A B2B social media strategy that works

To be effective, social media needs to be highly interactive and also needs a constant stream of posts to keep your feed “live”. Within the SME arena, where often there is no dedicated social media resource within organisations, finding time to consistently feed social media with relevant posts can be challenging.

Help is at hand – Or is it?

One answer to this dilemma is to use a third party to support you activities. Whilst this can be a viable solution, it does have its drawbacks. At its best social media posting needs to be interactive and personal – it needs to be a conversation between your company and social media users engaged with your brand. On this level, it’s a challenge for a third party to know enough about your business to deliver this type of content. Here, the best person to post is yourself and we are back to square one.

The answer – Divide up the task in hand

Whilst a third party may struggle to handle the more detailed activity, they can create a “baseline” on which you can build the more interactive stuff outlined above. The fact is that not all social media content needs to be personal and conversational. Part of the purpose of social media posts is to develop and present your brand position and posts that deliver this can usually be handled by a third party that knows your business. This “baseline” of activity can then be augmented by the more detailed/conversational posts handled by someone within the organisation as and when they have time. Safe in the knowledge that at times where there is little activity in this area, the social media feeds will be kept live and up to date.

Maintaining the baseline

To illustrate this approach, I would like to take a little time to explain how we handle Social Media in partnership with our clients. In most cases, our job is to maintain a baseline of activity that re-enforces their brand, and helps tell their company story. This will usually be a mixture of third party content from agreed sources, and original material developed in conjunction with clients (usually in the form of blog posts that can be published on their website, and shared on Social Media.) Typically we would be aiming to post anything from daily, on platforms like Instagram and Twitter, to maybe weekly or even monthly on LinkedIn. With The likes of Facebook combing in somewhere in between. This activity forms a “baseline” of activity that can then be supplemented by posts direct by the client as and when they have the time and something to say. Irrespective of this activity, feeds stay relevant and up to date, accurately supporting the companies brand image.

A social media partnership that works

This collaborative approach works well ensuring that anyone browsing the feed to “check out” a company will get the right impression. without the need for day to day activity from within the company. Activity from within the company, when it happens, becomes the icing on the cake. Whilst this approach will not work in every situation, it does make a good starting point without the need for significant investment in internal capabilities. If anyone would like to explore how social media can be made to work for them, get in touch we would love to hear from you.

Planning and action – getting the right balance

In business, especially in smaller businesses, getting the balance right between planning and action is always a challenge. The default position is often, “That’s a good idea, let’s just get on with it”. Whilst this leads to a good deal of action, it is often disjointed, and its effectiveness limited. However, there is a saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail” – Interesting aside: This quote is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin. In reality, there is no evidence to support he ever said it. but whoever coined the phrase, they are wise words. However, take these words to their extreme and you spend the whole time trying to create the perfect plan. As a result, you never actually get around to doing anything! The answer has to be a balance between planning and action. The trick is getting that balance right.

Planning

Planning is an important process but it needs to have a purpose. Furthermore, your plan must ultimately lead to action or it is meaningless. Here are 3 tips for good planning

  • Use a framework. Using a structured framework allows you to take whatever is in your head and get it down “on paper” with some structure. There are many tried & tested planning frameworks out there – Here are some that have stood the test of time.
  • Run your plan by someone else. When working on a plan (especially if you are working on it alone), you can get too close to it. A good way to address this is to pass it by someone else. The concept of a “Critical friend” will help to test your plan. This should be someone you trust to be honest and not just tell you what you want to hear nor just make comment for comment sake. The role of a critical friend is to ask the questions that you either avoided or overlooked when creating the plan.
  • Allocate resources. Setting a realistic and appropriate budget (time, money, or a combination) is important. There is no point in creating an all-encompassing business marketing plan to then realise you don’t have the resources to implement it. At this point, it is also useful to incorporate the concept of S.M.A.R.T. Goals into your planning

Planning is an important first step but the best plan will get you nowhere without proper implementation. Don’t forget, marketing is creative. You have to be responsive, versatile and occasionally willing to go off-piste. A plan gives you structure and guidance but don’t forget you’re working in the real world. If you stick to it blindly, you may miss opportunities, or end up going down ultimately unproductive tracks. Planning needs to lead to action.

