Costly mistakes made with google analytics

Seven costly mistakes made all too often with Google Analytics

The vast majority of digital reporting is comprised either entirely or partially by data from Google Analytics. So while familiarity with it doesn’t guarantee an effective reporting process, lack of familiarity does guarantee an ineffective one.

There are a bunch of mistakes commonly made with GA (all of which I’ve made over the years). Here are some of the more costly ones:

 

1. Covering too much

As with any modern analytics platform, there is a hefty volume of data in GA for anyone that wants it. The problem is that unlike GA, humans are pretty lousy at processing vast quantities of data, so if our reports fail to laser in on a small number of key items, we can safely assume that a grand total of **** all value will be taken from the process. We need to take a few strands and use those to tell a simple business narrative.

 

2. Automating reports

In spite of my previous point, there have been a handful of occasions over the years where I have sent a new customer a report and been informed that it lacks detail. Apparently their previous agency sent a 35 page every week with lots of colourful graphs and charts. I’d ask them to share some examples and predictably, they were all automated reports, with absolutely no narrative or actual analysis. Clearly it was reassuring to the customer so maybe there’s a lesson in there for me, but in terms of actual value this process is adding between zero and nothing. The value is in digging into the data, finding things that don’t quite make sense, staring at the wall for a couple of minutes in quiet frustration and then reaching a conclusion - ideally one that drives action.

Bypass the work and you’ll bypass the value.

 

3. Presenting it in the wrong way for the audience

If the report is for the marketing manager, then a lengthy PDF could well be right. After all, it’s this person’s job to be interested.

If it’s for a CEO or Sales Director, on the other hand, do not expect them to even open the pdf, let alone make sense of it. These are busy people, and frankly they have more important things to be doing than reading my 400 word analysis of their recent surge in traffic from Bing. All these individuals care about is what it means for their business, and I better be able to contain my thoughts to half a dozen bullet points in an email or they’re not going to be heard. Even better, via text message.

Make it easy for them to be interested.

 

4. Lack of numerical attribution

The majority of our clients sell high value, bespoke services, which means few of their websites possess ecommerce functionality. One of the downsides is that we can never be clear of the exact value delivered to the business in analytics (how much is an enquiry on x page for y service worth?). However, that doesn’t mean we can’t make an educated guess Let’s say that we’re an accounting firm and we know from our historical P&L data that a typical client stays with us for three years and pays an average of £900 a month. That’s £32,400 of lifetime revenue, £10,800 of which is profit (working to a standard 33/33/33 split between overheads/wages/profit). We also know from our CRM data that our conversion rate from website leads is 15%. The value of a website lead is therefore £1,620. Or maybe we err on the side of caution and round it down to £1,500. By adding this value attribution to our goals in analytics, we can now see an approximate value delivered by each channel. It may not be exact, but if a channel is delivering lots of value or little value, we’ll know it, and can then adjust our spend and focus accordingly.

 

5. Misunderstanding the data

A great deal of data within analytics is misleading. Which is not to say that it’s inaccurate, but simply that without context it may lead us to think one thing, when actually the opposite is true. For example, let’s imagine that organic traffic is on the rise. “Fantastic!” we think, as we enthusiastically write up our latest report. Yet a few minutes later, we notice that goals have reduced. How could this be? Surely with all this extra organic traffic we should be generating more goals than ever? It’s probably just an anomaly, we tell ourselves, and finish writing the report while we hope the client doesn’t bother to read the detail. What we’ve failed to notice is that while organic traffic is rising, the proportion of traffic being sent to pages that actually convert is reducing. This is a constant problem on B2B sites as typically 80-90% of their traffic is to blog posts and other legacy resource content. I’m not suggesting the value of this traffic is zero, but it’s probably not much higher than zero (depending on your ability to capture the data with some kind of hook). Whereas each visitor to a specific product or service page could be worth tens of even hundreds of pounds. This is the traffic we care about. Setting up a segment in analytics to isolate this traffic will give far clearer insight as to the actual commercial performance of the website.

Don’t get distracted by the noise.

 

6. Looking at the wrong time frame

The number of times I’ve heard people excitedly exclaim “website traffic has risen by xx%!”. “Wow”, I respond “that’s awesome! Over what time frame?” “The last week” they reply. At which point I feel myself losing all interest in the conversation. You see, 7 days is fine if you’re Amazon (in fact 7 minutes is probably fine if you’re Amazon), but for a B2B organisation that generates small quantities of targeted traffic for ultra high value services, it’s statistically meaningless. The natural variance over a week, or even a month, is so great that we need to look at far long time frames, probably over the course of the year. We also need to compare to the same periods for athe last two or three previous years, in case there is a seasonal trend that we might be missing.

 

7. Attaching too much value to the data

The final mistake is allowing our strategies to be driven by data. Tactics, yes. Test, measure and iterate based on the data available. That’s been true for a hundred years.

But allowing the data to drive your strategy is a road to nowhere. It can only tell us the value of what we have done. Not the value of the things we didn’t do, and certainly not the value of the things we might do in the future.

As Rory Sutherland, VP of Ogilvy writes in his superb book, Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense - never forget that the “data in 1993 would've predicted a great future for the fax machine.”

 


Consumer principles within B2B marketing

Influencer engagement & 3 other consumer ingredients every ambitious B2B content strategy will contain in the 2020’s

B2B content strategies are not only becoming more ambitious, they’re becoming more characterised by consumer principles. In fact, the greatest B2B campaigns now barely even look like B2B campaigns any more.

This trend is only moving in one direction. Here are some of those consumer principles that I believe will characterise the most successful B2B content strategies in the next decade…

1. Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is typically associated with instagrammers and YouTubers, but the truth is that influencers exist in every market. The B2B sector is certainly no exception. While the people may wear suits rather than bikinis and their followings may exist via real world connections rather than Twitter, they nevertheless offer all the same benefits as any consumer influencer:
- They pass enormous brand credibility
- They represent an incredible source of content and insight
- They can amplify the reach of the brand through their own networks
- Perhaps most importantly, they bring a content strategy to life

And one bonus advantage is that they often represent great direct sales prospects, making this as much of a BD exercise as a marketing one.

