Marketing Automation: Not as expensive as you might think

Apologies for the long absense, but we've been need deep in writing a book on energy policy for a client that has been all consuming. The project is coming to a close and it's time to pick up this blog.

Marketing automation is the big deal in the communications departments in all fields, both B2B and B2C, but a lot of smaller companies are still in the dark about it, primarily because everything they hear about is too expensive (Marketo, Pardot, Hubspot), or too complicated (Sharpspring, ActOn). It doesn't have to be either. In the past year while working on the book we have found dozens of marketing automation platforms, some built into website services, that work for small to medium-sized businesses for less than it costs the manage a website for a year, and simple enough to just set up and run.

The problem that remains is having the time and expertise to figure out which one is right for you. Getting a consultant like Footwasher Media to guide you through the process and make the right choices does not have to be expensive either. We still have our free evaluation available to get you started and you might be surprised at how affordable we can be..

What this journalist says about click-bait headlines will make pound your head on a wall

There are multiple articles about how to increase social media posts with a set of particular headline phrases and listicles. The current winners are “will make you” and 10-item lists. This has been true long enough for an entire generation now reaching adulthood to believe that all news stories should have headlines like this, which is why so much crap gets by the 20-something college dropouts that work as editors for Facebook and Google.

As I am drawing on my ancient curmudgeon persona here I would like to say that this form of click bait is one very good reason for the loss of confidence in journalism and why we have the government we do today.

I was taught that a headline should be brief and draw attention to the story, but at the same time allow the reader to discern what the story was about without having to read the article. The current paradigm on social media does the first part, but fails miserably on the last. Readers are generally drawn into a story that does not make them do anything, fails to shock them, does not describe a evisceration or anything else that the headline promises. Even a National Enquirer headline is more descriptive and true to the story than most popular social media posts.

When I entered the journalism profession as a copy clerk, I regularly got the chance to sit on the rim of the horseshoe (copy editing desks were semicircular with the news editor in the center of the desk assigning articles to the copy editors for evaluation and correction). On once such instance I was given the responsibility of editing and writing the headline for a review of a movie called The Towering Inferno. The review was not kind, to say the lease. After a bit of thought I tried, “Audience gets burned in Towering Inferno.” I passed the edited copy and headline to the news editor who glanced at the headline; grinned, giggled and slapped the desk thrice; and declared in “perfect.”

The headline was eye-catching because it was both violent and humorous and you didn't need to read the article to get the gist of the story. It was exactly what the heading should do.Today, however, that would be considered a disastrous headline for the SEO of the story because if people skip over the article you can't get them to see the advertising, and that’s the crux of the problem.

Driving engagement is first about selling stuff, giving the reader mediocre entertainment second and getting them to share the content with their network. Delivering information to help people make informed decisions is a distant fourth in importance. But what most social media people forget is that most people never actually consume the content under the headline. Most of the readers just share the information with their friends without spending any time looking at the mediocre content or the advertising.

(A good example of that last revelation is the story about the Google employee who distributed a memo on how men and women are different to explain why diversity programs don't work. Without making a judgement call on what he said, it was obvious from the news reports that the reporters covering the story did not actually read the memo, but instead based their stories on what other people, who also didn't read it, said the memo was about.)

Valuable engaging content is about giving the audience something to think about; to make vital decisions with; to make them productive members of society. Entertaining them and gettingthem to share is advertising not journalism. If you are attracted by these kinds of headlines or you share them, you need to realize you are part of the problem.

(And yes, I realize I used a click-bait headline, but the kind of people I wanted to talk to are the kind that consumes that crap.)

Getting niche tech companies out of marketing ruts

Successful companies are embracing inbound and digital marketing, but the Tech niches are still dragging their feet. We talk about why and how to get out of the rut with Dave Orrecchio of Bristol Strategies.

Video: Tech markets need effective marketing

Hight tech companies are3 more adverse to using technology in their marketing, but the time has come for them to drop their aversion and adopt content strategies

Use of Drones Changing the Real Estate Market

By Joe Basques, Vice President of Footwasher Media

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are increasingly affordable giving them a prominent role in commercial applications in everything from photography to delivery services and even residential real estate. Let’s take a look at how the use of drones is changing real estate marketing, and specifically, how the use of UAVs can benefit both buyers and sellers.  

Getting the big picture

Drone aerial photography can highlight a large property in ways that were previously very complicated to plan and required a great deal of expensive equipment.  They provide a unique perspective of a property as a whole to help entice buyers as well as present a lifestyle.  Aerial photography of a lake, golf club, or even the Texas hill country near a home might be the reason buyers take a second look.  Photos from a UAV can create an emotional connection to a property by telling a bigger story, bringing in more potential buyers.

Drilling down to the nuts and bolts

The use of UAVs not only gives buyers better and more detailed information, but also makes the collection of that information easier and less expensive.  Inspecting roofs, foundations, industrial buildings, etc., can be a difficult and sometimes dangerous task. Why not send a drone to take pictures instead? Autonomous drones let you plan and control the images collected so you can see the home from all angles and distances. Drones can even be flown inside the home using thermal cameras to show how different parts of a building collect and/or shed heat 24 hours a day, identifying areas with inadequate insulation.  This information gives buyers better information and helps the buyer identify needed repairs that can lower the price of ownership.  

An agent’s edge

Agents who are up-to-date with this latest technology provide a source of information that make them unique and more valuable to both sides of the transaction and facilitates quick sales, with higher values and more complete services with unique and modernized approaches.

