Marketing basics

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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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.


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.


The cost and potential of speaking engagements

Unless you are already mind-bindingly successful and in demand as a speaker, don’t count on being able to get people to pay you to show up and speak… or even speak for free.

Every client I have ever had makes one request that can never be satisfied: Obtaining speaking engagements.

It’s not that it cannot be done, but that the client either lacks the patience or resources to make fulfilling that request possible. So I thought it might be a good time to actually put down how those engagements actually happen.

First, one needs to understand that speaking engagements are generally offered 6 months before the event actually happens because events just don’t start spontaneously. Most of the planning stages begin the day after the event last occurred, subject matter is decided upon and the search for participants in the program begins. Who is chosen to participate generally comes down to the following:

1. Sheer luck.  

This occurs when a person originally selected to speak has to bow out at the last minute and there are no other options immediately available. I recently placed a client in an opportunity that literally arose 5 days before the event. We had to quickly put together a presentation that shoehorned the client’s technology into a narrow application and, while the talk was generally well received, several of the attenders made a point during Q&A to say that the technology really didn’t match the subject matter. It was an acceptable alternative to the organizers because they had a hole to fill. This doesn’t happen often. In fact it may never happen for a client. Don’t count on it.

2. The speaker is very well-known and in demand. 

One of the deciding factors on who gets to speak is that the main speakers will attract more people to the event. For example, Thomas Dolby, a musician and producer popular in the 1980s, was chosen as a speaker at a tech conference I went to a couple of years ago. He received a pretty good check and had all his expenses covered by the organizers for coming to the event and talking about how he had pioneered electronic music. It was a good talk, but he was well known by the crowd and was quite entertaining. The room was packed and enthusiastic. I have had clients that became well known after a few years int he business, but by then we had moved on to other clients. 

Unless you are already mind-bindingly successful and in demand as a speaker, don’t count on being able to get people to pay you to show up and speak… or even speak for free.

3. You have a non-promotional presentation of significant value to attendees of the event.

Many conferences invite people to submit ideas for presentations to a review committee. The committees receive hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications, but can choose only a few dozen. Those applications are screened for promotional material and technical importance. You also have to get by the bias inherent in the selection process, much of which will be run by people you compete with. 

I’ve been involved in this process with a dozen different organizers. One of them has the person in charge of PR for the event on the committee. This person also represents several companies that exhibit at the event. Unsurprisingly one or two of those clients gets a speaking slot every year. So most of the selections in these events have more to do with politics and money than merit. That brings me to …

4. Money, money money, money.... MONEY!

At one time, a keynote address was only one slot in the schedule. It was a coveted slot and events would labor to find someone who would do the entire industry proud. Then the organizers came to realize that the keynote was also something that CEOs of corporations would pay a great deal of money in order to get the slot.

Did you ever wonder why Bill Gates was always the keynote speaker at Comdex/CES? It’s because Microsoft always bought the largest exhibit booths. Apple also had several keynotes at Comdex before they backed out in favor of their own events, but one of the reasons they never came back was because they thought they were high enough that they shouldn’t have to pay. 

Microsoft has also downscaled their participation in CES, which is why Intel, with it’s large presences, got the keynote this year. So when it comes to speaking slots, money talks and innovation walks.

That doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money at an exhibit to get a speaking slot, but you will get more opportunities to speak when you buy exhibit floor space or sponsorships.

From this we can determine whether your PR/marketing folks can get you a speaking engagement:


  1. Highest potential - Fame and fortune. No cost but you probably don’t qualify 

  2. High potential - Pay your way onto the program 6 months in advance. Could as much as $100,000 so you have to determine if the value of the opportunity is worth that much. 

  3. Crap shoot - Submit a non-promotional tech presentation. Increase the odds by buying space or sponsorships. Ask if it is worth it first.

  4. Lottery ticket - Last minute program addition. No cost but highly unlikely.


So let me wrap this up. Speaking engagements are a good way to raise visibility, but they are not cheap or even free. If you have limited resources it may not be the best course. If you are good at speaking a better option is podcasting. If you have engaging content and aren’t selling stuff, you have a good chance of building an audience. If not, at least you will have made your CEO feel good about himself, and some days, that’s important.


Marketing automation is a must for success, but you may need some help in figuring it out.

This will be the first of several posts on the value and application of third-party marketing automation software. We will cover several aspects of this to simplify your understanding including:

  • The difference between CRM and marketing automation software (surprisingly, most people are wrong)

  • How it helps your sales team (more than they might realize)

  • How does it affect content (a LOT!)

  • Where to find the ROI and prove it to the boss (easier than you might think)

But in this first part, we are going to address the two biggest questions: Who should you use? Can you afford it?

Who you should use

There are dozens of providers of this software and over the past two years, Footwasher Media has been checking out about 20 of the top rated. There are as many lists rating them as there are providers being rated so they don’t offer much help. Most of the rating is based on the number of customers using the service and their revenue. We decided on a different set of criteria: what customers say about them and whether their pricing is transparent.