2. Charity partnerships

I use the word “partnership” deliberately. This is not about finding a convenient cause that elevates your CSR credentials. This is something else entirely.

It’s never been more important that companies demonstrate to both their customers and employees that they stand for something beyond the generation of capital. If you want to connect with your customer base and attract the brightest talent then you have to show that your vision statement are not simply words on a page, but a guiding light for every strategic decision.

There are many ways of demonstrating this, but I would suggest that one of the most efficient and impactful is to find a charitable organisation that shares the non-commercial goals of your vision, and partner with them on doing something truly extraordinary. They will bring their skillset to the table and you will bring yours. Not only do the results in themselves make this worthwhile, but it will also lead to stronger ties with your customers and employees, and all while forming the basis of a hugely exciting sub-branded content strategy (more on that later).

3. CPA models

When you see a brand flooding a new consumer market, it’s usually (at least in part) because they have a tight grip on their numbers. They understand the lifetime profit values of a customer and therefore what they can afford to spend in acquiring them, and whether or not a particular channel is viable and scalable. It’s this control on the financials that enable them to move so quickly and ruthlessly.

One might reasonably expect the B2B world to also behave in this highly rational way, but it’s rarely the case. Companies tend to think that because their sales journey is more complex and they may be selling a high value, low volume solutions, the numbers simply won’t be available. It’s a weak excuse. Even if you have to estimate certain parts of the formula (“I think on average a customer converts at about 25%, and they stay with us an average of 12-18 months"), it’s far better to have approximations than nothing at all.

Smart B2B organisations are beginning to realise this and attaching far greater importance to data, even when they have to make chunks of it up.

4. Sub-brands

Many consumer brands carry such great equity among their audience, that not only are customers comfortable publicly engaging in the relationship, but they will happily promote that fact (the badge on a BMW, the swoosh on a t-shirt, the apple on a phone). This is part and parcel of developing a great consumer brand, but the B2B space doesn’t tend to work quite the same way. While a B2B brand could and should aspire to be the brand senior decision makers clamber to be associated with (think of a CMO who brags about bringing in Ogilvy as their agency), that’s a long journey. So if they wish to reduce barriers to engagement more urgently, it may make sense to launch a sub-brand.

By launching a sub-brand that is aligned to your vision and values whilst placing its primary emphasis on engagement rather than conversion, you are going to find that engagement comes at a far lower price. Whether it’s attracting the interest of an influencer, picking up likes and shares for your latest Facebook update or capturing data via content downloadables, you’re likely to see the costs plummet and scalability sore through the creation of this secondary identity.

 

These are just a handful of examples and in a couple of years they'll have no doubt been done to death. The point is not so much to follow these specifics, but rather to start adopting a consumer mindset. Your decision makers did so many years ago.

 


SEO - not an exact science

The greatest cliche in digital marketing

“SEO is not an exact science.”

Those exact words appear 78,400 times online.

And like most cliches, it exists for good reason. Even if there was a time where a Google engineer could have told you the secret sauce, there is now so much machine learning involved that nobody could definitely state that A+B=C. Not only are things constantly evolving, but even at one singular moment in time every search vertical will be behaving that little bit differently.

We tend to focus on what this fuzziness means in terms of elevating your SEO, but the lack of clarity also applies to the things that can damage it. Of course there are certain broad principles that the SEO world is in agreement over - avoidance of spammy links, thin or duplicate content, aggressive anchor text - but alongside this short list of things to definitely avoid, there is a much longer list of things (I think) you should probably avoid, even in the absence of any concrete proof.

The question I would encourage you to ask is this - if you were head of the Google search team, would you consider X a good thing or a bad thing for this particular market?

That may not sound like a particularly robust approach - it isn’t - but frankly it’s all that we have. And the smarter that Google becomes, the more important this question will become.

Let me illustrate with some examples:

Speculative problem 1 - An imbalance of landing pages to other content

Some websites, such as ecommerce websites, naturally contain lots of high converting sales pages in the form of category, sub category and product pages. That’s just the way it is and it would seem absurd for any ecommerce site to be punished for that.

However, for a professional service website of say, a law or accounting firm, it would seem rather peculiar if 95% of the pages all corresponded to high traffic search terms. In that situation, Google’s machines might reasonably conclude that the website was being developed primarily for SEO purposes and with little interest in adding value to either the user or the broader internet.

I would therefore suggest, even though I have no specific evidence of its importance, that websites in these sorts of markets maintain a healthy ratio of broader engagement content to landing page content - at least of 1:1.

Speculative problem 2 - A sudden surge of internal and external links to a new landing page

Naturally, when we create a new landing page, we want it to index quickly and inherit lots of authority from relevant internal pages and, if possible, an external domain or two. However, I would suggest this is another area where we may need to tread carefully.

If I was that head of the Google search team, this is going to get my spam radar tingling with excitement. Let’s remember, the purpose of these signals are not to help you or I rank, but to produce better results for the user. Me picking up a bunch of internal links from half a dozen relevant pages then getting my mate to throw me a link from her site is hardly likely to correlate with improved user experience. Sure, if this was a news page then it may all make sense as it could represent a great piece of PR that people, including myself via internal pages, wish to link to, but if it’s some deep landing page that correlates to a competitive search query… that’s going to look mighty suspicious!

I’m not saying you shouldn’t pick up these links. But maybe, as with the landing pages, it would pay to think about how you might add other links to non landing pages to achieve a more natural distribution?

Speculative problem 3 - Using the same landing page template

There’s nothing wrong with consistency, and when creating landing pages there are likely going to be certain key messages / value propositions / sources of credibility that are shared across all of them. Likewise, there will probably be a consistent way you choose to format that content.

However, if you’re not careful, these pages can end up being comprised of not only the same code, but also much of the same copy and other rich media, such as a glowing video testimonial you choose to use on every sales page. It may be entirely legitimate in your mind, but from the point of view of Google what we’ve created is a textbook target for the old panda penalty, which has long been built into their standard algorithm.

With each of these points, I’m not suggesting you avoid these practices as they are all fundamental to SEO, but my point is that it pays to put yourself in the shoes of Google and consider how things may look given what their machines know about your market.

