Results vs. Face-Time

Results vs Facetime

By Patricia Lenkov, Chair, Executive Search, N2growth

No, the title of this article does not refer to some new video game or online competition. Rather I am alluding to the current debate that has resulted in the aftermath of Yahoo’s announcement earlier this week that it is ending its work-at-home policy.

This announcement has resulted in large-scale reactions in the press and online. There are a plethora of opinions on this matter, including the thought that this is simply a way for Marissa Mayer to “clean-house” by lowering headcount without the cost of severance packages.

There are, of course, many ways to think about working at home versus in an office but I believe it is wise to always remember that one size does not fit all. That being said, perhaps the underlying dilemma here is to determine how to best evaluate progress and results in an organization.

Yes, Yahoo has had more than its fair share of struggles, yet can anyone say with certainty what effect, if any, the fact that they allowed workers to telecommute has had on their results, or lack thereof? Furthermore, who knows, perhaps if they had not allowed workers to telecommute the company would be in far worse shape.

In the best-selling book “The 2020 Workplace” Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd state:

“In the year 2020, our office will be everywhere; our team members will live halfway around the world. How, where, when, and for whom we work will be up to us – as long as we produce results. By the year 2020, the rules of the employee-employer contract will have to be rewritten by the best employers if they are to compete for top talent”

Yes, face-time is necessary within an organization and relationships do need to be fostered but this can in fact be accomplished through periodic time spent in the office rather than all the time. Additionally, the very fundamentals of how relationships are cultivated is undergoing massive change in our new hyper-connected world. This “need-to-be around the water cooler to innovate” is an out-dated idea reminiscent of the work environment of Mad Men.

Given the turnaround that is required at Yahoo, Mayer may be correct in assuming that more team building and camaraderie is necessary but this broad-sweeping change may have the opposite effect. Rigidity and regimentation may stifle the creativity that is certainly imperative at the company.

Finally, and just to add another dimension to the issue, I will refer to the idea of working in “third-places.” First places are corporate offices, second places are home offices and third places are other locations where work gets done. The most familiar of these is your local Starbucks! “The 2020 Workplace” refers to research by Gartner Dataquest that estimates that “one-fifth of the nation’s workforce is part of the so-called Kinko’s Generation, spending a significant number of hours each month working outside a traditional office.”

Full disclosure, I spend most of my time working in second or third places!

Thoughts?

Follow me on Twitter @Patricia_Lenkov

To Blog or Not to Blog?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I think you’d be shocked at how many people still struggle with the “to blog or not to blog” dilemma. Most of you who have been following this blog know that I’ve been an a strong evangelist of social media, and perhaps even more so of blogging for several years now. So why is it that so many people still seem paralyzed when it comes to taking the plunge? Let’s look at the numbers…While the numbers vary depending on which source you believe, the total number of blogs on the Internet is generally thought to be in the range of 200 million blogs. By any category analysis or analytical standard blogging has obviously developed into a powerful communication medium. However the question remains, do the numbers in-and-of-themselves mean that blogging is right for everyone?

I have read many a commentary ranging from the negative – “is blogging dead?” to those who argue the opposite - ”Blog or Die.” Moreover, since I author a Blog (you might be interested in reading a previous blog entitled “Why N2growth Blogs“) I must believe in blogging right? Not necessarily…If you’ve taken the time to review a random cross section of blogs on the Internet, I’m sure you’ll agree that the world would be better off without some of the content currently being published. That said, I also believe the world is indeed a better place as a result of some of the good content available via blogs. While I don’t think a business will perish if it does not blog, I wholeheartedly believe a business will clearly fail to maximize its full potential without leveraging the significant benefits that blogging affords to those who do choose to participate.

Jason Lee Miller authored a post entitled: “Blogging Hits a Crossroads” last year which I believe is probably even more relevant today than it was when it was first released. The premise of his piece is that the landscape of the Blogosphere is changing radically, and that as such many “A-Listers” have either quit, or are contemplating giving-up their blogging endeavors. Miller’s post is quick to point out that blogging is competitive, requires a great investment of time, subjects the blogger to the ire of those who have dissenting opinions, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to make money blogging. I concur with all of the aforementioned assertions, but must admit that I am far from quitting…In fact, I would say that blogging is just starting to get interesting.

What makes blogging so interesting is also precisely what makes it so annoying at times…the low barrier to entry. The simple fact is that anyone can blog, which explains the existence of the huge numbers of blogs I mentioned earlier. The noise in this space is simply deafening…As Miller so aptly stated in his post, “The good stuff lasts, the chaff separates from the wheat, the cream rises to the top, all that.” The dropping-off of a few “A-Listers” is of little consequence to me, or frankly to anyone else. The litmus test for blogging is, and always will be, does your blog add value, does it make a difference, and do people benefit from the opinions espoused?

Bloggers will continue to come and go…while some will be missed, many will not. Nevertheless the reality is this…blogs are not a tool for those looking to get rich quickly (that train left the station a long time ago), nor are they likely to transform insignificant thoughts into something other than what they are. What blogs do offer is a viable and robust platform to be leveraged by those that have a message worthy of communicating. Blogs can clearly be accretive, and will continue to add brand equity to those companies and individuals who grasp the value of social media and understand how to incorporate blogging into their social media efforts.

It should also be noted that while blogs can and certainly do take people that previously lived in relative obscurity and turn them into almost overnight sensations, the reality is that the higher-up in the org chart you tend to find yourself the more benefit there is to blogging. This is simply due to the fact that more people want to hear what a high profile CEO or entrepreneur has to say. Taking into account the above considerations, not everyone can or should blog. In this author’s humble opinion, blogging only makes sense if the following conditions can be met:

You Have Something To Say: I don’t have any particular affinity for useless musings. Time is a precious commodity these days and most people I know are looking for valuable information that they can put to work for some benefit. I’m also not a fan of going to a blog to read third party news, press or the re-blogging of someone else’s information published for no other reason then to boost their search engine rankings. There are plenty of legitimate news sites and other aggregators out there so if you can’t produce your own content you shouldn’t blog.