That latter point is rather crucial. The market leaders (and we won’t name them but you probably know who they are) all appear to have relatively low prices published, but they don’t tell you, up front about the set up charges, the add-ons, the cost for additional services that you might think you get, etc. It’s quite annoying.  Then there is the issue of what customers say.  Marketing automation software is not easy to understand and use. There is always a three-month learning period at the least. But some of the offerings are harder than others. 

So over the past two years we’ve settled on three providers to recommend: Act-on, SALESmanago and SharpSpring. All three land in the top 10 or 20 of most ratings.

For the sake of transparency, Footwasher Media has partnership agreements with all three, but we also have partnership agreements with several others that we don’t recommend. We are agnostic regarding who you might choose, but we highly recommend that you pick one. 

You CAN afford it

Act-on is the most expensive and, in fact, is a bit higher in cost than most of the sales automation packages. The difference is that you what you see is what you will pay (here’s a link to their pricing). It gets rave reviews from customers for ease of use and that might have something to do with the 24/7 customer service they offer. The downside is that they don’t offer a CRM. Many of the big names not include a CRM and those that don’t have integrated the big CRM names, like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics. Act-on is one of those. So in choosing Act-on, the cost is in addition to what you pay for your CRM.

SALESmanago from Benhauer Marketing Technologies in Poland comes at a significantly lower cost (here’s a link to their pricing), but it differs a bit from Act-on. SALESmanago charges a monthly fee based on the number of contacts you have in your database, while Act-on charges according to the number of leads you send emails to every month. So you might have a database of 30,000 customers, but if you only send out 1,000 emails you pay the base price, while with SALESmanago you pay for the number of names in the list. Even at that, SALESmanago is cheaper. The downside is that SALESmanago is still something of an unknown quantity. It has significant traction in Europe but is just getting introduced to the US so there is not a lot of data on customer feedback. Still they offer the same 24/7 customer service as Act-on.

Finally we have SharpSpring. We not only recommend it, we use if for Footwasher Media for a simple reason. It’s really cheap if you work through a partner agency like us SharpSpring works almost exclusively with agencies and allows them to resell the service to clients for whatever the market will bear. If you prefer to go it alone, it can be pricey (if you want to know specifics, contact me at lou @ 

Another plus is it is the easiest marketing automation software to set up, has a remarkable ability to interface with multiple other marketing and social media services and, best of all, IT HAS ITS OWN CRM!

That CRM is not as powerful as Salesforce, but we have found that most companies with Salesforce are not using the capabilities to their maximum so they are wasting money. The SharpSpring CRM is quite sufficient. In fact, I’ve even run a 100,000 name list through it flawlessly, which brings me back to cost. There are no additional costs, no tiers, and no set-up fees other than paying three months in advance.  The downside is they have limited customer service, relying on the agency partners to handle most of the simple stuff. But the relationship works.

There is an added benefit to SharpSpring. It is owned by SMTP, one of the oldest and most respected email lists houses in the industry… and SharpSpring uses that database to help identify anonymous visitors. That’s huge.

That is not to say, however, that you should pick the cheapest one.

SharpSpring is an excellent choice if you are a startup company with a limited customer list and absolutely no marketing staff. It’s easy on the budget and has a lot of great features of more expensive packages and can make the job of marketing much easier. But because customer service is limited, when things go wrong it’s hard to get them fixed quickly. The team is quite good and responsive within working hours, however.

If you are a larger company with an established customer base but a limited marketing budget, SALESmanago is a solid choice and will make the most of that budget, plus there is no long term commitment. The relationship is month to month and customer service is excellent. 

Medium-sized to large companies might want to look at Act-on, especially because they’ve been around a while, they have an extensive worldwide service network and they can just take the worry out of the whole process.

If you would like to have a deeper discussion of the options we recommend, or want to talk about another provider and get an honest assessment, fill out the form at this link and we’ll give you a free 30 minutes.

Comeback next week and we will cover what the difference are between sales and marketing automation.

Don't make your content meaningless

 I love words. Always have. And this week, after reading several articles that use words badly I’ve come to understand why.

 Words have clearly discernible meaning when used correctly, while finding meaning in life is often very difficult even in the best of circumstances. When used incorrectly, words lose meaning and that makes me feel a little lost and frustrated.

 This line of thought began earlier this week when the redoubtable Brian Solis wrote an article on VentureBeat that was headlined “14 Startups That Will Change Our Everyday Life.”  Hyperbole

 Brian is high on my list of trustworthy people so whenever he posts something or I find he has written something, I generally read it. Don’t need a lot of hyperbole to encourage me. And Brian doesn’t engage much with hyperbole anyway, which is why the headline bothered me at first, but I read it. The article was about 14 companies with interesting products and services for specific market niches, but there was nothing in any of the companies that I found life-changing for me or pretty much anyone I know.  It was a good article and I enjoyed reading it, but that headline…

 So I asked Brian about it publicly and we took the discussion offline. That’s when I found out that the original article he wrote was titled:

 Here are 14 startups you should know about

 That was accurate, clear and engaging to me. But the editorial staff at VentureBeat decided it wasn’t enough so they pumped it up beyond all reason. That’s called click-baiting. You see it all the time from disreputable online publications and in print from publications like the National Enquirer. The practice is designed to get people to click on a link to the article and it works. But here’s what else it does:

 It destroys trust in the publication and sucks all meaning out of the words.