Those agents, however, need to make the capability known to the market.  If you want to learn how to be more visible to your potential clients, contact us at Footwasher Media.  We can help.

Note: Footwasher Media does not represent Soralens.

Marketing Coffee Break: How to make your Facebook advertising a success

Facebook advertising is often a hit or a miss. there are a few reasons for this and we sat down to interview Sean Stiles of Digital Market Hero to discuss why and how you can make it better. Grab a cup of coffee and learn how to boost your business.

Video: Facebook advertising hits and misses

Facebook advertising is either something that works or it doesn't. But there are a few tips to ensure it hits more than misses.

Communication is not an option

I got a bankruptcy notification from a company I did some work for about a year and a half ago. I was brought in to develop a tutorial/manual for their product that had been in the field for about five years (and they still didn't have the beginning of the manual). I went through three meetings with their team, including the CTO, the VP of marketing and the director of communications. in one of the meetings the sales manager called in to make known her requirements.

In none of the meetings could this team come to an agreement on what the document should do, who it should be for and what it should cover. The CTO gave me a 4-hour presentation on what the technology did in the first meeting, but didn't show up for the other two, The marketing and comms executives ran the second meeting, with the sales manager listening remotely and during the meeting they completely contradicted the CTO's direction. The third meeting was over the phone led by the sales manager with the comms director listening in.

Oh, an through all the meetings, the comms director was texting on her phone, not listening to any of what was being discussed.

It took me two weeks to put together a document approximating all the conflicting input but what I produced was a close approximation for a first draft. The team completely rejected the entire document, providing notes reinforcing their original conflicting directions. None of them copied any of the other parties. They said they would get back to me after they had a chance to meet together and resolve the discrepancy in what I wrote and what they wanted.

I never heard from them again until the bankruptcy notice.

For the most part, this was the worst example of a company that had no idea what it wanted to do or be, nor who they actually wanted to talk to, but they are not an isolated instance. Most companies "know" their technology is "really great" but to often they haven't established a substantive strategy for their business communications. When everyone has a different idea why the company exists, then the customers will never really understand why it does.

Once in a while, a company makes a big splash when they come out, but if they don't get serious about communication strategy they on on the road to bankruptcy.

If you are ready to get serious about communication, contact us. We offer free evaluations of your current program.

Morning coffee break: Why are companies holding back on modern marketing?

Last month we had a discussion with the senior VP of sales of SharpSpring about the importance of investing in people to make your marketing profitable. Today we talk to Mebox Media CEO Mark Jacobs about how few companies are adopting 21st Century marketing practices. Why is that? Watch the video and join the discussion.

Video: Innovate your marketing or fail

Companies that adopt 21st Century marketing practices are succeeding, so why aren't more companies adopting the practices?

VR in your head is not a great idea

Internet crime is on the rise and that is not good for the future of VR

Internet crime is on the rise and that is not good for the future of VR

At the Facebook Developer Conference, F8, Mark Zuckerberg referenced the company's plans to develop technology that take data from a users activity on Virtual and Alternative Reality (VR and AR) platforms, and that information will be sold to the highest bidder. That, in itself, is kinda creepy and a good reason not to use the technology. However, technology developers want to embed the tech directly into the human body on a 24/7/365 basis. Yes, that's the stuff of religious zealot nightmares, but the intrusiveness doesn't bother me as much as the the fact that VR and AR are, for the most part, a software issue. And software development sucks.

VR and AR dominate tech news. Investment money is pouring in and there are breathless predictions of how it will be a major factor in everyone’s lives in the near future. There are two problems that will not be solved anytime soon that will severely hamper the expansion of the industry.

  1. The technology is and will continue to be very expensive for at least the next decade, meaning that it will be available only to 1 percent of the world population. That’s enough to be profitable but encourages a deepening of the divide between the haves and have-nots.
  2. The technology needs massive computing power to function at any semblance of efficiency on a wide scale, and that capacity does not yet exist in the world.

I've seen, read and written a lot of content about the first two problems, which are the two major reasons the technology will not see the light of day anytime soon. It is the problem software development, that has me most concerned at present.

The paradigm for software is to get it out the door as soon as possible and let the user base find the bugs for you. And there are a lot of bugs. For example, as soon as a major new video game is released, a software patch becomes immediately available for download. Without the patch, the video game is a piece of crap that freezes, jumps and jitters at crucial moments. As the user base finds more holes in the design, more patches are released along with a few additional features to make the user less inclined to throw the game platform out of a window.

This is fine because that is how the consumer has become used to electronic products. Now however, can you imagine what your life would be like with software developed by an overworked, exhausted coder controlling what you see and hear? 

Imagine driving down I5 at 70 miles an hour when, suddenly, your AR equipped contact lenses pop up a "blue screen of death" in the middle of your site, and you are too far from a cell tower or a wifi connection to download the patch and reboot.

Imagine learning your bank account has been hacked through your VR system because the password was stolen and the thieves accessed your Facebook account, stole your retina scan information and fooled all your financial accounts into believe it was you.

They want to put that stuff into our heads. Think about that for a second.

Coding languages... all of them ... are not efficient as a whole. Some are better than others, but the most popular, like C++, are truly crappy. No one is developing a coding language that can be secure and easily fixable. There are holes and back doors in everything. There is no financial incentive to improve the security and engineers are notoriously adverse to changing methodologies once they find their comfort zone to the point that coder friendships sometimes rest on whether one developer uses a tab or a space at the end of a code line. 

