Mar 29

Given that I am the Creative Director at a digital strategic marketing agency, you’d think that I would be a big fan of both internet and multimedia marketing.

Well, as it happens I am – but I think we need to reflect a little on customer care and connectivity. And by this I don’t mean our clients – I mean their customers, and the distance we put between these two groups.

The problem is, because clients are (as yet) not experts in coding, protocol and back-end technologies, they are generally unable to envision all that wonderful customer-centric interactivity that we in the industry know of, and know will expedite better customer support.

What customer-centric interactivity?

Good question, but I think we all know the answers.

Firstly, there are support forms. Who – or what – do support forms actually support? For my money, no-one except the website developer – these forms are easy to create and cheap to deploy, so it’s a great ‘box ticker’ for the developer.

But what about the customer?

Well, to my mind these forms just put significant barriers and distance between clients and their customers, making the relationship less interactive, less of a satisfying customer experience, and more of an opportunity for customer drop-out.

Is this what we’re getting paid for? I don’t think so. What about automated FAQs or ‘Call Me’ buttons? Are we too client service ‘box ticking’ focused to think out of it (the box that is) when it comes to maximising customer/client interactivity and long-term loyalty?

Then there is Chat Support.

It a great idea, sure. But when we fail to resource the facility correctly by cutting corners, constricting chat flow, and lengthening chat queues to the point of customer irritation, are we not just adding another barrier to hard-won client/customer relationships?

I think we are. And I think that through this short sighted ‘one solution-fits-just-about-everything’ approach, we fail our clients and disenfranchise and alienate both their prospects and customers.

So, let’s add a bit more effort here and think out of the box, rather than just ticking it. The internet should be a facilitator, not a barrier.

Feb 12

Much is touted by so-called experts from across the blogosphere and the internet at large that there are a number of specific techniques available to get your website noticed by the search goliaths – such as Google, Yahoo-Bing et al.

I’m not aiming to become one of them; the truth is, no one really knows (other than the search engine developers themselves, of course) how websites are ranked, and what key elements make for a high organic listing on search engine results pages (SERPs). They keep their cards close to their chests here, and their algorithms are top secret.

That said, anecdotal evidence from digital marketers using the highly cost effective and rapidly growing channel of search engine optimisation (SEO) on behalf of clients claim that content is the key.

And if your site features engaging and unique, regularly updated content, your site will be crawled more regularly by the search engines, and you will gain a higher Page Rank, and consequently you will receive more traffic (and hopefully more money, if that’s what you’re looking for).

Other methods such as strategic links with other sites (both inbound and outbound), the use of meta tags, simple site navigation, structure and image alt tags are all said to have their places too, and to be honest, tidying up your site with these methods in mind can’t hurt you.

But what if you want a quick fix? Many companies pay for their search listings with pay-per-click (PPC), and this is a quick way to get your site nearer the top of the SERPs, without needing to re-develop it, or wait for your site to climb the rankings naturally.

PPC means that you won’t pay for people simply just seeing your ad (impressions), but only when they show interest and actually click on it and go through to your landing page.

And this method can actually help by reducing your financial exposure – and that’s good, especially if you’re not completely sure of a particular market sector yet, as it also gives you a clearer picture of what people are searching for, and which of the keywords you’ve picked are performing the best.

Some say that PPC listings can actually boost your site’s relevance for key terms, and therefore improve your natural listings. Personally, I’ve not seen evidence of this, and I have my suspicions that this is purely blogosphere hype.

But if you’re looking for a quick way of improving your site’s visibility and need a cost effective method for researching key words that may improve your natural search rankings, I think you could do a lot worse than launching a PPC campaign.

Jan 21

In recent times, many schools of thought have emerged in relation to the Internet’s potency as a force for change.

Notably among these are the rather thread-bare dichotomies: is the Internet the new canvas for a more vibrant global democracy or is it just another plaything for the I-type-therefore-I-am existentialism that seems endemic in the generation of endless cyber-gibberish?

Well, on a social level it’s true to say that – like a bunch of small, errant and sniggering schoolchildren – we have managed to plaster the Internet with pictures of bare ladies/men rather than using it as the ultimate tool for human advancement that it potentially is.

It seems we have forgotten all about the Internet’s power and it has just become another plaything.

And a very dangerous plaything it is, too.

For example, here in the real world of business, people sign up to extremely potent business networking communities such as LinkedIn, or business/social networks such as Plaxo or Twitter, primarily to stay connected and keep an eye on business.

