Marketing Communications: The Language That Drives Business Revenue

An article I tweeted  talks about the increasing emphasis on content creation for marketing: “@Kquesen: The tables turn – in social media marketers must think & act like publishers: 4 tips for building brand & audience …

But that is just one small example. B to B reports that marketers such as Nick Panayi from the IT services company Computer Sciences Corp. have gone all-in with content creation with an in-house department of former journalists who create branded content for their website and social media channels.

Marketers are becoming bloggers and are Tweeting and creating videos and filling Facebook pages. They are creating a lot of content. Content  with value that delivers knowledge, entertainment, something people will choose to engage with like they do newspapers, magazines, and TV. Forbes agrees saying brands such as Virgin Mobile, American Express, Marriott, L’Oreal, and Vanguard are becoming publishers and this is a vital part of their overall strategy.

You may call this content marketing, but it made me think about the overall importance of communications in business. We live in an age of customer-driven capitalism where the customer is now in charge. As Steve Denning, author of Radical Management points out in one example “… focus on customers first doesn’t hurt Whole Foods’s bottom line. The ten year share price of Whole Foods is up 330%, compared +30 percent for the S&P 500, and minus 40% for a traditionally managed supermarket chain like Safeway.” That’s consumer focused communications increasing revenue.

How many e-Books/White Papers do you get invited to download? They are generating valuable sales leads. As I highlighted in an earlier post, Forester Research reports in the book groundswell a case study where a corporate blog is credited with generating five contacts a week – contacts that represent early leads worth millions of dollars to this B to B company’s salespeople. That’s consumer focused communications increasing revenue.

A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article credits carefully worded and tested fundraising e-mails as the main source of $690 million raised online for the Obama campaign. Of hundreds of tested subject lines “Hey” was the most successful bringing in millions of dollars alone. That’s consumer focused communications increasing revenue.

Those are positive examples, but poor communications can cost corporations revenue. Poor communication contributed a great deal to Merck loosing $253 million in the Vioxx trial. The jury was confused by their scientific explanations. The Wall Street Journal reports juror John Ostrom as saying “Whenever Merck was up there, it was like wah, wah, wah. We didn’t know what the heck they were talking about.” That’s poor consumer communications losing revenue.

An Accenture study reports American and European consumers returned over $25 billion in electronics in 2007. Between 60%–85% had nothing wrong ($15.2 and $21.5 billion). Why? Confusing interfaces, features difficult to access, no customer education, and weak documentation. That’s poor consumer communications losing revenue.

In 2006, a disgruntled customer used YouTube and Twitter to spread a music video about United Airline’s mishandling of his $3,500 guitar. Within a week the video received 3 million views (12.5 million by 2012) and coverage in CNN, The Wall Street Journal, BBC and the CBS Morning Show. Fast Company reported that Carroll contacted United for nine months with calls and emails, but only after the video’s success and United’s stock price drop of 10% ($180 million) did the company try to make things right. That’s poor consumer communications losing revenue.

Then there is the tweet that sent the Dow average down 145 points in Spring of 2013. Hackers used @AP to spread a rumor that two explosions had gone off at the White House, injuring the president. This caused a two-minute selling spree in which the Dow stocks dropped $200 billion in value, which emphasized the power of social media content on the financial industry.

Of course no article about communications would be complete without a reference to Apple – the World’s Most Powerful Brand valued at $87.1 billion. In an Entrepreneur article “Steve Jobs and the Seven Rules of Success,” six of the seven rules are communications oriented: Have passion, deliver vision, make connections, create experiences, master messages, and sell dreams.

Jeffrey Rohrs takes this concept to the next level in his latest book Audience: Marketing in the Age of Subscribers, Fans & Followers. Communications, through publishing content, is how you build audience and proprietary audience is a valuable business asset. Whether you are a CEO, CMO, marketer, or entrepreneur communications can be a competitive advantage. Do you believe that what we say and how we say it matters to the bottom line?

Social Media Does Almost Nothing for B2B & B2C Sales? Look Again.

A Google search on the direct phrase that appears above results in 306 unique links. I have seen this report released by Forrester written about a lot. I guess it has gotten so much traction because it does make for a controversial headline – especially with so many writing positively about social media and its untapped opportunities. Beyond that there is a contradiction here that cannot be ignored. For years Josh Bernoff, Senior V.P. Idea Development at Forrester Research has been touring the country espousing the need for corporations to jump into social media. And his book groundswell is chock full of case studies supporting this position.

From groundswell, Jim Cahill, runs a B2B blog for Emerson Process Management and claims three to five contacts a week come from the blog. These contacts represent early leads that can be worth millions of dollars to his salespeople. Taking this one step further Jim could be building his blog readership via links sent out via Facebook and Twitter of his posts. Bernoff’s book also reports how @DellOutlet has tweeted specials on computers for years gaining 1.5 million followers and $7 million direct, “trackable” sales from their Twitter account. But these types of social activities and these specific case studies are not measured by the recent Forrester report.

Is Forrester now abandoning its previous recommendations? The report states that, “less than 1% of transactions could be traced back to trackable social linkss.” The key phrase is “trackable touchpoints.” Dave Chaffey of Smart Insights makes good points about how this headline may be misleading. He says it is a very direct response view of effectiveness that does not look at what has been done to develop awareness and brand preference at the top of the purchase funnel. Users of social media may also not necessarily click on the links within social media, but search or go direct to sites when interested in a purchase. Also, for many brands a large portion of search traffic is brand terms indicating that there is existing awareness and preference that has been influenced somewhere else.

Niles Ulnes of Beyond, says that the 20% of direct visit consumers in the report must be psychic. It says 1 in 5 of new buyers “one trackable touchpoint” people bought on the basis of a direct visit. How did they know to type in the URL in the first place? An additional 27% found the URL by search, but knew enough about the brand to find it via keywords. He also points out that the study was based on a limited number of large e-commerce merchants and was done over a short 14 day period. Ulnes sums up his point saying, “As much data as we can gather from people’s clickstream, we still can’t gather enough to get a complete picture of things. Ideally, you’d be able to put a cookie on a user’s machine as early as possible, and then be able to track each touchpoint along the path to purchase. But the problem with that is that it requires either paid or owned media, and if the consumer hears about it first through word of mouth or social media or even TV, well, you’re just not going to know that.”

We also have to remember other research like a recent Nielsen report that states “Word-of-mouth recommendations and reviews, either from someone they know or a stranger’s opinions online, are the most trusted sources of information for buying decisions.” Don’t be fooled by the headline into thinking you should abandon Facebook and Twitter efforts. An integrated campaign of both new and old methods is always wise.

To be fair to Forrester and Sucharita Mulpuru, the Forrester Analyst that has been associated with this controversial phrase. It is taken out of context when used as a traffic building headline (see above).  And I honestly cannot find evidence on the web that she said it, but I must admit that I have not purchased the $499 report. The direct quote I did find tells a different story. Mulpuru writes, “In spite of changes to the interactive marketing landscape and the growing number of shoppers using mobile and tablet devices to access content, core elements of web marketing continue to be effective.” This quote does not scream abandon Facebook and Twitter. It soberly reminds us not to abandon the less trendy forms of digital marketing that we know are still working. Of course, that doesn’t make as good a headline.

For more on this check out Ted Rubin’s Return on Relationship.