VR and AR will never achieve the adoption it's proponents envision until they solve these technical issues, but the damage they will do to those people that do embrace it will be inestimable.

The good news is that the government regulations, even in this "de-regulatory" attitude of this current administration, will never allow what the industry is proposing. Not in our lifetimes, at least.

Fix the problems, guys, and save us from the breathless hype in the meantime.

Who is listening to you? You might be surprised

That takes some effort to listen and be aware of what the opportunities actually are but if you ignore them you do so at at your own peril.


Throughout my career as a professional communicator I come across clients who are absolutely sure they know who their audience is. Invariably they are wrong.Let me give you an example.

Many years ago I counseled a semiconductor company that had a great business selling components to Apple for the iPod. They sold almost 30 percent of all their product to Apple. They knew that Apple was never going away.

In our research into the effectiveness of their content we found what seemed to be a discrepancy. We knew that there were multiple product groups that the client’s technology would fit, but they were focused only on the iPod team. We told them they needed to start a focus on development teams.

They responded, “We know who to talk to, you just concentrate on putting out press releases.”

Six months later, at a trade show, two Apple team managers came by the client booth to take a look at a new codec chip and after a brief introduction one of them said. “It’s too bad we didn’t know about this two months ago. It would have been a perfect fit for a new product we have coming out.”

One year later, Apple introduced the iPhone. One year after that, Apple switched to a competitor’s chips for the next generation of iPod. The client lost all of Apple’s business. Today, that client is part of their competitor having been bought out after their stock tanked about 5 years ago.

The moral is that there is always someone listening, or who needs to listen, to what you have to say. It is your job to figure out who that is and what they need to hear.

A good communication strategy requires looking at all the potential customers and influencers in a particular market. You might be concerned only with the companies and people that will buy your product, but you might not be thinking about the ultimate user of the product; or the people that provide the pieces of your product that you don't manufacture; or the service companies that are distributing your product; or the people that actually influence all of those people. Each of those “publics” can determine the fate of your organization as much, if not more than the immediate customer.

Now you might believe that one set of information is enough for all groups, but you would be wrong. In the case of the client, they were focused on the needs for one application of their technology. when there were, in fact, multiple applications. The iPhone project managers may have been hearing that information somewhere inside Apple, but it wasn't targeted at their product. It needed to be communicated in a way those project engineers could relate.

That takes some effort to listen and be aware of what the opportunities actually are but if you ignore them you do so at at your own peril. Just remember: what you don't know may actually kill you.

Marketing coffee break: Marketing Automation makes investment in people profitable

This is our first interview in a new series on best practices in marketing technology. today we talk to James (Jamie) Morgan, vice president of global sales for SharpSpring, one of our technology partners.

Most companies, we have found, that invest in new tech for marketing and sales somehow think they can skimp on professional personnel but that has been a poor model for success. The marketing automation industry is growing rapidly, one of the fastest growing industries in the world, but the tools are complex. Very few customers of the industry are making effective use of the tools and customer turnover is as high as 50 percent annually. as a result, many industry members are scrambling constantly for new customers. SharpSpring, however, ties it's business directly to marketing and communications professionals and has an admirable 2 percent turnover rate. One of the lowest in the marketing automation industry.

Our discussion with Jamie shows why it is so low and why investing in competent professionals is key to success.

Video: People are still key to Marketing Automation

Marketing automation tools are foundational to improving your digital marketing ROI, but they are not a magic talisman to sales. You still need expertise and experience to get the results you need.

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Navigating to complex world of marketing tech

We're off on a new direction again, advising companies about strategy and teaching content development. Our new video series will feature service vendors and customers to help you better navigate the complex world of marketing technology. Grab a cub of coffee and join the conversation 

Video: Footwasher Media Winter '17 Newsletter: a New Path

Marketing practices are failing companies. Here's how to be more effective

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Sharing is a thing, but it isn’t the only thing.

I received a few emails from a content services vendor this week (Here’s a suggestion…did you get my email… have you read my email…) and after getting over the initial annoyance of a rookie PR gaffe I decided to look into the suggestion while I made coffee. My response is this blog post.

The vendor was Venngage which has a nifty online tool for creating infographics for distribution on digital media, and competes with dozens of similar online tools. The offer was a very long white paper on engagement that, to their credit, had no blatant push to buy their service, but it wasn’t completely subtle. The premise of the white paper is “content that people share is a good thing.” In fact, if anyone from Venngage sends you the link to the paper, I just saved you a who lot of time because you don’t have to read it now. That is all it says, but with lots of statistics before they get to the point.


It’s true that a metric of content engagement is, in fact, how many people in your audience share your content. For a company like Venngage, creating sharable content is an important metric, which actually denudes their white paper of all subtlety. That being said, sharing is a not a great metric of the value of your content, no matter what the statistics say.

A recent study by Colombia University said almost 60 percent of content shared on social media is not actually read by the people sharing it. They look only at the headline and if it creates a gut reaction (positive of negative) then it gets shared. The problem is that the most common SEO practice is to create emotional headlines that often have nothing to do with the content that follows. The headlines are heavily salted with phrases line “will blow your mind” and “you won’t believe what happens next.” For infographics, if you are among the majority of people that doesn’t actually read shared content or, even worse, taken in by fake news this is problematic. As a result, many infographics shared are full of sensationalistic, inaccurate and down-right false information being spread throughout the digital world. 

