Social Media Marketing: Let’s Be Friends!

Social media platforms offer new channels of modern marketing where businesses can connect with their customers in a way that wasn’t possible 10 years ago. This wonderful new medium has opened up a whole new realm of possibilities, and along with the capabilities of digital analytics, has created a wonderland in which marketers can play. As a key part of inbound and content marketing, it is important for companies to work to utilize this medium to the best of their abilities. As such, this vast world of possibilities can include the possibility of loss. That is why there is a lot of sponsored content that provides instruction for companies on how to optimize their use of social media to attract and maintain customers.

A Simple Perspective

After absorbing what felt like was a lot of this informational content about how to create a phenomenal social media strategy, I wanted to look at the idea of social media marketing in a different way—a way that is simple, that anyone can understand, and that still provides value to someone looking to implement a social media strategy. As I began to think about the general purpose of social media (even though it has now evolved to serve many), I realized that at its core, social media is about connecting—connecting with people and with friends. Then, I thought about the concept of brand personality and that’s when I considered social media marketing from this angle:

Think of a brand as a person. If that brand were a person, what would they tweet about on twitter? What would they post on their Facebook page? As a person, the goal of that brand should be to create relationships with people. It should strive to be a friend to its customers. Why is this important? Because people want to support their friends, people are loyal to their friends, and people care for their friends. But in order to be a friend, a brand needs to earn peoples friendship by creating value for them. Whether it be informative value, entertainment value, or both, and how that value is communicated, depends entirely on who that brand is and what is consistent with that brand’s personality.

Looking at it from this perspective helped me to understand how cool social media truly is for the marketing sphere and how it has the potential to fundamentally alter customer perceptions about the companies that they come in contact with. Companies no longer need to be lofty impersonal entities that consumers are apprehensive of, they can be personal, familiar, “friends”. This ability to create lasting relationships with customers is invaluable because it boosts brand equity, brand preference, and customer loyalty, ultimately leading to sustained mutual benefit for both the company and the consumer.

Some Great “Friends”

There are plenty of examples out there of social media campaigns that have gone viral and have been extremely successful, but instead of looking at an example of a great campaign, I’m interested in looking at companies that have a consistent and innovative social media strategy. Below are two examples of companies that use social media marketing effectively.

Because I mentioned this company in my post about inbound marketing I won’t discuss them in-depth here, but I had to give Starbucks a shout-out again for their stellar use of social media to cultivate relationships with customers and perpetuate customer interest in the brand. An article published on OnlineMBAPage.com ranked Starbucks at #2 among the top 50 most social media friendly fortune 500 companies. They have a massive amount of followers across at least 7 different social media platforms and use each of these platforms to optimize customer exposure to the brand, while attempting to reach out to customers in a fun and personal way. They are a perfect example of how to be a friend that provides value to customers.

Another company that stood out to me in its effective use of social media, was the Ford Motor Company. Some of you may be thinking, of all of the companies that you could have chosen, why Ford? I chose Ford because they genuinely surprised me. The position that their brand occupies in my mind is not the most positive, but after looking into their use of social media marketing, I now have a lot more respect for the company—which is exactly what they want! So, they must be doing something right! In fact, they are ranked ninth among the top 50 most social media friendly fortune 500 companies.

I found myself quickly getting lost in their social media content. I mean, seriously, check out their Tumblr site and their Facebook page! I must say that their Ford Mustang speed dating prank is pretty darn funny. Needless to say, their social media success seems to be, in part, driven by the engaging, fun, and creative content that they publish.

Another part of this success is likely due to the fact that the company is very responsive and engaging whenever people post, comment, or tweet them. They employ a team of social media agents  and a customized search engine tool to respond to customer questions, comments, and concerns, as well as to involve customers in conversation. An example of this customer care, would be when when a customer had a question about his 2011 Ford Explorer and posted about the issue on Ford’s Facebook page, he received a swift response from the company answering his question. It’s reactiveness and dedication like this that allows Ford to be a leader in social media marketing success. Despite its size as a fortune 500 company, Ford uses social media to connect with customers effectively in personal, engaging, and creative ways.

If there are two things that we can learn from Ford’s success with social media marketing, it’s that you need to create valuable content for your customers and frequently engage with them on a personal, individual level. That’s what makes Ford a good corporate friend.

