Pay for play editorial

The Problem of "Paid Editorial"

I found the Press Gazette's recent article about "pay-to-play editorial" fascinating. Paying to get coverage is not uncommon in B2B media, and money is not a good way for journalists to select the stories they cover. On the other hand, paid editorial keeps some publications afloat, and without it, we'd see fewer titles in many B2B technology sectors. So, does the good outweigh the bad?

The Good

There are several arguments for publications accepting payment for editorial. In particular I think these are valid reasons that could justify payment for coverage.

Income for Publications

Without doubt, the income from small payments to get editorial coverage can be significant, amounting to thousands of pounds per month. Publishing is a tough business, and we've seen many go out of business. I'm pretty sure that,  without the income from these placement charges, some publications would disappear. A broader range of publications had to be a genuine public good, providing competition between different media, and increasing the range of information available to potential customers in the market. There have always been agencies that suggest to clients they eliminate advertising and move their budget to PR, which is dramatically more profitable for the agency. This does nothing to help publications survive, but maybe it's a reasonable thing to do if it works for clients. (FWIW, at Napier we recommend both advertising and PR, and believe in most cases both are needed for a campaign to be most effective).

Sharing the Financial Burden

Typically only a few organisations are paying for display advertising that is the traditional primary source of income for B2B trade pubs. Is it fair that your adverts fund a publication's ability to cover your (non-contributing) competitors? Generally publications will ensure they give a "fair" share of coverage to advertisers, but isn't it even fairer if all companies featured in publications contribute?

Providing Access to Smaller Companies

What if the alternative to paid editorial was that advertisers secured the lion's share of editorial in a publication? Generally speaking it's much less than 50% for most B2B publications that don't have a hard link between coverage and advertising spend, but you could see some publications cutting back on the coverage of non advertisers if they lose payments for coverage. Wouldn't this be a worse situation, where only the biggest companies who can afford display campaigns have access to editorial? This would not only reduce the diversity of coverage in any one publication, it would potentially reduce access for companies with smaller marketing budgets.

It's the Future, Boomer!

Paid editorial, or native advertising as the trendy websites call it, is growing rapidly. Maybe this is inevitable, and it's only the older people in the industry hoping for a continuation of what they knew from the start of their career. Why not embrace the change and accept that it's going to happen? There is a young audience that are much less worried about it than you old-timers.

It Works for Other Countries

Israel is doing pretty well as a technology hotspot, yet publications directly link paid media spend to editorial coverage, more than any other European country. If it works in Israel, what's the problem?

The Bad

Paying for editorial coverage is something most journalists dislike. There are some good reasons why it's wrong.

The Value of 3rd Party Endorsement Disappears

One of the great things about PR is that editorial coverage is seen as being much more convincing than advertising: studies show an article written by a journalist is four or more times as effective as a similarly-sized advert. This is because an advert is from the company trying to sell a product, whereas the journalist is seen as an independent 3rd party, and their view means something. If they are told what to write based on who is paying, then any element of 3rd party endorsement disappears, and PR will be less effective.

Publications Don't Cover the Best Products or Companies

If editorial is paid-for, the content of any publication will no longer be the best products and leading companies. We'll be reading about those with the deepest pockets and a willingness to pay for editorial coverage. Ultimately this is going to make publications less valuable, with readers leaving when they don't find the information they need. Ultimately this will lead to the titles being dumped by the companies that were once willing to pay for editorial, killing the business model and probably killing the publication. It's also going to be incredibly frustrating for journalists, who won't be able to chase a story, as they will become a content team for the organisations with the budget to pay for it.

It's Not Allowed

Perhaps the most compelling argument against paid editorial is that you're simply not allowed to do it. The article in the PRess Gazette highlights the The Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008, although they are less explicit than the equivalient consumer legislation (The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008) regarding disclosure of payment for coverage. It's clear, however, that passing off advertising as editorial would be a breach of the Advertising Standard Authority guidelines. These are referred to as the CAP Code (the full name is The UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing). Although the ASA is more limited in sanctions, it can prevent advertising from running if it doesn't meet the code.

What's the Solution?

