AI Content Generation: Napier’s New Service

Pretty much everyone reading this post will have tried AI, and we’ve all had a similar experience. The first time you see AI-generated content for a technical B2B campaign, it’s amazing: the fact that a computer can generate content about such a specific topic is something most of us never expected to see. Unfortunately, the thrill of seeing content generated by AI large language models (LLMs) is usually short-lived.

There are a few problems with AI-generated articles for a niche technical topic. Firstly the second and third times you try the technology tends to sound a little repetitive. It’s hard to get an AI model to generate multiple pieces of content that feel fresh and new. It’s also hard to get AI to generate great content about the newest innovations. This shouldn’t be surprising, as the model hasn’t been trained on them and therefore doesn’t have that knowledge. And finally, there is always the concern about whether you can trust the output of AI: does it include “facts” that are simply untrue or worse, does it plagiarise someone else’s work?

These issues can make the use of AI feel like a lot of hard work, and we haven’t even considered the fact that AI content tends to have a style that is easily recognised and therefore tends to devalue the writing.

Fixing the Problems

It’s possible to address the problems with AI with the right strategy, allowing AI to be that writing assistant we’d all love to have beside us. Here’s how we do it at Napier.

Generating content directly from the AI model rarely produces great material for deep-technology topics. This isn’t surprising: the AI model can only hold so much information, which is why it tends to produce quite repetitive content if asked for more than one article on a topic. What works well is using other content as source material – in the same way that human writers write great content.

Using source material doesn’t mean re-training the model with new information. A technique called RAG (retrieval-augmented generation) lets LLMs access and use content without needing retraining. This is important as it eliminates the time and cost that re-training would require.

Using RAG also helps with new products and innovations: you can provide data about things that simply weren’t public when the LLM was created, and therefore couldn’t be included in the model.

Now you have content, you need to ensure that it’s not plagiarized and is true. Many tools exist to check for plagiarism, so that’s a quick and easy fix. Although RAG reduces the number of hallucinations, the name adopted for errors made by LLMs, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate them. The best solution for fact-checking is the one that has been used by serious publications for some time: having a human checker.

Finally, the output of a LLM can usually be improved with a light edit from a human editor, making it sound less like an AI and more like a subject matter expert.

Although it sounds like a lot of work, if you have the tools then using an AI to generate the first draft can reduce the amount of time it takes to generate written content.

Napier’s AI-Driven Content Service

In many cases our clients want humans to generate their written content, and this is particularly the case with high-value content that could impact a significant value of business. An expert human can generate better research-driven content than an AI – at least that’s true today.

But we recognise that speed and cost are sometimes important factors when generating content, so we’ve launched our AI-driven content generation service. Built from countless hours of experimentation and the leading tools in the industry (we’re not simply entering a prompt into ChatGPT!), and with the safeguards of plagiarism checking and human editors to optimise the writing and check the facts, our AI-driven content service is designed for the most demanding B2B technology clients.

Currently, the service is in beta, but if you would like to try it to see how it could generate content for your organization, send me an email.


Email Doesn’t Suck… at Least Not as Much as you Think it Does

Email has been around in B2B marketing for a long time. In the last decade, with the arrival of shiny new marketing channels such as social media and the increasing data protection regulation, email has become a little… uncool. That’s not a good thing. While it’s not the trendiest channel, B2B email is still one of the most effective.

Yes, it’s true that we all struggle to keep up to date with incoming email. I’m avoiding working through a bit of an email backlog as I write this blog post. But we spend a lot of time reading our emails, and our experience is that great email campaigns continue to deliver great results. In fact, our monthly email newsletter is one of our best sources of leads. So why do people think email sucks?

Here are a few reasons why I think email under-performs for some companies:

Lack of creativity: email is one of the older channels and for some reason, some organisations think this means that they can’t be creative. While they are posting funky images and witty comments on social media, their emails are formulaic and boring. Failing to engage with your audience is a great way to ensure your email campaigns are disappointing.

Over-formatted HTML: yes, I know the importance of maintaining the brand. However, it’s important to remember that the unformatted plain-text emails from your sales team tend to cut through to customers and prospects far better than over-designed HTML marketing emails. Sometimes it’s good to drop the cute layout that screams “I’m selling something” and opt for a plainer layout.

Lack of persistence: like all marketing channels, consistency produces the best results. But all too often we see organisations start campaigns – for example, an email newsletter – and then stop or deliver the emails inconsistently. Repetition with decent frequency delivers results, so you have to be committed for the long haul.

Unrelated campaigns: of course, you’re going to want to run different campaigns. But all too often we see organisations running campaigns that appear a little random. Although you might ensure consistent branding with the same layout, the recipients are bombarded with different messages about different products that at best feel inconsistent and at worst could confuse or turn them off.

Lack of segmentation: sending all campaigns to the whole database is a bad idea. Email works if you talk about products or services that interest the recipient. It’s obvious, but you must make sure you segment your database to allow targeted and relevant emails to be sent.

Over-segmentation: almost as bad as not segmenting is to focus your campaigns on particular groups. It might be that there is a subset of your database that has more profiling data, or you might hammer on the biggest customers or prospects. Either way, over-mailing one segment of your database while ignoring other segments is a bad idea.

Failure to maintain the database: surely I don’t need to add anything to this! If you don’t maintain the database, so you are mailing contacts that will engage and not bounce, you’ll not get very far with your email campaigns. At the extremes, poor database management can endanger your domain’s reputation with email spam filters.

Failing to grow the database: contacts will move companies, retire and opt-out, so it’s crucial that you have a clear strategy for growing the database. It’s really hard to build databases as prospects are less and less willing to complete forms to access information. Working out how you will get sufficient new contacts to grow the database is crucial, as is understanding what you will need to invest to execute that plan.

Dealing with unengaged contacts properly: some contacts on your database will be opening and clicking on emails and you know they are engaged. Others will appear completely inactive. What does this mean in your industry? Are they just too busy to read email, are your emails going to spam or do they get all they need from your subject line (please be real – you know that is not the case!). Developing a methodology to deal with unengaged contacts, which typically involves a break from email followed by a specific nurture campaign to try to get some engagement so you know they are at least receiving the emails, is vital.

Restrictive policies: some people are not going to like this, but so many companies implement restrictive policies on their marketing departments – for example only sending emails to contacts that have double opted-in. Although this [usually] ensures a high-quality list, it could be that your database reaches a fraction of the contacts that it could. It always frustrates me when an organisation has restrictive privacy rules for marketing while letting sales do what they want: regulations like GDPR don’t discriminate between departments (trust me, I’ve read the GDPR regulations and there is no difference in the rules for emails from sales and marketing).

Hopefully, you’re not making any of those mistakes and are using email to deliver the best possible results for your business. At Napier, we see a very positive future for emails, with the most successful companies aggressively adding large numbers of carefully identified relevant contacts to their database using legitimate interest and opt-out.

If you are interested in making your email marketing deliver better results, contact me, and I’ll put together a team from the agency that can significantly increase your RoI. Email doesn’t suck: in fact it can deliver amazing results.


9 Ways to Improve your Digital Advertising Campaigns

At Napier, we run a large number of digital campaigns, which gives us fantastic insight into how to run campaigns that deliver results that make a real impact on your business. To help you create great campaigns, here are nine tips that have worked for us:

Get the basics right

We shouldn’t have to say this, but getting the basics right is so important. Whether it’s campaigns that advertise to the wrong countries (we’ve seen large sums spent on Google ads to countries to which our clients can’t legally export products) to campaigns that produce bounce rates well above 90% and zero leads continuing to be funded. Even if you are sure, you have the campaign setup correct and are monitoring performance, check again. It’s so easy to miss things.

Pick publications for display ads based on performance

The performance of adverts in online trade publications is primarily determined by the publication you pick. You have to understand that – in most industries – nothing you do to the format, position or creative you use can bridge the gap between the best- and the worst-performing publications.

As picking the right publication is so important, you have to gather data about performance. Using an agency is one way to do this, as they will have more data than you can produce, although remember that what works for another client might not work for you. And no matter how nice the advertising salesperson is, don’t believe them: they are trying to sell you ads, not give you an independent assessment of the best place for your advertising dollars.

Use meaningful performance data

Are clicks meaningful? Maybe, but they are the most superficial measure of advertising success. Ideally, you’d want to measure the impact that your advertising has on generating new sales and customers. Unfortunately, attribution to this level is really, really hard. So, pick something that at least measures whether the click generated some engagement on your website – several pages viewed in the session, return visits, time on site, etc – rather than assuming every click is valuable or even genuine.

Some paid digital channels are particularly susceptible to generating clicks that have no value and no interest in your product. I’m particularly thinking of Google display ads that appear in apps (especially in games) and social media, where we’ve seen significant sums of money spend with no discernible benefit.

Remember a click doesn’t necessarily mean interest or a potential customer

You’ll get clicks on your ads from people who will never be customers, and who have no interest in your organisation or products. Yes, some of them are bots, but you’ll also get people clicking for no reason.

Sometimes it’s down to the design of your ad being a little too clever and getting people to click accidently. Sometimes it’s where your ad appears: we particularly find this problem with display ads in games where people are desperate to play the game and they over-enthusiastically click to close the ad, and end up on your landing page. And sometimes there is no apparent reason why people are clicking on your ad, yet they bounce immediately without even reading your lovingly-crafted landing page.

Question whether you need to run paid search using your brand keywords

One of the most wasteful forms of advertising is Google search ads where you are bidding on your own brands as keywords. Yes, it is worth considering paying if you have a lot of competitors bidding on your brand keywords, but many times we see an organisation having the only ad when they are number one in organic search. If you are going to be top organically, it frequently doesn’t make sense to pay.

Retarget the people who click on your ads

You pay a lot of money to drive people to your website from your advertising. Whether they clicked on a display ad on a trade magazine, a search ad on Google or a LinkedIn promotion, if you have set up your campaign well, they are probably potential customers. However, in B2B few people convert immediately, so no matter how hard you try with your landing page, they are probably not going to buy after the first click.

Retargeting the people that engage with your ad is a great way to move these prospects along the customer journey and get engagement for a much lower cost than the first click. Use retargeting based on tracking people who visited your landing page or within a platform such as LinkedIn. Trust me, even if you drive people back to the same content offer, there will be a significant proportion of contacts that don’t convert after the first click but do convert after retargeting.

Don’t target large audiences when they are not relevant

We all want to generate high volumes of clicks, leads and sales. But when you can target an audience precisely, and you have a niche product or service, large numbers often don’t make sense. For example, there might be a couple of hundred people in the UK who determine the total spend with agencies in the electronics industry. So, if Napier is running a campaign to this audience, it doesn’t make sense to follow LinkedIn’s “advice” to target at least 300,000 people.

There are definitely downsides to running campaigns to smaller audiences, particularly that the optimisation algorithms used by platforms such as Google and LinkedIn usually fail with small audiences. So, you’ll have to manually optimise yourself. However, if there are only 200 people to target and you can identify them, it really doesn’t make sense to pay to reach an additional 299,800 people to make the advisor from LinkedIn happy.

