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It’s all about the Marketing Buzz!

One common term used to describe marketing buzz is volume, which quantifies the number of interchanges related to a product or topic in a given time period. Basic ROI measurement of marketing buzz includes higher numbers of visits, views, mentions, followers and subscribers.

The next level of ROI measurement of marketing buzz—such as shares, replies, clicks, re-tweets, comments and wall posts— provide a better indication of the participants’ engagement levels because they require action in response to an initial communication.  There is also an increased level of direct public relations engagement with third party influencers, including media, industry analysts and other thought leaders.

How do you know if your company has marketing buzz?

  • The company is officially recognized by industry analysts or other third party influencers.
  • Companies with marketing buzz outperform in press release distribution results.
    • The average number of views for a “start-up’ company (3-5 years old) is around 1,000 – 1500 media views. When your Company reaches 5,000 views and above, something is driving the “buzz” factor.
    • In a similar vein, a high click through rate of a company’s press release, media impressions and multimedia views are good ways to measure marketing “buzz.” (Your distribution company can give you performance metrics and ROI measurement).
  • Company buzz increases attention from even those that play “hard to get.”
    • You’ll have a higher rate of response from reputable publications as well as an increased interaction level with industry players overall.
    • Even in a time when “earned” company stories are rare, a company with “buzz” finds its way into the pages of high-end media outlets and has more pick-up in totality with the total number of outlets engaged.
    • Industry analysts and other 3rd party thought leaders will be knocking on your door for a request for introduction.
  • Web hits and social media
    • While it may be hard to establish a baseline on ”marketing buzz” with social media activities, it is possible to measure results against other companies of similar size with social media tools.
    • Social media darlings measure their buzz by numbers of followers and LinkedIn interaction which will be superior in follows and interactions when compared to other companies of like size in their space.

While there are many factors that remain elusive when measuring a company’s marketing buzz, industry leaders and veteran marketers are able to track the elements that make up this intangible sensation.  They now are utilizing ROI measurement of marketing activities to prove what they already know. Their company has marketing “buzz.”

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Communicating Under Pressure

One of the fastest ways a company stands out from the crowd (for better or for worse) is how they communicate with the world when facing difficult circumstances. The tone that is set during these challenging times will resonate far and wide.

It is likely that your company will experience a delicate situation at some point in the future. (Perhaps you’ve already been through one.) What’s most important is how you communicate internally — with your executive team, other company leadership, and your employees. It is this tone that will then be conveyed outside your company, so you want to be sure to do a great job communicating internally before doing anything else.

Rumors of layoffs, potential buyouts, and pending lawsuits can spread like wildfire through your organization. Those rumors are often more frightening than the situation itself. Honest, clear communication from company leadership can put a halt to speculation and ease fears that may otherwise halt productivity and focus.

Yes, at times the details are classified or confidential. But if an information leak has occurred, it is better to devise a communications strategy before the news spirals out of your control. Rumors flying around internally soon make it outside of your company walls, and the media can disseminate the information — whether it is true or not — faster than you can contain it.

After communicating what you can with your teams, relaying a unified and thoughtful message to the rest of the world becomes priority. Your investor and public relations departments will be key in crafting and then communicating your message. Press releases, media alerts, television or radio interviews, blog posts, and social media, when used properly, can all relay your message quickly and clearly.

Honesty and transparency mixed with some tact and thoughtful compassion is a great formula for setting the tone of your message.

Accessibility, willingness to communicate, and reasonable response times can halt negative reactions and criticism.

Setting expectations appropriately and then meeting those expectations keeps trust in tact. (It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver than over-promise and under-deliver!)

When a sensitive situation arises, balance out your speed of response with the time it takes to craft a thoughtful response. A hasty reaction without considering all of the potential impacts it may have is a mistake. The phrase, “slow is steady, steady is smooth, smooth is fast” is a good one to remember here!

Above all else, remember that you’re dealing with people and their lives. The situation you’re handling will have an impact on your employees and your customers. By being willing to put the people first, ahead of the company, you’ll gain loyalty and trust.

Let me give you an example.

