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How to put a price tag on strategy

value of marketing strategy

A seven-step proposal will help you highlight the value of your creative strategy.

For starters, don’t make it a discussion about your hourly rate.

In a tough economy, marketing agencies, consultants and freelancers face a daily battle against having their talent and intellectual capital commoditized. I saw this happen early in my career.

In the 1990s I worked for a B2B direct marketing agency that did very well. We had several long term accounts with Fortune 100 companies. We did many ongoing customer relationship programs for them that generated profitable sales over periods of 5-10 years.

We also had a few kinks in the business model that made me uncomfortable.

At that time it was still fairly common for an agency to land full-service business. We were fortunate enough to be one of them. Over time, we got too comfortable with the margins from printing, mailing and fulfillment services while selling creative and strategy services near cost.

Related: The triage marketing death trap

On top of that, the sales model for new business gave away strategy. We would present a complete marketing program, with all the research, analysis and creative rationale at the proposal stage. Many times I would walk away from those presentations thinking, “We’ve given them the whole strategy. They could take the plan, thank us, and then do it themselves.”

When economic hardship hit our biggest client, this came back to haunt us.

In response, they implemented a centralized procurement policy to cut costs. They unbundled all of the printing, mailing and fulfillment services from our programs, pulling them in-house. The body blows didn’t stop there.

Since we had been giving away the strategy work, it showed no value on their ledgers. Eventually we devolved from a full-service agency to a creative vendor. Party over.

I remembered that lesson years later when I became an independent consultant. I resolved to never give away the strategy or creative ideas in a marketing proposal. Instead, I use a proposal format that sells the plan and value I bring. It’s much more than a one-page cost estimate, though. Check out this slide deck to see what I mean.

7 steps to proving your value to prospective clients

Including these seven components in your marketing proposal helps to steer the discussion to how you will help solve a business problem rather than how much you cost. It follows a logical flow that more often than not gets the client to say, “Yes, let’s work together.”

Here’s how it flows:

marketing proposal flow chart

1. THE OVERVIEW

The overview is a high level summary that tells the client (I’m using the assumptive close, here) you understand their business challenges. And it states the problem you will be solving together.

2. THE OBJECTIVES

Sometimes I refer to these as “starter objectives” to get the conversation started. The goal is to get written agreement on specific outcomes and how they will be measured. For more on writing smart objectives see this post. Everything that follows is based on the objectives, so getting agreement on them is most critical.

Related: When execution beats strategy

3. SCOPE OF WORK

This part details the specific work you will be doing, and when appropriate, what is not included.

4. WORK PROCESS

Here is where you explain the steps you will take to complete the work and identify all the parties and responsibilities required to make them happen.

5. COST ESTIMATES

Now it makes sense to show the estimated costs. They are based on work process, which is based on the scope of work, which is based on the objectives. This gives a value basis and strategic rationale to the costs. Discussions about the budget can be focused on scope rather than your hourly rate.

6. WORKING AGREEMENT

The purpose of the working agreement is to establish the legal aspects of working together before they become an issue midway into the project. It covers cost estimates, ownership of work, confidentiality, payment for services and other elements of doing business together. Addressing this up front shows you are a professional.

7. BIO/ABOUT US

This is the place to end on a positive note. Don’t make it fluffy boilerplate propaganda. Direct your narrative to the skills, knowledge and experience you have specific to the industry and the assignment.

Getting to ‘YES’

The important thing to remember is the proposal is not the marketing plan. It is a discussion tool to set and manage the expectations for the project. And it is a tool to help you establish the value of the strategy and work you bring. It is your best bet for getting to ‘yes.’

Tell me what you think.

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To blog is human

to blog is human

Sometimes you have to unlearn the writing rules to find a more human blogging voice.

It’s been over a year since I wrote my first blog post and I’m just starting to get to the humanity of it.

I started with the goal of blogging as an extension of my job search. Creating a narrative that shows my marketing chops. That shoots steroids into my resume. That builds my online presence and personal brand. You know, all that marketing jazz.

Turns out, to get good at blogging I had to unlearn some of that marketing jazz.

A blog seemed the ideal platform for me. Much of my career has been devoted to direct marketing copywriting, brand strategy and business publishing. I’ve been an editor for many business newsletters, so why not wade into the blogosphere?

I learned blogging is different.

I had to set aside some of the journalistic tendencies of detached reporting and put more of myself into posts. I had to let go of the “brand guideline” approach to controlling the message and polishing each message to a fine sheen.

Related: Before you write your next post, remember just one thing

The polished, technically well-crafted posts were still missing something essential: a human connection with the reader. They were missing a unique perspective, a personal story and emotional oomph. So I looked for ways to add that to new posts. In reading other blogs, I asked myself some questions:

How were exceptional bloggers accomplishing this?

Do they have unique skills apart from other writers?

How can I figure this out more quickly?

born to blogBorn to blog

The answers came in the mail when I received my copy of Born to Blog, the new book by two of my favorite bloggers Stanford Smith and Mark Schaefer. They have written the essential handbook for personal and business blogging.