Be wary of “Super-Auto” mode

Digital advertising platforms are great at offering different ways to make it easy to implement a campaign – it’s their “super auto” modes. Whether it’s creating the advert or finding relevant keywords, they provide tools to help you spend your money. In general, the tools are good, but you have to remember that they weren’t developed to help you or your organisation.

You’re working in B2B. Unless you are in the top 0.1% of B2B advertisers, your campaign is tiny compared to consumer campaigns. The platforms understand this, so they optimise their tools to work with large budgets that reach huge audiences. Unfortunately, this is not you. Make use of the tools but be cautious and bear in mind that they might not produce the best recommendations for your campaign, because they simply aren’t designed for the campaigns you run. The tools also really struggle to “understand” deep tech.

Do a lot of testing

We all know this, don’t we? It’s so important to test, yet sometimes it feels like it is just too much hard work. However, getting data on what engages your audience is valuable, not just for your current campaign but for future ones too.

You do have to be careful. Don’t test without a good understanding of statistical significance (or if you don’t like maths, use our AB Test Calculator). We have seen campaigns start where advert A looks like it is doing better than advert B and it just feels that A is better. Yet when the number of impressions grow, B overtakes A and consistently out-performs A, something you’d never know if you trusted your gut early on. Randomness is not something our brains are good at intuiting.

 

Paid campaigns in B2B are hard to get to work. It can feel almost impossible to get the high-value decision-makers to engage, the conventional advice just feels wrong (because it was developed for consumer campaigns) and getting test results that are statistically significant can take some time. But putting in the effort to optimise campaigns (or working with an agency who will do it for you) is the only way to guarantee the RoI that your manager demands.


Kevin Tasker - A Great Colleague and Friend

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of our colleague and friend Kevin Tasker. Kevin first joined Armitage Communications in the early 1990s as a technical writer, and went on to become an integral part of the content team following the business's acquisition by Napier in 2019. Kevin was a highly talented writer with an inquiring mind, and was able to consistently deliver engaging copy across a wide range of subjects and formats. As a valued member of Napier's writing team, he was always on hand to help out and keep us on track for even the tightest of client deadlines. As a friend, he was loyal, dependable and always up for an intelligent conversation or debate. Kevin's loss will be keenly felt at Napier, and his humour and Scouse wit in particular are already greatly missed. Our thoughts and all our love are with his wife Karen, son Jake, and daughter Rowena at this difficult time.


27 Essential B2B Marketing Email Tips

Email remains one of the most effective channels for reaching prospects and customers for B2B marketers. In fact, there is a good chance you’re reading this blog post because you saw it mentioned in what is probably our most effective marketing channel: the Napier Newsletter (sign up to Napier News on our blogs page if you’re not already a subscriber!). Getting the best results from email, however, can be a challenge.

We’ve worked with a wide range of companies in the B2B technology space for many years, and have learnt how to create great emails from our experience. Here are some tips that will help you create emails that deliver results.

Be clear about your goal: it’s critical that you are clear about what action you want to result from your email. Do you want the recipient to click and read a blog post, reply to your email or complete a form to download content? To be effective, emails should have just one goal (OK, newsletters can try to get people to click to read multiple stories, but the click & read goal should be consistent). Thinking about the goal is part of the first step of our four-step process to developing great marketing campaigns.

Design your email to achieve your goal: it’s so tempting, and so wrong, to try to get your email to do multiple things. Don’t: it will just make it less effective. Concentrate on getting your email to achieve the one goal you have set, and don’t offer your recipients too many options.

Consider your audience: different audiences have different levels of knowledge about you and your product, and probably very different perceptions too. They’ll also be at different stages of the customer journey. In general, it’s not a good idea to send the same email to a   customer that you’d send to cold prospects, as they are starting from very different places. So, write the email to meet the needs of your audience, and consider writing different emails for different audience segments.

Be respectful of your audience’s time: be brief and get to the point. You know that when you’re processing email, you want to get through it as quickly as possible, and the same is true for your audience. So don’t waste their time with long, rambling copy.

Consistency is key: yes, staying on brand can be boring, but it’s important that your audience recognises the email as being from you without having to look at the from address or footer. The more consistent you can be, the more effective your email marketing will be in the long term. But don’t feel you need to be dull – you can always have fun within your brand guidelines.

Don’t try to be too clever: I’ve mentioned that you need to understand that your audience is trying to get through their email quickly. An obtuse subject line that needs the recipient to stop and think to work out what it is saying or get some clever joke or pun is unlikely to be successful. Make your copy direct and clear and save clever headlines for the editors of tabloid newspapers.

Personalise when it makes sense: personalisation is great, but it’s really effective when it helps the recipient. The biggest difference can be made when there is something you can do to make the email more valuable through personalisation. This doesn’t have to be hugely complicated: for example, if you have an audience that covers different industries, simply providing case studies, examples or even copy that is personalised to the recipient’s market will almost always improve performance.

Use the technology: your company has almost certainly invested in marketing technology tools, so make use of them. In particular CRMs and marketing automation platforms will help you personalise content and add relevant information.

Be sure you have high-quality data: it’s obviously important to have high-quality data for basic fields like email address and first name. But it’s also important for the fields you use for personalisation. For example, if you have poor-quality industry data for your contacts, attempts to personalise will be less effective, and in the worst case could produce poorer results. Love, nurture and care for your data: it’s just so valuable!

Make your copy sound like it’s from a human: most recipients will be much more likely to engage with content that feels like it’s from a human, rather than an AI employed by the marketing team (or even a marketer writing cookie-cutter copy). So don’t get hung up on being formal and formulaic: write the copy as if you were writing an email to a real person.

Spend time on the subject line: if your email doesn’t get opened, no one is going to take action. As the subject line usually has the biggest impact on whether an email is read or not, really do spend time getting it right. Don’t forget you’re trying to get an overworked recipient who just wants to get through their email to stop and not just delete your email, so make sure they feel there is a real benefit to them to give up the time it will take to read your email.

Ignore the fact that subject lines of x characters are most effective: you’ve almost certainly seen the research that says that having a subject line of a certain length is most effective (or a certain number of words in the body copy, or…). These studies are interesting and should provide some sort of guide, but the impact of an extra character or ten is normally negligible. Great copy will always produce better results than the “optimum” character count.

Don’t feel there is only one day/time to send your email: there are endless studies showing the “best” day or time to send emails. They’re so popular because the data is so easy to get, not necessarily because it matters. These studies don’t just look at your audience and often make a big deal about small differences. Think about your audience and send at a time that will work best for them. Oh, and don’t forget to test different days and times!

Remember it’s an email, not a prize-winning novel: write short sentences, don’t have long paragraphs and use bullets or other techniques to make the text easier to read. You’re not getting paid by the word, so keep it short and in a format that is easy to read.

Don’t be that “sales email”: we’ve all read those emails whose copy is like a pushy salesperson. In B2B, at least the vast majority of B2B, sales are considered and generally involve a buying committee (DMU). So present reasons for choosing your product in a way that your recipients would do in their organisation and avoid tacky sales copy.

Don’t be afraid to create scarcity: making something scarce can work for some products. If you’re trying to get someone to select you for a major building project that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, you’re not going to succeed by offering a “limited time discount”, but a flash sale can be a great way to get an engineer to finally buy that development kit that they have been thinking about for the past six months.

Proof your email: there are a lot of marketing emails that get sent with typos. At best the typo might be distracting, at worst it could negatively impact your brand while making the email completely ineffective. So, make sure you, or even better someone else, proofs the copy.

Make use of preview text: we’re all guilty of judging emails by their preview text, so make use of customised text to sell the email contents in the best light possible.

Think about your “from”: the from address does matter. It’s generally better to send from a person than a generic email (i.e. try to avoid using addresses like newsletters@yourcompany.com).

Don’t feel you need fancy HTML layouts: some of our most effective email campaigns have been plain text. No layout, no images and nothing fancy. Just plain text. In fact, if you really want your audience to feel like someone in your company is talking to them personally, then plain text can be one of the most effective ways of making an email feel personal.

Have a clear CTA and repeat it: I mentioned earlier that it’s important to have one goal. This usually means one CTA (newsletters are one exception). Make that CTA clear. And don’t be afraid to repeat it: often emails with a CTA in the body text as a link and then separately as a button are more effective than those with just one CTA.

You don’t always need to gate content, unless…: fortunately it doesn’t happen often, but we do see emails sent through marketing automation platforms that link to content behind forms. You know who has clicked, and often this is enough: you don’t need to put forms in their way. However, there could be good reasons to do this if you want to clean or enhance your data, but consider using progressive profiling and hiding as many fields as you can.

Do a lot of testing: you think you know what will resonate with your audience. You’re probably wrong. It’s amazing how many times we find the copy that our clients – or even our digital experts – thought would work best comes second in an AB test. Use your instincts, but always test and be prepared to be proved wrong!

Consistency really is key!: it’s not just about being consistent with your brand, good email campaigns are not one-offs. If you’re communicating with your audiences frequently, you’ll get better results than if you only send emails when you have time. Don’t forget that the right frequency will almost certainly be different for different audience segments, and this is particularly the case for customers and cold prospects, who will welcome very different volumes of email from you.

Be careful how you use the data: email stats are very unreliable. Whether it’s that anti-track measures (such as those in Apple Mail) generate opens for all emails received, even if they are never read, or phantom clicks caused by malware filters, your email stats do not present anything close to the full story. So always use stats with caution, and try to use real outcomes (e.g. measuring meaningful visits to your website or form-fills rather than opens and clicks). RoI is often the best approach, and you can use our marketing RoI calculator to either forecast or measure the return of your email campaign.

Understand randomness: personally, I loved statistics at school and university. But I’m weird. Most people don’t love nor understand it. This is a problem because randomness can do strange things. Just because “A” produced better results in an AB test, doesn’t necessarily mean that it was better: it could be random. So, try to learn a little about statistics and probability so you can have a better chance of knowing if you are making decisions that are based on real differences or just luck. Alternatively, visit our AB Test Analyser to have the hard work done for you!

If the email isn’t opened, the recipient didn’t read it: this is obvious, but every now and then we hear people talking about changing the body copy to improve open rates. This makes no sense. The from address, the subject and the preview text are the things that affect the open rate.

 

I hope these tips are useful. If you have any approaches that have helped you generate better results, please post them in the comments or email me at mike@napierb2b.com.


Caroline Hayes

Caroline Hayes Appointed Editor of Electronics Weekly

Caroline Hayes Caroline Hayes, the charming and highly popular freelance journalist has taken on the editor role at Electronics Weekly. This is one of the top roles in electronics journalism in the Europe and the UK, and I'm delighted to see her take on this important job. Caroline has worked in the industry for more than 25 years, and has been the features editor at Electronics Weekly on a part-time basis for about five years, as well as holding roles at What's New in Electronics, EPDT and EPN.