 I’ve stopped reading sites like Buzz Feed, Gawker, Motley Fool and TechCrunch because of their dependency on hyper headlines. The trustworthiness of the content generally drops the more breathless the headline. And now I guess I need to add VentureBeat to that list.

 I would read an article under the headline Brian wrote, even if he didn’t write it because I am interested in learning about new startups. I don’t need to be pushed and I don’t need my expectations set high and then dashed. Most people feel that way, which is the reason Google and Facebook are constantly adjusting their algorithms to keep this crap out of our feeds.

 H.L. Mencken once said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public and that is still true today. Click-bait tends to attract rather stupid people who might actually do business with the company. The intelligent person who is brought in by the headline, generally loses respect and grows distrustful of the source. But it is the former that joins the class action suits.

 The question you need to ask yourself is: Do you want stupid people suing you, or intelligent, trusting customers?

Using technology to create a new generation of leaders

A couple of weeks ago I was tooting our horn about winning a Customer Experience Recognition Award (CERA) at Information Development World (IDW), but a new video interview popped up last week from the conference that I thought rated another blow of the horn.  

I'm being interviewed by Al Martine, Director of Operations & Business Development at TechWhirl and the manager of the awards program.  We talk about the unusual nature of the program at first, but then we get into why the project that won the award is important.

There is a serious impediment to growth across all organizations that comes from the legendary "but we've never done it that way" crowd, but also from the attitude of "this is how we've always done it" crowd. They aren't always the same group of people.  The team at the Cultivate the Call had to overcome both in bringing the program to life.  That took some guts.

Here's the interview.  Click on the interactive links below the vid for more information.


Information Development World: You need to be there.

Last week I had a brief but productive conversation with Jill Rowley about content and social selling and she said something very profound.  She pointed out that her driving force, social selling, is still in its “1.0 stage” and remains largely undefined and that content marketing, which should be entering the 2.0 stage still remains largely undefined.  that is problematic for her because sharing good content is crucial to success in social selling.

That’s why I was extremely excited when I received an invitation to be an official participant, as an Information-development-worldinfluencer, at Information Development World coming to San Jose, October 22-24, organized by Content Rules and the Content Wrangler.  This is the first big step toward making content development a serious profession.

I have an ongoing battle with both marketers and journalists about what constitutes content development.  Both consider it to be just another arm of marketing.  In truth, that is what much of it has been.  That is the problem with it.  If content is seen as an offshoot of marketing in todays media-rich culture, it fails.  And as Richard Edelman points out, that practice is backward.  Content and the strategy that creates it should drive marketing, not the other way around.  From the description given me of “InfoDevWorld,” making content the horse that pulls the cart is the intent of the event.

“Information Development World is the first—and only—conference dedicated to helping organizations create exceptional customer experiences centered around content,” said Adam Helweh, principal at Secret Sushi and one of the event team. “Our goal is to bring together the brightest minds in the content arena—content strategists, technical communicators, content marketers, product managers, customer assistance specialists, translators, localizers, taxonomists, and user experience professionals—to demystify the methods, standards, tools and technologies needed to deliver exceptional omni-channel customer experiences.”

Note that marketers are only a part of the process.

I changed my career path to content strategy 10 years ago, about 6 years before the phrase content marketing became popular.  I’ve got a good idea what it actually means and what needs doing, but I always need input. So I’m going to this thing, even though trade shows and conferences are my least enjoyable experience and I will be there every day, tweeting, blogging, taking video and generally making myself a nuisance asking very hard questions.

If you are involved in the development of content or using content, either as a corporate lackey or a media hack, I urge you to check this event out.  It’s time to define this thing and this event is step one.

The trouble with trade shows

51st Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco have come out and, if they are anything like past reports, the numbers are, in the least, moderately steamed if not entirely cooked.

The latest numbers on the 51st Design Automation Conference (DAC) in San Francisco have come out and, if they are anything like past reports, the numbers are, in the least, moderately steamed if not entirely cooked.  I found a site that does independent audits of trade show attendance and found that the numbers reported by the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDAC) are between 50 and 1000 participants higher than the independent audit numbers.

In reality, the EDA “official” total attendance of 6,701 attendees — if accurate — is slightly under the 6 year average of 6,795.  DAC is not growing.  It’s flat.  There is one definite trend that’s showing a decrease, and that is exhibitor support which has come down steadily from 3400 exhibitor support staff down to 2500 this year.  

