BlitzLocal Blog | Sharing online marketing tips and tricks

A colleague recently told me of his plans to dominate his particular niche. The competitors in his space have deep pockets, massive ad budgets, and are well-connected in the space. These competitors have a clearly inferior product, though it can be argued that nobody exactly smells like roses in this niche. So “Paul”, we’ll call him, felt that having a better product that was priced competitively, could win in the market. I’m not revealing who “Paul” is, since it’s the concept that’s important, not the particular individual. Here is why that strategy alone doesn’t work. May it serve as a lesson to any other budding entrepreneur who wants to go after Fortune 500 clients.
The graveyard of failed startups is littered with the bodies of companies that have gone after the Microsofts, Cokes, and Proctor and Gambles of the world. Why not? The reasoning is that just one Coke as a client can be worth 1,000 little clients, and is perhaps even enough to sustain your venture all by itself. Unfortunately, when you have one big customer that accounts for most of your earnings, they can also jerk you around; more on the “Wal-Mart” problem later.
Some people call this the problem of the elephants, deer, and rabbits. It’s sexy to go elephant hunting, but the trouble is that it takes a team to kill the elephant. That team may have to wait for months on-end before getting anything; often starving in the process. It takes sophisticated tools and plenty of unpaid labor to get an initial meeting, much less deal with all the various levels of decision makers needed to get your first dollar.
Rabbits are small, plentiful, and easy to catch. These are the small businesses that have $10 a month for your software, but can be such a pain to service that you get a case of “rabbit starvation”. Yes, it’s true; if you live in the woods and subside only on rabbit meat you will starve, since wild rabbit meat is so lean that it takes more energy to process than it’s worth.
So in true Goldilocks fashion, the rabbits are too small and the elephants are too big. And thus, startup advisors say, you should chase deer—medium sized, not too hard to catch, and enough meat to make it worthwhile. Trying to serve the middle, however, is like trying to be everything to everyone. With no focus in the marketplace, you are unable to differentiate and unable to dominate a niche.
Back to “Paul” again; he has had minor success selling to elephants. He is personally well networked, and one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met. But he is just one guy and there is only so many of him that can perform magic. It’s not scalable. Further, the $10,000 proof-of-concept deals don’t seem to materialize into $100,000 deals, despite what the Excel spreadsheets to the board might represent.
He may have spent (gambled) $50,000 in energy to get the $10,000 deal. And the big brands that he’s dealing with know this full-well, and are happy to take advantage of the discounts their name can leverage. It’s like the prom queen that can be mean to the adolescent boys; teasing each of them into an endless stream of favors. And it is here that startups die.
In engineering projects, we know that you have to multiply the estimates by a factor of 3. If they say it will take 5 weeks, then you can assume 15 weeks is a more realistic estimate. Same is true of sales. That deal that is 60% likely to close is actually 20% likely to close. And instead of 2 weeks, it will be 2 months. You might be ready to go, but the main client contact may be slow to respond to email, the accounting people have some arduous PO process, or some new person wants to evaluate your software—starting the clock over.
Meanwhile, you’re burning cash. It’s not like you can put payroll or your rent on hold. What you’ve expended so far is a sunken cost, so you just keep going like the gambler who bets double or nothing. Even if you get the deal, you might not be paid until you complete the work, plus net 60. So if the project takes 90 days to complete and you’re paid 60 days after completion, you have to float 150 days of cash. If the pre-sales process took 90 days, you’re now looking at 240 days; not an uncommon cycle to close a big deal.
In those 240 days, anything can happen. Facebook or Google comes out with a product or feature set that eliminates the need for your product. The company you’re dealing with has a re-organization, so your internal champion isn’t the decision maker anymore. Maybe you lost a key engineer—hey; lots of places are notorious for folks who are disloyal, jumping to whatever the sexy thing of the moment is. Your board or investor begins to pressure you, forcing you to spend more time on convincing them that you’re “so close” to hitting it big, while actually taking your focus away from execution.
