Thursday, March 31, 2011

Webinars Have Touched A Content Marketing Sweet Spot: Short, Free, and Friendly

Webinars were hot about two years ago when users first caught up with the technology. Then webinars went quiet. I suspect that’s the time promoters found out people weren’t rushing to pay $199 (or more) for webinar information that’s readily available from a lot of other sources. We can all buy a book for $14, download a free white paper, read an eNewsletter, follow a group of informed bloggers, or even – with effort – Google search any topic.

Now, webinar sponsors have embraced content marketing.

In the past two months, content marketing webinars are eating up the landscape. The new model is free, short, and friendly. Since mid-March, I’ve had offers to attend six free webinars. Not only were these webinars complimentary, they aired for only an hour. Short is good and we’ll likely start seeing the ½-hour “blinkety-blink-blink” version soon.

I listened in on two of the six and would have indulged in two more had time been available. One of these (Anne Holland’s “Winning with Better Landing Pages”) taught me a lot and I spread the wealth via my blog post. I did something similar in December when I blogged about Chris Brogan and Pawan Desphande’s “Content Curation” webinar. Maybe that was a pay-off for the sponsors. I hope so.

I also missed a webinar I’d registered to attend. I certainly meant to attend, so I was happy when the sponsors acknowledged my empty seat. The follow-up email came a couple hours after the webinar finished, telling me I’d receive a link as soon the webinar was posted online. That’s a classy move (thank you, Marketing Experiments) and should count among webinar “best practices.”

Sponsors appear to have realized that webinars are a poor substitute for in-person meetings/seminars. Moreover, the early promise of webinars as a money-making scheme flopped. Webinars are, however, a superb approach to PR, branding, customer service, and community building -- otherwise known as “content marketing.”

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

I Haven't Had A Fresh Idea In Months. How About You?

Dearheart sent me this link from Wired magazine with a note saying, “Once again, Nan is ahead of the curve.” If only it were true. I have never felt more BEHIND the curve. Lately, I don’t even know where the curve is.

The Wired story reviews Curation Nation, a book that deals the new notion that technology is worth squat unless human beings are around to filter the sludge. I used to think that was true; now I’m not so sure.

For about a year – and more significantly in the past six months – I’ve had a growing awareness that no matter what fresh insight I’ve grasped, somebody else has already written a book about it. When I first noticed this phenomenon, I decided to ignore it. But this “shared awareness” phenomenon is growing. Even worse, my awareness of the awareness is exploding.

What the heck am I talking about here? I’m talking about why, as a writer, I can’t seem to come up with a fresh idea. The truth is maybe I never could come up with a fresh idea.. I just didn’t know it. Well, the Internet has taken care of that. Now I am painfully aware just how far behind I am in capturing every realization and insight. My eureka moment? Google has 1,230,000 entries on that one. It’s humbling.

Maybe this blog post sounds like a joke. It certainly does have a comic dimension. But there’s angst, too, in this “late-to-market” syndrome. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone (after all, not being alone in the "awareness" is we’re talking about here, right?). So, yes. Most assuredly. As all of us knowledge workers sit on the razor’s edge of Singularity, it’s hard to discern our unique vantage point.

Perhaps this explains why the world’s gone mad .. why our exponential advances in information technology also breed exponential road rage, obesity, hoarding, addiction, and reality TV.

Along with the latest gadget or post-grad degree from MIT, I’m wishing somebody would serve up a little philosophy and sociology. It may not be the machine way, but, really, isn’t our ability to reflect and contemplate how we are wired?

p.s. If you’ve already written a book about this, good for you. I want to read it.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Which Parts of My Landing Page Should I Test?

With great new, easy-to-use technology like Marketo and Unbounce, marketers can easily execute a key feature of direct marketing: Testing.

But what exactly should marketers be testing about their landing pages? Marketing sherpa Anne Holland shared her wisdom today with webinar participants who checked in to learn about “Winning with Better Landing Pages: Top 5 Secrets to Lifting Conversions.” Here are some pointers from the session.

Button visibility is a major factor in getting visitors to take action, so go to any necessary lengths in size, color, and position to make your “do this” buttons stand out. Simple, less complex landing pages tend to work best (though there are exceptions.. always exceptions), so try testing “distraction removal.” For example, one test Anne showed culled the copy, removed the navigation bar, and pared instructions down to a single, big orange button that said “Get Started.” The result? “Get Started” outperformed its more complicated counterpart by 1,363%. (Yes, one thousand three hundred sixty three percent).