Action

Like planning, actions need to be purposeful and focused. Here are 3 tips for making the most of your actions.

  • Be clear. Make sure the people who are involved know their roles and have the knowledge skill and resources to carry them out. Make sure that everyone is clear about the S.M.A.R.T. objectives that were set out during the planning phase.
  • Be versatile. If, whilst in the midst of a marketing programme, you see that an element of your plan isn’t working so well, don’t be afraid to modify it so as to better suit the situation. There is another famous quote stating “NO plan survives the first contact with the enemy”. In reality, when a plan is implemented, something in the real world will not behave as expected. You need to be ready and willing to respond when this happens.
  • Focus on quality. Don’t skimp. If you cut corners or regularly choose the cheap option, it is highly likely you will be less successful. One quality action will normally deliver better than three weaker actions.

If I had to make a choice between planning and action, I would always choose action. Setting off on a journey gives you more chance of reaching your destination than sitting poring over a map – but maybe having a look at the map before you start, deciding the best route and ensuring you have the kit you will need on your travels might not be a bad idea – or even just buy in some expertise and make sure you have programmed the satnav!

I will leave you with my ultimate philosophy of the subject of planning and activity, which is:

"Do stuff and iterate"

Is PR dead, or ready for the 21st Century?

Is PR dead?

If you mean long lunches shmoozing with editors and journalists then I think the answer is yes! But has the pendulum swung too far into the world of SEO, Pay Per Click and Social Media? I read an article on the CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) website asking if Marketers are focusing too much on digital? My answer:

Good marketers are using digital to deliver real marketing benefit - and that includes PR.

PR may have changed significantly over my years as a marketer, but it certainly isn’t dead and anyone who thinks it is might be missing an opportunity.

PR in the 21st Century

At its core, PR is still about getting your message out into the established media and maximising the number of people who see it. As ever, this involves engaging with the publishers who control that media, to convince them that your content has value and is worth including in their publication. What has changed is the number of publishers and the ways you can engage with them. In our experience there are 6 things to consider when working on PR for your business:

  1. Pick your media carefully. Anyone with a Smartphone can start an online publication, but that doesn’t mean it will get read! Do your research and focus your PR onto media (print or online) that has reputation and readership across your target audience.
  2. Build a reputation for good content. You aren’t going to get everything published, but if you use your own blog to publish good, well written and relevant content, you can build a reputation for good writing. Publishers are more likely to take good, relevant writing seriously
  3. Use social media to engage with publishers – Publishers use social media. They need  quality content and social media is a great way to find stories and content worth publishing. Make sure you identify and target content publishers as part of your social media strategy.
  4. Don’t just push your own content – Look to engage with journalists and bloggers. Comment on their content. If your opinions and ideas resonate with them they are likely to remember you when they see your content.
  5. Make your content easy to use –  This particularly relates to using email to communicate with printed press. Make sure you give them all they need to publish your content (easy to use text, high-resolution images, byline information etc.). Generally trade journals have few staff. If you give them content they recognise as interesting to their readers, and make it easy for them to publish, they are more likely to use it.
  6. Don’t dismiss paid options and advertising – Although you should avoid publishers who will use anything from people willing to pay, we should accept that bloggers and publishers are running businesses and need to make a living! If you like a blog/journal, and believe that your target market will read it, then the idea of supporting them financially through sponsorship or advertising may well be worth considering.

Funding for Growth

“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

There have been a number of reports recently focusing on the issue of growth in the SME arena – i.e. businesses up to 250 employees First a few statistics (start of 2014):

  • There are 5.2 million companies in the UK, and over 99% are in the SME Category
  • Combined SME Turnover in 2013 was £1.3 Trillion
  • Growth within this sector last year was 7.4% (compared with overall economic growth of 2.7%)
  • 25% of UK SME have no formal growth plan (The true figure is probably much higher!)