Since 2013, Caroline has been a freelance journalist, working for a number of publications who are all presumably feeling a little glum at the news that she won't be able to support them in the future.

“I am thrilled to be joining the EW team as Editor and intend to build on its enviable reputation. As features editor, I am already working alongside some of the industry’s most respected journalists, but this is a wonderful opportunity to edit a title I have always admired.

“With the support of emap, there are opportunities to explore multiple media and ensure the strong editorial values of EW reach an even broader audience and to reflect the changing landscape of our industry,” said Caroline.

The team at Napier is excited to work with Caroline in her new role. We've loved working together when she has been freelancing with a range of UK titles, and particularly enjoy the sense of fun that she brings. Caroline certainly has a tough job: the trade media certainly faces a number of challenges, but we're confident she will be able to bring innovative and successful ideas to the publication. In fact, one of Caroline’s first projects will be editorial lead on the new Electronics Weekly’s Women in Electronics Awards in April 2024.

Congratulations on the new role Caroline!


AI search on publications

Can AI Enhance Online Publications?

There has been quite a lot of comment around the challenges to publications from AI, with search engines returning results through AI chatbots that might eliminate the need to visit the publication site and therefore remove any opportunity to monetise the traffic. This is definitely a concern for many titles as the CPM model of online advertising requires as much traffic to the site as possible.

However, this isn't a reason to ignore AI, as it has the opportunity to help publishers engage readers on the site. I'm particularly impressed with an early example of this approach from Power Systems Design, a title that has deployed an AI chatbot they call "PowerPal". The GPT-powered chatbot aims to deliver a better experience than simply searching the site, so let's see how well it works.

I started by trying to learn something - how a freewheeling diode works. It's a pretty simple question, but searching for this, or "freewheeling diode operation" produced nothing in conventional search. PowerPal, however, was very helpful and told me:

A freewheeling diode is a type of semiconductor device that allows current to flow in one direction, while blocking it from flowing the opposite way. It works by providing an alternate path for reverse-biased currents and helps protect other components against voltage spikes caused when inductive loads are switched off suddenly or short circuits occur on power lines connected with them

So 1-0 to PowerPal. I then asked how to design a Vienna Rectifier. PowerPal offered four stories and searching for "Vienna Rectifier" got me six good results that all covered some element of Vienna Rectifier design:

Vienna rectifier search results

So it's even at 1-1.

3 phase emc filter I thought I'd then try to look for a product, although I was concerned that this might inherently be easier to return from a conventional search. However I was surprised when asking for a 3 phase EMC filter i got nothing from search, but got several great results from PowerPal. I was surprised, and even after several attempts to refine the conventional search, the best I got was one result from searching for "3-phase emc filter".

So PowerPal wins 2-1.

OK, this isn't the most exacting test, with just three arbitrary searches. But I was very impressed with what PowerPal could do as it's really is the first release of the AI chatbot on the site, and I do feel that it's a great tool that should show other publishers what AI can do.

Of course PowerPal isn't perfect - for example I asked about the most recent announcements from Vicor and it didn't seem to be able to understand the dates on press releases. So it gave me a good selection of announcements from Vicor, but not the most recent.

Clearly in the long term PowerPal is going to get better at a much faster rate than Power Systems Design's conventional search. So the future is bright. But is it ready for prime-time now? Well next time I go to Power Systems Design to look for something, I'm going to use PowerPal: it might not be the quickest way to get all types of information, but on balance it's better more often than not. It's amazing to see such a powerful tool be developed so quickly and be useful from launch. Well done Power Systems Design for such an innovative move!

 


Electronics Industry Hammered by Retirement of John Waddell

All good things have to come to an end, and sadly John Waddell has decided to retire from advertising sales after 45 years in the industry. After starting his career at Morgan Grampian (at the time the best training ground in the industry) John worked for EPN and EDN Europe before forming his own company, Purland Communications that successfully represented different titles over 28 years. For the last 13 years, John has worked for SupplyFrame.

I'm sure a lot of people in the industry will miss John's wit and humour, particularly when talking about West Ham United. No doubt John has decided that now is the time to retire as he feels this will be West Ham's season - at the time of writing they are at the dizzy heights of number seven in the Premiership.

 

Footnote - West Ham United are known as "The Hammers", hence the title for this post, something many readers might not know. Fun fact - this nickname didn't come from being called West Ham, but rather from the club's previous incarnation as Thames Ironworks F.C. a club linked to the shipbuilders of that name. Two shipbuilders' riveting hammers were included in the original club badge and this lead to the nickname "The Hammers". Those hammers are still part of the current West Ham United crest.

 

 


In Memory of Hans Jaschinski

The hardest thing about being in an industry for a long time is that sometimes you lose the people you respected the most. We have lost one of the journalists that I most respected with the death of Hans Jaschinski.

Hans Jaschinski

Hans was a journalist for 35 years, and was the face of Elektronik Industry as he held the roles of editor and then editor-in-chief until he retired in 2020. It's unusual for a journalist to remain at one publication for such a long time, and this loyalty is refreshing.

Hans was an interesting person. As an Englishman, I'd have to admit that Hans was intimidatingly German when I first met him. But when I got to know him, the different cultures dissolved away and I realised he was just a nice guy who wanted to help people (and write about electronics - a topic he found fascinating). Friendly, charming and never pretentious, Hans was simply a lovely person and a great journalist. He will be sadly missed.


OK, We Admit it. We Used AI for Content Generation!

We have misled our blog readers by using AI for content generation. But we’re not sorry! In fact, it was a small test that we ran to see how well AI could generate blog posts and to find out if anyone noticed. We posted a couple of blog posts under the alias Greg Aidley that were generated by AI and had some light touch editing by human writers.

We thought it would be a good experiment and have learnt a lot from it. We’re sharing the findings so you can understand whether AI can provide a solution. Here are our findings:

Nobody complained

Perhaps the most surprising thing was that no one asked whether we had used AI to generate content. So the quality of the AI writing was good enough to “pass” as human written when people didn’t know. The audience included most of the Napier team (we kept the use of AI as a little secret among a couple of us). So it is possible to use AI to generate content that feels “good enough”.

You have to edit

No one noticed, but to be fair we need to confess that we choose to use human authors to review and edit the text. To be honest, some of the stuff that the AI produced really wasn’t up to scratch and we weren’t prepared to have the content on the website without editing.

Obviously, the introduction of a human editor does mean that it’s less surprising that no one spotted it was AI-generated. We suspect that if we’d used unaltered output from AI then people would have recognised that the quality wasn’t at a level you’d expect from a human writer.

Choose the right topics

AI is better at writing some things than others. We did try a number of different topics and picked the ones that produced the best output. The most obvious thing to point out is that AI is good at looking back, but it’s not so convincing when trying to make predictions or talk about something new. Content like “Why Podcasts are an Important Part of the B2B Marketing Mix” are the best sort of article as the AI can draw on many similar articles that have been used in the language model’s training.

Select your tool carefully

Although impressive, ChatGPT isn’t great at writing long-form content. It does tend to be a little unstructured and rambling. We decided to choose a tool designed to generate content at a higher level of quality, Jasper.ai. There are many other tools like this – for example, we had the CEO of Rytr.me as a guest on the Marketing B2B Technology podcast recently.

Note that at the time we ran this experiment, ChatGPT and the tools we mention above all used the GPT3 large language model. It's likely that as the models improve, the quality of output will also get better.

These tools allow a step-by-step approach to creating content using AI. You first create an outline and then generate the content in sections. In our experience, this created long-form content that flows much better than the output of ChatGPT or other unmanaged AIs.

AI isn’t necessarily quicker

Surprisingly we found that using the AI tools wasn’t that much quicker than writing the posts ourselves. We do write a lot of blog posts, so we’re pretty efficient, but even so, we expected the AI to save us more time. In fact one post needed quite a lot of editing and so, by the time we’d managed the creation process and then edited the output, it actually took a similar amount of time to write the post from scratch.

There is one major caveat here: it takes time to learn how to get the most out of an AI tool, just as it does any other marketing technology tool. We weren’t experienced users of Jasper (although we had generated a few test pieces before the trial) so we expect that the process would get faster as we developed our own skills.

So how good was the AI-generated Content?

There are a number of ways we could try to measure the quality, but perhaps the best one is to look at how long people spend reading the article. Although the subject will have some impact on time on page, the topics weren’t that different and so we felt it would be a pretty good proxy for quality.

We were somewhat surprised at the result. Although content written by our experienced writers on average performed better, the difference wasn’t huge. And the AI generated content had longer time on page than posts that were written by Napier team members who don’t often blog. Basically, the AI was better at writing than a graphic designer!

The figure below shows the time on site for 10 recent blog posts, which are categorised based on who wrote them.

Does this mean that you should use AI to write your content?

We started this project expecting that AI would be significantly out-performed by human writers. Although humans are better – and we needed humans to tweak the AI output – the difference isn’t anywhere near as big as we would expect. In fact, if you have people who normally don’t write content we think they would probably do better by using an AI to help them. This is true even with the limitations of today’s large language models.

If you are a good writer then I think it’s time to make sure your ego is kept in check. Yes, you’re better than an AI today. Yes, there are topics where AI models are not going to perform well. But AI is catching up. We’d strongly recommend that all writers experiment with AI to help them improve their writing, whether they are using the AI for ideas or editing sections of AI content into their own writing.

So, it doesn’t look like great writers will be out of a job any time soon. We expect low-quality content farms, particularly those in lower-cost economies, to be out of business very quickly. AI is clearly already above the level of the cheapest content designed for SEO. But we know that often this content is laughably bad, so that’s probably a good thing.

Will AI continue to improve?

The most interesting question is what will happen in the future. Realistically no one really knows how good large language models will get. We can, however, say that the likelihood is that quality improvements will slow down dramatically.

The improvements in output quality from GPT1 to GPT3 have been incredible and this has happened in only four years. However, there are factors that are going to limit the improvement in performance. The underlying engine will suffer from diminishing returns when it is made more complex. This is a very technical argument: GPT1 used only 12 layers while GPT3 used 96. Adding more layers is likely to require a lot more complexity to generate the same perceived improvement in performance.

We’re also running out of training data. GPT4 is trained on a significant percentage of online content (the actual amount hasn’t been revealed), and at some point, there won’t be any more easily-accessible training data. So the rate of improvement will slow.

Although we have highlighted a couple of problems, it’s clear that AI will continue to improve, it’s just the rate of improvement that will be uncertain. The Napier team will be watching developments and running more experiments, and we’ll keep you informed of the results!


Is this the Future of Publishing?

It’s no secret that the world of trade media publishing is tough. Arguably few industries have been forced to change more than publishing, and trade media has been particularly badly hit. Publishers have gone from a world where they controlled much of the distribution of information to the industry through printed magazines, to one where there is more information available than any reader could possibly consume. Furthermore, online publishing requires a very different approach to advertising than print, completely changing the business model for publishers.

