FIR B2B podcast #119: Our favorite email newsletter tips

Paul Gillin and I are old hands at email newsletters. Paul had his own for several years and has produced several for his clients. I currently publish two: my own Web Informant, which I have been doing almost weekly since 2003, and Inside Security which is part of a group of newsletters. We share a few tips from our years of experience.

The first is to know your audience and segment them for best results. This post in Marketing Week documents how marketers are segmenting the audiences at a much finer level than they previously did thanks to an explosion in behavioral data from third parties. One bottled water vendor was able to dramatically boost the response rate of its YouTube ads with an email newsletter sliced by 16 different segments. The survey found that behavior and location are the most effective segmentation methods, with the old stalwarts like age and gender being the least effective.

We discuss how to craft your subject line and choose a coherent theme as well as how to pick the optimal length and number of hyperlinks to include. If you do use links, beware of URL shortening services, since many as spam filters block them. There’s also the question of whether to make your newsletters text-only or to go the HTML route. If you choose the latter, be sure to test each newsletter with different browsers and different screen depths. Finally, we cover how to choose the right tool for the mailings. We’ve used a variety of them over the years, and each has different strengths and weaknesses. Some of these topics are mentioned in this piece for Marketing360.

We’d love to hear from you about your favorite email newsletters and tips for creating your own. You can listen to our 16 min. podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast #118: Customers as advocates, ODI progress and why you need a style guide

We have a trio of discussion items on this week’s podcast with myself and Paul Gillin. The first is from DigitalCommerce360 and concerns how customers should be your best advocates at building your brand identity and promoting your company. Marketers who focus on improving the customer experience and figuring out ways to regularly listen to customers’ desires and complaints can benefit from low-cost and powerful word-of-mouth promotion. So why don’t more B2B marketers have programs aimed at loyal customers?

Late last month there was some progress to report on the Open Data Initiative, a standards effort launched last fall that seeks to create a standard for the interchange of marketing data. Sounds boring, but with marketers spending more on analytics than IT organizations these days, we thing it’s important. Executives from Adobe, Microsoft and SAP just gave more details about how the three will standardize interfaces among their products to help common customers get a clearer view of their customers without going through a lot of messy data transformation. The trio also announced a slew of VAR partners that will support ODI. But the list was also notable for the big companies that weren’t there, like Oracle, Salesforce.com and marketing automation vendors.

Our final item is How to Create a Style Guide for Content Marketing. Too often marketers jump in to content programs without laying the groundwork for a consistent style and direction for their blogs and websites. Having a solid style guide isn’t just about where to place your commas but the right tone of voice and point of view that your authors should take. There is a lot of good advice in this piece.

You can listen to our 14 min. podcast here:

FIR B2B #117: Alternatives to Facebook

The short answer is yes, and we explore the various dimensions of The Facebook Problem in this week’s podcast. First we touch on the swirl of commentary about Zuck’s latest pronouncement that the company will combine Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram into a single, unified product. Is there a business model in there somewhere, or is this just wishful thinking? Some analysts have already said that the era of Facebook’s News Feed is now officially over. We aren’t so sure, but we agreed that Facebook has become mostly a waste of time. There are some other business-oriented networks that we think have more value, including Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn, Alignable and Spiceworks. We’ve found all to be more fertile hunting grounds for business marketers. We also have advice about how to choose and test among those sites. 

We recorded this episode just before Brian Krebs revealed that Facebook exposed hundreds of millions of user passwords to more than 20,000 employees for years. It is certainly a sad state of affairs.

One final thought about Facebook: Reuben Arnold, Starbucks’ vice-president of marketing and product in EMEA, said he wants to  have deeper conversations with some of its customers and promote its brand using private groups and private accounts on social media channels. Maybe this is an alternative to just posting to the greater universe. We’ll see. 

But wait, there is more. We like this post about whether it’s time to go back to taking notes with pen and paper. How many of those people tapping away on their laptops during a meeting are doing something related to the meeting? You know the answer. Maybe it’s time to ban the laptops and aim for shorter meetings instead. 

