email is not dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The New Napier ABM Tactics Advisor

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

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

Recommended Tactics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Send us Your ABM Advisor Feedback!

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

B2B Marketing Priorities for 2021

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

B2B Marketing Priorities for 2021

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

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

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

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

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

Marketing Technology

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

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


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

The 11 Different Types of Nurturing Campaign

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

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

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

Three Broad Categories of Nurture Campaigns

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

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

Prospect-Triggered Campaigns

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

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

1.      Lead Qualification

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

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

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

2.      Progressive Profiling

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

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

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

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

3.      Move the Contact Through the Funnel

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

An example might be:

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

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

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

4.      Educational and Related Content Nurturing

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

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

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

5.      Sales Support

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

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

Time-Based Nurturing

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

6.      Re-Engagement

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

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

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

7.      Regular Keep-in-Touch

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

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

8.      Event-Based Nurturing

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

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

Customer Lifecycle Nurturing

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

9.      Onboarding

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

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

10.  Upsell/cross-sell

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

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

11.  Promotions

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

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


There’s No Magic Bullet!

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

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

Julien Happich

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

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

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

Read Julien's obituary on the eeNews Europe website.

How to Make Your Industrial Search Marketing Campaign Fail

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

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

Focus on Clicks

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

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

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

Forget the Maths

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

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

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

Forget Geography

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

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

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

Forget the Language

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

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

Forget Negative Keywords

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

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

Use Broad Match Keywords

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

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

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

Don’t Test

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

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


Creating Great Industrial SEM Campaigns

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

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

Is Industrial PR Different from Consumer PR?

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

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

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

Focussed Industrial Trade Media

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

Industrial Trade Shows Remain Important

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

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

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

Industrial Influencers are Few and Far Between

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

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

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

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

LinkedIn is the Primary Industrial Social Media Platform

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

Direct Communications are so much Easier

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

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

Formal Corporate Communications is Formulaic

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

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

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

The Relationship Between Journalists and Organisations

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

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

Controlled Circulation Challenges

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Join Up Dots Podcast Interview: Sales Funnel Mastery

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

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

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

electronica 2020 is virtual

electronica 2020 cancelled: virtual event will replace the show

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

The press release from the organisers states:

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


An inevitable decision?

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


Little Information about electronica virtual

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

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

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


Fingers crossed, but low expectations

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

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



Napier Passes PRCA CMS Audit Again!

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

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


Replacing Events in the Era of Social Distancing

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

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


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

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

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

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

eBooks and Other Written Content

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

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

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


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

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

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

Showcase Landing Pages

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

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

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

Virtual Trade Shows

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

Increasing Email Marketing

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

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

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

Virtual Press Launches

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

Moving Budget to Other Activities

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

Not using the Budget

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

Be Creative

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

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

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

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

What is Ad Blocking?

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

Why do People Block Ads?

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

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

Why are Publishers so Upset?

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

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

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

Why Does My Ad Blocker Still Show Adverts?

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

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

How Does an Ad Blocker Recognise an Advert?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dealing with Ad Blocking

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

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

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

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

Detecting Ad Blockers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Future of Online Advertising

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

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

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

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

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

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

How We Solve the Top 10 B2B Marketing Challenges

It’s surprising how often different clients raise the same challenges. That’s what’s great about agency life: we see the same problems, with different context, and can build a toolbox to resolve them.

Here’s our list of the top 10 issues we help clients resolve:

  1. Content Creation
  2. Ensuring and Demonstrating Value
  3. Making Best Use of Marketing Technology
  4. Marketing Automation
  5. Lead Generation
  6. Awareness
  7. Data Management
  8. Video Creation
  9. Marketing Strategy
  10. Training Your Team

1. Content Creation

When we talk to clients about marketing today, we discuss content creation and content distribution. This approach is so much better than starting with tactics, for example media relations, as it ensures we consider all options and create the best possible campaign each time.

It’s also useful because content distribution and content creation are very different. Typically, marketers are dealing with many channels for content distribution, making channel selection and management a big challenge. Content creation is completely different: marketers struggle to get subject matter experts to create content and need external resources to work writing, graphics, video and online content creation.

We’ve built an agency that is built on our in-house and freelance engineers and technical journalists, as well as marketeers who have chosen to specialise in B2B technology. In fact, more than half the agency once was a journalist or engineer.

This means that we are able to help create content, whether our clients need copywriting, content for inbound marketing or video. Our focus is on generating the most compelling content that engages customers and prospects, driving increased revenue and profit.

2. Ensuring and Demonstrating Value

One of the biggest challenges today is the need to show that marketing activities really generate value for the organisation. We have been offering payment by results for around 20 years, and this experience means we really understand how to measure value for clients. Forget about meaningless metrics such as clicks and followers: from strategy & planning to measurement & results, we build campaigns around business goals that measure the impact on our clients’ bottom lines.

Everyone at Napier also understands that any audience isn’t a homogenous group of people: some are much more valuable than others. Our ability to focus, targeting budgets towards the most valuable audience members with tactics such as ABM means we ensure that your budget works as hard as possible to deliver return on marketing investment.

3. Making Best Use of Marketing Technology

It’s hard to understand the rapidly changing world of marketing technology. In 2019, Madhive found that the average number of Martech vendors used by brands, agencies and publishers was 28, and one average 8.,5 vendors would be added in the next year. To make things even more challenging, marketers must select from a total of more than 7000 Martech vendors.

At Napier we have people who are continually monitoring developments in Martech, understanding the pros and cons of each vendor and analysing the market to determine trends. Our approach to partnerships with vendors is what Americans like to call “agnostic” although it would be more accurate to say that the choice of vendor is inconsequential to us, but really important to our clients. We work with the system that is best for our client, ensuring that we have expertise across all the major Martech vendors in the B2B technology space, from marketing automation and social media tools to sales enablement and ABM.

4. Marketing Automation

The potential offered by modern marketing automation tools is incredible: a system that can gently nudge contacts through the customer journey, delivering enthusiastic customers with little or no human intervention. The vision is so compelling it sets marketing automation apart from other Martech tools.

The reality of marketing automation in many companies, however, is very different. It’s sadly too common to hear companies say they feel that their marketing automation is simply running as a fancy (and expensive) Mailchimp. Whether it’s lack of content, lack of creativity or the need for technical skills to get the best from the system, there are many reasons why most marketing automation deployments fail to deliver the hoped-for benefits.

We’ve worked with all the big systems: Marketo, HubSpot, SharpSpring, Act-On, Eloqua, Pardot and more. We’ve seen great campaigns, and we’ve seen companies turn around their marketing automation efforts from simply managing a mailing list to a lead-generation machine. Contact us to find out how we can make your marketing automation system fly.

5. Lead Generation

Many companies have an almost unslakable thirst for leads. In some areas of B2B technology, marketers have good systems for lead generation: for example, in IT where it’s relatively easy to identify and reach decision makers.

In other markets it can be much harder to understand who will be involved in the decision-making process. We see industries with huge decision-making units (DMUs), where clients must reach a large and diverse audience.

We don’t believe that lead generation is something that lends itself to a simple solution, so we create strategies to drive high-quality leads using a wide range of tactics, including:

6. Raising Awareness

A long time ago, marketing was all about raising awareness: with a relative lack of alternative products, if you could simply make people aware of your product, then you’d sell it.

Today, the situation is much more complex. Rarely will you generate leads from an awareness-raising campaign, and few people in B2B buy a product when they first hear about it. Awareness, however, is the first step along the customers’ journey.

We understand that awareness isn’t just driven by PR and advertising. Although they are part of the picture, our campaigns also drive awareness with:

7. Data Management

Data is the lifeblood of many sales and marketing campaigns. Without good data it’s impossible to monitor and optimise marketing activities, but data also has a dark side. In addition to legislation such as GDPR, mis-using data is one of the fastest ways to destroy a relationship with a contact.

At Napier we give you clear advice on industry best practices, identifying what’s possible and what will work with your clients. For the trickiest of problems, we also have relationships with legal experts who can help you safely navigate the most complex regulations.

8. Video Creation

It’s no longer the 1980s when dial-up made video a nearly impossible dream on the web. Today video is one of the most important mediums, something that’s reflected by YouTube’s status as the second largest search engine after Google.

Our creative team work on a wide range of videos, from live-action shoots to 2D and 3D animations to explain complex concepts. Ask us for ideas of how to communicate using video and you’ll be delighted by the creative ideas, and might be surprised at how cost-effective they are too!

9. Marketing Strategy

Although finding the right strategy has always been a challenge, it’s more important than ever as marketing managers find themselves with more channels and opportunities than they could ever use.

