Want customers? Invest in social media


If you aren’t generating leads through social media, it’s time to rethink your marketing game plan. That’s a major takeaway from The 2012 State of Inbound Marketing, a new report from marketing software provider HubSpot. Among the report’s conclusions: 62 percent of companies say that social media has become more important as a source of leads in the past six months. And 81 percent of businesses rate their company blogs as useful, important, or critical.

Based on response from nearly 1,000 executives, The 2012 State of Inbound Marketing assesses how businesses use inbound marketing – or tactics such as social media, content publishing, and search engine optimization that are designed to “pull” prospects and customers toward your business. Why the focus on inbound marketing? Because brands that invest in inbound marketing report a 61-percent lower cost per lead than those that focus on outbound marketing tactics such as telemarketing or trade shows, according to HubSpot.

Moreover, inbound channels produce higher quality leads: leads from SEO have a 14.6 percent close rate, compared to a 1.7 percent close rate for leads from outbound marketing sources.

One of the major findings of the report is the impact of social media and company blogs on lead generation According to the report, “The use of social media and company blogs not only gets your company better brand exposure, but it also generates leads that result in real customer acquisition. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are becoming more useful ways to acquire customers with significant growth in 2012. Similarly, company blogs continue to be strong performers as 57% of companies have acquired a customer from that channel.”

Other major takeaways:

  • More marketing dollars are going to social: the average budget spent on company blogs and social media has increased from 9 percent to 21 percent in 2012.
  • Company blogs usually lead to customer acquisition: nearly six out of 10 companies with a blog have acquired a customer from their blog.
  • Frequent blogging makes an impact: 70 percent of companies that blog at least two-to-three times per week have acquired a new customer from their blog. Only 43 percent of companies that blog less than monthly have acquired a new customer from blogging.
  • Facebook delivers customers in the business-to-consumer world: 77 percent of B2C companies say they have acquired a customer through Facebook.
  • LinkedIn delivers results for business-to-business companies: 65 percent of B2B companies have acquired a customer through LinkedIn.

The message is clear: social media is more than a brand-building tool. Social media delivers customers. For more information, check out this blog post from HubSpot. In addition, on March 1 at 1:00 p.m. EST, HubSpot will discuss the report via a webinar – register here. Let me know what you think of the report.

The value of small ball

My latest post for the iCrossing Great Finds blog reflects on a recent Social Media Week panel appearance by Richard Dorment of Esquire magazine, iCrossing Chief Strategy Officer Adam Lavelle, and Jermaine Dupri, CEO of So So Def Recordings. Dorment, Lavelle, and Dupri had a lively conversation about Dupri’s bold decision in 2011 to launch his own branded social network, Global 14. The lifestyle community has blossomed into a tightly knit network of 33,000 passionate brand loyalists who share Dupri’s interests that range from fashion to hip-hop. Dupri’s personal approach — he blogs and corresponds with the Global 14 community frequently — provides a lesson in creating brand intimacy. It turns out Dupri is a trend setter. Since Dupri launched Global 14, Lady Gaga has announced the creation of her own social network, and celebrities are forming branded cable TV stations. What sets Dupri apart:

  • His personal involvement.
  • How he’s used Global 14 to broaden his brand beyond hip-hop and into fashion, relationships, and other lifestyle interests.
  • The integration of Global 14 with the offline world, as seen through his recent Crown Life 1414 Tour, which saw Dupri visit 14 cities in 14 days to introduce Global 14 members to each other via parties he hosted.

The Social Media Week panel gained coverage in publications such as Black Enterprise, Differences, Mashable, Heidi Cohen’s blog, and PSFK.  As I note in my Great Finds post, I think smaller, specialized sites like Global 14 are resonating because they speak to people and brands looking for an alternative to the sprawling and impersonal world of Facebook. What do you think?

How well do you understand digital marketing ROI?


Digital is supposed to be the the most accountable of all marketing channels, but it turns out that measuring return on digital advertising spend isn’t so easy. Why? Because that most nimble and fast moving of creatures, the modern-day consumer, has a way of confounding the most determined marketer. We bounce from display ads to websites to Facebook brand pages as we make a purchase decision. We share opinions with each other on consumer review sites and through good-old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations. Our complex behavior has given rise to an entire profession of analytics experts who specialize in using tools and models to understand how and when consumers purchase goods and services. With insights gained from analytics, marketers can make better decisions about where to invest their marketing dollars — display ads, search marketing, social media, and the like. On February 22, through a webinar sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association, my iCrossing colleague Doug Bryan discussed some of the models that marketers can use to understand how consumers behave on the web. I provided live  coverage on the iCrossing Great Finds blog. You may read my post here and view Doug’s presentation via the link provided at the top of this post. Happy returns on your marketing investment.