So the SME sector is seeing good growth even though many businesses (and I reckon a majority) have no structured plan for growth. What could be achieved with more planning….More working ON the business rather than IN the business? There is no doubt, there is huge potential for growth within the SME sector, and the government is supporting this opportunity through grant funding for growth to support strategic planning.

g_v ga mas

There are numerous funding sources available and the leading programmes include:

  • Growth Accelerator/leadership & management
  • Growth Vouchers
  • MAS strategic development support
  • Co-Investment funding

BSA Marketing is accredited to work in all of these programmes Although different in their approach, all of these schemes offer support to companies who are looking to develop growth plans, and typically offer 50% contribution to the external costs of developing the plan on a matched funding basis. Growth Accelerator can offer up to 80% funding in some cases. Programmes do tend to be timed and have a specific total funding pot so they do run out sooner or later. This said, there are new programmes launched regularly so it is always worth exploring the options Some people feel these government schemes are more trouble than they are worth but, in our experience, the application process is normally quite straightforward and when the payment of up to £3000 (or more!) arrives, it is all worthwhile! BSA understands the application processes and we are happy to help you.

Don’t forget the action plan

An action plan is a central element of most strategic planning but all to often, with the funding focus on planning, there is the danger that plans are not consistently actioned – yet this is the only way the planned growth results can be achieved! BSA Marketing focusses on both planning AND implementation. We work with you to ensure that things happen – and keep happening! In our experience:

  1. Business development results are significantly improved when a formal plan is in place
  2. The costs of sustaining effective marketing activity are not prohibitive
  3. The up front cost of developing a plan can be prohibitive

This is where the funding comes in. As we are accredited to deliver all of the above schemes, we can access funding to significantly reduce the cost of doing the initial planning. We then have the proven skills and resources to work with you to implement this plan in a consistent and sustainable way, delivering long terms results and growth. If you would like to investigate how we can use these funding schemes to help develop growth plans for your company, Get in touch,  We would love to talk to you

Free Protx Integration for UK Business Forum Members

BSA Marketing have recently been accepted as a Protx Partner. Protx is one of the UK’s leading e-commerce payment gateway providers. The system is inexpensive, and very easy to integrate with the CRE loaded e-commerce Platform. To launch this, and to support ukbusinessforums.co.uk (a great place to get help on a wide range of business matters), if you are a member of the forum, and you apply for your protx account through us, we will integrate the gateway into your CRE or OsCommerce e-commerce system for free (Normally £75+VAT). Find out more about Protx (now SagePay) or Apply for an account here. If you are not a forum member, you can find out how to join here

Joined-up Marketing – The Social Angle

Everyone who reads our blog regularly will know that we are all about joined-up marketing.  It is about using all the appropriate tools available to communicate your story and proposition to your target market in a consistent way that increases the likelihood that when they have a need for your products or services, they will contact you.

In other words, joined-up marketing is about generating business leads.

When you are using email marketing joined-up with your website, the process is quite straightforward. You generate the content (i.e. write a story/produce a graphic or video that helps tell your story), post it on your website and then send an email newsletter to your contacts to get the message out there.

Even in isolation, this process is pretty effective at building your profile within your target market, but it is really a tool for engaging with those people who already know you, and who actively want to receive your information. But what about those who don’t know you? In the age of data privacy, using email to target the wider market is a challenge and not good business practice, but we live in the age of social so, there are other options for targeting these people.

Your target customers will often be using social media, so this is the obvious place to engage with them

The process of bringing the social angle into your joined-up marketing involves 3 steps:

  1. Select your social media platforms
  2. Set up your profiles
  3. Get Social….

Selecting your social media platforms

There are new platforms being launched all the time so it is impossible (and unwise!) to try to give a comprehensive list. This said, the 4 platforms that have made the most impact on SME marketing are:

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Instagram
  • Twitter

I am going to focus on the three most important to the significant majority of our Business to Business clients this is Twitter and LinkedIn, though for anyone operating in more consumer markets, Facebook is also key.