It covers the basics of setting up a blog, content planning, attracting readers and monetization. Most exciting for me are the sections that help you focus on your purpose and find your unique voice.

Related: What every blogger can learn from Frank Sinatra

One of the things I love about the book is its examples of blogging success by everyday people who share their personal stories. The stories range from battling weight loss, surviving cancer, reaching fitness goals and sharing their hobbies. They touch readers on a human level, and in the process build a community of followers.

These stories lead into a practical examination of successful blogging traits and essential skills that everyone has and can develop. At least half of the book goes deep into the “inner game” of blogging with action steps to develop the tenacity, focus, flexibility, consistency and courage to succeed.

The authors help you understand the reason why before the how to of blogging. Their stated purpose of the book is to explore “how blogging is changing people and businesses from the inside out.”

It doesn’t stop there.

Discovering your blogging skills

Another insightful section of the book identifies the core skills shared by successful bloggers. It is exciting because they are not unique talents, but skills everybody has to some degree. Through their research the authors discovered:

Blogging isn’t an elite marketing strategy. It’s a natural form of communication with skills preprogrammed into us all. You practice these skills every day. You just need to know how to summon them and put them to work.

What are those fundamental skills? In a nutshell:

  • Dreaming – Do you dream of making a difference?
  • Storytelling – Can you tell a story?
  • Persuading – Do you have passions and opinions?
  • Teaching – Can you answer readers’ questions?
  • Curating – Can you critique or categorize a subject?

If you can answer yes, you can blog. The good news is there are ways to summon these skills and the book shows you how. Chapter nine provides a simple evaluation tool to help you identify your strengths so you can focus on your dominant blogging skills.

Born to Blog is a perfect example of the maxim “good things come in small packages.” In 165 pages it gets to the guts and glory of blogging. Whether you are a blogger or part of a social media marketing team, it will help you connect with your audience on a human level. I wish I’d had it when I started a year ago.

[Disclosure: I have met Mark and guest-posted on his blog.]

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All you really need to know about increasing your Klout score

Increasing your Klout

While Klout’s scoring algorithm is a guarded secret, there are some things you can do to increase your social influence score.

“The best strategy for obtaining a high Klout score is to simply create great content that your network wants to share and engage with.”

That’s a direct quote from the Klout website. It pretty much sums up all you need to know to increase your score.

SIMPLY create great content. SIMPLY engage your network.

The irony, of course, is that those things are not simple to do. Nor are they simple to measure.

Measuring your influence

In fact, Klout has a complex formula for measuring influence based on calculating 400 social signals across seven different networks for each individual each day. Most signals are derived from activities that rank influence attributes such as:

  • The ratio of reactions you generate compared to the content you share
  • The selectivity of those who share your content
  • Your engagement levels with a wide range of individuals

Attempts to crack the code for Klout’s algorithm are futile. It is refined daily.

However, Klout does offer insights into the core concepts behind its social scoring. Those guiding principles give you an idea which activities affect your score.

Connecting to multiple networks can help your score. It gives a bigger picture of your potential reach.

Influence is built over time. Scores are based on a 90-day window of activity to arrive at a more consistent measurement.

Influence is the ability to drive action. Engagement is more important than the size of your network.

Activity is not the same as influence. Beyond engagement metrics like retweets and likes, how much content you create is also an important factor.

In a nutshell, this boils down to three primary scoring factors: true reach, amplification probability and network influence.

Improving your Klout scoreImproving your Klout score

The key to improving your Klout score comes down to focusing your social media activities on those three scoring factors. In the excellent book on influence marketing, Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer outlines a practical three step process for accomplishing this.

1. BUILD A RELEVANT NETWORK
For optimum amplification, your personal network needs a balance of size and quality. Of the three scoring factors, this is the most manageable. Some tips for building an engaged network include:

  • Create a benefit for those in your network
  • Seek out others with an affinity for topics you discuss
  • Weed out inactive connections that don’t move your content or provide value

2. DELIVER COMPELLING CONTENT
You need a focused strategy for both curating and creating content on the social Web. To achieve the kind of influence measured by Klout, your content must be helpful, informative, interesting and entertaining. This is what will drive engagement and sharing.

When it comes to social scoring, Klout rewards consistency. You need to blog, link, post, tweet or comment regularly and consistently to elevate your influence rating.

3. SYSTEMATICALLY ENGAGE INFLUENCERS
Your Klout score also depends on how often you engage, and with whom. When other influencers move your content or otherwise engage with you, your personal influence goes up. So it is beneficial to interact with people who have a higher Klout score than you. Some ways to spark engagement:

  • Ask earnest questions
  • Show appreciation individually
  • Be witty and fun
  • Participate in Twitter chats
  • Keep tweets brief to enable sharing

The true benefit of raising your score

By following these three steps, you can make your Klout score go up. This content and network strategy is simple, but not easy. There are no shortcuts, tricks or black hat techniques to game the scoring system. It takes time and consistent effort.

But in the process of working these steps, you will not only see your score increase, you will also see your level of influence increase. Isn’t that all you really need to know?