It may be far from an exact science, but the closer Google’s algorithm comes to reflecting the human brain, the more we stand to gain from approaching SEO with a very human mindset.

 


Most important question in branding

The most important (and least frequently asked) question in any brand journey

Branding tends to be viewed by non-marketers as a rather vague and abstract process, principally concerned with the way things look.

We have only ourselves to blame. Marketers, as a species, are some of the most frustratingly vague people you will meet, using an ever expanding array of terms interchangeably and inappropriately. Above all, we spend WAY too long talking about the aesthetics and other peripheral aspects of brand (tone of voice, personality, etc) and almost zero time talking about the thing that carries 97% of the value.

That thing is - what does the business actually do?

There doesn’t seem to be an agreed term for this thing but the term I subscribe to is core competence.

Nothing is more important than establishing one’s core competence. Everything else is a consequence of this singularly important decision.

Why is it so important for the brand?

External clarity

Clarity (or lack of) for what it is a business actually does, will feed into every piece of marketing that company communicates. If the business isn’t sure what it does, the customer definitely won’t be.

Delivering a marketing strategy for a company that truly knows itself is at least 150 times easier than doing so for one that doesn’t. There is a consistency of story and message, that allows each tweet, blog and email to add up to a real asset over time.

Internal clarity

No organisation can function without clarity of accountability, particularly among senior management. This is especially true for start-ups, where lots of talented, hard working people have their efforts undermined by fuzzy job descriptions and ever-fluid remits. Some of this is unavoidable - things move quickly in a start-up - but mostly it’s because the business does not actually know what it does, and therefore cannot allocate responsibility clearly among its senior leadership team.

Less excusably, the same issue regularly exists among large, established organisations, where any boundaries that once existed have now crept so far that the organisation is just one enormous corporate lump without any clear position or identity.

The rare company that avoids these temptations and maintains focus, even when it means sacrificing market share, enjoys clarity through every rank and function. Each system of the business can be designed to execute its one thing beautifully and repeatedly.

Remember, most companies fail not because they failed to say yes to the right things, but because they failed to say no to the wrong things.

How many competencies can a business have?

The simple answer is lots. Take a Big 4 accountancy firm, for example; they’ve extended their corporate tentacles into so many business domains that it’s quite difficult to find a professional service they don’t consider a core competence.

For most companies though, particularly small businesses, the answer should be “as few as possible”.

For those that have the luxury of having just one, there is absolute laser focus. The customer understands what they’re all about, as do the employees, and every system within the organisation is designed to deliver on this one promise. There are downsides, however…

Limiting yourself to one core competence is likely to mean either lack of scalability, or, if the market for this one thing is huge, then tonnes of competition. For example, if I were to run a web development agency that possessed no other significant skill other than web development, then unless I go ultra niche (development for a particular industry or coding language) I’m going to be up against tens of thousands of other development agencies globally with no significant way of differentiating myself.

And then comes the fragility. If my competence is a very particular technology and one day that technology becomes obsolete, I have no other means through which to maintain my relationship with my audience.

This is why, for most companies, the answer is probably more than one but still less than half a dozen. While they may not have absolute laser focus, what they do have is the ability to marry these multiple competencies in a way that provides a distinct position in the market. The example I always use is that of my cousin, a doctor. He is quick to admit that he’s not the greatest surgeon in the world, and while he’s a very successful academic there are people on a similar level, but where he’s in a league of his own is that he’s BOTH a highly successful academic and also very credible surgeon. It’s the marriage of those two skills that sets him apart.

Furthermore by having multiple competencies it also affords greater stability as even if one became less valuable, you still have other ways through which to deliver value. The challenge is that you allow it to creep as distractions disguised as opportunities emerge. Two competencies becomes three. Three becomes six. And soon they’re not actually core competencies any more. Just things you say yes to.

 


Charity marketing

What do these 5 award winning charity videos have in common

We know that people make decisions for emotional reasons (often post-rationalising if the context demands) so from a marketing perspective, charities seem to have everything stacked in their favour; tonnes of real human stories packed with emotion, and the ability to make someone feel great by demonstrating their generosity. But if that’s true, why do so many struggle convince their audience to even take notice, let alone action.

The answer is simply because the charity market is SO busy and people have become remarkably good at blocking it all out. So in order to make an impact, charities can’t just do a good job of their content, they have to do a breathtakingly good job.

Every now and again a charity succeeds in meeting these extreme standards. This blog post will explore how, but first let's see some examples...

1. Most Shocking Second A Day - Save the children

 

2. Dear Future Mom - World Down Syndrome Day

 

3. The Answer Is Plain - Cancer Research UK

 

4. Sandy Hook promise

 

5. A moment of dyslexia - British Dyslexia Foundation

So what do these 5 videos have in common:

  1. They focus on one thing. As Steve Jobs once wrote, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. A huge challenge in any creative process is reducing it to one simple concept that can be explained in a couple of sentences. Each one of these is beautifully simple no matter how complex the subject.
  2. They highlight a conflict. In each of these videos, there is some kind of contradiction, inconsistency or hypocrisy that’s being highlighted (the way we view those in war zones as somehow different from the people on our street, or the tension between the innocence of children playing and the malevolence of a pack of cigarettes, or the fear of having a child with Down Syndrome and the joy that child ultimately brings). It’s within this jarring juxtaposition that the key message cuts through.
  3. They emphasise the shit. Our aversion to bad stuff is a more powerful motivator than our attraction to good stuff, so while heart warming stories of how charities are making a positive difference can be lovely, they do little to inspire action. By focusing instead on something harrowing or uncomfortable, these videos compel the viewer to actually do something.
  4. They are a little bit surprising. There is SO much content out there in the third sector. Simply stating the facts or showing another malnourished child does not (sadly) carry much meaning. We have to do something that little bit different.
  5. They have a clear ask. Brand awareness would be fine if everyone was out there thinking “Ooh, what charity should I donate to today?” But they’re definitely not thinking that. So if we don’t convince the viewer to do something right now in this tiny moment that we have their attention, we can consider the opportunity lost. Brand equity does not educate children nor fill hungry stomachs.