It's hard to know how this will play out, not least because it has been going on for so long. I suspect paid editorial is here to stay, and we need to hope that it keeps more publications in business, but readers also recognise the higher-quality publications that don't engage in the practice, and therefore can be trusted far more than the titles whos content is driven by payments. Perhaps this is optimistic, although generally we find clients have a good handle on which publications are driven by money and which are driven by the desire to publish the best content. So maybe readers also know this too.

I'd be really interested in your views - -please add a comment or email me at mike@napierb2b.com.

 

 


Marketing ROI Calculator

Upgrades to Our Marketing RoI Calculator

Marketing should be something that generates profit. It seems obvious, but it can be difficult to calculate RoI on campaigns. This is why we developed our RoI calculator: it was a simple tool that let you work out what the value of ROMI (return on marketing investment) would be for a campaign.

The problem is that not all campaigns are the same. Visiting a trade show is very different from running an email marketing campaign. And our calculator was a "one size fits all" approach. Not great. So we fixed it!

If you visit the Napier ROI calculator, you can now select the particular campaign type you are running, and get ROI calculations that are tailored specifically for those tactics. Whether you are attending an event, advertising or running an email campaign, the tool will take the results and tell you the ROI, as well as producing other metrics from conversion rate to cost-per-click.

We are huge fans of measuring performance of campaigns, and love to be held to account. This new tool will ensure that you will know how successful your campaign are, and compare them on a like-by-like basis. From working out whether advertising delivers a better return than trade shows to simply making sure you get the standard email marketing calculations for CPM, CPC and CPL right, this tool is going to make your life a lot easier. The tool is even a lot more mobile friendly than before, allowing you to get your RoI calculations on the go.

Our tool was developed in-house by Natasha, one of our digital marketing experts and secret web application developer.

Check our the new Napier ROI calculator and let us know if you'd like to see us add any more capabilities.


Why Napier is Employee Owned

At the end of June 2022, Napier became an employee-owned business. This means that – through a trust – everyone employed by us has ownership of the company. It’s not just token ownership: the employees now own a controlling 70% stake in the company. This blog post explains why I chose to give employees ownership of the company and what it means for everyone involved.

 

Why Employee Ownership?

My standard response is that I’m a bit of a hippie. I believe that it is a good thing for employees to have ownership of the business they work for, and there is extensive research showing that employee ownership results in a more committed, more productive and happier workforce. So it makes sense: the company gets better, and the employees get rewarded.

But it’s more than this. Employee ownership preserves Napier’s culture and values. Employee ownership means there is a great reason for our talented team to stay at Napier. And employee ownership is a good thing for society.

The UK Government is very supportive of employee ownership. So the bonuses paid by the Employee Ownership Trust are tax-free (up to a certain level). This makes it even more rewarding for the team.

For clients, employee ownership is highly beneficial. In addition to the benefits of better productivity when working on client projects, employee ownership means that the agency is not going to be acquired, something that always involves a huge amount of change. Although there are many good examples of successful acquisitions (we’ve made a few!), as the agency gets bigger these deals are often financially driven, rather than driven by the two businesses being a good fit.

 

What’s the Employee Ownership Trust all About?

It’s very common for employee ownership to be achieved through an Employee Ownership Trust (EOT). There are a couple of good reasons for this. Firstly there are tax incentives, such as the tax-free bonuses I mentioned earlier. The main reason for this approach, however, is that the employees don’t individually own shares, something that in the UK would mean they have tax liabilities or require complex, and limited, share schemes. An EOT means that the employees don’t need to pay the Government to own shares in their company.

There is a board that controls the trust. Helen and Hannah have been elected as employee representatives, and Dave as the directors’ representative. It’s a legal requirement that board must represent the interests of the employees (present and future), and that the management team must answer to the board.

It’s important to note that this is not “smoke and mirrors”. Ultimately the employees can remove directors from the board of the company: they have real power.

 

Although it’s getting much more popular, the most common way for an agency owner to exit is to sell the business. I didn’t want to do this.

 

The Future for Napier

I’m super-optimistic about the future. Having the ownership through an EOT gives the team more opportunity to influence company strategy and direction. It also ensures that the company will remain independent. Realistically, if you are outside the company, you might not see any immediate changes. But over time, the company will benefit from employee ownership in many different ways, leading to a stronger, more successful agency.