The popular investment show Shark Tank recently featured a small home-grown business run by a young couple. They literally ran their business out of their garage, had no employees, and made many of their products by hand. They received a rather large investment from one of the “Sharks” and the moment their episode aired on TV, they sold out of every bit of product they had in stock.

Even factoring in the show’s estimated increase in business based off of past companies’ experiences, they surpassed those estimates by over 100%. They had to scale, and quickly! The holiday season was approaching, they had tens of thousands of new customers, and they simply could not keep up with demand.

What did they do? They communicated! They communicated often. It was with honesty, integrity, and compassion. They did their very best to ramp up production, hire a team, set up multiple manufacturing and fulfillment partnerships, train an entire customer service department, and handle the overwhelming response to their product.

Were they perfect at this process? Absolutely not. Some of the promises they made still weren’t met, they still had a large amount of unhappy customers, and it took them a number of months to get on their feet. But through it all they communicated with grace. When they were all caught up, they sent out an apology email with a large discount coupon for a future purchase. I’m certain they retained most of their new customers.

No company knows exactly what is coming around the next corner. No team or individual will always make the right decision in how to communicate during a crisis. However, making wise communication a priority during the tough times will strengthen your relationship with your employees and your customers. It is absolutely essential to success.

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Communicating Effectively with YOUR Audience

In a prior blog post, I discussed the fine line between keeping your company communications professional, yet personal.  I suggested that high-quality communications are a positive representation of your company, and a personal touch can really help to draw in your audience so that they make a connection with your company.  This balance is extremely important to maintain and can make a big difference in your marketing efforts.

Today, I’d like to take this a step further and talk about how to communicate effectively with your target audience.  All too often, companies miss the mark when talking about their products and services by not realizing that their audience may not have enough background knowledge to understand their technical terminology.  Even though your engineers and scientists may be able to explain company concepts most accurately, it’s important to “translate” this information into common, everyday language.

Here are a few keys to keep in mind:

  • Acronyms can be exhausting.  Even though the employees of your company may have them down pat, you cannot expect your customers to remember all of your acronyms.  If you are going to use them, be sure to define them clearly and often.  Limit the number of different acronyms you use.  Focus on the most important ones, and build recognition by repetition.
  • Internal company lingo or made-up words are cool, but they can also be confusing!  If you’re trying to get a new word to pick up traction with your target market, be sure to introduce it in a clever way and use repetition to make the word stick.  Eventually, it will hold some value – if you position it correctly.
  • Use examples, especially ones that give your audience a mental picture of what you’re talking about.  Some people learn best by visualizing.  Photographs, diagrams, and videos do a great job of saying a lot in a short amount of time.  A picture is worth a thousand words!
  • Step outside the box.  Or rather, step outside of your company’s four walls – and into the shoes of your audience!  A marketing or sales pitch that makes perfect sense during an internal planning meeting may not make a lot of sense to a stranger on the street.  (Have you ever seen a commercial that just made absolutely no sense to you, or was so off-the-wall that it actually made you not want to buy the product or service?  That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about.)  Do your research, test out your pitches on your target audience, and listen to their feedback.  It can be very valuable.
  • Ask for help.  Find someone on your team who is really good at taking technical, difficult-to-understand concepts, products, and terms, and have them help write the “everyday language” version of the information.  This person should be involved with your marketing and public relations team as well.  Then, leave it to the experts!  Your marketing team (whether internal or external) will be able to communicate your information even more clearly.  Often times it helps to have someone not associated with the company do the majority of your writing.  Because they have to first understand and grasp your concepts in order to write about them, they do a great job of putting it in a way that anyone will understand.

If you keep these tips in mind when preparing your sales and marketing communications, you will certainly notice a better response from your audience which will translate into more success for your company.  Not only do we want to keep our communications personal enough to be engaging and professional enough to garner respect, but we also want to speak appropriately and effectively to our audience.  Stay tuned for more communication tips in the future!