Then, because it looks like any other plaything, they forget its potency and reach, and start telling it that they are flying to Birmingham on Wednesday or Paris on Friday or have some other irrelevant travel itinerary in mind.

Or they witter (or Twitter) on endlessly about attending some arcane, esoteric online event that really has little or no relevance to anyone else that they know.

Or even – yes really – wax lyrical about the beautiful coffee aroma drifting into their office from the deli at street level.

And everyone – everyone they know and are connected to – has to listen to this.

So what does this do to their credibility? Well, very little: anecdotally it seems the victims of all this irrelevant static switch off and pull the plug on the purveyors of this growing wave of vacuous gibberish.

And that’s a pretty lonely, isolated and dangerous place to be if you need to stay connected to your business community via these networks.

So, maybe the Internet plays both ways in this dichotomy: it is a plaything for those who are unable (or unwilling) to understand how self-obsessed, inane existentialism is an annoying irrelevance to others.

And it becomes that new canvas for a more vibrant global democracy when everyone else switches off and pulls the plug leaving the existentialists and ego-centrics alone, in a vacuum.

So, there is an important lesson here: if you have nothing of interest to say to your connections in your community – don’t bore them – dare to keep quiet until you have. Otherwise Internet democracy may take a stand, and the masses will tune you out.

Jan 08

The recession of 2008/9 has had a significant impact on both digital and new media agencies and their clients over the intervening months and has significantly slowed marketing programmes since back in December 2008.

Since the end of 2008, the global economic collapse has seen clients slashing email marketing, multimedia and website development budgets, and marketing performance dropped significantly.

As Creative Director of a UK-based digital marketing agency, I have certainly seen a very mixed reaction from our global client base, with widely differing effects.

Essentially, two marketing strategies have prevailed: one logically follows the economy and cuts budgets, and the other – the minority – continues to roll out current marketing strategies and develop new digital marketing media as if no economic event was taking place.

This has meant we have maintained strong progress on a range of client digital marketing strategies such as email marketing, multimedia development as well as multimedia website applications, which, given their inherent measurability and accountability, have maintained strong marketing performance in particularly adverse market conditions.

But has this not been complete folly in declining markets? The answer here is no. And it is interesting to note the two main reasons as to why this is.

Firstly, as marketing activity slowed in specific market sectors, those brands and businesses who continued to roll out new digital marketing communications were creating high profile online activity without really trying to cut through any of the usual static in an uncharacteristically quiet marketplace (proportionately, even the rapidly growing digital marketing sector has seen a reduction in its exponential growth this year).

Indeed, those who rolled out above average online activity during this period seem to have increased their company/brand market profile considerably.

And that is because – given the general lack of business activity – there was a higher than usual target audience online and available to catch any new sector-specific marketing communications that emerged.

While the economic returns for this activity will not be available until end Q1, the activity itself and the increased exposure it generated for these companies/brands had to be worth it – if only as an investment in the future of their profile.

And it’s not over yet. I predict early 2010 will continue to be a quiet time for digital marketing activity. But as my mother used to say, fortune favours the brave.

given their inherent measurability and accountability

Dec 10

There was a time, until quite recently, when adding the suffix ‘International’ to an enterprise’s name was sufficient for the company or brand to be perceived as ‘Global’.

But the bar has been raised, and raised high.

Now, most businesses – both large and small – have the opportunity to operate on a global basis, and it’s interesting to note how many of even the largest corporations fail to access global markets through basic strategic disconnects.

And if you think about it, there is no such thing as a ‘global’ enterprise from the standpoint of the local customer. A global corporation may think that its size is its strength, but for a ‘local’ in-country customer, that strength is almost totally invisible.

‘Local’ audiences – who by definition will form the vast majority of the global corporate’s customers, only see or care about ‘local’ issues – and experience of global vendors only takes place at a local level – making the word ‘global’ almost irrelevant.

And if one were to ask local customers to think about working with a global supplier many local concerns are raised – yes, even today. ‘Do they know where we are?’; ‘Do they understand our politics?’; ‘Do they understand our climatic conditions?’; ‘Will they communicate in our language?’; ‘Do they understand our business culture?’; ‘Do they really care about what we think?’; ‘Can they hear us?’.

There have been winners and many losers here. When BP seriously entered Continental Europe and took on both local European oil industry competitors and rivals from the US on neutral territory, both senior management and front-line marketers worked hard to not only assimilate pan-European languages, but also – critically – local business cultures.

