Rich Clark Marketing

Opinions from Rich Clark one of the UK's leading Marketing Professionals

One Size Does Not Fit All


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Personalisation is a bit over-rated

Its been a while since I updated this blog and looking back now at some of the topics, I  can understand why.  But I have been inspired by a few people to resume writing content.

The main purpose of my blog is to give personal opinion and perspective, as opposed to self-promotion or facts and figures based post. People have been telling me there are a lack of “professional” marketing blogs which actually are grounded and have personality. So lets hope I can deliver on at least one of those counts.

So I come back with a bit of nostalgia

I was invited to take the stage at the Drapers forum, now over three years ago in 2015.  I was joining joint-CEO and then colleague at boohoo, Carol Kane.  As seemingly the technical marketing person I was asked a series of questions.  One was from the audience and asked about personalisation. Now apologies to the individual, I cannot remember who asked, but my response got quite a reaction.

drapers logo

Personalisation is a bit over-rated, my quote from Drapers forum

The question was effectively related to how can brands get closer to customers and what were our views on personalisation. My response “I think personalisation is a bit over-rated”

Now that got headlines and even boohoo colleagues coming in and repeating the quote.  The headline was great and actually became quite funny, however, I did go on to substantiate what I meant. I spoke about segmenting customers properly and actually offering degrees of mass personalisation (customisation) could be as if not more effective and yet provide less operational pressures.

So some three years later have my views changed? Well with the developments in AI and machine learning, there is a greater argument for personalisation, never greater than previously.  However, the technology at present is only really effective at certain parts of the journey.  This is increasingly changing though.

In terms of the creative front end of a site, personalisation can still cause organisational strains. If you regularly change images, promo messages and or categories, the design consequences and processes needed to personalise to a genuinely deep level could cause resource repercussions.  Many businesses still struggle to cope with designing and building pages for BAU and some potential A/B or multivariate tests.

With this in mind, mass customisation of pages and journeys could still be a better solution.  For retailers, the ability to change the merchandising of a shopping journey based on data of the crowd, or from AI of individuals do make sense. Although I haven’t had chance to explore the functionality of people like Bloomreach to its fullest, the promise of what it can offer feels closer to what I would value in personalisation.

One Size Does Not Fit All

One Size Does Not Fit All

The ability to set business rules for behaviours that are regular, using crowd date means you are technically personalising, but really again just personalising for segments or groups of customers.  What the technologies allow you to do is make those groups much smaller and more highly targeted, in turn making the journey more effective.

Now, if I sit down and write this same piece and say, I think I still feel the same in three years time, I will be stunned.  Developments in AI and machine learning are advancing so quickly, personalisation should be much easier and of course the processes will be shortened to make it happen.

Article can be found on drapers here

I would love to hear your views on this one.  I know I am probably in the minority of one in my views, but I am always happy to be different.  After all, the people that asked me to kick this blog back off asked me to give my personal views and here you have them.

 

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What Happened to Foursquare?

Whilst considering approaches for our clients Social Media strategies, I was doing the usual thing of wondering what platforms would suit their customer base and of course the objectives of their activity.  At one point last year people were heralding the dawn on a new era.  Social Media was finally finding its feet and earning its commercial water wings. Not in a traditional digital marketing sense, but in a multi-channel sense.  What was driving this, the advent of Foursquare.

Foursquare Logo

Foursquare was the new thing we all needed to get excited about.  Taking people’s passions and love for social media and melding itwith their new found love with smartphones and a pinch of real-world and the ingredients were there for a winning combo.  Or so we thought.  This view was backed up by the decision in August 2010, at Facebook to launch their Foursquare killer, Facebook Places.

Easy to say it now, but I remember sitting in the offices at Best Buy and being quite cynical about the whole thing, while others were raving.  Whilst I didn’t doubt the concept of blurring social with real world, my belief was that this would have to be simplified to the extent the user wouldn’t have to do a thing and there was a sufficent reward for them doing so.

For a while I did doubt my own wisdom.  I signed up to Foursquare, after all, if you’re in the industry thats whay you do.  I had Google Wave, Google Buzz, Bebo, MySpace etc etc log-ins but no idea what they are now.  More and more contacts started popping up.  Note I used the word contacts.  It seemed to get quite noisy and then ther integration with Twitter came about and my timeline got loaded with people checking in to shops, sports grounds and fast food outlets.  Frankly it got a little annoying.  The point of the word contact was, most of the interactions were by people I knew in digital or technology, with a few friends who were early adopters.  None of my proper friends could be bothered.

The rewards on offer at the likes of Foursquare just aren’t interesting. Pretty juvenile really becoming the mayor of HMV in Oxford Street.  Apologies to all the various Foursquare mayors I have just offended.  I read with interest the fact that Facebook was closing its Places service, whilst it isn’t completely backing out of geo services it does show that its not the Xanadu some thought it would be.

