Tuesday, September 29, 2015

In praise of short thank yous

I have just read an article by Sarah Pavey of MindTools about the need to set rules for communications within companies & groups to make interactions efficient.  It makes lots of good points about this very important subject.

But one point I disagree with.  For me short thank you emails are very worthwhile for a number of reasons

  1. they acknowledge that the recipient has seen the mail.  As the article points out, depending on the recipient you may not be sure that they will read your mails swiftly, and the thank you puts your mind at rest
  2. They show appreciation and we all need appreciation.  Even a thank you for something small can boost our feelings of positivity
  3. They build the relationship and team feeling.  This may be in a trivial way, but strong effects are constructed from many small actions
  4. Saying thanks reminds you of how you rely on others.
  5. It takes only a few seconds and saying thanks has a positive effect on you as well as on the receiver.
Although I am often swamped by email, I would gladly add another ten small thank you emails a day - and I will try to send them as well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Links or shares? Which content for which goals?

BuzzSumo and Moz have teamed up to produce a great piece of research on content (authored by Steve Rayson) which analyses the links and shares that different content is receiving.

One impressive feature is that they have analysed 1,000,000 (one million) published pieces which enables them to pull out many significant results.

Even though they took the samples from their databases, which are likely to contain popular content, it is striking how the vast majority of content receives hardly any shares and no links.

A second finding is that in most cases there is little or no correlation between links and shares.  The most shared content does not necessarily gather the most links, and vice versa - content which is linked from many external sites is not necesssarily shared by many  people.

Two important points should be considered in thinking about findings

  1. Quantity is not everything.  Certainly it is good to have content shared or linked.  However the key is who is doing the linking and sharing.  If you are in a niche market (e.g. selling to large corporates or to consumers with a specialist hobby), you may not ever receive a large number of links or shares.  Instead check to see if those who are linking/sharing are the key influencers or prospects in your market.  They should be your target and if they are few, you can research what they do share and link in order to create content that appeals to them
  2. Shares are most often done on entertaining content, which may have a short life span, while links often point to research or insight which has lasting value.  You need to decide which type of content is most relevant to gain the recognition and consideration of your audience.  It might be either or both - the content plan must be aligned to your goals.

The report contains much more information about what content receives the most shares and links and the content that can garner both.  For this you should read the excellent report for yourselves.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

5 reasons to go with gut feeling

I recently read a McKinsey article on "Learning from Google's Digital Culture" in which Google VP Jon Kaplan talks about the company being data driven and that "At Google, you really don’t walk into a meeting talking about your gut feel on something".

While not denying the power of basing decisions on data, I think there are five reasons why you might want to base your decisions on gut feeling:

  1. Firstly, there are the quick decisions that we take ("Whom should I talk to first in a room full of strangers?", "Which of today's tasks is most important?", "What should I wear?").  We do not have time to check all the data, we need to get on and do something.  But we normally rely on rules of thumb, which leads to the second reason:
  2. Often we have built up experience and can instinctively make good decisions.  They may be difficult to explain but our gut feeling can be a reliable distillation of what we have learnt subconsciously, for example in terms of dealing with people or prioritising certain tasks
  3. Sometimes there is not enough data available in a quantitative form.  This may be true even for big decisions, like choosing a job - the salary and the career opportunities might be good, but even after talking to a number of people, we will not know for sure how we will enjoy the work atmosphere until we try it out.
  4. When we are passionate about something, or come up with something innovative, it may be a case of following our instinct and convincing others to follow us or try out something new.  Leaders and innovators do not always have data because they are able to change behaviours so that previous data does not apply.
  5. Lastly, testing may be the best way to collect the data - a case of going with gut feeling and checking the results.
The last point is vital.  It may be worth following gut feeling because of our passion, our experience, our lack of time or lack of data.  But it is always important to test that it is working: are people signing up for our innovative products? Is our (subconscious) experience relevant in this case?  Are the results of our test providing the data to back up our decision?