But don’t take it personally.  I looked at the numbers for an even larger trade show connected to the Electronic Design industry: Semicon West.  The independent agency reported a low of 22,900 in 2011, which was the last year Semicon contracted with it to audit the conference.  In 2012, SEMI reported they had rebounded to 29,200, which was boosted by the inclusion of a solar industry show.  But the following year, total attendance dropped 3,000 as the bloom came off the solar industry rose.

SXSW in Austin is a good example that there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of trade shows/ conferences.  That’s a place where companies experiment with messages and stories. But if I go to a particular trade show in the electronics industry more than once every five years, I will hear the same stories told that didn’t engage the customer the previous years.  In fact, for DAC, there has been little change in the content of the conference since I first started going in 1995.

And that is the trouble with trade shows.  Joe Basques and I talked about it last week (see it below) after I visited DAC in San Francisco. In short, the exhibitors and presenters at these shows have no idea what will actually engage their audience.  Until they do, don’t expect to see real growth in trade shows or their industries.


An equation for a communications budget

"Super seller" Jill Rowley is a new professional hero for me. She recently posted the following in Facebook:

Social selling approach does take more effort because you are not initially selling—you are adding value. You are showing that you have earned the right to sell by doing your homework.

It's a great statement because she emphasizes that personal commitment to communication is the most important aspect of modern marketing and sales. It inspired me to come up with the following video lesson on what investment in communications looks like:

Getting a vision for content strategy

The vision of the market most companies have is akin to a many walking toward a cliff holding a full-length mirror in front of them. Everything looks great until they run out of land.

I got some interesting feedback on my post regarding UBM’s #EELive event both negative and positive reactions.  I said I would have more to say on this and here it is.

It’s not UBM’s fault if your industry conference goes bad.  It’s yours. 1604823_10152277488286358_62258750_n

UBM fought the good fight to deliver to B2B industry what it needed, which was an independent source of news and analysis for many years.  About five years ago, it decided to give their customers what they demanded, which was a place to repeat the same marketing collateral they send out to their customers, both on line and in person.  UBM found this a much more profitable business as they saw their marketing services eclipse editorial in revenue.  Today, editorial brings in about 7 percent of the total revenue and trade shows generate a whole lot more.  As a result, UBM Tech CEO Paul Miller declared a couple of years ago the company was not longer a media company but a marketing services company.

Focusing on events and marketing services allows the company to pivot quickly whenever marketing budgets change.  If a conference they run starts to cool off (and EELive is so cool they are moving to Santa Clara Convention Center next year) then UBM will switch to hotter industries, like computer gaming (Game Developers Conference), where exhibitors and participants can listen to their own messaging.

The vision of the market most companies have is akin to a many walking toward a cliff holding a full-length mirror in front of them.  Everything looks great until they run out of land.  They need someone to point out that a cliff is coming; someone they trust… like an independent journalist. Tom Foremski over at the Silicon Valley Watcher has been calling for a return to the good old days when corporations financially supported an independent press.  I’d love that, too but it ain’t going to happen.  There are too many senior executives running corporations who don’t remember what a robust press was all about.  They can’t see how anyone who lives off of advertising revenue can be objective.  Over the past 20 years, I think they may have a point, but that’s an entirely different discussion.

What they do understand is that customers are not accepting marketing messages and I’ve written often about why that is.  All conferences work off the same mailing lists from the previous year with very little change, UBM’s included. It is an echo chamber of marketing.  That’s not the fault of the vehicle but the fault of the content.  The content fails because it’s going in the wrong direction for the most part.  There are customers out there who want to know how you can help them, but first you need to know how to help.  That comes from conversation and that is not what is happening at the conferences.

Foremski is right; industry needs independent vision, but we’re past the point where that vision can be provided external to each corporation.  The corporation needs a journalist, acting independent of marketing and sales, providing insight to marketing sales and even the C-Suite. 

More to come. 

Don’t want to wait to figure out how to get on track. Call us at Footwasher Media for an analysis of your content strategy … before you go over the cliff.

Jill Rowley, social selling, and finding a kindred spirit

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of discovering Jill Rowley, who is known by many people as a #socialselling guru.  Until I listened to her on the #FridayHangout (another weekly event I am growing addicted to) I had never heard of her.  By the time the 45-minute session was over I came to a new appreciation of smart people in sales. 

There were many high points of the discussion, but when she said, “Sales people need to stop selling and start serving” their customers,” I actually stood up from my chair and shouted “YES!” while pumping my fist in the air.

The bulk of the conversation was around the need of sales professionals to be communication hubs for customers, not just a person pushing a product.  This philosophy has made her an in-demand thought leader in new media and a very unpopular employee.  That’s to be expected especially since the more established a company is, the less likely they know how to communicate in the 21st Century.

Jill Rowley

I’ve said this several times before but Jill convinced me I need to keep saying it.  The customer today, whether it be in B2B or B2C markets, has more opportunity to ignore “the message” you keep trying to hammer into their head.  The more you try, the harder it is to get into their skull.  You have to earn the right by demonstrating you actually care about them and you do that by saying interesting things about what matters to them.  Believe it or not, the press release, product brochure and the email newsletter you send to them do not matter to them.  They only matter to you.