Of course, some publishers are still doing well, but others are finding it harder. We’ve seen a steady decrease in the size of editorial teams as budgets are cut, and this is obviously something that has to stop at some point.

The challenges from an advertising point of view are frightening. Previously revenue was effectively unlimited in print: if you wanted to take more advertising you just needed to print more pages. The publisher just needed a corresponding increase in editorial, something that resulted in greater employment for journalists.

Although publications were able to generate rapid increases in website visitors when they first launched their sites, in recent years we have seen the visitor numbers stagnate for many B2B trade publications. This is clearly the case in the electronics industry where in most Western European countries the number of page views has not increased according to Napier’s recent research. Website display advertising revenue is limited by the number of monetizable pages (unless you are willing to increase the number of ad units per page). With cost-per-ad-unit falling at some publications this means that in a time of relatively high inflation, publishers have seen the maximum revenue they can achieve from ads on their website decrease.

Of course, there are other sources of income including newsletters, email rental and lead generation, but these are also typically maxed out with advertisers apparently willing to wait for slots rather than pay increased pricing.

The Options

On the face of it, there are few good options open to publishers. Let’s look at the potential ways that they can deal with the increase in costs and stagnant revenue.

Some publishers are still generating a significant income from print. This does give a lot of control and allows as many pages as they want to be published. The costs of print, however, have increased significantly: both the cost of printing a publication and mailing it have grown significantly. So the print publications are often then forced to reduce circulation.

Digital magazines seemed like a great option. I actually have a couple of digital magazine subscriptions, but even I know that I am definitely the exception. Few people are reading magazines in digital format and so digital “flip-book” publications have not been the modern version of print that many hoped.

One option would be to grow the share of the website pages viewed in the industry. This is somewhat of a zero-sum game, particularly when it comes to organic search traffic: the reader is probably not going to read more pages if publications put more effort into SEO.

We have seen some publications broaden the things they cover to try to grow the available market of readers, but care needs to be taken as too broad a remit will devalue the publication to advertisers who want to know that as many of their ad impressions as possible are hitting potential customers.

Obviously, diversification is an alternative. In addition to direct email, publishers can offer paid-for products such as directories or vendor selectors, while events - particularly face-to-face events - are often highly profitable sources of revenue. Both of these, however, cannot be scaled beyond a small number of products, so are quite limited.

We’ve seen publications be purchased by vendors. Arrow’s ownership of Aspencore is the biggest example by far, but they are not alone: for example, Mouser’s parent company owns Electropages (the publication from EPM). In these cases, however, the owners have not chosen to buy the publications and use them as mouthpieces for their businesses. Although they have clearly brought value to the owners that go beyond their publishing activities, both Aspencore and EPM seem to be required to run as profitable businesses by their owners.

None of the above approaches seems to offer much of a solution, so we have inevitably seen a squeeze on costs. Ultimately this means fewer editorial staff, and sometimes fewer salespeople, which will weaken the editorial proposition or potentially reduce revenue.

The Ojo Yoshida Report - A Brave Test?

One publication that is very different is the Ojo Yoshida Report. Founded by Bolaji Ojo (Publisher & Managing Editor) and Junko Yoshida (Editor in Chief), they have taken a different business model: subscriptions. This is a brave move: will they be able to persuade people to pay money for a product when there is so much free content available?

Of course, they are both highly-respected journalists who have been in the industry for a long time. Their great connections mean that they will not only have access to some of the most influential industry figures, but they will also have connections with companies that could spend significantly on subscriptions.

They have also chosen to target their publication at the management tier of the electronics industry. Although the information is clearly relevant to engineers at all levels, the content will be particularly useful to executives, and therefore to an audience that is probably not particularly price-sensitive.

The publication is an exciting experiment. It’s a brave experiment. I really hope it succeeds.

Will the Ojo Yoshida Report be Successful?

In the past, we have had successful publications that relied on subscriptions. In Germany, engineers have paid for publications. Many years ago I was an avid paid reader of Microprocessor Report: an essential publication for anyone involved in the microprocessor industry at the time. If subscriptions have been successful in the past, I see no reason why they can’t work today.

So I’m optimistic. It will be fascinating to see if the Ojo Yoshida report is successful. But it’s probably not an option for most publications: inevitably it’s likely that only a small number of titles can successfully run a subscription model as readers will limit how many they pay for. So although this might be paving the way for a small number of paid publications in the electronics industry, it’s probably not a solution that will work for most of the titles out there.


The Ultimate European PR FAQ

Answers to the questions our American clients ask about doing PR in Europe

Europe has a very different culture from the USA, particularly when it comes to the media. We often get asked questions about PR in Europe, so we thought it would make sense to put them together in a frequently-asked questions (FAQ) blog post.

Are print magazines still a thing in Europe?

Yes. It’s still the case that some readers prefer print. This is particularly true in Eastern Europe and Germany, but you can still find publications with print circulations around Europe.

The readership of print magazines continues to decline, so just because print is still relevant, don’t think it’s the most important medium. In particular, we’re seeing younger engineers across Europe spurn print for digital, so your campaign should always be digital-first.

Why didn’t journalists attend my breakfast meeting?

Generally speaking, journalists don’t like breakfast meetings in Europe (this is particularly true in the UK). There are many factors that result in their dislike of early mornings: frequently it’s related to the challenges of travel in rush-hour, personal commitments before work or even the journalist living a long way from where you hold the press conference. We’d always recommend trying to avoid breakfast meetings.

I don’t speak the language: does that mean I can’t be interviewed?

Most B2B trade journalists speak English and are prepared to interview people who don’t speak the local language. Sometimes, however, they’ll ask for an email interview, as this allows them to take time to understand your responses.

We’d always recommend avoiding telephone interviews in this case – having the journalist able to see your face, whether that’s virtually or in-person will make it much easier for them to understand what you are saying.

Do journalists really want to talk to local spokespeople?

Yes. Often publications will prefer to talk to a local personality. There are several reasons for this, from wanting to have a “local market” spin on the interview to wanting someone that their readers are more likely to relate to or even meet in their work.

Despite this preference for local spokespeople, there is always an opportunity to have senior executives, particularly CEOs and CTOs, interviews in local publications. However, it’s often worth bringing a local spokesperson along too, as this may help build the relationship and could ensure that there are no misunderstandings due to translation.

How do I get a feature article placed?

In the USA, many trade journalists like to work with a company that is developing a feature article (also called a contributed article). This collaborative process is much less common in Europe, and journalists will typically look for completed articles that they can review and select, rather than an abstract.

Should I change the style of writing for Europe?

The preferred format and style of releases do change over time, both in the USA and in Europe. If we were to generalise, we’d say that European editors prefer more succinct and factual releases than their American counterparts. German editors in particular like lots of data and numbers to validate any claims you make in your releases and articles: sometimes this can seem like focussing on features rather than benefits, but trust us, a more factual style will work better for a German audience.

Publications also vary considerably, so rather than relying on rules of thumb for each country, it’s always better to engage with an editor or knowledgeable agency to find out what tweaks to your style will produce the best results.

Do I need a photo with my press release?

To be honest, most American titles are now keen to find images for online stories, so most of our clients are pretty good at supplying images. But if you are thinking of issuing a release in Europe without a photo, please think again. European journalists are more focused on the visual look of their publications than some of the Americans, so having a good photo really does help get coverage.

Do I need to translate releases?

You don’t need to translate your releases, but you’ll get much better results if you do. Even though many journalists across Europe speak excellent English, it does take them longer to take an English language release and translate it than it does to use one in local language. In fact, one journalist we know said it’s about three times longer to use English language releases.

So given the pressure that journalists are under, and the competition for coverage, you’ll find that local language releases will almost always outperform those in English in continental Europe, and the RoI on translation is usually excellent.

Do British editors really go to the pub on Friday afternoon?

This is a stereotype of British journalists that, particularly in the trade media, is a little dated. Although pub culture still exists, you won’t find many journalists drinking from Friday lunchtime. However, there is still a culture that you don’t organise big events (such as press conferences) on a Friday afternoon.

How many holidays are there in Europe?

It is true that there are a lot more holidays in Europe. Whether it’s the majority of the French workforce taking August off, or the many different public holidays in months like May, it can be difficult to navigate vacations and holidays. Check with an agency that knows the countries you are targeting before planning a press tour: it’s important to make sure you don’t pick a day when no one can attend!

Do I need to pay to translate a feature article?

Yes. Generally, there is an expectation from publications that if a company writes an article and the publication is going to publish it, the company funds the cost of translation.

Do I really need to pay the journalist to translate my article?

Sometimes journalists do supplement their income by charging companies for translation of feature articles. They’ll often say that they want the translation style to be consistent. Generally having a journalist working on the publication doing your translations will result in outstanding quality and a real commitment to publish the article, so we’d always recommend that you agree if a journalist gently suggests they should do the translation.

Don’t the English-language pan-European titles cover the whole of Europe?

The English-language titles do have some reach across Europe (as do some of the titles published in the USA), but that reach is limited. In pretty much every country the local language titles will have a greater penetration of your target audience than titles published in English from outside of the country. So if you want to be successful, you need to engage with local publications.

Do I need to address every country in Europe?

No, of course not. In fact, we strongly recommend that companies focus on a small number of key markets initially as they build their presence in Europe and the European media. Focussing on the countries that matter, and doing a great job there, will be far more effective than doing a superficial job in a larger number of countries. It will also be a lot more manageable and cost-effective.

Why is a journalist so keen to take my photo?

Some journalists will be paid extra if they take a photo that is published. So they will be very keen to take your photo rather than use a stock image. Don’t feel bad – it makes for a better story, so everyone benefits.

I met with the journalist a year ago, why are they not keen to meet again?

It’s possible they didn’t find the interview useful, but it’s more likely that they are frustrated that you met and then didn’t continue engaging with them. It’s really important to be consistent with your PR. A once-a-year press tour annoys journalists as it’s all about you, and not about what they need. In fact, there is a word for executives from American companies that do this: “seagulls”. This is because they fly in, make a lot of noise, and then leave a mess afterwards. If you want to meet with journalists, make sure you are engaging with them on a frequent basis, rather than only when it suits you.

Is everything different in Europe?

No! Of course not. The PR process isn’t completely different, and generally, a good story in the USA will be just as effective in Europe. We’ve written this blog post because it can be easy to assume everything is the same, and so people can get caught out by the few areas that are different.


Why it Sometimes Makes Sense to Advertise for Your Channel

I’ve worked for manufacturers and channel partners. The dynamic for each, particularly in technology, is an interesting one as both recognise the need for each other, yet there is almost always some degree of friction between the two.

Relationship Challenges

Manufacturers use distributors to reach smaller customers that they couldn’t service cost-effectively, while integrators and VARs provide additional services for the end customer. So there is clearly value in the channel, both in terms of efficiency and maximising the markets that any manufacturer can reach. Yet you’ll often hear manufacturers worry that their partners are favouring other suppliers, not doing enough promotion or taking too much margin.

