the type of content you want to share with your network. I certainly got a couple of questions about the posts I was liking by people in my network. If my network questions why I am liking content (which then means it appears in their feed) then I think that’s a problem.

Is there a Benefit to LinkedIn Pod Membership?

We all have egos, and I must admit that seeing 10x the likes and a stream of comments attached to my posts definitely massaged my ego! It feels good, even though you know it’s fake.

But the goal of becoming a LinkedIn pod member is to increase reach. Did my posts get more views because of my pod membership?

Initially, I looked and was pleased to see a small uplift in impressions. That’s good – it must be working! But a deeper inspection simply showed that my additional audience could be almost completely attributed to the other members of the pod who interacted with my post. Actually, the system automatically generated the interaction, so realistically pod membership did nothing to increase the real reach of my posts.

To make things worse, it’s also much harder to work out whether a post engaged your audience or not, as the engagement pod interactions can swamp real engagement. Losing this feedback means you could easily drift towards writing less engaging posts.

Why Don’t Pods Work?

LinkedIn has claimed it can detect pod activity and will ignore it when ranking posts. My experience is that the system does this very effectively. It’s not clear how it identifies pod likes and comments, although I suspect that one of the issues might be dwell time. The LinkedIn algorithm uses the time that viewers spend looking at a post as one of the primary indicators of engagement, and it’s likely that automated systems don’t generate this dwell time.

The good news, however, is that none of my posts appeared to be penalised for being hyped up by the pod. As I mentioned before it was impossible to see any significant change in views, other than the “views” from the pod.

Are Engagement Pods a Bad Idea?

I guess this is a difficult question. For me, they were not a great experience: no real increase in reach and the downside of losing control of the posts with which I engage. Basically no benefit, other than a slight ego boost, and it left me feeling a little dirty. So I’d stick with the “white hat” techniques in Kevin’s post about LinkedIn tips and tricks.

It is important to remember that some people claim that LinkedIn pods are “the secret to going viral” on the platform. Clearly, they had a different experience.

Overall I’d say that the experiment showed that automated pods are not a good idea. If you have the time, however, then agreeing to like, comment on and share the posts among a group of friends is probably a great idea. You’ll be able to control what posts you engage with, you’ll write and receive genuine comments and there will be significant dwell time generated. Anyone fancy forming a LinkedIn engagement pod like that?

 


EETech Data Insights

EETech Launches Data Insights: Genius or Missed Opportunity?

EETech has launched a product called Data Insights. Put simply, the product uses information gathered on the EETech website to identify users coming to a supplier’s site. The technology provides information including company, geo, and business unit.

Now this is not that different to the many other systems that use data such as IP address to identify companies visiting to your site. We love CANDDi, and feel it’s the best of the bunch, but there are several other suppliers available. If you’re in marketing, you’ve almost certainly had a call from one of them. But Data Insights are a little different. You might also be using one of the platforms that has visitor ID as a part of their functionality – Demandbase is a good example.

 

Is Data Insights Genius?

The first thing is that the platform will use interactions on the EETech site to identify visitors. This potentially means that they might have a better database of electronics engineers than some of the other companies in this space. With WFH, it’s probably reasonable to assume they have much better understanding of who is an engineer, and that’s definitely clever.

The platform also gives a good indication of what interests those users. This means you can find out the product interests, industries, top content, and suppliers (if you are a channel partner) that get the most engagement from certain companies.

The benefits are clear, although if you have an alternative, it will probably be hard to justify the cost of the platform.

 

Is the EETech Platform a Missed Opportunity?

It’s really good to see a publisher innovating. But I’m not quite sure it’s a genius move. At least, not yet.

The problem is knowing what to do with the information that a certain company has started to look at a particular category of products. It’s way beyond the creepy line to call up your contacts and say, “we know someone has been looking at our site”. Although it’s useful information, it can be hard to take action on the information. In fact, you’ll probably end up relying on the retargeting that you run through Google, and that doesn’t need this specific data. (You do run retargeting ads, don’t you?).

The frustrating thing is that EETech has the capability to do something. It could serve your ads on their publications to anyone from a company that shows increased interest in your products. It could fire off emails to those contacts. But it doesn’t. Yet.

I talked to clients about the product, and they pointed out that there isn’t anything new in the product itself. With no automated interface to adverts or emails, and no link between the content viewed on the EETech website and your website, it’s hard to use the data you get. Yes, you could run email campaigns to those companies, and yes you could target them with ABM ads, but it’s all going to be manual.

 

Why Doesn’t EETech Offer Automated Marketing?

Surely this is an easy decision: if someone is interested in a product, I’d pay a lot more to advertise to them than I would for untargeted display ads. A lot more: maybe 10x.

But do the maths. Let’s assume that I have 20 companies showing interest in products on my website, paying 10x CPMs for those companies isn’t necessarily a good deal for the publisher.

Firstly it’s likely I’ve picked the 20 biggest companies. These are the companies that everyone wants to target. If I sell automotive semiconductors, I want to target Bosch and Continental. In fact, I’d probably pay more to target them whether they are in market for products or not looking. Additionally, if a company is in-market, they will probably hit the websites of several suppliers, all of whom might be using data insights. So there would be a bunfight over advertising to the most valuable companies (and this would mean that anyone buying ads not targeted to companies will suddenly have a lower-quality audience).

The same applies to emails: managing email limits when multiple advertisers are triggering behaviour-driven campaigns is going to be hard. And if it’s popular, it’s going to take some of the best prospects out of the general database because they’ll be sold – at a higher price – to company-targeted campaigns. Let’s be honest, there are still publishers that only want to sell mailings to their entire database, so we have a long way to go before publishers really are able to offer micro-targeted campaigns.

Even if the availability problem could be overcome, there is an integration problem. Most publishers (including EETech) use DoubleClick to serve ads: that allows targeting based upon domain, but you need to use Google’s domain lookup, which will be very different from the data held by EETech that identifies the company at which each visitor works. You’ll basically lose the value of EETech’s bespoke data.

 

Would I Use Data Insights?

Today this is not a simple question. If I had a website in the electronics sector and didn’t have a tool that identifies anonymous visitors by company, then I’d definitely want a solution. We’ve not benchmarked the performance of EETech Data Insights vs other tools, but we’d guess it offers a higher match rate. So depending on traffic, it could offer a good solution (note that EETech’s solution is definitely not as cheap as many of the other IP lookup tools).

If I had an existing solution, the answer is harder. Something like Demandbase offers the potential to advertise to the companies visiting the website and to automate this process. That’s definitely a step ahead of the current Data Insights product, so it would be pretty hard to justify unless I found that Data Insights did a much better job of identifying visitors.

The good news is that it’s easy (and free) to benchmark the tool. I suspect results may vary, so taking EETech up on their trial must be a no brainer because you might a company that finds the tool to be pure magic.

In the long term, however, Data Insights really needs to be able to automatically trigger email and advertising campaigns through the EETech/All About Circuits database. If they can make the technology and the economics work, then the product would be compelling. We’ll be watching and let you know about the developments as they emerge.

 


7 Reasons Why You Can’t Trust the Reports from Your Marketing Automation System

You spend large sums of money on your marketing automation platform (MAP), and get some lovely reports from the system, but something just doesn’t feel right. You know that although the numbers look credible, they don’t tell you the whole story. What’s going on?

The reality is that, despite those percentages having two digits after the decimal point, MAPs cannot give you precise data. There are many challenges that make it hard to get accurate information from your marketing automation system. Although it’s frustrating that you can never have the full picture, if you understand the issues, you can get a much better understanding of which campaigns are working and those that you need to revise.

Don’t Believe Email Opens

Email opens are just not accurate. Probably the most publicised reason is Apple’s decision to hide whether users of Apple Mail open emails or not. An email open is recorded when the recipient downloads an image (often called a tracking pixel). Email opens have never been a totally accurate metric, as if you don’t download images, the open isn’t recorded.

The bigger problem today, however, is that Apple is automatically downloading images for emails, whether or not the recipient actually views the email. There is no way of knowing whether users who have enabled Apple Mail Privacy Protection have actually viewed the email, and this is likely to be a technique adopted by more email systems in the future.

Those Email Clicks could be Bots

This is a particular problem in B2B marketing, where companies install malware prevention systems that analyse incoming email. If the system decides there is a risk, it will follow the link to check for the presence of malware. Following a link is recorded as a click by your MAP. If you’ve ever seen that there are people who click on links as soon as they receive an email (or click on all the links in the email), you’ve seen a malware bot in action.

Although most MAPs try to filter out the obvious bot clicks, they are nowhere near 100% effective in trying to give an accurate picture of the clicks made by real people. This makes sense – if it was easy to detect a malware detection bot, then those evil scammers would be able to serve benign content to the malware detectors while delivering viruses and other nasty content to you and me when we click. The need to confuse the bad guys means that there is little prospect of eliminating bot clicks from your MAP reports in the near future.

Landing Pages Aren’t Immune to Problems

We’ve seen that the two major metrics we use for email reporting – opens and clicks – are inaccurate. The good news is that landing pages are more immune to errors, but they’re not perfect either. Unfortunately, you’ll get traffic to the landing page that isn’t from people responding to your marketing automation campaign. You can reduce this by ensuring that your landing pages request that search engines don’t index them and making sure that there are no links to them from any other pages, but there is no guarantee that all your visitors will be genuine.

If you are running a campaign with a public landing page and using marketing automation emails to drive traffic, it does help to have two versions of the page -  one that is public and the other that is not in the search engines’ indexes for your emails.

People Reply to Emails

The problems with reporting are not only due to technical issues. People also reply to emails, particularly when they are a sales connect email that feels personal. This type of email is often the most effective email in any campaign, but this doesn’t always show in the MAP reports.

As marketers, we’re trying to make the email feel as “real” as possible – i.e., that it was sent from a salesperson who was interested in the prospect. But this means that the recipient is likely to respond by replying to the email, rather than clicking links. If you use a personal reply-to email address (which will improve the performance of the campaign), you won’t be able to track the replies. You’ll need to trust the salesperson to report the interactions, and we all know that sales teams are not always super-keen to give marketing the credit they deserve!

Attribution: It’s not all about Marketing Automation

Marketing is messy. These pesky prospects engage with multiple assets from a range of campaigns during their customer journey. To make it worse, very few prospects follow the idealised customer journey you created when planning the campaign.

The problem of attribution isn’t new, but it can be a real challenge around marketing automation campaigns. People respond after the campaign ends because they are not in-market at the time of the campaign. Alternatively, they see and respond to another marketing asset, but this does not mean that the impressions from the automation campaign were not instrumental in driving a conversion.

Although tools, including marketing automation systems, are getting better at attribution, we’re going to be facing this challenge for a long time to come.

Scoring Isn’t the Solution

Scoring is seductive. The MAPs offer the ability to create some magic algorithm that predicts who is most likely to become a customer, and sometimes the systems will even use AI to create that algorithm. It just feels so right. But scoring is a million miles away from perfection.

Although there is undeniable logic to scoring, the underlying assumption is that everyone follows more or less the same customer journey. Yet we know they don’t. So a score of 100 for one contact might be equivalent to a score of 200 or 50 for other contacts who are following slightly different customer journeys.

It’s true that, provided you have a lot of reliable data about prospects and conversions, the use of AI can help make better models than the simple manual “points mean prizes” approach. Even if AI could create the perfect scoring system, your prospects will change the customer journey over time, and you’ll run different campaigns. However good the AI is, it has to run on historic data, so it can never generate a scoring system that matches the behaviour of prospects today.

Your Data isn’t Up to Date

If you want accurate information about performance, you need good data. Unfortunately, it’s hard to keep data in a marketing automation system, so your results will be skewed by any out-of-date or other data quality issues. Many of those email addresses will accept the email, and it will just disappear into a black hole, rather than bouncing back. Making sure your data is current and accurate is an important part of getting the best quality report from your MAP.

 

Marketing automation systems are amazing and offer great insights through their reporting. But the reports can’t be perfect. By understanding the main things that cause issues in the reports, you can improve your chances of getting far better insights into your campaigns.


How to Crush Your First Paid LinkedIn Campaign

We deliver a wide range of different marketing tactics, and I often feel that paid LinkedIn campaigns are massively underrated. In certain circumstances they can offer a great RoI, are low-cost and quick to set up. They really do come into their own if you know which companies and who within those companies you want to target.

A recent example is a consultancy business that helps large organisations improve user experience. They know the markets and have a list of the names of the companies they really want to work with. They also have a good idea that in large companies the person they need to talk to will be the head of customer experience or the CMO, and understand that there will be different job titles that matter in smaller prospects.

This is a perfect setup for a paid LinkedIn campaign. All they need to do is execute and the leads should come rolling in…

If only it was that simple!

Here’s what I told them they needed to consider to crush this first paid LinkedIn campaign.

How do I find My Audience?

Defining the audience is obviously critical to ensuring a good campaign. The best campaign in the world will fail if shown to the wrong people. LinkedIn, like any advertising platform, would love you to spend as much money as possible so encourages larger audiences. Many of our clients, however, have very specific people they want to reach and can often target a number of people that is close to the minimum audience allowed by the platform.

It is the case that as you add more filters to an audience, the price for the ads will increase. You’ll have to bid more to target an audience more precisely. But in general, the extra cost is almost always worth it to get the people you want, rather than many far less engaged leads.

Really understanding who you want to reach can reduce costs. The “obvious” targets, particularly the C-suite, will also incur a premium price. In the example above, the head of customer experience is likely to be cheaper to reach than the CMO, showing more precise job titles will not only enhance lead quality, but also cut your spend.