Napoleon had his Waterloo because he overextended his supply chain. In other words; the clock ran out on him. If you’re going after the big boys, it’s easy to underestimate what it takes to win. Mind you, self-service software is a different matter—we’re talking about selling deals to household brands that are used to dealing with big agencies who will roll out the red carpet with not a penny of cost on their side for months.
So here are some key insights to help you avoid a prolonged death—to have a decent shot at success versus running out of gas.
Law #1: Enterprise software is not bought, it is sold. Companies don’t just walk up to you and say they want to order the #2 meal, supersized. Expressing interest after reading about you on TechCrunch is a long way from getting your first penny. Enterprise software is sold via a network of experienced sales reps that have inside connections at the client company. That rep may have been an agency player with a big black book or someone who was internal until recently. If you don’t have teams of folks who can navigate these landmines, you’ll be constantly scratching your head as to why you got so close, but some inferior vendor won the day. You’re column fodder, buddy—the client was happy to waste your time to get you to fly in and pitch, just so they can say they talked to 3 other people before selecting the vendor they had in mind all along. Moral of the story– don’t enter a battle that you haven’t already determined you’ve won via inside connections. In other words: never go into an RFP situation blind.
Law #2: Ask for a token payment. Sure, you might be dealing with someone from General Motors. But does that person have power to sign a check? We no longer do custom work for free or do a ton of free consulting. If they want a proof of concept, we charge a nominal fee. Even if it’s only asking for $1,000, the prospect’s reaction to this will be quite telling if they are serious. Case in point—one of the largest newspapers in the world wanted our help with Facebook marketing. They wanted every PowerPoint presentation we have ever done, some one-on-one meetings on-site, and some technical help to troubleshoot. We were flattered. But when we popped the question, they balked. I knew this person’s boss, who told me that this person was preparing a strategy to present as their own. This person was just swapping our name for his name and taking credit with no intention of engaging with us. It happens all the time. Watch for it now and you’ll see it often. A payment of a few thousand dollars is a gesture of good faith between both parties. And if you are looking at doing a partnership with a larger, more established company, be wary of “partners” that want you to take all the risk.
Law #3: Decide if you are positioning yourself as cheaper or better. You can’t be both. Even if you are, the marketplace won’t believe you. Plus, you’d be leaving money on the table if you can justify yourself as being of higher quality. Would you trust a heart surgeon that is offering surgeries this week at 50% off?
Law #4: Triple your prices. You’ll lose some customers, as you should. But the ones you lose are likely the ones that are causing you the most headaches which, in turn, prevent you from focusing on the guys that are happy to pay you more. Spend time on the customers who love you. Don’t abide by the squeaky wheel management philosophy. If you have 30 clients paying you $5k a month each on average, wouldn’t it be so much easier to have just 10 clients paying you $15k a month?
Law #5: Ignore the armchair quarterbacks. Often the most well-meaning of family and friends will insist on giving you advice. While you trust their friendship, it doesn’t mean they can weigh-in on complex business decisions. How much of your precious time are you selling to folks who aren’t going to buy your software or can’t help you refine your offering? You’re talking to the wrong people, though many enjoy the entertainment of verbal jousting at your expense.
Law #6: Sell through a partner. If you can’t afford a sales force, leverage the client base on someone who already has a Fortune 500 client base. That’s what BlitzLocal does with Webtrends, who opens doors for us that we would never get on our own. In fact, we get to work with existing clients who have Webtrends as their analytics provider, which makes deals so much easier. It’s a win-win for everyone.