On the channel side, there will always be concerns about large businesses going direct and the lack of support from manufacturers. That perception has been exacerbated by the advent of e-commerce which has given rise to a trend for manufacturers to support direct online purchasing, something that channel partners might feel is “cutting them out of the loop”.

Stronger Channel, Stronger Supplier

Even though there can be issues in the relationship, the reality is that manufacturers need strong channel partners to succeed. The channel remains a vital part of the way that many B2B products are sold, with partners able to drive growth with a very different set of resources than those that are available to manufacturers.

Doing Marketing “for the Channel”

We’ve seen a trend recently where several manufacturers who are Napier clients have allocated money to marketing that might traditionally be seen as the responsibility of their channel partner(s). At first, this might seem strange: spending valuable marketing budget to influence the results of partners who have their own marketing budgets and are usually also incentivised by co-op or sales performance incentive funds (SPIF).

Our clients, however, are really smart. Sometimes there are great reasons to fund additional marketing that - at first - might not seem like the responsibility of the manufacturer. Here are two great examples of how savvy clients have deployed marketing to increase their profits.

Reducing Stock Returns

Channel partners that hold stock typically have the right to return that stock under certain conditions. This might be due to products becoming obsolete, or simply stock rotation rights that allow the partner to switch out stock that is not selling. These terms make a lot of sense: the stock held by partners does boost sales figures, but there is no benefit for either the manufacturer or the partner if money is tied up in stock that just won’t move.

Unfortunately, when products approach end-of-life, there is little incentive for the channel to put additional effort into selling them: they know they can return the products without penalty when they are declared obsolete. This then leaves the manufacturer holding stock that is often unsalable. A similar effect is seen with stock rotation when new products are introduced: there is less incentive to focus on the older model as they can also be returned.

Smart manufacturers, however, can recognise a potential problem and address it before they are left having to take back products. We ran a very successful campaign with one client who was launching a new product. They knew that the new product would kill demand for the previous generation, so they ran a search campaign to maximise sales before the new product was released, thereby minimising any dead stock they would have to accept. This not only helped the manufacturer but also meant that the distributor paid more attention as they saw a nice uplift in sales, followed by the excitement of a new product to offer that generated further improvements in sales and SKU figures.

Building Communities

Channel partners are often great at building communities. In many cases - particularly if a manufacturer doesn’t have a local office - online community building is an important part of their role. Typically, they give their suppliers access to their communities for marketing purposes, and the best suppliers are quick to take maximum advantage.

We worked with a client who helped their partners build their online communities by running social media promotions encouraging prospects and customers to connect with their respective partners. As each partner was better placed to build communities in the target market, and their supplier was able to use the community for marketing, it benefited the channel partners and the manufacturer.

Real Partnerships Work

These examples show that by really engaging with, and being prepared to invest in, the channel, manufacturers can extract benefits that will deliver significant improvements to their bottom line. When marketing really engages with the channel, rather than seeing it as a necessary evil, or even competition, investing in innovative campaigns will produce a great return on investment.


How Does LinkedIn Match Job Titles for Advertising Campaigns?

If you are running B2B LinkedIn advertising campaigns, you’ve probably realised that the more targeted you can be, the better the results. Although LinkedIn will encourage you to open up your criteria to make the audience large – and therefore boost LinkedIn’s revenue – generally the ability to target exactly who you want to communicate with is the superpower of this important advertising platform. We see many very small campaigns that are often around the minimum audience size deliver phenomenal results with almost negligible budgets.

There are some downsides to more precise targeting: the cost per click, impression or acquisition will increase. Furthermore, companies often want to target a similar persona, so there tends to be greater competition as you focus your campaign more tightly. This shouldn’t be a surprise – the average cost of running an advert to everyone working in, say, the retail industry in the UK should be less than targeting only CIOs in this sector.

Although job function can be useful, it’s pretty broad. So we typically work with clients to target specific job titles. But it’s important to understand that job title is not an exact match: LinkedIn groups job titles so you need to be very careful to make sure you are hitting the right people for all of your campaigns.

The LinkedIn Job Title Matching Algorithm

Let’s be clear about the problem: if you put a job title into an audience definition for an ads campaign your ad will be shown to people who have different titles than the one you enter. LinkedIn is trying to get related job titles, but sometimes it just goes wrong.

Let’s take a really simple example at first. Assume we have a campaign that is designed to target engineers. So we put in “engineer” as one of our job titles. That’s got to be an approach that will generate a technical audience, right? Wrong!

If you enter “engineer” as a job title, LinkedIn will also match “sales engineer” and “field sales engineer” amongst many other job titles. You’ve now got a campaign that is targeting a sales audience rather than your technical audience (in this case it’s not unusual to find more salespeople who see the ad than those who are “real” engineers).

So clearly broad job titles can be bad, as the same word might be used in unrelated job titles. But it’s more complex than that. Let’s consider a recent campaign we ran for a client that aimed to target people who were involved in production or managing sustainability. Here are the job titles we used initially in the campaign:

Looks pretty good, right? So why was it that when we reviewed the campaign 6.2% of the audience had a job title of office manager and 2.3% sheet metal worker?

Before you start panicking and cancelling all your LinkedIn ads, let’s take a breath and be realistic. These two non-matching job titles represent less than 10% of the audience. When we looked, we could see that the campaign was actually working quite well: 90% of the audience fitted the personas we wanted to target.

So this is different from using engineer and finding that you get a large percentage of your audience working in sales. It’s much more typical of the campaigns we see – a smallish percentage of your audience just feels wrong.

You’ll never get a completely perfect audience, so maybe 10% mistargeting is acceptable: after all, it’s probably way better than the targeting you get when running display ads in an online publication. However, there are things you can do to improve your targeting.

Demographics: Possibly the Most Powerful Feature for Optimising LinkedIn Targeting

If you are not using the demographics feature in LinkedIn, you are really missing out. This is a feature that lets you see where your advert is being shown and who is engaging and can be used at the account, campaign group and campaign level.

When you click the demographics button, you’ll see the breakdown of the audience by job function. This is a great overview: if you have a campaign targeting an engineering audience and you see that there are a significant number of people with a sales job function you know something is going wrong.

If the job functions look reasonable, then you can select job title from the drop-down. This is where you can see the main job titles you are targeting. We’re going to show you some results from a set of test and training campaigns Napier has run – they show the points well although the values for CTR, etc are probably not representative of what you should be seeing in your campaigns.

The breakdown by job function will quickly show you if you are hitting the right audience or not. If you take a look at the example below, you can see that Napier’s campaigns have done a pretty good job of hitting people in marketing, communications and PR. So we don’t have to worry about changing the audience to better target the people we want to reach.

Note that where you have a low number of clicks, LinkedIn doesn’t report the data, so if you are running very targeted campaigns, you might be limited in what you can see.

The report can also show you the likely level of engagement: if you look at the top two lines you’ll see that Marketing Directors have a 0.25% CTR, whereas Global Marketing Managers engage at more than double this CTR. This could be caused by a number of factors: the content could be more relevant to the Global Marketing Manager, they could have been targeted by different campaigns (note here that the numbers are spread across a large number of campaigns) or directors could simply be less likely to click. Whatever the reason it’s important to understand why you are getting such a low CTR and, if possible, address the problem.

Tips for Getting Better Job Title Matches on LinkedIn

If you look at the job title demographics and see there is a problem, there are a number of ways to fix it. The first stop is always the pesky audience expansion checkbox: if your audience has the checkbox enabled, then LinkedIn is going to match much more broadly. If you have a clearly defined audience, it’s usually best to ensure this checkbox is not ticked.

You then need to look at the job titles you have entered. Which one do you think is triggering the erroneous match? Perhaps you can remove or replace it with more specific job titles. Sometimes, however, it can be hard to even understand what is causing the unwanted match, and even harder to get a better job title.

Of course, what we would like is to have an audience defined by job titles and job function – in the example of engineer matching with sales engineer having an additional job function filter would let us eliminate people in sales. But LinkedIn doesn’t allow job function to be used in conjunction with job title. Annoying!

There are, however, different filters that might help to eliminate the spurious matches. You can combine field of study in the education section: it’s great if your audience needs to have a degree in a particular field, such as engineering. You might also want to use skills, group membership or interests as filters, although they can result in some LinkedIn members you want to target being eliminated.

Often negative filters are better than positive: for our example where engineer also targeted sales engineers, you could include people with engineering skills/interests, or you could choose to eliminate people with sales skills or interests.

Getting the perfect audience is going to be an iterative process on LinkedIn. Because the matching isn’t exact, you will have to try different things to get the result you want.

Don’t Overthink LinkedIn Audiences

Although you can spend a lot of time tweaking the definition of an audience to get the results you want, it’s important to make sure you’re not wasting your time. For example, if you are running a campaign that is getting 100 clicks at £5 CPC per month, and 5% of the audience is not what you want, that only represents a cost of £25 per month. If it’s easy to fix the problem, it’s worth doing, but a senior marketing professional wasting hours trying to improve this probably isn’t a good use of their time.

Getting LinkedIn Audiences Right

This blog post has hopefully given you some ideas of how to monitor the targeting of your LinkedIn campaign and some ways to make future campaigns more precise in the people they reach. It’s important to optimise for audience as well as results on LinkedIn – as we saw earlier optimising our marketing campaigns to increase CTR might actually result in a campaign that simply targets more junior people. Being able to know information about the people viewing and engaging with your LinkedIn ad campaign is one of the platform’s superpowers, and you should ensure you always use this when optimising.

If you would like more information or a review of your LinkedIn campaigns, please get in contact with Napier via the form below – we’d love to help you out!

Get Help with LinkedIn


Forrester Wants to Say Goodbye to MQLs and Move to Opportunities

Recently Forrester has been promoting a range of content, including a webinar, saying that marketers should stop using MQLs and MQAs and move to opportunities. This is potentially a dramatic change for marketers, so we thought it would make sense to explain what Forrester is saying and what it means for you.

The Basic Premise: A Switch from Leads to Opportunities

B2B marketing has been dominated by the concept of leads: i.e. it’s been all about individuals. But there are problems with a lead-centric approach, particularly as the product gets more expensive, complex or important because decisions are made by groups of people, not individuals. Forrester’s research shows that 82% of B2B purchases are made by groups and not individuals.

Most B2B marketers understand the concept of a decision-making unit (DMU), which is often called “buying committee” in America. Different people in an organisation take on different roles and come together as a group of people to make a buying decision. This isn’t new, but Forrester’s point is that marketers still focus on individuals rather than the DMU as a group.

The Problems with MQLs

Of course, there are several reasons why there are problems with MQLs, in addition to the fact that they don’t represent how things are bought in the real world of B2B. Leads are also not a great thing to monitor through the nurturing and sales process as typically 99% of MQLs don’t lead to a sale according to Forrester. This means that there is a lot of time spent tracking people who are “qualified” but don’t have any intention of buying.