We also have a few recommendations that we have found help to improve the performance of most B2B campaigns on LinkedIn:

  • Use permanent location (don't use recent). If you want to target someone in a particular country, target someone who is there permanently, not someone who passed through on holiday.
  • Identify specific companies if you have a list. If you really can’t put together a list of target companies, when identifying a market always use company size as there are a lot of micro businesses on LinkedIn.
  • Job titles are better than job functions (they're more expensive in terms of CPC but we think it's worth paying slightly more to be more precise).
  • Do not enable audience expansion. This allows LinkedIn to guess who might be like your audience and show them ads. In B2B marketing where audience definition really matters, you are in a far better position to define the audience than the system.
  • Do not tick the box to enable the LinkedIn network - this is usually poorer quality. There are exceptions to this: for example, if you have a very small, very high-value audience then you might choose to invest the money in ads on the network. But in general, try to spend your budget on the LinkedIn platform itself.

Two Campaigns are Better than One

Often it makes sense to run multiple campaigns. Targeting different sectors of your audience separately not only allows you to optimise the messaging for each segment, but also provides useful information about who is responding and who isn’t engaged.

In our example, it would make sense to run separate LinkedIn campaigns for the CMO and Head of Customer Experience. If one of these audiences performs better than the other, then it’s easy to move your budget to the one that is producing the leads that will generate the best RoI.

Note that in the language of LinkedIn a campaign is a set of ads targeting a specific audience, so you might have multiple LinkedIn campaigns as part of what your marketing team considers a campaign.

Click the Demographics Button

My favourite feature on LinkedIn Ads. In all the levels you can view your LinkedIn Ads (campaign, campaign group and account) there is a button on the screen labelled Demographics. Want to know the job titles that are seeing the ad? Click the button. Want to know the clicks by job title? Click the button. This amazing button lets you ensure that the right people are seeing your ads, and understand more about who is engaging.

The Demographics button will segment your advert performance by job function, job title, company, company industry, seniority, company size, location, country/region and county. Trust me, every time you click this button you will learn something new about what’s working and what’s not for your accounts!

What format to use?

There are numerous different advert formats available on LinkedIn. My first port of call would generally be the helpfully named “Lead Gen Forms”. This is a great innovation from LinkedIn because the form is hosted on the platform and are produced with a simple click on sponsored content by the prospect. No need for a landing page or anything on your website. And even better, LinkedIn pre-fills the form to help improve conversion rates.

 

If you’re looking to make these forms really perform, it’s important to get the content offer right. What works varies from one industry to another, so don’t just think of the obvious white paper or eBook. Testing different content offers is always a good idea: in some markets video case studies are the thing that breaks down any resistance to sharing contact details.

If you’re offering an eBook or white paper, remember that the thing that will determine whether your prospect presses submit on the form is the title. They can’t know what’s inside the content until they download it, so experiment with packaging the same content with different titles to see what resonates with your audience.

Although the Lead Gen Form coupled with sponsored content is awesome, it’s not always the best approach. The LinkedIn Conversation Ads are delivering some great results for our clients. They appear right inside the inbox for your target audience and allow simple interaction that can “warm up” the contact to encourage them to engage with you.

Conversation Ads do require some thought to create the right journeys for the target audience (and frankly can be a bit cringy if you get it wrong), but when done right, they are a real marketing superpower. And, of course, they can link with Lead Gen Forms to allow you to capture data.

How Do I Bid?

The LinkedIn maximum delivery bid strategy works well, particularly for smaller audiences. It’s super-easy and we’ve never seen it go horribly wrong.

If you want to bid manually, our advice is to never bid the recommended amount. Generally starting with the lowest allowed bid (start at 1 in your currency and it will tell you the minimum bid) is a far better strategy. Once you have started a campaign at the minimum bid, you can experiment with higher bids to see if that makes a significant impact on the number of impressions and clicks you get. Generally, we find you’re increasing costs for a marginal improvement in performance.

Conclusion

Paid LinkedIn really does work. Get the audience and the offer right, and the cost per lead is very competitive. It’s also not complex to create and manage campaigns. To get the targeting right, however, you often end up with several small campaigns, rather than one large one (multiple campaigns are also good to allow you to compare results for different audiences).  So make sure you have sufficient time and expertise to analyse and optimise the campaigns, or perhaps give an agency like Napier a call.

 


The Data Parties

What’s the difference between first, second and third-party data?

There is a lot of news around moves to limit the use of “third-party data”, with many browsers preventing the use of third-party cookies for privacy reasons. But what is third-party data? And how do all these parties relate to cookies and online tracking? Here’s a brief explanation of the different terms.

Who are the Parties?

In the case of data, things are not quite as fun as they might sound. The parties are the people and organisations that are interacting. The parties involved are:

  • The organisation running the website or marketing to customers and prospects
  • The customers and prospects themselves
  • Other organisations offering data

It’s important to understand that, although there are three categories of parties, they don’t map directly to first-, second-and third-party in the context of data.

The Difference between Cookies and Data

Technically, cookies are small files that are placed on a website visitors PC to allow tracking. The cookie itself doesn’t contain data about the person but identifies a particular browser that can then be associated with data held in another database.

First-Party Data

First-party data is information owned by the company doing the marketing that has been collected as a result of their relationship with the customer or prospect. A simple example would be data that has been collected from a registration form on the organisation’s website and fed into the marketing database or CRM. You can also include other information that is collected directly from the prospect or customer – for example, the website pages they have visited.

First-party cookies are simply cookies that are placed on the visitor’s computer by the website that is being visited. Note that for marketing automation systems, cookies are now all first-party cookies – i.e. the code runs from your website, even though the cookie information is held in a separate marketing automation tool.

Second-Party Data

Second-party data is information that is collected by someone else, but used directly by the marketing company: essentially, you’re getting access to someone else’s first-party data. For example, if you use a publisher’s email list, this is second-party data. You can also buy data to enrich your marketing database or CRM – for example, you might be using the Dunn & Bradstreet database to add firmographic data.

Second-party cookies don’t exist.

Third-Party Data

Third-party data is information that you use from other sources who didn’t directly collect the data themselves. So third-party data is generally acquired from data brokers or technology companies that aggregate data from a range of sources and then resell it.

As the companies providing third-party data are aggregating from several sources, quality can be a concern. Often the sources vary considerably in the accuracy and completeness of the data, and it’s also the case that it’s very difficult to be confident that the data was collected with consent. Third-party data is often the easiest to obtain, but frequently the lowest-quality data available.

Third-party cookies are cookies that are placed by a website or server that is different from the site being visited. A classic example of this is the Facebook “Like” button, which enabled visitors to a website to click an icon to “like” the content on Facebook. The code to place the button on the website also put a cookie on the visitors’ computers.

The Facebook Like button is a good example of non-monetary payment for third-party cookies: the website got an easy-to-deploy promotional tool that they could use, and Facebook was able to gather the browsing habits of its users when they were not surfing Facebook (creating more data about them that could be sold to advertisers).

A major concern about third-party data and cookies is whether there is consent from the subject. For example few web users knew that Facebook was tracking the websites they visited and using that data to enrich the information that was gathered on the Facebook platform.

The like button also illustrates the power of third-party cookies, with Facebook able to collect the browsing habits of their users across a huge percentage of the web. The volume of data that can be collected, and the ability to gain deep insight from such large amounts of data have resulted in a powerful backlash against third-party cookies. With browsers increasingly filtering out third-party cookies, there is a frantic search by the large tech companies to find new ways to gather information about internet users.

What Data Should I Use?

First-party data is almost always the most accurate: if you’ve thought about what information you need about customers and prospects, and built campaigns to collect that data, you should be in a good position. As you have complete control over first-party data, you can also ensure that consent and privacy are built-in to the collection process, and that compliance with regulations is therefore ensured.

But first-party data is limited. Typically you’ll have much more data about customers than prospects. And this is where second-and third-party data comes in. Ensuring you only use credible sources for your data is critical: not only will that help ensure you remain compliant with legislation, but it will also help guarantee quality and accuracy. Selecting the right data providers is, therefore, a critical part of any marketing team’s work.

 

 


22 Things Marketers Need to Consider in 2022

As we enter a New Year, it’s always a good idea to look at what might change. As I write this, the world is being pummelled by the Omicron wave of COVID-19, but I’m actually quite optimistic. I also think that there is a lot of exciting things to look forward to, including hopefully a return to a slightly more normal world.

So I’ve put together 22 things I think marketers should be thinking about in 2022. To make it a bit easier, I’ve broken the list up into sections.

Your Approach to Marketing in 2022

  1. Show a human face to your business. This isn’t new, but the one thing COVID has taught us is that we’re all people, and organisations don’t get a chance to opt out of the challenges faced by individuals. Whether you think about companies struggling to provide services because of staff shortages caused by the pandemic, or retain people who want to work for an organisation with more meaning, companies must become more human to succeed in 2022.
  2. You’re going to need to really care in 2022. The pandemic has been tough and so if you don’t care, you’re going to struggle to build positive perceptions about your brand. ESG (environmental, social and governance) is going to be important, but so will be truly caring about your customers and wanting to make life a little bit better for them.
  3. Have some fun. The last two years were not fun. We are all tired, stressed and depressed. B2B organisations that can bring a smile to the face of their audience are going to have a huge advantage, so look for ways to make your customers and prospects happy.
  4. Face-to-face will start to return in a big way. Oh how I hope this is true! The WHO is forecasting that the worst of the pandemic will be over this year, and so we will see more and more face-to-face interactions. Make the most of them, and you’ll be successful: it’s almost inevitable that the majority of your audience is looking for a more personal, human contact with your organisation and nothing beats face-to-face.
  5. Don’t tell your audience what to do. After the pain of isolation and lockdowns, your audience doesn’t want to be told what to do. Create your campaigns and content so that they can choose to engage with what matters to them, in the format they prefer, rather than forcing them to read just one long PDF.

Your Content in 2022

  1. Don’t create content with no value. As the world returns to normal, we suddenly have a lot more options of what we can do with our time. So don’t bother creating content that isn’t valuable: no one will waste time reading it.
  2. Think like a publisher. You need your audience to want to come back to your content time and time again. It’s not about selling them on the first landing page of the website, it’s about building a long-term, trust-based relationship. So you’ll need to think like a publisher, rather than a salesperson.
  3. Use the right tools. Content should be beautiful, clear and easy to consume. That means not everything needs to be a page of text on the web or a PDF. Look to new tools to create more engaging experiences, and different formats to grab attention. Surely, we don’t have to say that video is now a “thing” for B2B marketers?
  4. Be inspirational. Hey, we’re slowly beating the greatest pandemic for many, many years. As we emerge from this dark time, your customers are going to feel that they can achieve anything. Help them do it!

Data and Direct Marketing in 2022

  1. Data is king. Without a doubt, a lot of marketers found they struggled to reach their target audiences at the start of COVID because they focussed on tactics that just didn’t work in a work-from-home pandemic. Knowing how to reach your audience directly is invaluable, and so building data is going to be a key focus for many during 2022.
  2. Focus on the audience, not the tool. OMG! I see so many campaigns on marketing automation platforms that feel like they are a gymnastics display of how complex a workflow can be created. Think about the audience, rather than the tool’s capability, and you’ll probably find a much more elegant and effective solution.
  3. Love email as a channel. Although the “death of email” is predicted more often than any other channel, it’s still here. And email works. In 2022 the most successful marketers will use email to have almost individual conversations with customers and prospects, making a real attempt to focus on the engaged contacts, and removing unengaged contacts from the conversation (at Napier, we get over 50% open rates on our email newsletter by not spamming people who are not interested). The sooner we stop moaning about our email and make opening the inbox a joy for our audience, the better.
  4. The answer isn’t always a webinar (but webinars are here to stay). As people return to working from offices, webinars will no longer be the only go-to tactic for marketers that want to have a high-engagement activity and don’t have any creative ideas. But [good] webinars work, so pick the right topics and generate great content. Just don’t insist that you need to create a new webinar every week or month, irrespective of whether you have anything interesting to say.

Advertising and Paid Media in 2022

  1. Programmatic isn’t the universal solution. Let’s be honest, programmatic advertising is pretty good compared to trade media. It’s cheap. It can be highly targeted. BUT it’s not always the best solution, particularly when looking to find new contacts in a very niche audience. Whether its retargeting or search engine marketing, programmatic advertising is going to be a big part or 2022, but be ready for a resurgence in trade media advertising too.
  2. More native ads, particularly from “old school” publishers. This is something that must happen in 2022. In the past, it was common for printed publications to carry advertorials, which anyone under 25 would call a native ad. Yet as we moved online, the publications that were primarily print focussed didn’t switch this potentially valuable revenue stream to the digital world, even though digital start-ups were doing a lot of native advertising. This is going to change in 2022, and you’ll see many more native advertising options from B2B trade publishers.

Account-Based Marketing (ABM) in 2022

  1. ABM is no longer a “thing”. I see 2022 as the year when ABM no longer is something we have to talk about in hushed tones of reverence. ABM is here to stay, but will be seen as something every B2B marketing team should be doing. In fact ABM will become one of the primary ways you target any campaign, and even smaller prospects will expect technology to give them a level of personalisation that required a huge amount of manual effort just a few years ago.

Media and Influencer Relations in 2022

  1. The rise of the superstar B2B journalist. I think this could be something that really changes trade media in 2022. Yes, there have been superstar journalists before (no one better than Bob Pease, but I’ll also give one of my other favourites, David Manners a mention too), but frequently their stardom was primarily among the companies they covered than the readers. I think this will start changing in 2022 as readers look for content they can trust.
  2. The amazing growth of LinkedIn starts to slow. Yes, I’m really suggesting that the B2B social media platform isn’t going to do as well in 2022. There are several factors around this: the increased noise on the platform, the reduction in time for LinkedIn as home working decreases and the continued increase in monetisation on the platform (from both Microsoft and users). Don’t get me wrong, nothing is going to challenge LinkedIn in 2022 as the top B2B social media platform, but even rocket ships stop accelerating at some point!
  3. B2B influencers become… umm … influential. I’m a realist when it comes to B2B influencers: you’re not going to have engineers working on military systems documenting everything they design on TikTok. In fact confidentiality means that the role and impact of an influencer in B2B is always going to be limited. But in 2022, I see a huge growth in B2B influencers, particularly in sectors where there have been few influencers until now. The desire of the most talented people in every industry to indulge in a bit of personal branding is going to drive an exciting growth of inevitably very geeky influencers.
  4. B2B PR will be more creative. It’s not that B2B hasn’t been creative in the past – do you remember Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two Volvo trucks. That was in 2013, over six years ago! But in 2022 more B2B companies will realise that creative campaigns that break through the noise of all those bland competitor campaigns can generate fabulous RoI, and we’ll see more and more companies running campaigns around eye-catching, attention-grabbing stunts.