This results in two outcomes: misinformed people and people who are angry at you for spreading disinformation.  In the former group, these people are not making a conscious decision to do business with you. If those people do any sort of fact-checking they become the latter group because they are pissed off about being lied to, even though that was not your intent. This practice rarely results in revenue for you, which is the stated goal of content marketing, and it destroys your reputation.

There are only two metrics that truly matter in the area of content marketing: (1) How much time do they spend on your content and website and (2) how many end up asking for a proposal. Everything else is interesting but not important.  You can have a brilliant infographic that gets shared and re shared hundreds of thousands of time, but if they spend no time actually considering that information and if they never end up buying your service or product, that infographic is completely useless.

It is more important to get one paying customer than 100,000 shares or content that no one reads. It takes time to build a relationship and relationship is engagement. So before you invest in tools and gimmicks for social engagement, focus on the quality of your content first. There are no magic beans.

Contact us if you want to figure out how to create engaging and trustworthy content.

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Automation's dirty secret: We still need people

In all cases we have learned that these companies, if they don’t have trainable employees, must invest in employees or consultants with the knowledge and experience. More importantly, those resources need to be dedicated to the task.

With all the talk of automation replacing workers there is a dirty little secret that most people are ignoring: The need for workers to implement and maintain automation tools and to effectively analyze and interpret data from them.

Companies like to buy automation technology with the belief that they eliminate the need for people and expertise but when they fail to invest in the manpower to use that technology it severely hampers the ability of the tools to deliver value. At the same time, while ROI is significantly reduced by the lack of appropriate staff, the cost of eliminating the unproductive tools increases.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of marketing automation and online communications.

Over these past two years, Footwasher Media has been doing free preliminary and paid in depth evaluations of organizations and we have discovered that while the industry providing this technology is booming, the effective use of these tools is still far behind the curve in all areas. Here are four scenarios illustrating the problem. We are seeing a lack of production in their marketing and communications programs. In all cases we have learned that these companies, if they don’t have trainable employees, must invest in employees or consultants with the knowledge and experience. More importantly, those resources need to be dedicated to the task.

1. Big tech
Content chief of a large semiconductor company, who moved from a senior position at a large, well known publication, was appalled by the lack of integration of the analytics tools. “We had a team on the publication whose job it was to maintain and report on readership trends and when I got daily readership stats from the team at the publication it was like looking at a moon launch spread sheet from NASA. At this billion-dollar tech firm, they had a single admin working 10 hours a day maintaining and reporting on customer engagement. I was lucky to get a two-page four column spreadsheet once a month.

2. Human Resources
CEO of a medium size recruiting firm has employed multiple form of automation and analytics tools, but hasn’t integrated it into their daily practices because “they don’t have time for the learning curve.” As a result they are still doing much of the communication and search on a personal, ad hoc level management and staff are overwhelmed by the workload.

3. Startups
CEO of a small Indian software company is frustrated by the lack of production from sales and marketing programs and spent a week examining their procedures. He discovered that while they have not been avoiding hiring marketing staff, they have tried to economize by hiring junior-level marketing and sales people whose experience is not up to the task. Senior management is comprised of experienced engineers with no idea how to manage or direct sales and marketing.

4. Real Estate
The owner of a large Texas real estate company pays exorbitant prices for social and online tools to drive in leads that their agents rarely use because of their complexity but make almost no investment in the manpower to properly integrate the tools into the workflow and train agents in their use.

In each of these scenarios is a common theme: either insufficient staffing for the task or none at all. Some people want to focus only on Silicon Valley as problematic in this arena but as the scenarios above show, It is a worldwide problem that spans all industries. We have found similar difficulties in personal services (beauty salons and spas), consumer retail and financial sectors.

Automation is not a form of magic: Just plug it in and work is done. It doesn’t work that way, anymore than the invention of the wheel put luggage carriers out of work. Automation makes jobs more efficient and cost effective and makes the knowledgeable employee more valuable.

How is your content and marketing program doing? Room for improvement? Drop us a line and we can help.


Recruiters and job listing sites do not work

In fact if a job seeker were to place on roulette bet or buy one lottery ticket for every job they apply for on a job listing service, they would be more likely to win a living wage from gambling than job searches.

Finding a job is not easy and there are no shortcuts no matter what is said by the human resources industry, including Job finding services, independent recruiters, and in-company human resources (HR) staff.  Even with an unemployment rate of less than 5 percent there are 100 million skilled, experienced people who are looking for or have given up looking for work in the United States.

In fact, the conclusion of a year long New Tech Press investigation of the employment industry is it is doing a disservice to job seekers, employers and the investment community by making the claim that they can help people find work or employees. While some of these services can point to a few areas of success and some are better than others (our research shows Linkedin is the most reliable), none are particularly effective. In fact if a job seeker were to place on roulette bet or buy one lottery ticket for every job they apply for on a job listing service, they would be more likely to win a living wage from gambling than job searches.

There are bright spots for some job categories depending on the geographical location. In major tech hubs, there are plenty of jobs for engineers with short resumes. Elsewhere minimum wage employees with little training or experience can find work for more than minimum wage. For experienced, well-trained or just young people just out of college with anything other than a STEM degree there is virtually nothing available, even when suitable jobs exist.

“Wait,” we can here you ask, “Nothing available for potential employees even when jobs exist? How can that be?”

The biggest reason is data misuse by HR practitioners.

Employers and the employment industry rely on the Standard Occupation Codes (SOC) and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) to form the foundation of job descriptions. In our interviews with HR professionals and system developers we discovered that when they are creating job descriptions they consistently overuse and misuse the coding system to pull in the most candidates, even those that are unqualified.