Until next time,

Dan

 


Business psychology in b2b sales and marketing

The SCARF model & what it means for the B2B buying journey

I recently encountered the SCARF model whilst watching this utterly brilliant presentation by Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy. If you’ve not seen it then frankly you should stop reading and go and watch his video instead (do come back though!).

Anyway, half way through the presentation he talks about this thing called the SCARF model. It only got a brief mention so I subsequently spent a bit of time reading into the subject and considering how it relates to the B2B buying journey.

The model is intended to help us understand how the human brain responds to threat and reward, and the first thing to realise is that the former is a MUCH more powerful motivator than the latter. The problem with threat, and the reason why it often isn't the best tool for motivation within a business setting, is that it prevents access to the part of our brain that handles complex decision making and creativity. Instead we experience tunnel vision as we focus on the most obvious and immediate source of escape from the impending danger. Which makes sense, right? For the tens of thousands of millennia that homo sapiens were hunter gatherers, if we walked into a clearing to encounter a hungry tiger, it probably wasn’t the time for blue sky thinking or trialling a new innovative method of shaking off our stripy predator!

Hopefully that all seems pretty self evident, but where things get interesting is in how this relates to our modern world, where we’ve traded the rivers, berries and big cats for Zoom, sushi and office gossip. As far fetched as it may seem, the stress emotions we experience in a modern social context are no different from the emotions we experience in a physical context. The same parts of the brain are involved in both physical and social pain, which means the latter can bring on all the same responses as those experienced by our poor hunter gatherer as she sprints for her life!

Needless to say, this is the last thing we want our buyer to be experiencing in the complex world of B2B sales and marketing. On the contrary, we want them to maintain a clear, open and positive perspective, with a willingness to learn new things and adopt new solutions (ours, ideally).

David Rock spent several years observing people’s behaviour within organisations and found 5 categories of stimuli that would trigger these threat or reward responses. If we’re to help our prospects successfully navigate the buying journey, it pays to understand what these our so that we can mitigate the threats and trigger the rewards.

Status - When people realise that something may make them look bad, stress hormones kick in. For example, when you perceive yourself as having a lower status than others, your ability to problem solve and articulate yourself reduces. Whereas when people are recognised for their heightened status, they experience an increase in pre-frontal cortex activity which enables complex problem solving, decision making and creativity. This role of status is particularly powerful within a B2B context, where a smart decision can result in instant status elevation, while a bad decision can derail a person’s entire career. No wonder, as Rory Sutherland observes, the greatest driver of all within business is the avoidance of blame!

So what can we do with this information:

  • Firstly, we need to get the person excited about what’s possible and what this will mean for their status in the organisation.
  • Secondly, we must avoid setting unrealistic expectations, as if the project fails to meet those expectations you will have damaged their status in the organisation (even if the ROI was still positive). Do not expect further business from this individual.
  • Finally, once the project is underway and considered a success, we can think of ways to elevate that person’s profile. Maybe we can ask them to shoot a testimonial video for us (win-win) or perhaps work with them to champion the initiative among other departments in their business, all the while ensuring we place them front and centre of the story!

Certainty - The brain is a pattern recognising machine, which is why music is rewarding as there are simple, repeating patterns that we can predict. So when an anomaly/error is spotted, it triggers an alarm which decreases activity in the reward part of our brain and stress hormones are released. The majority of decision makers would far rather have a guarantee of modest success than take small risk of failure, even if the reward was significantly higher.

Therefore, during the sales process we need to:

  • Provide lots of information to reassure, including case studies and testimonials, and have well prepared answers for every likely question and concern.
  • Provide competitor insight - if you can demonstrate that 3 of their competitors are investing in X and seeing great results, that’s going to remove a great deal of the uncertainty. As I wrote about before, it isn’t enough for the modern day sales person to have exceptional EQ and high levels of commerciality (although those things are crucial), they also need to be able to organise and assimilate high quantities of competitor, product and market insight, as they work to educate and reassure the buyer.
  • Back things up with hard data. Individual examples and stories are important (in fact nothing defines and distinguishes homo sapiens more than its ability to tell (and more importantly, believe) stories), but data is critical for enabling the buyer to rationalise their decision to themselves and their colleagues. This explains the growing obsession with big data, as it appears to reduce uncertainty and risk (even though data can only tell you the net value of the activities you have performed, not the opportunity cost of those that you haven’t).

Autonomy - We like to do things ourselves. It’s about exerting control. Any parent will know the frustration of trying and failing to encourage their child to do something, only for the child to happily do that very same thing 10 minutes later entirely of their own volition. As Rory Sutherland points out, this was also evident with Brexit and the slogan “take back control” - for many people the question of control was more significant than the thing being controlled (immigration, regulation, etc). Interestingly, research has shown that if we believe we can control a threat, we’re significantly less impacted by it than if we think it’s inescapable. For example, I have a long and unfortunate habit of social smoking on a night out. If this cocktail of carcinogens was being forced upon me, it would no doubt cause me significant stress and anxiety, but knowing that it’s entirely in my control and I can stop at any time (my next birthday, always) makes me feel rather relaxed about it all. Unfortunately.

So what does this mean for the sales process:

  • We can give options to allow the buyer a sense of control. Although if you still want to weight the odds in favour of a particular selection, you may want to consider the possibility of a decoy option which Rory Sutherland explores in his book - Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don't Make Sense.
  • Avoidance of long term contracts or large upfront costs will also reduce barriers, hence why subscription products have become so popular. People are far happier entering relationships that they can scale up, rather than those that bind them in and limit optionality from day 1.

Relatedness - As social creatures, our instinct is to put people in categories of friend or foe. In-group preference means we have a we have a bias to people that we can relate to, while strangers are innately threatening.

The good news is that the alert system can be quickly de-escalated by small actions:

  • We must establish rapport with the person. Find mutual points of connection. It’s why high EQ is so important in the complex sales environment. If we like and trust someone we’ll work hard to rationalise why we should work with them. If not, the opposite applies.
  • We should always encourage referrals among our existing clients, as the conversion rate where mutual connection exists is so much higher.