Maybe Facebook just got it wrong and Foursquare demolished Facebook places.  Ironically the biggest boost Foursquare got to its numbers was when Facebook announced its Places service.  In terms of people looking for Foursquare on Google it would appear that the search volume has already peaked.  The August 2010 Facebook announcement got it mainstream and created the big boost, the numbers levelled but still at a higher than pre-announcement.  Foursquare also had a second boost around April this year when Amazon announced its servers had taken out both Foursquare and Reddit.

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

Google Trends view on Foursquare search volume

The light for Foursquare is that although things haven’t really sparked for them in the UK or Europe in general, they are big on technology advanced Asia and the population of Indonesia seem to be searching in their droves.  Some would say we need to treat Google data such as this with some scepticism.  Whilst I wouldn’t pass comment on that, even if you don’t believe the core numbers, the trend is still there.  Backed further by a quick search on Alexa.com where a similar story can be found.

Alexa ranking of Foursquare

The same pattern is true in terms of reach according to Alexa.  The April spike exists in April, but after that, the traffic drops back.  For me this demonstrates a lack of engagement with Foursquare.  Not complete lack of engagement, but low engagement on a relative base to the likes of Twitter and Facebook, its not to say it can’t happen.

My view is that there could still be a place for Foursquare or an equivalent service.  However they need to offer real value to users, something that makes users want to engage or embrace mobile technology to its fullest and minimise the engagement and actions needed in the physical world.  Foursquare and other services such as Gowalla still have a long way to go.  Once somebody has cracked it, the sector could ignite and present great currency for users and no-brainer commercial options for multichannel brands.

Remember the key to all of these platforms is mobile.  With this in mind we need to keep a watching eye on Google, with the rise of G+ and obviously the Android operating system gaining momentum, they could be in a good place to crack it.  If the minds at Google can work out what “it” is.


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Using Social Media in a B2B World

Without a doubt Social Media is a really important element of modern life.  Individuals use it to connect with friends, old acquaintances and even celebrities.  Organisations of all sizes are using the likes of Facebook to make contact with their customers.  This doesn’t appear to change, if anything Social Media is likely to play an increasingly prominent role, especially now that Google states it will use buzz as an influence in its ranking.

When I speak to friends who work in a B2B environment they often ask what can they use it for.  I am also asked the same question when I speak at conferences.

Despite the repeated questions on how should B2B organisations adopt Social Media a Bizreport study outlined some interesting and surprising statistics.  86% of B2B firms already have an active Social Media presence compared to only 82% of B2C companies.  However the same report suggests that those B2B firms aren’t making the most of their presence with 32% engaging with their base on a daily basis, compared to 52% of B2C companies.  This is backed up by the fact that 34% of B2B companies aren’t tracking their activity in any way either.

Gut instinct is the same as if I was in a B2C environment. Use the channels in the way they should be used and create approaches that are right and targeted to your audience. The key thing I would advise anybody to do first however is understand why your business should be in Social Media and what is your aim of being there?  Can you offer the audience something they can’t get elsewhere or provide them with a point of view they don’t easily get.

Once you have defined your sense of being (in Social Media terms) you should integrate it into both your overall business processes and your overall Marketing strategy.  The reason for doing this is to ensure it becomes a part of your everyday activity in your business, automatically enabling you to avoid the pitfall of engaging in the stats in the report.

Perhaps more importantly in B2B than in B2C you really need to define what each channel will be used for.  That being said this is still an important factor in B2C however there is also more of an overlap of channels for B2C.  Remember, just because all the buzz and scale is with the likes of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube you may decide that one or all of these channels are not suitable for your business.

A key part to any social media strategy is the reason for being.  Offer your customers something to engage with, provide a currency that will ensure they want to engage with your company. This will be different depending who your business is, what it does and your position in your sector and with your customers.

For example, if you are perceived as an expert in your field then your strategy will be completely different to if you are purely a distributor of kit.  We need to take one step back to the start of that sentence, the key part is how you are perceived by your customers, not how you perceive yourself.  You don’t need to undertake expensive brand studies just generally ask your customers some new questions, unless you already know the answers.

Obviously in a B2B environment customers are often as concerned by the commercial aspect so if you are in a position to offer something unique for those that engage with you via social media (voucher codes or free services) that could provide a boost to your numbers, however that alone will not necessarily help you achieve your goals unless its a continued programme of activity that provides real additional value.

The whole ethos of being an expert provides real social media gold.  What can you give to your customers that will help interaction and engagement.  A great example is to provide content they wouldn’t get elsewhere.  A builders merchant could provide HowTo guides for builders on ways to save money and time on specific projects such as building a conservatory.