Headline testing is critical for B2B lead-generation landing pages. What seems obvious may be wrong, so marketers shouldn’t rely on their own “best practices” experience. Rather, run an A/B test on headline variations.

In particular, test the headline on your registration form. For example, which header do you think pulled best when featured on a registration form?

  1. Risk Free
  2. Create your own profile for free and unlimited access

Answer: The second.

Marketers often turn the “pretty” part of landing pages over to graphic designers, with the notion that photos and images are simply “window dressing.” Not so. These, too, need to be tested. Should the image be male or female? Show people happy or neutral? Use avatars or real people? Show people or product photos? You can’t know until you test, since all of these (and other) differences affect response.

If you have a forms page, you need to test that, too. Marketers often defer to the IT or database folks about the information that must be on a form. That’s not a good idea, says Holland. “Marketers need to work with the database or IT department on the design of forms. Nothing should be assumed.” For example, should a form have "required fields” indicated or not? One such test showed a 31% lift in forms submitted when the “required fields” notation was left off.

Finally, if any of the following options -- “clear form,” “reset,” or “cancel” -- are offered any where near your form, get rid of them all. This is one thing you don’t need to test, says Holland, who notes that these options (often a hangover from database practices in the 90s) suppress results. “Strip them off,” she says.

Do videos on a landing page suppress or boost response? By now you know, “That depends.” In one case, a ‘form-only’ landing page out-pulled its ‘with-video’ counterpart by 190%. “Don’t just jump on anything because it’s the new thing,” says Holland. “Test.”

For lots more online examples of WHAT to test, check out the

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Content Farming Is for Pigs

As a writer and brand journalist, I’m vaguely familiar with Internet companies that pay a pittance per article (or less) in the drive to regurgitate “content” all over the Internet. The point is to get corporate money for fooling search engines.

I’ve stayed miles away from the practice, which may be the reason I had never heard the term “content farming” until recently. So this is what they call the wordsmith version of manufacturing sweatshops, is it? I mean, both are founded on the same principles of copyright infringement, exploitation of economically depressed people, and Industrial Age capitalism.

Incidentally, if you are a freelance writer, I strongly recommend reading the content farming Wikipedia entry. You’ll learn a lot about what not to do.

Content farming also illuminates the shenanigans of a major retailer (J.C.Penney), which got caught black-hat-handed earlier this week, thanks to excellent journalism by David Segal.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This Micro Study of One Direct Mail Piece Raises Macro Questions

Production Solutions in Vienna, VA, did something interesting. They took a current mail piece and calculated how much it would have cost to produce the same piece a decade ago (in 2001).

Guess what?

The cost to mail a test package today appears to have fallen 17% below the cost to mail the same package ten years ago. Why? Because savings inherent in data processing, personalization, and mailshop fees offset rising costs in every other area of operations.


• Technology has saved us some dollars and definitely enabled more personal, targeted, effective marketing.

• In the days ahead, ratios will shift adversely if the cost of manufactured materials goes up (paper, ink, window patch material, labels).

• Rising postage costs would squeeze margins, possibly out of existence. What will mitigate that? Can technology improvements and controlled labor costs offset the trend? So far, no … but technology delivers exponential surprises every day, so let’s not give up.

• For now, the real budget killer appears to be energy, gasoline in particular. Business owners also must deal with the rising and fixed energy costs inherent in plant operations. Again, innovations in technology may help us deal with super-charged gasoline and electricity prices. On the other hand, water could prove to be a problem most haven’t thought about.

• And then there’s the cost of labor. As states across the country try to regulate and repress wages and benefits for millions of American workers, the cost (and availability) of labor becomes vastly uncertain. Enter the influence of trends in the world economy, import/export practices, and even climate change (think paper production, for example): more uncertainty.

Whether or not one or more of these particular expenses skyrockets or plummets depends on a range of macro influences. Unforeseen technology advances and innovations in the areas of manufacturing, printing, lettershop, and even marketing itself could make us all rich (well, okay.. prosperous). In 2001, none of us really understood how huge email marketing and online shopping would be ten years later. We didn’t even know about QR codes or smart phones back then. So what will the world look like in 2021?

Perplexing, yes? ….. Perhaps direct mail production and marketing operations would benefit from a “Crazy Day brainstorming session” to encourage employees to “imagine the future” … leading maybe to some long-range thinking and planning, focused "out-of-the-box" on staying nimble, quick, responsive, and open to the coming deluge of change. I’d love to hear from readers!

In the meantime, thanks to Production Solutions for its thought-provoking article.

--scrubbed by Marketing Brillo