It’s also the reason why I believe teleconferencing is not the panacea that many have made it out to be during lockdown. The ability to meet someone in the flesh and shake their hand (or feet, even) is so fundamental to lowering that threat response with new connections.

Fairness - If someone perceives your actions as unfair then their desire to engage shuts down. You have been moved to the “foe” category and from this moment on they are likely to interpret all of your actions in a way that reinforces that belief.

This is why during the sales process:

  • It’s so important to consider the multiple stakeholders in an organisation. For example, if you’re looking to sell a new technology into a large company, but this solution is perceived as a threat to someone within the business or perhaps the investment is benefiting other departments more than their own, that individual will go to remarkable lengths to sabotage the purchase. Finding ways of consulting and pacifying these people could be crucial.
  • Demonstrating your organisational values is so important. Whether that’s through ambitious CSR strategies or throwing open your doors via social media to reveal the culture within - these are hugely powerful in reassuring the buyer that you are fundamentally good and fair people that can be trusted.

Remember, fear is a far greater driver than reward, so if any of the above go awry the decision process is likely to grind to a halt, and if it’s a large organisation with multiple stakeholders then you may never even find out why.

Imagine it like a giant game of Operation, where just one loss of concentration during a long, meandering journey can spell game over. Cavalier and aggressive sales tactics can work on the car forecourt because the fear of missing out on “the deal of a lifetime” can for a brief moment overtake the fear of buyers’ remorse. No such luck in a complex B2B sales environment. The journey is long and attempts to accelerate it will be stymied by the 17 administrative hoops. So be smart, be patient and do your homework. Even a single threat alarm can be fatal.

 


The best professional service content strategies

The Greatest Content Strategies In Professional Services

Most serious professional service companies create large amounts of great content, but that is not the same as having a great content strategy.

A content strategy should:
- Differentiate itself and cut through the ever-growing ocean of competitor content.
- Help the business fulfil its vision.
- Remove barriers to engagement (how many people want to be seen to be sharing commercial content from a law firm on Facebook, for example?).
- Provide compelling stories that bring out the human dimension of their brand.

Needless to say, these aren’t easy to find, but they do exist.

From Law

Mishcon De Reya - Business Shapers

It is no coincidence that the greatest content marketing strategy in law (perhaps in professional services) happens to be from one of the fastest growing law firms in the UK. A firm that has more than doubled in size over the past 8 years.

Much of this is thanks to their Director of Business Development, Elliot Moss. As the former Managing Director of creative agency, Leagues Delaney, Elliot joined Mishcon in 2010 and it wasn't long before he'd made his mark on the industry, in 2012 becoming the first non-solicitor to be included in the FT’s 10 Most Innovative Individuals in the Legal Sector. Since that time he has helped his firm win just about every award going for marketing and communications.

How has he done it? Mishcon work with high net worth individuals and companies, so early on Elliot launched a sub-brand called Business Shapers through which he interviewed entrepreneurs challenging and redefining their markets. This interview model is something a number of professional service companies are now doing, as we’ll see below, but when Elliot began this kind of influencer marketing was virtually non-existent in B2B.

Most brilliantly of all, Elliot secured a Saturday slot on Jazz FM in which he interviews these entrepreneurs whilst playing their favourite Jazz songs. This show is known as Jazz Shapers and it plays everywhere his audience is active.

Elliot Moss with one of his Business Shapers - Pip Jamieson

 

Taylor Vinters - Zebra Project

Like Mishcon De Reya, Taylor Vinters have a crystal clear sense of their audience, largely thanks to the leadership of Ed Turner. Their market is tech entrepreneurs, so they’ve opened offices in the UK's technology hotspots - Cambridge, Oxford and London - whilst establishing close relationships with each of the Universities. If you’re a law student in one of these markets but want to go into a firm where you can be close to entrepreneurship and technology, Taylor Vinters is the obvious path.

As part of this they launched The Zebra Project, a content strategy that celebrates remarkable people doing remarkable things via interviews, events, podcasts, social channels and webinars. The great thing about this kind of sub-brand, as with Business Shapers, is that you strip away much of the baggage associated with a law firm, making it far more likely that your audience will engage.

An example of the awesome content shared by The Zebra Project

 

Juro

Juro are on a mission to “make legal more human, one contract at a time”, and their blog certainly plays its role in driving that vision.

Everything about the blog is spot on. It strips out the main commercial navigation and replaces it with one focused on maximising engagement with the content. It features interviews with thought leaders, including CEO’s of some major tech brands and strikes a perfect balance between sales messaging and UX. Every last detail of both the content and the formatting is immaculate and a great example of how sub-brands (as much as I love them for this kind of initiative) aren’t always essential if you get all the other details just right. The only question is whether they might contain the blog within the domain rather than as a sub domain, in order to aid their broader SEO.

Great B2B content example
The perfect balance of engagement led UX & commercial messaging

 

Pincent Masons - Outlaw

This content strategy makes the list for no other reason than the fact it has the best sub-brand name in the industry - Outlaw.

 

Accounting:

Flinder

Flinder is a data-driven accountancy firm, with a reputation for doing things differently. A trait that's evident in their marketing, with the blog featuring regular podcasts by the companies CEO, Alastair Barlow, in which he takes a deep dive into topical financial and strategic issues.

Perhaps what’s most impressive, however, about the Flinder content strategy, is the thought they’ve given to the audience on each social platform. So while the blog and LinkedIn may be focused on their customer audience, their Instagram page is built very much with their employees (both current and prospective) in mind, as they use it to showcase the company culture and employee experience.

Professional service content strategy
The Flinder culture showcased on Instagram

 

Smith & Williamson - The Pulse

Like Flinder, Smith & Williamson have a podcast series. This time under a sub-brand - The Pulse.

Within the podcasts they interview entrepreneurs and other subject matter experts. The content is fantastic and the sub-brand helps remove some of the barriers of the parent brand. However, the podcasts are still housed in a very conventional blog within the overall site, including all the standard commercial navigation.

RSM’s The Loop is another example of this. The advantage is that any positive brand associations from sub-brand to brand are stronger, and all SEO benefits are directly felt by the parent domain, but I would guess that the engagement is limited as a consequence.

