Sitting on your hands is a marketing strategy

Back in the days when my #1 online spend was Overture, I was called into the president’s office. Seems he had received a call from a competitor concerned about our website coming up when someone was searching for theirs on Yahoo.

Yep, I had been keyword advertising against their brand name. (I did point out that our brand name was in their meta-tags. So there!) I had considered it an experiment anyway … it was the only way at the time to see how much search traffic their brand was getting compared to ours.

Not too long after that that I realized this was legal and fair, but … I saw no reason to be so cut-throat and do it again.

More recently two software companies took this competitive battle to Federal Circuit Court. (Note that for software companies each sale increases their margin and commissions, unlike us equipment makers, amping up their need to be cut-throat.) The defending company was confirmed the right to advertise against the other’s brand by the court.

They won because they played clean: they didn’t attempt to deceive searchers, they didn’t even use the competitive name in their ads or copy.

In fact, SearchEngineWatch’s article about the case says:

“It is OK (currently) to buy trademarked names in AdWords, if:

  1. You don’t mention that product/service on your site.
  2. You don’t mention that trademarked name in your ad.
  3. Don’t try to harm the competitors reputation or product.
  4. Don’t have comparisons with trademark infringements.”

And I while #1 or #4 could count as legitimate marketing, when you are getting traffic off their name as a keyword, you can’t. (Not sure if this is from the courts or Google.)

Doing a quick check, the only company advertising against my brand on Google is a used-equipment dealer who resells our stuff. Certainly this is a legitimate use, and I’ve never had an argument about it.

So, if you’d consider your marketing strategy as cut-throat (hopefully only short-term), you can do advertise against the competitions’ name.

But, if you look around, you’ll realize that most all marketers don’t do this, and it isn’t just because they are afraid of being called into the president’s office. Sitting on your hands makes a statement– you aren’t punching, you aren’t grabbing.

A missing hyphen can unravel your reputation

Occasionally we get a copy of a quote or specification from a prospect who says ‘quote me one of these’. Well, our version of that, anyway.

One such document I received yesterday yesterday, I combed first doing feature comparison with our products. And I noticed a couple English errors. First I thought maybe I just use a different vernacular to describe our equipment. Nope, found another definite grammatical error. And another.

This morning I picked it up again and started highlighting just the errors. It is full of them! Missing hyphens and periods. Odd capitalization. Periods for sentence fragments.

And there were language errors: pronouns without defined nouns; two sentences where one would suffice; poor use of passive voice.

Then I noticed the typographical errors: curly quote marks for noting inches; Bad word-wrapping; justified text.

You see how a few small errors suddenly makes the reader see every other error. And after all that, you start to notice how poorly worded much of the document is. It just completely unraveled.

The worst crime of this document is the lack of hyphenation. I recently helped my one son with a homework assignment on hyphens, so maybe I am being overly sensitive … or just that I’ve been doing this for 20 years. However, in technical documents, hyphens are pretty common to create specific terminology. “Non skidded” looks lame when your brain wants to put the hyphen in when you read it.

Like when I wrote about this same company last year in A competitor across the aisle, the lesson here is not about their equipment or terms-of-sale, but in their style and presentation. How many prospects read this document and react like I did? It can’t do their reputation any good, that’s for sure!

(And as much as I am ranting and nit-picking, there is one detail that came up that I will be fixing in my marketing materials.)

Problems before and after marketing

Marketing is part of a process. Often a process we don’t have control of, but have to work with. I found two blog-posts this morning talking about getting squeezed:

1. What happens if nobody’s looking for you?

Chris Rand at BMON talks about overcoming the situation where your prospects aren’t searching for your new-and-improved or totally-new widget.

“What you need to do is to work out what the potential customers are looking for, and to muscle in on that territory. Just invented the world’s first red widget, which nobody thought would ever happen, so nobody’s looking for? Write some articles about boring old blue widgets, get the widget buyers to your site through natural or paid-for search, and then drop the red widget bomb on them.”

Chris also shares a story of what he did with one client, which was generate a more general page about conferences for his target market. Smart!