A distributor of electrical components could provide a service to the end user but as an aid for their B2B customers.  The distributor could provide a mash-up of the UK map which is fully searchable and links to electricians in their area, with examples of their work and testimonials.  The distributor in theory could also create income from charging electricians to appear on their platform if scale was achieved.

IT training companies could really demonstrate their expertise by providing a community and forum on their own website where their trainers can answer delegates questions on site and in theory offer clinics at agreed dates to really give in-depth support to their delegates.  This would really add ongoing value to delegates and support them and their employers further in to the lifecycle.

These were just some basic ideas that could be adopted and across a number of sectors.  If you are in a B2B environment, feel free to make contact and I can see if I can devise something specific for you.  Also check out this B2B Social Media infographic


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Location, Location, Location

This isn’t a post as a homage to Phil Spencer and Kirstie Allsopp’s property show but more a view on one of the latest developments in online, location based Marketing.

From the rise of geo-targetting on Google. To the regional Tweets on Twitter to probably the fastest emerging elements, Facebook Places and of course FourSquare.  So some commentators question the long-term validity of these mediums as marketing channels. Others distrust the security. Some  however see these emerging channels as unique methods to undertake targetted activity of a stellar level.

In terms of geographical targeted advertising some channels are better than others.  The likes of Google has constantly refined and improved its offer in its core PPC offer but also with the introduction of LBC and within their display (content) network.  Facebook has placed substantial emphasis on developing its advertising platform and using the API there are numerous sophisticated targeting opportunities, not least geo-targetting.  Others, at present, are a lot less sophisticated. Twitter’s advertising platform(currently in its infancy)  is currently only open to a global audience, ensuring no matter how great your promotional message is, at present if your business is domiciled within a particular country, you will suffer unavoidable waste.  If Twitter’s ad platform is in its infancy then, others such as Foursquare, are at best babies or even yet to be conceived.

However, the paid for advertising component is only one thread we need to investigate.  The beauty of social media and the emerging opportunities are the organic methods of targetting.  These organic components are released by the channel owners and brands are actively encouraged to develop or promote on them, as long as it add value to the user base.  Twitter has a great site for developers and like Facebook they understand the benefit the developer community provides to their offer.  So enough of my ramble, what geo-targeting, geo-tagging, location based tools are out there at the moment?

Google Places

Formerly known as Google LBC (Local Business Centre) takes advantage of Googles open API on its map solution.  As a business owner you can simply upload your business with its address and pin it up to Google maps.  This is great, if like most people, your customers search for your locations on Google Maps.  It can also integrate with your PPC.  Great hygeine factor to include, but reliant on people knowing you already.

Google Geo-Targeted PPC

Google has moved a great distance in terms of its geo-targeting for PPC. Its relatively sophisticated PPC engine now allows you to target people in postcodes, towns or areas.  The best part of the latest enhancements is the fact that you can define a bespoke area by placing points on a map.

Facebook Places

Facebook Places is still at the beginning of its journey in the UK.  Whilst no advertising opportunities exist, plenty of organic opportunities are available to companies.  However your brand is much more likely to get referenced if you have a loyal following on Facebook.

FourSquare

This is one of the latest most talked about social applications. Very bascially it is a tool to ping people where you are at the moment, started out as used for places to eat but has quickly spread.  Not really sure it offers much differentiation from Facebook places, but it already has a decent level of uptake.

Twitter

Its only a matter of time before the sponsored elements of Twitter go regionalised.  The fact you can add a location to your tweets means it will go that way.  Then it is obvious targeting will become easier on the platform. At the moment, it is lagging a little behind the others.

What can you do?

So the question for marketeers has to be what can we use these tools for? Aside from the obvious distributing very regional messages, which is obviously of benefit there are other options.  You could make the use of these tools by your customers feel a little viral, offering incentives to them for becoming Mayor or first to mark your location a given number of times. 

You can also mark local events or openings via these mediums and minimise wastage on your promotions.

If you can operate social commerce, these mechanisms in the long-run could provide great opportunities for regional promotions, special events or even the selling of display or open-box items.  You could limit who the messages and promotions are distributed to.  This will not only minimise wastage and provide efficiencies on your effort, but it will reduce the likelihood of poor customer experience, when users from out of district see your promotion.

You should also reaserch the areas properly, there could be simple areas to target within established social media presences.  Think local student unions, Chamber of Commerce and Sports Clubs. These are users bought in to social and their particular interest. If you can get coverage with these communities, you are likely to succeed.

Remember these mediums allow you to provide ultra targeted (based on location) communications. However, remember you have to have a reason to be present. This can be slightly different if you are using the newer advertising based modules.