 

Mazars

Mazars have a range of beautiful blogs, such as this one on Financial Services.

From a design and UX perspective, it’s fantastic, but I would argue the use of a sub domain is questionable. It connects the blog closely to the Mazars brand which is likely to limit engagement, but there are no real SEO benefits passed (as sub domains are treated completely separately by Google), so it’s failing to fully capitalise on the benefits of either option.

Great content strategies for professional service firm
Beautiful design. Questionable UX & SEO.

 

Wilson Partners - Thinking Business

Wilson Partners are a small firm with a focus on entrepreneurial businesses in the South East. They’re also (full disclosure) a long term client.

Their strapline is “Thinking Business”, so we decided to use that as the content sub-brand, to aid the connection between the two. Given the importance of SEO to Wilson Partners, we decided to house it on the parent domain, but completely changed the navigation to focus on content engagement.

This simple approach has enabled the company to punch well above its weight, both in terms of content engagement and search engine performance.

Professional services blogging at its best
Blogging that marries great UX with SEO

 

HR & Recruitment

Mercer

The human resources firm Mercer have perhaps the best Coronavirus content strategy that I’ve found in any market, going to huge effort to reassure their audience by demonstrating their insight into the pandemic.

The content is rich and thorough, and a huge amount of thought has gone into the UX. Meanwhile their Facebook page - Mercer Insights - is a great example of how a professional service firm can contain their content under their parent brand whilst still developing content entirely on the terms of their audience.

B2B coronavirus blog
As good a coronavirus content strategy as you'll find

 

Propel - Digital Nation:

In the recruitment industry, there is a huge opportunity with influencer marketing for 2 reasons:
- Companies can use the interviews as a means of opening doors with potential decision makers
- They already have an existing team of outreach specialists

Propel are an example of exactly how this can work, running a simple content strategy that captures insight from some really high profile figures within their target market. Such a powerful initiative for opening doors, expanding their network and creating new opportunities. A similar strategy can be seen with Silicone Roundabout.

 

Technology consulting

T-Impact - Transformation Network

I'm going to finish with another client, for no other reason than I'm really proud of the work we've done and would quite like to brag about it. The Transformation Network began as a content sub-brand for T-Impact that interviewed high profile figures within their target markets, principally the legal sector. By taking this approach we not only captured awesome content and elevated the T-Impact brand, but also used it to aid our direct response lead gen campaign rather than running it under the parent brand - Cost Per Acquisition dropped by 80%!

However, we felt we could take it even further, so we began running monthly events with CEO’s and Managing Partners of top law firms, leading to hours of awesome BD time for our client whilst also capturing further great insight and offering a fantastic time to the attendees.

Sadly, due to the pandemic the events are now on hold, but The Transformation Network is now an established and credible brand with a highly engaged database and huge commercial potential. All while driving the client's long term vision of positively transforming their target markets. In other words, everything a great content marketing strategy should do.

An example of the content created and shared by The Transformation Network

 


Making B2B more human

Marketing In A Post-Covid World - 7 Ways To Make B2B Marketing More Human

There is a theme that keeps coming up in my interviews. A theme that relates closely to our services as an agency and that’s repeatedly entered my thoughts during long walks, showers and coffee breaks (the three sources of all my ideas - good and bad).

That theme is “Making B2B more human”.

Almost without exception, every brand disrupting a stagnant B2B or professional service market is doing so by applying traditional consumer principles to audiences that have long been treated as perfectly rational and void of emotion. The thinking goes - if you want to sell something to a business, drown them in features, benefits and technical detail and eventually they’ll have no choice but to accept your proposition.

It’s nonsense. As the great Dave Dye stated in our interview last year, “[In B2B, you’re still] talking to human beings. They’re a bundle of emotions held together by cello-tape and string. They’re driven by all the same underlying insecurities, pressures and dreams as any consumer audience.”

It’s a subject I wrote about several months ago in which I suggested the solution began with copy writing (as it does with most challenges in marketing). The subject goes a lot further than that, however, so many walks, showers and coffee breaks later, here are seven ways we can go beyond the features and make B2B more human.

 

1. We need to understand how the product/service really impacts the end user

For example, if the product is an expensive piece of cyber security software, the person isn't buying cyber security software. They are buying:

  • Satisfaction that one of their big jobs for the quarter is signed off
  • Peace of mind that if something goes wrong that they will be able to show the board that they did all their due diligence in the purchasing process
  • A better night’s sleep

And if the product is small business accountancy software, the person isn’t buying accountancy software. They are buying:

  • The ability to pay their mortgage
  • Control over their employees' wages
  • Ongoing funding of their Pokémon Go addiction

Whatever the product is, our goal as marketers is to tell the stories of the real people behind the purchase, and to write sales copy that resonates with these underlying drivers.

This is becoming particularly important within a lot of B2B technology sales where the target is no longer a senior exec with a $5m budget, but a mid level manager or specialist looking to purchase a flexible, low cost and subscription based solution. In other words, the people who will actually be using the product. If you don’t know why these end users are making the purchase, your marketing has failed before it’s begun.

 

2. We need to involve real people in our content strategies

In marketing speak, we call these people “influencers”. It’s a strategy used to exhaustion in consumer marketing, and not without good reason.

Influencers exist in every market, including B2B. Maybe not on instagram and Snapchat, but in industry magazines, on panel debates and headlining exhibitions.

By engaging these people you instantly add a human dimension to the stories you’re telling, whilst also benefiting from their credibility and reach. They can bring products to life in a way that conventional case studies can’t, and engage with the audience, be it online or offline, in a visceral way that directly drives behaviour.

 

3. We need to bring these people together

Having run a digital agency for a decade, naturally my first instinct is always to find the virtual solution. But having (entirely by accident) become involved in a variety of events, interviews and other traditional initiatives over the last few years, I’ve come to the acceptance that people will always connect best in person.

I know this isn’t a popular view during Covid-19 and I think the Zoom revolution is going to have a permanent and positive impact on the way that we work, but the bottom line is that marketing at its most human involves getting those humans together, pressing the flesh (footshakes will also suffice) and in all likelihood, sharing a gin and tonic.