2. When Marketing is a Waste … Your Sales People Can’t Sell

What a post title, huh? Susan Tatum at Clicks n’ Conversions tells the horror story of doubling qualified leads for a client. The horror starts when the conversion rate drops … and gets scarier when the marketer gets blamed:

“In the end it was a leadership issue. But it was also a communications issue. Had marketing and sales really been working well together; had management been asking the right questions; maybe much of this could have been avoided.”

One wonders in this situation if the marketer was brought in to shore-up sales, but was really just a band-aid to a broken sales process. I’m sure for consultants (and even us in-the-trenches marketing managers), pushing to review or change how the sales department is a sometimes dangerous request. But obviously from this story, not doing so has its own horrors.

Email newsletter advertising math

Newsletter sponsorship for an admittedly ‘targeted’ list:

  • 12,000 subscribers /$1,900 = 0.15 per impression
  • 1/3 open rate = 0.45 per impression
  • 1/3 open rate * 3 issues (for possible exposure to entire email list once) = $5,700
  • Clicks per issue (ads & content) = 900 / 15 links = avg. 60 clicks per link

Okay, the math is done. Now the manager has to take over:

  • Are those sixty clicks worth $1,900?
  • Will clicks drop or rise if I run multiple times?
  • Is exposure to 4,000 readers worth it?
  • Will the other 8,000 subscribers ever open if I run multiple times?
  • How many insertions will I have to run for branding effectiveness beyond clicks?
  • What are my other choices? Can I reach a similar audience any other way?
  • What is the quality of this email list?

That last question is ultimately the most important. Kinda makes me wish I had a BPA audit of the list and traffic numbers (like you get from print trade publishers). Really, I guess I should make sure the publisher’s salesperson wish he had a BPA audit.

Email marketing a high priority? Really?

There was a day when I thought I was a progressive, internet-savvy industrial marketer.  Still today, among B2B marketers willing to fill out an online survey, I’d like to think I’m ahead of the curve.

But apparently the rest of the industrial/B2B marketers have moved on and decided that email marketing is the most important type of marketing they’ll be doing in 2011.

I was stunned to see blogger Chris Rand’s BMON’s response from 183 marketers “Where are you advertising next year?” survey:

What do we find? Firstly, there’s a clear winner. Email marketing is going to be the most important area of investment for industrial and scientific companies next year. Over 80% said it was going to be “high” or “medium” priority, and only 3% said they wouldn’t be using it at all.

I’ve got one niche mailing list I use a couple times a year, and email blasts culled from my CRM for the few shows we do. I don’t even count those as enough to get me out of the lowly 3%, let alone the bottom 20%.

I’ve always put us scientific/industrial/capital-equipment types as ‘demand driven’ marketing. Email should be a lower priority, while optimizing being ‘found’ would be the top goal.

All I’m going to do with email marketing is annoy the very same engineers who will sooner or later be shopping for our type of equipment. They remember what salespeople and companies annoy them. Trust me on this!

Both extremes:

I’ve seen the rise of ‘marketing automation’, and been confused by it all. But for certain marketers (technology/software marketers especially) where nurturing, educating, and creating demand are key tasks, I’m sure it makes sense. Slickly done, with a dedicated staffer running the program, it has to easily show value.

Then there are the really lame email blasts I get from companies that are going to try email marketing about once, half-heartedly. The messages are so bad, no one responds, and email marketing is declared a waste.

Somehow, I suspect there are a lot more than 3% of marketers who fall in the ‘really lame’ category. They certainly aren’t thoughtful enough to read a blog or respond to a survey, though.

Note: I hate surveys because benchmarks don’t always apply to what is right for me. This is certainly the case. But I’m just surprised to be so far in the minority!

A competitor across the aisle

We just did our last show for the year. This one is always a great show because our customers are there, and nearly everyone else is a prospect (or knows the person at their company who should be). And all our competitors are there, too.

This year, our main competitor was kitty-corner across the aisle from us. Intimidating to be sure. We’ve got to do better then them somehow, right? We’ve got to bring our A-game. Well, duh, we need to bring our A-game to a show regardless.

And what happened after a little while, is that we worked the show like we normally would, and so did they. Its hard to put on pretenses when you have visitors to interact with…they suddenly are our number-one focus.

So what did I get out of the experience?