Remember also that gut feeling only works if you are in charge of the decision.  In the words of Jim Barksdale, former CEO of Netscape  “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

Do you have good or bad experience of using gut feeling?  Please share your thoughts or opinions in the comments

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Marketing = Learning or Learning = Marketing

I am currently working for CLS Performance Solutions who are a great company providing blended learning and continuing performance support to workforces in medium and large companies that are installing ERP systems.  CLS do a really good job and are well appreciated by their clients, but are not widely enough known, which is why I am helping them improve their marketing and promote their brand.

The project appealed to me not just because CLS are good to work for and have a service which delivers real value to their clients, but also because of their field of expertise.  I was intrigued to find out more about modern learning and training techniques, because I felt they would be applicable in marketing.

In marketing you are trying to make your product and service attractive to prospective clients.  You want to convey messages about the features that add value for each particular client in such a way that they are memorable; your aim is for prospects to remember what your service can do for them and, even better, to be able to explain it to others (colleagues, other contacts) so that word of mouth expands the reach of your marketing.  To do this, you also have to be able to listen to your prospects so that you understand their needs, what benefits you can bring to them and how you can best convey the message.

This parallels closely the design of learning - understanding each learner's current position, their needs and the best way to put across the information or skill so that they will remember, understand and be able to apply it.  Learning as a field of knowledge has been heavily researched to determine and verify the best and most efficient methods and I feel that this research can be tapped to improve (my) marketing.

My belief in the cross-over between marketing and learning were re-inforced today when I read the Kineo Oxford Group guide "Blended Learning Today" which states that "Learning = Marketing" and encourages learning providers to think like marketers: "because blended design is really about engagement and persuasion. We’re trying to sell a concept to learners."  "Marketing professionals...talk about how you’re going to stimulate demand. Who are you trying to reach? With what message? Where do those people hang out now? How do we use those channels? How are we going to get action?"

Marketing and learning professionals have a lot to give each other and to learn from each other

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Description of essay topics for Corpus Christi College Cambridge 2014-2015
Corpus Christi College Cambrdige essay prizes
Yesterday I came across a great example of both content marketing and inbound marketing from a surprising source - the world of university applications in education.

There is tough competition for places at the best UK universities and applicants must market themselves well to increase their chances of gaining places or even interviews against stiff opposition.

Normally the university or college first hears about prospective students via their application which details their academic and other achievements as well as including a personal statement setting out their goals, strengths and specific interests.

But, particularly for colleges at Cambridge University, there is a way for applicants to make themselves known before this.  Colleges run essay prizes in many subjects and submitting an essay can bring yourself to the attention of a college before the application is even received.

Yesterday I heard of one girl who had entered an essay prize and produced a really good piece of work.  As a result, the college wrote to her and said they hoped she would apply to them and they would look forward to inteviewing her.  She had already passed the first hurdle of gaining an interview and could expect a warm welcome giving her a good chance of being offered a place.

So her essay had gained her recognition - a fantastic piece of content marketing - and then had caused the college to contact her - a brilliant example of successful inbound marketing.

It shows that the principles of content and inbound marketing, of gaining a reputation by producing and publishing valuable content and of stimulating people to contact you with their requirements, apply in many different walks of life.  In addition it demonstrates how these techniques build up interactions which can lead to strong continuing relationships.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Handling conflicts in groups and teams

There seemed to be no avoiding the topic of hadling conflicts yesterday.

First on LinkedIn one of my connections recommended a blog post by Bernard Marr, a LinkedIn INfluencer.  I read it and then continued to the next post: "The Vital But Forgotten Soft Skill of Truly Successful People".  In it he discusses how a vital skill for leaders is the ability to address and resolve conflicts rather than leaving them to fester.  His five point plan on how to address them is simple to understand (you could summarise it as - Breathe, Acknowledge, Listen, Focus, Respect) but, as he points out, takes a great deal of practice to implement well.