Set up your profiles

I am not planning to go into details of the technicalities here as there is plenty of good stuff already out there:

From a joined-up marketing perspective, the key considerations are:

  • Profile/account name – Make sure these are consistent, and fit closely with your company name. For example our  Twitter name is @bsamarketing and LinkedIn address is /company/bsa-marketing. Even if you are not planning to use a social media channel right now, it might be worth setting up accounts, simply to secure the most appropriate name.
  • Look and feel of your account home page – The look and feel of any social media presence should fit with the design of your website & emails. Where possible use the same logos, fonts, colour palette etc.
  • Message – most importantly make sure that the message you are portraying through your social media presence, is totally consistent with your broader marketing message

Getting Social

Once everything is set up, it’s time to get social and launch into the world of social media, building connections & followers, and using these networks to support the communication of your message; as always, in a joined-up and sustainable way.

Don’t Dismiss Advertising

Marketing your business through Social Media has changed quite a lot over the past few years, and whilst it used to be possible to get great results from organic postings, although this is still a key element of marketing on social platforms, great content is in longer the only thing to consider.

Realistically, to be effective today, you need to consider adding advertising to the mix (Especially when looking at Facebook), but the data available ensures that marketing can be highly targeted, and the stats and analytics available allow careful monitoring of activity and results ensuring that advertising spend is used effectively.

We will be looking at this subject in more detail in future posts, but if you can’t wait and would like to explore the potential of joined-up social for your business straight away, please get in touch with us

LinkedIn Showcase Pages to Replace Products & Services Pages

li_showcase LinkedIn have just announced that as of 14th April, they will cease to support their Products & Services Pages, suggesting that you replace them with LinkedIn Showcase pages. On first thought, this may seem like a bad thing, especially if you have spent time putting together content for this area of your LinkedIn profile! However, take a bit of time to think about it, and it becomes clear that it is an obvious move for LinkedIn, and actually throws up some opportunities.

Why is losing products/services pages not such an issue?

In practice these pages ended up simply clones of the product information areas of your website. This resulted in you having 2 sites to keep updated. It also meant the content tended to be pretty static – not really encouraging the engagement which is at the heart of the LinkedIn philosophy.

So what are LinkedIn Showcase pages?

Showcase pages are LinkedIn pages that allow you to “showcase” a specific area if your business. The page can be branded with a banner image plus a short description (200 characters). The purpose of a Showcase page is to allow updates targeted at a specific area of your business, allowing you to build and engage with followers who have a specific interest in that part of your business. Updates can easily be posted on multiple pages, so posting them on your main company page and the relevant showcase page is simple. The result is that rather than having a static clone of sections of your website, these pages become constantly updated, engaging showcases for what you are doing in specific areas of your business. Although it may require a little more thought to keep these pages fresh with new updates. They will definitely be more dynamic and engaging for visitors. We will be converting our Product pages to showcases over the next couple of weeks, so follow BSA Marketing on LinkedIn to see how we handle the switch.  

Is your marketing joined-up? Answer 5 questions & find out!

A concept that comes up regularly in our thinking is ‘Joined-Up’.

But the reason we use the phrase ‘joined-up’ so much is that to be effective your marketing needs to be consistent across your marketing mix, with all elements connected intelligently to support your overall business & marketing objectives.

Is your marketing joined-up? 

These 5 simple questions will help you find out:

  • Do you have a strategy?

One of the biggest barriers to joined-up marketing is the lack of a strategy. Without a clear strategy as to what you want to achieve and how you are going to market your business to achieve your goals, it is very difficult to deliver consistent, sustained and joined-up marketing communications.

Without a clear strategy, marketing usually becomes a series of disjointed activities driven by the Next Big Marketing Thing (Adwords, SEO, Social Media, Content Marketing etc. etc.).