  • Our salespeople working the booth are now a little more aware of the dynamics between our companies.
  • An opportunity to see how prospects behave differently when talking to us versus them.
  • We learned a bit more about our competitor’s sales-style based on their behavior in the show booth (showing vs. listening).
  • A chance to see what they know about our company, products, and people.

We had a couple mid-aisle conversations about the show, players in the industry, and other small talk. We see each other once a year, and I did learn I am pretty invisible to them (“are you from the home-office?”).

It was interesting when Peter, a former sales rep of ours, walked one of the competitors over to our booth and proceeded to point out the differences in our products. Then they walked back across the aisle. I kept silent.

Interesting, but who cares? He’s not going to copy what we do. If he didn’t know the details of our product by now, obviously he doesn’t care about it too much. Or, more likely, he doesn’t realize his own weaknesses.

Okay, I will admit wanting to do a close walk-around his product. But I had no reason to, either. We compete so directly, the biggest differences are not the products. Its the branding … and the people who represent the brand. And I think those differences came in to clearer focus for me after this show.

Is industrial marketing this boring?

The magazine for every B2B Marketer

BtoB Magazine has its hands full, trying to offer content for different types of B2B marketers: Agencies, technology companies, big companies, small companies.

The August 16 issue has a two-page feature on ‘manufacturing marketing’ with three articles and a list of manufacturing trade pubs. (Barely a feature, but it did pull a full-page ad from Penton Media, see it below.)

Okay, I thought, this is my vertical … let’s see what the latest and greatest is.

Marketing like it’s 2002.

The articles all talk about online marketing like its something new. Here are the articles and a taste of what they had to say, and my reaction:

Online proves its ROI mettle: This main article talks about resumption of web initiatives by manufacturers as the economy improves. Sample point: “Manufacturing marketers are moving online because Web advertising and search engine marketing are much more measurable.”
Dave says: MEASURABLE? We know that! How about the web is way more functional for B2B marketing.

Outlook improving for manufacturing A two question interview with GlobalSpec’s Marketing Maven based on their benchmarking surveys. Interview response: “Budgets are shifting online: 47% [of respondents] are spending more than one-third of their marketing budget online.”
Dave says: BUDGETS SHIFTING? That ended eight years ago, IMHO. (Okay, the next article proves me wrong, but hey …)

On Site Gas manufactures leads with Web effort
A case study from an agency that helped move a $150K marketing budget to online and overcome lead-management issues. Marketing tactic: “Search marketing efforts included country-specific pay-per-click campaigns as well as an aggressive organic program.”
Dave says: PPC AND SEO? Playing catch-up with the competition?

I shouldn’t be so cynical

So manufacturers are increasingly relying on online marketing tactics? That’s been going on for a decade. I admit we still have a long way to go in improving and maximizing the value of the internet. But we have all committed to online marketing at some level, which makes these articles sound patronizing, thus my reaction.

Like we do any better with print…

Bonus: I also received BtoB’s annual reader survey that highlights a few ads for our opinions. This year was no, different … they were mediocre at best. (See my 2006 comments.)
(Hover for my snark, click for a closer look.)

OMG, Yahoo Search PPC is a rip-off

I don’t say this lightly: Yahoo Marketing Solutions’ search advertising is junk … a rip-off. It was an expensive and surprising lesson in online marketing.

(I don’t mean their content network, I knew that was worthless years ago, as is Google’s.)

I’ve been an advertiser with Yahoo since the days of 1996. Later, as Google gained prominence (and bidding on Yahoo got out of control), I effectively ignored Yahoo. I think most marketers have. Getting billed a hundred bucks by YMS every so often was tolerable, especially as AdWords started sucking in thousands.

Earlier this year, the frequency of billing notices from Yahoo was noticeably increasing. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure it out, or prove it. Today I noticed something in my site analytics that clued me in! I’m shocked, and my YMS campaigns are now paused indefinately.

The short of it:

Yahoo has been adding ‘search partners’ indiscriminately. The partners remain largely invisible to us advertisers, but we are billed for the very low value clicks they generate. My investigation found that in the last twelve days,  just 2.5% of the 243 clicks I received via YMS have been from, the site. The rest have been from 59 other ‘search partners’ which are junky, spammy websites.

Worse than that, looking at the data, I see sure signs of click-fraud from these partners.