Second, the “artificial intelligence” built into the systems is not much more than a scan of those codes and word search functions, resulting in bad returns.

In making this discovery we input the following job functions into a dozen job-finding sites (e.g. and employment sites (e.g. Facebook)

  • Journalist
  • Editor
  • Marketing communications
  • Marketing manager
  • Audio design
  • Video editing
  • Program management

The results produced, at most, no more than two positions that were actually for those jobs and hundreds of positions that ranged from electronic system designs to sous chefs. The most egregious example is a standard search for audio designer jobs. This particular job is crucial in television, movie, and video game industries and is the key focus for the broadcast and electronic communications major at San Francisco State University. Using that job title in a search for jobs in a dozen job finding sites (e.g. resulted in more than 5,000 positions for electrical engineers and computer scientists and not a single job for an actual audio designer.

To see why we received these results we dug into to SOC and NAICS codes appended to the job offering and found dozens in codes that had absolutely nothing to with the listed jobs. The reason for these errors was simple: When a company is looking for employees they input the codes related specifically to their industry or discipline. When a tech company, like Google, is looking for an engineer to design an audio codec.  They append the NAICS 541400 code for specialized audio systems design to the posting. The systems and HR professionals do word searches for “audio” and “design” and make the posting. So an audio design engineer who produces sound, get thousands of job listings for semiconductor designers who have experience in audio codecs.

Neither the NAICS nor the SOC systems are adequate sources of data for effective job placement efforts, yet these codes are foundational to all job postings.

The next problem is human fallibility.

In spite of the flood of automated job sites and technology, all of which we have found to be horribly flawed, the HR industry is dependent on humans that are deluged by unqualified applicants fed to them by the flawed technology. Thos professionals are well versed in the legal requirements of their profession but lack basic tech understanding and and under use relevant technology.

We talked to 27 in-house and independent recruiters over the past year, some of them senior HR managers and vice presidents. None of them knew the capabilities of the search technology, much less the full capabilities of artificial intelligence. Many of them were flummoxed about the use of simple spread-sheet tools. As a result they do not use the basic automation tools available even for free and are generally overwhelmed by the amount of communication they have to handle daily from employers and potential employees. One manager for a major marketing automation system company did not use her own company’s technology for job openings. In another case, a recruiter for a social media company did not even have a profile on the company platform.

The combination of bad and misused data, and lack of basic tech understanding results in an ineffective mechanism for matching qualified people with jobs and, hence, the high number of qualified people leaving the job market altogether.

As frustrating as this may be for employers and job-seekers, it must be even more frustrating for the investment community. More than $4 billion has been invested in HR tech startups in the past two years and there is no end in sight. Companies and seekers are paying subscriptions to these companies in the millions of dollars and yet with little positive results. When combining the current unemployment rate with the number of people who have left the job market, the effective unemployment rate in the US is 40 percent, with no relief in sight.

What can be done? Start with the data.

The SOC and NAICS codes were not intended to help people find jobs. They were designed to classify maintain records of employment for the purpose of population studies and taxation. Using them for job openings is a gross misuse of the data. The HR industry needs to employ experienced communicators and data scientists to develop and sort job opening data. The communicators can create accurate and realistic offerings and the data scientists, using sentiment analysis, can identify and process the recruits more effectively.

Secondly, marketing automation and proper SEO can attract, sort and communicate effectively with applicants making HR professionals more efficient and productive by eliminating frustration and wasted effort.

Finally, employers need to have an attitude adjustment regarding what they are looking for in potential employees. As the unemployment rate falls, it will be more difficult for overly selective companies to find productive employees. Instead of investing in tech based on bad data, invest in training of HR staff to do better work.

I'm old and you are not. That's good thing.

I turned 64 this year and have been on the receiving end of scams and offers related to social security, dementia and Medicare for weeks now. I'm also getting offered senior discounts without asking. None of that has bothered me as much as getting dismissed because I'm no longer in my 30s (which bothered me as much when I was in my 20s). Today, however I had a revelation and I'm feeling much better about my age.

I was doing a session with the marketing team for a small business back by telephone and was in the process of breaking down their preconceived notions about communication when the youngest member of the team asked me, "How do you know this is what our customers are thinking?"

"Because I've been doing this for 40 years," I replied.

"Oh." She replied. 

Then one of the business owners, well into his 70s asks, "Wait a minute. You said you've been doing this for 40 years. How old are you?"

"I'm 64."

"Well, all right then. I feel much better about this."

What we had in this meeting were people with specific experiences and perceptions that were colored by their what they "knew"to be true. Most people never venture far outside of that comfort zone. They talk to the same people, listen to the same opinions and get annoyed if they are forced to go outside of that zone. In the world of communication strategy, that is a formula for failure. Until you actually spend a significant amount of time outside the zone, you can never properly communicate to your audience.

I've been watching social media since the 1990s, long before we had Facebook and MySpace. I had become pretty good as a communicator in general and with traditional forms of media but I knew that this new form of communication would become more important in a relatively short time, so I went waist deep in it and learned that my particular approach to communications fit better in social media than it did to mass media. That approach essential says: "No one cares what I think. They care what people they respect think. Write about that."

To do that, you need to be outside your walls talking to different people, learning how they accumulate information and knowledge (often two different things), and how they apply it to their lives. No one has all the answers but collectively, they have most of the answers. It is hard to realize that until you've had a few years under your belt, so being old helps a great deal.