At the time, this was a tectonic shift in business culture and philosophy for BP as it shifted its thinking from what had been a government-owned corporation that had – until privatisation – considered itself an extension of the British Government with an unalienable right to market share – to a ferocious new boy on the European block.

There’s a lot more to engaging with local customers than purely language and business culture – and BP addressed these issues also, head-on – and developed significant European market share.

But there are – as we speak – many losers too.

Outside of the EU, these tend to be growing or global corporations which exhibit very strong social and business cultures that render the subtleties of local business culture invisible. The US among others is of particular note here as its strong social culture, allied to a powerful ‘get it done’ business ethos has overshadowed many market entry opportunities, leaving these would-be EU entrants trampling on invisible local business cultures, rather than engaging with them.

Failure to properly enter local markets can be extremely expensive – and with inevitable budget depletion, can set market expansion plans back a very long way indeed.

And so it’s ironic to note that the passport to truly global marketing communications, and in theory market entry – digital marketing communications – are the most potentially damaging of all marketing campaign strategies.

Why?

Because digital marketing campaigns – unlike traditional campaigns – are by far the most powerful and most high profile tool available to global marketers when seeking to engage with, and enter local markets.

With this huge level of communications power and public profile, you only get one chance to engage with potential local customers and to get it right, not only from a linguistic or business-cultural standpoint, but across the board.

So, choose your strategy – and digital marketing agency partners – with care.

Nov 23

Delays in marketing campaign roll-out. Revising and re-purposing marketing communications. Having to ditch the commercial advantage. And cancelling campaigns we believed in.

These are all things those of us experienced enough to recall the onset of the ponderous, purposeless Techie back when new technology was really new – will want to forget.

I’m sure we are all truly thankful this anachronistic palaeontology is behind us, and I guess we all thought we were walking towards a bright new future. No such luck.

As the post-Techie asteroid dust cleared we found a new and even more paranoid inhabitant roaming the corporate landscape. The Lawyer.

Today, corporate lawyers tend to fulfil a similar role as the Techies did in slowing up marketing activity. But instead of time honoured techno-phases such as ‘it can’t’ or ‘it won’t’ legal-speak brings us such offerings as ‘we can’t’ or ‘we won’t’ – or even ‘they’ll sue’.

But why should we listen?

Well, firstly for our client’s good. Marketers – and especially those in digital marketing agencies, are ferociously competitive in gaining and maintaining the competitive advantage. That’s great. But life has moved on. Now, what were merely international companies have evolved into global corporations, present and often residing in a large number of legal domains and therefore subject to local jurisdiction.

This means what may be a legal and fair claim in, say, the EU may be highly illegal in the US and may lead to challenge from competitors or even private citizens.

Secondly, for our own good, and the good of those that choose to buy our client’s products or services. For far too long, marketing communications specialists have survived by playing the ‘we’re the marketing agency and we’ll push claims to the limit – you’re the client so pull this back from the brink of dishonesty’ card.

Those days are now gone. Under some legal jurisdiction, agencies will find themselves – like their clients – legally challenged and possibly legally liable should this anachronistic card ever be played again, and again this challenge may come from competitors as well as sharp-eyed private citizens.

Now, what was good for us is now also good for our clients – and their customers.

So, are we now stuck with a new type of potentially unwelcome reptilian obstacle cluttering up our marketing landscape? I, for one, certainly don’t see Lawyers as an obstruction – or as reptiles for that matter. I see this as opportunity. And a big one.

Those of us who embrace this local and global legal guidance will almost certainly avoid legal challenge for our clients and evolve and develop our client’s reputation for fair, honest and ethical business.

Is there any greater opportunity to move our client’s enterprise and brand to a new level? No. But this time around, we need to learn to work with those who have a different perspective. And this time, a very useful one.

Nov 05

My name is Steve Yates, and I’m Creative Director at Novacon, an award-winning full service, integrated digital marketing agency, specialising in global business to business (b2b) marketing.

The purpose of this introductory post is to respectfully introduce you to our new, up-rated blog which we hope will offer guidance, insight and support to those – particularly marketers – searching for answers in an overcrowded and noisy digital marketplace.

My colleagues and I will be posting on hot and evolving subjects such as interactive and integrated new media, strategic market development, online content creation, multimedia development, website and streaming video production, ePR and email marketing, newsletter publication and distribution.

I hope this will be of interest, and look forward to your questions and your feedback.