The proof of it:

There is a ton I could say about what I saw when comparing data in my YMS reports and Google Analytics, but the amazing thing is how real the activity looks, and how well it is un-noticable. But when Yahoo reports the same amount of clicks as AdWords over the same time-frame, I knew something is up!

1. Over-extended search partners:

Once I figured out that most of my YMS traffic wasn’t being logged as coming from Yahoo, I knew why I’d been deceived: Lots of onesy-twosy clicks from sites that I don’t even see in the bottom of my Analytics referrer list. Someone got greedy and created enough traffic for me to notice (especially when their conversion rate was 29%). I went to their site and saw my Yahoo ad. Bingo!!

I found this very insightful post next: Improve your Yahoo Traffic Quality NOW with A New Ad Delivery Report by “Search Marketing Sage” Tad Miller, posted 9/11/09. He described a new report that Yahoo enabled so you could see where your search-ads were being shown. The rather tame title covered this scathing commentary:

After running my first Ad Delivery Report, all of what I believed about the quality of this traffic has been reconfirmed (a lot of this traffic is CRAP).  I would encourage All Yahoo Sponsored Search Advertisers to check out the Ad Delivery Report ASAP, and actually go the URLs that are delivering clicks and impressions.  I’m finding lots of questionable sites that look like they are designed more for getting revenues off of sponsored search than actually helping searchers find what they want.

It’s bordering on criminal where Yahoo as looked the other way for years on this revenue stream.  I’m seeing several foreign language websites that my clients would never want to have their ad show on.  I really wonder if they are cleaning up their act with this traffic as part of their future search deal with Bing.

Bordering on criminal? Yea, I’d agree to that. (Check out the links at the beginning of  Tad’s article for more on the subject.)

Oh, I guess I knew that Yahoo had ‘search partners’. So does Google. But I’ve never really thought about those filling up the long-tail of my website’s referrer report with junky clicks.

So, I ran the Ad Delivery Report … and instantly felt like a shmuck. Just 12 days worth of data, but Yahoo looks like they are running the mother of all click farms. In twelve days:

  • 417 different domains and sub-domains displaying our Yahoo PPC search ads, with a total of 6,095 impressions.
  • 59 of those domains showed click-thrus, with a total 235 clicks.
  • Six, just six, of those clicks came from

This all comes from Yahoo’s own report. Here is the original CSV export of the list of websites, impressions, and clicks (less my company name and account number).

Side note: This report apparently only works if you have YSM’s analytics/conversion tracker set up properly. The report also only works … if you know it exists!

2. Sure signs of click-fraud

What got me looking at Yahoo this morning was Google Analytics showing ‘conversions’ that were hitting my thank-you ‘goal’ page first, the one that is supposed to show after a quote request is submitted. That page should not be an entrance page!

So I traced conversions on a Sunday when Yahoo’s and Google’s reports showed multiple conversions, yet I had only one email-submitted lead. After dropping the one AdWords-generated visitor (matched to the legitimate lead), I could focus on the activity of the other ‘conversions’. Two hit the goal page, then another random page and left … total time on-site? Five seconds!

At least that activity is traceable. The top three most expensive converting sites, yampot, thinktarget, and ecocho don’t even show up in Analytics as having any traffic on my site. Did Analytics miss 133 visitors and 24 conversions? Or did a click-bot do all the dirty work? Hmmm. One thing for sure, Yahoo got paid for those visitors. Damn!

Taking it in the shorts

My research showed that activity from jumped up last November, and I suspect these partner sites might have gained prevalence around the same time. Here is my Analytics filtering just Yahoo cpc conversions (not including other possible spammy partner sources):

Conversions from Yahoo cpc

Unfortunately, ignoring what used to be ignorable has cost me a decent amount of my search budget. At first it looked productive, but now I see all the numbers and activity simply don’t add up. The Ad Delivery Report was there for me to use, if I had known it existed, and if I had an idea this was a problem.

I wouldn’t be posting this if I didn’t think that what Yahoo was doing to me and other marketers was deceitful and wrong. Loading up their search network with spammy sites (and with obvious click-fraud) is unconscionable. The Yahoo brand is morally bankrupt in my eyes now.

Sue them?