You Know How To Say It: Mark Twain I’m not, but for the most part I can put across a cogent thought. While there is no requirement that you be a Rhodes Scholar to blog, it does help if you can communicate well in written form. The worst thing you can do for your business is to lose credibility via poor communication and a lack of professionalism. Not everyone is a writer nor should they try to be.

You Have The Time To Say It: I generally produce 5 blog posts per week (one each business day) and it normally takes me an hour or two per post. I don’t simply link to another article or make trite comments, but author original content that I hope adds value, which in my opinion is mission critical. If you don’t have the time to make blogging a priority the effort will end in frustration for both you and your audience. Post frequency is an often debated topic, but how often you post isn’t as important as meeting whatever commitment you make, and doing so with quality content.

You Have Someone To Say It To: Make sure that there is a viable audience for your content. Whether the blog is a tool for internal communication to employees or an external channel to third parties you must have an audience to either receive or pass along value. If no one is reading your content, you might get some cathartic benefit from your efforts, but there may be better uses for your time.  

There Is Some Benefit Derived From What You Say: Back to value – whether the value is received or given (in a perfect world both) does not matter as long as value is created. A blog can serve educational, social, business, philanthropic, political or any number of other agendas so long as a clear value add is present. A simple cost/benefit or risk/reward analysis should indicate whether your effort will be of value to you, and even if it is not of value to you, it may be to others.

The bottom line is that the numbers do in fact speak for themselves. Blogging is much more than the latest trend and is here to stay. So as long as you can meet the criteria mentioned above blogging can be a tremendous platform from which to effectively communicate your message. If you’re still on the fence, I would request you try and answer the following question: If you can engage those with whom you conduct business, or otherwise desire to interact with in a meaningful and value added fashion why wouldn’t you do so?   

Thoughts?

Do You Have An Internet Strategy?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you have an Internet Strategy?What drives your internet strategy? I’m always amazed that in today’s digital world where web based technologies reign supreme, at the number of companies that still don’t get it…It is not at all uncommon for me to find corporate internet strategies that are at best cobbled together if they exist at all. It is as if digital marketing and branding initiatives are the corporate version of the “hot potato,” such that everyone wants to have their say, but no one wants to take responsibility. Rarely do I come across corporate internet strategies that are aligned with the core business strategy. In an earlier post entitled “Who’s In Charge of Your Internet Strategy“ (dated but relevant), I address many of the typical mistakes made with regard to the management of corporate internet initiatives, but in today’s post I’ll focus on the benefits derived by engineering a well conceived internet strategy. 

Is your internet strategy engineered by design, or has it just evolved over time by default? There are few assets that can be leveraged across the enterprise as effectively as a company’s web assets. Furthermore, your company’s brand credibility is often judged by the quality and consistency of a user’s online interaction and experience, so why would you want to put anything other than your best foot forward? Rather than complain about your online initiatives I would suggest you correct performance gaps by taking a step back and revisiting your overall internet strategy to insure that it is properly aligned with your core business strategy. 

Rule number one when developing your internet strategy is that it must be inclusive and not exclusive. Your corporate web presence should not be driven by IT, marketing or sales to the exclusion of one another, but rather it should be developed collaboratively in order to unite all departments to deliver real business value across the enterprise. A company’s digital strategy should balance ROI and contribution to the bottom line with growth-oriented business and IT initiatives.

As part of the cohesive and collaborative approach mentioned above, it is important to once and for all understand that your corporate website is where things begin, and not where they end. Believing that a corporate website can function as a single, stand-alone asset shows a complete lack of understanding of how to leverage the internet. Your corporate website needs to rest at the center of a spoke and hub architecture that includes, blogs, wikis, profiles and groups on social networking communities (Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), a network of related product/service/group microsites, article and video marketing, internet radio, TV, and PR, and the list goes on…The internet is a constantly evolving space and has changed radically from the early dot-com days.

A solid internet strategy is born out of both analytical and practical considerations with the internet strategy simply being a tactical extension of core business strategy. A well conceived digital strategy will be deeply based on customer, competitor, industry and constituent research used to identify and prioritize key business opportunities for internet channels.  It will guide you towards the identification of new opportunities for increased revenue or cost savings by applying rigorous analysis of customer behavior, needs and financial value. The strategy should define associated costs and expected return as well as put forth metrics-driven implementation roadmaps.

It is also important that your internet strategy create multi-channel integration which serves to combine business and technology assessment, requirements development, and implementation. It is essential to evaluate and clarify channel strategies for effectiveness and profitability, as well as assessing areas of vulnerability and opportunity. A well designed internet strategy will also accelerate go to market time-frames and add to customer lifecycle value. With constantly evolving technology, and a better understanding of consumer behavior, barriers to adoption are falling at rapid rates. The proper strategy will leverage these trends to build strong sales funnels and increase conversion ratios. By building in strong up-sell/cross-sell mechanisms, and effective customer self-service options, margins should increase due to an increase in average order size with a lower cost of fulfillment.

Internally, the implementation of a well defined internet strategy will increase operating efficiencies by automating business process, stimulating innovation and collaboration, increasing the effectiveness of communication, and shortening production cycles. Virtually any application that was once administered through desktop solutions can now be addressed through web based solutions at lower costs with greater efficiency and scalability. Externally, the internet must align and propagate your brand promise and message in a way that works cross platform and medium to increase revenue and brand equity by reaching all constituencies in the manner in which the prefer to be communicated with. 

Bottom line…the internet is only as powerful as your ability to understand and harness its strength to your advantage.  