Analytics and Reporting in 2022

  1. Getting “real” numbers will be harder than ever. You no longer control the privacy granted to your audience: they have control now. Open rates were never a good guide to who read your email, and privacy changes (in Apple Mail in particular) make those numbers even less reliable. Malware bots create fake clicks on emails. Browser privacy settings limit tracking. Please can we stop imagining that the numbers we get from martech tools are right? They are estimates at best.
  2. The end of vanity metrics. OK, this is more a plea than a prediction. But please can we stop with the vanity metrics and focus on the impact we make to our organisations’ businesses? A click or impression is meaningless. A sales or enquiry is much more valuable. Let’s try to achieve these meaningful goals, even if they are much harder than getting a click.

 

That’s it! 22 things you need to think about in 2022.

But wait… haven’t I missed something?

Well I’ve not said anything about AI. It’s not because I don’t believe AI will have an impact; it’s because for most marketers we won’t really have to worry about it. Let’s face it, if you run Google Ads campaigns, you are confidently deploying AI. Do you worry about how it works? No. I think this will be true of most applications of AI: it will be in the background, making our campaigns deliver better results, but we just won’t have to get involved in the nuts and bolts of how it works. And let’s face it, that’s probably a good thing.

I’ve also not mentioned NFTs. That could be a mistake as they have the potential to impact a wide range of aspects of marketing, from ownership of content to selling access to future products. But my gut says that 2022 won’t be the year we see them having an impact in our relatively conservative B2B world. I’ll be interested to see if I’m right!

 


What is Mental Availability in Marketing?

One of the terms that can confuse marketers is “mental availability”. This is a really important concept that is different from brand awareness, but is often an essential part of B2B marketing.

The concept of mental availability was initially presented by Byron Sharp, Professor of Marketing Science and Director of the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia in his book How Brands Grow, which was published in 2010 – over 10 years ago! In this book, he suggested that consumers buy if a product is physically and mentally available.

What is Mental Availability?

Mental availability means the buyer will notice, recognize and/or think of a brand when considering a purchase. This is really important to marketers as often the buyer is not in the market when they see marketing materials, and therefore marketing should aim to increase mental availability. As purchasers are often pressed for time, they will often choose a mentally available brand that is “good enough”, rather than fully researching all the options.

Mental Availability and B2B Marketing

This concept is particularly important in B2B marketing, when it can be very hard to ensure your marketing reaches the audience at the time they are in the market for your product or service. Consider Napier, for example. It is very difficult to know when a client is unhappy with their current agency and is looking for alternatives, as this business relationship is inherently confidential. In fact, the current agency may not even know. Bidding on search keywords such as “B2B PR agency” is one approach, but it is likely that most marketing and PR managers have a shortlist of agencies that they will approach when looking: the mentally available agencies. Bidding on the keyword will only reach a small proportion of the potential clients.

Consider the case of searching for an agency: a pitch process might take 3 months to complete, and then the client is likely to stay with the agency for a considerable amount of time. In the USA this might be two years, but in the UK client-agency relationships of a decade or more are common. If we take five years as the typical mid-point of relationship length, then the typical client company is only looking for an agency (or in-market) for 5% of the time (three months out of five years). If we accept that we need to market to the client when they are not in-market, then 95% of the time we are promoting to a client they won’t be looking for a new agency.

The same is true of many other B2B products and services. Whether it’s IT infrastructure (companies might spend a quarter choosing new laptops on a four-year refresh cycle, high-performance computing (HPC) compute or storage (again typically refreshed around once every four years) or software development tools (which may have a longer selection period but often have longer lock-in), most buyers spend the vast majority of time out-market.

Is Mental Availability the same as Brand Awareness?

No. There are obviously similarities – you need to be aware of a brand for it to be mentally available. But research shows that people will not necessarily consider all of the brands that they know when making a purchase.

How Can You Increase Mental Availability?

There are different approaches that will increase mental availability. A simple model for achieving this is RMB: reach, message, brand.

The first step is to reach the whole category you are trying to address. If you can’t know when a potential customer will be in-market, then it’s important to reach everyone. This does mean that the approach can be expensive, so be careful to define your market very precisely to ensure you don’t waste money on an audience that will not ever be your customer.

We all know messaging is important, but in terms of mental availability, we think of messaging in terms of category access points (CEPs). These are the cues that cause the potential customer to enter the market. So you need to think about the context and the events that will lead a company to consider a purchase. In the case of Napier, one option might be that a client is unhappy with the performance of their current agency who has made a mistake and are therefore looking for a “safe pair of hands”, or it could be an American startup entering the European market with a very different mindset. As an agency, we need to create messaging that is going to make Napier come to mind in the situations where we want to become the agency of record.

The final set is to differentiate your brand using distinctive brand assets (DBAs). Not surprisingly if someone sees your brand as differentiated, they are more likely to consider it when purchasing. These brand assets can be logos, colours, characters or anything else that might distinguish a brand. Just think of Nespresso, and George Clooney probably comes to mind, although with a very smart setting that feels luxurious.

A Mental Availability Case Study

There is a great case study about Salesforce that was created by LinkedIn. It’s interesting for a number of reasons: firstly Salesforce had fabulous awareness but lagged in mental availability. People knew the brand but often didn’t consider it (this is probably particularly true in the SME environment). The campaign they created focussed on what they did to help the customer around CEPs: manufacturing companies are likely to move to in-market for CRM systems when they feel they need to bring themselves closer to customers, and that’s exactly what Salesforce told manufacturers that the product did.

Finally, Salesforce decided that their cloud wasn’t sufficiently distinctive, so they hijacked cartoon characters from their training materials (you will have seen Astro, I promise!). Cynics might even suggest that they used a cute cartoon to make what is an incredibly complex product – arguably much more complex than competitors – feel more friendly.

More Information

If you are interested in mental availability and the work pioneered by Bryon Sharp, we’d recommend checking out:

How B2B Brands Grow – resource on LinkedIn, including a free downloadable report

The Salesforce Case Study on LinkedIn

How B2B Brands Grow – the original book by Bryon Sharp is available on Amazon

 

 

 


What is this Contentpass Thing on German Websites?

If you have been browsing some of the leading German electronics titles online, you may have seen a huge page take-over from a company called Contentpass. The system is currently deployed on elektroniknet.de and on the ELEKTRONIKPRAXIS website, and offers website visitors the opportunity to visit the site ad-free for a small payment of Euro 1.99 per month. Contentpass is a 3rd party - i.e. not associated with the publishers - and is offering a service to ensure compliance to European data protection law.

We were interested in how the system is working, and what the impact might be for advertisers, so took some time to discuss the issue with WEKA FACHMEDIEN and Vogel.

Take-Up is Low

The first concern is whether the option to browse ad-free will impact the audience we can reach with ads on the platform. Thomas Ebert, Head of Event & Marketing / Director at WEKA FACHMEDIEN told us:

"At the moment, the consent to use the page with advertising is 98%. Revenue via Contentpass is therefore not important for us and our readers agree via this way almost exclusively to show advertising on our pages."

It was a similar story at ELEKTRONIKPRAXIS, and  Bettina Potsch Product Owner Digital Advertising at Vogel said:

"The numbers are not worth mentioning. (<1%)"

So even is we assume that the heaviest users of the site are most likely to subscribe (which is possible, but I think unlikely as Contentpass is used for a wide variety of websites) we're not going to see any significant drop in advertising inventory over time. In fact that very high acceptance of browsing the sites with adverts is a good sign that visitors to both these sites are generally happy with the level of advertising they see.

Impact on Publishers' Revenue

There could be a significant impact on revenue. If you think that most adverts on these platforms have rate card pricing in the range of Euro 200-400, then a typical page with maybe 3-5 ads could have a rate card value of around Euro 1 per view. This is clearly not going to be compensated by a Euro 1.99 payment per month to Contentpass. However the very low take-up of the ad-free option means that the move is unlikely to have a significant negative impact on the publishers.

Why Use Contentpass?

If the impact is minimal, why are the publishers using a system that clearly isn't ideal for user experience. Not surprisingly it comes down to legislation. Publishers are required to have a cookie consent layer, and the law around cookies and advertising tracking are ever-changing. Contracting out compliance with legislation to experts while the publishers focus on their core business of generating great content makes a lot of sense. Most publishers choose to outsource some of their advertising and cookie compliance, and clearly the reason that these publishers choose to use Contentpass is because of their expertise in the field.

Is Contentpass a Good Thing for Advertisers?

My answer to this is "it depends". If we were in a situation where inventory became limited and prices went up then I'd say it was a bad thing for advertisers. But this is not happening. In fact we are now getting an audience that has proactively consented to seeing our ads. I don't know if there has been research, but it seems sensible to assume that the psychological impact of consenting must result in a greater likelihood of the advertising having a positive impact on the viewer. And this is definitely the intention of the publishers. Bettina Potsch was very direct when explaining the reason behind having a layer of consent to advertising:

"the goal is to increase the consent"

Thomas Ebert also felt that consent would be a good thing for advertisers:

"Contentpass ... is a tool for us to drive up the consent rate of our readers and thus optimize ads for our customers and advertising partners."

Will we see Other Publishers Taking Similar Action?

The interesting question is whether this approach will impact others, particularly those outside of Germany (Contentpass was founded in Berlin seems to be quite focussed on Germany as their primary market at present). We'll definitely be watching to see if the introduction of Contentpass has any positive impact on the performance of advertising. It could even be that in countries with less strict interpretations of GDPR there will be publishers adopting similar approaches to increase consent and therefore performance of the advertising. It will be interesting to see if that happens.


B2B Marketing Checklists – Persona Definition

This blog post analyses our checklist for creating B2B technology personas. Understanding your audience is critical to success in B2B marketing. Unlike consumer marketing, however, a lot of the fluff and colour has limited value when creating a B2B persona. What is critical is understanding what drives each persona’s decision. Drivers can be things that cause problems, or pain, as well as things that raise their status with their boss or within their organisation.

Before you can start creating personas, you should understand the different people who might be involved in the decision-making unit (DMU). Or if you’re American, you’ll probably call this the “buying committee”. Understanding the different people involved when a purchase is made is the first step to building personas. You then need to take these different people and group them together: for example, gatekeepers are often similar personas, as are the senior executives who will approve the purchase. If you are selling a technical product, however, you might have two or more engineer personas as they are the people that understand the product have disproportionately high influence on which supplier is chose.

Once you have understood the DMU, follow this checklist to make sure that you create the most useful personas possible.

Persona Checklist
  • ✓  Consider everyone. It’s important to make sure you consider everyone who is involved in the purchase, whether they select the product, approve it, or are simply influencers.
  • ✓  Gather information. Talk to sales teams and if possible customers to find out how decisions are made and who is involved.
  • ✓  Identify the role that everyone plays in the DMU. The Marketing Teacher website has a great guide to the roles in a DMU. Note that one persona might cover several people who play different roles in the DMU
  • For each persona you create, ask:
    • ✓  What are their firmographics/demographics? It’s useful to know some basic information such as industry, company size, education, age (or time in business) seniority, job title(s) etc.
    • ✓  How are they measured? Are their KPIs tied to their job role?
    • ✓  What are their pain points? You need to understand what keeps them awake at night. For example, do they care about system uptime,  running costs, quality or something else?
    • ✓  How do they look good? What can they do to look good to their boss and ultimately further their career?
    • ✓  What is their attitude to risk? Are they likely to want to try new products and suppliers or are they more likely to stick with what works? What do they perceive as safe and what do they think is risky?
    • ✓  Confirm their role. In particular are they a decision-maker, approver or influencer?
    • ✓  Why do they care about the products or services you are selling? How does your product help them achieve their goals?
    • ✓  Messaging: what do you need to say to them?
  • ✓  Reduce the number of personas. Once you have created the personas, look to see if you can combine personas together to reduce the number. You’re looking for the “Goldilocks number” – not too many and not too few. Normally the best campaigns use 3-6 personas
  • ✓  Validate your personas. Go back and ask the sales teams or customers you talked to earlier to see if what you have created is right

There are a huge number of different persona templates available, which all have pros and cons. We recommend concentrating on the actionable data: for example, although whether the persona is likely to own a dog or not is an interesting bit of colour, it isn’t something that you can easily use in a B2B campaign. So focus on the work-related details, and in particular the things that will motivate the persona to choose your product.


The 10 Categories of ABM Tools

Thinking of starting an ABM campaign? Here is a guide to some of the tools dedicated to ABM that you’re going to need to consider. Although there is a huge list of technology to deploy, it’s important to recognise that the best campaigns are the ones that have the right thought put into them, not necessarily the ones that deploy the most (or the most expensive) tools.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is so powerful (and free) that we’re giving it a section of its own. Firstly, it’s the largest easily accessible database of prospects you’re going to be able to get your hands one. Secondly the platform lets you target by workplace demographics. LinkedIn will even do the work for you in terms of generating leads, with its lead generation forms.

Many ABM campaigns entirely, or mostly, rely on LinkedIn. This isn’t a bad thing, and if you have limited budget and time, it’s often the best place to invest your hard-earned marketing budget. There are, however, many other platforms that address some of the limitations of LinkedIn.

Company Identification

Often organisations will realise that they don’t know which companies are the best targets for them. Yes, despite the vast salaries and fancy cars given to the sales team, there’s no understanding of who to target.

In this case there are several ABM tools that can help. Typically, the process involves profiling your current customers to identify the firmographic information that defines them (e.g. industry, number of employees, annual sales, etc) to create an ideal company profile. The tools then produce lists that match your criteria.