  • Is your branding consistent?

Even the smallest business has a brand and that brand has an image.

To be joined-up, your brand image should be consistent across all your marketing media:

      • Website
      • Printed materials
      • Offline comms
      • Email
      • Social media
      • etc
  • Do you have a communication plan?

Do you know what you are trying to communicate to the market? Do you measure your marketing content against this?

When you put out a message through any media, you should be clear if and how that fits in with the brand that you are trying to build within your marketplace.

Furthermore your communications plan should look ahead to tell you:

      1. What you are going to say.
      2. When you are going to say it.
      3. What tools/media you are going to use.
      4. Who you are targeting.
      5. Why you are sending this message to these targets.

To be joined-up the plan should look at least 6 months ahead. 12 months is better.

  • Do you stick at it?

When you commit to pro-active marketing communications (eg Email, Twitter, Social Media, Offline (don’t forget mailshot, telemarketing etc) do you then consistently feed this with great content?

It’s not so much about how often you communicate as being sustained in consistently putting out great content that reinforces your position as an expert delivering real benefit to your marketplace.

  • Do you review and refine your activity?

A strategy and its associated communications plan are no good if they are written and then put on a shelf.

They should be living, working documents. Are you doing what you said you’d do? Is this getting you where you want to go?

Your marketing activity should be continually reviewed as a core element of your management process and refined & tuned as you get feedback from the marketplace on your activities.

Answer YES to all 5 of these questions & your marketing is truly JOINED-UP – Congratulations!

If you think your marketing could benefit from being more joined-up, give us a call on 01457 851111 or contact us here

Networking in a joined-up marketing world

Networking is often a key part of the marketing mix for SMEs, so its important that it is fully integrated into a joined-up promotional approach. It is very easy to think of it as a process in isolation rather than a part of a wider strategy.

With this in mind, here are my top tips for joined-up networking:

1. Commit to relevant groups, and go regularly

Anyone who reads our blog will know that we believe marketing is a process, not an event. This is particularly true of networking. One networking group uses the phrase:

'Meet - Like - Know - Trust'

This is how good networking works – and you cannot expect to  work through this process with someone in one conversation

2.Networking is not a lifetime commitment

Business networking is about business development. I have met some great people while networking but it is important not to forget why you are there. If, after 2 or 3 meetings with the same group you just aren’t finding the sort of people your business is looking for maybe this is not the best environment for your needs.

Do remember that networking is not simply a way for you to target new customers. Great suppliers can be found on the networking circuit and a good business is a marriage of supply and demand.

Be realistic about the business value of people you are meeting if not, find a different group

3.Keep it fresh

You are likely to quickly find that a particular network group continues to attract the same people. Entering a room and seeing familiar faces is always comforting but if you get to the point where you know everyone and the business processes have plateaued, maybe you should focus your networking elsewhere – but don’t forget these contacts! See 5 below.

That said, remember, networking meetings are great forum for building relationships as well as finding new ones, so if you have contacts who don’t attend, inviting them to go along could be a good way to strengthen & build on a contact. New blood will also help to keep groups fresh & interesting.

4. Networking is a two way street

Yes, I know your business is important – but so is everyone else’s! Are people really going to Meet-Like-Know-Trust you if you are just pushing the hard-sell? I think not. Yes you need to get your key messages over but you should also give your co-networker chance to do the same. You never know, you might learn something interesting that can help your business and in any event, a bit of mutual respect is a great platform for developing a business relationship.

There is an old sales training cliche “Remember – you have two ears and one mouth”. It is good to remember this when networking too. Listening to others rather than simply telling people your story is a great way to build trust.

5. Quality ahead of quantity

If there is one networking style that winds me up, it is the “Hit and Run” networker  Say hello to as many people as possible, tell them what you do, swap cards then move on – We have all met them! Can you honestly say you like their approach to you? Perhaps not.