Focus is essential. A key element of our strategic planning is determining what not to do, as well as what should be done, ensuring our clients focus on what will really impact the achievement of business objectives, rather than simply ticking boxes.

We also use data-driven planning. Whether we are measuring the outcomes of your campaigns to determine their effectiveness or conducting research to understand the market and your customers, we build the evidence that ensures your marketing strategy will deliver the results you need.

10. Training Your Team

One of the biggest concerns about using agencies is that the in-house team will become less skilled, making you more reliant on the agency. This should not be how it works: partnering with an agency should enable you to draw on their experience and expertise to up-skill the in-house team.

We love working with the in-house team to help them grow and develop, and frequently run workshops and training to help our clients build their own expertise. By helping our clients grow and learn, we believe that together we will deliver better results that will ultimately produce more opportunity for Napier.


embedded world 2020 open

embedded world 2020 Goes Ahead Without Surprises

embedded world 2020 opened yesterday. After all the gossip and speculation about the event, with many major exhibitors pulling out, the first day was rather uneventful, and snow being the main talking point at the start of day 2.

We've not covered the various companies that pulled out on the blog. It became clear fairly early on that once companies started withdrawing from Mobile World Congress, it would be very difficult for them to attend embedded world. It also only needed a couple of companies to pull out citing safety concerns for their employees and/or customers to trigger a domino effect. The truth is that it would be very difficult for any American company to have flown people out to the show from the USA once a couple of big players had publicly announced their withdrawal.

So embedded world was in a rather difficult position. They must have known that there would be a domino effect, and that the show would be somewhat underwhelming in terms of visitors and exhibitors. We will probably never know in detail why embedded world went ahead when MWC was cancelled, but we suspect that the fact that the Messe which organises embedded world made it difficult for them to cancel one show without shutting down their whole business. MWC is organised by the GSMA, so they didn't have the potential of a similar knock-on effect.

Whatever the reasons, the show did go on. It clearly hasn't been an easy couple of weeks for the organisers as their recent statement shows:

"We have never held an exhibition under such complex, global conditions before. Unfortunately, the effects of the corona situation on this fair cannot be completely avoided. We regret, but respect the fact that a number of companies will now not be attending the fair at short notice. Nevertheless, we are convinced that embedded world is attractive and worthwhile for exhibitors and visitors again this year," says Dr. Roland Fleck, CEO of NürnbergMesse.

The good news for the show is that a lot of exhibitors did attend, and the visitor numbers appear reasonably good considering the situation. In fact, many companies are tweeting about the show as if nothing is out of the ordinary, trying to attract visitors with offers like free coffee:

Our friends at Electronics Weekly have gone one better than this, and are offering free beer to drive people to the stand.

The Messe is also keen to highlight the relative normality of the situation, and I'm told by Clive, who is at the show for Napier, that this tweet is a pretty realistic representation of visitor numbers (although as he's from California, he is moaning about the cold and the snow, which aren't visible on the photo!)

There is at least one visitor who isn't worried about the Coronavirus, although hopefully this cute robot is fully protected against malicious software:

Although visitor numbers appear to be significantly below previous years (and let's not forget how busy the show was in the last couple of years: they have set a high bar for visitors), with Embedded Computing among those who were pleasantly surprised with the number of attendees.

We even wonder whether the relatively good news about visitors made the exhibitors' party on the first night a little wilder than usual.

Not everyone, however, was quite as excited about the show as the dancers in the tweet above. Well-known Aspencore journalist, Nitin Dahad, highlighted what he called "empty halls".

Sally Ward-Foxton, on the other hand, seemed rather pleased with the additional space. It certainly is the case that there are more places to sit and a lot more greenery at the show than in previous years.

Perhaps the final word on what is happening should go to one of the exhibitors who have made the event this year possible. I'm going to choose McObject, not because we have a relationship with them (we don't), but because as a geek I think that in-memory databases are cool.


Embedded World 2020 - Success or Failure?

So what do we think about the show? We have people at the event but cut down our attendance dramatically because almost all our clients pulled out (as did many larger companies). I suspect this is pretty much what others will have done. The truth is that no one involved is to blame for what will be a disappointing show: I totally understand the reasons why companies pulled out, as well as why most decided to still attend; I have complete sympathy with the organisers who were put in an extremely difficult position once MWC was cancelled; and I can understand why visitors might choose not to go because of Coronavirus concerns or simply because so many large exhibitors pulled out.

It will be interesting to see what happens next year. Few people are talking about what will happen. Will the big companies automatically rebook? Will there be incentives for exhibitors who didn't attend but still had to pay for the stand space they booked? Although I've seen many companies that withdrew trying to create online content that mirrored what they were planning to have on the booth, realistically few had time to create much of an experience. I don't see anyone saying that they've discovered that an online showcase can replace exhibiting at embedded world. Perhaps the organisers should be helping the smaller companies that attended and made embedded world 2020 possible, but clearly are suffering from reduced visitor numbers. At this stage we simply don't know.

In conclusion, however, I do hope that the show returns bigger and better in 2021. embedded world has built a fabulous event, and I know companies that felt they had to pull out of this year's show who had decided to double-down on the show, at the expense of electronica, which they felt offered a poorer return on investment for their company. With any luck, 2021 will see the show return as strong as ever, and (other than Clive complaining about the weather) we will all be happy.


Alternatives to Meaningless Marketing Metrics

Digital channels have enabled marketers to generate huge amounts of data, from number of followers to click-to-open rates. Although these metrics can be useful when analysing the performance of campaigns, they do not tell the whole story. Without context, many marketing metrics are meaningless, and frequently referred to as “vanity metrics”.

An Example of Meaningless Metrics

A great example would be one of our clients, who works in a specialist area where there are only a few thousand people globally who would be responsible for selecting their category of products. In this case, would having 50,000 followers be better than 40,000? It’s clear that not all of these followers are influential, so does more mean better? We need alternatives to these meaningless marketing metrics.

Return on Marketing Investment

The return on marketing investment (ROMI) is defined as the contribution to profit divided by the amount spent on the marketing campaign. Simple!

Although this feels like a good alternative to meaningless metrics, it can be very difficult to measure ROMI. In particular it’s hard to attribute sales or profit to a specific marketing activity as you rarely have a situation where it’s only the marketing that changes. For example, a campaign to launch a new product would typically be supported by sales training and incentives. It’s very difficult to separate the impact of the different types of investment.

Equally one marketing activity is unlikely to make all the different: typically, it’s the impact of many activities that ultimately causes someone to buy, particularly in a business-to-business environment with a long sales cycle. Discussing the challenges of attribution is beyond the scope of this blog post, so to learn more check out the Wikipedia article on marketing attribution.

The Metrics that CEOs Care About

Despite the many pretty presentations marketing departments produce based on the meaningless metrics described above, the reality is that the senior executives don’t take any notice of them. They care about financial metrics, for example Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) and Customer Lifetime Value (LTV). Put simply, if it costs you less to acquire a customer as they are worth to you over their lifetime, then the marketing to get a new customer is worth doing. If it costs you more to acquire customers than they are worth, then you probably need to revisit your business model (although this often doesn’t apply to the over-hyped VC-funded start-up world).

Although financial metrics are great alternatives to meaningless marketing metrics, they don’t really help marketers. For example, when acquiring a customer, what activities have an impact? How much impact does each marketing tactic have? You simply can’t analyse your marketing performance with these high-level metrics.

AVE is a Meaningless Marketing Metric

If you talk to people about the measurement of PR, you’ll soon get on to the issue of advertising value equivalent (AVE). People try to measure what it would have cost to generate the same amount of “coverage” as the PR campaign by buying advertising instead. The logic is that if the PR campaign costs less than the value of the advertising, you’re getting a great deal.

This is just not true. Apart from the fact that the two are very different (and frequently the PR-types will multiply their value of coverage by a number they claim to represent the impact: I’ve seen anything from three to nine times used by other agencies), just because you got PR coverage, doesn’t mean that the publication would be the right one for advertising. Equally it’s almost impossible to judge AVE for PR that appears in places such as publication websites.

The amec Framework: An Alternative to Meaningless Metrics

One organisation that has made considerable progress in devising alternatives to meaningless metrics is the association for the measurement and evaluation of communications (amec). This organisation has built a framework for planning the evaluation of campaigns, and even has an online tool. The tool, however, only produces results that are as good as the inputs it receives, and it’s perfectly possible to generate a set of meaningless metrics by using the tool ineffectively. So, although the organisation made significant steps forward, it doesn’t have the full solution.