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What’s the Deal With Content Marketing?

With the continuous industry shift towards inbound marketing strategies, the marketing sphere seems to be resting it’s gaze on the use of content marketing as a means to lure in customers. Why? Because content marketing is essentially at the heart of inbound marketing. In order to pull customers in, you need to offer them content that is interesting and valuable. The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) defines content marketing as:

“…a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.”

The rapidly increasing industry shift is further made evident by the fact that apparently 90% of B2C businesses and 93% of B2B businesses use content marketing. In fact, 72% of B2C marketers are producing more content than they did one year ago and 60% plan to increase their marketing budget in the next 12 months (as of 2014).

Help! I’m Drowning!

In this vast sea of media and online content, it seems like anyone could easily drown. One of Google’s executive chairmen, Eric Schmidt, testifies to the boundless ocean of content that is being created everyday:

“More content is being created in 48 hours than what was produced from the beginning of time until 2003.”

I’m not sure about you, but this is a little hard for me to wrap my brain around. Even after exploring a tiny fraction of the information that is available on content marketing, I began to feel like I was losing air. There seems to be limitless amounts of articles, videos, and other forms of content that explain how to make content—It’s rather meta if you think about it. Is all of this content a good thing or a bad thing? How can we cut through the clutter? I’m not really sure that I have the answer to either of these questions, but if I did, then I would likely be writing a book right now instead of a blog post.

A Critical Analysis

Clearly there is value in content marketing, but it seems like the push is for everyone and their brother to be blogging nowadays. Is this really necessary to remain competitive in today’s business world? Companies like HubSpot, Marketo, Zerys, and organizations like the Content Marketing Institute produce a flood of content promoting the practice of content marketing, because they have a lot to gain from companies jumping on the bandwagon. Namely, that people will buy their content and software. My point in saying all of this, is that just because there is a crowd of corporate voices shouting all at once, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all of their practices are for everyone. Continuously pumping out blogs may not necessarily be realistic or relevant for certain companies. It works well for companies like HubSpot because their company provides service in the broad domain of digital marketing. What about companies that offer a small range of products with straightforward value? Certainly producing content that offers value to the customer could possibly help drive their company forward, but I’m not so certain that a one-size-fits-all approach is the best when it comes to content marketing. Why? Because businesses are unique entities that have different needs, values, and capabilities. They should implement a content marketing strategy that caters best to their goals and abilities.

Some Important Takeaways

I could sit here and create a list of tips on how to create an effective content marketing strategy, but that is what everyone else is doing, and I would prefer not to add to the clutter (even if it’s a venture that is futile). Instead, I’ll leave you with a few of the most basic and essential takeaways that I have gathered in conducting my research. These are universal ideas that companies should consider when developing a content marketing strategy.

The first, is that value is key. It is extremely important not to create content for the sake of creating content. If you create meaningless content for the sake of increasing your online presence, then all you are doing is adding to the sea of clutter—and consumers will see right through you or ignore you altogether. Part of the problem with content marketing today seems to be that there is too much content and not enough value.

In attempting to create value, having a campaign that is focused is essential. Part of creating value for customers means that content must remain focused in more than one way. It must focus on a particular target market and focus on a particular need or interest of that target market. Sending out a grapeshot of content to the masses means less relevant content for everyone involved and a loss of potential conversions.

Finally, in the endeavor to create value, strategy and direction are important. You need a plan and a direction for your content, not only to create value, but also to create quality content. In fact, according to Content Harmony’s trends for 2015, it’s possible that we could see a rise use of serial content, which seems to be pretty effective at getting consumers’ attention. This refers to a series of related content that is released periodically, almost like a TV show. Serial content and other pieces of effective content require strategy and direction just like any other successful campaign on the planet.

Cutting through the clutter and creating value is not necessarily easy, but it certainly can lead to remarkable results for your inbound marketing campaign. I definitely don’t have all of the answers when it comes to content marketing and I likely have raised more questions than I have answers. But nonetheless, hopefully you found my content to be valuable.

A/B Testing: You Will Know the Data and the Data Will Set You Free!