But being old doesn't give you all the answers, either. The people that are younger than you have a different perspective in life that is no less valid than yours or people that are older. They all contain a portion of truth than needs to be considered. That is the key component in any successful communication strategy: breadth of perspective. That, however, is very hard to do from the inside of an organization, and the longer you are in the organization, the more likely it is that your perspective will become calcified.

That's why getting the perspective of someone out of the loop is imperative and the best choice generally comes from your current and prospective customer base. What they think of you is an order of magnitude bigger than what you think of you. They may not be correct in their view, either, but when you show you are open to their opinion, they become more likely to listen to yours. In the process everyone gets what they want and need.

Survey shows wineries are losing business at a significant rate

By Lou Covey  

A Footwasher Media survey discovered that most of the wineries outside of two California counties may be losing as many past customers they are gaining new. Wv_2009-01-13_Peaks_MNGT

Overall, the viticulture industry is doing well. Sales of premium wine (more than $20 a bottle) is increasing steadily and California is reaping the benefit of that popularity because If you buy or consume wine in the United States, it is most likely coming from California. There are more than 3600 wineries in California alone, which produce 90 percent of all the wine sold in the United States, according to the National Association of American Wineries

The lion’s share of that market, however, is located in Napa and Sonoma counties. Multiple marketing sources place the marketshare of those two counties between 50 and 70 percent of the total market. Because of that volume, Large Napa and Sonoma wineries can produce enough product to supply retail stores. Smaller wineries with less volume rely primarily on direct sales of wine, at the winery or through wine clubs, the primary driver of revenue. Outside of those two counties, direct sales is 90 percent of the revenue, on average. 

To see how this reality affects consumers, Footwasher Media sent a survey to more than 1100 people who stated they had visited a wine region in the past five years, with 30 percent responding. The respondents, between the ages of 21 and 50 with men and women equally represented, had all visited a winery in the past five years. The questions were:

  • Do you remember where the winery was?

  • Do you remember the name of the winery?

  • Do you remember what variety of wine it was (not red or white)

  • If you remember the name of the winery, have you repurchased their wine through a retail outlet or a wine club?

All of the respondents could remember where the winery was and a two-thirds could remember the name of the winery, but a less than half (44.4 percent) could remember the variety of the wine they sampled and 66.7 percent never bought another bottle of wine from the winery in the past five years. So for every 10 new customers, only a little more than 3 were returning.

That last response should be disconcerting to smaller wineries reliant on direct sales. The wine industry, as a whole, is somewhat recession proof with sales holding up rather well through economic downturns, but sales shift to low cost wines (between $4 and $10 a bottle) and away from higher end selections (more than $20). If two-thirds of your business is going away after the first impression, you are going to have a hard time surviving when the rest of the economy tanks.

What may be more disturbing is that millennials, who are replacing boomers as the primary economy drivers, prefer craft beer and spirits to wine and as boomer retire and die off, the primary market for the wine industry will also go away unless the wine industry can start attracting and retaining the millennials.

Looking at direct sales, Napa and Sonoma pretty much blow away every other region when it comes to tasting room sales. Statewide, the average purchase is $99, whereas in Napa, the average is $216 and Sonoma $120. Outside of those two counties purchases drop below $70.

Our research found that most wineries make use of wine clubs to bolster direct sales and larger wineries in Napa and Sonoma average about 2500 members per club. That’s a healthy return-customer list. However, outside of those two areas, average club member ship drops below 100.  Both Napa and Sonoma winery clubs show a larger member attrition rate than the rest of the industry but members of clubs in Napa and Sonoma send almost three times more on wine than members of clubs outside of those areas.

There are many reasons for this discrepancy, including lack of effective marketing practices and the relative invisibility of any other viticulture area.  Most marketing services purchased by wineries are winery-focused. The content, whether online or print, is about the winery and how wonderful each one is without identifying a single differentiation. Likewise wine associations and guilds lack anything in their content to differentiate one region from another. Every operation has pictures of beautiful scenery, stock shots of wine bottles and glasses and lists the most recent awards for their products. Without differentiation, however, customers will choose what they already know to be a solid choice: the wineries of Napa and Sonoma counties.

Experienced wine lovers can cite products from multiple areas, but those are not the customers that actually drive profits. The individuals that are occasional wine consumers make up the bulk of business and they focus of what is available in retail or where they can go for a vacation, which is well supplied by Napa and Sonoma.

To be able to survive the vagaries of our economy, the wine industry outside of those two counties need to rethink marketing practices and begin differentiate themselves from their competition and give customers a reason to do business with them.


Echo Chamber Marketing

While you may have many happy customers, you can rest assured that every unhappy potential customer and past customer is going to your competitors and telling them how awful you are. You just don’t know it.


No matter how many tech companies we talk to we are constantly amazed at how many believe the exact same thing about two issues.

  1. Customer satisfaction

  2. Technical superiority

In issue one they believe that their customers are, collectively, more happy with their service and technology than with their competitors’; that their competitors are widely hated by their own customer base; and that their competitors, even those that no longer exist and all that are going to be are incompetent boobs.

In issue two they believe that customers see their contribution as the “secret sauce” behind the customers’ end products (e.g. “Our chip makes their mobile phone the fastest/lowest power/most versatile mobile phone ever). But that contribution is considered to be a “competitive advantage” by their customers and, therefore, the customers do not want to be identified or quoted.

Reality, however, is not as clear cut.