Give a gift to Sales: Thinking outside the Holiday PR Box

A lot of companies tend to see only two options for PR around the holidays: holiday story lines and New Year trends.  While these may be the perfect recipe for a good holiday PR campaign, it’s time companies think outside the box.  As noted in my blog post last year “Tips for Successful Holiday Campaigns”, I do believe the time period between Thanksgiving and the New Year presents an opportunity to leverage the perceived news lull with a year-end or year-beginning storyline.  Often editors and bloggers are looking for interesting ideas to fill their “pages” during this holiday down time.

However, as is with every good strategy, over time everyone gravitates to it.  So now, the noise around obvious holiday trends is so great, it’s difficult for a company to rise above the crowd.  Time for some holiday innovation, how about it?

With the general slow-down in corporate productivity around the holidays, more people are reading news sites, blogs and following social media channels than during busier times of the year.  So smart holiday PR campaigning can be a powerful way to get your company noticed.  And everyone knows Sales is desperately trying to make their year-end numbers, so give the readers something that will potentially translate to a sale.

Customer case studies, product innovations and discounted products and services are three great alternatives to the holiday trend approach.

#1 – Customer case studies: I can promise you that in your existing customer base there is a hero waiting to rise to the forefront of your PR efforts.  Here’s the catch.  They don’t have to come from a behemoth company.  They just need to have a passion about what they are doing and believe your product is an enabler of their cause.  Also, with smaller companies you don’t need to maneuver the dreaded corporate PR watchdogs – many times these spokespeople have an open microphone to speak freely about what they are doing with your product and /or service.  Seek them out and then pitch their story.  Nothing is more helpful to a customer sale than a great customer testimonial.

#2 – Product Innovation: A lot of companies hold product innovation news until the New Year has rung in.  Why not be bold and let potential customers know what your product can do for them now.  In the midst of holiday “do’s and don’ts, a strong product announcement is like a breath of fresh air to writers who have been pitched trend stories ad-nauseum.   And it certainly won’t hurt your sales team’s efforts.

#3 – Discounted products and services: Let’s face it; we can’t get around this one.  Everyone is looking for a bargain during the holidays, so give your customers what they want.  With the advent of location-based offers at ridiculous prices, you can’t escape the fact that everyone is expecting at companies will make some incredible offer at some point.  Why not during the season of giving?  Instead of offering tips, offer a promotion.

Again, I do believe the holidays are great times to announce results of surveys or make predictions about New Year trends – or to consider something a little more catchy or gimmicky as these types of news stunts often seem to fit in better with the sense of sensationalism surrounding the holiday season.

But please, they’ll be enough boxes under trees –  don’t let your PR campaigns get stuck in one.

Wishing all of Attain Marketing’s clients, colleagues and friends a safe and truly joyous holiday season!

Online Reputations and Rabbit Holes

This week’s Persuasive Marketing blog comes from Pete Bartolik, a freelance writer/editor with whom I enjoyed and valued working with for many years.  I think you’ll see why.  Pete spent many years as a staff reporter and editor, followed by a virtual lifetime with a PR agency, before hanging out his own shingle.  Enjoy!

Back in 1987, Ray Donovan, previously Secretary of Labor under Ronald Reagan and the first sitting cabinet member to be indicted, was acquitted with other defendants from charges of fraud in construction contracts. Alluding to the flood of negative print and TV news stories that accompanied the original mob-tinged allegations, he was famously quoted saying, “Which office do I go to get my reputation back?”

In today’s hyperactive blog environment, he’d probably feel like he’s falling – perpetually – like Alice down the rabbit hole.

When print still dominated, we’d counsel clients to expect to be misquoted or taken out of context, and develop a thick skin – plus, even when a publication printed a correction, odds are it would be seen by just a fraction of those who had read the original.

Blogs have vastly ramped up the delivery speed of information, and misinformation, and it now persists for all digital eternity.  More concerning is that the information can take many twists and turns as it traverses the Net echo chamber.

As a youngster you may have played the party game that goes under a variety of names such as “Whisper” or “Telephone” in which successive players pass along a sentence or phrase. By the time the content reaches the last person and is announced to the group, it inevitably has acquired a much different meaning.