Business Thinking: The Alternative to Meaningless Marketing Metrics

The reality is that the alternative to using simplistic and meaningless metrics is thinking about what marketing is trying to achieve for the business. This needs marketers to consider a wide range of factors, from financial (such as LTV) to the customer journey or sales funnel.

Ultimately if you can show how you are moving prospects along the customer journey and driving them to become customers, then you can show value. To optimise each marketing tactic, you need to look at a small section of the journey, for example you might want to look at conversion rates for a landing page, but it’s critical you don’t forget the big picture. Increasing a landing page conversion rate only benefits the business if the additional contacts generated ultimately become profitable customers.

Being able to focus on a small aspect of your overall marketing activities and keep the big business picture in mind can be very difficult, but if you can do it then you are well on your way to finding your best alternative to meaningless marketing metrics.

Growing B2B Agency Napier Welcomes Clive Over as Associate Director

Clive Over - Associate Director

Napier has welcomed Clive Over to the Napier team as Associate Director.

Clive joins the team as a Silicon Valley veteran, with more than 20 years’ in the B2B tech industry with leading companies in data storage, enterprise software, data centre and semiconductor markets. He brings to the team extensive experience in building comprehensive integrated marketing and communications campaigns, brand strategies and lead generation programmes. Initially he will work from Northern California and will relocate to the UK in early 2020.

Clive will focus on developing and growing the agency, whilst also supporting major clients including Vicor, Panasas and Semtech.

“I’m delighted to have joined the team at Napier and am looking forward to working with the agency’s roster of great clients,” commented Clive. “This is a fantastic opportunity to join an innovative, growing agency.”

“Clive is a heavyweight marketing director with a fantastic track record in both Europe and the USA,” added Mike Maynard, Managing Director of Napier. “His knowledge and experience will be highly valuable to our clients and also to train and develop the Napier team.”

Advertising on Social Media: Microcontroller Vendors Trying to use Paid Social

It’s interesting that there is still a divide over whether social media is an effective channel for semiconductor companies. Ultimately, the only way companies can really know is to try the platforms and see whether they generate ROI that matches other channels, although our experience is that they probably will: LinkedIn seems to be generating great results.

Rather than listen to an agency’s view, as we’re probably not completely impartial, I thought it would be interesting to look at which of the top Microcontroller vendors are using paid social media, in particular Facebook and LinkedIn. Both platforms allow anyone to view the adverts being run by an organisation, although you can’t see who is targeted by the adverts and how much is being spent (Facebook does show more information for political ads than commercial ones).

For the purposes of this rather informal (but hopefully informative!) study, I picked the following seven vendors:

  • Cypress
  • Infineon Technologies
  • Microchip Technology
  • NXP
  • Renesas
  • Silicon Labs
  • Texas Instruments

LinkedIn Advertising: Everyone is Doing it!

When you visit a company’s LinkedIn page, you’re able to view the ads that it is running. For this blog post, we just looked at the company’s main page (so IDT, which has its own page but is part of Renesas, for example, was not included).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all seven vendors are running adverts on LinkedIn. This is a clear reflection of the effectiveness and ability to target on the LinkedIn platform, and the results that can be generated. The tactics used, however, differed from one company to another.

Infineon is running a lot of corporate/image advertising on LinkedIn. Although they are running a few product adverts (e.g. for their gesture control device used on the Pixel 4 smartphone), most contain high-level messages such as:

Infineon is also promoting their upcoming event in the USA, OktoberTech:

The ability to target by location makes LinkedIn a great tool for promoting events, and Silicon Labs is also running event advertising, this time promoting a seminar about their products being run by Arrow. Silicon Labs are running slightly different adverts for each location:

Microchip, NXP, Silicon Labs and TI all had similar approaches, primarily promoting products or solutions for particular applications. TI has a significant percentage of video adverts, while Microchip and NXP tended to use eye-catching static images:

Unlike the other companies, Renesas seems focussed on acquiring followers on LinkedIn. While the others routed clicks directly to relevant pages, Renesas prefers sending clicks to their company page on LinkedIn, encouraging people to follow them:

We did notice that some of our group were running AB tests. Although it’s not always possible to detect whether two similar adverts are being run to AB test them, or for other reasons, we’d be pretty sure that NXP is testing the different copy on these two adverts:

Silicon Labs is another believer in testing creative, running several versions of their advert for the Wireless Gecko Series 2, including:

Although it’s great to see companies getting data on what works and what doesn’t, we did notice that this group only tended to test the text and not changes to the image. Although it’s obviously much more difficult to create variations of images, we’d hope that this is something that they will be doing soon.

Cypress is probably the least active of the group, with LinkedIn showing only one advert that promotes the CEO’s latest blog post:

Facebook: Still Not Sure It’s Right

The most interesting finding was that Cypress, Infineon, Microchip, NXP and Silicon Labs are not running paid campaigns on Facebook. It’s not possible to know whether these companies have tried Facebook and found it didn’t work, or simply have not tried campaigns, but it’s clear that when it comes to social media the microcontroller industry is all-in on LinkedIn and unsure about Facebook.

Renesas and Texas Instruments are running campaigns, with Renesas running five different ads, and TI having created 22 different ads during October alone. We would guess that Renesas has only just started running Facebook ads, but can’t be completely sure about this, whereas TI has a significant history of adverts on the platform.

Both companies are running similar adverts to their LinkedIn campaigns. For example (LinkedIn ad on the left, Facebook on the right):

Renesas are running a couple of versions of their wireless charging creative, which routes to the Renesas Facebook page in a bid to grow followers (clearly they didn’t get the message about company pages being de-emphasised in the Facebook feed), as well as two adverts for IDT products that route to relevant pages about the product and a joint promotion with a partner that routes to the partner’s website.

TI is running some advertising in Korean, although these route through to English language pages:

Paid Social: Conclusions

We thought it would be fun to look at activities on paid social media for a blog post, and as well as enjoying the research we found it extremely informative. We think that it’s reasonable to draw the following conclusions:

  • Electronics component companies should be running paid LinkedIn campaigns: 100% of our sample can’t be wrong (we hope)!
  • The jury is still out on Facebook, but TI seems particularly committed to using it as an advertising platform. Perhaps it’s time for others to try it?
  • If we look at the companies who seem most active, and assume they are getting the best results, it’s clear that you should be AB testing the adverts you run. You might get a competitive advantage if you AB test the images you use as this isn’t something that’s happening at a significant level
  • Events are worth promoting on LinkedIn

Sadly there is no way of us knowing anything about the effectiveness of the adverts being run: we would love to know how Infineon is measuring the corporate/image campaign and if they feel it’s working; it would be fascinating to compare the different creatives to find out what drives the most clicks (is video worth the extra money, for example?) and I’d love to see the results of the AB tests being run. I suspect that the companies we’ve looked at will choose to keep their results confidential, but if anyone reading this is feeling brave, please contact me.

Who Should You Target: The Grass Roots or the C-Suite?

In our business there certainly seems to be a trend of companies wanting to allocate more of their time and money to reaching the most senior executives in target customers’ organisations: the C-suite. The logic goes that if you can get someone like the CEO interested in your product then the rest of the company will fall in line and sales will be simple.

Not everyone is trying to do this: we worked with a fastener manufacturer (i.e. they made nuts and bolts). Trying to get senior executives excited about these products is really hard, as they are unlikely to consider such components worthy of their time. Well they won’t consider them worthy until a cheap component fails and one of their products breaks, but crisis management is a different matter.

Some of the Coolest Start-ups Ignore the C-Suite

I find the desire to influence senior executives interesting as many of today’s coolest customers almost arrogantly ignore executives in their marketing. This is particularly true of many SaaS companies: Dropbox, Slack and Box are all companies that have built their success from grass-roots adoption, rather than getting executive sponsors.

Of course, as these companies have grown, they have attracted the attention of the executives and expanded their marketing. The reality, however, is that they are much more likely to be adopted in a company by individuals or department managers, rather than those in the wood-panelled corner offices.

Why do so Many Companies Want C-level Interest?

It’s certainly true that many companies are suppliers that deserve interest at the highest levels of their customers. It’s inconceivable that the CEO of an airline wouldn’t want to be involved in deciding between Boeing and Airbus as the aircraft supplier of choice, and so it’s essential for those companies to have C-suite campaigns.

If you’re making commodities or low-value products that aren’t considered important technology, you might not worry about attention from the top bosses, but there is definitely a grey area. I’m seeing a lot of companies that frankly know they are not important enough to interest board-level execs, but would like to be that important so they embark on expensive campaigns to reach this difficult audience.

Why Reaching C-Level Influencers is so Hard

It should be pretty obvious why reaching the C-level is so difficult: they have so many calls on their time and need to be concerned about the entire business. Their attention is valuable, and they know it, so if you don’t have something that is compelling to them, they won’t see it.