So that’s what it takes to go after the big boys. If you’re not extremely lucky, you need the cash, connections, and focus to weather lengthy sales cycles. So think twice if you want to get Nike as a client. They won’t even let you publicly mention them as a client if you do, so the referral value may be less than you anticipate. But when you can find those particular clients who are partners that care about your success, too—then you’ve found a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
If you found this helpful, let me know in the comments below. If you want to argue, feel free to voice your opinion, too. I can’t promise I’ll respond, but I will certainly try to respond to folks who ask for help. You can also reach me at
About the Author:
Dennis Yu is Chief Executive Officer of BlitzLocal, a Webtrends partner that builds social media dashboards to measure brand engagement and ROI, specializing in the intersection of Facebook and local advertising. BlitzLocal is a leader in social and local advertising and analytics, creating mass micro-targeted campaigns. Mr. Yu has been featured in National Public Radio, TechCrunch, Entrepreneur Magazine, CBS Evening News, and other venues. He is an internationally sought-after speaker and author on all things Facebook. BlitzLocal serves both national brands and local service businesses.
Sentiment analysis, though not a recent term, is nevertheless generating a lot of new buzz within the online business world, due in part to the proliferation of social networks that are generating huge streams of user chatter about companies, products, and services. Social media pundits have drilled businesses with the message that their customers are talking about them, whether they like it or not, and whether they are participating in the conversation or not. As these businesses begin to accept this fact, they realize that they need to do several things if they want to take part in those conversations:
Locate the conversations
Gauge the overall sentiment of those conversations
Participate in the conversations
Work towards increasing positive sentiment
Tools to help businesses locate the conversations that are taking place around their brands, products, and services have proliferated over the years, so achieving #1 is generally a piece of cake.
Participating in the conversations simply requires good old-fashioned customer service, as does increasing positive sentiment, although a fair amount of training may be required to teach employees how to navigate different social networks, and help them understand just how public their interactions really are. Despite the extra training, numbers 3 and 4 are still hands-on, human-touch activities that that businesses already understand how to handle, and they generally don’t handle being automated very well. Customers would rather have no interaction with a company, than to have nothing more than automated robots attempting to solve their problems.
So if number 1 is easy to solve with automated tools, and numbers 3 and 4 are handled primarily with human-touch activities, what about the second need – gauging the overall sentiment? This is an area that into that fuzzy, not-quite-sure-how-to-handle area. People and businesses are trying to automate this process because applying a sentiment grade to huge datasets is beyond the capacity of manual human power. At the same time, trusting a machine to correctly analyze sentiment is fraught with problems.
Let’s first consider the ways that a machine might analyze sentiment.
Methodology 1: analyze human-scored data, in which humans first analyze and rate sentiment of each piece of data, and the machine then analyzes those ratings to produce reports and aggregated summaries.
Methodology 2: the machine applies a human-scored dictionary of phrases to incoming data, then analyze the data to produce reports and aggregated summaries.
Both methodologies require manual human action first, and neither is a perfect solution. Either humans must score data, as in methodology 1, which is not scalable, or humans must score dictionary phrases, as in methodology 2, which is much less accurate because the phrases cannot take things like mixed messages or sarcasm into consideration. “I love my ugly shoes”, has both positive and negative dictionary words (love and ugly). How should a machine evaluate that? Or “Wow, that’s the most awesome mullet I’ve ever seen!” might sound positive to a machine, based on words such as “wow” and “awesome”, but that algorithm will miss the fact that the user was being sarcastic.
For now, the best solution seems to be the human/machine/human process. Humans must first create phrase dictionaries (or use ones created by others), possibly run actual data through a group of humans who score the data as the basis for which machine learning can rely on, then let the machine classify new, incoming data using the human-scoring process as a way to improve the machine algorithm. The entire process should be repeated as often as deemed necessary. Eventually, the classifier should improve, but humans will always be needed to oversee the results.
Clearly, this process is not merely a matter of humans vs. machines. Both are required to properly handle sentiment analysis.
“It’s hard enough to determine sentiment via email– think of when you may have misinterpreted tone in your own personal communications. Now try to determine sentiment when you have only 140 characters or when a third of these interactions come through a mobile device. Irony, sarcasm, and humor are hard to convey via a 4 inch touch screen. Thus, automated sentiment analysis is problematic, at best, but can at least give you a general sense of how your customers feel. Then manual checking of sentiment can sit on top of your automated monitoring.”