Small, intimate events work best. Ideally it should repeat multiple times a year (from experience it’s the third encounter in which guards drop completely) and the attendees must share common challenges and opportunities. Every effort should be made to reduce formality.

The extent to which people are willing to share and help one another in this environment can be extraordinary, even direct competitors.

 

4. We need to create content strategies that can impact the brand’s vision

Most brands now understand the importance of having a lofty and inspiring vision, both to engage customers and attract the best people. However, all too often these are just words on a page. There is little substance.

One way to ensure the vision counts for something is to create a supporting content strategy that propels it forwards. For example, if you say your vision is about using technology to transform a particular sector for the benefit of all within it, your content strategy should be aimed at doing just that. So perhaps you could bring together people from that community and act as a facilitator as they exchange insight and experiences, then share those stories via blogs, email and social media to drive action across the broader market.

 

5. Consider how such a strategy could benefit a non-profit cause

This is not about conducting some half-hearted charitable work or boosting your CSR credentials. It’s about taking the vision for your content and the brand and asking “Is there a non-profit initiative that shares these aspirations?” If so, why not collaborate? You’re investing the time and resources anyway, so why not allow a good cause to benefit?

Introducing this philanthropic dimension will bring further momentum to your work, and reassure all involved that this is more than a fancy marketing strategy. This is about really making an impact.

 

6. Communicate in an authentic tone of voice

This point was covered in the previous article but it’s too important to skip over entirely.

This is not about being humorous for the sake of being humorous or inspirational for the sake of being inspirational. This is about being true to the people behind the brand. And if those people are super straight-laced, professional and a bit dull, then that’s okay.

The thing is, in my experience, successful business people are rarely like that. Whether it’s the CEO of a multinational or founder of a start-up, these people tend to be brimming with passion, energy and opinion. They are occasionally assholes, but almost never boring. After all, these leaders have successfully sold their vision to their employees and investors. All we’re trying to do is communicate that personality and passion more widely so it can be experienced by all who come into contact with the brand.

 

7. Tell the stories of the people behind the brand

It’s one thing to ensure a brand’s communications reflect the people behind it, but it’s quite another to thrust those people into the spotlight.

So often senior leadership try to hide themselves from public attention. Sometimes because they worry it may inhibit the scalability of the brand, sometimes because they think they have more important things to be doing and sometimes because they’re a small business and believe that appearing like a large faceless corporation will give them greater credibility.

They’re wrong.

Brands are stronger when they are personified by real people. Once you bought into Steve Jobs, you bought into Apple. Once you bought into Richard Branson, you bought into Virgin. And once you bought into Elon Musk, you bought into Tesla.

In fact, even if you don’t like these people as people - and let’s be honest, at least 2 out the 3 are/were appalling narcissists - you can’t help but be captivated and compelled by their energy for what they do.

Of course there are exceptions but 9 times out of 10 companies would benefit from making their leaders not only more visible, but also more real.

 

The biggest challenge of all for B2B marketers

There is one particular issue that I think warrants special mention. And that’s long form content: lengthy articles, detailed videos, extensive white papers and other heavy content assets that demand significant time from our audience.

The trouble is this - within the B2B world, there is a tendency to view short form and long form content as adhering to two very different sets of principles. We create lots of emotive content for our audience on social media because that’s just what you do, but then when we ask the same people to download a whitepaper, it’s as if we’re representing a different brand. Just pages and pages of words that are all perfectly accurate and professional but make absolutely zero effort to convey even a suggestion of personality.

Long form content is the backbone of most B2B marketing collateral and yet 9/10 such assets are entirely stripped of emotion. It’s nonsense. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about B2B or B2C markets, long form content needs personality. Arguably even more than short form content, as we’re trying to keep the user engaged for a much greater period of time.

I think the simple reason for this problem is that creating boring content is a lot faster than creating good content, and as we tend to create such vast quantities of information in B2B (often with limited budgets), we have little choice but to dumb down the creative process. Then we rationalise it by saying “Well, it’s only for technical people anyway. They love all this detail.”

They almost certainly don’t. And they’d definitely rather it was engaging.

So what’s the answer? Often the media costs involved in B2B are far lower than consumer markets, so ideally we would shift some of that budget over to content production. But if that’s not an option, then we should just create less stuff. Either way, we need to do it properly.

As an aside, if you want to learn how to create long form content in a way that really speaks to the human on the receiving end of it, read the script of a TV infomercial for a domestic cleaning product. You’ll quickly realise there is no such thing as a boring product - only boring marketers.

 


B2B SEO Question

B2B SEO: Companies hoping to punch above their weight need to ask themselves this one question

The vast majority of B2B customer journeys begin with a search into Google. This stuff really matters.

Typically, this will begin with a period of research, then once the person feels they understand the supplier landscape, they’ll make contact. Alternatively, they may download some content along the way, giving an immediate advantage to the provider of that content, particularly if it’s then followed by additional value via email.

However the journey looks, every company wants to be part of it. But with a huge advantage going to big brands, how do regular B2B organisations get in on the action?

(Before we go any further, I feel I should be clear that this article is not intended to be a detailed guide to SEO. You can find that here, here, here, here and here.)

The answer is that they ask the right questions. One in particular.

Before we get to that, however, let’s remind ourselves of how Google determines its rankings. In simple terms, it falls into two broad categories:

  • Website trust
  • Content

In other words, all Google wants to do is rank the best content from the most trusted brand, for any given search query.

The trouble is that the first part - trust - isn’t built over night. And frankly if you’re up against huge multi-nationals then even with heavy PR and link solicitation, you’re never going to get in the race.

The second part, however - Content - is a level playing field. And this is where we can punch above our weight.

We need to absolutely nail the content of the page that we are trying to rank. And this is where that question comes in.

The question is - “What are the long list of things that someone might be hoping to find when they make a relevant search query?”

This is all best illustrated with an example.

If a company is selling enterprise cloud solutions, they’ll presumably want to rank for terms like “Enterprise Cloud Solution Provider”. So if we put ourselves in the shoes of the individual making that search query, what are they hoping to find as they type that into Google?