These tools are closely related to the contact identification and data enrichment tools, and include such well-known names as Terminus and DiscoverOrg.

Contact Identification/Data Enrichment

Good ABM campaigns target specific people within specific companies. At some point, you’re going to want to know who these people are, and what their contact details are, if you’re going to reach them. Although your CRM and marketing databases should be the first stop, you’re probably going to find they’re not enough. So, you need to find more contacts.

The most straightforward systems will provide data on LinkedIn profiles. You simply go to the contact on LinkedIn, request the data and the system (usually) creates a record with the person’s contact information, including email address. Examples of these systems include dedicated contact data platforms such as Datanyze, LeadIQ and DiscoverOrg, as well as platforms with broader capabilities such as Terminus and 6sense.

Other systems will allow you to search for contacts in their database. A good example of this would be Salesforce’s Lightning Data Solutions (which has been developed from a service called data.com) but is now only available to Salesforce customers.

Finally, there are systems that will take your existing database and enrich it. Typically, this is by adding more information about your current contacts, but there are also systems that will add other contacts from the same organisation. Most of the data solutions mentioned in this blog will offer this capability, and it’s worth adding companies like Demand Matrix to the list too.

We’re often asked the question about GDPR compliance. Although we’re not lawyers, and so can’t give legal advice, we can read the regulations. GDPR makes it pretty clear that harvesting contact information is not, in itself, illegal. You do need to make sure that you do a couple of things to remain complaint. Firstly, your privacy policy should make it clear that you do enrich and harvest data: a key part of GDPR is transparency and so you must make it clear what you are doing to the data subjects. You’ll also need to make it clear you use legitimate interest rather than opt-in to determine whether you process personal data, and therefore send marketing information.

It’s the fact you’re using legitimate interest that makes it essential that you use your brain when deciding what data to gather. Simply gathering contact information is not legal: you need to have a legitimate business reason to want to contact a particular person. If you’re selling parts for industrial automation systems, for example, it’s clear that you have a legitimate interest in gathering data on maintenance managers in the industries you serve. Start gathering the names of designers in the fashion industry [or more likely just gathering contact details for anyone in your target companies] and you’ll have a really tough job convincing the authorities that this is “legitimate interest”.

Intent Identification Tools

Intent data just feels like such a good opportunity to find the companies most likely to buy, but often ends in disappointment for our clients. Although there are times when intent data works, the more technical the product, it seems the less effective the tools can be. It’s likely that this is because companies offering mission-critical technology or innovations that drive competitive advantage, then it’s less likely that relevant topics will be discussed openly on social media. Having said this, some intent data can be useful, even for the most innovative technology: for example, we find job posts to be particularly useful in providing an indication of the future direction of a target company’s technology strategy. Many companies exist to identify intent data, including some well-known ABM specialist suppliers such as Bombora and Cyance.

Marketing Automation

Marketing automation tools really come into their own when you are running an ABM campaign. Want to create landing pages for specific companies? Marketing automation. Want to customise emails to your ideal target customers? Marketing automation. Need special automation flows for the accounts you target? I’m sure you have got the idea now!

Interestingly marketing automation platforms typically don’t have any dedicated ABM functionality. This means you’re going to have to build the content and automations you want to drive the campaign. But as I said earlier, ABM is all about creating great campaigns rather than pushing the “super-auto” button on a magic tool.

Marketo is probably the most popular marketing automation platform for ABM, but if you use Pardot, HubSpot, SharpSpring or any other decent tool it will have the capabilities you need to run your campaign.

Website Customisation

Closely related to marketing automation is website customisation. In fact, the more advanced marketing automation platforms all offer some form of website customisation.

If you’re looking to create a bespoke, personalised campaign for your most important targets, then you should be thinking about how that extends to your website. There’s no point in creating wonderful, customised emails and then sending these valuable prospects to an impersonal, generic website.

It is possible to do some customisation without tools, but you’ll quickly realise that more than a handful of target companies stops any manual approach from scaling. Some of the website tools that offer the most powerful customisation include large integrated tools such as Demandbase, as well as specialised tools such as PathFactory and Uberflip.

We’d also include email footer customisation tools in this category: putting account-specific messages in your emails can be very effective. You might want to look at vendors such as Exclaimer and Opensense, and the larger integrated products are also adding this capability (e.g. Terminus acquired SigStr recently).

Retargeting

You’re probably going to be spending a lot of money routing prospects in your target accounts to your website, so you should take advantage of this to deliver advertising at much lower cost.

CRM retargeting is a great way of delivering cheap adverts to an audience you specify by email (or sometimes phone number, although less often in B2B). You can run CRM retargeting platforms on social media or using Google or other advertising platforms. One challenge with CRM retargeting is that you will almost certainly have the business email addresses for your targets, whereas it’s often easier to match personal email addresses. This is particularly true on social media: most people use a personal, rather than a work email address for their Facebook accounts.

Another challenge is the requirement for a particular number of matched email addresses. This varies, with Facebook and Google display ads requiring an audience size of just 100, whereas Google search requires 1000 matched members. This can prevent you from creating separate personalised campaigns for each of your target accounts, although we’ve often seen the marketing team’s emails used to bolster the size of a list to trigger CRM retargeting campaigns.

Retargeting based on website visits is another good approach that shouldn’t be forgotten – you often have lots of information about who constitutes a particular audience, especially if you are directing different companies to different landing pages. Again, audience size can be an issue, so think carefully about how you can build sufficiently large audiences.

While we’re talking about audiences, one thing to mention is that you should not be using Google’s pre-defined audiences to target advertising. I’ve yet to find a B2B campaign that makes good use of them. I strongly believe that Google audiences are for narrowing down other audiences, rather than for use in their own right, but that’s probably something for another blog post.

Digital Ad Design Tools

At some point you’ll realise that you need to generate some ads. If you want to personalise the ads – and you should do because you’re running an ABM campaign – then you will need A LOT of ads.

Some platforms will generate customised adverts for you – the LinkedIn capabilities are relatively simple, but can be very powerful. However large ABM campaigns will require advertising creative that can be deployed on multiple platforms, and these is where tools that allow creation of customised versions of adverts come into their own. Some of the platforms that will automatically create different size versions of ads include Creatopy and Bannerflow.

Programmatic Advertising

I’ve written a blog post on ABM, and not yet mentioned the programmatic platforms that target specific companies by IP address. Despite the hype around these platforms, they often produce disappointing results.

How can this be? Surely the ability to target adverts to specific companies is the Holy Grail of ABM? In practice it’s not quite that simple: if you are targeting an audience that represents a large proportion of a company’s employees, you’ll probably find great results. If, however, you want to target a very specific small audience within a company then you’re likely to struggle: the ads are delivered on the basis of IP, so typically you’ll see a large number of clicks that bounce off your website very quickly. Even targeting the ads to particular types of media doesn’t completely fix the problem. In this case you can still get good results, but have to accept a large amount of wastage: this might be fine for many campaigns as the CPM and CPC on these platforms tend to be a tiny fraction of the cost on trade publications, for example.

There are actually two types of programmatic advertising platforms for ABM. The first are the large integrated enterprise ABM solutions such as 6sense and Demandbase, and the other are platforms that simply provide targeting advertising capabilities such as N.rich and Radiate B2B.

The Post Office

Pre-pandemic, this was our favourite tool. We delivered postal mailer campaigns that were so specific we got response rates of 80% or more. Conversion rates were much lower, but still far greater than any other tactic.

The hyper-targeting of ABM means that you can afford to spend a lot of money on each mailer. We need to be honest here: the difference in cost between postal mailers and digital ads is several orders of magnitude. Once you know your data is good – the companies and contacts are all the ones you want to reach – then postal mailings give you a fabulous opportunity to be creative.

The good news is that you don’t have to invest in Sellotape and string to put the mailers together yourself: there are many services that will do postal mailings for you. We’d recommend trying Sendoso, Alyce or Reachdesk.

Selecting the Best ABM Tool

Just like cameras, the best ABM tool is usually the one you already have. We always recommend planning your campaigns first: you should be driven by your business goals and not the tools that are available.

The tools that are available, however, can deliver impressive capabilities while saving you considerable amounts of time. So definitely make use of the tools that best support the achievement of your campaign goals and that fit within your marketing budget.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about ABM is that we’re still in the relatively early days of ABM. There will be a lot of innovation in the available tools over the next few years as ABM moves towards maturity, and it’s also likely that costs will tend downwards as the number of users grow. Whatever you are trying to achieve with your ABM campaign, there has never been a better time to do it.


dice - showing randomness

When is a Conversion Not a Conversion?

Interesting news from Google, which have announced a move to "data-driven attribution". OK, that's a complex term for the first sentence of a blog post, so let's unpack what is going on...

 

What is Attribution?

Hopefully, you understand attribution: in this context, it's giving credit to the different marketing activities that resulted in achieving an objective (e.g. online purchase, conversion, etc.). Often the algorithms used are really simple - for example:

  • Last click attribution: the thing that was clicked last (e.g. display advert, search ad, email) before the objective was achieved gets all the credit.
  • First click attribution: the first thing that was clicked (well actually that you tracked the person clicking) gets all the credit.

These approaches obviously have potential problems.  What if your email and advertising system are separate - both systems would claim all the credit. Of course, we also know that few activities are the "magic bullet" that causes you to achieve an objective with a particular prospect, and that marketing tactics work together over time. So more complex attribution approaches such as linear and time decay were added to try to better reflect multiple ads (or other activities) working together.

 

What is Data-Driven Attribution?

This is a tough question. We don't exactly know. Google describes the operation of data-driven attribution as:

"Data-driven attribution gives credit for conversions based on how people engage with your various ads and decide to become your customers."

This means that there is some algorithm tracking users and determining how much credit different activities should take for converting the prospect to a customer. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, Google isn't telling anyone how it works. It's also likely they will change the algorithm on a frequent basis.

We do understand the basics of data-driven attribution: put very simply Google looks at the different things in your marketing campaigns and determines how the probability of reaching the goal is impacted by seeing different adverts. In principle this should be a good thing.

 

What Will Happen With Data-Driven Attribution?

We do know this! You'll see credit for conversions (and conversion revenue if you track that) applied across all of your advertising. This could mean that Google decides to award some credit for conversions to ads that actually get no clicks. It's a little counter-intuitive but does make sense: seeing an advert could make someone more likely to convert on a future advert, even if they don't click.

One thing we won't see is Google giving any credit to any marketing activity outside of their advertising domain. So don't expect to see your adverts on trade publication websites, email marketing or PR credited. You'll only see attribution assigned to things Google sells to you.

 

Why is Data-Driven Attribution a Concern?

In theory this should be a good thing. We are getting a much better model of what causes a person to convert and therefore we should be able to better optimise our ads. But the reality is that when you look at B2B PPC advertising, you're often trying to reach a very small and specific audience. So it's easy to get things wrong because probability gets in the way. The reality is that you need a significant amount of data to make a model like this work, and if you are targeting CEOs of fortune 1000 electronics companies (and doing it well), you might not get sufficient data. The other problem is that in small samples external factors can skew the results: if the small number of CEOs of Fortune 1000 electronics companies who buy our product are big users of YouTube, data-driven attribution might give credit to a YouTube ad, even if the ad is ineffective.

Just to be clear, as numbers targeted get larger, the issues around data become less challenging. For many B2B technology companies, however, it may not be possible to get enough data to really understand whether the advert should get credit or not for the conversion. We see this all the time with clients who have one ad in an A/B test out-performing another at the start of the campaign. As the numbers build up, the initial indication that the ad was better is proved wrong, and we realise that it was just randomness skewing the early results.

Oh and we're going to have to just trust Google on its attribution. But they would never implement something to make their advertising products look like they were performing better than they were... would they?

 

What's the Solution?

As an engineer, my go-to solution has to be maths. In this case, a good understanding of probability and statistics is going to be your best friend. No AI can overcome the laws of mathematics, and it's impossible to know whether a result is caused by randomness. So it's important to understand there will be limits to how well the model can work with smaller data sets.

If you know how probability works, and understand sample sizes, however, you'll be able to navigate the new approach and hopefully benefit from the AI Google has deployed. If not, I'd recommend playing with something like our AB test calculator to find out how probability means that sometimes the ad with the better click-through rate isn't necessarily bad, but pure chance has made it seem as if it is.

 

More Information

Check out the following for more information


Hazards of trusting open rates

Why Your Improving Open Rates Might Not Be Good News

Anyone seen email open rates increase? Thinking you're an email genius? Well, it might not be such good news.

On September 20th, Apple rolled out mail privacy protection, a new feature that limits the ability of email marketers to track when users open emails. Apple described it as:

"In the Mail app, Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using invisible pixels to collect information about the user. The new feature helps users prevent senders from knowing when they open an email, and masks their IP address so it can’t be linked to other online activity or used to determine their location."

Almost any marketing email system uses tracking pixels to detect opens. These are single-pixel images that do nothing to change the look or layout of the email, but can be used to track when someone opens because each one has a URL unique to each recipient. So when someone opens an email (which actually means asks the email reader to display images), the tracking pixel URL is called and you know that this recipient has opened the email.  You can also get other information, including location, that gives you more data about where the email was opened. This was great, and has worked well for about 28 years (according to the cool team at Groundhogg, the first time a tracking pixel was used was 1993). Now Apple has stopped this approach from working.

 

What has Apple Done to Tracking Pixels?

The new mail privacy protection doesn't load the pixel when someone reads an email. What happens is that the Apple servers will download all images for emails. If you then view that email in Apple mail, the images come from the Apple server and not from the server used to track the email opens. This will do two things:

  1. All emails sent to Apple Mail users with the privacy protection system activated will show as having opened the email. This is because the server will download the tracking pixel automatically
  2. Even if the email is opened by the recipient, you will not know when they did it, nor where they opened it, because all the information you will have is when the Apple server opened the email (and where that server was).