We also discuss a recent news item about how execs from the UK-based convenience store Tesco are frustrated that the company is having to spend an increasing amount of money on ensuring its advertising doesn’t appear next to inappropriate content and believe publishers should foot more of the bill. It used to be that publishers protected their advertisers from this kind of embarrassment, but in a world dominated by algorithms, anything goes.  

Finally, there was a charming story earlier this month about a handwritten note to the CEO of Quantas from a 10-year-old boy who wanted to start his own airline. The airline posted the kid’s letter and a welcoming reply from CEO Alan Joyce, who commented, “Our competitors don’t normally ask us for advice, but when an airline leader reached out, we couldn’t ignore it.” The story is more than charming though: it is a lesson about how a light touch and a sense of humor can go a long way towards promoting your brand, in this case to the tune of nearly 30,000 retweets.

You can listen to our 19 min. podcast here:

FIR B2B Podcast #116: If AI is Becoming So Good, Why Are We Still Counting Clicks?

In this fast-paced episode my podcasting partner Paul Gillin and I offer five different news stories that bracket the B2B marketing world. First up is this piece about neural storytelling and how AI is attempting to create content with machine learning algorithms. This kind of technology has some important implications and not because it promises to replace humans. In the news recently is this story about the OpenAI text generator called GPT2. Its creators were afraid that its work could generate spam and fake news so effectively that they’ve chosen not to release the full-strength version to developers. That’s either a little unsettling or a great PR stunt.

Next is a story about how clicks are an “unreliable seismograph” for a news article’s value, combined with new research to back up that conclusion. We all seek out stories that amuse and entertain us, but a good news site contains a nice mix of the serious and the bizarre. As serious readers, we need to seek out stories of civic value, not just the latest celebrity clickbait. The article, which was prepared by Neiman Lab, also notes that the word “personalization” has become a big negative, because folks think this means “ads will follow your browsing forever” rather than customizing content for a reader’s taste and preferences.

We move on to a piece that is almost blindingly obvious, but a great checklist to help marketers understand how to influence the B2B decision-making processIt proposes five simple questions to ask your prospective customers, such as where they start their search for content, what kinds of information they look for and what sites they employ. Answering these questions takes just a few minutes and can be give marketers a useful starting point for a lead-generation campaign.

We also found this piece on Marketing Week that talks about a recent series of decisions by MasterCard to both eliminate text from their logo (as at left)  and use “sonic branding” to help with voice assistants and audio sound-enabled devices. This company is smart is getting ahead of the voice assistant phenomenon and figuring out branding in this new medium.

Speaking of audio, our final piece is a study that suggests that podcast ads outperform TV ads. The study found that the two are equivalent in terms of being memorable and resonating with audiences. Podcast advertising can be particularly effective when the host lends legitimacy by giving a personal pitch for the product, which is becoming the norm in that medium.

You can listen to our 14 and a half minute podcast here:

FIR B2B episode #115: Social Media Adoption Over the Years – the Latest from the Annual UMass Survey

Nora Ganim Barnes, Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.Today Paul Gillin and I talk to Nora Ganim Barnes, Chancellor Professor of Marketing and Director of the Center for Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, about her latest survey of corporate social media usage. Barnes has been surveying two distinct populations for the past 12 years – the INC 500 and the Fortune 500 – to ascertain what social media platforms they use, how they use them and how they measure results. Her students visit the websites of all 1,000 companies measured and augment the research with telephone interviews.

For the first time in nine years, more F500 are using blogs than the INC 500, and the increase has been substantial in just the past three years (see chart below), jumping from 21% in 2015 to 53% in the most recent survey. Clearly, the largest companies have reclaimed blogging and are using their blogs to tell stories and better craft their marketing messages.

Barnes found that Twitter occupies an odd place in the social media pantheon: it is well used (with 369 out of 500 companies running active accounts), but not considered very effective. Still, companies don’t abandon Twitter, perhaps out of fear of missing out or the possibility that they might need it at some point.

What has also changed is that 56% of INC 500 execs are now doing a better job of listening on social media, tracking online conversations about their brands and products with various monitoring tools. That is a big increase from last year, when it was about half that number.

This year Barnes’ research  found a big concern about privacy, which is probably not surprising given the numerous breaches and missteps by Facebook and others in this area. Privacy was executives’ second biggest concern behind social ROI.