In fact many CEOs and executives have gatekeepers reading email and filtering the post, so it’s even tougher to reach them: you’ve got to first convince the PA that they should forward to the executive and then engage the exec in a blink of an eye, which is about as long as they will give you and your communication.

The Right Approach: Simply Good Marketing

Like most things, the answer to questions about how much time and month should be allocated to reaching the top-level of targets, prospects and existing customers is not a simple yes or no. We recommend that marketers consider two things:

  1. Does the C-suite have influence?
  2. Can the C-suite be made to care?

The first question is answered by considering the customer journey for your particular product or service. Will a purchase be discussed by members of the board? Is this amongst themselves, or with their team? Just because the CFO is interested, it doesn’t mean that they will talk to the CEO or CIO about the decision. So maybe you care about one member of the C-suite, rather than all of them. To put it another way, work out your audience and target them.

It’s also important to consider whether you can make executives care about your product or service. The brutal truth might be that thee CFO will approve a purchase, but he’ll just rubber-stamp it and won’t have any influence. In this case you probably don’t want to waste too much effort trying to make him feel good about choosing your company as he just won’t care. If they don’t have a role in the decision-making unit (DMU), then they are not important to you.

It’s certainly possible to run campaigns that grabs the attention of a particular audience and makes them care about an issue, product or service. If customers are concerned about the environment and you’re the first company in your sector to offer a truly “green” product then perhaps it’s time that you linked your product or service to an issue they already care about: sustainability. Don’t think it’s going to be easy: it takes a lot of work to change perceptions and it’s even harder when you’re trying to change the perceptions at the top level of companies.

Can C-Suite Campaigns Work?

This question has an easy answer: YES! It’s absolutely possible to get great return on investment from these campaigns, particularly if they are well-planned. It’s also getting easier to reach the executives with digital channels, particularly LinkedIn and often through CRM retargeting. If you’ve done the analysis and it makes sense to influence C-level contacts, go for it. But don’t feel bad if your analysis shows that you don’t need to address them: just consider yourself in the same group as some of the coolest billion-dollar start-ups!

Inbound 2019: ABM is Just Good Strategic Marketing with Personalisation

At Inbound I attended a session presented by Sigstr, a company that delivers email marketing by appending different footers to emails. We use one of their competitors to do exactly the same thing: please do ask if you want more information.

During the presentation, the speaker, Justin produced one of the wisest comments I’ve heard about ABM: “ABM is just good strategic marketing with personalisation”.

The presentation started off with some general “why you should do ABM” statistics. Although I think almost everyone has seen these stats, they are worth repeating because although we all know the benefits of ABM, not everyone is taking advantage.

  • ABM outperforms all other marketing channels by 91%. Typically, 2% of leads convert.
  • ABM increases win rate by 38%
  • ABM delivers a 200% increase in revenue compared with other channels.

First Steps in ABM: One Target Account

Sigstr started by targeting a client they had previously lost, Salesforce. Their campaign was creative – they bought the URL, built a simple one-page website and had Starbucks cards made with the URL on them. They sent the cards to 10 people they were targeting in Salesforce and also started putting footers on emails that went to Salesforce contacts. As the website was blocked from being indexed, they knew as soon as they saw traffic it must be a result of the campaign.

This experimental campaign taught them a lot, but sadly – despite the clever idea of creating a website specifically for this ABM campaign – they didn’t manage to win Salesforce back as a customer. Despite this they decided to expand the campaign to the next stage.


Growing ABM: 100 Target Accounts

The next step was to expand to 100 accounts, and this required the generation of a suitable target account list. This was perhaps the biggest problem, and required the following process:

  • Create a clear ICP (ideal customer profile). Don’t build off previous customers only: look to the future too
  • Choose accounts that have something in common - a common audience. It’s hard to build 100 different messages, but if audience is common then can use the same message.
  • Sales and marketing finalise the selection

Rather than creating 100 websites, Sigstr built 100 landing pages on the standard template, having first built a spreadsheet to determine what goes where for each landing page to make the implementation as easy as possible. The most important thing for these pages was to make them feel highly personalised to each of the target companies.

Sigstr built a content matrix mapping the three personas and three industries targeted in the campaign to make it easier to determine what content was included on each page. Apparently, it was this content matrix that was one of the main factors in simplifying the development of so many different landing pages.

Sigstr’s team believed that there were only a few ways to reach accounts in an ABM campaign: targeted advertising, email, direct mail and phone/meeting. Although the Starbucks cards didn’t work in the first campaign, they chose direct mail and made boxes of “swag” to send to contacts in the target account. Initially they did this in house, but later on moved to a third-party provider, Sendoso.

The campaign did include advertising, email, phone calls and meetings. Interestingly, they highlighted phone as the least effective channel, mainly because of the difficulty in getting hold of people on the telephone. Meetings were the most effective as they had the highest value interaction.

SIgstr built a technology stack to deliver these campaigns, using the following vendors:

  • Targeted advertising: Terminus, LinkedIn, DemandBase, Sense and RollWorks
  • Emails: SalesLoft, Outreach and Sigstr (of course!)
  • Direct Mail: Sendoso, PFL, Printfection and alyce

For this campaign they changed metrics that were monitored from cost per lead to cost per opportunity and cost per customer. Perhaps surprisingly one of the biggest problems with this was that it took longer than expected to secure the customer, even with the relatively short sales cycle of Sigstr. This meant that early on it was hard to see progress, and so the team actively sought out opportunities to celebrate success.

This campaign did result in opportunities in sales, and generated three key lessons that were used to inform the next campaign:

  • Measure based on cost per opportunity or customer acquisition cost, rather than marketing metrics
  • Get sales to care: if sales are not involved the campaign will not work
  • Focusing on revenue as being the primary KPI

Expansion to 1000 ABM Accounts

The next stage in Sigstr’s ABM campaigns was to roll out to 1000 accounts. At this stage they needed to purchase a tool to create a scoring framework to select the accounts as discussions with sales would have taken too long for this many companies.

Accounts were also tiered, with more money being spent attracting tier 1 accounts than tier 2. If a second-tier account engaged with the campaign, however, then their priority was raised and so was the budget for that account. The picture below shows how they managed the criteria of their tiers:

Scaling up to a thousand accounts also made manual creation of customised landing pages impractical, so Sigstr deployed Drift to create the pages using a standard template. Interestingly, the campaign didn’t always root prospects to the Sigstr website. For SaaS services like Sigstr review sites are very important. So many people were directed to the Sigstr reviews on G2 Crowd.

Adverts were personalised with the target company’s name. The ABM campaign also ran during onboarding, with ads during the process and a request for review on G2 after the customer was up and running.

One of the most interesting insights about ABM was the difference Sigstr saw in the journeys different customers took. Although they tried to map out the ideal customer journey, real customers didn’t play ball and almost everybody took a slightly different journey. Flexibility is clearly an important element of any ABM campaign.

Although there were other problems, for example attribution became very difficult, the campaign was very successful and 65% of deals closed were from ABM campaign. ABM resulted in a 75% increase in ACV and saw a 5-day decrease in sales cycle. 30% of the tier 1 and 11% of the tier 2 target accounts became opportunities.

The Next Steps

Sigstr identified three changes that they are implementing to further improve their ABM campaigns:

  • Reducing the number of targeted accounts – they are down to about 600 accounts, but also moving up market to target bigger companies. Of course, this introduces the challenge that the sales cycle is a bit longer with larger opportunities.
  • Outbound has been moved from sales into marketing to make management of ABM easier
  • Events are now a key part of the campaigns and they invite the key accounts to the event or side event that Sigstr is hosting to create more meetings

Three ABM Insights

My top three insights were:

  • ABM really does work if you keep at it, although sales cycles for ABM are likely to be longer than for inbound enquiries
  • “ABM is just good strategic marketing with personalisation” – don’t over-think it!
  • Flexibility is important: no two accounts are going to follow exactly the same customer journey, no matter how much planning you put into your ideal journey


These notes were taken when I attended From No ABM Program to Award-Winning ABM Program in Just One Year at Inbound 2019 presented by Justin Keller, VP Marketing at Sigstr.


Aspencore layoffs EE Times EDN

Layoffs at Aspencore Spook the Industry

This is a difficult blog for me to write. I’m a huge supporter of publishers – after all, we need them to have a PR business – but recent events at Aspencore are concerning. It’s not just me that’s worrying: it’s also our clients who have been spooked by the departure of key figures in the business.