From Jill’s blog at a former employer (and I won’t link to it because I don’t want to give them any credit):

What Is a Modern Sales Professional?

▪ She’s an “information concierge” — she provides the right information to the right person at the right time in the right channel.

▪ She’s an “insights professional” — she teaches the buyer something he doesn’t already know.

▪ She’s a socially connected individual — she’s where her buyers are: on LinkedIn, on Twitter, on Facebook, Quora, Slideshare, Pinterest, and more.

▪ She has a personal brand — she’s a thought leader, not a product pusher.

▪ She’s a content connoisseur—she reads what her buyers read and shares that content across her social networks.

▪ She’s a challenger—she makes her clients think differently.

▪ She’s a mini marketer. 

In the circles I’ve been running in for the past decade, I can’t think of a single, employed sales executive that comes close to that description.  That frustrating fact is why I remain in the circles I am in, because that’s where Footwasher Media is needed.  But I sure would like having coffee with Jill and just drinking in the fact that there is someone out there that thinks like me.

There is also the fact that people like Jill need people like me.  As she said, sharing content is really important, but not a lot of people know what good content is, much less be able to create it.  Jill likes to share OPC (other people’s content).  I like to help people create engaging content.  If Jill and I ever join forces, it will be breathtaking.

The secret of inexpensive, inefficient press releases revealed

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

I'm going to save you thousands of dollars on a common marketing practice. And you probably won't like what I have to tell you.

If you are like most companies, especially young start ups, there comes a moment that you believe you Wallet_Chain_iStock_000007692365XSmall
need to let your customer base know about your latest business deal, technology breakthrough, or product update that is industry leading and the quote says your “CEO is pleased to announce it”. The only problem; you spent your entire marketing budget on a trade show booth and brochures, so you don't have the money to put on a real marketing program to reach your customer base. That's the moment that you decide to put out a press release.

My 20 years of experience writing and distributing press releases tells me this is what you can expect:

It will take weeks to get it ready to go, and you will spend 90 percent of the time on the headline, the quote from the CEO (which is almost always the same) and the rambling paragraph at the end of the release called "the boilerplate." The release will end up to be a minimum of 3 pages long, single-spaced in 10 point type. If you are "web savvy" it will be stuffed with key words. If not, the distribution service you choose will identify the key words for you. Then you will look for a PR pro to reach out to the press on your behalf, all the while believing the entire process will cost a few hundred dollars. This when sticker shock kicks in: Cost of:

  • A real PR pro to use his contact base - $2000

  • Release distribution service to a nationwide circuit - $3,000

  • Man-hours of your team to write the release - 40 (your CFO can determine what that cost is specific to your particular company)

  • Printing 1000 copies of the release to hand out at the trade show - $2000 at Kinkos, including staples

Most companies, hearing this price tag and after the CFO has been brought back to consciousness, will find ways to cut the bill. The first thing to go will be the PR pro. He might be replaced by a 25-year-old publicist recently out of college, looking for full time work, who will spend 20 hours researching and bugging journalists she's never met to talk to your CEO. She'll do it for $500 and flirt with the marketing VP who will suggest the company hire her to be a receptionist.

The next thing to go will be the high-end, reputable wire service for a cut rate service that will do the job for $2,000 (or worse yet, you could go with one of the hundreds of free distribution services available) but with a less extensive reporting system, a less extensive distribution list. And upon reflection, maybe you only need 100 copies of the release for the trade show. So you’ve got it down below $2500, not counting the man-hours it took to come to this decision. If you choose to stop there you can guarantee that when you do the web search for the release it will show up on every news site in the world, including the weekly shopper in Akron, Ohio. But if that’s still a little pricier than you want, a little bit of knowledge about how wire services work can really cut the price.

Every wire distribution service has circuits that restrict distribution to the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York metropolitan areas. Pick one, because every news agency you really care about has a feed coming from those areas (including the shopper in Akron), but the cost is less than $500, including some analysis service add-ons. But you aren't out of the woods, yet.

Every respectable distribution service out there limits the amount of the news release to approximately 400 words. There will be a $50 fee for every 100 words over the limit.  Your approved draft is running at about 2500 words so your overage fee will be around $700. You are under $2,000, but we can tweak a bit more.

Even if your publicist gets a dozen journalists to talk to you (more likely it will be one) and even if you see it gets run on the websites of thousands of online sites, a careful perusing of your metrics after one month will show around 500 people will actually open up the release. More than half will be the marketing and sales people from your company and the marketing and sales people from your competitors. About a quarter of them will be click farms on the Indian subcontinent. About 15 percent will be spammer scraping the page for email addresses and about 10 percent will be actual journalists. An even closer perusal of the metrics will find one journalist will actually spend more than 5 seconds reading it. And within 6 months, a potential customer might also find it. That is what I discovered doing press releases and watching metrics of companies from billion-dollar multinationals to startups.

