The B2B Social Spotlight: Joy Gendusa

Joy Gendusa

To hear some marketing gurus tell it, social media is the only game in town. While they may not want to hear it, every channel has its place.

When it comes to reminding, thanking, inviting and acknowledging customers, the simple paper post card continues to be connective and effective.

No one knows that better than Joy Gendusa, Founder and CEO of PostcardMania.

Starting her business at her kitchen table 15 years ago, Joy now oversees 200 employees at PostcardMania’s production and fulfillment facility in Clearwater, Fla. The self-proclaimed artist, designer, foodie and entrepreneur built the company on the simple premise that business owners need to be informed marketers.

Joy has generated an impressive quantity of content about direct mail and marketing, eagerly and regularly helping her customers become smarter, years before the term “helpful” became part of the modern marketing lexicon.

What did PostcardMania intentionally set out to do – or do differently – using social media?

I didn't put a lot of attention on social until it had a lot of attention from just regular people. We just kept concentrating on adding content and driving traffic to our website. I wrote most of the content until I started hiring copywriters and getting people to help me with content probably five or six years ago.

I would try something to market my own company and either fall on my face or have success, and I would try something else. I just felt it was my duty to educate my clients and prospects about it so they wouldn't make the same mistakes I made.

How did you arrive at your content strategy?

I was creating content for PostcardMania's website when there was no content,“online”.  I was literally winging it for years. I wanted to educate people on what I was learning. I simply started writing article after article.

What kinds of useful or helpful information do you deliver to your customers?

We supply a real basic how-to approach with case study data. When we explain something, like I did in a series on PPC in my newsletter, I get a lot of real good feedback from people.

I present things simply; this is my story, this is how we do it, this is what this means. We really give good information, usable information, and we don't throw in a lot of terminology. Those kinds of articles get the best responses and the most downloads.

How does PostcardMania target its social outreach?

We have over 60,500 customers, and we only have a few thousand people following us on Facebook. A lot of them follow me personally, but not even a lot of them if you look at the numbers. Of course we did all the normal things like putting our "connect to me" buttons all over the blog and the website and the bottom of email, etcetera.

Now we're on a campaign to actually reach out specifically with email and phone calls to get those people connected with us, so that we can use social media to build trust and get them to like us.

We can make our customers into much better customers, just by being interested in them, and staying in communication with them on social media. That's kind of what gave me the idea to reach out and actively grow that list with our customers, and reach our prospects.

Any traction in closing business through those efforts?

A couple of Valentine's Days ago we did a little project where we took our top 500 customers, and we sent them wax mustaches and wax lips. We said if they'd take a picture and post it on our wall, we'll give them some kind of discount. I think it cost us about $3,000, all said and done.

In the end, we only had a handful of people actually post pictures, and I think we gained maybe 20 likes on our Facebook page, but we wound up selling to 68 of those 500 customers. Those 68 customers, that week, I'm talking about Valentine's Day week, spent $120,000 with us.

What’s your primary channel that connects PostcardMania with prospects?

Our primary channel is direct mail and secondary is PPC. Our newsletter has over 100,000 subscribers and each week we email it out and it routes prospects and customers to our blog. There I can kind of get in their face and say, "Okay. Buy this now; this is a good tool you could use, and this is what it costs; get a deal if you click today," or that kind of thing. But mainly it’s helpful data and not ads at all.

_____________________________________________________________________________

"We can make our customers into much better customers, just by being interested in them, and staying in communication with them on social media."

_____________________________________________________________________________

What do you regularly measure to see what is working?

We are measurement FREAKS… we measure everything and primarily it’s calls we receive via our marketing efforts because, in my particular business, a call indicates a hot prospect – the hottest. We also track downloads, through the information we would offer directly, and via Google through sponsored ads. Of course we measure all the usual things too – email open rates, unique visitors to the site, but conversion is where it’s at in the end.

On the social sites, where people aren't expecting to be sold to, and where it annoys them, we're just trying to make them like us enough to go back to our website where we can get serious.

How have your social media activities influenced PostcardMania’s bottom line?

We don't really use social as a revenue generator, except for that one little thing that we did with the wax lips. While it was effective, it’s not yet a business driver. I don't have a big enough list in social to affect my bottom line. We send out 140,000 postcards every single week to generate PostcardMania's revenue, and we spend between $15,000 and $20,000 on PPC a week. That's really how we affect the bottom line.

In the age of social media, is it a bit ironic that you’re promoting items that rely on regular mail?

People are somewhat surprised that our business is still growing as much as it's growing, because it is snail mail and there's so much bad PR about the post office and the expense of postage. But direct mail is still the very best way to target and enlighten. There's a whole group of people searching for what you have, and another large group that have no idea they need what you have, so they're not searching for it. THOSE people need direct mail.

We have integrated digital into our offerings with our Direct Mail 2.0 product, a post card with a call tracking number, a mail tracking number, and a re-targeting campaign all in one.

People don't just call a phone number on a post card anymore. They go to the website, get cookied and see the ad on all the different sites of the Google Network. The repeated message is great and it’s taken DM to a completely new level. Users are getting ridiculous ROI. It’s been a great boost to our company.

What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

We use Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. I personally don't do a lot of social except on my own personal Facebook page. I have a social media manager, and she's on LinkedIn everyday, joining groups, trying to get involved in the conversation, answering questions.

What aspects of social haven’t worked for you? 

So many things have not worked for me over all, not just social. I don't tend to keep my attention on those. We will throw the spaghetti at the wall a thousand times until it sticks. At this point, 15 years into this, we pretty much know how long it needs to boil for it to stick. We're so metric-orientated; we only do what already works.

What's the one thing people would never know about marketing a direct mail and printing company?

They don’t realize how much technology is used. It seems so brick-and-mortar, and it is, because we're a manufacturer, but full on web developers and programmers working full time on various projects are all part of the future. We've really evolved into a technology company in so many ways.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

They probably don't know that I CrossFit, because I'm so new at it that I don't post a lot of about it. I'm addicted.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

I’m also a HUGE Flint McLaughlin groupie.

