Never mind the traffic. What’s the message?

Just recently, we have been looking at Social Media and where/how it fits into the business marketing picture. Now I don’t know about you but I receive a LOT of offers promoting marketing services. These cover all platforms, including social media.

Back in the day (pre-internet if you can remember that long ago!) marketing services tended to be offering lead generation. A business enquiry (lead) normally meant an opportunity to talk to your prospect. Hopefully, you knew your stuff so, in the dialogue with your prospective customer, you could read them and adapt your message to match their interest/need. This process often leads to a decent conversion rate. I regularly met with business owners who claimed 20%, 30% or even more, conversion from enquiry to customer.

These days, most marketing services have gone online. Let’s face it, the internet has hugely driven down communication costs so marketing online is a no-brainer, however, whether it is Social Media, SEO, Banner advertising, Pay-per-click, or whatever, virtually all of today’s marketing services are offering to generate more web traffic.

Interestingly, all this means is that they will deliver more visitors to your website. You are left to join the dots and equate More Traffic => More Opportunities => More Revenue.

…but do these necessarily follow? I suggest not.

Undoubtedly, a website is a must for most businesses these days. Maybe you operate your business face to face or based on close, professional relationships, as we do? Even so, potential customers and clients still expect a website as a way of checking you out.

Even if your marketing approach delivers prospective clients to your website, what do they see when they get there?

Does your website really tell your story?

Often, creating a new website is a project. You create a design, add some content and launch your website, then move on to something else. If you have got it right, on the day of launch, your website should do a good job of reflecting the reality of what you and your business stand for. However, in my experience, this is (disappointingly) often not the case.

Businesses are inevitably dynamic and changing while too often, a website is static. As your business evolves, don’t forget your website? As time moves on, your website disconnects from your business. It doesn’t tell your story. Even if you are getting good quality, relevant visitors to your website from your target market, there is a growing risk that they won’t see the right message. They need to see the true business proposition and opportunity that you can offer them.

The more this happens, the greater the risk that the link between site visitors and business enquiries is broken.  Effective marketing is joined-up and consistent.

Your website should be dynamic

A modern business website should no longer be the exclusive domain of the techies and designers. It is a key business communication tool so should be at the heart of your business.

Yes, the site should maintain a consistent and logical style and layout, but the content should be dynamic so that, no matter how long ago you launched your website, it reflects your business as it is today. A dynamic website, regularly refreshed will stay relevant to your business and make sure your website visitors are seeing the right message at all times.

Traditionally, you create a website and it then lives for a few years (often in splendid isolation) until the time came for a new site and the process started again. This should not happen now. A dynamic website, joined-up with your business marketing, will evolve along with the rest of your company

Are your site visitors getting the right message?

Don't guess. Measure

At the top of this post, I talked about the connection between website visitors and business opportunities. One of the beauties of the internet is that you can see what happens when people visit your website.

Analytics can have a bit of a learning curve but they are worth the effort.  Using website analytics allows you to join up between site visitors, their engagement with your content and their actions. You can see where they enter your site, how long they stay on a particular page and what content interests them most. Analytics can pretty much tell you what you need to do to make your site interesting and relevant to your visitors. Then all you need to do is make sure that, at the same time, it stays true to your business message.

Deliver your message in a way that engages your visitors. New customers are the natural next step.

The Social Dilemma – Are we part of the problem?

In this week’s podcast we discuss the ethics of marketing on social media. This comes on the back of a recent documentary “The Social Dilemma” where ex social media execs from the likes of Google, Twitter and Facebook talk about the way that social media company business models are impacting on the way we think and live our lives. In essence the model is that they sell our attention, as users of their platforms, to the highest bidder.

On the face of it this is a great model! It allows them to give away their services to the general public and then to make their money from advertisers. But as users we have to remember that as the saying goes “If you are not paying for the product, then you ARE the product!”

The suggestion made by the documentary was that this model was creating a situation where algorithms driving social media platforms were focused on keeping people’s attention, subtly and gradually changing the way they perceive the world. Creating systems where advertisers could use this process to shift users towards their point of view and make them more likely to buy their products or support their activities. One end game of this is that as users we become simply drones plugged into “The Matrix” with the sole purpose of creating value for the social media platform.

On that basis as advertisers, by buying advertising we are encouraging this business model, and we become part of the problem. But as with most things, it’s never that simple!

Things themselves are neither good nor bad

The way I look at it is that the platforms themselves are not good or bad, they are simply tools that do a job! In principal the idea that you have a tool that allows you to shift peoples perception, drawing them in to your point of view is not an issue and as a marketing tool it is powerful. The idea that you can target people very accurately, allowing you to focus your efforts in directions that are most likely to deliver results, means your marketing will be more effective, and you are less likely to irritate people by pushing your message at people where there is little or no relevance.