Social Media 3.0

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Social Media 3.0Social Media 3.0…Okay, I said it and I’m sticking to it. It is time for Social Networking tools, applications and platforms to live up to their potential and make the iterative leap to next generation Social Networking, or “Social Media 3.0″ if you will…While I have no intention of disputing the commercial success of YouTube (Google purchased it for $1.65 Billion dollars when it was only a 9-month old company), FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or any number of other organizations that have monetized on their first mover or early adopter advantage, Social Media is still in its infancy. For Social Networking to make the next leap in maturation it will need to move beyond advertising driven consumer models, and evolve to an enterprise class business platform. In today’s post I’ll examine what needs to happen for Social Media to go 3.0…

In a nutshell, here’s my problem with the current status quo of Social Networking…I have more than 6 million contacts in my LinkedIn network alone, and that along with .50 cents won’t even get me a cup of coffee. Okay, I’m being a bit harsh here, but the reality is that if you aggregate all of my contacts, in all of my social networks, I have a very unintuitive, and very large number of data records that don’t seamlessly integrate with one another, and therefore are not very easy to leverage. At present, I’m forced to bolt on various applications and toolsets like contact managers, SFA, CRM, BI, and KM tools to do a poor job of what the next evolution of social networking should accomplish by itself if engineered properly.

As I’ve stated in previous posts, I’m not interested in disparate contacts and data records…I want cohesive relationships, built upon actionable knowledge, which can be used to add value in meaningful ways. Most of all I’m looking for aggregation…I want to be able to efficiently and effectively work between and across various networks in a seamlessly integrated fashion. Those of us in the innovation business have an old saying that states: “You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s information and survive to be in business tomorrow.” Understanding that we are just dusting the surface with Social Networking is paramount in being able to drive forward. User generated content is well and fine, linking profiles is interesting, but this is child’s play and not where the economic value or social benefit truly lies.

Social Media 3.0 will have more complex ontology, based upon reality mining and social graphing which will be integrated with reasoning and logic engines to produce useful intelligence that will allow businesses to better manage risk and to scale with much greater velocity and precision. One example of next generation Social Networking is IBM’s Atlas solution which maps social networks in the workplace. One of the functions of Atlas is identifying user connections via e-mail, IM, workgroups, duties, responsibilities, reporting lines, etc. An Atlas map shows the importance, value, location, frequency, and relevance of their social network in order to increase productivity and spawn new innovation and collaboration. Simply put, it is more than blogging and commenting…

Bottom line: As the better business minds apply more disciplined rigor in evolving Social Networking to a higher purpose, the rewards for business and society as a whole will be vast…The good news is that it won’t take long. At the current pace of development we’ll see huge advances within the next 12 – 18 months. Buckle-up as the ride will be a fun one…

Direct Marketing via Twitter

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Power of TwitterLooking for a way to enhance your direct marketing initiatives? Look no further than Twitter. Why is Twitter so hot? Why is it the fastest growing microblogging/social media platform on the planet? Because it produces real value, and it does so very quickly. Twitter is arguably the best and most powerful direct marketing tool to come along since email assuming two things: 1,) you understand how to use it, and; 2.) that you do in fact actually use it. In today’s post I’ll provide a few thoughts on how to leverage Twitter without going into the technical aspects (there is already plenty of information in circulation on that).

First off, I want to address the snobs and elitists who largely comprise the small group of Twitter naysayers still in existence…Your competition is likely already Tweeting, so why aren’t you? Each time I hear someone dismiss the use of Twitter as being a ”waste of time,” or only for those that “don’t have anything better to do,” I chuckle at their naivete and/or apathetic approach. These too cool for school types are simply missing out on a tremendous opportunity, because it is easier for them to mock something they don’t understand than it is to learn how to leverage a new toolset. All I have to say is what a shame…If you fall into this camp I would suggest you do a reality check and get in the game. 

Next, I want to provide you with some validation of proof of concept. I have sold books and webcasts, have added subscribers to my blog, and have even secured new clients through the use of Twitter. Now keep in mind that I’m not an uber-user of Twitter. I don’t have a large follower base, I don’t spend all day on Twitter, I just participate in the dialogue taking place and nothing more…On a light day I probably only spend about 10 minutes on Twitter, and on a heavy day for me about 30 minutes and that’s it…

Want more validation of Twitters direct marketing capability? While Twitter is simply another channel of communication that extends my reach, and supports my other mediums, there are those who now make their entire living by leveraging the power of Twitter. Other examples of those that have monetized their Twitter followers are Dell Computer, who has traced more than $3 million in revenue directly to Twitter, United Airlines broadcasts “Twares” offering special fares on Twitter, Mariah Carey launched her new album on Twitter, in part due to his influence on Twitter Chris Brogan’s new book “Trust Agents” hit the New York Times Best Seller List,  well more than half of the Fortune 100 (and growing) are represented on Twitter, various charities and political causes raise funds on Twitter and the list could go on…While the list of what makes Twitter so special could be almost endless, I find the following 5 attributes most valuable:

  1. Twitter is fast and easy: Twitter rewards the articulate, and thrives on brevity and efficiency. Because you’re messages are limited to only 140 characters, the boring and verbose need not participate.
  2. Twitter is a real time pipeline to your followers: Twitter is instant, real-time communication. Just hit the update button and your message is instantly viewed by those who follow you on Twitter.
  3. Twitter is viral: If your message, your brand, your humor or wit, your offerings, etc., appeals to others they will spread it to their followers, and so on, and so on. I have watched a single message that was well accepted by Twitter users take someone from relative obscurity to a place of prominence overnight.   
  4. Google loves Twitter: Most people’s Twitter profile is indexed on page one of Google, and Google also indexes individual messages adding further leverage to the power of Twitter.
  5. Twitter builds your sphere of influence: You can not only find people of influence (CEOs, authors, politicians, the media, various pundits, celebrities, etc.) on Twitter, but you can easily open a dialogue with them. This is simply not possible in most other mediums, and where it is possible it is certainly not very easy.