How can people connect with you?

I answer all my email joy.gendusa@postcardmania.com. I'm not super speedy, because I do get a lot of communication, but I do really enjoy helping people, regardless of whether or not they ever buy from PostcardMania, or want to buy from PostcardMania. I really, really just enjoy helping small business owners. People can also reach via Facebook. I get private messages all the time.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them and share their story  Drop me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

The B2B Social Spotlight: Roger Phelps

Roger Phelps

No one simply picks up a professional chainsaw for the first time and jaunties off to fell a tree, just as no major global brand starts using social media without knowing how to strategically implement the tools.

Roger Phelps knew that integrating social media for STIHL, the number one selling brand of gasoline powered handheld outdoor power equipment in America, required fundamental business reasoning behind which tools and platforms would deliver the right result for the company, its dealers and customers.

As a Naval Academy grad, active service veteran, experienced event planner and PR pro – and presently Promotional Communications Manager for STIHL Inc. (the U.S. subsidiary of the worldwide STIHL Group) – Phelps knows strategic process and planning. He took the better part of a year to assemble the company’s approach before launching the company’s social media program.

As an established global brand, what did STIHL intentionally set out to do – or do differently – with social media?

I’ve always said that you earn the right to be heard. You can’t expect someone to listen to you unless you’ve established first that you’re worth listening to.

I started with the fundamental business reasons why our company was going to tackle social. Not because it was cool. Not because it was trendy. Not because everybody was telling me, “Oh you need a Facebook page”. You don’t “need” one unless you have first figured out why it benefits your business.

Our premise – and our promise – is this idea of family. We’re family owned. A STIHL dealership is often family-owned. When you buy a STIHL, you are in a way joining our “family” and we wanted to capitalize on that. Our business goals and objectives were to increase our brand awareness, influence brand preference, and create an open dialogue with our customers. Then I worked to find what platforms could deliver on those goals with our desired audience. In some cases, it was a B2B audience; in others, it was a professional consumer or a homeowner.

I think that’s what social media does; it enables people to become part of something bigger; this family, this group of STIHL followers. The content and information we share will hopefully be interesting and helpful to them, and will inspire them to share their own stories and interests.

STIHL caters to wide range of users and industries. What steps did it take to connect with those distinct and diverse segments?

It comes down to simple word of mouth. STIHL chain saws were initially built for professionals – loggers, landscapers, smoke jumpers, firefighters and rescue workers. A passion built up between these pros and their tools. Then we branched out into consumer tools. The influencers, what we call “Eddy Experts”, were the people everybody else in the community asked about the chain saw and trimmer they use.

Social media is word of mouth gone high-tech and makes it easy for people to share their stories and identify with our brand. They know they may not be a smoke jumper, but if that pro depends on a STIHL then if they need a tool for their backyard, they should buy a STIHL because if it’s good enough for a pro, it’s good enough for them. And now as part of the STIHL “family”, they can share their own story.

What is STIHL doing to build followers and connect with prospects and customers? I see that video plays a large role.

We’re active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as our primary platforms, as well as our blog, and video is our next big focus. The lifespan of content on a platform makes it that way. Twitter is probably hour and Facebook maybe one to two days. You look at YouTube and content there lasts a comparable lifetime. A key metric for us on YouTube is subscribers, which represent our truly engaged users.  They are the ones who have indicated they want content from us, leave comments and share with others the videos that have been uploaded.

How is STIHL using social to engage its dealer channel? To what extent are they using social?

When I first mapped out our social media approach, we knew our dealers would be an important part of the strategy but they weren’t part of the initial approach. A couple of them are very active both on Twitter and YouTube. One dealer even created his own cable TV show, and uses Twitter and Facebook to organize viewing parties and discuss the show afterwards. But it really was not widespread.

I wanted to make sure we understood how the brand was going to be represented and received before we started actively advocating or pushing out social media to our dealers. These are independent businesses. We can’t necessarily tell them what to do or how to do it, except when it comes to how they treat our brand, so I wanted to be sure we knew what we were talking about before assisting them in their efforts.

Now that we are in our third year of social media experience, we are shifting our efforts to assisting our dealers with their social media efforts.  We are creating content that they can easily reuse, customize, and personalize, such as tips, how-to’s, blog posts and videos. We have also just launched formal dealer social media training as part of our company’s online training program. And we’re researching the way social media activates locally so we can help our dealers understand that as well.

How have your social media activities influenced STIHL’s bottom line?

Our main business goal is to promote the brand, our products and our dealers, but as social media tracking becomes more sophisticated we’re getting closer to being able to track the impact of social media interactions on sales.

We don’t sell online, but our STIHL Express service enables people to reserve online. Through tools provided by Facebook and Google Analytics for instance, we’re tracking individuals leaving the Facebook page, landing on the STIHL USA page, and to pages, they navigate to when they get there. So now, we’re able to tie content on our blog or other platform to the STIHL USA page and then track them all the way through the STIHL USA process including a STIHL Express transaction.

We have enjoyed significant sales and market share increases over the past 5 years, and I would say that social media has played an important role in this as part of a coordinated marketing plan.

What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

We review online mentions of STIHL on a daily basis. At the end of the week, we receive a “buzz report” from our social media agency that provides us a summary of mentions, tone, links, and trends. This assists us in getting a feel for what is being said about us and where.  We also measure the number of followers for our various social platforms, and most importantly the degree of their engagement with our content.

I get jazzed every time I read the monitoring reports. Because we’re two-step distribution we’re somewhat removed from our customers. With social media, we are able to develop a relationship with our customers more directly, and hear exactly what they think about our products, our dealers, and us.

What aspect of social hasn’t worked for STIHL? 