The low conversion rate of MQLs also results in sales being reluctant to follow them up, which wastes the lead. These problems are due in part to the way we define MQLs - metrics like form-fills or pages viewed on the website or even the size of the company are poor indicators that someone is ready or likely to buy.

Another problem is that a focus purely on MQLs ignores other signals that indicate a group is considering a purchase: for example, one person from the group might fill in a form that causes them to become an MQL. But others from the same company might be browsing your website without becoming identified and in a lead-centric world anything that doesn’t have contact details attached can be missed.

Finally when multiple leads are generated from the same account, often only the first gets full attention in a lead-centric world. If you think of opportunities, then subsequent leads give more colour and data about the DMU.

Marketing Qualified Accounts aren’t any Better

Marketing Qualified Accounts have other problems. An individual account will often have multiple opportunities, but a process that is driven by MQAs will bundle together all the contacts from the qualified account together, providing lots of data but little insight.

Grouping by Opportunity

Forrester feels that marketing should be grouping contacts by opportunities. So this means that we start with opportunities, rather than “working a lead” until it results in an opportunity at the bottom of the funnel.

We’re not sure that this really is anything revolutionary. Today most B2B organisations are tracking opportunities and sales typically thinks in opportunities. Forrester is suggesting that we should be trying to identify opportunities much earlier in the customer journey when the customers are interacting with marketing.

We feel that identifying opportunities earlier is something that is needed. It’s not just about having a better approach to managing marketing and BDR activities, it’s also a reflection of the change in the B2B buying process that has been well documented: customers are spending much more time in self-directed research where they interact with marketing content and engaging with sales later in the process.

How Can We Take an Opportunity-Centric Approach to Marketing?

Like many ideas, the idea of thinking about opportunities is not new. The change is that, with marketing covering more and more of the customer journey, data needs to be gathered to identify opportunities and ideally they need to be identified and tracked before sales become involved. Marketers need to decide what level of commitment they have to opportunity-centric marketing based on factors from the product they are selling to the culture in their organisation.

There are three levels of approach branded, crawl, walk, and run by Forrester. You can probably improve your processes by making it easier for the BDR to see the different contacts from an account who might be collaborating in a DMU – the crawl approach. The BDR can then create the opportunity and link contacts and other data to the opportunity more easily.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can plan which DMUs you want to target. This approach (run) is ideal if much of your marketing effort is account-based. If you know the accounts you are targeting and run ABM campaigns, you already have an idea of where the opportunities will arise. It’s then easy to see who is engaging with the campaign and link different behaviour, signals and contacts together.

A mid-way approach (walk) might be to use triggers to set up opportunities. In this case, you identify an action, or actions, that indicates someone is highly likely to buy, and then you can create an opportunity automatically. For example, if someone visits our website and views the client, people and contact us pages it’s a really good indication that they are looking for an agency.

Ultimately you should be able to map where your bigger customers and prospects have multiple opportunities, and each opportunity has some information associated with it. This is extremely helpful for a marketing team as it goes one step further from ABM: you know which contacts you need to nurture and the contacts you need to engage because you have an opportunity identified but have not uncovered all the members of the DMU.

How Difficult is an Opportunity-Based Approach

The barriers to taking an opportunity-based approach can be divided into three main categories: the marketer doesn’t believe the buying group is how their products are purchased, it’s considered too difficult or there is a culture of using MQLs and changing the culture to talk about another metric is hard to do.

Realistically it is the case that changing culture is a huge challenge. If marketing has been measured, even in part, by MQLs and the marketing team wants to forget about this metric then sales and senior management are going to wonder how to assess the effectiveness of the marketing team and their campaigns.

Should You Say Goodbye to MQLs?

At Napier, our approach would be dependent upon the culture of your organisation. As we mentioned previously, the way organisations buy is changing, with sales involved much later in the process. So you really do need to start thinking about opportunities when running marketing campaigns. No matter what your individual circumstances are, you should start mapping and talking about opportunities.

But the reality for many marketers is that walking away from MQLs is going to cause huge problems in your organisation. In this case, we’d take it slowly. The “walk” approach just needs you to be able to bundle up the data and contacts you think are in a DMU to help your BDR or sales team to create the opportunity in their CRM more easily and with more insight. This will result in a much more positive view of the MQLs that you send to them, and will set the platform for marketing to take ownership of opportunities.

Whatever the approach, we believe that the move to thinking about opportunities when running marketing campaigns is inevitable and driven by what seems like an unstoppable trend of buyers spending less time with sales and more of the customer journey interacting with marketing content.


How to Get Great Case Studies from B2B Customers

How to get great case studies and testimonials from customers…

Case studies are hard. It’s so difficult to get a customer to agree to write a case study, generate a description of how they are benefitting from your product or service without revealing confidential information and then get approval from the customer’s legal team, or whoever is the gatekeeper of supplier endorsement.

But case studies are so important. They showcase your products in action, bring benefits to life and have an implied endorsement from the customer.

So if case studies are so important, how do we overcome the challenges? It’s not easy, but in our experience, there’s a lot you can do to make the process a little easier.

Put Yourself in the Shoes of the Customer Doing the Case Study

A customer is committing a lot when they agree to a case study. It’s not just the time to write it, it’s what the case study means for their future relationship with you.

The customer is going to tell you all the benefits they got from your product. They’re also going on the record saying that you are the best supplier. This is not what tough negotiators would recommend if the customer is to be in a strong position when trying to get a discount off next year’s maintenance or a repeat purchase. So customers feel they will be indebted to you.

Perhaps more importantly, customers are committing to you as a vendor. If your product fails, there is no way that they won’t get blamed if they allowed you to produce a case study. So not only are they weakening their organisation’s position for future negotiations, they are risking their own career progression.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Case studies are a good way of promoting an organisation, and the individual you work with will raise their profile both inside and outside of their company. There are real benefits to case studies for both sides.

Think about the benefits, drawbacks and risks from your customer’s point of view and try to create as safe a situation as you can. A simple approach is to focus on what using your product or service has already achieved, rather than trying to make the case study about potential future benefits: less risk for your customer and frankly the story will be more compelling.

Good Salespeople Shut Up

We all know the image of the fast-talking salesperson who won’t keep quiet, but this is not how great salespeople operate. Once the customer has committed to the order, the salesperson knows that the customer can still change their mind and go somewhere else. So good salespeople avoid doing things that might make the customer reconsider their decision, and asking for a favour – i.e. time and endorsement for a case study – is one thing that many salespeople sensibly avoid.

There are ways to remove the real concerns salespeople have about case studies. Put a requirement for publicity into your contract. Wait until after the product has been deployed and has been used for some time (although this can be difficult as people move around and you might not know who actually uses the product). Or simply divorce the request from the sales process by getting someone external to ask: a good agency will be able to advocate for the benefits of getting publicity to your customer and there is obviously no opportunity for that customer to ask the agency for a discount on the original product or service.

[Almost] All Case Studies are Good Case Studies

There are always those big blue-chip logos you really want to see associated with your product. These customers are just so impressive. The only problem is that often their case studies are dull, and the work to get anything approved is immense.

When you get a case study or testimonial, you are borrowing some of the brand equity from your customer to promote your brand. Big customers instinctively know this, and if they are a much stronger brand or larger company than you, they’ll feel the balance is wrong.

So big customers are very, very careful about who they will partner with on a case study. They’re very, very careful about what they allow you to write. And they are very, very careful about having many people check and re-check to make sure they are not saying anything too positive. The process is painful, and the result is often bland.

Smaller customers are different. They see the benefit of being associated with you. They have much less to lose and much more to gain. They’ll tell you more about their use case, and will usually take much less time checking and getting approvals. You’ll get a better story with less effort. Of course, if the smaller customer has used your product or service to beat an industry giant, everyone will love the David vs Goliath narrative.

Our recommendation is not to focus on the one amazing logo, but to try to get many different stories from interesting users who love what you sold them. Don’t forget about the big guys, but equally don’t spend too much time on them.

One final point: there are a group of customers whose business is lending their brand equity to [paying] partners. Formula One teams do cool stuff at racetracks, and companies readily pay to be associated with the high-tech, exciting and glamourous F1 brands. In fact, the business of F1 is based on paying sponsors, so don’t imagine that they are going to be keen to endorse your product, even if it did help win the last Grand Prix. Unless, of course, you are a sponsor and have been smart enough to ensure that a case study is part of the deal.

Case Studies Should be Stories

It happens too often: an organisation writes about a customer and the resulting text reads like a mash-up between a brochure and a data sheet. Case studies are not sales pitches, and they should not focus on your product or service: case studies should tell a story from the customer’s point of view.

There are lots of good books on storytelling, and it’s definitely worth spending time educating yourself on how stories are written. If you want a short-cut, then checking out the seven story architypes is one approach (yes, some academics believe there are only seven types of story).

Most case studies are a quest or “hero’s journey”, which is defined as: The protagonist and companions set out to acquire an important object or to get to a location. They face temptations and other obstacles along the way. In our case, the goal is unlikely to be an object or location, but rather a business objective.

It’s important to remember that good stories have problems and challenges that must be overcome. Star Wars wouldn’t have been the same if Darth Vader had simply said, “Oops, my bad. I’m on the wrong side and will switch my allegiance immediately to the rebel alliance,” when he first met Luke Skywalker. The best case studies have obstacles, setbacks and even problems with your product or service, although it’s always a good idea to overcome those issues before writing the case study!

Don’t Forget Video and Images

We shouldn’t need to mention this but have seen several projects stumble because no one thought about how video and images make any customer endorsement more compelling. Seeing one of your users talking on video will have much more impact than simply inserting a sanitised quote into a description of how you helped them. Make sure you’re getting as much visual content as possible to bring the application to life.

Preparation is Everything When Interviewing Customers

The most important step of any case study or testimonial project is the time you interview the customer to find out why they are so happy with the purchase they made. Not only do you need to ensure that you dig down to find the real story, it’s a crucial time to enthuse the interviewee so that they push the project through legal and other internal hurdles to get it approved.

There is no substitute for experience, which is why agencies like Napier have a specialist writing team who have many years and hundreds of case studies behind them.

Don’t be Disheartened: Case Studies are a Numbers Game

People will say no to your requests. A lot of people will say no. But you’ve got to think like the optimistic door-to-door salesperson who believes that every no is one step closer to a yes. It’s not uncommon for companies to give up quickly on case studies when they have their hopes of an enthusiastic endorsement dashed by a risk-adverse customer. The companies that do have great case study programmes have failed many, many times but have the resilience to continue asking until they hear, “Yes, I’d love to work with you on that!”

 

I started this post by saying how difficult it is to generate case studies and testimonials. That’s never going to change, but by understanding why there is such reluctance on the part of your customer, knowing how to make the process smoother and being able to deal with the inevitable rejection, it’s possible to set up a great case study programme. I’d also recommend getting in external support: by using a skilled agency you will not only get access to the best writers, but you’ll also be able to remove some of the power dynamics from the negotiation, making it easier for the customer to engage. Good luck with your case study campaign and please do let me know how it goes.