Whitney Houston’s great comeback

Whitney Houston was a fading musical star when she died suddenly on February 11. Within the past decade, her moments of glory – a Top 10 single in 2001 and a chart-topping album in 2009 – were infrequent and overshadowed by embarrassments such as her short-lived reality TV series with Bobby Brown. But upon her death, she became hot again. As The New York Times reported, her music “rocketed back on the charts and radio,” with a nearly 60-fold increase in album sales and 2.4 million streams of her songs on Spotify (up 4,000 percent from the day before her death was reported). Houston is not the only star whose death has launched a second career, with Amy Winehouse providing another recent example. Which begs the question – why?

I think the answer is this: artists like Whitney Houston become brands for their audiences, and brands have indefinite shelf lives. The content they create – in Houston’s case, music – is but a small part of their brand persona, which is perpetuated through news coverage of their lives (whether positive or negative) and chatter on social media (Houston’s death was reported initially on Twitter). And, as well stated by Business Insider, when stars die young, they seal in our minds an all-important element of any brand: their visual identity, forever preserved the way we remembered them (unlike say, Mick Jagger, who destroyed his own brand as a sexual icon by simply growing old).

When Amy Winehouse’s death triggered her own career comeback, I asked a similar question. I uncovered the following answer from blogger Ryan O’Connell – an analysis that rings true as I consider the rebirth of Whitney Houston:

In American culture especially, we worship celebrities. They’re our version of royalty and I suppose that’s why we take celebrities’ deaths so personally . . . Americans love to tear celebrities down . . . and then we love to bring them back up. We love a comeback even more than a downfall. And what’s perhaps most tragic about Winehouse and the reason why so many people flipped out over her death is that she never got her happy ending. We were never able to rehabilitate her and put a bow on her next album. That’s what we wanted most of all, right? To see her happy and healthy? But it’s hard to tell if those wishes were ever genuine. It’s hard to discern whether or not we truly gave a shit about Amy Winehouse or if we just needed her to fit the typical celebrity narrative.

Like any brand persona, Whitney Houston’s belongs to her audience to shape as we see fit. In a provocative Slate article, “Who Killed Whitney Houston?” J. Bryan Lowder even suggests that Houston played the role of troubled diva that her audience expected of her. “If the public bears any responsibility in this case, it’s in not admitting that a peaceful, well-adjusted Whitney simply wouldn’t have worked,” he writes. “We didn’t just enjoy watching her fall apart; we required it as a condition of our allegiance. And, like any good diva, in the end, she delivered.”

Today she’s delivering by assuming another role the public loves from a brand persona: the great comeback. Had she lived, it’s unlikely she could have fulfilled this role. Her once pristine voice was ravaged by drug abuse, and her recent live shows had earned her less-than-stellar reviews in the United Kingdom and Australia. But now that Houston is gone, her audience need not be distracted by such inconvenient realities. Her comeback belongs to us to create as we see fit.

What is content marketing?


Occasionally I am asked how content marketing differs from other forms of building a brand. After all, doesn’t all marketing contain content of some sort?
Two recent blog posts I wrote for the iCrossing Content Lab illustrate how content marketing consists of building your brand by sharing useful ideas that engage  people. For instance, the February 15 post “How Clorox Used Content Marketing to Help Me Fix a Toilet” discusses a Clorox how-to video that rescued me from a plumbing problem (a perfect example of a brand engaging you by sharing a useful idea).
And on February 16, I reviewed a new Altimeter Group report that contains some excellent examples of how brands are applying content marketing, one of them being the case of Eloqua, which has differentiated itself through a compelling thought leadership program run by Joe Chernov.
My own employer iCrossing uses content marketing to build connected brands (or brands that build close relationships with consumers by being useful, usable, visible, desirable, and engaging). In 2011, iCrossing issued a noteworthy report designed to help companies become content publishers in real time, and then, as discussed here, iCrossing made a number of other moves to deepen its content marketing expertise, especially to help brands create more personal relationships with audiences. As a result of iCrossing’s commitment to building its own brand through useful content, Jeff Ernst of Forrester Research cited iCrossing as an example of how to differentiate through thought leadership.
I also recommend following the Content Marketing Institute to immerse yourself in content marketing.

What is content marketing? The future of marketing.

The CMO’s Guide to Pinterest

Pinterest is a lot more than a shiny new tool to help you decorate your home – it’s a platform for marketers to build connected brands in visually compelling ways. In a  newly published point of view, The CMO’s Guide to Pinterest, my iCrossing colleague Sarah Kuntsal discusses how brands ranging from Real Simple to Nordstrom are thriving with Pinterest.