Electronic social networks can take the Whisper game to extreme heights, with the potential for truly harmful reputational damage. You can’t afford to shrug off misinformation because it becomes part of your online “permanent record.”

Extreme alertness is the order of the day. Once a story or comment appears online it can proliferate with rapidity and continually resurface as later bloggers pick up on the original. So the best way to blunt the impact is to communicate quickly and directly with the original author to try and correct the record.

The folks who do the blogging for a living are generally pretty reasonable. Many will quickly update their online posting, sometimes just replacing erroneous information, or at least noting a required correction. The sooner you’re able to do this, the more likely you are to limit parroting of the damaging content.

But, still, work on developing that thick skin. It’s inevitable that even after you’ve got the right information online, somewhere down the line someone is going to resurrect the original damaging content. And their blog will tell two people, and they’ll each tell two people, and so on and so on…

Welcome to the rabbit hole.

Interview with Charlie O’Rourke on The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing

Interview with Charlie O’Rourke, Financial Services Leader, former SVP of First Data and currently Chief Technology Strategist with the Fotec Group: “The Pros and Cons of Outsourcing”

Recent industry surveys reveal that more businesses are using outsourced services as a means of cost-cutting and potentially a strategic business productivity tool.  In these studies, executives said they believe outsourcing can provide many benefits, including access to a valuable talent pool where a company may lack expertise.

We asked Charlie O’Rourke, one of the financial industry’s most respected and successful veterans, to give his insights around the growing outsourcing trend and provide some tips on how a company can be successful leveraging outsourced services while avoiding potential pitfalls.

Attain Marketing: We’ve seen more companies looking to outsourced services as a way of achieving their business objectives.   In your opinion, is this a good trend for businesses and what benefits can they gain by outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Yes, I believe those companies that prepare themselves for outsourcing can benefit immensely as part of an overall business strategy.

First, let me clarify what I mean for our purposes here today.  To me “outsourcing” is a practice used by companies of contracting out some of their business functions to an external provider.  For the purpose of this discussion, I am referring to outsourcing as the utilization of hired resources inside U.S. borders.

While I agree there are benefits that a business can gain from outsourcing, there are also potentially huge downside risks of incorporating outsourcing without proper evaluation of its practice within a company.

Outsourcing is not something a company should embark upon simply for cost savings, recommendations from others, or without a critical eye toward the potential outcomes and whether outsourcing fits within their overall business strategy.

I realize expense reduction is often a very significant factor.  However, other considerations are just as or even more important.  A proper corporate outsourcing readiness evaluation would include, among other things, assessment of the company’s strengths and weaknesses, core competencies, culture, traditions, and vision for the future.  When a company’s strategies are well defined and aligned with a vision toward the future, they will include how to utilize outside resources to augment and complement business objectives.

If there is no strategy and strict oversight, outsourcing may end up costing your business more in the end.  Additionally, it could possibly destroy effectiveness in other areas such as agility, flexibility, customer service quality and competitive advantage.

However, if consistent with its strategic objectives, incorporating outsourcing of appropriate business functions can provide a company with the ability to better focus on its core business and gain competitive advantage at the same time.

Attain Marketing: Should businesses have concerns about outsourcing certain business functions?  In other words, are there “best practices” around outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Someone once told me that if everyone is adopting a “best practice” you can bet that it is no longer the best.  Now that the “best practice” is well understood, it is a perfect opportunity for consultants to provide textbook solutions and cookbook remedies while extracting nice fees for their services.

Mindlessly following “best practices” because they have been used at a Fortune 500 company, are the newest fad, everyone is adopting them or they are the rage for consultants nowadays, may not be in a company’s best interest.  Each strategic and tactical practice needs an evaluation with a critical eye on your company objectives.  Specifically, the practice should fit strategically, operationally, and culturally in your company.

It is unwise to “copy” or “clone” another organization’s recipes in terms of strategy, business theory, management tools or technologies.  Only when you understand your culture, values, purpose, strengths, and direction should you consider which business functions are eligible for outsourcing.