We have tried to get comments on the record from a number of people in the Aspencore/Arrow management, and when I started writing this we had only received a copy of an internal memo, despite promises that we would get a statement. Between me completing the post, there was an article written by Junko Yoshida on that presents Aspencore’s side of the story. I’ve therefore included a section that discusses this new information.

You should also know that Farnell, which is part of Avnet is one of our clients. As Aspencore is part of Arrow, a direct competitor to Avnet, I’m not totally independent. People who know me, however, will understand that I won’t bring any conscious bias to this post, although I’m the first to admit there may be some unconscious bias because of this relationship.


What’s Happened at Aspencore?

Aspencore has laid off some of its best-known journalists and publishers. Although there are still many great journalists there, without doubt, the layoffs mean that they now have less talent available.

The following “big name” journalists were laid off in the USA:

  • Rick Merritt
  • Clive Maxfield
  • Dylan McGrath
  • Steve Taranovich

In Europe Jurgen Hubner, a great publisher who build ICC media has left, while “intergalactic” sales rep, Bob Dumas, has left to join EE Tech.

Although this is a significant amount of departing talent, it should be remembered that Aspencore still has the biggest, most global editorial team in the industry and that it still includes some of the industry’s most highly experienced and respected journalists.


What Caused this to Happen?

I'm going to have to make a few educated guesses, but the reasons seem fairly clear. Arrow has decided that the publishing business needs to be exactly that: a business. This isn’t quite as obvious a move as it might seem, because publications such as newspapers have a strong history of being supported by a benefactor who chooses to fund the publication for the influence and status it gives them, and you'd think that influence and status would be helpful to a distributor.

Making money in electronics is hard. Without doubt Arrow's strategy is to reduce cost by shedding the most expensive publishers and journalists. They’ve decided to reduce quality. Again, this isn’t as crazy as it might seem. It’s not that Arrow won’t get quality content: as it is the Internet said “information wants to be free“ and when it comes to information that might help suppliers or products, that information is desperate to be free and widely available as possible. Even better the individuals in the suppliers who are writing this content are typically world experts on the subject, so the quality is likely to be great even if it might be a little slanted to present the vendor and the products in the very best possible light! EE Times also still has a great team of journalists: losing some of their talent still leaves a large number of great writers in Aspencore.

So getting the content isn’t hard. Perhaps the biggest issue is how that content is valued. Suppliers value the content hugely: one significant design win as a result of a technical article can pay for an entire year of PR.  Readers value it highly too, as it is essential for engineers to keep learning if they are to be able to do a good job. Unfortunately valuing the content doesn’t mean they’ll pay for it. Bizarrely the channel in which information is presented has a major impact on its value. If you want to work with an analyst, you’re going to pay an eye-watering hourly rate to talk to them. Yet the same people who pay these fees are shocked when you suggest they should pay for publications, even if the same analysts are providing content to those publications.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is the way Google values quality of content. Google is possibly the world's smartest company, and it still doesn’t have a clue about the difference between average and great journalism. Traffic to the website, which ultimately means money to the publisher because a large percentage if not majority of their income is display advertising, are those charged on a cost per thousand bases, is frequently determined by Google. Sadly Google values speed and search engine optimization over high-quality insightful journalism.

The cost per thousand model used when publications charge for advertising also presents an incentive to eliminate in-depth high-quality content. Reading long form content takes time, and the number of adverts that can be placed next to the article is limited. This means that an in-depth article requires considerable time on site but generates little revenue. Someone clicking through superficial news articles is far more valuable to a publisher and someone who reads a highly insightful 2000 word article.

So this is the problem. readers won’t pay, suppliers think providing the content is sufficient value to publication, Google completely fails to raise the very best journalism to the top and publishers have failed to find alternative business models to the cost per thousand advertising model.

In other markets what happens is the most experienced journalists tend to launch their own publications based upon their personal brand. These publications are more like blogs and have a very low cost base, allowing a different business model. This doesn’t really happen in electronics, perhaps because we're such a niche industry that you simply can't get the traffic without a team of SEO experts.


What Does Aspencore Say About the Changes?

After I started writing this post, EE Times wrote an article presenting their side of the story (see below for more information). Although I had previously approached several people at the company, the vast majority were unwilling to comment. We did, however, manage to get the following, which is part of an internal email sent by Bolaji Ojo Global Editorial Director and General Manager of Aspencore Media in Europe and David Chivers Global Publisher for Aspencore Media:

A. ASPENCORE is global in coverage and outreach. We have publications in all parts of the globe and editorial representation in every major region. This hasn’t changed. In fact, we are expanding our coverage of the entire industry and expanding our team in China. For Silicon Valley, we have contributing editors and stringers based in the area and we have signed partnerships with research firms for unique and independent insightful reports. We haven’t left the Valley - see these recent articles EE Times published this past week:
i. Hot Chips 2019 Has Never Been Hotter, or Bigger
ii. Does Your AI Chip have its own DNN?

B. ASPENCORE is distinct in terms of its coverage of developments in engineering, technology and the business of high-tech. We have introduced expanded coverage to dive deeper into the topics and issues of importance to the entire industry. We launched our Special Projects unit to do comprehensive coverage of distinct topics, covering these from various angles and involving major stakeholders, including companies, researchers, engineers, financial analysts and contributing writers. We cover everything from Aviation, Automotive, Communication, Security, AI to Quantum Computing, Apple and Tesla.
C. ASPENCORE’s product range is comprehensive. In addition to digital media, ASPENCORE has print publications, newsletters and research-grade content in Asia, China Japan, Europe and North America. The topics we treat are global and our reach is global.
D. We have added and continue to hire experienced editors and contributors globally. Our new hires include editors in Europe and contributing editors in North America and Asia-Pacific
E. ASPENCORE is nimbly responding to market conditions with new products and offerings, including our unique podcast, EE Times on Air, and special projects/reports. If you haven’t already, take a look at our Special Project landing page:
F. ASPENCORE is committed to maintaining the integrity of the independent media covering the electronics industry. The company will continue to invest in the segment to elevate discussions in the industry.
G. As we look to the future, we are
a. Expanding and extending our contributor network to include the likes of key experts, executives, researchers, academics
b. Introducing more special projects and reports
c. Focusing on our premium titles
H. We have in recent months added the following key editors to the team:

i. Nitin Dahad – A prolific editor based in London and covering semiconductors, AI, Communications and key European, Asian and North American chipmakers and OEMs
ii. Sally Ward-Foxton, an Engineer and versatile writer and editor
iii. Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio, a technical and highly knowledgeable and respected editor
iv. Anne-Françoise Pele, experienced, motivated and well-known industry resource who will join the company early in September, resuming as editor-in-chief of EE Times Europe Magazine, and specialist on sensors and MEMS
v. Brian Santo, Experienced, creative editor and host of EE Times On Air podcast
vi. ASPENCORE China editorial team, eager and positioned in the world’s fastest-growing high-tech market
vii. We have through our partnership with ITMedia, inc. in Japan a team of editors covering the entire electronics industry through the EE Times Japan, EDN Japan and MONOist websites

I. The editors handling our key publications are as follows. They can be contacted directly regarding each of the properties. General inquiries can also be sent to
i. EE Times (, Brian Santo,
ii. EDN (, Martin Rowe,
iii. EEWeb (, Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio,
iv. Electronic Products (, Gina Roos,
v. International Editor-in-Chief ITmedia – EE Times Japan/EDN Japan and MONOist, Mayuko Murao,

This is a reasonable repost to the concerns, although citing just two articles from Silicon Valley in the last week does seem a little light for a publication like EE Times. It’s also perhaps a bit of a stretch to suggest that some of the above journalists have been hired in “recent months” as (according to their personal LinkedIn profiles), Brian joined in September 2018, Nitin in December 2017 and Sally in April 2017. To be fair, Maurizio joined in February of this year and Anne-Francoise is about to join, so they do qualify as recent hires.


What Does the EE Times Article Say?

After I completed the first draft of this article, EE Times published the Aspencore side of the story. In this Junko Yoshida acknowledges that Aspencore “lost a few of our top-notch reporters”. The article positions the layoffs as a move to make the editorial team more global. Junko states, “In a nutshell, our answer to the current newsroom upheaval is to go global, whole hog.” Although there is some truth in that EE Times does now have a very international team, the way the layoffs happened doesn’t really back up the idea that they were purely down to a globalization strategy.

Junko focuses on the strength of the Aspencore editorial team, pointing out:

“As noted, among all publications covering the global electronics industry, we are proud to say that we are the only game in town. We boast more than 30 editors for EE Times and other vertical publications owned by Aspencore Media. They are scattered all over the world — from Shenzhen and Beijing to Taipei, London, Paris, Bern, Milan and Portland, San Jose, Washington, Massachusetts, Arizona and even Madison, Wisconsin. Some are full-time and others are part-time contributing editors. We also have a stable of young, passionate and eager-to-learn reporters.”