The change doesn’t mean I’m leaving. This would typically be the case if the agency was acquired, but with an EOT there is no pressure to replace the previous owner. I’m looking forward to continuing to lead the company, with the guidance of the trust board, for many years to come.

With employees owning 70% of the shares, we still retain the ability to incentivise senior management with their own shares. In fact the structure allows a much easer “management buyout” as, if a future management team wanted to have personal ownership, there are only 30% of the shares for the management team to acquire.

I’m sure there will be lots for all of us to learn on the employee ownership journey, and I’m looking forward to the next few years. With the team now able to provide even more input, and share in the success of the company, I’m convinced Napier is set for massive success in the next few years.

To mis-quote Kent Brockman from the Simpsons, I for one welcome my new employee overlords.


The Future of B2B Trade Media

The internet has disrupted most industries, but publishing must have experienced some of the biggest shocks due to digitalisation. I’m amazed how journalists and publishers have responded to the need to change, but it’s not over yet. Having talked with a few people in the media at the recent embedded world conference in Germany, I’ve been wondering what’s next for the B2B trade media I love.

The future of B2B trade media is likely to be a complex mix of providing independent editorial that readers want to consume and giving advertisers the distribution to reach readers who are potential customers. Trade media is also likely to expand their range of activities, with events playing a bigger role and innovative online technologies offering ways for advertisers to target a bigger relevant audience. This post examines the options for the sector and suggests some likely outcomes.

The Value of B2B Media

Ultimately trade media brings value in two key areas:

Third-party endorsement: when a journalist writes about your product or service, they are providing tacit endorsement. Numerous studies have shown that a journalist or other third party carries more weight than you promoting your organisation and its offerings.

Distribution: pre-internet (yes, I remember those times) getting information to people was expensive as you needed to pay postage for each message sent (and print it). You also needed a database of people to whom you could send the content. Today the cost of distribution is low, at least once you have purchased your marketing automation or email platform, but the cost of data is arguably higher due to legislation like GDPR, and the fact information is much more freely available online. Today it’s the SEO of the publication’s website and the names in the database that you don’t know that are the gold to be mined by companies through PR and advertising.

Although there are arguably many other benefits of trade media. A good example is attention: people are more likely to pay attention to a publication’s email newsletter than a marketing email from a company, but they tend to be related to endorsement or distribution.

Changes in B2B Publishing

There have been numerous changes in B2B publishing. Some have been slow, while others feel like they happened overnight.

The move to online publishing is an obvious one. Although some publications remain print-first, with a limited website offering, pretty much all publications have a strong online presence that simply didn’t exist when I started my career. Online, however, introduces something that print never had: a scarcity of advertising opportunities. With a magazine, you just print another page to accommodate more ads, whereas with online publishing you are limited by the number of page views on your website and the slots available in your email newsletter.

I’d argue that B2B publishers have also looked for new revenue sources. When I started my career, fewer events were organised by publishers, but now they are driving many of the seminars and conferences in industry. It’s been very obvious how important those revenue streams have been as many publishers saw sales slump dramatically during the pandemic when they couldn’t run events.

Perhaps the most important thing that has happened is that advertising has become more measurable with the move to online. Although many companies are using vanity metrics such as CTR and clicks to determine success, rather than digging deeper to find metrics that measure the impact on their business, most advertisers are measuring in some way. This means that publishers need to deal with direct comparisons between the perceived RoI from advertising with them compared to other activities such as search engine marketing. New ways of comparing and new competitors: massive change!

There are detractors of B2B trade media who point to a reduction in quality, primarily due to shrinking editorial teams due to financial pressures on publishers. Is this true? Possibly. But I think it’s unfair to say that quality has fallen. Online publishing means that journalists can spend more time writing and less time “flat-planning” print pages. Publications may be producing fewer articles that deliver new insights because the deep research that was conducted, but the journalists have not lost their talent. Back in the “glory days” of print publishing, there were many great articles, but there was also a lot of product news, and today I would absolutely argue we still see great editorial pieces. So maybe things haven’t changed as much as the naysayers believe.

The Challenge of Online B2B Publishing

Publishing has never been easy, but it’s incredibly difficult for trade publications in the digital age. Firstly, information is much more freely available: I remember as a salesperson in the component industry having to deal with the shock that I couldn’t get an appointment by simply offering to deliver a data book because data sheets were available online. It’s even worse for publishers: no longer do people need to read magazines to see what new products have been launched. And the companies themselves are all focused on growing their owned media operations, which directly compete for eyeballs with the publishers.