Finally, her survey saw double the firms who have formulated a social media plan from last year.  Although the overall percentage is still less than a quarter of the total, that’s progress.

You can download the UMass surveys at the link above, both the current ones and in year’s past. They are a rich resource that all corporate marketing departments should carefully examine.

You can listen to our 21 min. podcast here:

Privacy, transparency, and increasing digital trust

There is a crisis of trust in American democracy.” So begins a new report from the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy organized by the Aspen Institute. It lays blame on our political discourse, racial tensions, and technology that gives us all more access to more commentary and news. “In 2018, unwelcome facts are labeled as fake.”

Part of the problem with trust has to do with the ease of cyber-criminals to ply their trade. Once relegated to a dark corner of the Internet, now many criminals operate in the public view, selling various pieces of technology such as ready-made phishing kits to seed infections, carders to collect credit card numbers, botnets and web stressors to deliver DDoS attacks, and other malware construction kits that require little to no technical expertise beyond clicking a few buttons on a web form. A new report from CheckPoint shows that anyone who is willing to pay can easily obtain all of these tools. We truly have witnessed the growth of the “Malware-as-a-service” industry.

This week I was in London participating in a forum for the Euro press put on by RSA. I got a chance to interview numerous experts who have spent their careers examining cybercrime and understanding how to combat fraud. It was a somewhat sobering picture, to be sure. At the forum, RSA’s president Rohit Ghai spoke about how the largest facet of risk today is digital risk, and how businesses need to better integrate risk management and cyber security methods. “This is a team sport, and security, IT, operations and risk groups all need to work together,” he said. “Our goal is not just about protecting apps or data, but about protecting our trust assets. We trust strangers to share our homes and cars because tech brings us together and drives the sharing economy.” We need to replace this trust system in the B2B world as Airbnb and Lyft have done for consumer-based businesses.

Ghai agrees with the conclusions of the Knight report that trust is at an all-time low. We have gotten so distrustful of our digital lives that we now have a new acronym, LDL, for let’s discuss live. But we can’t turn back the clock to the analog era: we need trust to fuel our future economic growth. He mentioned that to be trustful, “an ethical company should be doing the right thing, even if no one is looking at them at the time.” I liked that idea: too often we hear about corporations that are polluting our environment, denying any responsibility or worse, covering up the details when they get caught.

Part of the challenge is that cybersecurity is really a business problem, not a failure of technology. This is because “breaches and intrusions will occur,” says Ghai. “We have to move beyond the shame of admitting a data intrusion, and understanding its business impact. Our goal should be maintaining cyber wellness, not trying to totally eradicate threats.” Taking better care of customers’ privacy is also good for business, as numerous reports (such as this one from RSA) have concluded recently. Almost half of the consumers surveyed believe there are ethical ways companies can use their data.

Another issue is that what we say and what we actually do about maintain our digital privacy is often at odds with each other. In a 2017 MIT privacy experiment, they found that student participants would quite readily give up personal data for very small incentives, such as a free pizza. This dichotomy is even seen with IT security pros. A recent survey by Yubico found that more than half of those IT managers who have been phished have still not changed their password behavior. If they don’t change to improve their own security, who will?

The same dichotomy can be said about transparency: sadly, there are few companies who are actually as transparent as they claim, either through willfully misleading the public (Facebook is tops in this regard) or by just doing a poor job of keeping their IT assets under appropriate controls (the City of Atlanta or Equifax are two prime case studies here).

Where do we go from here? Security expert Bruce Schneier says that trust is fragile, and transparency is essential to trust. The Knight report carries a series of recommendations for journalists, technology vendor managers, and ordinary citizens, and I hope we can implement many or all of them to make for a better mutual and trusted future. They include being better at practicing radical transparency, for journalists to disclose information sources as a rule, and making social networks step up and take responsibility for protecting their users. All of us need to work together if we want to turn this around and increase trust.

FIR B2B Podcast #114: Does moral marketing mean wading into politics?

Writing on Brandwatch, CMO Will McInnes says there are three gaps CMOs need to bridge: metrics, moral marketing, and innovation gaps. Understanding each one is essential to being a better marketer. We examine more closely the second one, where the author cites an Edelman study that found that two-thirds of consumers will choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based upon its stand on societal issues. Given the amount of polarization in American society right now, marketers should thing twice about wading into political debates. 