The strength of the editorial team, albeit that they are supporting several publications, is indisputable, even after the layoffs. EE Times has certainly gone all-out to show the strength of the editorial team: Junko states that some are “part-time contributing editors” and this is borne out by the fact that a couple of the team don’t even list their work for Aspencore on their LinkedIn profiles.


What is the Industry Saying?

Interestingly, it seems to be Aspencore employees who remain that are saying the least. There is a real fear that there will be more layoffs and so everyone is behaving super-professionally.

A couple of the people who have departed have been less reticent. The comments I’ve had range from a simple statement that Aspencore seems to want to drastically reduce costs by reducing manpower to “Aspencore had the world at their feet… Then greed took over.”

Clients are spooked, and I’ve heard worries from whether the editorial quality is going to drop to questions about what will happen to the volume of traffic as a result of a reduction in content-generating journalists.

Lou Covey, who has a super understanding of the US electronics media has written an interesting blog on LinkedIn. He points out that this is the third round of layoffs in 12 months. He explains that the layoffs are simply a result of the business model for Aspencore failing to work:

“The idea for Aspencore was to be a revenue neutral operation. Advertising, content services and events were supposed to pay for the operation and maybe a bit more to cover the cost of the debt. Didn’t happen. It became a cost center and the goodwill gained was short lived.”

Lou ends his post by blaming the industry as a whole:

“When I started blogging in 2005, my first post was on the interrelation of advertising, a free society, journalism and business success. What was true then is true now. If companies do not invest in a free press, they will lose more than a few hundred points on net profits.”


My View of the Aspencore Situation

I guess that the first thing to say is that I don’t see this as being the start of a shutdown of Aspencore, although I would not be surprised if some of the titles closed or merged. In fact, there is a hint of this in the email above from Bolaji and David: they state that as they look forward, they are “Focusing on our premium titles”. Inevitably you’d assume there will be a reduction of focus on non-premium titles, although a lot of the pain of this round of layoffs was felt by titles that I think everyone considers “premium”.

Unfortunately, I believe these layoffs are bad for the industry and bad for the future of Aspencore. Arrow’s construction of their publishing empire was driven by some short-term benefits and over-optimism. This isn’t a situation that’s likely to result in long-term commitment and I do fear for the long-term future of many Aspencore titles.


Why Arrow Bought and Built a Publisher.

I’ve worked in electronic component distribution and it’s a really difficult job. Without doubt distributors are under pressure from several sides: for example, manufacturers are offering “buy direct” options and there is a continual threat that non-specialist companies such as Amazon might choose to enter the market with far greater financial resources and stronger logistics capabilities than any distribution might have. So, the distributors had to do something.

I believe that Arrow has got great value for their purchases. They have acquired great customer data from the publications they purchased and have won new lines with the help of the Aspencore publishing muscle. I would also speculate that some of the traffic data to the publications would give Arrow an insight into what engineers are thinking about, but I don’t know if they have succeeded or even tried to gain insights in this way.

Arrow was also optimistic. Distribution represents a huge proportion of advertising business in our industry, and it seemed that Arrow was rather surprised when some distributors decided they didn’t want to advertise in publications owned by a large competitor. Arrow was probably the only organization in the world who was surprised this happened. Even losing a few distributors will make it much harder for Aspencore to be profitable: in a business with notoriously thin margins, cutting yourself off from some of the richest customers is never a good idea.

Clearly, I think that Arrow extracted a lot of value from the acquisition in the first couple of years. But they are left with a business unit that needs financial support and that, at least in its current form, delivers far less value to Arrow. It’s a real business headache.


What’s Next?

Obviously, we don’t know. The fact that the first public statement took so long suggests that Arrow and Aspencore were again over-optimistic, expecting the industry to shrug its collective shoulders and move on. This didn’t happen, leaving Arrow, Aspencore’s owners, in a bit of a quandary. They’ve tried to present it as a move to globalize, which personally I don’t fully buy, and focused on the current strength of the newsroom. Although it’s true that Aspencore still has an awesome roster of talent, you can’t avoid the fact that the trend doesn’t look positive.

So, what should Aspencore do? I think it’s pretty clear that the current publishing business is struggling to make a profit, so here are the most obvious options available:

Arrow could choose to allow the business to gradually decline. I think this was their strategy. With the concern that the most recent layoffs triggered in the market I don’t think that Arrow will want to take a “death by 1000 cuts” approach, with the ensuing bad PR that will rumble on for years as Aspencore slowly and painfully declines.

So Aspencore could choose to invest and grow the business. From what I’m told they are probably subsidizing Aspencore already, and it just doesn’t look like they have the appetite to invest to try to grow it. Realistically I just don’t see the Arrow board, a group of people who talk in tens of billions of dollars, wanting to put money into a business that is a tiny fraction of their turnover and that is unlikely to ever make significant profit.

Arrow could sell Aspencore. This must seem like an attractive option, but who would buy them? UBM was open about the fact that they wanted to sell EE Times for a long period before Arrow finally stepped in to make the purchase. Aspencore is a much bigger, more complex publisher that is likely to be very hard to sell. I guess they could spin off individual titles, but that will take a lot of time and energy, and there is no guarantee they will find buyers.

Just closing Aspencore would be a clean option. With the new lines and the data driving Arrow’s commercial operations, perhaps the best thing to do would be to cut their losses and close the business. I suspect that not only would this be a politically difficult thing for the people involved in the purchase, Arrow also doesn’t want to be seen as the people who killed a huge percentage of the electronics media.

Perhaps the only long-term option for Arrow is to increase the monetization of the publications. Can you imagine the power of marketing automation systems that tracked what individual engineers looked at on these publication websites and then sent offers and marketing information about these topics? What if product stories all had links directing readers to buy from Arrow? Not easy, but potentially hugely lucrative.

I can hear the cries of horror over this suggestion. EE Times becomes a marketing vehicle for Arrow: that’s just not something you should contemplate for a brand like that. Choosing to do this would certainly result in a backlash, particularly an overt move to drive people to Arrow’s website to purchase, but it might be the most palatable option in a rather unappetizing menu. It’s also likely that the sooner they make such a move, the better, as I believe new publications will launch as people see opportunities with the major player in the industry clearly suffering.

I’m going to end with the brighter view of the situation. When one company struggles, others take its place, and clearly some publishers are benefiting from Aspencore’s lackluster performance. EE Tech is probably the best example. With journalist layoffs there is always the opportunity for new titles to launch. Sure, publishers need to be brave, but the electronics market isn’t going away so there are lots of reasons to be optimistic.

My speculation about what Arrow might choose to do in the long term is simply speculation, and I genuinely hope that the Aspencore titles thrive; not least because I want to see great journalists writing great content about our industry. I feel it’s important to reiterate that, although the recent trend isn’t good, Aspencore has a fabulous team of journalists and contributions. If, however, the trend continues and the Aspencore business can’t be turned around, I’m very confident we’ll have the excitement of new publications that launch to take advantage of the hole in the market for insightful journalism.

Inbound 2019: Marketing and Connection Emails for Contact Nurturing

At Inbound 2019 I attended a session billed as giving the inside information on HubSpot’s email nurturing campaigns. Although we didn’t really get that complete “under the hood” view of what HubSpot does, we did get some interesting insights into two different types of emails that HubSpot uses during their nurturing process: marketing and connection emails.

An Overview of HubSpot’s Emails Nurturing Campaigns

Email is HubSpot’s most successful communication channel, despite the large number of different channels available. It’s interesting that despite the huge number of features providing social interaction, chatbots and other new communication channels, good old email is still the king of communications when it comes to B2B sales.

During the presentation we were presented with some high level rules for nurturing: make the content customer-centric, not company-centric; target and personalise to ensure relevance; and focus on continual improvement, rather than adopting a set-and-forget mindset.

An interesting insight was that the first email HubSpot sends new contacts who requested a content offer is one with buttons allowing them to indicate their biggest challenge. This approach – dubbed “choose your own adventure” by HubSpot – is an interesting idea and something we have tried in the past. If someone indicates their most important challenge, and HubSpot follows-up with a relevant email then 65% open rates and 60% CTR can be achieved! These follow-ups are the best-performing emails that HubSpot sends.

Although it’s a fantastic way to personalise content to the people who click to indicate their interests, we’ve found low click-through rates from our clients’ primary audience: engineers. You will be able to target to the people who respond, but in our experience the majority won’t, leaving you without a way to understand their challenge. The presenter didn’t discuss how HubSpot deals with this problem.