So this is not only destroying the metadata you got from email tracking pixels, it will artificially increase the open rate as every email sent to an Apple Mail account with the feature enabled will show as an open.

 

What Should I Do About This?

Firstly don't believe email open rates! They will go up, depending on the proportion of Apple Mail users (think most of the people who read your emails on an iPhone or iPad) in your database. So the open rate isn't going to be that helpful.

Some people might decide to move to monitoring click rates, but there is also a problem with clicks: malware detection bots are clicking on the emails to check that the links don't route through to anything that could be a security risk. We flagged this as an increasing problem about a year ago, and it's not going to go away.

Ultimately the best thing to do is to think more about your business goals. What are you trying to actually achieve with the emails you are sending? If you want someone to click through to learn about a product on the web, then are they visiting the pages you want them to see and spending sufficient time? If you want to generate leads, did you get valid form-fills? Or if you want online sales, measure the value of the sales.

It's becoming very clear that privacy measures are only going to increase. In some ways, this is bad because we're losing some of the fabulous metrics that are so easy to collect around digital marketing. However, I think it's a good thing. It's about time we moved away from dated digital metrics towards more sophisticated measures that determine whether our marketing activities actually made an impact on the organisation.


email is not dead

MailChimp and SharpSpring Acquired: Email is Still a Great Marketing Channel

In the last week there have been two major announcements in the world of email marketing and marketing automation: SharpSpring and MailChimp have both been acquired. This is despite every marketing blog that chased the cool clickbait headlines in the middle of the 2010s announcing the death of email.

Firstly, email is not “dead”. There are about a quarter of a million results for the search “email is dead” on google (with the phrase in quotes) and every one of them is wrong. Email is still an incredible (if annoying, hateable and frustrating) way of communicating. Oh yes, email also works really well as a marketing channel if you use it correctly. And these two acquisitions prove email’s value.

SharpSpring was acquired by Constant Contact and Clearlake Partners for a cool quarter of a million dollars. We’re a SharpSpring partner, so unashamedly biased – we love the platform and feel it’s a massively underrated marketing technology tool. It isn’t Marketo, but it’s not trying to be Marketo.

And then Intuit steps up with $12Bn to buy Mailchimp. This is a huge amount of money for a company that is in a very competitive space. Yet there were few people questioning the wisdom of the move when it was announced.

Of course, the two acquisitions have very different motivations. Constant Contact has struggled against MailChimp in terms of market share. The acquisition of SharpSpring brings them more features and capabilities that gives Constant Contact customers who are frustrated by the limitations of the platform somewhere to go. It’s a great move. Unglamourous yes, but clearly an indication that Constant Contact is serious about growing its business in larger and larger organisations.

The move is also great for SharpSpring too. It is a company that has consistently lost money. Although this isn’t unusual for a marketing automation platform: there are high switching costs when moving from one MAP to another, so the vendors have fought for market share rather than profitability. But it’s clear that SharpSpring could benefit from more resources to ensure they become a meaningful part of the marketing automation landscape. Let’s face it, the competitors such as Salesforce (Pardot), Adobe (Marketo) and Oracle (Eloqua) are companies with incredibly deep pockets.

Personally, I don’t see SharpSpring taking a huge share of the marketing automation marketplace, but I do see them growing strongly. They have a great product and compelling pricing, so I am confident they will be successful. They also have a different go-to-market model, using agencies as their primary channel. In fact, there are SharpSpring customers out there that don’t realise they are using SharpSpring as their agency has white-labelled the product and put their own branding onto the platform.

The Intuit acquisition of MailChimp is targeting a different market: it’s clear that Intuit believes they could sell email marketing to their SME customer base (and presumably also offer Intuit to the SMEs using MailChimp). This makes absolute sense, and although Intuit is less strong outside of the USA, I find it very hard to argue with the logic.

So, what does this mean for B2B tech marketers? Realistically the MailChimp acquisition isn’t going to impact many of us, unless we’re in start-ups. Even so, most B2B technology start-ups tend to invest in more comprehensive marketing automation tools, so I don’t see MailChimp being a major factor here. The SharpSpring acquisition is more interesting, however, although it will have no impact if you’re using one of the big marketing automation vendors. If, however, you’re looking for a marketing automation tool, then SharpSpring becomes much more attractive, particularly if you plan to work with a marketing automation agency. And if you’re with SharpSpring I think it means that you can feel much more comfortable with your choice: not only do you have a powerful platform with great pricing, the finances and therefore long-term security of SharpSpring are now much stronger. And, of course, whatever tool you are using, you can feel a lot more confident that the market has real faith in email as an influential marketing channel in the future.


The New Napier ABM Tactics Advisor

One of the fastest-growing services we offer is support for account-based marketing (ABM) campaigns. It's also a service that generates a huge number of questions as clients grapple with the different approaches that could be used to target marketing activities to specific accounts. As we often discuss which tactics would be the best with our clients, we thought it would be fun to create an automatic tool that enabled anyone to get at least some of our ABM expertise.

The Napier ABM advisor is our attempt to codify our knowledge of what ABM tactics work best in different situations. All you need to do is complete a form that asks simple questions about your target customers and personas, as well as whether you already have contacts in your database. It then implements a set of AI rules we developed from the responses given by our ABM experts to recommend the best approach for your particular situation. As important as recommending the best tactics, the system will also identify if the campaign you want to run would be effective as an ABM campaign and will highlight any set of criteria that means ABM isn't the best way to achieve your objectives. For more information about the logic behind the tool, check out the page explaining how the ABM Advisor works.

Recommended Tactics

At launch, the ABM advisor considers eight different tactics, although we anticipate increasing the number of tactics as we further develop the tool. The tactics are:

LinkedIn: this is one of the most commonly-used platforms for ABM as you can target people by work-related demographics. Our tool understands if you have a good idea of the demographics (e.g. job title) so that you can use LinkedIn effectively and if the number of people you are targeting means that LinkedIn would be cost-effective.

Email campaigns: if you have the contact data for the target audience in your database, you should use it! For small target audiences, it's often best to use the CRM and target the high-value contacts directly with personal messages, whereas marketing automation systems can be extremely effective when there is a larger audience to target. Although this is one of the most cost-effective and powerful approaches to ABM, it's frequently the case that companies want to run an ABM account because they don't have great data on these organisations, so email might not be possible.

CRM retargeting: this is a great tactic when you have a large number of email addresses in your database. Although not as effective as email, it lets you target advertising by email address, allowing very low CPM and CPC values for highly targeted adverts. It can also be used on some social media platforms. CRM retargeting usually has a low match, so is often used in conjunction with other tactics.

Landing pages and nurturing: if you are trying to grow your database then you need a means of capturing contact information. Marketing automation tools enable the creation of landing pages for capture, as well as email sequences to nurture the contact until they show an indication that they should be elevated to lead status. Although it's possible to use landing pages with inbound campaigns, typically this tactic would be coupled with an outbound marketing campaign to drive the target audience to the landing page.

Programmatic ABM platforms: although LinkedIn and Google ads are programmatic, they don't offer the same features as dedicated ABM platforms. These systems are designed to enable targeting of companies through techniques such as identifying IP addresses associated with the company, and can be extremely effective when you have a large audience to reach. Napier works with a number of ABM platforms and has a partnership deal with N.Rich.

Website customization: an important part of ABM is ensuring that the companies you want to target receive personalised information throughout their journey. Personalising content on your website is a very effective way to increase the velocity of your ABM contacts through the funnel to generate opportunities sooner. Typically website customisation is implemented by marketing automation systems, but there are also dedicated tools that offer this capability.

Postal mailings: yes, the old tactics still work really well! When you have a small or moderate number of contacts to reach, there is nothing as effective as sending a great mailing through the post. If you're not convinced, then ask us about the time we won a client by sending them a pebble!

Sales and CRM systems: although we primarily work with marketing teams, sometimes it's more effective to run sales campaigns. This is particularly true for ABM campaigns where you have a small number of high-value targets. The sales outreach is almost always better when coupled with other tactics that begin to engage your target audience before the sales team picks up the phone.

Send us Your ABM Advisor Feedback!

As we've only just launched the tool, we are confident that there is room for improvement. We'd love to hear your feedback on whether it is making the right recommendations. Please email Mike to let him know your thoughts and any suggestions you might have to improve or enhance our ABM Advisor.


B2B Marketing Priorities for 2021

We recently conducted a poll to find out what our clients’ priorities were for 2021. As a quick poll of sentiment, we didn’t get, or intend to get, a large number of responses, so please do treat these results with caution: they’re from a small sample. However, we do think that the findings were interesting.

B2B Marketing Priorities for 2021

When asked what the most important priority was, the result was pretty conclusive: the vast majority of respondents said that it was Acquiring New Customers. As we hopefully exit from the craziness of the pandemic, it’s not surprising that this is top-of-mind for marketers.

Launching New Products, Developing the Brand and Increasing Awareness were the most commonly cited secondary goals. It’s interesting to see that marketers clearly are worried about the entire length of the marketing funnel, from awareness to leads, rather than being completely focussed on a particular aspect. We think this is a healthy situation: if awareness of the brand is low, it makes it much harder to generate leads. Of course it also means that marketers are going to spread their time and budgets more thinly.

There was little interest in generating MQLs or converting MQLs to SQLs. We’re not sure why, as these are key steps to acquiring new customers, and wonder if marketers aren’t really thinking through the steps they need to take to achieve the end goal.

Surprisingly, there was no interest in growing existing customers. Whether this is growing the business per customer, or increasing average order size, marketers are just not focussing on these goals. We think this is a big mistake: growing existing customers isn’t just the responsibility of sales and we believe that marketers are missing out if they don’t include this in their marketing mix.

When given the opportunity to answer an open question about what they would most like to achieve in 2021 (rather than multiple-choice), awareness and brand were mentioned much more frequently than leads and new customers. We found this rather concerning as it suggests marketers believe that awareness will directly drive sales. While this is true to some extent, failing to nurture prospects through each step of their customer journey will mean far fewer new customers and lower sales at the end. With martech able to do so much to move prospects along the journey, simply equating awareness with increased sales feels risky.

Marketing Technology

We asked the respondents about different marketing technology tools. The most commonly used tool was social media management, which is not surprising given the large number of tools available at low cost.

We were very surprised to see that half the respondents had no plans to use programmatic advertising now or in the future. This is obviously good news for publishers as many of the respondents advertise in trade press, and it seems that few people plan to move marketing budget from negotiated display adverts to programmatic. However, we believe that programmatic can play a key role, even if most of the budget is allocated to trade media, so by not considering programmatic, the respondents will lose out. Interestingly more respondents said they were running, or planned to run, ABM campaigns, which typically are one of the best ways to ensure a return from programmatic advertising.

Conclusions

Although a small-scale survey, the results were extremely interesting. In particular it’s clear that marketing needs to help deliver short-term results to the business by generating new customers. Not a surprise, but certainly a challenge after the tough year we have had.


The 11 Different Types of Nurturing Campaign

I’m often asked by clients for examples of great nurturing campaigns: it’s not only those who have recently acquired marketing automation software, as even experienced users want to know “what works and what doesn’t”. On the fact of it, it’s a reasonable request: surely there are some best practices that you can follow to guarantee success?

In practice, I’ve found that it’s really hard to simply drop a nurturing campaign from one situation to another: the prospects, the product and the content available are all different. In fact trying to replicate a successful campaign often ends in failure.

The best way to create a great nurturing campaign is to build one that is customised to your particular situation. The good news is that while “off-the-shelf” campaigns don’t travel well, it’s easy to identify a framework to use. These frameworks define the purpose of the campaign, something that’s essential to ensure good results.

Three Broad Categories of Nurture Campaigns

At Napier, the B2B nurture campaigns we see tend to fall into three broad categories. Prospect-driven campaigns are triggered by something a prospect does (e.g. filling in a form on a website), time-based campaigns are triggered by something happening, such as a trade show, or a period of time elapsing, and customer lifecycle campaigns are slightly different and targeted at existing customers rather than prospects.

In this blog post, I’ll describe the eleven different nurture campaigns and how they fit into these three categories. To make things easy, I’ll talk about emailing as a way of nurturing, but it’s important to remember that the best nurture campaigns use multiple channels to reach their audience.

Prospect-Triggered Campaigns

These campaigns are triggered by a prospect doing something that you can track. In general, they have done something on your website, for example visited a page or filled in a form, or have interacted with an email by clicking a link.

Prospect-triggered campaigns are almost always top-of-the-funnel, and are typically related to the action the contact took indicating that they are at a particular stage of the customer journey.

1.      Lead Qualification

A lead qualification campaign aims to filter the valuable contacts from those that are unlikely to become customers. We often call this the “jump through hoops” campaign as the prospect is sent opportunities to download or interact with content, and are only defined as a MQL if their engagement hits a pre-determined level.

A very simple example would be a new contact who fills in a form to access a white paper. They might be sent two follow-up emails offering related white papers. If the prospect accesses both, they become a “hot” lead; one of them means that they are a lead and no engagement with the emails might mean that they are not considered a lead and left in the marketing database.

Lead qualification nurtures are often used where companies are getting more contacts than their sales team can follow-up, or where there are many contacts generated who are unlikely to ever become customers.

2.      Progressive Profiling

Progressive profiling campaigns are another way to qualify contacts as MQLs. They go beyond simple lead qualification because they use forms or behaviour to gather more information about the contact to determine if they qualify as a lead.

The simplest progressive profiling campaigns offer white papers or other content, and rather than linking directly to them, they link to a form. These forms have the existing data pre-filled, and feed in a single additional question each time the contact views the form, adding to the information we have about the contact every time they view content.

Another approach is to ask questions in the email or provide a “choose your own adventure” approach within an email. For example you might send an email allowing the recipient to click on buttons that link to content for engineers, technical managers and purchasing professionals. The buttons clicked therefore indicate the role of the contact.

Progressive profiling provides a more accurate way of determining which contacts are MQLs than simple lead qualification nurtures, while avoiding the need for excessively long forms. Inevitably less than 100% of contacts will engage with these campaigns, meaning that they typically result in fewer MQLs.