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Producing Content for Company Websites

What is Content?

One of the key topics that pop up with industry types, affiliates and agencies from an SEO, Social Media and Online PR stance is content.  Before I delve too deeply in to the subject matter, I think its important that I clarify what I mean by content.  This isn’t the standard information about your company.  It isn’t even about content around the products or services you offer, even though those areas are imperative.  In the context of  this post, I mean compelling content that people may want to read regardless of any affinity or lack of with your brand or their current interest in buying from you.

Why provide content?

Well it all depends what your objectives are.  For some organisations additional non-sales related content may be impractical or unworkable.  I can’t think of a single case where it won’t provide some form of benefit.  It’s just whether the scale of the benefit is worth the investment.

In the main, the reasons for providing content can be varied depending on your circumstances.  However you need to be clear of your objectives.

From my perspective the main reasons for providing content include:

Upside on SEO

Social Media SOV

Online PR outreach

Community Building

Providing an authority to your subject matter

Create buzz around your site

Upside on SEO

As well all know there are many black hat techniques to help radically increase your rankings within all of the major search engines (and Google is no exception).  However these techniques are ill-advised and can cause your organisation to be penalised or even delisted by the likes of Google and Bing.

It is also frowned upon to instigate link building campaigns by going out and buying lots of backlinks to artificially inflate your ranking.  Both of these techniques can also cost quite a lot.

So the best way to ensure improvement in search engine rankings is to create a good content plan.  The content should be devised to make it both interesting and relevant to your audience, whilst also providing genuine reasons forbloggers or sites to link to or to like, retweet etc in social networks.  Simple?

If your content strategy is devised purely for SEO reasons then you obviously need to know what terms people are searching on and where the gaps are in your keyword coverage.  You then need to engineer your plan to help build up potential linking on core terms.  The research is the critical element to this area, as you need to know how this element enhances or could potentially distract your overall SEO efforts.

My personal opinion, is that, if you develop content purely for SEO reasons, you are doing something wrong.

Tip 1 – You should provide worthwhile content that people want to read and get links on the merit of the content.  There is no problem in optimising the content for SEO reasons, as long as it doesn’t damage the content for the reader.

Social Media SOV

Your content is like a currency,if quality is good and matched with its frequency.  People will want to read what you produce and in term want to link to it and share with their friends.

Remember if your quality is poor or full of errors there is an equal likelihood that people will link or share your content but with negative container terms.  This doesn’t impact your SOV, in fact,it does increase it.  However it does effect the sentiment which effects both what your community or following think about you but also could impact your search rankings.

Tip 2– Provide simple methods to allow people to share your content.  Options such as Add This buttons or utilise tools such as Facebook Connect on your site

Online PR Outreach

Bloggers are an influential bunch.  But not all of them.  Remember it isn’t always about the bloggers with massive audiences that matter.  If you want reach and awareness then of course go for high-traffic blogs.  It isn’t always the best target however.  You need to create a robust outreach plan, as you would with journalists.  Understand why and how you contact bloggers and take the time to build relationships with them.

Understanding why you are reaching out to a blogger and what benefit you can provide to them is half the battle.  You also need to work out if your objective is reach or to inspire a change in people’s (not the bloggers) perception of your company and the content you produce.

Tip 3 – Personal relationships are important.  Don’t just send SEO friendly Press Releases, it isn’t good for you or the blogger

Community Building

Having a forum and a Facebook presence won’t give you a community.  The only reason you will create a community is by providing your members with currency, a reason to keep coming back.  Whether that is in the form of articles, forum topics or competitions, you have to give them something to get excited about.  Motivate them and influence them to join in or share.  As with the other areas research is important as is a deep understanding of what your community will want.

Why not get your community involved? They are much more likely to share and promote the content if they have been involved.

Post the content where they will want to receive it.  You can’t always put a snippet on your Facebook page and link through to your site, you have to be where they want to receive information.

Tip 4 – Fully research your area and ensure your community needs and motivations are answered.

Providing an authority to your subject matter

As long is your content is good, thorough, provides a point of view and above all creates something your average reader wouldn’t find you will begin to create an authority.   This point of view and authority will help improve your standing with your target audience.  They will start to trust what you are saying and you become the go-to site for your subject matter.  Perhaps more importantly for company sites, the visitor in terms becomes increasingly likely to buy from you as that trust builds.  This trust becomes a perceived brand value for the customer and will help the user make purchase decisions, regardless of channel.

Being an authority figure also ensures that you are referenced much more by the industry and in turn by people in their social networks or on their blogs.  All great SEO.

Tip 5 – If you want to create an authority, only people who genuinely know should write and make the pieces thorough.