Content development has been a learning process. In the beginning, I would cut and paste standard press releases into the blog, and then maybe a part of it became a Facebook post. I quickly figured out that this was not what our fans wanted. I learned that we needed to pay attention to the tone and type of conversation that was taking place on each of these platforms and adjust the content to fit what was expected.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I was a nationally ranked collegiate saber fencer.

What three blogs would you recommend?  

I tend to be eclectic regarding the blogs I read, but for the PR side of what I do, Mr. Media Training is phenomenal, and Mashable is regular destination.

How can people connect with you? 

Twitter: uphelpsr (Personal), STIHLusa (Professional)

Blog: STIHLusablog.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/STIHLusa

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/roger-phelps-clp/3/717/968

YouTube: www.youtube.com/stihlusa

_____________________________________________________________________

Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

The B2B Social Spotlight: Dennis Salazar

Lenora and Dennis Salazar

Nuts to peanuts.

No, not the kind you eat, rather the messy, clingy polystyrene foam bits that may have come along with that eBay item you just won.

What do you do with them? How do you get rid of them?  And what happens to them when you do?

Dennis Salazar and his wife, Lenora, decided they needed to help reduce not just that problem but to change the attitudes and practices around environmentally sustainable packaging when they started Salazar Packaging, Inc. in 2007.

Just six years later, after the two left lucrative jobs with a much larger packaging distribution companies, Salazar Packaging is a certified green business; it’s products vetted by numerous organizations; and is a leading voice in packaging, environmental and business circles. More than 800 articles have been written by them and about them.

Apart from a laser focus on his niche and endless knowledge about his industry, Salazar’s dedicated blogging has helped drive the company’s growing national brand awareness from the its home in Plainfield, Illinois.

When it comes to marketing Salazar Packaging, what did you intentionally set out to do differently and how did social media/marketing fit in?

We recognized that interest from business in general about more sustainable packaging practices was very high. A friend, who was also in the industry, knew the direction we were heading with the company and suggested that we write about what we already knew about and recommended that we educate our market, develop a voice, and even be a bit controversial.

So, my first post was called, “Am I Retrainable for Sustainable?”, a tongue-in- cheek piece about how sustainability was all about waste reduction, and all of the things that I had been doing for decades anyway. I sent it on to one of my favorite blogs, Sustainable is Good, and was later picked up by five other blogs and eventually wound up on Reuters. From there, inquires for speaking rolled in, and invite to write for Packaging Digest not to mention many inquiries about business. Six years ago, a lot less people were talking about sustainability, but I guess I was leading the pack and got ahead of the curve in the industry.

Social begins with developing relationships and supplying valuable content, but it must produce a business outcome. What is Salazar doing to connect with prospects and customers? 

We looked at the way our customers want to do business. One of the strategies we use is to cater to a diverse customer base through our store and various websites. We collected and packaged our products to low volume users in a way to market them and sell them in an efficient manner. You don’t want to spend 10 minutes on the phone with somebody who wants to buy a case of tape or 100 boxes. The exposure to small and medium sized companies is helping us attract and serve much larger customers, which is where we’re headed next.

How have your social media activities influenced the firm and its bottom line?

The more I was blogging the more I was speaking. The more I was doing, the more inquiries we were getting, and it really turned out to be a major part of our marketing. Because of all this activity, the search engines love us. We were all over Page 1, and Page 2 on Google for almost any “green” term searched for. Some of it I refer to as “dumb luck” and some of it is timing, but it’s been a lot of hard work.  Hours and hours have been spent on my blogs. I think I have over 400 posts just on one of them.

What do you regularly measure to see what is working with your marketing?

I think a lot of it was a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  Some of things people are talking about, optimizing key words and things like that, we’ve learned and we did along the way, but I can’t say that we ever sat down and formally created this grandiose strategy for ranking them on Page 1 under particular terms. We do run analytics, but we also mostly monitor our feedback, our call-ins and our inquiries.

What aspect of social hasn’t worked for Salazar Packaging?

We are not great believers in social media. Our strategy is to be found on the web. We were active on Facebook and Twitter, but as a business-to-business company, we felt those platforms were attracting consumers who are not our customers. As for LinkedIn, I think we haven’t taken advantage of it the way could or should. I don’t doubt there is a strategic use for it, but we haven’t found it and frankly, we haven’t had the need.

What blog posts in particular have stood out?

We monitor feedback and when you have a good one, you know it. A post from late January, Custom Printed and Branded Packaging FAQ and Tips, has been a monster hit for us. We’re just getting all kinds a neat emails, comments, and inquiries.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I really have a passion for old-time television shows like The Honeymooners. I like revisiting some of that stuff because of the quality of entertainment without profanity, the nastiness, and the meanness. It was just good, clean entertainment.

What three blogs would you recommend? 

Marc Gunther

Environmental Leader

GreenBiz

How can people connect with you? 

Salazar packaging.com

info@salazarpackaging.com

_____________________________________________________________________

Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating and using social media to fuel their businesses? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

 

 

The B2B Social Spotlight: Krista Kotrla

Krista Kotrla, Vice President, Marketing for Block Imaging International

The “B2B Social Spotlight” interview series profiles B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services.

Where do used MRI machines, PET/CT scanners and Digital X-Ray gear go as newer models come on the market? Like any other piece of used equipment, some are refurbished and sold to new owners, typically located in smaller domestic operations and developing markets all over the globe.

One of the biggest providers of pre-owned and refurbished medical imaging equipment worldwide is Block Imaging International a 75-person firm operating in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Krista Kotrla, vice president of marketing for the company, worked her way from an administrative assistant to her current post over the last decade. She sees the company more than just a sales conduit for a secondary market. The medical imaging machines get a second chance to give people a second chance.

While Block Imaging’s headquarters is located in Lansing, Michigan, Krista works out of her home in Lewisville, Texas, with her husband and two kids. She’s expecting her third child later this year.

When it comes to marketing Block Imaging, what did you intentionally set out to do differently and how did social media/marketing fit in?