The presenter made a good point around gating content: if someone clicks through from an email, you should serve them ungated content as you know who they are because you emailed them. It’s an obvious thing to say, but we’ve seen campaigns where you keep having to fill in forms.

There are a couple of counter-arguments to this: the first is that if the email is forwarded to a colleague who clicks through then you don’t capture that contact. Progressive profiling is also a way to increase personalisation, so including forms can be a good way to deliver even more relevant content. We are therefore on the fence on this one: in our campaigns we do sometimes have ungated content and sometimes ask for more information where we think it will be beneficial.

The nurturing campaigns HubSpot runs send emails every 3 days. This is a result of a lot of testing, and HubSpot has seen different frequencies working better in some industries, but an email every three days is probably a good place to start! In addition to nurturing campaigns, HubSpot sends a single send (promo email, newsletter, etc) on a weekly, or sometimes fortnightly, basis. All these emails are sent based on the recipients’ time zone: this is also something that HubSpot has found to be important to optimise results.

What’s a Connection Email?

We’re all familiar with marketing emails, but what does HubSpot mean by a connection email? Well, they send personalised emails from a (real) sales rep as part of their nurturing campaigns, interleaving marketing and these connection emails.

These connection emails are designed to look like a “real” email written in plain text but is automated in the marketing workflow. One of their connection emails is analysed in the photo below:

Although sent from a salesperson, the email is not a classic “sales” email: it’s about helping to make sure the recipient has the tools they need. All these emails have a signature from the salesperson assigned to the account, and even include the rep’s photo.

As a connection email, it’s all about trying to build a relationship and initiate a conversation. The email even has a link to let the recipient book a call with the salesperson.

Connection Emails in Trigger Nurturing

When a contact is already on the database and conducts a high-value action (in HubSpot’s case this might be a download or a view of the pricing page), they initial a trigger nurturing campaign. The first email in this campaign is a connection email designed to try to re-start the conversation with the contact:

Interestingly HubSpot uses the very simple subject line “How can I help?”. This isn’t because they didn’t bother trying anything else – they’ve done a lot of testing – and this simple subject line is the one that performs best.

The first email in the trigger nurturing is sent immediately. It’s the speed of response that is possible with marketing automation that makes these emails so effective (we’ve run many campaigns were we’ve found that speed is the critical factor in maximising conversions so we definitely agree with this). The alternative to trigger nurturing is an internal notification, highlighting the action and triggering the rep to try to reach the contact. Because of the inevitable delays when humans are involved (particularly outside working hours), HubSpot has found that trying to call the contact is less effective. The immediate follow-up connection emails achieve an impressive 55% open rate and a 15% CTR. The fact that the objective is to arrange a call makes the CTR very impressive and the CTA is for a very high value action.

Three Email Nurturing Insights

My top three insights were:

  • Campaigns need to include connection as well as marketing emails. This is a very different approach to many B2B companies and something that generates great results for HubSpot. We’re going to be testing it in different industries to see if the benefits are universal or industry specific.
  • Speed is the key: sending an email immediately someone conducts a high-value interaction on a website is much more valuable than asking a sales rep to follow-up.
  • HubSpot sends nurturing emails every three days. Although this might not be a universal number, it’s more frequent than a lot of B2B campaigns and so we should all stop being precious over rules of thumb like “no more than one email per week” and start testing to see what really works for our prospects.


These notes were taken when I attended The Inside Scoop: HubSpot’s Email Program at Inbound 2019 presented by Jordan Pritkin, Head of Email Marketing and Growth at HubSpot.

Inbound 2019 – LinkedIn Advertising

My first breakout session at Inbound 2019 started with the benefits and the downsides of LinkedIn Adverts. One of the key benefits is that LinkedIn can do highly accurate targeting, and this makes it a particularly popular channel for B2B. LinkedIn, however, isn’t perfect, and the presenter highlighted the relatively high cost-per-client, the lack of decide targeting, the inability to schedule ads to particular times of day and the fact that although LinkedIn uses a relevance score in a similar way to Google Search Adverts, this score is not visible to the user.

LinkedIn Advertising Formats

Sponsored content is the most versatile format and the speaker recommends it to about 90% of his advertising clients. This is very much in line with our experience, where we find sponsored content to generally be the best format for almost all our clients. One important factor to remember is that the vast majority (the presenter claimed it was probably over 80%) of sponsored content adverts are viewed on mobile. If you don’t have a website that looks great on mobile maybe you should consider one of the desktop formats.

Text ads are an alternative that means you don’t need to first create a post. Although the click-through rate is lower than sponsored content, they can be good for branding campaigns as you can get a lot of impressions. One challenge with text ads is that they are a desktop-only format, and with more and more people interacting with LinkedIn on mobile, this can be an issue.

Sponsored InMail is a high-quality channel but has a very expensive CPC. The presenter recommended this format for offers such as early access or sneak peaks of new products, job opportunities or a VIP event invite. This isn’t a format for your content offers! Despite the very high CPM and the typically high CPC, it is possible to run campaigns that do achieve low CPCs if the offer is very specific and high quality.

Dynamic ads are the format the speaker never recommends. They are desktop only and result in high CPCs. This doesn’t correlate with our experience, where we have had some good results from a few campaigns where the format could be used to really personalise the advert.

The following benchmarks were presented as being typical numbers for LinkedIn formats that are trying to drive clicks:

Format Average CTR Typical CPC
Sponsored Content 4% $6-9
Text Advert 0.025% $3-5
Sponsored InMail 50% open, 3% CTR $23-55
Dynamic “low” $12-15

There are some other ways to advertise on LinkedIn. Lead generation ads, which route the user to a form that is automatically populated with their details if they are logged on seem to be a great idea. The presenter, however, cautioned against their use as you only have 150 characters of text to promote the offer, and the automatic form-fill can mean people who aren’t really interested will send their details. This leads to poor quality leads, so it’s a good approach for generating a large number of leads, but not good at targeting the most valuable prospects.

Video adverts are very expensive when compared to Facebook – the other major platform offering this format, costing from $0.06 to $0.14 for every play (and don’t forget a couple of seconds of viewing will count as a play). One important thing to note is that most viewers will play the video muted, so subtitles are essential if the video is going to be effective. The speaker strongly recommended that all video ads are tried on YouTube first, which will be much cheaper, and only rolled out to LinkedIn if they prove effective.

One important change that LinkedIn has promised is coming is targeting by engagement. For video, this is really important as the onus is on the viewer to then take action after watching a video: if you could retarget everyone that engaged with your videos then that would be a much more effective approach. In fact, this might be where the auto-filled forms of the lead gen adverts start to become better value and deliver higher-quality leads: if you could just target them at people who engaged with your video then this might result in better leads. At this stage, however, all we can do is wait for LinkedIn to roll-out engagement targeting; today there is no way to retarget someone who engaged with your content on LinkedIn but didn’t click through to your website. The ability to retarget people once they hit your website is another reason why routing someone to a form on your website will generally generate better results: retargeting through a service like Google of AdRoll is a fraction of the cost of advertising on LinkedIn.

Carousel ads are simple multiple adverts grouped together. Although the presenter had used it when a brand has a story that can’t be told in a single frame, in general he finds no benefit using them over individual adverts.

Targeting on LinkedIn

Targeting is LinkedIn’s superpower, but it is not well understood by many advertisers. It’s important to know that the selections you use will impact the CPC you pay. The more selections you make (and therefore the more targeted the audience) the higher the CPC.

A good example is job title. This is the most competitive targeting criteria, so it has a significant impact on cost, although it’s the criterion that most advertisers start with. Job function targeting typically reduces the CPC by around $1 compared with job title targeting, although it is broader. Skills are also a very cost-effective way of targeting. For some campaigns, the presenter recommended using a broader selection with these cheaper criteria.

Groups are a very good way to target people on LinkedIn because of the effort that is required to join a group – you’ve got to search for and find the group first. The presenter suggested this made it an excellent criterion for targeting as group membership is a strong indication of interest in a topic.

The following helpful table was presented showing the most common ways of targeting, although as with many generalisations performance can vary so the presenter recommended that advertisers experiment to ensure that their campaigns behave in the same way.


Accuracy Volume Cost
Job Title Very Precise Low $$$
Job Function and Seniority Very Broad High $
Skills and Seniority Broad High $$
Groups and Seniority Very Precise Low $$

LinkedIn Targeting Tips and Tricks

The presenter had some good ideas for improving targeting in different situations:

If you are targeting based on skills and groups, it’s often a good idea to exclude sales, biz dev and marketing job functions. In any group, a percentage of the members will be people who aren’t customers but are trying to sell to the audience. Of course, this doesn’t work if you are an agency trying to reach marketing or salespeople!