Each company has unique requirements and needs to evaluate which practices are “best” for its business, culture, and customers.

If I were to give general guidelines for outsourcing, I would say companies should retain their core functions in house and then look to outsourcing those business functions that are noncore.  That is the simplest guideline I can give.  Although often difficult and time consuming, proceeding without a diligent assessment will guarantee less than optimum results and possibly failure.

Attain Marketing: What are some of the business functions that are best suited for outsourcing?

O’Rourke: Given some of the caveats above, some logical places (unless of course a core competency) to look may include functions in human resources, administration, accounting, marketing, public relations, communications and legal.

There will be many others depending on the company and each business will have to decide on the criticality and impact of outsourcing in a particular area.

Attain Marketing: Being marketers, of course Attain is interested in your thoughts about outsourced marketing and PR services.  Are there advantages?

O’Rourke: I believe companies like Attain can definitely enhance a company’s marketing, media relations, and communications capability.

Small companies are obviously going to benefit quite a bit by using companies like Attain because they typically do not have sufficient, or in many cases, any expertise, talent and skills to effectively perform many of the required functions in these areas.

In the case of larger companies, the ability to utilize outside marketing expertise often times yields tremendous advantages.

I believe a company can achieve optimum outsourcing success when it embeds the resourced personnel with their internal employees.  They assimilate into the culture and have the same objectives as others in the corporation.  They understand the company values, culture, strategies as well as the industry, the business, and the company’s products and services.  They serve as an expert member of teams, departments, or divisions of the company.

Attain Marketing: Well said Charlie, and many thanks for the unsolicited plug ;-).

I’d like to add, potential advantages gained through an outsourced marketing team include access to an expanded list of analyst and media contacts, specialized public relations and marketing tools – as well as expanded services that may be limited or not be available at all within a company.

In addition, an outsourced team of marketing/PR specialists can provide an expanded scope of services in the categories of lead generation, sales support, social marketing, communications and media relations – possibly at the same cost as one or two internal employees who are providing a more limited scope of services defined by their specific role.

Any last thoughts?

O’Rourke: Companies that are too quick to outsource business functions as solely an expense reduction often suffer negative consequences.  Lower cost is always alluring but results may be much different than expected.  Companies should adopt an outsourcing plan that fits within their overall strategies.  This will yield results that are consistent with their direction and that do not negatively affect the company.

Again, I want to emphasize that company culture is very important.  Culture is often overlooked in the total equation.  The ability of a company to accept outsiders and embed them into the business is crucial.  Outsourcing will fit in some cultures but not in others.

I believe outsourced marketing is an area that makes sense, especially when outsourced personnel become an extension of the client’s in-house marketing, public relations, and public relations teams.

Attain Marketing: Many thanks, Charlie, we appreciate your input.

Today we’re seeing many companies turning to outsourcing as a way to deal with budget restraints while staying competitive in a sluggish economy.   Smart companies know that they can’t stop their marketing activities – especially if they plan on establishing healthy longevity in their business, so they see outsourced services as a great way to leverage talent and stay proactive.

Keeping it Real: Social Media Success Tips for 2011 and Beyond

I recently dusted off my copy of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey and was refreshed again by the book’s tried and true principles.  In the new world of social networking with 24/7 Internet and mobile feeds screaming “look at me,”  “hear me,” “pay attention to me” − scattered with fake testimonials and other dubious schemes meant to manipulate Internet rankings, it can be difficult to believe that doing anything “old school” can reap results.  Forgive me for what may come off as preaching, but I, like Covey believe there are timeless truths that when properly applied to all facets of life will yield lasting results that don’t fade with the latest and greatest fad.

“Personality Ethic” is Covey’s description of the recent paradigm where success has become more of a function of personality, of public image, of the use of more shallow tactics to drive human reaction vs. applying genuine principles, what Covey calls “Character Ethic” to achieve results. Covey states, “the glitter of the Personality Ethic, the massive appeal, is that there is some quick and easy way to achieve quality of life − personal effectiveness and rich, deep relationships with other people− without going through the natural process of work and growth that makes it possible. It’s symbol without substance. It’s the ‘get rich quick’ scheme promising ‘wealth without work’.  And it might appear to succeed – but the schemer remains.”