My suggestion is this…become a Twitter user today. Don’t over analyze, and don’t wait…do it now. Once you’re live on Twitter, follow me @mikemyatt and be sure and let me know how it goes…

Website Traffic Analysis

By, Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

No Traffic Equals No RevenueSubjecting your website’s traffic to intense analysis is the key to breaking the code for improving conversion ratios and watching your success on the Internet skyrocket. Understanding the basic logic surrounding this premise, it amazes me how few companies truly understand the key metric in driving website success…traffic. In today’s post I’ll share a bit of information that will help you gain a better understanding of the value of website traffic analysis…  

The first step in analyzing website traffic is to actually look at the data. Your web hosting company can provide you access to your server log files which will provide root level data, some web hosting firms offer either proprietary analytical tools, or you can subscribe to third party applications like Google Analytics. The second step in analyzing website traffic is to actually be able to interpret whatever amount or type of data you have access to. The reality is that if you’re not familiar with internet jargon the data you receive from your host company can be overwhelming if you don’t understand how to apply it to your particular business and website.

In a previous post I addressed the subject of keyword analysis so we won’t spend much time on that topic today. Keywords aside, it is important to note that while you can become very sophisticated in the analytics surrounding your website traffic, examining the following five basic data sets will help you focus on the right things for the right reasons:

  • Traffic Count: If you look at nothing else, pay attention to the trends (growing or declining) surrounding the average number of visitors to your site on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. These figures are the most accurate measure of your website’s activity. At first glance one would think that the more traffic you see recorded, the better you can assume your website is doing. However, it is precisely this line of thinking that can cause you to gain a false perception of the health of your Internet presence. You must also look at the behavior of your visitors once they come to your website to accurately gauge the effectiveness of your site. One of the most common misconceptions related to website traffic has to do with what’s commonly known as “hits.” “Hits” simply means the number of information requests received by the server. If you think about the fact that a “hit” can simply equate to the number of graphics loaded per page, you will get an idea of how overblown the concept of “hits” can be. For example, if your homepage has 15 graphics on it, the server records this as 15 hits, when in reality we are talking about a single visitor checking out a single page on your site. As you can see, hits are not useful in analyzing your website traffic. Don’t get caught up in examining “hits”, rather focus on the number of unique visitors to your site as this is a much better indication of true traffic levels. The more you focus on assessing the unique visitors that come to your website, the more accurate your interpretation will become. The greater the traffic is to your website, the more precise your analysis will be of overall trends in visitor behavior. The smaller the number of visitors, the more a few anonymous visitors can distort the analysis. The aim is to use the web traffic statistics to figure out how well, or how poorly your site is working for your visitors.
  • Traffic Sources: It is also important to assess where your traffic is coming from. Does the majority of your traffic come from the search engines, and if so, which ones and via what keyword or keyphrase? In addition to the search engines you want to look at the other top referring sites driving traffic to your site. You should also assess what geographic regions are generating the majority of your traffic. If you only sell a product on a local or regional basis, but the majority of your traffic is being generated from Asia, then you likely have a geo-targeting issue. 
  • Average Session Length: As important as how many unique visitors reach your site, is how long those unique visitors remain on your site. One way to determine this is to find out how long on average your visitors spend browsing your site. If the time spent browsing your site is relatively brief, it usually indicates an underlying problem. Then the challenge shifts to finding out what that problem is. It could be that your keywords are directing the wrong type of visitors to your website, that your content is not appealing to your visitors, or that your graphics are confusing or intimidating, causing the visitor to exit rapidly. Use the knowledge of how much time visitors are spending on your site to pinpoint specific problems. After you fix those problems, continue to use time spent as a gauge of how effective your fix has been.
  • Average Number of Unique Page Views: One of the drivers influencing average session length is the number of actual unique pages viewed per visitor. As an example, at the time of this post, the average visitor to the N2growth site views an average of 18 pages before leaving the site. If people are drilling down deeply into your site it means that they find your site valuable, and if they only visit one or two pages and then exit your site you may want to examine the quality of your content. This type of information can help you determine effective and ineffective areas of your website.
  • Specific Page Analysis: In addition to the number of pages viewed you also want to pay attention to which specific pages are being viewed. If you have a page that you believe is important, but visitors are exiting it rapidly, that page needs attention. You could, for example, consider improving the link to this page by making the link more noticeable and enticing, or you could improve the look of the page or the ease in which your visitors can access the necessary information on that page. If, on the other hand, you notice that visitors are spending a lot of time on pages that you think are less important, you might consider making adjustments there as well. Your website undoubtedly has exit pages, such as a final order or contact form. This is a page you can expect your visitor to exit rapidly. However, not every visitor to your site is going to find exactly what he or she is looking for, so statistics may show you a number of different exit pages. This is normal unless you notice a exit trend on a particular page that is not intended as an exit page. In the case that a significant percentage of visitors are exiting your website on a page not designed for that purpose, you must closely examine that particular page to discern what the problem is. Once you pinpoint potential weaknesses on that page, minor modifications in content or graphic may have a significant impact on the keeping visitors moving through your site instead of exiting at the wrong page.

While this post was a rather high-level look at a relatively complex subject, I hope you were nonetheless able to take away some insights that will help you improve the productivity of your website.

Search Engine Marketing

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Search Engine MarketingSearch Engine Marketing has always played a critical role in managing the visibility of a company’s online brand. However with the Internet becoming what is arguably today’s dominant medium, Search Engine Marketing has also risen to become a key driver in a company’s overall brand strategy. Regrettably the maturity of the products and services that comprise search engine related disciplines come at a time when the industry has never been more complicated and difficult to navigate for the uninitiated. Even though businesses today have many more options with regard to how they execute their search engine initiatives, I find that many marketing executives struggle more today with their online marketing strategies than they did a few years ago. In today’s blog post I’ll share my opinions on the current state of the Search Engine Marketing Industry.