– Dennis Yu, CEO of BlitzLocal
So how should companies gauge sentiment if automated tools aren’t sophisticated enough to pick up on sarcasm, for instance, but humans aren’t scalable to meet the growing flow of data?
There may not be a “correct answer” to this question, but I believe a smart strategy is to choose the best tool to meet your particular needs, and then use intelligent, business and marketing savvy humans to “analyze the analysis”. This human-based analysis of the analysis will ensure that the data reports are not only correct, but are also actionable. After all, knowing that 93 customers are unhappy is a meaningless metric. Understanding which customers are unhappy, and why they are unhappy, leads to being able to take the necessary action to accomplish goals 3 and 4 – participating in conversations and improving sentiment.
Let’s take a look at a few ways that sentiment analysis an be turned into direct action:
Customer service: find specific complaints and negative sentiment, so those users feelings and issues can be addressed, before they cause widespread brand damage.
Promos and offers: determine how a new promotion is doing, enabling quick decisions on what to promote further, and what to discard. Sometimes, a promotion backfires, and should be pulled (and perhaps explained) before negative sentiment explodes.
Understand conversion problems: make note of potential blocks within the conversion funnel that is creating negative sentiment, thereby causing potential sales to fall off the cliff.
As I mentioned early on, there are many tools to help locate and monitor the conversations taking place about your business. These tools range from the simple Google Alerts tool to the more robust and complex Radian6, with most small businesses choosing a tools that fall somewhere in the middle, such as socialmention or Trackur.
Some tools that are either entirely focused upon sentiment analysis, or include sentiment analysis as one feature of a broader social monitoring tool, include:
Which tool is chosen will depend heavily upon company needs and budget. Regardless of the tool used, however, the question businesses need to ask is, “Do we have the manpower needed to properly assess the results, and then take action to enhance or improve sentiment?”
A smart marketing team, in conjunction with a customer service team, should do “an analysis of the analysis” to determine the next steps to take. Understanding the causes of sentiment and making smart marketing and customer service decisions based upon that understanding requires people who are trained and highly skilled in these areas. These people may be in-house, or may be a part of an outsourced social media marketing agency such as BlitzLocal provides, but what is clear is that while machines may be necessary to process large datasets to calculate sentiment, humans are a crucial factor in not only refining the analysis, but in taking necessary actions based upon that analysis.
A new inexperienced online entrepreneur often wants to tell the world about his shiny, new site. There’s nothing wrong with that enthusiasm, of course. But when that same businessman starts throwing money at online advertising, and pays to have his message shown to the entire world, he usually finds himself wondering why his pockets are empty, and his sales are low or non-existant.
Hopefully, at this point, he stops throwing money at the world, and learns a better way to advertise that stands a far better chance of resulting in positive ROI for every dollar he spends. If so, then at this point, he learns that his ads should be shown only to the group of people who are not only most interested in his products or services, but who are also most likely to respond to whatever offer he is presenting.
On this journey of discovery, he adds two new words to his marketing vocabulary — “targeted” and “qualified”.
What is targeted traffic? Users who are specifically interested in the products or services he provides are the users he wants to target. The chances of converting those users are much higher than the chances of converting a user who landed on his site accidentally and has no interest in what he has to offer. It suddenly becomes obvious to the entrepreneur that if he only spends money advertising to people who already have a strong interest in what he has to offer, then his conversion rate will likely be high, and the return on his investment will likewise be high.
What is qualified traffic? Qualified users are those who are not only interested in his products or services, but are able and ready to actually to to buy. It’s the difference between “looky-loos” and those who have a real need for the product, the budget to acquire the product, and the authority to approve the purchase of the product.
Now our entrepreneur can begin to shed his “newb” status and start launching marketing campaigns that are aimed at targeted, qualified individuals.
Let’s take a look at an example how our businessman can effectively accomplish this new goal.
Our fictional company owner has created a specialized dating service aimed at matching wealthy singles who are both into adventure and extreme sports, and wants to advertise his service on Facebook.
Before he understood the merits of showing ads only to targeted, qualified individuals, he probably would have designed an that sounded exciting or intriguing, but aimed it at everyone. What kind of traffic would he have shown that ad to?