I believe building fruitful relationships with media, bloggers, partners and customers is a process that inevitably takes an investment of time and effort to produce real and effective results. Ultimately it is Covey’s principle of “Character Ethic” rather than “Personality Ethic” that will help companies achieve superior long-term results in their marketing efforts.

If you decide to follow Covey’s higher path of “Character Ethic,” here are a few ideas on how to get started…

  • Build a Genuine List of Social Networking Followers/Fans: As much we’d all like to automate social networking – and there are great tools that help this process – beware of programs that build your follower/fan base on autopilot.  It’s really not about the number of followers, but rather their relevancy to your business and  loyalty that counts.  Taking shortcuts may seem to increase popularity more quickly, but thoughtful and personal communications build genuine relationships over time.

TIP:  When someone becomes a fan or follower, don’t send a self-serving automated message − take the time to send a personalized “thank you” note.  This is the opportunity to make a first impression that is meaningful and demonstrates your genuine interest in the person/company that is following you.

  • Toot Someone Else’s Horn: If possible, it seems the self-importance of individuals and companies has become even more inflated with the advent of social networking.  If you want to take a fresh approach, drop the “it’s all about me” approach and become the advocate of your industry peers and customers.  Use air time to promote their achievements and accomplishments in addition to your own.  In Charlotte’s Web, it was the “humble” pig that amazed everyone, won the blue ribbon, and saved his own life in the end.  Take the time to be genuinely concerned about your contacts and their specific interests and they will become faithful followers in the end.
  • Adopt a “Win-Win” Approach to Customer/Partner Relations: In my previous blog “Tried and True Strategies for a Prosperous 2010”, I noted that many companies fail to engage their customers and partners because they do not present a compelling value proposition. Self-centered requests often fail while successful programs are based on answering the customer’s question of “What’s in it for me?” Recently Google changed their search engine ranking criteria and added customer feedback as a key component of how companies are ranked.  As you can imagine, this has spawned a variety of schemes that help companies improve their online reputation with fake customer ratings and phony feedback.  Despite the allure of such shortcuts, the best strategies require you to build customer loyalty with good products and excellent customer service throughout the sales cycle.
  • Honest Communications, always:  Many companies have learned the hard way, but it’s always better to be honest about mistakes than to cover or lie.  And with online communities, chat boards, Twitter, citizen journalists, and the likes, it’s only a matter of time before truth gets out.  People and customers are much more forgiving of companies that are willing to air any dirty laundry before they find out themselves – everyone makes mistakes, so own up to them quickly.  A reputation of integrity and honesty will stand the test of time and companies that build their brand around such principles will be rewarded in the long run.

So may we all find the time during the holiday hustle and bustle to reflect on what “Character Ethic” principles we can apply that will help shape our businesses and lives to make 2011 the best year yet.

Twitter Me This

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. His writing can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

I witnessed two signs of the end of days in one week this September. First, disgraced ex-Congressman Tom Delay did his star turn on “Dancing with the Stars.” Second, Twitter raised $100 million in VC funding so more people can, for free, tell the world, “I’m eating a ham sandwich.”

I had coffee one afternoon with a Silicon Valley entrepreneur sharing his advice on how to network and he said, “The most important thing I would say for you to do is get on Twitter.”

I’ve been on Twitter for a few months but still find the experience puzzling. To me, Twitter is Facebook reduced to the status updates. I just don’t get it. Maybe if I reach the Ashton Kutcher level of followers – 3.5 million, according to Newsweek – then I might achieve the critical mass to really connect with my fellow Tweeters. But, really, do any of those 3.5 million Kutcher pals think if they meet him in person, they’ll be able say, “Hey Ashton, my bud! Can I borrow 50 bucks from you?” Kutcher: “Robert! Dude! Of course, here’s $50. I know you’re good for it, follower 3,235,612!”

