Online Marketing Anti Pattern #1 – Keep ‘em under lock and key

By Subraya Mallya - August 2010 | Topics - Marketing

Technology shifts into SaaS, Cloud Computing, Mobile have driven a multitude of changes in the way companies conduct business. Business models, technology delivery, customer support, pricing strategies all have been put through the blender to accommodate the new demands. But one of the biggest changes that has companies struggling to cope with is in the area of marketing. The rapid rise and confluence of social media outlets and continuous encroachment into the lives of common man has exacerbated the plight. Increasingly the roles of marketing and sales have overlapping and in fact in most cases they share the same revenue goals.

Over the last year I have had a chance to talk to many companies across the spectrum delivering products and/or services, startups and/or mature technology. My goal was to understand the way companies were addressing the changing needs of marketing and improving their chances of success. Based on what I heard and saw, thought it would be useful to capture the 3 anti-patterns that companies are following and suggest a better way to address that need.

I will start with the most egregious of them.

Anti-Pattern #1: Keep ’em under lock & key

In the decade gone by, it has been a commonsense strategy for companies to have white papers, data sheets, case studies, webinars posted on their website. Traditionally companies have put those “information assets” behind a “Give-your-information-and-ye-shall-receive-what-you-covet” forms. This was the state-of-the-art online lead generation model considering its predecessor – calling people from the telephone directory. Companies started measuring the effectiveness of lead generation campaigns based on the number of leads generated with this model and claimed victory. While the quality of data collected as such was questionable – at least the people who put efforts/dollars into creating that information asset felt redeemed. It generated a broad funnel of potential prospects (or as I prefer – suspects ).

The prevailing workflow imagined by marketing teams is generally along these lines

  1. Identify, Create quality content related to product/service that is related to your product and host them on your website at an appropriate place
  2. Search engine optimize the content so it appears at the (near) top of the search results. Or buy ads that will make it appear at the top.
  3. Hope people searching for that information will find them in Google/Bing.
  4. Visit your site and read some of the openly available information about your product (hopefully what they were looking for), and find what looks like a perfect follow-on document.
  5. As they try to reach for it (download it) – boom! pops the “give-me-your-contact” form.

So what is wrong with asking for some form of information in return for some valuable information you ask?

As such there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for information. The only problem, in this case,  is that you are expecting rewards way too early in the process. The trust between you the company and the prospect has not yet been established. Would you give out your contact information to someone whom you don’t yet trust?  The quality of information you are promising to provide in that document/webinar that the prospect is seeking will determine if the trust will be established or not. A marketing executive in a startup recently told me – about his marketing strategy – “I don’t care, if they don’t provide me at least with their email, there is no way I can let them access our White papers“. To me that statement exemplified what is wrong with marketing.

Consider these scenarios

  1. You walk into Target with the intent of checking out some products. While you have some faint idea of what you want, you also want to try out a few different things.  If Target were to have a policy of asking for your credit card or address even before you entered the shop to evaluate some products – I am not sure many would ever enter Target. In fact, Target does it one better, you can return the product for full refund – no questions asked. That is the trust factor.
  2. The person looking for the information might be a junior employee doing the legwork of information gathering without the broad purview of problem they are trying to solve. So gathering her/his information would get you nowhere. In fact, the reality is that, most people provide inaccurate information just so they get access to the information you have under locks. Following up those leads is waste of your time.
  3. In the world of information overload, there are many companies (some of even your competitors) hawking their solutions and making similar claims. Let us be frank, data sheets, white papers in most cases re-purpose content from one another and present them differently. Why would a prospect keep providing the same information to a bunch of vendors to get the same information packaged differently?

Show Me What You Got? Try these.

  • Free those White paper, Data Sheets, Webinars. All those iron-clad contact forms are doing is putting yet another hurdle in your customer acquisition efforts. You are giving the opportunity for a prospect who you have convinced through SEO or other efforts to come to your site only to go away when confronted with this annoying contact form. If you have done all the hard work in creating compelling content demonstrating your thought leadership, understanding of business domain, make that content work hard for you. All your efforts should be to get that into as many hands as possible and as easily as possible. Not barricade the prospects from getting access to it.
  • Help them when they fall down: The sooner you get your prospects engaged, the better chances of you scoring a deal. Companies are tired of marketing speak and look for experiences and solutions. So putting yourself in the shoes of a strategic adviser and helping the customer through the process of educating themselves will build trust as opposed simply following the mundane get-them-in-the-funnel-and-qualify process. In most cases companies are really looking for consultative relationship as they map solutions in the market to what they are trying to accomplish. Your conversion ratio will look much better I assure you.
  • Outbound Marketing is out. Inbound marketing is in. The days of you blasting emails, attending trade shows, cold calling (yuck!), telesales are becoming a thing of the past. Prospects get bombarded with that from all quarters and consequently shut themselves from the “noise”. You should instead focus on telling stories, case studies and make your website a hub of information that helps prospects/customers easily access and identify solutions to their problems. Don’t confuse that with a PR outlet and just limit it to all marketing schpeel about your product. Make it about your customer and less about your product. The more you do that the more engaging you will find prospects.
  • How about some Lead Nurturing ahead of time: In the past the practice was to do demand generation and generate boat loads of leads and then nurture them till the prospect is “sales-ready”. A big part of nurturing is building the trusted advisor relationship with the prospect. What better way to do that than from the time they found you and are looking into ensure you are the right solution. Prospects are spending more time than before on the web doing their own independent research. The more information you provide them before the sales gets engaged the better your chances of closing a deal.

In the next Anti-pattern I will look at how companies use Social Media specifically Blog and Twitter.

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