My experience with Search Engine Marketing predates many in the field. I have been active online since the days of ARPANET, co-founded what was at the time the largest web development company in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, served as Director of Internet Strategy for the world’s largest web-enablement, founded one of the top 50 Interactive Advertising Agencies in the United States prior to its sale, and our fastest growing practice area at N2growth is our social media practice. My purpose in providing the resume excerpt is not to self-promote, but simply to make the point that I have been actively involved in the industry from its conception, watched it struggle through its adolescence of the dot.com boom and bust, and am now watching it thrive again with a rapid proliferation of technology and marketing advances. While the Internet as a medium is far from being mature, it has most certainly evolved, and so have the methods for marketing your brand online.

This last year alone I attended a number of SEO/SEM/SMM conferences, and while the messages communicated at these events made it clear that the industry has shown remarkable growth, made tremendous advances in sophistication, and has increased in the diversity of product/service offerings currently available, I question whether things are getting better or worse for the lay person which accounts for the majority of consumers.

In talking regularly with many senior executives, marketing professionals and entrepreneurs one thing is clear…they are clearly not fluent in the area of search engine marketing. While these professionals understand the potential that search engine marketing affords for their businesses, they do not understand how to capitalize on it. In fact, many of the people I have spoken with are extremely frustrated at the amount of money they have invested in search initiatives without being able to develop an understanding of the medium, such that they have not yet been able to develop a consistent winning strategy in this space. 

The major problems that exist within the search industry are tied to the fact that this is still an embryonic, yet quickly evolving medium. There are only so many ways to promote your brand in more mature mediums like radio, print or television. Contrast this with the numerous options available with digital marketing, and you’ll quickly see the conundum that most businesses face. We regularly have clients ask if they should be on Facebook, Twitter, Lindedin or other social media networks, buy banner ads, purchase sponsorships, work on organic search engine optimization, use pay-per-click ads, focus on online PR, launch a blog, produce articles and/or white papers, create a Podcast, work on link building, start a video marketing campaign, promote webcasts, and the list could go on and on…You can see why so many organizations struggle online. 

The reality is that communication mediums in the early stages of their lifecycle spit out new opportunities faster than you can shake a stick at, and worse yet, this happens with a plethora of inexperienced vendors lined-up to cut their teeth on the advertiser’s nickel. There is rarely a week that passes when I don’t speak to a company who has a horror story to tell about a search marketing company who over-promised and under-delivered and by the time the advertiser figured out what was going-on they had spent thousands of dollars with little to show for it.

Another problem with the search industry is that Google currently controls most of the traffic. Combine Google’s dominant position with the fact that they will share little if any data with advertisers and that they can change the rules of the game at any time and it brings new meaning to the term “Flying Blind.” However the issue of transparency within the search industry is not limited to Google. Most of the search engines play their cards very close to the chest as they try and establish a leg up in the market. Until there is significant competitive pressure brought to bear on Google the odds are stacked against the advertiser. I met with a client last week that was spending 50% of their Pay-Per-Click budget on Yahoo and Bing because it was recommended to them by their search marketing firm. The problem was that given the advertiser’s product line and target market, Yahoo and Bing would produce virtually no return for them…This is a big problem.

The fact is that the Internet is the medium that can deliver the most velocity and biggest return on your marketing dollar. I also believe that this will continue to be the case as the dominance of the Internet medium will only continue to widen the gap over alternate mediums. Companies cannot afford not to allocate a substantial part of their advertising budget to online advertising, but until the medium matures it will behoove of them to make sure that they work with the best vendors who can keep up with the rapid pace of change in the industry.

Intellectual Property

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

While the security aspects of intellectual property (“IP”) are often sacrificed for speed to market considerations in today’s world of mash-ups and knock-offs, I believe when it comes to IP it is possible to have your cake and eat it too. The protection of all forms of intellectual property (“IP”) should constitute common sense and require no real explanation, however the courts are littered with case law precedent that has been decisioned against some of the largest and most sophisticated companies on the planet. What should be routine business 101 protocol, can easily turn into major financial and operational debacles if you don’t have a solid grasp of IP law. In today’s post I’ll discuss the basics of identifying and protecting your intellectual property.

The issues surrounding IP are basically three-fold: 1.) What actually constitutes intellectual property and what doesn’t? 2.) What is the best method to protect what is deemed as IP, and; 3.) Is intellectual property worth protecting? The answers to the aforementioned questions really lie in the eye of the beholder…Some companies take a very aggressive stance on attempting to classify virtually everything as intellectual property in an attempt to create competitive barriers and gain a competitive edge. Other firms only consider IP as it applies to protecting proprietary technology, while other firms almost ignore the concept of IP altogether (some out of ignorance and some by design). As to cost…well sometimes protecting IP is absolutely worth the costs involved, and in other circumstances any dollars sunk into protecting IP is more akin to a frivolous investment that can actually show a strong negative return.

I have witnessed companies invest human and financial capital to adopt a trade name without doing their research only to receive a cease and desist letter, or even worse, to be sued for IP infringement. I have watched other firms invest the time and resources into protecting a piece of intellectual property via the appropriate form of registration, but not be prepared for the cost associated with defending their mark against an aggressive and better capitalized competitor. I have observed other companies who made a valid attempt to protect their IP, but chose the wrong form of protection only to have better IP counsel exploit their flawed strategy. I have watched yet even more firms lose control over their IP to employees or contractors because they did not understand the ramifications of not using work for hire, non-compete, or non-circumvention provisions.