Last summer we were in the midst of what was turning out to be a not great sales year and morale was low. I knew there were things that we could do to change our direction, but it meant involving everybody and getting people excited that we were going to aggressively pursue growth the through content marketing.

The more that I learned from seeing how businesses were starting to utilize social media for business purposes, I was just fascinated to think that those could be powerful mediums to reach more people. Knowing the expertise that our team possessed, Block Imaging could be very effective at it if we just had a better way of making it easy for our employees to participate.  Not just to give them the tools, but show them how to reach out to people and help them empower and educate buyers.

What did you do?

We decided that if the company went all in together as a team instead of just a few people being responsible, we could get out ahead of the pack by leaps and bounds very quickly.

Last summer we were planning a two-day company retreat and I pitched our management team about devoting the entire time to launching this new culture of content marketing. We brought in Marcus Sheridan to lead the entire first day, where he not only explained content marketing but most importantly, helped our team catch the vision and enthusiastically buy-in to team participation. Day 2 was hands-on workshops and activities that helped everyone dive in and get their hands dirty practicing what we just learned from Marcus. We brainstormed blog titles, began developing personal brands by learning how to inject some personality into our content, as well as getting comfortable with video. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

How does Block Imaging target its social outreach?

At first, we let people blog about anything that would answer the broad range of common customer questions and supplying how-to tips on service, maintenance and trouble-shooting. The strategy now is advancing our use of HubSpot to know where the best strategic opportunities to blog about are next, based on the high volume of search traffic for a particular phrase. Knowing how difficult it is, competition wise, to rank consistently high on the first page (of Google), we build layers of information around those key word phrases and extend it to our content.

Social is about producing business outcomes, but it begins with developing relationships.  What is Block doing to build dialogue? 

It’s been eight months now building relationships though our content. Even as early as last November, we were at our biggest tradeshow of the year and people already perceived us to be a much larger company than we really actually are and that was within one month of starting to blog every workday. We have a lot more leads coming in now and the quality of leads is remarkably different.

Through our content, we’ve found our web visitors have been educating themselves for weeks or months, already trust us as the source that they want to buy from, and know that we’re not going to be the cheapest option but that’s okay because we have already provided them value on the front end and they are confident in our expertise and capabilities.

Give me an example of how you’re connecting with prospects.

You know, we have to understand what problems they are facing or what questions they are asking to even be able to serve them better and provide them better products and services.  It’s a big cultural shift in so many ways.

There is a random, obscure component of a C-Arm (a c-shaped mobile x-ray system used in orthopedic and surgery centers) that we taught people how to troubleshoot and identify if this part was the cause of their system boot-up problems. The manufacturer was telling one facility to just junk their entire system and upgrade to a newer $150,000.00 system. Prospects found our blog article where we showed them how to troubleshoot it.  They talked to one of our engineers to confirm it and ordered what was only a $1,500.00 part to fix their system that is now back up and running versus writing the manufacturer a huge and unnecessary check.

Within three weeks, that one blog about that very obscure part and troubleshooting delivered leads of people who were ready to buy that part right away. Before then, we had no idea how many we had sold previously.

What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

We work through Twitter and have mainly focused on Linked-In. It is the one other place where we find lots of people from our industry talking and participating in groups. One tactic that is particularly helpful was showing our team how to identify the key word phrases that they would want to be known for and how to build that out in their profiles so that they would start showing up in searches if people were looking in Linked-In for help.

How have your social media activities influenced the firm and its bottom line?

Let’s start with traffic. Since we started team blogging last September, organic search traffic went from averaging less than 4,000 visits a month to now over 10,000 visits.  And it’s still growing. The team has helped author over 100 blog posts and have had 40+ team members participate in authoring blogs. We are still building momentum as we figure out how to turn this into a well-oiled blogging machine.

Culturally, we make sure to have a lot of fun celebrating milestones along the way. We announce two Inbound Marketing Super Hero awards every two weeks at the all-team meeting and describe a little bit about why each person was awarded. It is a great opportunity for recognizing people and reminding people of ways to participate/contribute, tell them what’s working, and hopefully motivate late adopters.

As for sales, the volume and quality of leads has grown so much that we’ve hired several new sales people and we’re also experiencing dramatically shorter sales cycles.

What hasn’t worked using social media?

Attending Social Slam last month confirmed that we’re actually doing a lot right. Overall, I’d say I wish we had done it earlier.

I also wish that I had invested sooner in developing a dedicated person to carry more weight in helping overseeing our blogging machine. One of our own employees emerged as the perfect SEO copywriter who loves writing and can take a very rough draft or even just an outline provided by a sales person or an engineer and he develops it out into a much more blog-like, informative article. He’s also incredibly funny so there is some crazy weird humor injected in what would otherwise be a very information-heavy piece. I love the personality that now also comes through on many of our blog posts.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I realized Block has a purpose bigger than ourselves in what we do and knowing that the equipment we sell can help people around the world. Last summer, as I was preparing the social media pitch to our leadership team for our retreat, I found out that I had cancer in one of my abdominal muscles. I was able to have surgery within a month after they found it and they got all of it out. At the time, my baby boy was only six-months old and something about that experience helped shape my passion for our industry because it was imaging equipment that identified this tumor in the first place.

I had access to all of this equipment and great doctors and surgeons, but many people don’t. What about the mom with the little six-month-old boy in Africa or some remote town in South America? As a company, we have this opportunity to try to reach more people across the globe and give this equipment a second chance at life to do what it was designed for. For me, personally, it was a second chance at life for me to kind of go through that and realize that the equipment we provide can help many more people by getting these early diagnosis. It’s more than just job now… it’s a mission.

What three blogs would you recommend?

The Sales Lion

Mark Schaefer’s Grow Blog

Thoughts from an 8pm Warrior

How can people connect with you?