A major piece of website optimization and effective inbound marketing is the implementation of A/B testing. This glorious and ingenious process of improvement can make quite the difference in generating conversions. It certainly did with the 2012 Obama campaign. Of the $690 million raised to support the campaign, most of it came from donations generated through emails that endured extensive A/B testing. In fact, an optimized variant of the email’s subject line made the campaign an estimated $2.6 million. Think about that for a second… One phrase meant generating more money than I’ll probably ever see in my lifetime. Hmmmm… I wonder if maybe we should take this process seriously?

What is this sorcery!?

Simply put, A/B testing is the process of testing different variants of web pages or digital mediums to see which variants perform the best at generating conversions. These variants could be anything from the layout of page content, to the color of the “subscribe” button. Testing works by showing separate visitors separate versions of a website, each containing a different variant of a particular aspect of that site. An example would be that one site might contain a serif font, while the other contains a sans serif font. The variation (or font, in this case) on the site that generates the most conversions wins! It can be inferred, if the results are statistically significant, that the winning variant is what caused the increase in conversions and, therefore, it should be implemented on the website. These tests generally take place before the variation is written into the site-code. Once the winning variant is established, the site-code is modified to display that variant… and that is when the magic happens: More conversions!

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

So, what can be learned from the masterminds that used A/B testing to successfully optimize the output of donations for the 2012 Obama campaign? Well, for one, someone could probably come to the conclusion that A/B testing works! But of course there is plenty of other knowledge to be gleaned from their experience. One important lesson is that, although A/B testing works, it takes constant revision and continuous improvement to optimize the conversion rate. The analysts behind the campaign noted that certain variations that performed well initially, eventually began to putter out. When novelty wares off, the idea caps go back on and the creative juices must be churned in order to generate fresh optimizing content. It may not be the case in all situations that variations lose their luster, but in order to truly optimize, ways of continuously improving should always be considered.

Important lesson number two is that listening to the data, as bizarre as the results may seem, is essential. Something that Amelia Showalter, Director of Digital Analytics for the campaign, noted was that, in certain cases, ugly variants of the emails produced better conversion results than more aesthetically pleasing variants. In other words, people don’t always make sense. That is why it is important to make decisions based on what the data says and not based on the intuition of Joe Blow the Marketing Manager.

Finally, a truly optimized campaign integrates all sources of data, even data that has been collected from outside the digital sphere. A/B testing is magical when it comes to digital medium optimization, but the Obama campaign wasn’t successful only because of some fancy emails. They used data that they retrieved door to door, through various surveys, and through other databases that they had access to. Using this data, they predicted where it would be best to send Obama, Biden, Michelle, and Jill based on the needs and preferences of each demographic location in the United States. So, the moral of the story is that listening to the data is effective, but in order to truly optimize a campaign or promotion all sources of data need to be integrated and taken into consideration throughout the whole campaign.

Master of Sorcery

Apart from the Obama campaign, there are plenty of examples where A/B testing has worked wonders. Let’s look at an example from one analytics company that I have come to greatly admire. comScore is a digital analytics research and consulting firm that offers advice to some of the world’s most prestigious enterprises. I had the privilege of being able to hear Courtney Steffy, a Senior Client Service Analyst at comScore and Western alum, speak in my marketing research class last quarter and ever since, my interest in the data science industry has been growing. comScore conducts a wide variety of research for the benefit of all, but in this case they used A/B testing on their own website to see if it could help them generate more leads. After seeing that demo requests on comScore’s project pages were lower than expected, Ferry Gijzel, the Director of Web Marketing, decided to test three variations of a product page to see which one would generate more leads. The variation was in the layout and display of a client testimonial. The test revealed that displaying the client’s logo and testimonial vertically on the page next to the product description resulted in significantly more leads. In fact, this variant of the web page lead to a 69% increase in the conversion rate! Am I the only one who thinks this is crazy? There you have it folks… If done right, A/B testing can lead to amazing results.

Maybe I should include more company logos on my site…

comscore-logo

Boom! Let the magic begin!