3.      Move the Contact Through the Funnel

Perhaps the most commonly cited form of lead nurturing, this aims to provide the information that moves the prospect through their customer journey or down the funnel (depending on your  preferred model). The content that triggers the automation is top-of-the-funnel, so typically highlighting a pain or challenge the contact is likely to have. The communications aim to encourage engagement with content that represents the “next step” in the journey.

An example might be:

  • The contact completes a form explaining a typical industry challenge
  • Email(s) are sent describing the different approaches to solving the challenge
  • Once the contact engages with the emails, they are then sent emails that describe the company’s particular product to solve the challenge
  • When the contact has engaged with the product emails, they are sent testimonials from customers to provide social proof

Of course, like any nurture campaign, there might be lead scoring in the background that will flag the contact as a MQL based on their engagement.

Although many marketing automation platforms highlight this type of nurture campaign in training, they are primarily suited to SaaS and low-touch product/service sales. For complex sales, it’s naïve to think that a few emails can move a contact from awareness to customer, and so many B2B examples of this type of nurture only attempt to move the contact a small distance through the customer journey to enable, for example, a salesperson to call.

4.      Educational and Related Content Nurturing

This campaign is a bit controversial as it doesn’t aim to produce an easily measurable result. As I suggested earlier, in many cases it’s not possible to have someone move quickly through the various stages of the customer journey and trying to force this to happen can backfire.

Creating an educational or thought-leadership campaign aims to enhance the perception of the company in the mind of the prospect by providing insightful and useful content. Although you might measure the results by the amount of engagement generated (e.g. white papers viewed), the real goal is intangible.

These nurture campaigns are ideal when there is a very long sales cycle and the contact is likely to remain at the same journey stage for some time, or if you are trying to change perceptions of people who are influencers in the decision-making unit (DMU), rather than decision-makers themselves. Although it can be hard to measure whether you have changed the perceptions of your audience, these campaigns can be extremely effective for complex, high-value sales.

5.      Sales Support

Sales support nurturing campaigns are triggered by requests from the sales team due to them interacting with a contact or prospect. The sales team might be trying to crack a target account, or could have been approached with an enquiry. Either way, the goal of these campaigns is to smooth the sales process by enhancing the perception of the company in the contact’s mind and providing information that can overcome objections before they are even raised.

These campaigns are often targeted at a small number of accounts, and typically might rely more on ABM advertising than emails. Generally they involve bottom-of-the-funnel content, although some top-of-the-funnel materials might be required for influencers who are not familiar with your company.

Time-Based Nurturing

Using time as a trigger is extremely common, whether it’s around a fixed event, for example a webinar, or a fixed amount of time from something happening.

6.      Re-Engagement

At some point you will have to give up trying to convert a contact to an MQL or move them through their customer journey. Maybe you have run out of content, perhaps you feel you can’t keep emailing or possibly they have told you on a form that they will not be ready to buy for a period of time. Whatever the reason, marketing automation isn’t going to work if it’s the wrong time for the contact, so you’re better stopping and trying to re-engage at a later date.

The time you leave the contact ultimately depends on your customers’ buying cycles. If they buy a product monthly, you won’t wait long to reengage, but if they are contracted with a supplier for a year or more, then you need to allow a significant pause before you trigger one of these campaigns.

A re-engagement campaign will offer content to the contact. All that you want to do is to engage the contact, and so each of these content offers should have other nurture campaigns that are triggered if the contact engages. Quite frequently you’ll see content appropriate to several different stages of the customer journey used as the campaign aims to identify the appropriate stage for the contact.

7.      Regular Keep-in-Touch

I wanted to call this the newsletter campaign, but apparently newsletters are uncool (our newsletter still generates great leads for us, and it’s untrue that newsletters are no longer effective, but that’s another blog post). The idea of this campaign is to have a reason to send a regular email to contacts, and we’re particularly concerned with contacts with whom the sales team is not interacting.

Regular keep-in-touch content includes newsletters, blog summaries or anything that you can put together on a regular basis. It’s important to be consistent, so that the contact is expecting something, and most of the communications should allow the contact to trigger another nurturing campaign if they download the white paper, view the video or take any other action. Content doesn’t have to be top-of-the-funnel, but it should be useful to people who are not in the process of selecting or buying, otherwise they’re likely to opt out when it’s not relevant and then you won’t have them on the list when they do start looking for a new supplier.

8.      Event-Based Nurturing

Here the reason for timing is obvious: the event, whether it’s a conference, show, webinar or something else is happening at a particular time, and you need to communicate with contacts around that date. Typically, you’ll Invite them and send a reminder to attend prior to the event, and then follow-up with either support materials (e.g. the slide deck) or an email that offers them a recording because they missed the webinar.

Campaigns around events really should be stand-alone, and separate from anything you want to do with the attendees who qualify as MQLs.

Customer Lifecycle Nurturing

This category is different because the contact is now a customer. Although you might want to sell them more, it’s also possible that you want to ensure that their experience with your product or service is as good as possible. These campaigns are most often run for new customers, but can be effective to help grow long-term customers too, and typically are based on bottom-of-the-funnel content.

9.      Onboarding

This is a campaign that is loved by the world of SaaS, particularly on self-serve platforms. In this case onboarding emails are sent to walk the new customer through the product, explaining how to use it and avoid typical pitfalls. In this case, although improved customer experience – particularly in the case of free trials – is a key reason for running such a campaign, the supplier also wants to reduce support costs: it’s relatively easy for them to work out the typical things that cause a customer to be confused and need support. By pre-empting the problems, the company can dramatically reduce their support costs.

Onboarding emails are very under-used in other areas of B2B marketing. Quite often as a potential customer, you’ll meet all manner of senior executives from the supplier when you are considering whether to buy, only to find them disappear when you place the purchase order. A little nurturing can go a long way to making the new customer feel that the executives have not deserted them!

10.  Upsell/cross-sell

Getting more money from existing customers is a great way to grow the business, so upsell and cross sell nurturing can be very effective. For example you might want to offer service packages to customers who have purchased expensive capital equipment, or you might have a new service that would be of interest to a particular group of customers.

Typically these emails aim to identify potential upsell and cross-sell customers, who are then approached by the sales or account management team.

11.  Promotions

Promotional nurturing is frequently offered to customers. A great example is cart abandonment campaigns, where a discount is offered to someone who has put items in an ecommerce cart but not then checked out (yes, I know they might not technically be a customer until checkout, but they have provided contact details so hopefully you’ll let me off this technicality). Another form of promotion is a sale or price reduction.

Discounts need to be managed very carefully, particularly in B2B. Buyers are sophisticated and will soon catch on if you always offer a discount for abandonment, and they’ll never check out when they first fill the cart. Equally artificial price reductions on your main product are usually a bad idea, but reductions for peripheral products or services, such as training, can be a great way to keep a customer an engaged evangelist for your company.

 

There’s No Magic Bullet!

Use these frameworks to build multiple nurture campaigns that will move your business to the next level, but don’t forget that testing is critical. For example, there is no “best” gap between emails in any nurturing campaign: the only way to find the best for your unique situation is to test, although a good tip is that most marketers dramatically over-estimate how much time they should leave between each email in their campaign.

Optimizing your marketing automation campaigns is tough: unfortunately, there isn’t a golden campaign that you can implement, and it is guaranteed to work. If, however, you stop looking for the magic bullet and build campaigns based upon these frameworks, you will quickly see how nurturing can improve your marketing outcomes.


Julien Happich

Julien happich (far left) in happier times.
Julien Happich (far left) in happier times.

I was really upset to hear that Julien Happich, former editor-in-chief of eeNews Europe, passed away on 11th February. Julien had been a highly respected journalist in the industry for many years, and was one of the first journalists I ever met with when I was working client-side at IDT. Julien was a journalist with great technical knowledge, but was also fun to meet for a briefing. He was interested in the clients and asked great questions: you just had to make sure that you didn't get him on the topic of cycling as this would mean a long, but fascinating diversion!

Sadly Julien had to step away from his role when he was ill, so he's not been active in the community for a little while. He leaves a rich legacy, from being instrumental in developing the web presence of European Business Press to making us all want to be able to cycle as far as him. The thoughts of the Napier team are with his family.

Read Julien's obituary on the eeNews Europe website.


How to Make Your Industrial Search Marketing Campaign Fail

In industrial marketing we often find that search advertising is used to enhance or support other activities. Whether you are running an industrial PR campaign, want to drive leads to a landing page for marketing automation, or are running a campaign for online e-commerce sales, search marketing can be an important part of the campaign mix.

At Napier we’ve reviewed a wide range of different search engine marketing (sometimes called AdWords) campaigns and found the same mistakes repeating across different campaigns and clients. If you want to make sure your search campaign is a success, we’d recommend avoiding the most common reasons for campaigns to fail.

Focus on Clicks

Focussing on clicks, or traffic to the website is possibly the worst mistake you can make in search advertising. It’s not just that clicks are a terrible metric, it’s also because this approach often leads people to make poor decisions in other areas.

If there is one thing you should remember from this article, it’s that when you are marketing an industrial product, most people who click on your search advert are not interested in your product. In fact, most people clicking on the advert are probably never going to buy a product like the one you offer. Google does a great job of selling the idea of “intent”: if someone searches then that shows they have intent, and in the case of the keywords you are targeting Google would like you to think they have intent to buy a product. This is so wrong. Yes, there are people who are perfect prospects, but also you will have an army of irrelevant searchers. More importantly, even if your advert makes it crystal-clear what you are offering, there will be clicks on the ad from people who are simply not interested. Sorry, but even Google isn’t perfect.

If you focus on clicks, you are going to want as many clicks as possible, and sometimes it’s easier to drive clicks from people who will never be customers. You’ll be boosting Google’s profits, probably boosting your ego with large numbers of clicks and actually optimising the campaign to reduce return on investment.

Forget the Maths

This is closely related to focussing on clicks, or any other “ego metric”. Think about the maths before you start planning a campaign. Ask yourself how many potential customers there are for your product, and how many you can service each month. This gives you the size of the target audience and the volume of sales that you can deal with. The most important number will depend on the industry: high-touch products or services (for example a PR agency) will be limited in how many new customers the business can take on each month, whereas an eCommerce distributor might be able to scale up to service different customers easily, and therefore be more interested in how many potential customers are likely to search each month.

These numbers are important. If you can only take on two customers per month, driving 5000 visits a month is probably a bad idea: you’d get better results by being more targeted and concentrating on increasing conversion rates. Alternatively, if you are selling a major infrastructure product you might only have a handful of people in the audience you want to target, so generating millions of impressions will tell you that you must be spending most of your advertising budget on people who will never be a potential customers.

Finally, a great way to forget the maths is to ignore statistical significance. We have a great blog post explaining what is meant by statistical significance, and how to test for it, as well as an easy-to-use calculator on the website. It’s not always an easy concept, but the golden rule is not to automatically assume that more conversions, more clicks or a higher CTR necessarily means that one ad is performing better than another. It may be better, but if the difference is small then you may be basing your assessment of “better” on results that are more likely to happen due to chance than a real difference in performance.

Forget Geography

Search advertising lets you target by geography because it’s really important. If you sell in one country only, the best way to ensure your campaign fails is to advertise globally. Even if you think you sell globally, you probably don’t: for example, there will be export controls on technology products to certain markets.

Even if you can sell globally there are countries where you will generate huge numbers of clicks (and therefore spend large amounts of money) without generating any interest or sales of the product. Countries such as India, Bangladesh, etc. should be targeted with the proportion of the search marketing budget that represents their current value to you or realistic potential value.

Treating every country as if it is the same is a great way to ensure your campaign fails.

Forget the Language

It’s true that in many industrial markets people will search in English, even if it isn’t their primary language, but assuming language doesn’t matter is a great way to destroy your search campaign.

Firstly, words can have different meanings in other languages. Let’s assume you make semiconductor products for the LIN standard: a pretty niche market that isn’t going to see any irrelevant searches? Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in France, where “Lin” means “linen”, and so your campaigns will need to be very different in France if you want to avoid targeting people buying tablecloths and linen suits!

Forget Negative Keywords

Ignoring negative keywords is another great way to set your industrial search marketing campaign up for failure. I’m always surprised how many technical terms have different meanings in other fields.

A great example we dealt with for one client who made software development tools was the term coding standards. If you are coding (writing code) to a standard then surely this has to be a great keyword to target. Well perhaps not, as “coding” not only can be used to refer to writing software, but also the classification of blood. If you’re not checking the search terms actually triggering your search ads, it’s easy to be showing the ad for completely irrelevant searches. As I’ve also mentioned before, it’s not just going to impact your CTR negatively: people will click on the ads even when they have no interest in software development and a scary fascination with blood types!

Use Broad Match Keywords

In general, the only use for broad match keywords in industrial search marketing is to waste your search advertising budget. They are terrible and should be avoided at all costs.

Please don’t think that I’m referring to modified broad match, where you insert a plus sign in front of one or more words. These are fantastic and work brilliantly for industrial search campaigns.

If you’re not sure about the difference, you really need to learn: it’s vital to understand match types to optimise campaigns.

Don’t Test

I could go on and on about ways to waste your search marketing budget. But I’m going to finish off with the pro tip that will ensure you screw up any industrial SEM campaign you create: don’t test. It’s pretty much impossible to foresee every issue and opportunity surrounding a campaign at the start while creating perfectly optimised advert text. So, if you are not prepared to review the campaign, test ideas and optimise, you will be guaranteeing below-par results.

I always love the insights you get when good testing is done around a campaign: what works well is often a surprise to us and our clients. It’s always humbling when the beautifully-crafted ad text I wrote is out-performed by something that feels rather crass, but I’d rather get results for clients than wallow in the misguided belief that I completely understand the mind of everyone using the internet.