B2B Marketing Trends 2023

Many clients ask us to give our take on the latest trends in marketing. We frequently put together presentations that analyse what has happened and make predictions about the way marketing will change in the future. This blog post is a summary of one of those recent presentations.

What Happened in 2022 – The Starting Point for Marketing

It’s always important to know where you are starting from, and 2022 proved to be an interesting year for marketing. A lot of the change was driven by the fact we began to exit the crisis caused by the COVID pandemic, although other crises were also available during the year. The return to more normal working after coronavirus, however, made it clear that things would never be quite the same again.

Customers Interact More with Marketing, Less with Sales

Perhaps the biggest change was the increase in the time B2B suppliers spend on self-directed research rather than talking to salespeople. Now, this is by no means a new trend: let’s face it there was a far bigger impact when companies started putting product data on their websites and salespeople could no longer secure a face-to-face meeting by offering to bring a printed data book. But the rate of change accelerated during COVID and in many industries, it’s clear that buyers are not going back to pre-pandemic levels of interaction with sales.

I’ve heard many salespeople complain about how much harder their job is because customers don’t want to meet in person any more, and often are reluctant to have online meetings too. The result is that by spending more time researching themselves, customers are more reliant on marketing content and less on salespeople when making decisions.

A snippet from Gartner's Chief Sales Officer Leadership Vision 2023 report.

Although this does mean that marketing is more important if you want to be successful, it doesn’t mean salespeople are now irrelevant. In fact, one of the things that sales teams can do is to work closely with marketing teams to develop content and campaigns that drive customers to take the step of engaging with a salesperson, as well as closing the sale which is still done in person for many industries (although the percentage of B2B sales made online without a human salesperson is increasing at a rapid rate).

Greater Focus on Customers

If we are honest, the B2B sector hasn’t always done a great job of considering customer experience (CX). The focus on experience has been something that has really mattered in the consumer space for some time, and we’re running behind. But in 2022 we saw many clients pay attention to really understanding their customers and devote resources to try to improve CX. This is something we believe will continue to develop over the coming years.

Move to Real Metrics

Napier has been banging on about the need to try to use business metrics, rather than the convenient but often misleading simple marketing metrics like CTR and impressions. We thought no one was listening, but apparently, they were because in 2022 many of our clients really started trying to dig into data to understand whether campaigns had achieved business goals.

This is great news: no one wants to run campaigns that have little or no impact on the audience. It’s also linked to the increase in people processing marketing and sales data for clients. In 2023 we’d expect to see more data-driven decisions in marketing that use real-world data rather than artificial metrics.

AI Content Generation

You’ve heard of ChatGPT, surely? And hopefully about similar tools for images like DALL-E. At the end of 2022 and beginning of 2023, it sometimes felt that generative AI was the only thing that mattered. We are now at the point where AI can create high-quality images and text that matches some of the content-farm generated SEO content. Although it’s difficult to know how quickly, these technologies are going to get better and better over the coming years. It is important, however, to not get carried away with the hype as they also have limitations – not least the fact that for image generation there is a real question over whether using copyrighted images in these tools is allowed (and they all have been trained on copyright images).

A snapshot of ChatGPT at full capacity.

Four Categories of Marketing Trends for 2023

We believe there are four categories of trends for 2023:

  • Megatrends: these trends are not things that just change in 2023, but are long-term trends that are becoming particularly powerful. Understanding megatrends is critical if you want to stay ahead of the marketing wave.
  • Publishing and intermediaries: changes in publishing are hugely important to marketers, and 2023 will see some significant changes to both professional publishers and user-generated content.
  • Tools and AI: we can’t get away from marketing technology. It has always been a key driver of what is possible, and in 2023 the emergence of usable AI will be a game-changer in some areas.
  • Legislation: although we don’t expect any major changes on the scale of the introduction of GDPR, we do expect governments – and sometimes the companies themselves imposing restrictions – to continue to impact the way B2B marketing develops this year.

Marketing MegaTrends

The four megatrends we see are changes in the way people think about marketing or changes in the approach that customers take to brands. The megatrends are typically long-term changes and their impact is not restricted to 2023, although we expect them to be particularly powerful this year.

Credibility and Trust

The expectations that the public has of businesses are increasing, and your customers are a subset of the general public. In 2022 the Edelman Trust Barometer found that people around the world think that business is not doing enough to address societal problems. One specific example is that 52% think companies should do more on climate change.

Reputation – perhaps more than ever – is an important factor in the selection of B2B suppliers. Your customers know this and they are not going to do business with organisations that they feel might hurt the credibility they have and customers’ trust. We believe that 2023 is the year when brands have to address ESG and the way they do business to become a more attractive partner.

We expect an increase in brand-building tactics such as PR, where companies will want to tell their story in a way that reassures people and enhances their reputation. In fact, we expect that the companies that establish the best reputations will see a huge range of benefits, including better performance of middle-of-the-funnel and bottom-of-the-funnel campaigns such as email marketing.

Supporting the Self-Directed Customer Journey

In many cases we have realised that the phrase, “things will never be the same after COVID,” was wrong. Our personal lives are returning to normal, and we are happy to have close contact with friends and strangers at places from bars to concerts. When it comes to purchasing B2B products, however, it’s frightening how much things have changed and how quickly the “new normal” became “normal”.

Earlier in the post, the trend toward self-directed research was discussed. It’s nothing new, but the step-change we saw due to the pandemic seems irreversible. B2B buyers are spending less time talking with salespeople and more time interacting with marketing content when they do desk research. The importance of understanding this change is huge: companies need to be producing more marketing content, and some of this content should be addressing buyer needs at the bottom of the funnel that previously was the domain of sales. The most successful companies in the coming years will reduce the size of their salesforces and move money to marketing. Hoping that things will go back to the old way, where personal selling was important is a route to B2B disaster.

High-Quality Content Marketing Really Matters in 2023

A lot of the noise about content marketing has been around SEO: generating often low-quality content to target specific keywords. The value of this has always been somewhat questionable, and increasingly it looks like companies will turn to AI for this work. With so few AI models available – let’s face it today the GPT3 model that underpins ChatGPT is also behind pretty much every other AI marketing and content generation tool – organisations are going to produce content that is almost totally undifferentiated. Chasing the long tail with low-quality content just won’t work because anyone can do it with AI.

High-quality content really matters. Let’s be honest, a small percentage of high-quality content really matters. Yes, even with the time and effort we put into the content we generate there is definitely an 80/20 (or maybe a 95/5) rule that means a relatively small number of best-performing content pieces dominate the results achieved. In fact, research by ahrefs shows that 90.63% of content online gets no traffic from Google.

Smart companies realise this. They know that they need to generate lots of high-quality content to find the gems, but when they do find the “golden” content piece, they will double-down on it. They’ll produce different versions and formats. If it’s a white paper, they will make a video, or a podcast, or an infographic, or an eBook, or… well you get the idea. We think that the most successful brands in 2023 will be those that admit that some of their content is OK, but a small percentage is magic and they invest a lot of time and effort in spreading that magic content through as many channels and formats as possible.

Microjourneys will Dominate Customer Journey Conversations

Unbelievably the concept of customer journeys is only just over 30 years old. We’ve moved a long way from simple funnel models, but the reality is that many organisations are completely unrealistic in their view of the customer journey. All too often we see brands with complex sales processes try to create a five-email nurture sequence to move a prospect through the entire customer journey. With 74.6% of B2B sales taking at least four months (according to CSO Insights), and many much longer, trying to have one campaign for the whole customer journey is just not effective.

A preview of a slide we cover in our on-demand customer journey webinar.

Driven by the need to show results, organisations will realise that the best way to think of the customer journey is in segments, or microjourneys. Campaigns might not be able to move someone all the way along a customer journey, but they can be incredibly effective in moving prospects a couple of steps forward. This is particularly true of marketing automation. By building campaigns around microjourneys and then linking the campaigns together, the leading B2B companies will create a powerful but manageable marketing machine.

Publishers and Influencers in 2023

We’ve grouped together publishers and influencers because it is so hard to tell them apart today, other than by looking at the business model. This is particularly true of B2B, where many of the leading influencers online are also editors working for the old-school publishers.

B2B Trade Media Battles on

You’ve got to feel sorry for B2B publishers. Only 25 years ago they simply needed to send out paper magazines. The readers wanted those printed titles because there were few alternative channels to get the information they needed to do their jobs. Marketers wanted to advertise because there were no other channels that had such cost-effective reach and great engagement.

And then the internet changed everything.

Fortunately for publishers, they still provide a service of aggregating news, technical information and new product launches that are needed by readers. The big tech services like Google and LinkedIn aren’t quite there yet and don’t have the same level of product. So B2B publishers will continue to struggle on.

But there is a real concern for the long term. We reviewed online advertising pricing for leading electronics trade media over the last five years. Most prices remained unchanged. Some had even fallen. With traffic to trade media roughly flat over that period, the revenue from display advertising is clearly falling in real terms: and that’s before you consider things like the use of ad blockers. So although they will struggle on, it’s not getting any easier for trade media to succeed (but perhaps with the real-term fall in costs they are becoming a more compelling channel).

Trade Publications Need to Get into Video

Perhaps an unsurprising prediction, but it’s worth saying that trade publications will need to increase their video content in 2023. Many have been slow to adopt video, but the expectations of readers is driven by what they see in their personal lives. This also presents a huge opportunity for brands to help publishers by generating video content.

One argument we often hear is that video is for young people. Maybe younger people are even more engaged with video than an older demographic, but even if this is the case it doesn’t mean an audience of business leaders doesn’t want video. In fact, research by Forbes showed that 60% of executives would rather watch a video than read text: a clear indication that you can’t use the youth excuse to avoid creating video content.

B2B Influencers in 2023

B2B is different from B2C, particularly when it comes to the impact of influencers. More importantly, different B2B markets have very different influencer landscapes. In some – for example marketing – you have mega-influencers like Seth Godin, Rand Fishkin and Neil Patel. IT security is another market where influencers can have large followings and drive the way the industry thinks. In others, such as electronics engineering, the larger influencers have modest followings and most are journalists or employed by suppliers.

In both B2B and B2C, however, micro-influencers and non-influencers, generally defined by having 1000 to 50000 and 100 to 5000 followers respectively, are extremely important. These following numbers are really consumer numbers and with content that is at the low end of these bands the influencer they exert is important.

Even in electronics, where engineers are not renowned for being social animals, nano-influencers and micro-influencers are emerging. We think that the future for social media in many B2B markets will be driven by these influencers with much more focussed audiences. The good news is that in consumer sectors, followers are more engaged with micro-influencers having 60% greater engagement rate than macro-influencers.