Now that he is a little more savvy, he can begin to narrow that number down.
First, he chooses to only show ads to people interested in sports.
After thinking about it, he realizes that’s still way too general, so he narrows that down to people who enjoy extreme sports.
More thought, and he realizes that he forgot to only target singles, so he adds that to mix.
Finally, he knows his service is pricey, so he wants to pre-qualify his targeted audience as much as possible. Facebook doesn’t have an “I’m rich” category, but our now-savvy businessman can make some educated guesses on finding those people who are more likely to be qualified to pay his steep prices. So he’ll also target various interests, such as yachts, for example.
Now he’s narrowed his ad campaign down to a very targeted group of people who are more likely to be qualified as well. He can choose many different interests besides yachts, of course, honing his campaign until he finds the sweet spot of targeted, qualified users that are most likely to sign up for his specialized dating service.
Suddenly, our online entrepreneur has become a businessman who no longer empties his pockets while chasing everyone in the world. He now understands why the terms “targeted” and “qualified” matter, and is currently enjoying his own extreme adventure.
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How to run an effective Facebook campaign for $5
When I googled “social media vs. seo” (in quotes) this morning, 12,400 results were returned. Restricting the same search to only the past year, over 800 results are returned. Obviously, many people are pitting the two against one another, and have been for some time.
There’s little sense, in my mind, in postulating whether social media is better than SEO or SEO is better than social media. Making these two marketing channels adversaries is akin to pitting shirts against pants/shorts. For those people who don’t wear dresses or jumpsuits, they’ll likely be wearing a shirt and a pair of pants. Asking them which is better will probably only result in having them give you a look that implies they think you’ve lost your mind.
Cross-Channel Marketing Rules
When promoting anything, whether it’s a business, a website, a product, or a brand, promotion works best when it covers a broad spectrum of marketing channels. Television ad campaigns work best when they are reinforced by radio campaigns, magazine campaigns, newspaper campaigns, email campaigns, etc. Cross-channel marketing succeeds because the layers of reinforcing messages work together to create a connection with the target audience.
Waves of Data Engulf Users
People today are absorbing external stimuli in huge waves of data, much like a whale ingests enormous swarms of krill. It is unlikely that a whale would be able to pick out the one particular krill that tasted peculiar amongst the millions he ingested. Likewise, the data we absorb each day is so large and diverse, that recognizing and remembering one marketing message amongst the continuous data flow is rather low. It’s much easier for a lone marketing message to be lost in the flow than it would be if it were repeatedly reinforced by entering the data stream in various ways, from various places, and at various times.
Be Where They Are
The goal should always be to interact with users where they are. If they are searching via a search engine, then an SEO campaign can help reach them during that process. Of course, a PPC campaign also works hand-in-hand with SEO to cover both the organic and paid listings that are returned in the search results for the queries relevant to your brand, service, or product.
Users are spending a considerable amount of time on social networks, so a social media campaign is needed to reach them there. Like the concept of using both SEO and PPC campaigns to cover organic and paid search listings, social media campaigns will include organic interactions such as tweets, Facebook Likes and wall posts, etc., in addition to paid interactions such as promoted tweets and Facebook ad campaigns.
Value In Each Piece Reinforces Overall Value
Each channel will reach users at a different point in the marketing funnel, so the value should be calculated and compared in relation to other marketing efforts aimed at that same audience. In most cases, a search user is likely to be in one part of the marketing funnel, and a Facebook user is in another (or may even be outside of the funnel altogether). Pitting the value of an SEO campaign aimed at the search user against the value of a social media campaign aimed at the Facebook user will only result in a confusing matchup. There is value in both, with each being one important part of an entire cross-channel promotion.
Give each marketing channel its own level of respect, evaluating the effectiveness of each using data that is relevant to that particular channel. Analyze how well the campaign is working within its channel, adjust, re-analyze, adjust again, until you are satisfied that it is accomplishing the goals you set for that particular channel.