And this is the challenge for publishers: they have lost what was almost a monopoly over distribution. While it’s true that a publication can reach beyond the audience of any supplier, it’s also true that anyone can drive readers to their website. To be blunt, 20 years ago a trade publication would be the place you would have read this article, rather than an agency’s blog.

Options for the Future

There are several ways that B2B media could change in the future. I’ll examine them one by one to see what makes the most sense.

Maintaining the Status Quo

Perhaps things are OK: let’s face it, there is a vibrant trade media sector with publications about almost every industry you can name, particularly in countries such as the UK and Germany. Maybe Billy Joel had it right when he sang:

Don't go changing to try and please me
You never let me down before,
Don't imagine you're too familiar
And I don't see you anymore

Unfortunately, the next line in the song is “I would not leave you in times of trouble,” and we know advertisers are always quick to reduce spend when they face financial challenges. I think that Billy Joel was probably a little optimistic, but we will see some publications struggle on with little change. This will particularly be the case where they have a specific niche (e.g. the only publication for the industry in a particular language).

Different Adverts

There has been a move to offer different adverts, from annoying roadblocks and pop-ups to native advertising. While they all generate a little bit of incremental interest, it’s hard to sustain the increased revenue.

In the trade media, there has been a real reluctance to move to native advertising, or advertorials for the older marketing pros reading this blog. Despite advertorials being a print tradition, there appears to be a feeling that readers would not respect publications that offered online advertorials. To a large extent, I think the consumer media has poisoned what could have been a good source of revenue by offering native advertising and then indicate the content is paid by doing only just enough to stay out of court. I think trade media that offer native advertising will tend to do this by providing microsites (which is a typical approach today), rather than trying to hide advertising within editorial in the same way consumer media does. This will inevitably limit native advertising’s revenue potential in B2B media.

One exception does appear to be video, where publications are happy to charge for the recording of videos and then present them as editorial. I guess this is similar to the “colour separation” charges of the last century, and maybe the practice will last as long as colour seps. But unlike print, where digital printing has meant that the actual colour separation process and associated cost disappeared long before the practice of charging for it, video is likely to remain relatively expensive to produce, so publishers will benefit from the revenue but are likely to make little – if any – profit from charging for video content.

Directories are another alternative advertising format, and can be profitable for publications. In fact, there are successful B2B stand-alone directories, even in this world of search-driven research. But it’s going to be hard for any editorially driven publication to build a significant revenue stream through directories.

Becoming Internet Businesses

This is the opposite to struggling on: becoming an internet business. Whether it’s user-generated content, a maniacal focus on SEO or using marketing technology and insighted gained through interactions on the publication’s website to target people across the internet, we’ve seen both successful and disastrous attempts to re-define magazines as internet-first properties.

Unfortunately, there’s a real challenge in being driven by internet technology alone: the trade publication is limiting itself to a small niche while competing almost directly against online giants. That’s hard to do.

Of course, there are exceptions: if I was being cynical, I’d point out that SupplyFrame was a site that initially simply out-SEOed the manufacturers. Potential customers clicked on the SupplyFrame link that was first in the results and SupplyFrame charged the manufacturers to forward on the traffic. Of course, SupplyFrame has developed well beyond this today, and I just don’t think it would be possible to do the same thing now that suppliers understand SEO and the Google algorithm has matured.

One other approach is to “become a community”. Sorry, but this just doesn’t work: at best you are competing to be one of maybe a handful of communities for an industry, but more likely you will be trying to fill one of zero slots. Unfortunately in B2B most people are not looking for industry-specific communities, and commercial pressures mean that postings tend to be bland as everyone worried about giving away their organisations secrets. Even in electronics, where element14 and Design Spark have become successful communities, the primary focus is on hobbyists and makers.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do think that marketing technology is going to be part of the magic formula to make a successful trade publication of the future. But to believe that it can be the core strategy is a big mistake.

Publications as Events Organisers

There are already many examples of trade publishers that make a significant proportion of their income from events. The British Kebab Magazine – I told you there were trade publications for everything – only publishes once a year to round up the British Kebab Awards. It’s a publication entirely driven by an event. Other publishers have a more balanced approach, but it’s not unusual to find that the events side of a “publishing” business can bring in more than half the profit.