As Kuntsal asserts, any marketing executive who cares about creating close customer relationships and driving sales needs to take a close look at Pinterest. Although Pinterest is new, the social bookmarking tool has already attracted a loyal base of subscribers. The site is especially popular with female and arts/crafts enthusiasts between the ages of 25 and 44 – and this audience is highly engaged on Pinterest, which is a reason why major brands are taking notice.

According to Kuntsal, brands using Pinterest are realizing substantial increases in referral traffic. Real Simple reports that at times, Pinterest has even bested referrals from Facebook.

The CMO’s Guide to Pinterest provides brief case studies on how Real Simple, Nordstrom, and Lands’ End Canvas have generated brand love on Pinterest. The report offers six Pinterest best practices for your own brand, such as integrating Pinterest into your content calendar.

Pinterest continues to generate no shortage of attention. Other examples related to Kuntsal’s white paper include this Quora thread about brands on Pinterest, a recent TechCrunch article, and Brands, Businesses, and Blogs on Pinterest.


Jermaine Dupri builds a real community with Global 14

Look at the headlines Facebook has generated lately: the company files for a multi-billion dollar initial public offering. Mark Zuckerberg spends $700,000 flying private planes in one year. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg begins building a new mansion in Menlo Park, California. There’s one important element missing from these stories: community. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited about Global 14, a social community that music mogul Jermaine Dupri launched in 2011 – and the catalyst for a co-branding relationship that Dupri and my employer iCrossing announced on February 8. As a community of shared interests, Global 14 offers a model for brands and advertisers who might seek an alternative to the sprawling 850-million member country known as Facebook.

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How to write great headlines

You need to write a great headline to get anyone to read what you have to say – especially now, when your audience is probably reading your ad copy, website landing page, or blog post while multi-tasking with their mobile phones and laptops. But how do you write a compelling headline?Beth Fox, a copywriter with my employer iCrossing, has provided an answer through a newly published how-to article, “7 Ways to Write Eye-Popping Headlines.” The piece, which appeared on the Content Marketing Institute blog, offers practical tips, such as the importance of using numbers and lists and why it’s better to tease your audience with a little information.

“If you give away all of the important information in the headline, people won’t feel the need to read more,” she writes. “For example, the headline “High-Cholesterol Eggs May Lead to Heart Disease” gives away the entire story. Instead, something like “Breakfast Foods You Should Think Twice About” is more intriguing. It entices the reader to discover more.”

Writing effective headlines is so crucial – and challenging – that Copyblogger also offers an 11-part series (yes, 11 parts) on the topic. And popular blogger Jason Falls suggests tips from the perspective of someone who both writes and searches for compelling content.

Want to get practice with headline writing? One tip to get you started: go on Twitter each day and try to write something compelling in 140 characters or less. There’s no better way to get practice – and you can measure your success by how many retweets you get.

An update from 2016: since I wrote this post in 2012, the proliferation of content-writing resources continues to be a boon for bloggers everywhere, including those of us who sweat over the challenge of crafting the perfect headline. For instance, First Site Guide publishes a number of useful guides relevant to this blog post. More about First Site Guide here.

Life in the hip-hop underground with Symon G. Seyz

Hip-hop artist Symon G. Seyz lives not for record sales but for the passion of making music. The 28-year-old rapper is a member of the hip-hop underground – where unsigned musicians find audiences by giving away their own mixtapes on the streets, performing at clubs and private parties, and using Twitter as their de facto booking agents and PR support.

You won’t find the hip-hip underground in the pages of Hip Hop Weekly but on social community Global 14, where many hip-hop artists are connecting with audiences and others like them. In fact, Global 14 is where I met Symon G. Seyz, a resident of Hammond, Indiana, an industrial town just south of Chicago.

In the following interview, Symon G. Seyz, a teacher by day and rapper by night, provides an open assessment of what it’s like to create and share your music in the hip-hip underground. And he has a lot on his mind. He believes hip-hop has an image problem, and he worries that maybe he’s too clean to be cool for hip-hop – or at least what middle-class America wants to hear from the art form.

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NFL magazine: fumble or first down?

What publication do you read for in-depth coverage of the Super Bowl? Sports Illustrated or ESPN online, perhaps? If the National Football League has its way, your future choice will be NFL magazine, a recently launched publication covering all things NFL. By issuing its own official magazine, the NFL becomes the latest high-profile brand turned publisher. NFL magazine faces some obstacles, one of which is sports media saturation and a low profile in the digital world. The publication can succeed by becoming more digitally savvy and catering to content-hungry fantasy football enthusiasts.

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