Sometimes, when it is actually newsworthy, the results are better, but that’s what you get, in general. So why go to the trouble if that’s all you get? Because it will boost your SEO, it will give you content for your website and it will make your investors and executives feel good about themselves because they see the company name on the interweb tubes.

But you say ego gratification is not worth that cost? So let’s cut it even more. Remember how I said you would spend most of the time on the headline, quote and boilerplate? Forget the quotes. All journalists (your target audience after all) know they are contrived. That will cut 200 words. Reduce the boiler plate to “For more information go to www…..” with a phone number. Make sure the URL goes to a landing page where you can gather information from whoever visits. That cuts another 200 words. Reduce the headline to one line (25 words gone). The lead paragraph should be no more than 50 words (cutting another 200). Stop talking about how you are an industry leader (real leaders never have to say they are) which cuts about 1000 words. Just give the basic information. That should take you below the 400-word limit.

Cut the publicist altogether, no matter how cute she is, but stick with a reputable service like BusinessWire or PRNewswire. You will look more professional. You are now under $1000 for the entire project and will get the exact same result you would have seen for thousands of dollars more.

Now go out and be that cheap, inefficient company we all know you can be.

Trustworthy content is in the best interests of corporations... and good for professional journalists

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position. That assumption is misplaced.

It’s time to wrap up this series on truth and trust in content.  Over the past few posts I’ve talked about how truth appears differently to people, based on their personal perspective, and to report truth you need to view it from multiple angles.  I’ve also showed how modern media lacks the resources to gather that information adequately and how corporations, once dedicated to limiting that access through their marketing, now find it in their best interest to increase the flow of trusted information.  

Let me set the table.

Content marketing is not SEO. Tara Meehan’s post in iMedia Connection demonstrated how companies measure social on SEO metrics of clicks and unique visitors in the form of likes and followers, neither of which has the value they did 5 years ago.  This decreased value in SEO metrics is exacerbated by companies buying fake followers and B2B publishers paying people to comment and like content to boost their engagement.  This approach ultimately fails after a certain period of growth because those companies don’t provide anything worth reading.

Trust thrives in social media Brian Solis wrote recently that trust is the the most important issue in Brian-soliscontent development but corporations that focus on search to bring people to websites, fail to engender trust because people don’t trust corporate website content.  People trust people they know so that’s who they go to first.  Search comes after social now and social is all about content.

Tech journalism isn’t what it used to be.  Tom Foremski wrote that tech journalism has devolved to be a practice of product announcements rather than why those products exist and how native advertising is destroying the level of trust for third-party media. He stops short of pointing out that tech publications are so short of writers that they can do little else and native advertising is paying the bills, but his point is that the current paradigm has reduced the value of tech journalism.

That’s why this is a great time to be a journalist.

Media houses assume they are still trusted and that their move to “communities” filled with sponsor-developed content has not hurt that position.  That assumption is misplaced. Few people trust journalists in general and B2B corporate sales staff are learning that what shows up in the press is much less believable because native advertising is becoming harder to differentiate from independent reporting.  Rather than wonder what the media will do to reverse that trend, corporations are learning they can do the job better by hiring or contracting with experienced journalists to do what they do best: find the news and report it accurately. Corporations have more relevant sources of content than the media.  All they need is the personnel to turn that content into trustworthy media.

Some technology companies have started putting journalists on retainer to develop engaging content that builds relationship and trust for the corporation.  Others are hiring them outright to run content programs.  They don’t need million-reader circulations because they know who they want to reach and it’s much lower than a million. 

That is great news for all the journalists who want a position that gives them the time and resources to do what they’ve been trained to do and be paid what they are worth.  As I’ve said, corporations are already finding the value in independent, in-house and consultant journalists and they are paying top dollar for them.  Working with this new breed of journalism requires accepting a level of ethics and independence of thought not normally found in marketing departments but is absolutely necessary for a successful outcome.  If we can’t be independent, what we create has no value to the sponsor or the reader.

 Traditional third-party media businesses are becoming the training ground for new journalists.  There will be an ongoing market demand for product-announcement venues that reach thousands of users so the online and print pubs won’t be going away, but corporations don’t need those venues to establish relationships and trust within their customer base.  They need people who know how to find truth wherever it is and report it, be transparent, and act independently for the benefit of the community.

Trustworthy content is the core of Footwasher Media’s business.  If you are interested in moving your business communications into the 21st century, contact us today.


Your content can be fictitious and be truer than your data sheet

hat you have to realize is that to your customers, your view of the truth is nowhere near as important as theirs is to them. That seems like such an obvious statement, and I bet you think you actually know what your customers consider to be true. But from what I hear from customers and from advertisers and from readers, very few companies and publications actually have a clue regarding what those audiences consider to be truth.

In my last post I talked about the importance of understanding truth from other perspectives, rather than focusing only on yours.  Today I want to give you a specific example. 

Dan Lyons over at Hubspot wrote a blog post last month about the use of content to build trust and relationship by demonstrating truth... even though it was complete fiction.