Events are good. Except during a pandemic, when they were non-existent, hammering the income of publishers that relied on them. Unfortunately, it appears no one has really cracked the code to make online events as profitable as face-to-face, and the never-ending stream of webinars we all receive in our inboxes suggests that it’s unlikely we’ll be spending huge sums on online content in the near future. I do believe that enthusiasm for physical events will return, and that publishers will increasingly be looking to them for revenue, but there simply won’t be an appetite for enough events to fund all publications.

Become Sell-outs

There’s nothing wrong with selling a publication, even to a supplier in the industry. But it’s never quite the same: there are always concerns about the potential lack of impartiality. A good example of success is Aspencore, which sold to Arrow (a distributor in the electronics components industry), and then acquired other publications. The editors have managed to maintain independence, and although I’ve yet to see “Arrow Sucks” as a headline on one of their publications, I imagine it won’t be something that any journalist in the sector will write as every journalist has to be somewhat mindful of the importance of large advertising budgets.

Unfortunately, the examples of successful sales to suppliers are limited, particularly as suppliers will simply hire journalism talent from publications if they want to bolster a content team, rather than buying a publishing business.

Custom Publishing

Creating publications for organisations might be a better model than selling to them. It’s something some publications have done successfully, but it’s a fine line to walk. Firstly the journalists lose their independence when custom publishing, and if this chips away at their credibility they will lose one of the two key benefits of trade media: the value of endorsing as an independent third party.

I think that a bigger challenge is the market size. Custom publishing – or should we call it vanity publishing – is most effective when you are creating a thick, glossy magazine. There’s much less perceived value in getting a publishing house to create content when it’s going to sit on the company website. It’s also much easier to publish online, and a large percentage of companies already have their own content marketing departments that are doing the same thing as custom publishing would offer.

Agencies as Publishers

Oooh, this is an interesting one for me. Should we launch a publication as an agency? In a few niches, an agency with several major clients has successfully launched a publication. It feels such an attractive idea, but I just don’t think it will work in many sectors. Agencies would have to sell to their competitors and would struggle to claim independence as their whole reason for being is to promote their clients. Ultimately agencies are likely to launch publications that are not as broad in their coverage and independent in their editorial: basically second-class publications.

At Napier, we’ve not launched a publication because of these concerns. It’s still something we talk about, and we’ll never say we won’t do it, but it’s not something we believe would enhance the industries we love.

Data, Data, Data

Publications have lots of data, but the world is changing. When you had to read a magazine to find out about new products, engineers readily offered their contact details for this information. In fact when I started my engineering career, part of my induction was to fill out the “bingo card” to try to get magazine subscriptions.

Today it’s so different. Publications are finding it harder to get contact information. Contacts are opting out. We’re frequently seeing publications who are having to limit the amount of email business they take to ensure they don’t over-mail the database and lose too many contacts. So, it’s getting harder and harder for publications to sell more contact data.

Another area of data is behavioural data. EETech recently launched a product that offers to tell you which companies are visiting your website based on data they gather on EETech online publications. Other publishers offer to serve ads on third-party sites to people who have shown interest in particular product categories within the publication (this is retargeting, despite how publishers might want to dress it up, and most marketers know retargeting really does work). Unfortunately, the results tend to be much worse than adverts on the publisher’s sites. So, despite the dramatically lower CPMs, these ads can be hard to sell as often the RoI is disappointing.

The Future of B2B Trade Publications

Having looked at the options for publishers, it’s pretty clear that there is no magic bullet answer. Technology does not respect the fact that publishers have had it hard for some time: the speed of change is not slowing. I think publishers need to adopt multiple strategies if they are to be successful, and there is no one business model that will work. Some will create events, build their databases through face-to-face interaction and market that data. Others will focus on winning more traffic share through SEO, so be prepared for content and headlines linked to high-volume searches (“Why the Kardashians Prefer an RTOS to Android”). Other publishers will leverage the quality of their journalists, using custom publishing to further monetise their people.

I’d really like to know what you think. Whether you’re in publishing, a reader or an advertiser, let me know how you think B2B trade publishing will evolve in the future.

 


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.