 

Creating Great Industrial SEM Campaigns

So how do you create great industrial SEM campaigns? Well, it really requires you to work through a process that ensures you don’t ignore the things that can harm the performance of the campaign, and then methodically test to ensure everything is optimised (and then keep testing to respond to any changes in the market). It is simple to avoid the pitfalls I’ve described in this post, but almost every campaign we review includes at least one of the mistakes, meaning it will deliver poor results.

This is reflected in a comment I heard from a dedicated PPC agency. Despite the team being experts in search marketing, I was told the business was basically built on correcting silly mistakes: although there were gains that were made through deep knowledge of the platform, the biggest improvements were typically eliminating the bad decisions that wreck the performance of campaigns. So, you don’t have to be a Google Ads guru to deliver a high-performance search marketing campaign, just eliminate the things that are likely to destroy performance. Simple!


Is Industrial PR Different from Consumer PR?

In many ways, industrial PR isn’t that different to other forms of public relations. The PR Consultants Association in their guide to what does the PR industry do state:

  • The leading duties of the industry are general media relations, media relations strategy planning, and digital and social media – this is the case for industrial PR as well as for consumer
  • PR agencies are most likely to be made up of between 11-50 people. In-house teams are overwhelmingly made up of 2-5 people, regardless of organisational size. Again, this reflects the landscape of industrial PR as well as consumer.
  • Digital, S.E.O., and online communications are seen as the tasks that have most increased in importance over the last two years, and those that will increase most in the coming years. Industrial PR does reflect this trend too.

We can see that there are a lot of similarities between consumer and industrial PR. So, what are the primary differences between the two?

Focussed Industrial Trade Media

Most industries have trade media that specifically cover that market sector. There are a huge number of specialist trade publications that address anything from marketing to making cement. These publications have typically been the way that potential customers keep up to date with developments in their industry and are therefore very influential.

Industrial Trade Shows Remain Important

I’m writing this during the COVID pandemic, which does have the potential to dramatically change the importance of trade shows. We’ve survived almost a year without events, so why shouldn’t we be able to continue?

It appears that trade shows deliver a high-quality audience, there is a strong appetite for the return of trade shows and events, particularly from industrial SMBs. Prior to the pandemic many smaller suppliers spent most, if not all, of their marketing budget around trade shows. This allowed them to reach an engaged audience with a clearly defined amount of effort: something that is very important when some of these organisations don’t have a full-time marketing role.

Trade shows therefore form a focal point around which many other activities, from product launches to journalist briefings are scheduled. Although the event focus does have some analogies in the consumer space – particularly the games industry – the reliance on trade shows for promotion is very pronounced in industrial PR.

Industrial Influencers are Few and Far Between

It’s interesting that the number of influencers in most industrial markets is significantly lower than the number for consumer products. Many of these influencers are also journalists.

Although there are some industries where influencers are important, the structure of industrial markets presents barriers to creating a strong influencer community. Firstly, most influencers are working in the industry. Their link to either a supplier of customer not only restricts what they can say, but also introduces inevitable bias. Confidentiality will also make it difficult for them to reveal innovative ideas as their organisation is likely to want to use them for competitive advantage.

There is arguably much less to gain as an influencer in an industrial market. Today there are few industrial PR campaigns that are offering incentives to influencers beyond a free product or evaluation. The relatively small markets also make it impossible to earn a significant income from advertising placed around an influencer’s content.

Ultimately with the restrictions placed on influencers and the limited rewards, most industrial markets see few independent influencers, and therefore analysts and journalists are the dominant targets.

LinkedIn is the Primary Industrial Social Media Platform

LinkedIn isn’t the only social media platform for industrial communications, but it is way ahead of other platforms for almost all industrial markets. The ability to target people by their job role and company demographics, and the opportunity to engage them when they are thinking about work, rather than wasting time on Facebook, makes it a compelling choice. Most industrial PR campaigns that include a social media element will therefore focus on LinkedIn, rather than the consumer platforms.

Direct Communications are so much Easier

The line between Industrial PR and marketing is very blurry. In addition to the link between paid and earned media (see later) it is much easier to collect contact details and communicate directly with a large proportion of the target audience. One reason is simply that the audiences tend to be much smaller than those for consumer products.

Industrial PR therefore often includes an element of what might normally be considered outside the scope of public relations and more a “marketing” activity. This overlap is a good thing, and the best campaigns often happen when PR and marketing experts work together, for example combining PR with industrial marketing automation campaigns.

Formal Corporate Communications is Formulaic

A real challenge for an industrial PR professional is the limitations presented by the corporate style guide. Of course, if you are making products that fasten aircraft wings to the fuselage you will want to have a corporate persona that is less about fun and risk-taking, and more about trustworthiness.

Unfortunately, many industrial companies take this to an extreme, creating restrictive styles that are frankly formulaic and boring. Anyone who understands the theory of loss aversion will see its impact in the dull and boring communications from the many industrial organisations who seem ready to give up any chance of winning new customers to ensure they don’t say anything that could be controversial or upset existing clients.

In recent years, there has been a trend to make B2B communications more human, with highly regarded campaigns from Volvo Trucks (who had Jean-Claude Van Dam do the splits between two trucks) to RS Components’ use of a man with a jet pack to promote their brand. Although the trend seems to be limited to a small number of high-profile, and high-cost, campaigns, we hope that industrial PR will continue to communicate in a more interesting and engaging way in the future. The best industrial PR campaigns are often the most creative.

The Relationship Between Journalists and Organisations

We have discussed the importance and influence of trade media, and this is perhaps the biggest difference between consumer and industrial communications. Trade media in the industrial sector is typically based on “controlled circulation”, where the publication is sent free-of-charge to the audience that advertisers would like to reach. The publication is therefore funded by advertising, rather than a combination of advertising and sales or subscriptions that would be typical for the consumer sector.

The relationship between the advertising spend and the editor getting paid a salary causes a conflict of interest, where the journalists are likely to favour advertisers over non-advertisers. The level that this occurs varies from publication to publication, but at one extreme we see “pay for play” titles that will only provide editorial coverage to companies that support the publication through advertising.

Controlled Circulation Challenges

The move to online has also caused challenges for the controlled circulation model. Previously the publisher could demonstrate that the print title was being sent to the “right” people, and in fact there are companies such as ABC and BPA who audit the circulation to ensure that recipients do have the job roles claimed. Although this model wasn’t perfect – the publication might reach the right people, but there is no evidence that these recipients actually read the magazine – it is clearly more controlled than a website, where anyone can be a visitor.

Despite the openness of the web, it tends to still be the target audience that views the website, primarily because the content isn’t interesting to people outside of the industry. We do see, however, some industrial online publications producing content that is of much broader appeal: for example, electronics titles discussing developments in the Android operating system that are primarily of interest to phone users rather than electronics engineers.

Conclusion

We’ve seen that there are many similarities between consumer and industrial PR. The differences, however, are significant and this is probably reflected by the fact that few PR professionals move fluidly between industrial and consumer PR, and most agencies have separate groups for the two specialities. In particular the conservative nature of industrial PR, the lack of influencers and the importance of trade events and publications mean that a very different approach is needed.


Julien Happich replaced by Nick Flaherty as Editor in Chief at eeNews Europe

We were saddened to hear the news about long time eeNews Europe Editor-in-Chief, Julien Happich, who has had to step away from the role to battle a rare type of brain cancer that was diagnosed at the end of July.

Andre Rousselot, President at European Business Press shared, "Julien is currently undergoing various treatment in Toulouse and we all hope that Julien will be able to come back and re-join the team. Nick Flaherty has accepted to take over as Editor in Chief of eeNews Europe in addition to his role as Editor of our Power Design Line".

The whole Napier team send Julian our best wishes and wish him a speedy recovery.


Join Up Dots Podcast Interview: Sales Funnel Mastery

The Join Up Dots Podcast, hosted by David Ralph, invites experts and marketing professionals to share their startup stories, struggles and the training and coaching they completed to overcome the challenges.

In one of their most recent podcast episodes for their Business Coaching Series, David interviews Mike, Napier’s Managing Director, who shares how marketers can master the sales funnel.

Listen to the full interview here, or via your favourite podcast app, and don’t hesitate to get in touch and let us know your thoughts.


electronica 2020 is virtual

electronica 2020 cancelled: virtual event will replace the show

Officially the news is that electronica 2020 will be held digitally: a positive spin on the fact that the in-person event was cancelled because of COVID-19. The announcement, made on Saturday, is a response to the increasing travel restrictions in Europe due to coronavirus, and no doubt the expectation that as we move from summer to winter the situation is likely to get worse, rather than better.

The press release from the organisers states:

Messe München will organize the world’s leading trade fair and conference for electronics as a virtual event this year. The current travel restrictions in Europe, which are becoming more stringent, have required a re-thinking of planning. The digital format for electronica in November will give exhibitors the opportunity to book digital trade fair booths. electronica virtual will also provide all customers additional ways to interact and network. A large portion of the conference and supporting program will also be available digitally.

 

An inevitable decision?

Alfred Vollmer wrote an excellent analysis of the situation on all-electronics.de, and this article is well worth a read even if you need to use Google translate to get an English version. According to Alfred, the show was seeing around 100 companies a week withdrawing from the event, and had less than 900 exhibitors listed (a significant fall from the 1006 exhibitors on the website on 24th August. It seems that not only were the number of exhibitors around 70% below the previous electronica, but they were continuing to fall rapidly. With many of the companies that attract the visitors, particularly the large American semiconductor companies, having already withdrawn, it seems likely that numbers would continue to fall, leaving the organisers little choice but to cancel. Furthermore, with around half the visitors coming from outside of Germany and the increasing restrictions on travel, even if the show went ahead the character would almost certainly be very different. Basically I just don't think there was any way of holding a show that would feel like electronica this year.

 

Little Information about electronica virtual

Although the need to cancel has been something that electronica must have planned for, the information about the virtual alternative is rather sketchy. The announcement says:

The virtual format of electronica will provide the electronics industry with a platform for global industry discussions this November. Its opportunities will include virtual trade fair booths, which will enable exhibitors to continue to communicate with their international customers and sell them on their products and solutions. The virtual event will be complemented by a digital conference and supporting program. Individual talks and panel discussions on trend topics like the automotive industry, embedded systems, IIoT, 5G, medical electronics and smart energy will be available online.

The question is whether the virtual trade show format works, and if it does whether it will work for electronica. I see a number of problems, not least that the virtual events that have been held to date have seen patchy success at best. More worryingly, electronica is not a show that is driven by the conference presentations: yes, there are presentations, but they are attended by a small percentage of the visitors. Given that there is perhaps less of a need for people to attend a virtual event than for a show like PCIM, where the conference is a core part of the show, it's likely to be harder for electronica to attract people to a virtual event.

 

Fingers crossed, but low expectations

Very few people in the industry really want to see electronica fail this year. Even the marketing managers, who have enormous volumes of work in the run-up to an event like this, recognise the benefits. So I really hope that the organisers can make the virtual electronica a success. Unfortunately the feedback I've seen about the results from virtual shows has not been great. When you couple this with the fact that virtual trade shows still haven't cracked the code for great 1:1 meetings, my expectations are not too high for electronica 2020.

Hopefully we'll look back on 2020 as an exceptional year. I think we'll all be doing more video conferences in the future, but the deficiencies of tools like Zoom have also highlighted the benefits of in-person communications. I certainly expect that electronica will return as the world's largest electronics components show in 2022, but wonder whether it might be smaller and how it will change. I'll certainly be fascinated to see what the next couple of years brings.

 

 


Napier Passes PRCA CMS Audit Again!

We are delighted to share some great news from the Napier team, as we have received confirmation that we have passed our annual PR Consultants Association (PRCA) Communications Management Standard (CMS) audit again. This is a challenging audit of our processes and procedures, and it's fantastic for our hard work to be recognized.

Over the last year, we have continued to improve our processes, incorporating the Armitage team, which has only strengthened the agency. This result is a reflection of our team’s commitment to quality and continuous improvement, and of the great systems and processes we have in place at Napier. Congratulations – and thanks – to the whole Napier team!

 


Replacing Events in the Era of Social Distancing

Trade shows, seminars and other face-to-face events are very expensive, but frequently a key part of many companies’ marketing strategies. The opportunity to meet and build relationships with customers and prospects face-to-face is highly valuable, and an event team that works hard can produce great results.

In the era of COVID-19 social distancing, however, events are no longer an option. So, what can B2B technology companies do to replace their events programme?

Webinars

One of the obvious ways to replace speaking opportunities and other interactions at events is by holding a webinar. Personally, I feel that webinars were very slow to take off, but in the past few years, they have often been clients’ top lead generation tactic. Even before isolation, engineers were keen to watch webinars, and now they are at home our clients are reporting even bigger attendance (50% or more than before the crisis).

Webinars are super-easy to run. There are many tools available that make the process of delivering a webinar simple: for example well known, large vendors such as GotoWebinar and smaller vendors such as Webinar Geek that are perfect for less-ambitious events. Companies like WorkCast even offer managed events where they ensure the technology works flawlessly.

Webinars are hard to deliver. It is surprisingly tough to present with no audience feedback, and frequently attendees are only giving partial attention to the presentation.

Practice is obviously key: no one excels when presenting a webinar for the first time, so practice before the main event. You can even pre-record the webinar itself and just answer questions live if you are really nervous. Our top webinar tip is to have someone sitting opposite to you, listening to your webinar and giving you the visual feedback you’d get from a listener as this is extremely helpful to improving the quality of your presentation. This was easy when we were all in an office, but now you may not want your audience to be your six-year-old child!

eBooks and Other Written Content

We’ve seen a lot more interest from clients in producing eBooks. The logic is that there is a good chance engineers will be keen to learn while working from home, and it seems to be reflected in an increase in registrations for this sort of content.

Although eBooks are great and can generate leads, of course you have little information on whether the content has been viewed, particularly if you supply the information in PDF format. The great thing is that marketing teams are good at producing this type of content.