Make sure each channel’s message is consistent with the messages from other channels, so that every channel reinforces the others. As the daily influx of data streams through each person, those reinforcing messages will build upon one another and help the entire package of marketing messages stand out in the user’s mind.
The key isn’t to compare seo vs. social media, but to use the right messages in the right formats to ensure the best chance of reaching users at the right time and in the right place. The more often you can accomplish that, with consistent messaging, the more successful each campaign will be, no matter which channel it was focused upon.
Let us know if you’ve found a particular combination of cross-channel marketing especially successful, or if you’ve had problems connecting various channels to create a tight overall campaign.
When preparing a Facebook audit for a brand, a cookie-cutter approach won’t work. Each brand has its own factors that must be considered when evaluating campaign strategy, but there are some common strategies you can use to create killer audits for any brand.
Many Brands Within The Brand
Some large brands consist of many sub-brands. Let’s consider P&G as an example brand. They have many sub-brands, 23 of which have over a billion dollars in annual sales. Some of these sub-brands include Tide, Bounty, Pampers, Duracell, etc. Ideally, this type of megabrand should have a portfolio of sub-brands that tie back into a central hub page. The central hub is often weak, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but strengthening the hub will usually result in strengthening the brand overall.
When measuring the power of the megabrand, especially when comparing against their competitors, be sure to include their overall portolio (i.e. P&G vs. Unilever), as well as brand-to-brand comparisons of the sub-brands, such as Duracell vs. Energizer.
Targeting and Relevancy
When designing sample Facebook ads, remember that success with Facebook relies on being SUPER relevant to users. Let’s take a look at a few examples of how this can be applied.
Utilize Brand Connections
If the user is already familiar with the brand via a related connection, target those users specifically. For example, Tide has sponsored a car in Nascar for a long time. Fans of Darryl Waltrip and Ricky Rudd are then likely to also be fans of Tide, so targeting the fans of those Nascar champions is an easy win.
Leverage Existing Campaigns
We can leverage the power of a brand’s existing advertising. For example, if the brand is Yoplait yogurt, you know that they’ve spent a huge amount of money on the pink lids for breast cancer ad campaign. By targeting Susan Komen, breast cancer, and related interests– and then pairing that targeted base with a message that Yoplait supports breast cancer research, you can make their existing non-Facebook ad campaigns work double-time here. Send users to an appropriate web page that has a Like button on it (preferably on the Facebook page), to solidify that connection.
Harvest Celebrity Endorsements
Someone else has already done the footwork needed to attach a celebrity’s fan base to the brand, so harvest that base. For example, Carrie Underwood uses Olay, so target Carrie’s fans with relevant messages and landing pages for the Olay brand on Facebook. There is a LOT of celebrity traffic – a lot more than people who say they like laundry detergent or batteries or skin care products – so harvest that mass of low-hanging fruit.
Milk The Competitors
There’s nothing wrong with actually reaching out to the fans of the competition. For instance, if they like the Energizer Bunny, it’s possible they’ll also like Duracell. This can be hit or miss, as some fans are loyal to a fault and won’t have any desire to switch, but you won’t know without testing. Many fans are on the fence and can be pretty easily persuaded to flip.
Manage The Audit Process
The simplest tool to have on hand during the audit research phase is the spreadsheet. First, research a list of the interests that are related to each of the brands. Create a spreadsheet consisting of one row per interest, using four columns:
Audience Size (shown in Ad tool)
Relevant Brand Fan Page URL
Relationship Between the Interest and the Brand
The relationship column should include things like:
Is the interest a competitor of the brand?
Is the interest a non-profit that the brand supports?
Is the interest a celebrity that endorses the brand?
Is the interest a current advertising campaign that the brand is using?
When possible, ensure the spreadsheet includes at least a dozen interests. If the brand is a huge megabrand, you might end up with perhaps a hundred interest targets, all in the same spreadsheet.
With smart, highly relevant targeting, you can show the benefits of a Facebook campaign to any brand – big or small.
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