But it was the point made at the end of the blog that struck me most - conflicts can often be opportunities for "learning, innovation and even team building" with issues explored and people helped to listen and understand different views.

This article tied in strongly with another that I read shortly afterwards.  A post on the eFront blog about rewarding users of elearning referenced an article by Clay Shirky "A group is its own worst enemy".  Although the Shirky article is ten years old and the technology has moved on since then, the points remain valid.  You may not know the examples that he uses, but the risks of groups descending into internal squabbling remain today.

Clay Shirky suggested four ways that groups could be designed to avoid or deal with internal issues:

  1. Ensure users have an identity (a "handle").  Even it is a nickname it gives others a chance to learn about the views and approach of each user and so to form opinions about them
  2. Have a way for users to gain a good reputation and for this to be shown.  This allows the committed users to have a greater stake in the group
  3. Put more control in the hands of the committed members and do not allow a large number of not very involved people to determine the future of the group
  4. Work out how to scale the group so that it still retains a way for members to have conversations with close associates and for relationships not to become swamped in a large mass of communication
I have not done the article justice and you should read it yourself to find out more.  But like the Bernard Marr article I talked about initially, it deals with conflict resolution and with addressing issues that arise between people, though in the Clay Shirky case it is in relation to online groups rather than groups in physical organisations.

Synthesising the two different articles has lead me to three key points:
  • accept that there are always going to be conflicts between individuals in any groups and plan how to make the best of it
  • the conflicts can be beneficial if they result from different views of people who are committed to the group, and give members a chance to understand each other's viewpoints
  • there needs to be a mechanism for resolving the conflicts, which needs a leader or group with the power to listen to different views, try for consensus but then act to carry the group forward

Monday, December 30, 2013

Marketing opportunities in 2014

I have recently been reading PR20/20's "2014 Marketing Score Report" which was compiled by interviewing over 300 marketing professionals, executives and entrepreneurs who assessed their own and their organisations strengths and weaknesses in different aspects of marketing.

Amid a wealth of very valuable information, two areas stood out for me.  They are of great importance for the success of organisations and I was surprised by the low achievement ratings that marketers gave themselves and their companies in these areas. 

The good news is the potential this provides to marketers who are already expert in these fields or who can rapidly increase their competence.

The first area is content marketing.  Among the 13 elements of content marketing that were assessed, the top score was only 4.4 out of 10, which was for blogging.  The lowest was 0.8 for podcasts.

Now a number of the content marketing elements are fairly new (e.g. infographics) so it is understandable that many organisations are still working out how to include them in the marketing mix and finding, or training staff, to implement them.

But elements such as blogging, case studies, PR and white papers have been core parts of marketing activities for a long time.  Moreover, the report also shows that those who rate their performance highly in content marketing activities such as blogging are those who perform best in generating website traffic and leads as well as converting them to sales.

Of course, this does not prove causality - that more blogging leads to more website traffic, leads and sales.  But the fact that the companies that prioritise and generate content for their different audiences (prospects, partners, suppliers and other influencers) do better than those who do not suggests it is worthwhile adopting and testing a stronger focus in this area.

Given the way that customers, both businesses and consumers, research products and services more and more before buying, it would be stupid not to put more effort into creating content that will bring your company's name and expertise to their attention while they are doing their research.  Content marketing enables you to be involved early in the customer journey.

The second interesting area in which marketing competence is rated surprisingly low is that of diversity of lead sources.  The results show a particular weakness in gaining leads from digital sources with the best digital channel being organic search with a rating of only 4.3 out of 10.

Once again the best performing organisations rated themselves significantly higher for digital leads;  and again this is a sign of the need for most organisations to investigate the new digital sources for leads that leading companies are exploiting.

So both content marketing and digital leads are shown to offer many companies huge scope for growth, and they are areas in which they do not currently have sufficient in-house expertise.  

That is great news for marketers who have the expertise and energy to exploit these opportunities.

Happy 2014.