Webpage – http://info.blockimaging.com/krista-kotrla/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/#!/kristakotrla

LinkedIn – http://www.linkedin.com/in/kristakotrla

Google+ – https://plus.google.com/109257208954119446067/posts

Instagram – @kotrla

Email – krista.kotrla@blockimaging.com

________________________________________________________________________

Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating social media? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

AJ Huisman – The B2B Social Spotlight

AJ Huisman, Marketing Director, Kennedy Van der Laan

The “B2B Social Spotlight” is a periodic interview series that profiles B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services.

Let’s do a little word association, shall we?

Law firm.  Boring.

Law firm.  Staid.

Law firm.  Stuffy.

Law firm.  *Yawn*

Law firm and social media.  Growing.

It’s true. There are plenty of law firms that are integrating social into  their marketing, but as you’ll read below, one professional marketer in particular wants to take things much farther.

Albert Jan (AJ) Huisman is Marketing Director for the Dutch law firm Kennedy Van der Laan in Amsterdam. AJ understands professional service company marketing. He’s been working in that realm for 17 years. Before joining Kennedy Van der Laan last year, he was Marketing Director, Continental Europe for Towers Watson, a huge global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management.

AJ is not only an experienced B2B marketer, he’s a noted advocate for content marketing, becoming a recognized speaker on the subject. In fact, he spoke at the first ever Content Marketing World gathering.

Off the job, AJ, his wife, and three kids live in a historic old bakery (1732) in what he calls a “wonderful” small village a half hour North of Amsterdam.

When it comes to marketing Kennedy Van der Laan, what did you intentionally set out to do differently and how did social media/marketing fit in?

When I started last year, I wanted to transform the traditional way marketing was viewed internally into a totally new way of thinking about marketing. Marketing is not a bunch of secretaries ordering pens and brochures. It’s about helping the firm grow by facilitating ways to realize business goals. Content Marketing is my way of helping my firm grow.

Content Marketing is about showing value. People don’t want to know when you started your business or how many subs you have. They just want to get some answers, how to solve their problems and how to make their life easier. To learn about issues that they should care about but don’t know they should. And preferably consume that info in a pleasant way. Maybe even have some real fun in the process.

Law firms, depending on the practice, can be niche focused. How does Kennedy Van der Laan target its social outreach?

Most professional services firms tend to work in a silo approach. Every specific practice area works in its own little silo and has its own way of doing things, like trying to attract the same clients. Here, the marketing department can play a crucial role. Not only in getting the right content together but also maybe, just maybe, helping the firm adopt a more client centric approach.

The marketing department should be in tune with all content that is being produced in the vertical silos. Only then are they able to cut across horizontally and combine all relevant content for a specific client group. In this way a broader and more joined up proposition will be the result.

We take a subject that appeals to a certain client group and gather information from every practice area that might have interesting content for that group. We don’t let our internal organization structure drive our external communication and that works.

How do you work to attract not just clients, but create relationships and build dialogue? 

The traditional approach to marketing is dead. Transmitting useless features is no more. Or at least it should be. The new kid on the block is content marketing. While not entirely new, it’s the logical next step in this fast moving, transparent and critical world we live in. Transform your business and become a publisher!

Content marketing is a great way to engage and build relationships through dialogue. Funny enough most businesses don’t get this. They’re stuck in a mindset where they cling to their own “send” mode. Sure, it’s safe to list those 20 bullet points about why you are great, but who cares!? The only way I know that you’re the real deal is for you to show me. Not tell me, but show me. Show me you’re an expert in the field that I care about. We do that by giving training and seminars but also blogging about our clients’ favorite subjects. Via www.mediareport.nl, for example, we engage with (prospective) clients in the media sector in The Netherlands. Here, lawyers of our firm blog almost daily about media related topics and Tweet about it as well to drive traffic.

What social tools and approaches seem to be working for you?

We will be launching a new website after the summer which revolves around content. It will be the hub for all our other channels, like Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube. It will have a lot of video, an easy way to create and distribute content, especially in an environment where lawyers tend to be busy with clients. We have built a simple but sufficient video studio where we can quickly interview lawyers on the fly and distribute these clips easily. All the channels revert to the site, which is the main repository for the content we produce.

What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

Via Google Analytics, we measure everything that’s relevant for us about our website. And we also use a tool to connect our CRM system to our newsletters and here we can drill down to what’s read and what’s not. In this way we monitor subjects we could do a more in depth article about or even a training or seminar. We also ask our clients regularly about their business issues. After each seminar for example we ask all the attendees what they would like to see as the subject of our next seminar. What we are actually asking is: “What is on top of your mind, what business issues are keeping you awake at night?” and that fuels our content creation. It’s a bit early to tell if this has impacted our firm’s bottom line but we are constantly fine-tuning our marketing in ways to grow our business.

What hasn’t worked using social media?

We are constantly trying out new things, so we are constantly learning but haven’t made any huge mistakes, a few small ones that’s for sure. I am not sure interactive magazines are the most effective for our communication. Neither do I believe in integrally streaming seminars or any long (YouTube) video’s for that matter.

What’s the one thing people would never know about marketing a law firm?

That law firm marketing should be boring! We firmly believe that we have great content and that we go out of our way in communicating this in an entertaining way. This helps consuming and sharing this content in ways you can’t imagine. For our 20-year anniversary, we made our first corporate movie ever and it was not the traditional “old founding fathers looking back”-type. We asked ourselves a question: “What if our firm was a 20-year old girl?” what would she do, say, wear, etc. We wrote a script along the lines of our core values and had an actress play Kennedy Van der Laan. We showed the 5-minute movie to all our clients, which they loved, at the 20-year event and afterwards we all sent them the link: http://www.c360.nl/kvdl20/ embedded in a 360o photo of all attendees.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I don’t think there’s a lot that the on-line community that I’m part of does not know about me ;)

What three blogs would you recommend?

The Content Marketing Institute: everything you ever wanted to know about Content  Marketing but were afraid to ask

Copy Blogger: about content marketing advice and solutions that work

HubSpot: about inbound Internet marketing blog about SEO, blogging, social media,   landing pages, lead generation and analytics

How can people connect with you?