Reality check #1: There are incompetent people in every company and they annoy customers, some to the point that a customer will drop a product or service simply because they are annoying. But if the product or service provided gives them what they want at the price they are willing to pay, they will put up with the annoyance and incompetence. Any company that demonstrates incompetence, bad products and poor customer service will cease to exist. So if your competitor is still in business then they are doing something right.

While you may have many happy customers, you can rest assured that every unhappy potential customer and past customer is going to your competitors and telling them how awful you are. You just don’t know it.

Reality check #2: Every company we talked to in the past 20 years has told us, “off the record”, that they are providing products and services to a very large customer, or selling products and services to a vendor who is selling products to a very large customer. But at the same time, they say they are not allowed to publicly mention that customer or vendor because they are considered a “competitive advantage.” Every. Single. One.

We have found that smaller customers are generally more willing to give endorsements because it gives them attention in the marketplace, but we have also found that the companies we talk to prefer to talk only about the customers that they cannot publicly talk about.

So in both cases, their claims of customer satisfaction and technical superiority are unprovable.

This is what we call echo chamber marketing.

In their defense it is the only option they have because they really don’t know what the market is saying about them, or even if the glowing reports they get from their customers is anything more than polite conversation and a means to get a price cut for the next round. We have also noted that most of these companies have significant outstanding invoices on the books that have yet to be paid by their “happy” customers and when they threaten to withhold service or delivery the customer immediately calls a competitor. So how “happy” are they, really.

It does not have to be this way.

There are several tools and services that can get you honest feedback from your current and potential customer bases. There are ways to encourage customers who are truly satisfied with you to state so publicly. The choice is yours: Survive as long as you can in your self-built echo chamber, or learn how to thrive in the real world.


Bring real estate marketing into the 21st century

Footwasher Media has been looking into the arena of real estate marketing and communication for the past couple of years and has come up with a few interesting observations.

First and foremost is the reality that most realtors are far behind the curve adopting modern, digital communication. Websites are purchased as standard, so there is little differentiation between them. Metrics are employed but rarely studied. Social media is used sporadically and superficially. A very small percentage are breaking the mold and using digital tools with great success, but around 90 percent are far behind.

That last statistic tracks fairly well with the Content Marketing Institute’s numbers on general adoption of digital marketing and communication across all industries as of 4 years ago. At that time you could look at any industry and the numbers were the same as realtors today. However, current numbers put adoption of modern best practices for all industries at around 35 percent, so the real estate industry is falling far behind.

To a degree that is understandable. Most realtors are private business people who associate with real estate companies (e.g. ReMax, Century 21) that provide the independents with office space and a certain level of generic marketing services, allowing the realtors to focus on their business, but even the largest companies are behind the national curve.

Surprisingly enough, when you go outside of tech-heavy centers like Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and New York, realtors get a bit more savvy and adventurous with technology. We have found realtors making seven-figure incomes in low-population areas of Montana using the most cutting-edge online tools and video to promote their business while realtors in the hottest markets of the San Francisco Bay Area struggling to make ends meet but dismissing the advantages of digital media altogether.

Granted these markets are nothing alike, and struggles boil down to more than just the use of social media.  The real estate market in Montana is not nearly as active and complicated as it is in San Mateo County where a two-bedroom bungalow goes for the same price as a 400-acre ranch with a five-bedroom home outside of Bozeman. And while you would be hard pressed to find a dozen successful realtors in that area of Montana, San Mateo County boasts hundreds of realtors fighting tooth and nail to make a living.

Keeping all that in mind it seems counter productive to dismiss tools that could give you a competitive advantage over everyone else. We met with one realtor that adopted blogging and advanced website metrics in San Carlos, California several years ago. Today he essentially owns the entire San Carlos market, which is filled with some of the most expensive homes on the San Francisco Peninsula. He is grudgingly acknowledged by other realtors as the most successful business they know, and yet they still refuse to adopt his practices.

There are reasons for that, none of them good.

In our discussion with realtors over the past two years the fears and misconceptions expressed by even the most tech-savvy include:

  • Social media is for kids

  • It's a fad

  • Real estate is local

  • It can’t help me/I don’t have the time

  • I don’t understand it

Lets break those down:

It’s for kids: The biggest audience on Facebook in the US are people over the age of 30. Most people, according to any reputable real estate company, begin to start thinking about buying a home in their 30s. Given it's the prime demographic for realtors, wouldn’t it make sense to have an active presence on it? Now, in truth, every realtor we’ve talked to does have some sort of presence on Facebook but they all say they don’t use it to promote their business but to demonstrate their knowledge of the community. That’s a good reason to do it but it ignores the potential to find highly targeted and motivated customers.

It’s a fad: Um, OK. Social media companies are among the strongest drivers of the American stock market for about five years now. Congressional hearings are being called to discuss their impact on national security, privacy, and the economy. We are pretty sure they aren’t going anywhere soon.

Real estate is local: Absolutely and social media and web search, including Facebook, NextDoor, Twitter, etc.  have been proven to be the quickest way to reach local audiences and people looking at moving into certain regions.

It can’t help me/I don’t have the time: We lumped these two together because the second is the more honest version of the first. Yes, setting up and learning how to use the tools available take a considerable amount of time away from doing everything the way you have always done it. Change takes effort, but as the example of the San Carlos realtor demonstrates, once done it is virtually self-sustaining and highly profitable.

I don’t understand it: Ding! That’s the most honest response of all of them. Most of us live in an understanding of how media worked in the 20th century and thing it still works that way today. That’s wrong and it’s also why most people get confused about social media.