A classic example occurred recently; I was having an interesting conversation with a co-networker when a third person approached us and stated:

“I don’t mean to interrupt but…”

Actually, you do! The interloper then proceeded to ignore that we two had been in conversation and started to spout about their ‘unique approach to recruitment’

I can’t remember their name, only their interruption. The card they thrust into my hand went into the bin.

Having 2 or 3 good conversations is better than collecting lots of business cards.

This means it will take you a few visits to get to meet most of the group, but you will have the chance to find something out about them, and tell them something about you and your business in a considered, professional and respectful way, is this really a bad thing? It is certainly what the sophisticated networker does!

6. Networking doesn’t finish when you walk out of the door.

This is the key to integrating networking into your wider Marketing, as the networking doesn’t finish when you walk out of the door.

OK, you are having good conversations and establishing that some of the contacts you make could be good business opportunities. But then what? It is rare that there is an immediate sales opportunity so how do you make sure these prospects don’t ‘slip through the net‘?

There are some fantastic tools for building relationships on-line too, but those started off-line are always going to be stronger, so feeding contacts made at networking events into a system to keep in touch on-line using like LinkedIn (an obvious and perfect online partner to networking), twitter or email ensures that its just not when you are in the room that people hear your name.

7. Play the long game!

I really believe that good B2B selling is a more subtle art than it used to be. The days of the ‘foot in the door – never take no for an answer’ are gone. Gentle persuasion is more the name of the game. Most people don’t appreciate having their arm twisted up their back but if you just sit back and wait for something to happen, you could be waiting a long time.

People buy from those they trust, and building trust takes time. Don’t try to force your business relationships – allow things to develop steadily but stay focused on your business objectives.

I have numerous examples where I have developed excellent, long term customers taking months (or even years!) to get to the first sale while trying to force a sale too quickly often closes the opportunity for good. Being pushy doesn’t help!

Joined-up networking – In summary:

  • Be Respectful & Professional
  • Have a process – and use it
  • Focus on long rather than short term objectives
  • Remember to link your “in the room” networking with online tools like LinkedIn & email
  • Be ready to cut your losses and move on if it is not working for you.

'Low Hanging Fruit' – Tempting but dangerous

The danger of too much focus on low hanging fruit ‘Low Hanging Fruit’ can offer a quick-win for a business but is it wise to ignore the wider picture?

Method Marketing?

Our philosophy is to practice what we preach. We believe taking this approach gives us a hands-on understanding of the issues we address with our clients. We like to think of this as ‘method marketing’ Over the last few months we have been involved with a specialist consultant as part of the Growth Accelerator programme. The programme looks to deliver economic benefits to the UK through helping good, potentially high growth companies to develop in a managed & sustainable way. Very quickly it has become clear that one of the key drivers of growth is sustained, joined-up marketing.

It’s not all about short-term

As an SME, it is all too easy to be focused on the short term. We often find clients talking to us about wanting to “get the quick win” or “pick the low hanging fruit (or other similar cliches!). Although identifying and exploiting these should always be a part of a joined-up marketing strategy, all too often they become the only goal! This tends to result in marketing being short term and disjointed.

Think to the future

The Growth Accelerator process encourages business owners to stop looking at performance over the next 6-12 months, and rather think about how to deliver performance over the next 3 years and beyond! In our own case, we are starting to take a longer term view of our marketing. Rather than  concentrating on what we need to do to drive the business over the next 3-6 months (which is mainly a ‘done-deal’ anyway!), we are moving to think about what processes we should be putting in place to deliver even more client-value in the longer term, and then how can we communicate this value offering to our market in a sustainable and joined-up way over the coming years.

Be realistic

Inevitably, the short term is still important. As an SME, you shouldn’t lose sight of the short term needs of the business, but surprisingly (or maybe not?), taking a more long-term, joined-up approach to our business development, is benefiting the short term opportunities too! The quick win and low hanging fruit are there to be had/picked, but we are starting to learn, that maybe we don’t need to spend all our marketing effort looking for them!