See my Tweets on: www.twitter.com/ajhuisman, see my photo’s on: http://statigr.am/user/ajhuisman or you can send me an email at albert.jan.huisman@kvdl.nl

_________________________________________________________________________

Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating social media? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

 

Content Mitigation: How Sharing Service Details Could Keep You Out of A Crisis

So, you’re using content marketing — articles, blogs, e-newsletters, case studies, videos, and social media platforms — to build brand awareness, customer acquisition, lead generation and customer retention. Work all of these as far as you can take them.

Then take it one step farther.

Producing helpful, educational and valuable content isn’t just for attracting customers. It can be an invaluable ally if something between your company and a customer goes awry, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Because somewhere, somehow, someone will find something with which to take issue.

Supplying varied and detailed information on your company’s product or service in the form of an ongoing blog series or an expansive FAQ that answers an exhaustive series of questions could help mitigate potential problems and even help tamp down a full-blown crisis if enough instructive information is available and accessible.

Leaving these elements out of your content mix could cost you time, money and potentially your firm’s reputation.

Realistically, not everyone is going to read everything related to your product or service, but having it available within a couple of clicks on a keyboard could be enough to make a news organization beg off a story if information countering an issue is within easy reach.

What should you share in content mitigation program?  Everything possible, such as:

    • Guarantees/Warranties – Be explicit and don’t bury the fine print.
    • Cost/Price – If you have a service that doesn’t have set price because each situation is different, explain what the variables are and supply a range of price, from the lowest to the highest.
    • Problems/issues – No service can be all things for all people. Detail the limitations of your product or service.
    • Comparisons with Competitors – Explaining differentiation between all comers in your niche lets prospects self select and lays bare stark differences.
    • Regulatory Compliance – If you work in an industry where adhering to federal regulations differentiates you from more lax competitors, ensure you explain why you do and how you do it.
    • Scope of Work/Payment – Particularly for potentially high-priced services where scope could change based on circumstances, keep the customer apprised of the charges so there won’t be a surprise at the end that could turn into a public issue… and a potential lawsuit.
    • Accolades/Awards/Testimonials – Your customers, third party endorsements and awards for quality weave a powerful story.  Tell it.
    • Approach/Philosophy – Most businesses have a story of why they began the business and/or guiding principles of how they work. Creating narratives like this make you appear more human and accessible.
    • Limitations/Usage Policies – Your business isn’t super human.  Explain what your business and service is and is not capable of doing.
    • Training/Education – Do your employees undergo intensive education about how to execute their jobs for optimum outcome and value?  Spell it out.
    • Personnel qualifications – The job your company does is only as good as the employees that do it.  For highly technical and regulated industries, offer up details of the training and experience of your employees
    • Consumer/Client Ratings – If you receive consistently high ratings from internal surveys and external ranking services, promote those high scores to help validate your value.
    • Accreditation/Endorsement– Positive reviews from third parties, such as associations and non-profit groups can help bolster credibility.

 

All of these suggestions may or may not be applicable to your business, but err on the side of caution in supplying as much about your service as possible. Because anything that could be misunderstood and misinterpreted will be.

Prove It All Night… Or Not

I can’t help but think of Bruce Springsteen when talking about social media because of his song, “Prove It All Night.” It’s not so much the lyrics (although you could make the case for a loose analogy on winning the ephemeral “love” of a customer), it’s the title.

Companies have so many channels and opportunities created by social media to honestly communicate and actively prove why (and sometimes why not) their product or service stands above other competitors. The active engagement that is necessary is what contrasts how things used to be done with the surface-visible sheen of advertising and printed pieces.

Back in the day (before 2005), businesses spent untold tens of thousands writing, editing and designing some static and barely useful “look-how-great-we-are” tomes that had no more use or relevance than day-old newspapers lining birdcages. How long did writers labor over every word, weaving a narrative on how wonderful said company was, while artists suffered over the layout of trying to put a human face on an organization that didn’t dare, nor really care, show it real face?

Social brought to a close to what I call the age of “collateral damage”, as well as the websites that took their place, employing an array of devices to display a company’s plumage, rather than the feathers that give it flight. Social changed everything.

But not for everybody.

We’re well into Web 2.0 and so many businesses still don’t (and maybe never will) understand how using the Internet and the overabundance of social media tools can help them connect with their audiences.

Maybe they’re not meant to be.

Do a quick search for advice on how to best differentiate products and services and you’ll get widely divergent answers. Some praise the advantage of product benefits and personal relationships. Others think warranties, guarantees, uniqueness, service, and the customer experience are trump cards. And, yes, some people believe that low price alone will win the day.

I believe that most products and services, even in highly competitive and commoditized markets, can be effectively marketed. But a good percentage will never put the effort into finding what makes their offering distinctive and look for the correct combination of marketing and social tools to locate, attract and share their knowledge with the right audience.

 

The Value of Being Merely Present in Social media

How does the old adage go? “Showing up is half the battle?” Something similar can be said for social media. Big things can happen by being merely present.

Bookshelves and hard drives brim with all kinds of information about social media ROI, and for a good reason. Any foray into social media (like any implement in the marketing toolkit), requires having a goal.  Without it, how will you know if you succeeded?

Now, by “merely present”, I don’t mean setting up a Facebook page or a Twitter account and randomly posting self-promotional or irrelevant dribble. But neither do I mean an organizational upheaval to align a company as the prototypical “social business”.

What fascinates me are the companies, both large and small, that have done a little in social media and realized huge returns. Not through exhaustively, well-planned strategy and benchmarking, but with simple goals and objectives.

From personal experience, one of our clients wanted to double the amount of visits to his page within a colossus corporate website. Simply by sharing existing subject matter content to two dedicated LinkedIn groups produced an eight-fold increase in visitors… and by the end of the year, $3 million in new revenue.

Now, that’s all great, right?