You can see the video content produced by Google India on the blog, but briefly it was about how two young people in Pakistan and Lahore transcended national bigotry, politics and xenophobia using technology.  But the story itself may or may not have been true because it was obviously staged.  You don’t actually have to have a true-life story to demonstrate truth.  It was true in that it demonstrated the power of a technology, but it’s essence was not to sell anything but to show that, properly used, technology can overcome bad human traits.  It put technology in an appropriate context for the audience and gives them a call to action other than just asking for a sales call.  It makes them WANT to USE the product... which they can’t do unless they ask for the call.=

Imagine.  Somebody actually wanting a sales call.

As I said last week, truth is relative to everyone.  What you have to realize is that to your customers, your view of the truth is nowhere near as important as theirs is to them.  That seems like such an obvious statement, and I bet you think you actually know what your customers consider to be true.  But from what I hear from customers and from advertisers and from readers, very few companies and publications actually have a clue regarding what those audiences consider to be truth.

In a report published last April, DemandGen Report published their 2013 B2B Content Preferences Survey stating that while 92 percent of respondents said they were willing to accept vendor generated content as trustworthy, they are less likely to accept white papers and e-books as trustworthy content.  Why? Because a white paper is supposed to be an objective approach to solving a problem and will have no sales messages, but when was the last time you saw something like that?

The survey say that 72 percent of the respondents said sales-heavy content was a problem for trustworthiness, and 64% wanted B2B vendors to stop producing text-heavy pages and small print.  The majority (57.8%) of respondents agreed that B2B vendors focus too much on product specifications and not enough on the ability to solve specific business problems. 

The first step for any marketer in our new world of context-based, trustworthy content is to realize that what you see as true, is not to your customers.


Before you can tell the truth, you need to know it.

For our second part of the series on truth in media I think it’s important that we define the term. 

Truth is multifaceted and largely determined by perspective.  This is a crucial understanding of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which says what you perceive from where you stand may not jive with the perception of someone standing right next to you.  Media, from the beginnings of the oral tradition to mass media of the 20th century was designed to create a common perspective for large groups of people and take away some of the debate over what is true.

The media of the of the 20th century was controlled by a relatively few corporations and individuals and reached millions of people.  That made it possible to maintain a certain control over a specific message and establish a few facets of truth as common to the masses.  This was the basis of McLuhan’s concept of the “media is the message.” Large groups of people could be convinced of a particular facet of truth simply because the message was drilled into them from a relatively small number of outlets. Truth became “obvious.”

The 21st century changed that paradigm.  Individuals, through the internet and social media, became members of the media.  They could publish their own perspective to a small group of people.  The masses are broken into virtual communities defined more by their perspective of truth rather than geography, culture and even race or religion.

The corporation or organization that doesn’t realize this to be the new way of perception will be very frustrated in its attempts to push its version of reality/truth if it continues to follow the 20th century practice of driving the message until it is perceived as true.  It is imperative that the message incorporates as many facets as possible into its message in order to gain the trust of its market.  Let me elaborate with a story.

A company has a new product that it has created and wants to promote it to its market.  The teams in charge of developing this product has invested a great deal of time, expertise and effort into creating this product and they believe everything they say about it.  They have even validated their message by investing in market research from a large analyst company.  They launch their product into the market, sure that they have done all that is necessary.

Shortly after the launch, a customer has problems with the product and calls technical support.  After many frustrating sessions he opts to return the product, but since technical support could find nothing wrong with it, the company refuses to take the product back.  After all, he’s just one customer and no one else has complained.

It turns out the customer is a fairly well-respected technical blogger and he starts writing a series on his experiences with the company.  A journalist at a major newspaper starts reading the blog and writes a story about it.  The news spreads like wildfire and multiple other customers who have not been as vocal start chiming in.  By the end of 6 months the company has lost billions in market capitalization as its stock plummets.  The company ends up publicly apologizing and delivering an adequate product.

That’s not a fiction.  That actually happened to Dell Computer.  The blogger and his site “Dell Hell” still exists and has been since 2008.

All Dell had to do was consider, just for a moment, the perspective one customer considers as true and realize if there is one, there are more.

Every customer you have has a perspective different from your company.  Every employee has a different perspective from your company.  Every competitor has a different perspective from your company.  That is the ultimate truth in business communication.  If you are not making an attempt to listen to those perspectives everyday and considering how you can positively respond to them, you do not know what is true.

Trust is the new currency in marketing

Recently read a post over at Hubspot (that I can't find right now) about how companies are lowering their investment in communication tactics because they are disappointed at the  results.  The author blamed the decline not on the efficacy of the tactics, but on how poorly they are implemented by the companies.

I can't say I disagree with him entirely.  Most of the marketing communications plans I see are more checklists than plans (press release, check; trade show booth, check...) While there is tremendous investment made in the marketing infrastructure, I see almost no investment in content and content is the gas that makes the marketing machine go.