The Brilliance of Inbound Marketing

It has been fun and challenging to discover and learn about the world of Google Analytics. Much of my enjoyment has come from knowing that I am gaining technical knowledge about a very specific and widely-used software program. This experience has been able to satisfy some of my desire to take a small break from the conceptual and dive into the technical. But now that I’ve had my break, let’s take a step back. Google Analytics is a small piece of a larger and relatively new marketing concept known as inbound marketing.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a rather new concept because the internet and web technology is relatively new. Web technology has introduced a whole new frontier of marketing possibilities and caused consumer culture to shift dramatically, as it has changed the way in which purchases are made. No longer do people need to rely on the carefully filtered messages of corporate promotional campaigns as their source of information. Today, people actively search to find “their own” information on products and services. This interconnected medium has also allowed consumers to create their own information by voicing their opinions and ideas about products and services to the world.

This shift has caused businesses to consider new ways of marketing to consumers. The term “inbound marketing” was coined by HubSpot’s co-founder Brian Halligan in 2005 and is defined by Marketo, a Marketing Automation Company, as:

“The process of helping potential customers find your company – often before they are even looking to make a purchase – and then turning that early awareness into brand preference and, ultimately, into leads and revenue.”

I like to think of inbound marketing as the concept of drawing customers to you instead of drawing yourself to your customers. It’s like the idea of pulling and pushing. Outbound marketing strategies focus on pushing concepts to consumers by forcing messages and corporate promotions into their lives. In contrast, companies that use inbound marketing strategies seek to pull consumers to them by creating valuable content that informs them, by making it easier for customers to find them, and by actively seeking to create and maintain relationships with customers. Blogs, videos, social media, white-pages, and forums allow companies to create valuable and interesting content and messages for their audiences, while programs like search engine optimization, web analytics software (i.e. Google Analytics), and social media management software make it possible for the continuous improvement of inbound marketing strategies. All of these pieces seek to actively draw in potential customers and nurture current customers.

Why is it important?

Inbound marketing is important now more than ever mostly because of the advent of information and web technology. Consumers live in a world of mass media in which their perceptual filters are constantly blocking out the noise. Making it easy for interested consumers to find you and for potentially interested customers to become invested, is an effective way of marketing because it seeks people when their shields are down.

HubSpot posted some interesting marketing statistics that highlight the value and importance of using inbound marketing strategies to effectively reach consumers in today’s world. One of these statistics demonstrates how consumers are searching for information like crazy.

“86% of consumers stated that using a search engine allowed them to learn something new or important that helped him/her increase his/her knowledge. (Pew Research Center, Search Engine Use 2012)”

If this many consumers are searching for information, even if it’s not necessarily with the intent to make a purchase, isn’t it obvious that providing interested consumers with relevant information about your product or service could astronomically increase opportunities for generating transactions? If nothing else, it can present consumers with valuable exposure to your product, which could possibly lead to purchases in the future.

An example of inbound marketing done right:

Even though I’m not a coffee drinker, Starbucks has done well at positively positioning itself in my mind. And apparently, I’m not the only one. Starbucks has used many successful marketing strategies to position itself and generate brand awareness, but one of their most effective means of doing so is through their use of inbound marketing strategies. They have reduced customer acquisition costs and effectively increased customer exposure to their offerings specifically through actively engaging with customers on social media websites. CEO Howard Shultz explains further:

“There probably [aren’t] very many companies in America that have created the capability and the discipline that we have with almost 40 million worldwide fans on Facebook, a leading company on Twitter and Foursquare, and what that has done, it has given us the ability to lower our cost of customer acquisition in terms of traditional advertising and build a more enduring, emotional relationship with our customers.”

Who would have thought that a coffee company could find success in posting on social media sites? I think Schultz underlined the root of their success when he mentions how their use of social media has allowed the company to “build a more enduring, emotional relationship with… customers.” Today, successful marketing is so much more than calculatedly making hard sells. Truly successful marketing actively seeks to create and nurture relationships with customers, fostering brand loyalty and lifetime commitments. If a coffee company can find success in using these techniques, why not any company?

How Google Analytics?

In my last post, I addressed the question: Why Google Analytics? Now that I have begun to dive deeper into what makes this software program tick, I must ask the question: How Google Analytics? or how does Google Analytics work?

Why the “How”?