To be honest, the client was using newsletter advertising and exploiting an email database to alert others to the available content. But here’s the thing. How much of this little social outreach program contributed directly to that result?

We don’t know.

The client doesn’t know.

What the client is sure of is that what we recommended and helped him execute had a hand in delivering dollars. For our part, we thought the issue through, used a little research that told us where to direct the content firepower, and applied what budget was available to hopefully make a difference.

Another example is our new friend, Kyle Thill, of Toyota-Lift of Minnesota. He took to social media simply because Toyota reduced his advertising budget and encouraged use of social media because it was “low cost”.

Kyle decided to pull from what he knew and what he thought his customers would benefit from: simple sharing of information that could help people who are in the market for forklift sales and service.

In keeping with that idea of low cost, Kyle stated that Toyota-Lift “can’t afford too many calories to be spent on analytics… If what we are doing makes sense, we’ll simply ‘do it’.”

It must be working. That simple sharing benefited Toyota-Lift with a 10 percent increase in sales last year and this. Again, there was no grand strategy, but just being present. And in Kyle’s case, a lot.

Looking at examples like these two, there is no direct, attributable line of cause and effect. However, effort and activity leads to some sort of impact, as some of these examples of social marketing successes did.

As our examples demonstrate, it appears the results were an essential mix of understanding where your audience is; an awareness of how they use and consume information on the Internet; and having some kind of benchmark and rudimentary metrics.

Honestly, we prefer strategic planning to flying by the seat of your pants any day.  But when resources are scarce, a smaller, but still smart, presence can potentially be worth far more than none at all.

What’s your take?  What social programs have you seen that produced outsized results?

Social Media Lessons from Chicago’s Top 10 Social Corporations

In the spirit of our new blog feature, the SMB/B2B Social Spotlight, we decided to share some important takeaways from the 10 Chicago-area companies said to be doing the best job of leveraging social media. The companies’ programs were detailed in Crain’s Chicago Business earlier this year. 

I found the comments in bold instructive. We focus on B2B, but these tips from several consumer companies may inspire something new for your own social media programs.

1. Kraft Foods Inc.

“When they want recipes, they go to the website.  When they want to share their passion, they go to Facebook,” says the senior director of consumer relationship marketing at Kraft.

Takeaway: Companies often struggle when it comes to posting to their Facebook pages.  Encouraging and/or finding new ways to help your customers share their passion is useful. For example, Kraft launched a “Share Your Latin Flavor” campaign featuring a celebrity chef’s recipes to get customers involved in the conversation – and increased traffic in the process.

2. McDonald’s Corp.

Our Facebook fans want entertainment.  They want information, but they want to see interesting videos, play games and participate in polls,” says the company’s director of social media.

Takeaway: How can you inject fun or entertainment into your Facebook pages?  Your posts can go beyond just talking about topics directly related to the company.  Find and post interesting or fun articles related to your industry (these are easy to find by just running a Google alert or setting up a listening dashboard on Google Reader on your product or service. You’re bound to find something of the right flavor there.).  Think about customers as people – what might they be interested in?

3. Sears Holding Corp.

“We want to stop problems quickly and act on customer feedback,” says Sears’ president of online marketing and financial services.  The company is using social media – Facebook and Twitter – as well as a customer review site called MySears.com.

Takeaway: Creation of a customer comment website shows the power of sites like Yelp.com that allow people to talk about their experience with a product or service.  (Why have customers broadcast their comments only on external sites, when you’re the best resource to respond to them?)  Sears also lets customers vote for which products they want to see discounted, and then runs the sale shortly thereafter — a nice way of generating interaction with customers.

4. Motorola Mobility Holdings

Succeeding at building awareness and sales, Motorola promoted its new photon 4G phone with a contest using promotional videos on Facebook, running them during random times every day. Customers who watched all the videos had a chance to win a new phone.

Takeaway: Giveaways, contests, polls all are great vehicles to use whenever you want to spice things up.  As always, giving people a good reason to get involved and respond increases interest.

5. Walgreen Company

“Two social networks are better than one,” says Walgreen’s director of social media.  The company used Foursquare and Facebook Places in a “Check-In’s that Make a Difference” campaign to distribute $6 million in flu shot vouchers to selected charities.  Whenever someone ‘checked in’ at a store, Walgreens donated a voucher.  Those who participated then took a Facebook vote on how to distribute the vouchers to the charities.

Takeaway: Good example of using the social toolkit in a creative and socially responsible way.  There are so many ways to connect to a customer on social media.  You just need to give it a little thought.  Start by understanding how they’re using social media – check-in’s being one way.

6. Deere and Company

An unlikely social media player, the farm equipment manufacturer has a large following after just one year of using social tools. “People want to touch the brand in social media,” says Deere’s manager of Internet research and information services.  They’ve succeeded by getting involved in industries in which Deere has an authoritative voice.

Takeaway: Yes, people WANT to touch your brand. To generate content for social platforms, your company can capitalize on this pointer:  In what areas, industries or perspectives does your company have an authoritative voice?  This one should be easy, because most companies consider themselves leaders.  Act like one with your social media content.

7.  Boeing Company

“It doesn’t benefit us to be jumping around to every tool or possibility that’s out there,” says the communication director.  “We want to make sure that the tools were using are the ones we can use effectively to serve our communications purposes.”

Takeaway: Sage words from Boeing. Social media is a tool, and while hip and still new to some companies, it’s not the only right answer to reach your audience, or your objectives.

8.  Allstate Corp.

Describing its “Mayhem” advertising character that personifies what can go wrong behind the wheel, director of consumer engagement says, “In social media, you want to be as relevant as you can to the audience.  The videos have really resonated with consumers.”  The campaign has gone viral with millions of hits on social platforms.

Takeaway: How can you increase your company’s relevance through social media?  Know thy customer!  Think creatively about how you can present your wisdom.  Involve staff outside of marketing.  Get help from professionals that know how to craft a compelling story.

