Rich Clark Marketing

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


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2017 – The Year of Change

So after what seems a long and hard 2016, this year promises to bring a time of change and opportunity.  I have swapped the five-day a week commute from Bedfordshire to Manchester with boohoo for a more balanced life.

2017

Already under the belt are a couple of freelance projects, one a strategic project international expansion using marketing as the vehicle and the other a full content and brand marketing strategy for a new(ish) business.

One Non-Exec/Advisory role is already confirmed with the young and ambitious team at music festival/events company Strawberries and Creem, lead by the very impressive William Young.  Other discussions are underway in terms of Non-Exec roles which I cannot obviously reference unless I sign up to them.

Alongside this, I face the gruelling dilemma of whether to fiercely progress my own company as my sole focus or get a grown up job.  Either way, I do believe I have the network and people in place to also progress the content marketing idea that I have long held as important and a focus since my days at Dixons.

Obviously I have neglected the blog and looking at some of my older posts, I can’t believe how far both myself and the industry has gone in the five years or so, since I last regularly posted.  I almost deleted the blog and started again, but I think its good to see the journey.

I will do my best to keep this up to date, posting largely opinion based pieces of content with an honest, rather than industry accepted point of view.  You can expect comment on brand, content, digital, international, social and anything else that catches my eye.  I hope you find this of interest and if not, then I am sure you have thousands of sources already that you can rely on.

If anybody has any ideas on areas they would like covered, please feel free to let me know.

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Worth A Comeback?

Worth A Comeback?

I haven’t been looking at this blog for quite some time now.  I have been concentrating on the successful launch of Music Eyz and helping others with their approach to their content and social media.

Its been over two years since my last post and the world has come a long way, both the real world and the digital world.  The economy has gone through a recession and appears to be out the other side.  London has hosted a “really successful” Olympic Games and Man Utd aren’t the best football team in the country any more.  (Before anybody says it, yes I know Spurs aren’t either).

The things is, whilst there has been a lot of change in the real world, the digital world has evolved at an alarming rate.  The mainstays of digital marketing PPC and affiliates, whilst still important, are being rivaled.  The world of content, on-site merchandising and social media are massive tools in every digital professionals armoury.

Image of Word content made of dice

Content is King

Whilst their can be many explanations for the rise in importance of the newer disciplines, the two key ones for me are Google and customers.

Either way, one of the reasons I stopped blogging was because, in my view, there was little value to be added to the discussions around the main digital acquisition channels.  Yes my experience is extensive and some people may have found the insight interesting or even useful, but you could get that from anywhere.  My inspiration for a comeback is that very few people have produced great content relating to content, merchandising and genuine views on the commercial aspects or quality of Social Media.

Now this post isn’t meant to be self-idulgent.  This post is genuinely to get my thoughts and potential direction of the blog on a screen.  Just to see if this makes sense and is “Worth A Comeback”  If you are reading this, I would love to hear your views.  Do you think I should kick this off again?  Do you agree about my sentiment around a lack of quality resource in this space? Am I wasting my time and yours?

I may just do it anyway, but would be great to hear from you all.

But in the words of LL Cool J, “Don’t call it a comeback, I been here for years”

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out

LL Cool J Mama Said Knock You Out


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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.


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Affiliate Marketing (for Merchants) – Part 1

Affiliate Marketing (For the Merchant)- Part 1

Long gone are the days when affiliates used to solely be one man in his bedroom, hacking about with some clever code.  In addition most merchants are more savvy to the opportunities affiliates can present when working in partnership.  Gone are the easy pickings of brand bidding and in the main, gone are the days when merchants used to treat affiliates as a second-class channel.

Affiliate Marketing is one of the most established online marketing channels.  Affiliation can provide everything from volume of clicks or UVs, e-Mail address collection and most commonly sales or leads.  Part One of my guide is centred around the more novice internet marketing professional, call it a beginners guide if you like.

Working out the commercials

The main benefit the channel provides merchants is a manageable approach to customers where costs can easily be controlled.  Merchants should know their margins and in turn know how much margin they can afford to give in terms of a commission (commission being the operative word, more later).  If the programme operates on a CPA basis the maths are straightforward.  If my product makes retails at £100 and I make 20% margin, my profit is £20.  I then know that if I want a 4:1 return on my spend my CPA would be set at £5.  Simple.  Remember if you are using an affiliate network you need to account for their over-ride (standard industry practice is 30% of commission.  In this case it would be an additional £1.50 (which already negatively effects your ROI.

Tip 1 – When working out your CPA to hit ROI targets, build in any network over-rides or additional costs to understand a true Net CPA and ROI.

Tip 2 – The networks will hate me for saying this, but the over-ride can normally be negotiated (if you are a merchant of either perceived value or revenue potential).

Choosing a network or going direct?

This is an age old debate within the sector.  The majority of merchants use an affiliate agency such as Affiliate Window or Commission Junction.  The benefits of using a network (even if you have an internal affiliate team) are numerous.  The major ones from my experience are the fact that payment to affiliates and expensive programme admin are taken care of.  Affiliates are a networks business and as such the platforms are built to take into account affiliate needs (much cheaper than merchants doing it from scratch).  Finally, the fact that the networks know all the affiliates and should be able to guide you on who to partner with.  They can also do some of the lengthy selling-in and negotiation with both established and up and coming affiliates, that direct merchants may not be aware of.