But why is it important to know the “how”? If I can interact with the software and interpret the information that it generates, then why do I need to know what is behind the curtain? Well, sometimes knowing what is behind the curtain can make all of the difference; Just ask Dorothy! No reputable researcher would ever accept or publish any findings without first knowing the source of information and how that information was generated. So what can the “how” tell the researcher? It can tell them whether or not the data being collected is trustworthy, whether or not their experiments are empirically sound, and whether or not the data is being structured in meaningful ways. Knowing these things is important so that the researcher can make accurate, reliable, and useful conclusions based off of the information that has been generated. For these same reasons, it is important to know how Google Analytics works. Knowing the “how” can mean the difference between making interpretations and making meaningful and reliable interpretations.

The “How”

With all of that in mind, let’s explore some of the very basics on how Google Analytics generates information. Data goes through four main stages in Google Analytics:

  1. Collection
  2. Configuration
  3. Processing
  4. Reporting

Data is collected using a tracking code that is embedded into the programming language on each page of a website. When certain actions are detected on a web page, the tracking code sends out an “image request” to Google Analytics servers called a “hit”. Each time a certain action is detected, a hit is sent out to the server and that is how the data is collected. The data that Google Analytics collects falls into three main categories: Users, Sessions, and Interactions. All three of these categories are closely related but differ in scope. Google Analytics tracks information on each user (visitor to the site), information about each session (visit to the site) that a user has, and the amount and type of interactions (hits) that the user has with the website based on what they click on. A user can have multiple sessions (visits) to a website and a session can consist of multiple interactions (hits).

After being collected, the data is configured or transformed based on settings that filter, group, and select relevant metrics based on specified goals. The data is then processed by organizing the data into user and session models, importing external data from other predetermined sources, applying configurations, and aggregating the data so that it can be placed into a table. Finally, the data is placed in tables that display relevant quantitative metrics with specified qualitative dimensions in the reporting stage. These tables and their corresponding charts can then be used by analysts to make interpretations about the information that has been generated.

The Need for Understanding How and Why

Now that I have briefly explained how Google Analytics works and why it is important to know how it works, I would like to add more value to this discourse by quickly looking at how and why any of this information is significant at all.  More specifically, I will look at it from the angle of industry need. Justin Cutroni posted an article on the Google Analytics blog that explains the importance of data fluency and identifies the increasing industry need for proficient data analysts. He states that:

“78% of marketers feel the need to become more data driven and almost 40% of major brands see a talent gap in analytics.”

This would suggest that not only is data analysis important for decision making, it is important because of decision making. And as I mentioned in my last post, decisions are what drive a company forward or into the ground. Corporations need skilled data analysts that can generate and interpret useful information, allowing for the initiation of excellent decision making that will drive organizations forward. But you shouldn’t take my word for it. Take Justin’s.

Why Google Analytics?

So the question is posed: Why Google Analytics? This question can be considered in two ways. Why should Google Analytics be chosen at all (i.e. what is the value of utilizing web analysis software) and why should Google Analytics be chosen over other competitors? Mind you, I am no expert on web analysis software, so this will by no means be a comprehensive examination of Google Analytics or any other web analysis software offerings available. This is just a few of my brief ideas and opinions based on a limited knowledge of the industry.

The Significance of Google Analytics

If there’s one thing that I learned in my marketing research class last quarter, it is the importance of marketing research. All decision making is based off of one’s understanding of the information available to them. Bad information, or a lack of information, means that bad decisions will be made and access to good information means that good decisions can be made. Decisions are what drive a company forward or drive it into the ground. Therefore, the importance of knowing your target market and how to create, communicate, and deliver value to them is clear. As the world is continuously venturing into the digital realm, it is important to know how to effectively market to customers through digital media. Google Analytics uses various data collection and processing tools to monitor digital performance, track potential customers online, and optimize website effectiveness. All of this information is valuable for companies to make informed decisions and to develop effective inbound marketing strategies. Good strategies and good decisions make for efficient, healthy, and successful corporations. Tools that are able to help companies analyze and interpret the information gained from digital media usage are essential for market optimization in an age where digital media reigns supreme. But why should Google Analytics be considered among its competitors?