A company’s intellectual property can be virtually anything (tangible or intangible) from a trade name, product or service name, technology, business process, marketing copy, images and the list goes on…Companies can protect their IP through the use of a variety of legal mechanisms and registrations of which the most common types include:

  • Patents
  • Copyright
  • Trademark
  • Know-how
  • Trade Secret
  • Mask Works
  • Contract

Without going into the details surrounding all of the above protection alternatives, and to keep things simple, let’s use the example of a corporate website as it applies to copyright protection (keep in mind that certain things within a website can also be patentable, trademarkable or protected by contract). A basic website is composed of a multitude of copyrightable elements including textual content, graphical content, source code, custom applications, and numerous other items. Although as an entrepreneur or senior executive you might personally draft some of the text for your website, your internal staff or outsourced agency/contractor usually edits and refines your draft text, creates the graphics, source code and applications. Who owns what? Are you protected? Do you care? It is important to have proper written language incorporated within your employment agreements and vendor contracts to assure your right to move your site, modify it, and not have it held hostage or taken offline. Ideally, your contracts and agreements should specify that you own the copyright for the graphics, source code, applications, etc., but at a minimum you need a license to use those materials and to create derivative works.

Lastly, in addition to cost considerations there is also the potential for financial upside to a well conceived and protected piece of intellectual property. IP can produce revenue, be carried as an asset on the balance sheet, add to corporate valuation, or produce a personal income stream to an individual that licenses IP back to the entity.  

Bottom line…IP considerations should be incorporated into your business strategy and tactics in a fashion that provides you with the greatest possible benefits while managing your risk. In order to achieve the balance between risk and reward you should retain the services of a reputable IP law firm.

Internet Vision and Strategy

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Here is a message that you might not want to hear I am willing to bet that your company is not even remotely beginning to harness the full power of the Internet. Moreover I’m also willing to bet that you probably already know this. In a recent survey conducted by WebTrends in which more than 250 Chief Marketing Officers were polled, only 4% of respondents rated themselves and their staffs as “experts” on web marketing trends, strategies and technologies.

My experience tells me that the results of the WebTrends survey are spot-on. Regardless of the size or sophistication of the companies I have worked with over the years I have rarely come across organizations that really understood the power of the Internet. Oh sure, on an intellectual basis I think most executives understand the opportunity that the Internet affords, but it is the rare executive who will take that high level understanding and turn it into a well defined corporate internet strategy.

So, if the country’s best and brightest marketing minds are perplexed with how to best leverage the Internet to their advantage how can mid-market companies hope to thrive in this complex and ever-changing environment? The truth of the matter is that it is difficult, but then the greatest gains to be made are rarely easy to come by. Truly great advances in corporate growth require time, commitment and resources and cracking the key to success on the Internet is no different.

There is not nearly enough room in this blog post to cover the subject at hand in great detail so I have decided to focus on what I consider to be the most important decision you can make with regard to your company’s internet strategy Who are you going to put in charge? If you follow the guidelines outlined below you’ll be off to a better start than most and your business will begin to see gains that will be sustainable over time:

If the person in charge of your internet strategy is not a subject matter expert you are in great trouble. A well designed internet strategy can broaden and deepen customer relationships, increase brand awareness, expand revenue channels and markets, leverage business intelligence, increase efficiencies, create economies of scale, lower operating costs and add value to a variety of other mission critical items. So why would you trust something this critical to anyone other than an expert? Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when making human capital decisions with regard to your internet group:

1. Not having an internet group: Not having a group solely focused on vision, mission, strategy, goals, objectives, tactics, and process related to internet objectives is your first mistake. It is essential to apply dedicated/focused resources in this area to maximize opportunity.

2. Give the responsibility to IT: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the person charged with the responsibility of the corporate internet strategy be an IT staff member who is really nothing more than a already overworked network administrator who happens to be able to write a bit of code. Certainly web based initiatives require technical ability, but a very specific set of technical skills combined with branding, design, marketing and communication skills not ordinarily possessed by IT staff are also required.

3. Charge marketing with the responsibility: Not all mediums are created equally…print is different than radio which is different than TV, etc. As you have already seen by the results of the WebTrends survey most CMO’s don’t even consider themselves to be experts in this area so why would you assign the responsibility here? If you want a very pretty, but functionally useless internet presence then travel this path.

4. Responsibility by default: Worse yet is the scenario where internet responsibility is just added to someone’s job description because they happen to be a bit more web-savvy than anyone else on the management team. These individuals are rarely selected because they have any particular competency or even a desire, but rather they were the unfortunate soul that drew the short straw.

Let me ask you this question; did you recruit, hire and deploy your internet talent at the same level and in the same fashion that you did your finance talent? By way of example I have served as both a CFO and a Director of Internet Strategy and I can tell you that I was able to have much more impact and make much more substantial contributions with the Internet Strategy position. You wouldn’t let a bookkeeper serve as your CFO, or a paralegal serve as your General Counsel so why treat what is arguably a position of greater influence than the aforementioned two senior positions as an afterthought.

If your staff doesn’t possess subject matter expertise on internet design, functionality, usability, application development, architectural considerations,  process engineering, digital media, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, linking strategies, e-commerce strategies, the blogoshpere, social networking and the virtual plethora of other web-centric skill sets and competencies then I would strongly urge you to look toward an outside vendor until you can afford to build the necessary domain expertise internally. 

In a perfect world your Chief Strategy Officer, Chief Marketing Officer or Chief Technology Officer would have very strong Internet competencies. However if they do not, I would suggest either upgrading the quality of your C-suite talent, creating a Director of Internet Strategy position to give the non internet savvy C-suite executives the support and guidance they need or engaging an advisor to bridge the gap. A focused competency in internet practices will produce a high return on investment by increasing revenues, margins, brand equity, and valuation.