These algorithms were set out to do a job and they do it very well. As always with these things, the issue lies with what we do with the tools we are given.

It’s all about motivation

Look at any invention or discovery trough history, drugs, splitting the atom, genetic engineering… the list goes on, and there is a debate as to whether its invention was good or bad for humanity. The reality is that in all cases these inventions have brought both good and harm. But once invented, you can not put the genie back in the bottle. As individuals our responsibility is to make sure that we personally use them for good. We can not control what other so with them. That is the job of regulators and governments.

In the case of social media, as marketers we need to explore our motivations. Our role is to promote our point of view/service/product, and convince others that it is in their interest to buy into what we are offering. The question we must ask is – On Balance:

"Are we doing this for their benefit or our own"

I say “On Balance” as in reality it will be a mixture of the two. In most cases, you go into business because you see a benefit to yourself for doing so. But good business should be  Win:Win, with both you and your customers gaining benefit. In some cases it’s clear cut, but in others is it not.  Especially where you are aiming to convince people that your way is better than the status quo. Here you have to be sure that your way is truly better. And not just “better for you”!

Only you can decide

The bottom line is that as a business owner, only you can decide. The important thing is that you actually recognise the potential issues, and take them into consideration when making your marketing decisions. The social media genie is out of the bottle. As a society, the challenge now is how we use it for good!

The many ways to skin a cat

I am quite an opinionated person, and in my youth, I may have been accused of having an “I am right and everyone else is wrong” attitude to life. 50 odd years down the track, I have finally realised that this is a pretty ineffective approach as in reality, I am rarely right, but at the same time neither is anyone else!  Accepting that there is no right way to approach a problem has made life much easier and made me, I believe, more effective in most things I do.

Understanding the team

I have done a few psychometric tests in my time and used other tools to try to understand how to work more effectively. But the one that has stuck in my mind is Meredith Belbin’s study on team dynamics. In short, it categorises people into one of 9 roles within a team and suggests that to be effective, a team should contain all 9. I am now of the opinion that whilst useful, the idea that people fit into neat pigeon holes does not play out in reality. That said, the idea that having a mix of approaches when tackling a task does have significant merit.

Recognising the value of different

In managing a team, whether formally or informally when approaching a task. The real skill is not in knowing how to succeed on your own, it’s more about teasing out the ideas of the team, and focussing these into a strategy and plan that will complete the task.

Coming back to my original point about no one being 100% right about anything. In a team, different people will approach the task in different ways, the skill of a team manager is to identify which elements add value, and to combine these into a whole solution, whilst at the same time uniting the team behind a common approach.

The folly of focussing on your own approach.

Why, if this is the best way to approach an issue, is so much energy expended by leaders trying to convince everyone to do it their way? Persuading people to do it your way may seem like a fulfilling way to approach a problem, but as the saying goes “No man is an island”.  Understanding this and accepting other ideas may be as valid, or, perish the thought, BETTER, than yours, is a good place to start.

Effective results – efficiently

Achieving effective results should be at the heart of every business – whatever this means!

We have been looking at ‘achieving results‘ from two different viewpoints which, taken together, present an interesting dichotomy….

  • In this post, Duncan looks at the value of getting input from all members of a team
  • In the Marketing Matters Podcast, we talk about the challenges of getting your project ‘over the line’

Each of the above makes sense on its own merits. However, taken together they present a conflict. The more people involved in setting and achieving a goal, the more chance of inconsistency and slippage. Either of these can threaten a successful outcome.

As a consequence, many SME business owners find themselves backed into a corner where ultimately, all responsibility comes back to them. Hard work! The team may be willing but they do what they are told!

Give real responsibility to the team – but keep the focus on getting the job done. This can be challenging!

Resolving the conflict…

It is a common mantra at BSA, but it undoubtedly, at the heart of every effective business process is an agreed plan with clear SMART* objectives

*SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed – more information here

If you want to get the benefit of input to your business drawing on the experience of your team members but not risk your plans slipping and failing, a clear plan is the best way to communicate your ideas to others and give them the context in which to add their own suggestions.

Ownership, review and leadership

Having a plan is a great starting point but every member of the team must take ownership of the plan and acknowledge/accept the responsibility for their part in delivering the results. It is important that every element of the plan is ‘owned’ by a member of the team.

The best way to avoid slippage is regular review. These can be formal or informal though at least some more formal review is sensible. Any issues can be picked up, discussed and resolved before they get to big. Reviews can also make sure that actions and target dates are clear and acknowledged by everyone.

As a business owner, aiming for effective results, it may be that your most effcicient approach is to drive the overall process while team members take ownership and responsibility for the elements of the plan that suit their individual experience and skillset.

It isn’t necessary that, as a business owner, you have to do everything.  It is much better to effectively involve your team. Your one essential  contribution to achieving effective results is Leadership.