Another survey by Annenberg PR Center at USC found that 44% of CEOs said their most important communication goal for 2019 is to sell their products and services while 39% say their primary goal is to differentiate their company’s brand from the competition. Paul and I disagree on whether this is a positive trend or not; CEOs have the power to significantly influence public opinion, but is is fair to their shareholders to exercise that power? 

Finally, we look at a joint study by researchers at Boston University and the University of Georgia that found that only one in ten people can distinguish between sponsored editorial content.  People who mistook the advertisements for legitimate news articles were generally older, less educated and more likely to consume news media for entertainment purposes. We agree that any short-term boost a brand might get by deceiving an audience is negated by the reputation damage of being outed for that deed. However, Paul points out that one factor in the confusion is that branded content is getting better, and marketers should take credit for that fact. 

You can listen to our 14 min. podcast episode here:

FIR B2B podcast #113: How One Former Journalist Crossed the Chasm to Content Marketing

Denise Dubie was a technology journalist for more than a decade before switching to corporate content marketing, and her reportorial instincts have served her well. Denise, who recently took a new job as Director of Content at PureB2B in the Boston area, was previously senior principal of content strategy at CA Technologies and before that a senior editor at Network World. It’s rare to find someone who has had such deep experience on both sides of the business.

We discuss how she made the transition from tech journalism to marketing and the value of her journalism background in her new corporate role. Denise comments on how her work style changed between the two types of jobs and where the greatest adjustments were necessary. We also talk about success metrics she used at CA and the surprisingly little value she found for social media as a promotional channel. 

Denise also provides some practical tips on what listeners can do to improve their content marketing programs. It starts with having a thorough understanding of customers, a topic we harp on frequently in this podcast. 

FIR B2B podcast #112: What it means to be true to your brand

Welcome to the new year and we hope you all have had a nice holiday break. In today’s episode, Paul Gillin and I talk about what it means to be true to your brand and why marketing managers need to pay more attention than ever to branding in an age in which customers increasingly control the message.

What makes a brand? First off is understanding what are your core values and what lies at the heart of your business. This post for B2B Marketing tells how Burberry, the British clothing maker, literally torched its merchandise in an effort to sustain its premium pricing, a move that turned out to be a major faux Other prominent examples of companies whose bad actions have undermined their brand are Uber and Facebook.

Will brands without social purpose thrive? A new survey finds that two-thirds of consumers expect companies to create products and services that “take a stand” on issues that they also feel passionate about. A great case study can be found in, of all places, with a new British bank called Monzo. It’s trying a new approach to gain customers: raise funds via crowdfunding, open its API, run meetups and hackathons and become more transparent about trying to attract millennial as its customers. Regardless of whether it’s successful, you have to give Monzo credit for originality.

Finally, we offer up a few suggestions on how you can stay true to your brand using storytelling and social media techniques. You can listen to our podcast here:

FIR B2B podcast episode #111: Why marketers should care about privacy invasion

Perhaps the most important B2B marketing story of 2018 is the invasion of our privacy. In our final podcast of the year, Paul Gillin and I talk about how companies have been so cavalier in abusing the data that their customers give them. This invasion has happened through a combination of several circumstances:

  • In the case of Facebook’s failures, the combination of a lack of transparency and an immature and misguided management team.
  • In the case of Google,not being truthful about what its incognito browsing mode is actually doing and how it is doing it. This is from a report from one of Google’s competitors, DuckDuckGo, which found that Chrome personalizes search results even when users aren’t signed in.
  • Abusing smartphone app permissions, as a new study by the New York Times revealed this week. Apps were tracking users’ movements and despite claims that identifying information had been removed, the Times reporters were able to track down a few users and interview them for the story. How they did their research is a fascinating look at how difficult one’s privacy can be to protect today.

Certainly, next year is shaping up to be a watershed moment in resolving these micro-targeting issues and being more parsimonious in how our data privacy is protected. We welcome your thoughts on the matter, along with a few suggestions for marketers to better audit what their developers are doing with respect to privacy.  You can listen to our 15 min. episode below. Have a happy and healthy holidays and a great new year!