Social Networking for Business

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

So what’s with all the buzz about social networking? What’s the difference between old school networking and social networking? As a CEO or entrepreneur why should you care? With so much being written about the impact of social networking on business and the numerous examples of companies that are capitalizing on its many benefits, I’m amazed at how few companies still just don’t get it. Not only has social networking arrived but it is clearly here to stay All you have to do is look at the tremendously successful companies that have been built upon the platform of social networking (MySpace, YouTube, Ryze, Linked-In, Flickr, Facebook etc.) or the unprecedented growth of the Blogosphere and you will quickly recognize that social networking is a powerful medium. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts about why you can’t afford not to jump on the social networking bandwagon.

Let’s start with a bit of background The term “Social Networking” in its most classic sense is best defined as the study of how people interact with one another. It studies the dynamics between nodes (people) and links (their relationships). Since the term was coined in 1954 by J.A. Barnes its significance has leapt from the halls of academia to gain visibility in the boardrooms of global corporations. It has evolved from the study of human relations in sociological, anthropological and psychological settings to the study of professional relationships and organizational theory in business environments.

The difference between “old school” networking and the current form of social networking is the introduction of technology based community and user driven content on the internet. The proper use of blogs, podcasts, video, webinars, and other social media gives greater voice and brand extension to a broader base of constituencies than could have ever been addressed before. When all the buzzwords and techno-jargon are removed, social networking is about aligning interests and motivations to build relationships, establish a sense of extended community and create influence.

There are intelligent and well established business people with virtually non-existent networks and little true influence, and there are what would on the surface appear to be obscure individuals with huge networks who wield tremendous amounts of influence.  Social networking analysis has shown that the greatest amounts of power and influence inside the corporation don’t necessarily reside at the top of the org chart as one might think. Studies have concluded that the individuals who possess the most influence in a company are the most trusted people with the broadest base of connections, and not necessarily the person that has the highest rank or biggest title. Likewise, the same holds true for external networks It is about the quality (are the people in your network significant?), character (do the people in your network trust you and do you trust them?) and relevance (are the people in your network capable of wielding influence that is aligned with your needs?) of the people in your network that matter. 

While social networking is clearly allowing major corporations to be more productive by extending their brand and having better communication throughout the entire value chain, it is its impact on small business that is perhaps most impressive. The ability of social networking to level the playing field for the individual practitioner and the small or medium enterprise is truly awesome. It was the Internet that established the global economy, but it is social networking that is making it a reality. Businesses who ignore social networking will regret it, those that venture in with a lack of understand will be eaten alive by it and those that properly leverage social networking will create tremendous competitive separation.  

As a CEO or entrepreneur if you are not leveraging social networking your wrong .Forget the excuses, the rationalizations and the justifications as you don’t have time not to embrace social media. If you are doing your job you will agressively move to leverage both your personal and corporate brand through social networking. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t blog wake-up and start Social networking will allow you to gain mind-share with your constituencies like never before while improving customer loyalty and increasing both personal and corporate brand equity. Social networking will allow you better manage your reputation in the best of times and when the inevitable corporate faux-pas occurs it will allow you to stop the bleeding much faster. If you don’t understand social media and social networking hire someone who does.  

The old axioms “you’ll reap what you sew” or “give and you shall receive” have never been more accurate than when applied to social networking. If you are truly motivated to provide value and benefit to those in your network then you will receive value in return. However if you are a user and abuser of your network, only taking from others and giving nothing in return, you will bleed your network dry only to watch it crumble before your eyes. With proper motivation, careful construction and active management of your network there is no reason to assume that it won’t be a success. Focus on leveraging the most important spheres of influence for the mutual benefit of those in your network. If you adopt the suggestions contained in this post and embrace social networking your personal network will grow with geometric progression while spanning industries, geographies and cultures. Moreover you’ll extend your corporate brand, increase customer loyalty and create a broader sense of community both inside and outside the enterprise.

Customer Relationship Management

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a core business practice that most everyone reading this post will be familiar with at some level. It is likely that you’ve read about CRM, have attended workshops and seminars on the subject and perhaps you even believe you’ve implemented what you feel is a CRM initiative. While customer relationship management is certainly not a new business practice it is also not a practice that most executives understand or leverage to its maximum capabilities. In today’s post I’ll provide an overview of CRM and how you can apply it to your business.  

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard an executive and entrepreneur tell me how wonderful their CRM system is only to have me ask them a few questions and find out that what they thought was a CRM system wasn’t. Customer Relationship Management is an integrated process for managing customer interactions at every stage of the customer lifecycle. It means offering the right product or service to the right customer at the right time and price via the right contact point. CRM is much more than a product or service; it is an integration framework, or business strategy. A customer focused business has consistent, dependable, convenient, and value-added interaction with customers in every encounter.

An effective CRM implementation aids in the acquisition of new customers, improves customer satisfaction and retention rates and adds to the lifecycle value of customer relationships.  Current market forces and new technologies are dramatically changing the dynamics of the customer relationship. Market power is shifting from sellers to buyers, and competition for customer loyalty is rising. The bottom line is that customers are “raising the chinning bar”. Customers increasingly expect instant, 24×7 access to information and resources (product data, company information, pricing, project management, technical support, etc). They want rich, value-added information that is easy to find. Customers are beginning to expect a personalized experience – a personalized welcome message, individual relationship knowledge, the ability to review their status in real-time, and so on.

Customers/partners/investors/suppliers/venders simply will no longer stand for repeating the same information again and again to differentiate your company, its products and services and its value propositions from the competition.  Adding an additional layer of complexity to the current marketplace, today’s customers randomly traverse communication channels – from the Web to the phone system, to a fax, to email, to instant messages etc. Regardless of the channel, your customer will expect to be recognized. Companies need to do business the way that customers are demanding: at anyplace and anytime. An end-to-end CRM solution helps solve this multi-channel challenge. 