We’ve seen some really creative uses of online tools to enhance content that otherwise might have been a bit [whisper this so no one hears] boring. It’s amazing how a little bit of editing and some images or graphics can spice up something as simple as a press release: a great example of how this can be done is the way our client, SMART Modular Technologies uses Adobe Spark and just a few minutes of creativity to create engaging versions of releases (like this one https://spark.adobe.com/page/onbYrScLlogsy/) for use on social media.

Video

Technical B2B video content was taking off well before the coronavirus crisis hit and has continued to grow during lockdown. We’re seeing a particular affection from clients for video demos, particularly those shot at trade shows, to try to re-create the event interaction. Again, video consumption is up while engineers are isolated, and there seems to be a real appetite for technical content.

The challenge is making high-quality video. It’s hard to get a high-quality video shoot at home, and we’ve heard from several clients who have been frustrated by this challenge. Although live video is hard, we have seen some clients shoot video using iPhones and a tripod with reasonable success.

Live-action video, however, isn’t the only format that works in B2B. Of course, there are webinars (voice over PowerPoint), but we’ve seen a big increase in enquiries about 2D and 3D explainer videos. Animated explainer videos can be as complex or straightforward as you like and are particularly good at showing the operation of complex systems. As building 3D models is time-consuming, our top tip is to plan how you can reuse the models in different ways to maximise the return on what can be a fairly expensive process.

Showcase Landing Pages

One approach has been to create landing pages that showcase the latest products or services from a client. Although they look completely different to a trade show, they replicate the experience by highlighting just a few key – and generally new – products.

Showcase pages are incredibly simple to create, and can offer a variety of different content, from pre-recorded webinars to eBooks. Although you are replicating the highlighting of products, you are not re-creating the environment of a trade show, so simply offering the chance to “ask an expert” as you would do at an event will not result anything like as many conversations as you’d get face-to-face. The quality of the enquiries, however, can be very good.

Our tip for showcase pages is to think about what the visitor might value sufficiently to give up their contact details. This could be a technical eBook, a development kit or even a competition to win something. In fact, many of the approaches to gather business cards at trade shows work on these pages, although it’s harder to offer a coffee or glass of beer!

Virtual Trade Shows

Several companies have created virtual booths, either using their own technology or a virtual exhibition (e.g. Industry Expo). This approach is fun! It’s also different, and there is definitely a novelty value around creating a virtual booth that will attract interest, without any limitations. In our experience, however, the user experience can be variable, particularly when trying to access technical information and so it can be hard to justify the extra investment required to create a virtual booth.

Increasing Email Marketing

I’m sure everyone has a company they did business with a long time ago that has suddenly decided to start emailing. First it was the CEO’s COVID-19 statement, and then a stream of promotional emails (of course with one that has a special offer to help you work from home). Many B2B tech companies are also dusting off their email databases with the thought that if the engineers aren’t coming to see what’s new, then the information will be delivered to their inboxes.

The problem with this approach is not the increased number of emails. In fact, more emails are better, but only when coupled with a good segmentation strategy. Creating several emails so everyone has content that is relevant to them is good: simply blasting the whole database with more emails is a terrible idea.

With people working from home, we have seen increases in both open and click rates of emails for many clients,  particularly those that think carefully about what they send to each contact. If you are planning to move budget to email marketing, we recommend you spend the time to segment your database and send highly targeted emails that are personalised to each recipient’s interests and needs. If you are looking for results, it’s relevance, not volume that matters.

Virtual Press Launches

Even press conferences have gone online! PR professionals can hold online press conferences or one-to-one video briefings to replace the traditional press event or meetings at trade shows. Delivering a good event is tricky: the presentation of a product’s features and accompanying PowerPoint slides has never been the most valuable part of the press conference: it is always the conversation and questions afterwards. For this reason, one-to-one briefings are often easier online.

Moving Budget to Other Activities

We’ve seen budget moved from events to almost any other marketing activity, from social to contributed articles. In these cases, however, there is a clear decision not to try to replicate the benefits of an event, but rather to use the money to achieve a different goal. In our opinion, starting from a zero-base is a great way to look at how you allocate budget, rather than trying to replace a show with something that feels similar. As always, it’s the business objectives that matter, not trying to replicate the status quo.

Not using the Budget

Although replacing the impact of trade shows is not easy, the worst thing that you can do is give up the budget when the event is cancelled. We’re not ignoring the realities: companies will be more careful about spending now than in the “good times”, but it’s important as marketers we highlight that cutting spending during a recession may produce short-term financial gains, but is a long-term mistake. Studies consistently show that decreases in marketing spend during tough times produce a small improvement in return on capital employed (ROCE), but result in a decreased ROCE in the long term, a longer period of time before the company recovers from a downturn and a reduction in brand equity and product use.

Be Creative

We’d love to hear what you are doing to replace trade shows and events in your marketing mix. As Billy Ocean told us (ironically at the start of the mid-80s to 90s economic boom), “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. So let us know what creative ideas these tough times have inspired!


Ad Blocking: How Does it Work and What Should Publishers do About it?

If you’re advertising online or in advertising-funded publishing, you need to know about ad blocking. In either case, this technology will potentially reduce the number of times advertising is seen, either making your campaign less effective or reducing your advertising income.

This blog post provides a primer that explains the technology and how publishers are fighting back against ad blocking. When you’ve read this, you’ll have a good understanding of the technology and the issues surrounding ad blocking.

What is Ad Blocking?

Ad blocking is a technique that removes adverts from a web page. It’s that simple, and people have developed other similar applications, including several that replace images. One example is a Chrome extension that replaces all images on a page with photos of Chuck Norris.

Why do People Block Ads?

There are a couple of reasons why people choose to block adverts: either they “don’t like ads” or they are frustrated with the time to render advertising-heavy websites. There is a huge moral debate about whether it’s ethical to access content that’s advertising funded with an ad blocker, and many publishers deploy anti ad block technology to prevent it.

Some people dislike ads because they don’t like being tracked, although ad blockers don’t necessarily block all tracking, only the adverts that are the result of tracking.

Why are Publishers so Upset?

Ad blocking is a serious threat to many publishers’ business models, particularly in B2B. Traditionally B2B magazines were typically funded by advertising, with companies keen to pay to use them to get their messages over as they knew who was receiving the magazine. This “controlled circulation” approach meant that B2B magazines were incredibly effective at getting adverts in front of the people that the advertisers wanted to reach (provided that the readers opened and read the magazine).

Today many B2B publications work on the same principle, with the audience defined by the content. The logic is that content talking about interrupt models of a microcontroller is likely to attract engineers designing with those products. Generating the level of content that is going to attract engineers, however, is difficult and requires skilled and knowledgeable journalists. And, of course, these journalists cost money.

So the position of publishers is pretty clear: although they don’t like to say this in public, they often view ad blocking as a form of stealing content, as the work of the journalists is being taken by people who are not paying because they don’t see the adverts.

Why Does My Ad Blocker Still Show Adverts?

Many ad blocking products participate in the Acceptable Ads programme, which defines guidelines as to what adverts should be shown. Some ad blockers will give you the option to enable or disable acceptable adverts.

The Acceptable Ads programme is not without controversy. Started by AdBlock Plus, the programme enables anyone whose adverts meet the criteria for acceptability to be whitelisted, but does charge the biggest advertisers for participation. Large advertisers (defined as companies that would receive 10 million impressions or more by whitelisting) are charged and pay 30% of the revenue they realise through whitelisting.

How Does an Ad Blocker Recognise an Advert?

The technology can have several ways to recognise an advert, which are referred to as filter rules. One of the most popular lists of filters is EasyList, which holds a large list of strings of text (for example “&trackingserver=”). If the ad blocker sees the string of text, then the code that includes the text is not executed, preventing adverts being displayed as well as website tracking.

Note that EasyList doesn’t stop all tracking, although the organisation does have a database of text that indicates tracking that ad blockers can used, called EasyPrivacy. There is the EasyList Cookie List that blocks all cookie banners, including the GDPR notifications that no website owner wants on their site but are forced to include because of European law.

A more comprehensive guide to ad blocking techniques is giving in the Wikipedia Ad blocking article.

How Does the Ad Blocker Stop the Advert from being Displayed?

To block the advert, the blocker simply changes the code used for the website. Normally a web page is displayed by your browser simply running through the code. Ad blockers are browser extensions, which lets them change the code before it is processed by the browser, meaning that they can detect and remove adverts and other content.

Perhaps the simplest example of how the code is changed is some websites use data:image/png; (an HTML function that doesn’t result in an HTML call that can be blocked). Ad blockers, however, simply add some CSS code that hides anything on the page displayed using this technique. Obviously, this can block elements that are not adverts, but ad blocking technology isn’t very subtle.

Dealing with Ad Blocking

There is an arms race between users and publishers over ad blocking. Realistically publishers have a limited number of options:

  • They can simply accept ad blocking and the related fall in revenue. For some B2B publishers this might be the best strategy because many companies will not allow users to deploy their own software (including ad blocking) on their PCs.
  • Publishers can use the ad networks that are whitelisted by the ad blockers. Although most systems allow users to ignore the Acceptable Ads, frequently users are happy to allow them and therefore this is one solution. Obviously, there is the tax on the large ad networks to participate in Acceptable ads that will inevitably be passed on to the publisher.
  • They can beg. Some publications ask people to whitelist the site, so they see adverts from that site. We’re not aware of any studies that show how effective this is, but we suspect that in the majority of cases the pleas to visitors’ better natures will be ignored.
  • Bypassing ad blockers is possible, but it will be a game of whack-a-mole. Finding ways to confuse the blocking software, making it display the adverts is difficult and any techniques are likely to be soon detected and patched, so successes will be short lived.
  • Publishers can refuse to allow visitors with ad blockers turned on to access their content. This seems to be a common trend today.
  • Publishers can make their sites subscription-only, without any adverts. This presents a challenge as it is hard to get people to pay money for online content, although some newspapers have done this successfully and I suspect there will be some high-quality publications that take this approach.

Personally, I like publishers who are confident enough to say that their content is valuable. If visitors are going to block ads and therefore not pay for the content. I think it’s a positive move to stop them browsing the site. Although this approach won’t make friends with the ad blocking community, it doesn’t involve any loss of revenue (the ad blocking visitors would not generate revenue anyway) and gets the message across that people who access news sites should do something to pay for the journalists that create them.

One extension of this option is to offer ad-free versions of the site if you pay a subscription. There have been a few experiments around this approach, where you can choose to see adverts or simply pay money, but it doesn’t seem to have taken off strongly in B2B technology.

Detecting Ad Blockers

Typically, when a publisher detects the use of an ad blocker, they will either display a plea to turn it off, or simply block access to the content. Detecting that a website visitor has ad blocking can be tricky: remember that ad blockers work after the HTML code for the page has been downloaded by the browser, so the website doesn’t see any of the changes being made. There are, however, some rather clever approaches that have been taken.

One simple approach is using bait. For example, a publisher might place some code inside a file called ads.js, and then try to load it from the web page. It’s pretty clear that as ad blockers use text strings, they are very likely to block the loading of any file called ads.js! So, with the loading of the file blocked, the element included in the file is not added to the page.

The clever part, however, is that the publisher can place JavaScript code on their website that detects whether the elements saved in the ads.js file are actually on the page. If they are not, then clearly the visitor is using an ad blocker, and this code can trigger an action that blocks the content and instead displays a message.

There are a range of different solutions using the bait approach, including one that was developed by the IAB and is available as open-source code to publishers.

A relatively new technology is called ad reinsertion. The battle between publishers and ad blockers has now got to the point that publishers look to detect where an ad has been removed (which will typically create a blank space) and then they insert the ad from a server that is not going to be blocked. This uses JavaScript code that contains the page’s HTML. Some ad blockers are even offering deals where publishers can pay to enable the ad to be reinserted.

There are two approaches to ad reinsertion: ad recovery puts the original advert in the empty space while ad replacement puts another advert into the space. Many organisations, however, question whether ad reinsertion is the right way for publishers to deal with ad blocking.

A third approach to dealing with ad blockers is the use of native ads: what older marketers would call “advertorials”. This simply means placing the promotion of the product or service inside an article. Native ads have been controversial as many publishers have not been completely open about when content is editorial, and when the publication is paid to carry it. It does, however, represent a way to deliver paid-for content that is not an advert as such and therefore won’t be blocked.

The Future of Online Advertising

I’d love to say that we have all the answers to the future of online advertising, but the reality is that no one really knows what will happen. In B2B marketing, however, there are a number of factors at play:

The cost of adverts in publications is very high compared with other platforms (e.g. search engine marketing or social media advertising). This suggests that there is real value in advertising in an online publication and therefore there will always be demand as it works. Publishers are also becoming more creative in how they generate money online, adding newsletters, email rental, webinars, lead generation programmes and other campaigns to their media packs.

Internet users and publishers will continue to battle in the ad blocking wars. Whether you side with users who say that the amount of advertising deployed is unacceptable and therefore ad blocking is justified, or the publishers who think that ad blockers steal their revenue, it’s likely that leadership in the arms race will swing from one side to another with no long-term winner.

Suppliers are moving towards more self-publishing, whether that is on a website, through marketing automation or with separate microsites, eBooks and other content. Customers value the technical competence of the authors of this content, but equally understand it has inherent bias and are much less trusting of self-published content than independent publications.

The large players in the online advertising market, particularly Google and Facebook will continue to try to monopolise the market. Although we frequently see stats saying that they are hoovering up most or all of the new money being spent online each year, it’s also clear that the money spent on display advertising with B2B publications is, in general, holding its own.

In the long term, I think we will end up with an equilibrium. There will be internet users who insist on using ad blockers, but equally many people will recognise the need to pay the journalists whose articles they love reading. I suspect we might see the less technically competent publications struggle to keep pace, but I’m pretty sure we will end up with a few subscription-based publications and a majority of online titles that are primarily advertising-funded. I certainly hope the advertising publications will continue: whatever your views on advertising, having high-quality content available to all engineers without the need for a cash payment has to be a good way to improve the knowledge and expertise of the engineering community.