But what about Amazon?  Yes Amazon are one of the key success stories in terms of going direct.  However their entire model (as a vanilla pureplay) meant that they could set the system up from scratch.  The prices and range are so broad that affiliates fight to work with Amazon, rather than the opposite way round with a majority of merchants.

The main benefit of the Amazon approach is that they know their categories better than any network ever can.  They also know their stock and pricing in real-time rather than relying on a third party to update feeds.  They can speak passionately about promotions and campaigns and the affiliates hear it directly.

Tip 3 – Take the best of both approaches. Use the networks to manage and administer the account but work jointly on relationships with key affiliates

That leads me neatly on to the point I told you to keep an eye out for in the earlier post.

Commission

Affiliates will always want more as this is their bread and butter.  Merchants will inevitably want to pay less as it hits their margins.

My view is that if you treat the outlay as commission you should hit a fair level.  I have always considered my top revenue driving affiliates as a virtual sales force.  They are my sales people out on the road that can get people’s attention and drive them to my virtual shop window.

Like a physical sales force, this virtual salesforce will be motivated by money.  However the virtual sales force may be even more motivated by the commission they can earn.  This isn’t due to greed but related to the fact that the majority of this virtual salesforce has to place their own investment in.  That may be monetary through Google adwords or through effort and opportunity cost through the likes of SEO or social media.

Whilst your virtual sales force will be reactive to the commission structures you put in place and any additional incentives, the majority are also pragmatic enough to realise that you can only reach a certain level, before it becomes impossible for you to maintain.

As with physical sales forces, incentives can prove extremely motivational.  A push to go the extra mile.  Whether that is by taking advantage of a sponsorship property you have and offering tickets.  Inviting affiliates to attend a bespoke event or cold hard cash.  All can influence an affiliate.  However with the more experiential incentives, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a parallel increase in revenue.

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force. Reward them and the commission negotiations are normally easier and fairer all round.

Types of affiliates

As I said in the intro of the post, gone are the days of one man in his bedroom trying to earn a quick buck.  Nowadays, affiliates are some of the brightest online marketers or smartest developers.  You must define your strategy and decide what affiliates you should work with and to what level and on what basis.  Below are a few examples of different types of affiliates

Cashback – this is possibly the biggest area of growth within affiliate marketing.  Sometimes thought of as the pariah within the affiliate community, the growth is in part due to the economic climate.  Essentially, these affiliates pass on all or part of the commission you give them, directly back to the customer.  Sites such as Quidco and TopCashBack fit into this category

Loyalty – the name is slightly misleading in terms of the loyalty is normally with the affiliate and little loyalty will be passed on to the merchant.  Essentially working in the same way as Cashback, except rather than cold hard cash being placed into a customers bank account, points are awarded.  Examples of these are Nectar and Airmiles.

Voucher Codes – if Cashback sites are though of by some affiliates as pariahs, then voucher codes are seen as bandits.  Essentially these sites provide details of all the codes available, people click on a link to reveal the code and generally a cookie is placed on the customer’s PC, meaning that affiliate gets the commission.  Its at this point I feel compelled to say that these views are not my own.  Both Cashback and voucher code sites perform specific roles within a merchants mix.  Whilst I accept some cannibalisation will take place, there are a number of customers that wouldn’t buy without this bargain mechanic.  Examples of this type of affiliate include MyVoucherCodes and VoucherCodes.co.uk

PPC – there are some affiliates that specialise in PPC (sponsored terms in the search engines).  PPC can be a grey area in affiliates and you need to have strict control over who can bid and on what terms.  If you don’t have a PPC agency or any internal expertise, these affiliates can provide great top-up resource to your own PPC activity

Tip 5 – Understand your PPC strategy and place clear T&Cs in your programme on PPC restrictions, such as brand bidding, using your brand name in the URL, direct linking etc

Content – this is potentially where affiliates started out.  People generally with a personally interest, creating great content that they just want people to read.  These sites then realised that they could potentially make money from their sites and started selling advertising.  This could be anything from one person with their site on a topic of personal interest such as making orange food, to more established content sites such as The Sun.  Although blogs are rightly considered social media, I would place them in this section.  Nowadays blogs seem to be more geared towards providing useful content and information as opposed to the web log (diary) approach that was intended.

Price Comparison – another type of affiliate that isn’t normally relevant to all merchants is Price Comparison.  The standard of these types of sites are varied.  Some use bespoke software that allows them to scrape the web for up to date prices and deals.  The others (more akin to traditional price comparison engines) take a feed once a day and produce pricing information.  Networks have developed increasingly sophisticated tools to simplify the process for affiliates to add Price Comparison functionality to their content (the best example being Affiliate Window’s, Shop Window).  There are some broad price comparison engines available through affiliate networks, however the more successful ones for merchants tend to be the more focussed engines such as Whiteboxdeals, a Price Comparison engine specialising in large domestic appliances such as washing machines and ovens.