The implementation of CRM will help you evolve into a €˜customer-centric’ business. As a customer-centric organization, you will be able to more effectively share information, analyze the overall health of your business, build greater customer loyalty, and gain a competitive edge. Relevant customer and/or product information will be accessible anytime, anywhere to employees, customers, and partners. Your organization should evolve to include a minimum of the following traits of a customer-centric business:   

  • Online Customer Interaction 
  • E-commerce
  • Lead Management
  • Experience Management 
  • Task Management
  • Surveys and Data Mining
  • Literature Fulfillment
  • Knowledgebase 
  • Analytics
  • Campaign Management 
  • List Management 
  • Online encyclopedia/glossary 
  • Sales Process Automation 
  • Forecasting/Funnel Management  
  • Service Automation
  • Support Automation 
  • Client History 
  • Quality Assurance 
  • Online lead capture 
  • E-Mail Management and Support  

Your CRM system should empower your organization with tools to manage all aspects of the sales process: prospecting, lead tracking, opportunity management, reporting, etc. It should provide a single, real-time view of the customer allowing you to instantly determine: account status, pending deals, service request, history, profitability, etc. A CRM implementation should allow you to become much more effective in the management and allocation of your time.  A customer-centric CRM system will also provide many benefits to your marketing infrastructure. CRM will allow you to develop and execute campaigns based on powerful, real-time data. You will be able to mine for data, and tailor marketing campaigns to different market segments and customer profiles.

The CRM tool-set will provide comprehensive tracking capabilities so marketing results can be captured in real time allowing for any necessary adjustments to be made.  CRM will allow you to more effectively manage your extended enterprise relationships. A CRM application will allow you to route leads, opportunities, and service requests to the appropriate party, and then track the performance. Partners/customers will be able to browse products and pricing information.

A CRM based infrastructure will enable you to manage channel partners as an extended virtual sales and service organization should you desire to expand your indirect marketing efforts.  The proper CRM application will have a single, complete view of the customer, with instant access to all relevant customer data. Equipped with real-time access to specific customer account information, this customer service infrastructure will deliver a high quality experience to the end-user. Web-based self-service will also enable you to provide world class service, providing customers, partners, and/or investors with 24×7 access to appropriate information. 

The implementation of a CRM solution specifically tailored to your unique requirements will provide the ability for personnel to bring the definition of excellent customer service to an entirely new level. A CRM system is designed to be used by employees who interact with your entire value chain. It is an enterprise relationship management system from customer to employee to supplier. A specifically tailored CRM solution will provide you with a central, single source of information with a complete history of the relationship’s activities to date. The ability to present a complete and consistent view to a relationship is invaluable. A specifically tailored CRM will allow you to:     

  • Maximize customer acquisition efforts
  • Retain profitable customers for the long term
  • Foster customer loyalty 
  • Enhance profitability by leveraging every role, channel, and customer touch point within your company.  

If your business has not adopted Customer Relationship Management as a key business driver then you are missing out on a substantial opportunity. 

Is Podcasting a Viable Medium?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Today’s Myatt on Mondays question comes from a Chief Marketing Officer of a professional services firm who asks: “Is Podcasting a Viable Medium?” I have answered questions like this each time a new medium comes to market. Over the years I’ve commented on fax machines, infomercials, e-mail, e-mercials, CD-ROM’s and DVD’s, Internet Yellow Pages (IYP), Instant Messaging (IM), Webinars, Blogging, and now in this post, Podcasting…

I’ll start by defining podcasting for those not familiar with the term. Podcasting was created by former MTV VJ Adam Curry. The term (meant to rhyme with broadcasting) describes the technology used to push audio content from websites to end-users of the content who prefer to use iPods or other mp3 players to listen to said content. Podcasting is simply a new content delivery method that combines audio content delivery with RSS (Really Simple Syndication). Instead of reading the new content on a computer screen, you listen to the new content on an iPod, iPod-like device or via your computer.

Now that the term Podcasting has been defined let’s address the issue of viability. Most of you familiar with my work know that I am a big believer in being an early adopter. I am always a proponent of being a market leader vs. a market lager. Those that move quickly in today’s market (see “The Need for Speed“) increase brand awareness, mind-share and market share while those that move slowly face increased barriers to entry, increased competition and reduced margins. Few consumers like (B2B, B2C or B2B2C) to work with companies that are behind the times. Once there is validation of proof of concept it is time to move aggressively.

So the question remains are podcasts viable? The answer in my opinion is a resounding yes. According to Nielson Analytics about 9 million Internet users have downloaded postcasts in the last month alone. If the previous number doesn’t grab your attention you might want to consider the following statistics taken from a white paper produced by KnowledgeStorm, Inc in which almost 4,000 respondents comprised of business and IT professionals across a variety of job titles, vertical industries and company sizes weighed in:

  • 41 percent of survey respondents claim they have listened to podcasts on more than one occasion, while 13 percent stated that they “frequently” download or listen to them.
  • 32 percent of survey respondents stated their usage of podcasts has “Increased” or “Significantly Increased” in the last six months.
  • 72 percent claimed that they have downloaded or listened to podcasts on technology topics on more than one occasion; 23 percent do so “frequently.”
  • Nearly 60 percent of respondents said that information on business or technology topics, currently delivered as white papers or analyst reports, would be more interesting as podcasts.
  • 55 percent of respondents would be more likely to consume white papers and analyst reports if they were delivered as podcasts.
  • 57 percent of the frequent podcast users stated their biggest challenge with podcasts is the scarcity of interesting content.
  • 65 percent responded that they listen to podcasts for both personal and business interests.

Bottom line…Podcasts are here to stay and I’d suggest that if you are not utilizing this channel that you begin to do so immediately. Happy Podcasting!

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