And yet Spark Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, T. Rowe Price and Insight Venture Partners think enough of Twitter’s business model – a service for people to send text messages of up to 140 characters, plus photos and video, via a computer or cell phone – to invest $100 million, its third and largest funding round since Twitter was founded in 2006. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company, which has no revenue model and, therefore no profits, has a valuation of about $1 billion.

While Twitter traffic includes drivel like “I’m watching ‘Mad Men’” and “This bus is never going to come,” among the group that has found it useful are marketers. The Public Relations Society of America recently hosted a seminar titled “Social Media and New Media PR Boot Camp,” one of scores of such workshop invites that has likely filled your inbox. “You will learn … how to use Twitter to track news and build communities,” the workshop promises.

And yes, Twitter, along with Facebook, Flickr, You Tube and other Web-based services, can be effective tools in an integrated marketing campaign. In some cases it’s as simple as a writer posting a tweet touting a column he wrote with a link to said article (such as the message I will create to draw my followers to this column). That’s marketing.

Today, Twitter and other social media are hot, which lends them to hype. In a guest post on the site PR2.0, social media expert Louis Gray warns that Twitter is not the marketing campaign but a tool to execute the marketing campaign.

“The non-stop promotion of the tools and, yes, the individuals who think they are ‘experts’ is getting a little overwhelming,” Gray writes. “Many of the companies that have initiated new media practices are practically falling over themselves offering self-congratulatory praise for how they embraced these new technologies.”

Twitter may evolve into an effective communications platform – in some ways it already is; I found out that the columnist William Safire died via a tweet from the New York Times. But until marketers learn to stand out with their marketing message from the “I’m eating a ham sandwich” crowd, the signal-to-noise ratio of Twitter will remain high, and a limitation.

Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons cited a study of Twitter which found that “40 percent of the messages are ‘pointless babble.’” But then, he continued, “look at TV.” No one can dispute that TV is a monumental platform for marketing, even if it’s for a TV show where a disgraced ex-congressman dances to “Wild Thing.”

Thought Leadership 101

The point of thought leadership is to express a point of view in the context of market conditions. Most companies focus on their products, functions and features. A real opportunity exists for companies that can paint a vision of the key issues, challenges, needs and requirements that truly concern customers. In doing so companies become an invaluable resource to the media and potential customers.

Future-focused companies that provide meaningful insight and guidance to support buying decisions (vs. just marketing fluff) are often rewarded with more press coverage, better lead generation results, and a shortened sales cycle. To succeed, companies need to directly focus on industry relevant issues and approach the marketplace strategically by building communications platforms that establish credibility and position the company and its stakeholders as subject matter experts.

We’ve boiled down some basics for thought leadership success:

  • Take the 40,000-foot view. Look beyond your technology-focused issues and geeky acronyms. Identify hot trends and determine how your company and products relate to the most current events. Companies should expand their network of contacts and company messaging to embrace the bigger picture. Innovative campaigns like rapid response media programs can provide a systematic approach to introducing your company to key industry influencers who will help bridge the perception gap.
  • Be an evangelist. Select one or several company spokespersons that can be both seen and heard as the voice of your industry. Scrap the tradeshow budget in favor of a limited presence at key venues. Although speaking opportunities can be difficult to secure, event coordinators will bend the rules to accommodate a cool customer case study. Of course you can host your own speaker’s webcast series, but the key is to invest in a good list of prospects to invite to your events. Today’s social media forums like blogs and online communities offer a great vehicle for company evangelism, but avoid preaching. Don’t just follow the herd mentality – taking a controversial position will increase your chances of being heard.
  • Involve customers and partners. Realize that your customers and partners might be very interested in claiming a thought leadership position in new markets as well. Use this to your advantage – instead of asking them to endorse your products, invite them to participate in an industry forum that addresses hot market issues (Thought Leadership webinar example). And for your next product launch tour, offer “select” customers the opportunity to meet with analysts and press to discuss key industry issues and position their company as a visionary – you’ll be much more successful getting them on board and be rewarded with more press coverage had you gone it alone.

The Bottomline: To escape today’s marketing black holes, adopt a thought leadership strategy that elevates both principal and firm above the fray.