Google Analytics Among Competitors

Forrester Research published an article in May of 2013 on a research study that they conducted comparing six of the top web analysis software offerings by leading companies. They compare these company offerings based on 75 different criteria that were categorized into three separate domains of current offering, strategy, and market presence. Their analysis concluded that Adobe, AT Internet, IBM, and Webtrends are market leaders in their web analysis offerings, while Google Analytics is considered a “strong performer” that is gaining momentum. So, why should Google Analytics be considered if falls in sixth place according to Forrester Research?

Well, just because a company is not a market leader in a certain industry does not mean that it is unable to offer an effective and quality product that meets all of its users desires. In my opinion, a product is only as good as it’s ability to fulfill and satisfy its buyer’s wants and needs. The product doesn’t necessarily need to have an excessive amount of features or all of the bells and whistles in order to accomplish this. Google Analytics is a excellent market offering that is more than adequate at satisfying the needs of its users. In fact, an article published by The Hub, a marketing technology resource news site, in September 2014 suggests that Google Analytics is the most widely used web analysis software program among small businesses, mid-size companies, and enterprise corporations. This information comes from a trustradius buying guide for digital analytics tools which lists Google Analytics as the market leader based on user ratings and segment adoption (the number of websites using the product). So apparently, market leadership depends on who you ask and on one’s choice of evaluative criteria. The point is that Google Analytics does stack up among it’s competitors in its ability to meet customer needs. Not only that, but it is supported by one of the most innovative and powerful internet service companies in the world. So, the possibilities for improvement and integration with other Google programs are endless. Not to mention that it must be doing something right if it is the most widely used web analysis tool.

Hello Digital Marketing!

This is my first blog post ever, so this is new territory for me… but it’s some pretty awesome territory. I also must confess that didn’t have a twitter account before this… I know, I know, I’ve been living under a rock, but now I’m ready to emerge and explore the world of digital marketing. I have been looking forward to MKTG 476 all year and am excited about all of the things that I’ll get to learn this quarter. Seriously, this is probably my most anticipated course at Western so far. So, I’m ready! Lets do this!

A Little About Me and Why I Am Here

Just in case you haven’t already noticed, my name is Jordan. I am (like most everyone enrolled in a 400 level marketing class) a business marketing major. In addition, I’m minoring in psychology and going to also major in MIS, but marketing is my first love. As I mentioned above, I am taking this class because I am excited about what I’ll have the opportunity to learn. Beyond that, I am excited because I know that the coursework and curriculum for this class is relevant and applicable to the professional workplace, especially as the world and field of marketing continuously venture into the digital realm. I have also discovered a new-found love within myself for marketing research after taking Wendy’s class last quarter. There is something about analyzing and interpreting data that gives me some sick fulfillment. Knowing that this course involves a certification in Google Analytics is definitely like the cherry on top. With that being said, I would like to learn how to use digital media and software programs to efficiently communicate messages and analyze data in order to improve marketing processes. Basically, I love problem solving and I want to learn, not only how digital marketing can provide efficient solutions, but also how to use and apply various digital marketing programs in effective ways.

Reflection on the Readings

With my new-found love for marketing research, I was delighted to find that the readings point toward the importance of understanding and knowing the statistical, analytical, and technical side of marketing. I can easily see myself thoroughly enjoying a career that involves these facets of marketing, especially in a marketing research position. On the other hand, I recognize the importance of the conceptual and theoretical side of the industry. Karin Timpone, the Global Marketing Officer for Marriott International, highlights the importance of understanding both ends of the spectrum:

“If you are an artist, learn science. If you are a scientist, cultivate art.”

If you have an abstract conceptual knowledge in an industry, it is important to know a related technical skill, and vice versa. You shouldn’t have just one type of knowledge, you need both to be effective and marketable. Finding a balance between the conceptual and technical is not an easy one, but based on my experience in the CBE’s marketing concentration so far, courses tend to be weighted on the side of conceptual knowledge (but I’m only a third year, so the number of marketing courses that I have taken is limited). This has left me craving a hands-on specialized experience with marketing related programs and software. This craving for the technical is another reason why I am so excited for this class (…and, now that I think about it, it’s possibly the reason why I also decided to major in MIS). It is cool to see that the discrepancy between what the industry needs and what universities are teaching is being recognized, especially here at Western. But it’s one thing to recognize a problem and it’s an entirely different thing to actually take the necessary steps to solving that problem, and I am glad that this course offers some sort of a solution. Thanks Mark!