When targeting SMBs it’s important to remember that a lot of micro business don’t have a company page, and so large numbers of your target audience will be omitted if you pick specific company sizes. It’s better to select your audience by excluding large companies, rather than including small company sizes.

Age and years of experience seem like good proxies to determine the level of seniority, but generally don’t produce as good results as selecting seniority as a criterion

A final tip was to avoid audience expansion. With this targeting, the data is messier, and there is no reporting split showing the impact of the expanded audience vs the selected audience. The presenter questioned whether it is ever beneficial, and this matches our experience: we just don’t recommend audience expansion as an effective way of targeting.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the more criteria you use, the more expensive your clicks will become. So, simplify your selection whenever you can: fewer targeting items means that base cost is reduced.

LinkedIn Advertising Bidding: The Professional Approach

Rather amusingly, the presenter’s recommendation for bidding was basically to ignore everything LinkedIn tells you. His approach is to begin with an artificially high daily budget, and the to bid low for the clicks - $2 was recommended. If you do this, LinkedIn won’t accept your bid, and will tell you the minimum bid. Bid this amount. Don’t bid higher than the minimum bid, and definitely don’t take any notice of the values that LinkedIn says other people are bidding.

This is interesting advice, and I’m going to run experiments to see if this is the right approach. At Napier we generally bid low: let’s face it there isn’t a competition to be number one like there is for AdWords, so why bid more to be the first advert shown in a feed?

Although there is obvious logic and the approach is similar to how we bid on AdWords, I do feel that there is an issue with always bidding the minimum amount if you have a small, highly targeted audience. If a lot of people are competing to show ads to this audience, and you bid the minimum, the number of impressions you achieve will be reduced. If you are marketing a high-value product or service to a small and influential audience, you might decide that CPC isn’t the only metric, and paying a bit more to get as many people in the audience see the advert is a worthwhile move. The speaker did say that he generally recommends 20K-80K audience sizes, so he does seem to be targeting much bigger groups than some of our very focussed targets, particularly our ABM campaigns.

Finally, don’t use auto-bidding. The speaker claimed the above strategy delivered a CPC that was at least $1 less than auto-bidding. Auto-bidding uses a CPM, and bidding by CPM is not recommended until you know whether you have a good CTR or not (see below).

CTR and Bidding on LinkedIn

The presenter recommended always starting by bidding for clicks. Of course, CTR has an impact on cost per click: the CTR is really the best proxy you have for a relevance score.

If you have less than a 0.35% CTR the presenter suggested that this is when your CPC will be negatively impacted. 0.35% to 1% is good, and when you get to more than a 1% CTR then it’s time to switch from bidding for clicks to bidding on a CPM basis as you’re likely to get better value.

What Content Should I use for LinkedIn Advertising?

Like most things in advertising you need to be in the Goldilocks zone: the content must not present too much or too little friction to the audience. High friction offers like product demos that require a significant commitment from the audience are likely to result in low CTRs that drive high CPCs, and they risk being disabled by LinkedIn for poor performance.

Offers with too low friction, like a blog post or Infographic don’t tend to deliver the value that is demanded from the relatively high CPCs associated with LinkedIn advertising. So, the “just right” offers include things like a guide, white paper, eBook and webinar.

Exclude Competitors from Your Campaigns

The presenter recommended creating a competitors list that is run as an exclusion for ALL campaigns. This not only avoids wasting money on ads that reach competitors, but also helps keep what you are doing secret from competitors.

A pro-tip for competitive analysis is that you can see the adverts that your competitors are running on LinkedIn. Just go to their company page and click on Ads: it will show you any adverts that they are running on the platform. You can’t, unfortunately, see to whom these adverts are targeted.

Testing Strategies for LinkedIn Adverts

The speaker suggested that there are just two things you need to do when testing: firstly you need to get a click, so the initial step is to make sure that you have an advert that has a good CTR. Once you have a reasonable CTR, then look at how well your landiong page is converting.

The presenter had an interesting analysis of the impact of making changes to different element of the campaign. Modifying advert copy typically only has a 5-15% impact on return on investment, landing pages changes can result in 50-150% improvements while simply tweaking the title of the content being offered can increase conversions by two to three times. Although this is impressive, he sees sales enablement improving the follow-up preocess as having the opportunity to increase sales by 10 to 20 times!

Although we’ve seen very different impacts from different campaigns, we do agree with the basic promise: the closer to the sale, the bigger impact you have. So focussing on advert CTR is not the best approach.

One thing you do need to remember is that adverts tend to saturate after running for about 30 days: generally CTR drops as more and more people have seen the copy. So, although spending a lot of time optimising the advert is not recommending, refreshing on a roughly monthly schedule is recommended. An easy way to do this is simply add a new image to the post.

One thing that did surprise us was that the speaker felt that the image used for ads didn’t have much impact on the CTR. This isn’t something that has been reflected in our experience: we have found that a poor image can have a dramatic negative effect on the CTR, so we would recommend spending some time creating great images. It’s not hard, and there are lots of cheap tools to help you.

Three LinkedIn Advertising Insights

For me, the top three insights from this presentation were:

  • Sponsored content is usually the best advertising format, but you must have a website that looks good on mobile
  • Always bid low and ignore the recommendations for CPC bids provided by LinkedIn
  • Focus your optimisation efforts on the bottom of the funnel where you can have the biggest impact on RoI


These notes were taken from the Advanced LinkedIn Ads for the B2B Marketer, presented at Inbound 2019 by AJ Wilcox, Founder,

Electronic Component Manufacturers Drive Advertising Spend

Our recent survey of European electronics publications has thrown up some interesting information about who is spending money on advertising. We asked publications where their advertising revenue came from, and the results were very interesting. The share of spend was:

  • Distributors - 31%
  • Semiconductor manufacturers- 21%
  • Other component manufacturers (passive, power supply, connectors, etc)- 23%
  • Tools vendors (including software) - 12%
  • Other- 13%

The component manufacturers (adding semiconductor and other manufacturers) totalled 44%, with the spend roughly equally split between semiconductors and other components. This isn’t a surprise as, although there are more of the “other” companies, many of the bigger spenders are semiconductor manufacturers.

Distributors were responsible for almost a third of publishers’ revenue: this is an impressive total as the number of distributors is much smaller than the number of manufacturers. But with the challenge of differentiating distributors, the limited loyalty and the strong advertising presence of companies such as Digi-Key, distributors clearly need to spend significant amounts to maintain market share.

Tools and software accounted for 12%: this is a good number for a sector that has a reputation of not wanting to pay for advertising and represents a decent proportion of publications’ income.

Although there isn’t anything too surprising in these results, it’s interesting to see who is spending the advertising money. Perhaps the best news is that publications aren’t reliant on one sector of the electronics industry for advertising, making their businesses a little more stable and secure.

The survey did find some surprising results so if you’ve not seen it yet, click now to read European Publishing Myths Smashed with Electronics Media Survey.

European Publishing Myths Smashed with Electronics Media Survey

We recently conducted a survey of the European electronics media and the results have been more than a little surprising! Although we’re always a little cynical of conventional wisdom, we’d have expected a rather gloomy picture from the media as online revenue fails to replace rapidly declining print sales. What we found, however, told a very different story.

68% of European Electronics Publications Grew Revenue Last Year

Based on the publications that responded, things seem rather rosy. I was delighted that 68% of respondents said that their publications’ revenue grew last year. It’s great to see that so many are doing so well, and although most of the growth was between 5 and 10%, around one third of the publications grew by more than 10%.

Clearly the publishing industry isn’t doing too badly. In fact, only one publication reported a revenue decrease of more than 5%.

When we asked how competitors were doing, the consensus was that competitors were probably declining. Clearly conventional wisdom has influenced publishers! The good news for them is that the market isn’t as bad as they thought, but the bad news is that competitors are growing.

60% of Revenue is from Print Advertising

60% of revenue is from print advertising? It’s 2019, don’t you know!

We were surprised that more than half of the revenue for publications came from print advertising, three times the billings for online banner ands and six times the revenue from email newsletters. Email rental represented just 4% of revenue.

These are amazing stats, which are possibly due in part to publications in Eastern Europe skewing the figures. Despite this, it’s clear that there is still a long way to go before print advertising disappears!

The Study

The research was carried out in July, attracting responses from 24 publications from around Europe.

More Information

We’re working on further analysis of the study, and are sure to find other surprises. Keep checking the Napier blog and reading our newsletters to be the first to know when more results are announced!