Few companies I talk to believe they have great content, and when we review what they have we tend to agree.  It’s the same press releases, the same marketing brochures, the same white papers, and the same contributed articles that everyone else produces... and they read almost identically to every other companies content creating absolutely no differentiation.  The excuse is they lack the budget and resources to create any content, much less effective content, and when they try to bring in resources to do just that, it is the smallest investment possible.  I've even had several potential clients ask for us to create it for free because it would be good "exposure" for us.

 For content to be effective it must be intentional. You have to know not only where you are going, but how to get there.  If you believe a sales pitch is the best way about reaching your goal, you have ignored the path and all you are doing is wandering in the wilderness.  The beginning of the path is establishing trust. I have not yet found anyone who disagrees with that statement, but I've found very few marketers who have the time to work on that first step, much less an understanding how to start.

For the next few weeks, we will be exploring the path of truth in marketing communications and why any deviation from the path will spell doom for your efforts.

You’re losing sales every day and you don’t even know it

By Joe Basques

Back in December on this blog I posted the story of a potential sponsor regarding a series of content surrounding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly referred to as Obamacare.

I recommended we tell the complete story of PPACA from multiple angles, and position this provider as a thought leader on this entire subject. We could have exposed his product to multiple viable markets that he had not even considered.  After multiple discussions it became clear that the potential sponsor wanted some content that simply said “Here’s my product, buy it.” There was no interest in going deeper and telling the entire story. 

Over the last several years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard companies say “we know who our top ten customers are, and we’re already engaging them.”  That’s not really true.  We’ve found that everyone knows a few people in each of the top 10 customers, but know nothing of 10 times the number of contacts within each customer’s infrastructure.  We’ve seen countless companies lose sales to competitors and completely miss new markets because they refuse (or are incapable) to see things from a new perspective.

In 1905, Albert Einstein published the theory of special relativity, which explains how to interpret motion between different inertial frames of reference. I’m sure we’ve all heard the “glass train” example used to describe Einstein’s theory.  In this example, two people are viewing the same scenario from two different perspectives, one is standing on a moving train made of glass with a ball in his hand, and the other is standing on the ground outside the train, watching the train pass by. 

As the train goes by, the person riding the train drops the ball from his hand. He watches the ball fall straight down, hit the ground, and bounce right back up into his hand. The observer outside of the train sees something completely different from their perspective. As the train goes by and the ball is dropped, he sees the ball fall in an arch shape going down and bouncing back up with the reverse arch. Who’s right?  Both views are correct depending on your frame of reference or perspective.  But one thing is for sure: If you’re the guy watching the train going by, you aren’t going anywhere.

Consider this, Saccharin was invented by accident when a researcher was studying coal tar.  Play-Doh wasn’t invented as a play thing, but rather as a cleaning tool.  Superglue was actually invented YEARS before anyone figured out what to do with it.  X-rays were a complete surprise.  Accidental inventions happen all the time, even in the world of technology.  In fact, the sensors we use today for everything from monitoring the purity of air or water to locating and destroying tumor cells are the result of an accident.  A student, Jamie Link, a was doing her doctoral work in chemistry  when one of the silicon chips she was working with burst. She discovered afterward, that the tiny pieces still functioned as sensors.  Today, sensors are everywhere, and they were discovered completely by accident.  The secondary market for each of these things was much larger than the original.  Maybe the next big innovation is actually leveraging current technology for something completely new.  In order to get there we’re going to need a new perspective.

You might know several influencers in your list of customers, but influencers are rarely innovators (because innovators end up rocking the boat).  Those guys are elsewhere in the companies and they see the world from a different perspective -- the perspective you need now.

The problem is, those are the people you need to find and that can be an extremely difficult thing if you’re chasing after people with the traditional perspective.  Your knowledge, experiences, emotions, etc. are holding you back.  Changing your perspective can open new markets and transform your business.  You need to get on the train.  

Do you need help looking at things from a different perspective?  It’s one of the things we do best.  Watch this video to see what others have to say, then contact us.


Content development: you're probably doing it wrong

Native video ads, which are promotional content made to look like editorial or entertainment content, have been a popular medium for technology companies.  They are often in the form of a video interview of a corporate executive about their wonderful product or service. More often then not they are produced by the company rather than third-party media.

A recent survey, however, showed that 86% of viewers found these video ads misleading. Moreover, 85% found the units either negatively impacted or had no influence on their perception of the brand. 

That’s why Footwasher Media has committed to produce content with editorial integrity. Your product or service is not what your customers care about.  They care about their problems and are looking for practical solutions that may or may not include what you provide.  Moreover, they want to know what your competition says about the same thing, so adding balance to your content (that is, valid competitive benefits) can work more in your favor than against you.

When a customer is making a decision between you and a competitor, they already know that the tradeoffs are fairly equal, no matter what you may think.  If you want to lure someone away from their current source, being honest about the differences can increase your trustworthiness, and that can pull a customer on the fence over to you in spite of weaknesses.

That is a tough lesson for most marketers and C-level execs, which is why trying to do this kind of content with in-house staff can be next to impossible.  You will need an objective provider if you just can’t find the perspective.