Paid Social Cements its Position in the 2023 B2B Marketing Mix

If we are honest, we’re hoping that you are wondering why we don’t see paid social as already part of the B2B marketing mix, but a surprising number of companies are only just beginning to benefit from paid social campaigns. The Content Marketing Institute found that 17% of B2B brands are not using social media ads or promoted posts.

A snippet from the Content Marketing Institute B2B Content Marketing report.

LinkedIn is the obvious go-to platform for many due to the ability to target by demographics and firmographics, but we’ve also seen very effective campaigns on mainstream platforms from Facebook to TikTok. In particular, they can deliver very cost-effective retargeting campaigns, although you need to deliver content that is appropriate to the platform: to quote one insightful ex-client, “People go to Facebook to waste their time and brands should respect their wishes.”

AI and Tools

At the end of 2022, ChatGPT sent the world into a spin. Tools have been transforming marketing over recent years: 25 years ago many companies were not sending any marketing emails and today enterprises are paying $1M or more for a marketing automation platform to do this. AI is clearly going to have a massive impact on the features and capabilities of tools, almost certainly moving some marketing spend from people to technology.

Although we’re heavily involved in trialling and using new tools, it’s not clear that trailblazing is always the right approach. Being a “fast follower” is often a better strategy. Although some people are outsourcing work from writing Google Ads to creating LinkedIn posts to ChatGPT, the resultant quality is often not fabulous. Our advice is to test, test, test.

For example, we’ve used AI-generated content on our website but are still also writing content manually (this post is 100% human-generated in case you were wondering). Currently, the AI-generated content is doing OK, but there is a clear difference: the time readers spend on a computer-generated page is shorter than those written by people. The AI-generated content will improve, so in the near term the machines are not yet ready to take over and our experiments mean we will know exactly when we need to switch to synthetic writers.

Better Tools Drive more Focus on Strategy

Many marketing teams have been pressured to do more in less time, which can often result in strategy not getting the attention it deserves. Marketers are so focussed on creating and sending emails to the various divisions competing for attention that they don’t have enough time to think at a higher level.

We believe that as tools become better, the marketing teams will get the time they need to develop effective communication and marketing strategies. This is really important: we think that the quality and effectiveness of campaigns will increase because they are underpinned by better strategic thinking. So even if your new tool just saves time and doesn’t really improve quality, you should start seeing your results improve, provided that you use the time you save to build the foundation for better campaigns.

2023 will see More Channels per Campaign

The improvement in marketing technology will also drive an increase in the number of channels per campaign. In B2B, particularly for smaller campaigns (and many B2B campaigns are small), often only a small number of channels are used. This is not always a good idea: reaching the audience through multiple channels almost always makes campaigns more effective.

The good news is that not only will marketing technology free up time to allow teams to run multi-channel promotions, but the tools themselves will also add functionality that enables them to do a lot of the heavy lifting that’s needed to repurpose from one channel to another. Thinking multi-channel will become the norm, even for the smallest campaigns.

Personalisation Gets Real in 2023

Simply putting the recipient’s name at the start of an email isn’t really personalisation. Your prospects will expect relevant information that is tailored to their role, company and challenges. We know how effective personalisation can be: Everguage found that 86% of marketers got a measurable lift in business results when they personalised their campaigns.

The good news is that everything is coming together to allow greater personalisation. We collect more data about our contacts, prospects and customers than ever before. Marketing technology is providing new capabilities to make personalisation even easier. And tools will free up time to allow teams to build strategies around personalisation and implement them across campaigns.

We believe that the move to more personalisation will drive the leading marketing teams to invest even more in targeting their materials to the audience, and that those that lag behind will see the performance of generic campaigns fall. A part of this will be even more focus on ABM, with greater even greater attention paid to personalising content for the most important companies.

Marketing Legislation and Rules Become More Challenging

Although GDPR was perhaps the most challenging law for marketers in recent years, we will continue to see legislation affect the work we do. There could be major challenges around the legitimacy of AI-generated content with cases already making their way through the legal process to determine if software really can take a copyrighted picture and use it to make another image, and similar cases around the use of text are likely to follow. We also see companies effectively making the rules: the delayed but inevitable elimination of the third-party cookie is a good example.

Fear of Legislation Drives Focus on Owning Data

We believe that smart companies will move to increase the amount of first-party data that they own, primarily because they worry that other data sources will become harder and harder to use. This could be counter intuitive as owning data also presents compliance challenges, but in the long term it seems clear that the availability of third-party data will diminish.

We might see opportunities for publishers whose second-party data is not under attack in the same way that Google or Facebook are being challenged. But it is really hard for publishers to gather data and obtain consent, so we expect brands to decide they have to invest in first-party data and spend the time it takes to navigate the issues around following the rules and regulations.

Brands will have to work hard to grow their databases: the ease of opting out and the pressure on inboxes make any contact vulnerable to opting-out. Many contacts might opt-in for a while, then opt-out, only to opt-in later provided that the brand is running outbound campaigns that capture their attention at the right time. A good strategy and a clear value proposition are going to be crucial to maximise both contact acquisition and retention in 2023.

Conclusion: A Challenging 2023 for B2B Marketing

We’d love to know what you think about our predictions and whether you have any of your own. In 2023 we believe that automation and tools will help free up time, but to take advantage of new technology marketers must keep up-to-date. We also think that many brands will level-up their marketing, whether that is through better personalisation, more thoughtful strategy or simply building their knowledge through data. The landscape will be more challenging and you’ll have to work harder to cut through the noise.

We also think that 2023 is going to be exciting, particularly as our customers and influencers rely less on interactions with sales and consume more marketing content when making decisions. Communications and marketing have never been so important to B2B companies as they are today, and we’re looking forward to the challenge and making the biggest possible impact on our client's business goals.


Marketing is Replacing Sales in B2B

“It is now accepted that most B2B buyers prefer a seller-free experience, increasingly relying on digital interactions to research solutions, evaluate suppliers and complete a purchase,” Chief Sales Officer Leadership Vision 2023 – Gartner.

It has been obvious for some time that B2B customers are increasingly seeking information themselves, rather than involving a sales person, and contacting potential suppliers later in their customer journey. Gartner is one of the analyst companies that has highlighted this trend, and their excellent report, Chief Sales Officer Leadership Vision 2023, highlights the declining influencer of the sales person in B2B transactions.

It's likely that the pandemic accelerated this trend. Buyers were unable to meet with their reps and this provided a gentle push for them to do more self-directed research. But this isn’t a fad that will reverse in a few years: it’s clear that many buyers feel that digital-led engagements are not only more enjoyable, but are much more efficient and effective.

What Gartner Says about Marketing and Sales

In the report, which follows on from other Gartner research showing that an increasing proportion of the customer journey is completed before a salesperson is contacted, the trend towards digital commerce is clearly described. The data show that 72% of B2B sales are transacted digitally, with 83% of B2B buyers saying that they prefer this approach. Clearly the move to digital and away from traditional rep-led sales will continue to grow.

A further challenge is cost: Gartner identifies that sales salaries are increasing. So we have the situation where vendors are having to spend more on a resource (salespeople) who are not valued highly by their customers.

Digital isn’t Perfect

Interestingly Gartner identifies a problem with digital engagement: buyers often tend to make ill-informed choices. In fact, they’re 22% more likely to regret a digital commerce than a traditional rep-led purchase. It’s clear that one of the challenges that must be overcome is the availability of more high-quality and engaging content that helps the buyer avoid making a bad choice.

The Importance of Marketing

Ultimately the digital content consumed by buyers in their journey to purchase is generated by the marketing team or product marketing. And it’s clear that the content needs an improvement in quality as well as an increase in quantity.

What this Means to Marketers

At a high level, this is good news for marketers. We are having a greater influence on the buying decisions of B2B companies than ever before, and are responsible for the engagement of potential prospects through an ever-increase proportion of the customer journey. Companies need marketers more than ever as the sales/marketing balance tips away from the sales teams.

But with this increased opportunity comes greater responsibility. Not only do we need to deliver digital content and campaigns that helps lead customers through the purchase process, we need to improve the quality and utility of our content. Our content simply isn’t good enough to ensure buyers make the right decision: the higher proportion of digital buyers regretting a purchase shows we need to do more to help them make the right decision.

Educating the customer and providing useful, actionable content has been a key element of marketing for many years. But clearly marketers need to do better: the content isn’t always good enough! Understanding customers, their pain points, needs and drivers is critical to being able to produce the type of content that will not only secure the first purchase, but get customers coming back for more because they made the right decision.

There are approaches that can help. The frameworks provided by persona definition and customer journey analysis should be key elements of any good campaign today, and if used properly will enable you to deliver more useful content. At Napier we go one step further: you will often catch us talking to sales teams to gain more insight into the sales process.

Understanding how the rep-led sales process works are fundamental if you are to respond to the move to digital-led engagements. Because of the personal interaction, sales people get immediate and constant feedback from customers on how well they are doing. This makes the sales team’s knowledge invaluable to any modern marketer.

The Future of Marketing

As we look to the future, it’s clear the trend away from rep-led sales towards self-serve digital will continue to grow. Companies that succeed will be those that invest more in marketing and content generation, so they can hold the virtual hands of their customers and prospects, leading them to make the right choice.

We will also see sales and marketing come even closer together. We’re not predicting the end of the sales person, but smart companies will ensure that sales and marketing cooperate more, building a digital customer journey that is as effective as the best rep-led sales process. In addition to helping to build better self-serve journeys, there will always be a need for some human-to-human contact in many sales, particularly very high value or high perceived risk products and services. Sales people are not going to disappear, although it wouldn’t be surprising if some decide that a move into marketing would help their career!

We’d strongly recommend you download and read the Gartner research. The data presented paints a compelling picture of how buyers are operating in the B2B sector, and show that you need to ensure marketing steps up to the bigger role it is now playing.


Team at Napier's eNgage Conference 2022

Napier acquires Neesham PR

Leading International B2B agency Napier grows team and expands client base with acquisition of Neesham PR.

 

19 October 2022: Napier Partnership Limited, a leading international B2B technology marketing and PR agency, today announced that it has acquired the business and assets of Neesham Public Relations Limited (Neesham PR). The whole of the Neesham team and most of the clients have transitioned to Napier.

Commenting, Peter van der Sluijs, Managing Director of Neesham PR, said, "Napier is a larger and faster growing business, offering a much wider range of services especially in the digital marketing space. I have known Mike Maynard, Napier's Managing Director for a long time, and the culture of the team he has built up at Napier is very similar to the one we have here at Neesham. This deal will provide new opportunities for both our clients and our staff to grow and develop."

Mike Maynard, Managing Director of Napier Partnership added, “Neesham PR has been known for the outstanding quality of its PR, social media, and content development since it was established in 1997. By making Neesham PR part of Napier, we have strengthened our team, expanded our presence in existing markets such as electronics and entered new markets such as the professional AV industry."

Peter van der Sluijs will continue to work with Napier as a consultant and will also continue to support Anglia independently. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

 


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.