Well, Yahoo settled a class-action lawsuit for just such practices last fall. Did adding the new report and documentation required relieve them of liability for still using “spyware, domain name parking sites (bulk registration sites), pop-ups, pop-unders and typosquatting sites”? (The lawyers got $4M, the advertisers basically nothing, which is a whole ‘nother conversation about criminality.)

So the best I can do is drag the Yahoo name in the mud on my tiny little corner of the interwebs, which I set up long ago to write about just such experiences. Yahoo PPC may be old-school for discussion on blogs, but in this case, I think everyone needs to take a fresh look at what they are doing!

A virtual waste?

Trade show browsers
There is more to a show than 'look-e-loos'

I read a lot of marketing blogs every day (and I really need to contribute to the blogosphere more myself). One post I saw recently attempted to justify ‘virtual’ trade shows as an acceptable alternative to the real thing, given the much lower cost. The ROI is higher, apparently.

I was suspicious … virtual trade shows are right up there with webinars in my do-not-like. Are they worthwhile? Are they a worthy substitute?

After being at a major trade show all last week, I feel justified in my reaction: Virtual/online events may be good to get some fresh sales leads … but that’s about it.

There is no engagement. There is no socialization. There is no serendipity. There is no communal experience.

Take the number of leads (so easy to count online) and divide by the cost (one fixed number to a vendor) and the CPA (cost per acquisition) does look good, I’ll agree.  However …

The real thing is better …

At the show I was at (as a first-time exhibitor in a growing industry), I really felt like we solidified our position in the market, and opened opportunities for the future.

Sure, I can count up the leads on the thumb-drive from the badge reader (that alone cost me $299). But how do you count these activities and results:

  • We partnered with one of our top customers to promote both of our businesses (and now they are more than just a customer).
  • Our independent sales rep found some potential clients for another line he reps. (Line synergy, isn’t that why we have these guys, instead of direct sales staff?)
  • We had a huge belly-laugh with a customer meeting her salesperson IRL for the first time.
  • Another customer slapped our salesperson’s shoulder in front of others from his company and said “Yoshi is awesome!”
  • I talked to a complementary vendor about a potential joint product. And maybe a targeted marketing event, too.
  • Walked into several booths and found people very interested in the products we sell, and also found a major decision maker on a larger project.

I could go on, but you get the point. The salespeople and I were able to take our business somewhere it couldn’t go without being at this event. Forget ROI … it’s value is priceless.

Not all trade shows are like this, but this is the way they are supposed to be. If all you get out of a trade show is leads, you’ve missed the point of being there. And that would be more than a virtual waste.

Have you got that ‘vision thing’?

I had read a post from the Marketing Headhunter not too long ago, about Assessing “the Vision Thing.” A great list of ‘interview questions’, I thought.

But I’m not going to be doing interviews. I know what I’m doing. I’m a tactical guy, not a vision guy anyway.

And I pressed on.

Later that week we had a visitor meet with us. “So why do your customers buy from you?” he asked.

Damn, I knew the answer isn’t supposed to be the salesman’s answer … but I felt it coming out of my mouth. “Well, we offer a competitive price & product”, then mumbled something about high quality.

Doh! How lame!

My brain went back to Harry’s post. How was I supposed to answer the question?

First I have to justify my dorky answer: In smaller B2B businesses like mine, your brand is the sum of everything you do. And those things happen organically to satisfy the customer. It’s like ants building a colony, not a lioness pouncing on prey. Price, product, & delivery are basic, but very important parts of what we do.

But Harry Joiner says the leaders he looks for need to have vision. If he is testing his candidates’ strategic literacy, this has to be a common problem:

“My point here is that there is a difference between doing the right things, and doing things right.  Candidates are expected to do things right.  Tight execution is simply the price of admission these days.

However, as we have all learned by watching Google, Microsoft, Disney, and Apple redefine and grow their businesses, the right people asking the right questions can have a much greater impact that just a few thousand dollars in recruiting fees.”

Go ahead and study some of these questions. It’ll make you better prepared when someone asks how your company prevails, or what your marketing really does. Here is a zinger from that list:

If you left your company today, how would you compete against it? I freaking love this question because most e-commerce candidates simply think in terms of just doing more, better, faster, and cheaper.  I’ve got news for them: Someone’s always going to do things better, faster, and cheaper.  How can you do things more intimately with your customer??