If they’re technical, they might be hoping to find:

  • Detailed features and benefits
  • Information on compatibility with other systems
  • Lots of specific guidance under an FAQ (Frequently Asked Question) section
  • Links to related blog posts and articles
  • Testimonials from other technical people, just like them

While if the person is a senior executive, they’re probably more interested in:

  • The commercial and strategic benefits
  • What other companies from their market are using this solution
  • Testimonials from other senior people, just like them

The trouble is that you don’t know who the person is behind a search query like “Enterprise Cloud Solution Provider”. It could be someone technical, it could be someone senior. Or perhaps mid level management who wants to understand the impact on their particular function. Maybe they’re from the retail industry, maybe they’re from the manufacturing industry…?

The reality is that the person could have any one of a hundred different hopes and intents when they make this search query, so somehow we need to ensure that:

  • We satisfy as many of them as possible
  • And all while maintaining a reasonable user experience (which probably requires hiding lots of the content behind tabs and dropdowns so it doesn’t overwhelm the user at first glance).

In simple terms, that’s it.

The digital god that is Rand Fishkin explained this best 8 years ago(!) on one of his famous whiteboard Fridays. We like to think that the internet moves so quickly that the rules of SEO must have changed beyond all recognition since 2012, but having deployed this tactic at least 10 times over the last year, I can assure you that it’s as powerful as ever.

To reiterate, all Google wants to do is rank the best content from the most trusted brands, and for generic search queries “best content” is always going to be broad content.

Over to rand...

Until next time,

Dan


Social media success KPI's

The only metrics worth tracking for your B2B social activity

B2B and professional service firms often challenge the value of social media - they are right to do so.

Social media tends to attract a disproportionate amount of attention (and therefore budget) due to the fact that it’s not only new and exciting, but also more visible. You can’t easily learn what your competitor's email strategy is or what exhibitions they’re attending, but with one click you can hop onto their Facebook page and see every bit of content they’ve ever shared.

Social has a role to play, absolutely, but in order to understand that role you need to be clear on the metrics by which you’re judging success.

I’d suggest that there are three things worth tracking (with one clear priority). Everything else is noise.

 

  1. Driving sales qualified leads

The first and hardest to achieve is sales qualified leads. In other words, those people who are actually seeking to buy.

For most B2B and professional service organisations, it’s almost impossible to do this directly via social, particularly if the price point is high. Social is great for driving impulsive action, but complex B2B buying journeys are a different beast. If you’re a gym hoping to drive new members, Facebook is one of your hottest channels, but if you’re hoping to create beautiful content that “inspires” someone to spend £100k on a cyber security solution, you may be waiting a along time!

What is likely to happen instead is this:

  • The lead finds you via another source - a google search query, referral visit or perhaps a direct brand visit having seen you at an event or heard about you from another customer, etc.
  • Then they click on your social media to get a better sense of what you’re about as a company. A bit like the "About Us" page (one of the most trafficked pages on most B2B / professional service sites) but far more revealing and engaging, or at least it should be!
  • Having spent a few minutes scrolling through your content and building up a picture of your expertise, communication style and culture (are these people they want to do business with?) they then go back to the website and make contact.

Every year we will have half a dozen decent leads arrive via social media. Of those, 4 or 5 will have followed the path described above. The other one may have taken a more direct route straight from the social platform in question - perhaps we were just in the right place at the right time..?

This my not sound like a lot and it isn't reason alone to invest in social, but it's certainly something to be tracked. It's a metric that senior decision makers will understand and if just one of those leads comes off, it'll pay for all our content and social activity for the next two years.

 

  1. Clicks to the website

The second priority metric is clicks back to the site. To be clear, clicks carry zero inherent value, but there are two reasons why I personally include them in the KPI’s:

  • It is possible that referral traffic from social media platforms may act as a signal in your SEO efforts. This point is highly speculative(!) and is likely to be market dependent as Google’s algorithms are now primarily driven by machine learning, therefore the signals that apply in one vertical may not apply in another.
  • It demonstrates an increase in the level of commitment from the audience (most people do not like leaving their social platform for another site) and that commitment is essential in driving the third and most important metric.

Which is…

 

  1. Capturing MQL data

For me, this is the real point of your social media efforts. To build your database.

By MQL’s (Marketing Qualified Leads), we mean the contact details of anyone who falls within your target audience and has given you permission to make contact. They may not have a requirement today, but they tick all the boxes of your ideal prospect.

The data you receive may include telephone number which if you have an outbound sales function is fantastic. However, the real value for most companies is in the email, as this is an asset that can grow over time without a directly correlating increase in cost (unlike telephone numbers which are only as valuable as the sales people you’re paying to call them!).

The data you capture may feed into an automated email sequence that takes the user through a pre-defined journey, or they may just be added to a list of people who will receive targeted information every week/month. Either way, you are building one of just two real digital assets your company owns (the other being your website), and the compound value, if managed well, is likely to surpass the potential of any other single channel.

So, how does social drive this email capture? Lots of ways. Perhaps by driving clicks to the website which then generates a lightbox, or maybe you’ll be more aggressive and run direct response campaigns on the social platform itself. However, with likely cost per acquisition of anything from £5-£50 for most B2B organisations (depending on your audience, content and brand), the latter is probably only viable if you have a sales function making direct use of the resulting data.

 

And a bonus - the non-sales objectives

It’s also worth mentioning that not all the benefits of a digital channel can be measured in pounds and pence. Social media, as the name suggests, is probably the single greatest digital channel for communicating and strengthening company culture, making it a powerful tool for both recruitment and engagement of existing staff.

Unless you’re a really large business, however, this is likely to be more of a side benefit than anything that can justify direct commercial investment.

 

Final thought

Most B2B organisations manage to somehow  underestimate the power of social whilst simultaneously overspending on it. Social absolutely has a role to play. It’s a key touchpoint and has enabled companies to reach their audience in more targeted, cost effective way than ever before. However, in order to extract that value companies need to understand its place in the sales/marketing funnel (right at the top!) and the corresponding activities that need to surround it.

Above all, they need to know how to measure success.