Social Media – with the low cost of entry of social media and the advances in affiliate technology from networks means a new wave of affiliates are emerging.  These are the ones that have embraced the newer technologies such as Twitter and Facebook.  Whilst all the research indicates that recommendation by a friend, either in person or online, is the most powerful tool, please be aware.  Some people using social media tools are not just making recommendations to their network but creating brand accounts.  This is especially true in Twitter where minimal dev work is needed.  That being said, there are a number of affiliates that have made social media work and come up with creative solutions or use an established network.

Tip 6 – If you consider using Social Media affiliates, ensure your T&Cs are very clear in terms of people using your brand name.  Also, vet applications very carefully.  Some people end up spamming contacts, which reflects badly on the merchant.

OK, so that’s it for Part 1.  In part 2 I get a bit more practical, rather than just an introduction.  I will look at what types of affiliates different sectors/merchants could be best placed using.  I will look at which affiliates and approaches you could use for different stages of a business of product lifecycle and I will also review the methods of building relationships and rapport with affiliates either directly or through the networks.  I may even explore the age-old debate about single Vs multiple network.  If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.

Finally, here is a recap of the tips

Tip 1 – Build in all costs to determine CPA (inc network over-ride)

Tip 2 – Negotiate your network over-ride

Tip 3 – Take a collaborative approach with your network to managing affiliate relationships

Tip 4 – Treat your affiliates as a virtual sales force

Tip 5 – Understand your own PPC strategy and reflect this in your PPC T&Cs

Tip 6 – Have clear T&Cs on affiliate use of Social Media and tightly manage applications

If there is anything else you would like me to cover leave me a comment here.


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Missing Blog Posts

So as some regular readers of my blog will have noticed I haven’t posted any articles recently.  Firstly I would like to apologise, this isn’t because I have lost interest but due to the fact that I have recently changed roles and endure a daily 2 hour commute each way.

So what am I doing now?

Having made my career progress at DSGi taking over all Online Marketing, Design and Content for Currys, Dixons and PC World,  I dBest Buy Logoecided it was time to seek a new challenge.  Thankfully plenty of offers were on the table and I was lucky enough to choose from some fantastic opportunities.   I decided to opt for remaining in Consumer Electronics retailing but try my hand at delivering my experience within a start-up.  The opportunity at Best Buy (as reported in NMA) allowed me to set up a department and functions from scratch.

Carphone Warehouse Store Front

Whilst Best Buy aren’t your traditional start-up (part of the World’s largest Consumer Electronics Retailer) it does mean you get involved in absolutely everything.  Formulating strategy, developing plans and ensuring buy-out throughout the entire organisation.   Add in the Carphone Warehouse (who I am supprting on a consultancy basis)  element and you get an organisation of amazing scale and opportunity.

 

 

Back to tradition

In addition to truly formulating the online marketing approach I am also, driving the overall brand and comms strategy, everything from brand architecture and positioning through to developing a fully integrated comms strategy.  All this in conjunction with the Head of Marcomms, allowing us to really plan from a joined up foundation from day one.  A really refreshing approach and one that has to be the way forward.  The main obstacle blocking generally preventing this from happenning is the fact that many online marketers don’t have experience in branding or ATL comms.  Luckily my experience at both Reuters and Nationwide is helping me lead and define the approach

More to come

Whilst I can’t promise to be as active as I once was on this blog, I will start to try and produce more articles again.  Thanks to everybody for reading and thanks for the positive and constructive feedback both through the comments on the blog and via e-mail.  Also look out for updates on Best Buy as we get closer to our 2010 UK launch.


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Free Online Promotion

Free Lunch?

OK, so not everybody is an SEO genius, able to generate copious amounts of free website traffic.  What other options are there?  The beauty of “Web 2.0” is that most of the concepts are still trying to find their commercial purpose. A a consequence the majority still offer free possibilities for any business. If you are clever and have something decent to offer you can also find your message or promotion spreading exponentially.

1.Facebook offers real opportunities to get your message out there, via your personal profile, a company page and/or groups
2. Twitter – its one of the most talked about sites at the moment and you can easily send your message to thousands
3. MySpace, if you’re related to music, this is still the place to put your messages – millions still look at MySpace
4. YouTube – depending on the concept, good video with a viral element will gain great mass coverage and quickly
5. Classifieds – places like GumTree and even eBay are great place to put your message out there
6. Directories and search engines – these are critical to your success
7. Guerilla – use tactics on forums, chatrooms to get your message out, but make sure they are relevant or you will be hounded out and lose any credibility
8. Produce blogs and articles, some good resources have already been listed in terms of areas to place and feed content.
9. Yahoo! Answers. Become a knowledge partner, great source if your area is interesting and has a number of questions
10. Do some real PR and contact online publications or journalists. You really need to sell yourself – I don’t think Press Releases are enough, you need to make contact with the key figures.

These are just ten ideas, however there are endless opportunities and if you want to put even just a small amount behind it, you can really make it take off.