In the 20th century, people had only three television networks, a couple newspapers, and a handful of radio stations to get information and for advertisers to promote business. Today, there are hundreds of television networks and a dwindling number of newspapers and radio stations. The technology exists, allowing customers and clients to ignore all the outward bound marketing messaging a business produces and look only for what they want. 

In social media, however, their search and content consumption is analyzed by algorithms and information is pushed to them, which can allow realtors to deliver information about their services to a highly targeted and motivated audience. All that needs doing is to take the time to understand how it works and set it up. It could take a few weeks of concerted effort to do that, but after that, it pretty much runs itself.

This last point is the primary purpose of Footwasher Media: helping our clients understand and implement the tools that make it possible.

Want to learn more? Contact us. 


SEO is simple, but not easy

Yes, yes, I know. Your customers are far too busy and intelligent to use social media and, even if they do, they do not use it for business-related activity. That’s an inaccurate belief. More than two-thirds of the population of North America and Europe are actively involved in social media on a daily basis, which means it is highly likely that your customer base does use at least one medium every day.

Two bits of information came out in some conversations today regarding how to optimize search for your website. Most of the conversations were around a report on Search Engine Land where Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, confirmed what the Google algorithms look for in search engine rankings. Here are the two most important activities you can do, based on my understanding:

  1. Engaging content is the most important thing for SEO

  2. Links back to your site

The first activity is all under your control. You identify and create the content on your site and if it is self-serving, bloated and sales focused, you are probably not going to see a lot of traffic coming to your site; probably not going to see that content shared or commented on; probably not going to see customers spend much time reading it; probably going to drive people away from the site before the time spent on the site can give you any value. So invest in good content that your customers want to consume.

The second activity is mostly out of your control because it requires people to add links to your content, and you can;t make them do that… unless your content is interesting. But there is something you can do: start using social media.

Yes, yes, I know. Your customers are far too busy and intelligent to use social media and, even if they do, they do not use it for business-related activity. That’s an inaccurate belief. More than two-thirds of the population of North America and Europe are actively involved in social media on a daily basis, which means it is highly likely that your customer base does use at least one medium every day.

Even if a significant number of your customer base doesn’t use social media, however, your active presence in social media is the second most importing thing for SEO because it provides multiple links back to your site. Every time you share an article, even if it is a crappy piece of marketing dreck it represents a link back to your site. If a good customer decides to click that link, share it (most don’t read the content on the link), or comment on it, it registers with the algorithm. 

Now, the second activity could be even more crucial for you if you insist on producing marketing dreck for content because at least it adds links back to your site. But if you invest in good content, the social media presence will make it even more valuable.

So keep it in mind: Your content and your social media activity are the most important activities for boosting SEO. Everything else is a waste of time without them.


Engineers are a barrier to good communication

Engineers know a lot of important stuff. They know so much important stuff that when faced with what they don’t know they believe it to be unimportant. And since they have spent so little time learning how to communicate properly, or even learn basic grammar and spelling, it seems even less important to them. As a result, people who do know how to write and communicate are not important to them.

I work in an industry that makes it very difficult to do my job, which is create content that is engaging and understandable to a wide audience and there is one primary reason for that. It’s run by engineers.

Let me say, at the outset, that I hold engineers in high regard. Their ability to understand how things work and how to make them work is nothing short of miraculous. There is a reason I feel that way because I lack basic numerancy. Numeracy is the ability to access, use, interpret, and communicate mathematical information and ideas, to engage in and manage mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life. In short, I have math anxiety, which would be disastrous if I decided to pursue a career in engineering. Instead, I chose to pursue excellence in the english language and the skill of communications.

And almost every engineer I have ever known lacks any appreciation for that decision, and most of them are just above what might be considered functional illiteracy. Literacy is understanding, evaluating, using, and engaging with written text to participate in the society, to achieve one's goals and to develop one's knowledge and potential. Very few engineers I have known are comfortable with written language.

Let me give you a recent example. A client of mine sent me a legal document he had prepared and sent to one of his customers. I had not gone more than two paragraphs of the four-page document before I had found a dozen grammatical, contextual and basic spelling errors. I suggested that before he sends out anything else that he either turn on his spelling and grammar checker or give it to me to proof. He responded:

“You are not my secretary and when I need a secretary I will hire one. I had this reviewed by several people and it is fine the way it is.”

The people he had it checked by were all on his engineering team.

That is not an unusual circumstance in my 40-year (plus) career.

I used to wonder why this is until I married a woman with training in learning disabilities. She has pointed out to me that the smarter someone is the more likely it is that they land somewhere on the scale that defines dyslexia. Since I’ve already pointed out that I believe engineers are very smart, I think you can see where this is going.

I will never question the science or math skills of an engineer, especially electrical engineers and computer scientists, but their writing skill is very questionable. Even MIT, back in 2002, admitted that bad writing skills causes most of the software they develop to fail, But it isn’t so much that they can’t write well, they just don’t think it is important.

Engineers know a lot of important stuff. They know so much important stuff that when faced with what they don’t know they believe it to be unimportant. And since they have spent so little time learning how to communicate properly, or even learn basic grammar and spelling, it seems even less important to them. As a result, people who do know how to write and communicate are not important to them.

This begs the question: If I am so frustrated with and industry that doesn't believe what I do is important, then why don’t I work with an industry that does?

The answer is simple. Footwasher Media understands that what the tech industries do is very important and helping the world to understand what they do is crucial to the future of mankind. When we find companies that know they lack the abilities we have, it makes for very satisfying work.