9.  Abbott Labs

Individual products can be more popular on social platforms than the companies themselves. Abbott’s EAS Sports Nutrition line is marketed to fitness buffs, reaching many thousands of followers on Twitter and Facebook, far fewer than its corporate pages.

Takeaway:  This advice probably rings true for many types of companies that offer a flagship product or service.  While promoting an entire company can seem a daunting task, you can really hone in with your content (and concentrate your time) around a single product/service or product line. 

10.  Discover Financial Services

Discover’s goal is immediate response time, measured in seconds, not hours or days, says the company’s vice president of e-business.  “The medium makes it possible for customers to comment, so you better have your best game on.”

Takeaway: As you already know: you must be ready and willing to respond quickly.  This is the age of real-time marketing and pr. Remember that every comment is a potential conversation between you and your valued customers, visitors or readers.  You never know what kind of great ideas might come out of the conversation, negative or positive. Expect to be changed!

 

 

The B2B Social Spotlight – New Feature!

When it comes to examples of social media in action, consumer companies dominate. From this B2B marketer’s perspective, it is like a tired A-side of well-worn 33-rpm disc: food, fashion, travel and consumer goods. The B-side has its own groove with a preponderance of IT-related social result stories.

Time to change the record.

We’re launching a new, ongoing interview series called B2B Social Spotlight. It’s our way of shining some well-deserved wattage on those B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services. Our goal is to let these folks tell their stories of success (and failures) and help others know the potential power and value of social business.

That said, welcome to installment number one.

*   *   *

Kyle Thill, Director of Services, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota

Kyle Thill, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota

No matter how you look at it, there is nothing glamorous about a forklift. Lifting and moving things from one place to another is about as utilitarian as an old brown-colored Chrysler K-car… but much more useful and reliable. 

So why does Kyle Thill, Director of Services at this materials handing dealership, Toyota-Lift of Minnesota, have over 18,000 Twitter followers and, as of this writing, sent over 98,700 Tweets?

It’s simple really. Think about how many different types of businesses rely on these brawny little workhorses. It allows Kyle to Tweet a universe of content related to businesses that depend on supply chain and logistics. Kyle’s prolific tweeting helped earn Toyota-Lift of Minnesota the B2BTOTY (B2B Twitterer of the Year) award in the category “Natl/Intl B2B Manufacturer”.

Chalk it up to Kyle’s focus and passion about facilitating smooth operations throughout the business, from personnel, technology infrastructure, and knowledge of inventory control, to data management and analysis, and managing parts warranty and service. It is that range of experience of 28 years with Toyota-Lift that earned Kyle the Toyota Material Handling’s National Aftermarket Sales Manager of the Year in 2010.

E-R: When it comes to marketing Toyota Forklift, did you intentionally set out to do something differently?

Thill: We ventured into social media just to promote our OEMs and us, and to replace the advertising they used to pay for. There was little then, and not a lot more now, of the brand’s representation anywhere in social media. Additionally, as Toyota cut our marketing budget, they prompted us to enter social media because it was “low cost”.

We look to get people to read our blog and possibly get local people to subscribe to our newsletter so to ingratiate us to our brands. Being present, supplying relevant information, and doing in it in a reasonable way can be of value.

E-R:  Forklifts can be seen generic pieces of equipment. How do you work to attract not just customers, but create relationships and build dialogue? 

Thill: We focus on issues that are important to them, such as costs, durability or fuel consumption. For safety, we can talk about safety systems present on our equipment and not on other makes. Ergonomics and operator comfort are a number of critical points that can be focused on there. Everyone has a need. We just have to find it and focus in on how we can satisfy it.

E-R: What aspects of social media have worked for Toyota Forklift? 

Thill: Our primary goal is to expose the market to our people and company through our blog, and not truly focus on anything other than digging into the topics we think our customers are concerned about. I feel our biggest success has been simply to raise the awareness of business to our brand.

E-R: You are a prolific Twitterer.  How do you manage your presence on the platform?

I’m in front of a computer almost all day and use a mix of real-time posting and automation, such as Buffer. I rely on Google Alerts, and Google Reader as my information aggregator. Even with the automation, I think it’s important to be there to respond and interact.

E-R: What online tools do you rely on everyday? 

Thill: Our Blog, Facebook, then Twitter.

E-R: What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

Thill: As small as we are, we can’t afford too many calories to be spent on analytics. We fall back to the position if what we are doing makes sense we’ll simply “do it” without truly looking back.

From websites, outside marketing firms and social media, there isn’t anything we’re doing that could be questioned regarding value or worth. We think of it as “eating healthy”. It’s difficult to point to anything specific that it makes better, but at the end of the day, you feel good and you’re able to continually improve the effort.

E-R: What has been your biggest mistake using social media? 

Thill: We don’t focus enough on our other brands, meaning those markets that are much smaller than Toyota, with the possible exception of Aichi and its construction equipment.

E-R: What is one thing your Twitter followers don’t know about you? 

Thill: We’re humbled by what we see others doing in the social media arena.

E-R: What is the one thing people would never know about know about a forklift? 

Thill: At some point in the supply chain, a forklift has touched their stuff. We’re more reliant on material handling that anyone knows. I’m not certain my parents think yet that this is a permanent job.

E-R: How’s the business doing in light of the economy? 

Thill: We achieved ten percent growth last year, and it looks like the same this year. Our fiscal year ends this month.

E-R: What three blogs would you recommend?  

Thill: That is the hardest question. I’d have to answer in categories. Those from other dealerships or OEMs, followed by construction then logistics or trucking. If I answered with specifics, I’d only change my mind a few moments later.

E-R: How can people connect with you? 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/toyotaequipment

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Toyota-Lift-of-Minnesota/201975476484625

LinkedIn, Kyle Thill: http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=51923164&trk=tab_pro

LinkedIn, Toyota Lift of Minnesota: http://www.linkedin.com/company/toyota-lift-of-minnesota