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Make your digital profile stand out with a personal video

November 20, 2012 7 comments
video for personal branding

Creating a video resume gives you a dynamic way to make your personal brand stand out and to leverage word-of-mouth across social networks.

Have you considered creating a video introduction  for your personal brand? It could be a difference-maker in your career advancement or job search.

Anyone who has had the experience of seeking a job in the past four years already knows it is tough terrain.

Aside from the difficult economic times, the job search game has changed dramatically. Applications are only accepted online, where they are deposited into a database of potentially thousands of candidates.

Another reality of the modern job search is most jobs – as many as 80 percent – are never posted. Advertising open positions on websites and job boards is the last resort for recruiters looking to fill a position. Their preference is to search candidates from within their network before looking outside it. In this environment, getting on the radar of recruiters and hiring managers requires a new approach.

We are all marketers now

The cold-blooded irony of today’s job market is that the most-prized candidates aren’t actively searching for a new job. They are pursued. Job seekers need to become the pursued. They need to think like a marketer, specifically like an inbound marketer in the digital world.

The inbound marketer focuses on creating content that is found and valued by desired customers. For job seekers, I would break it down to two imperatives: be found and be awesome. Develop a personal brand identity that distinguishes you from the masses and build a digital footprint that demonstrates your value. Here is how I have built my digital footprint:

My blog is the content hub for sharing information and showing my expertise and thinking about marketing strategy.

My weekly e-news digest extends my digital publishing profile and demonstrates knowledge of business technology trends affecting the marketing industry.

My personal website is where I have dedicated pages focused on accomplishments that reinforce my personal brand identity.

My LinkedIn profile is search optimized to be found by recruiters for the skills I want to be known for. It is also the primary platform I have for sharing content and engaging with my network of influencers.

My Twitter account is exclusively used for engaging with professionals in my industry. I approach tweeting as a publishing platform, with consistent topics balanced with regular engagement. Anyone looking at my Twitter stream will get a good idea how I use social media as a marketing channel.

My Facebook profile is primarily for personal use. But it is open for the public to see and many of my friends are past colleagues. I consider it a part of my professional digital footprint.

Most recently I have added YouTube video to my footprint. Here is my video resume.

What video can do for your personal brand

Inbound marketers know the power video and images have to persuade and engage users. Ninety percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. When you are found by a recruiter, a video can break through the clutter and quickly convey your personal brand message. Here are the primary objectives for my video.

BRINGING THE BRAND TO LIFE

It tells my story in a unique, engaging way. In it, I can include aspects of my life experiences and work history that a hiring manager cannot discern from a resume. The use of images humanizes the storyline of my career path and reinforces the unique traits I have that comprise my personal brand:

  • Learning. My lifelong passion for continuous learning, inside and outside my profession
  • Creating. My creativity in developing strategy and producing marketing communications
  • Leading. My history of effective teamwork and serving as a leader
  • Achieving. My record of accomplishing objectives and striving for improvement

ENGAGEMENT

According to flip.net, videos have a 400 percent higher engagement than static content. My objective is to get attention, build interest and push recruiters deeper into my digital footprint to learn more. The call-to-action is to discover the details of my accomplishments and contact me to talk further.

BEING FOUND

Uploading video to YouTube with the proper tags and keywords increases the likelihood of being found on search engines. According to MarketingWeek, video results appear in 70 percent of the top 100 search listings. YouTube is the second-most used search engine after Google.

WORD-OF-MOUTH

A video gives me one more way to spread the word through social sharing. Besides embedding it in my LinkedIn profile, the video can be shared via this blog post, on Facebook, Google+ and other social networks like Twitter. YouTube reports that 700 videos are shared on Twitter every minute. With some luck, mine – and yours – will be one of them!

Technology has enabled video creation to be within reach of anybody with a laptop, smartphone or digital camera. Content marketers and brand managers leverage its power to engage, enchant and influence customers online. Job seekers can do the same.

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and followers on the social Web!

Do you make this mistake with your inbound marketing Calls-to-Action?

Make sure your call-to-action has online visitors moving in the right direction.

Online visitors are at different points in the decision-making process. Applying personas to your calls-to-action will keep them engaged and lead to higher conversions.

Many online marketers view a call-to-action (CTA) primarily as the trigger for generating leads to insert into their sales funnel.

But there’s much more.

Traditional methods for qualifying leads focus on bringing them into your sales process, i.e. the funnel. The interactive nature of inbound marketing renders this only partially effective. There is far greater opportunity in aligning your sales process to the prospect’s decision process and where they are in it.

This has a direct impact on your overall CTA messages and approach.

CTA persuasion vs. engagement

A CTA designed to drive traffic to your landing page focuses heavily on persuasion triggers. This is needed to capture a lead for the top of the sales funnel.

However, once your lead enters the funnel, your focus needs to shift to engaging with them in a way that is relevant to their decision-making needs. Think of this as nurturing triggers. Bringing your content, offers and CTA into alignment with those needs will build higher engagement and higher conversions.

Planning for this level of interaction helps your visitor establish confidence in their decision and trust in your ability to deliver solutions and value.

The CTA decision funnel

Every click is a decision. It is one little step of faith and forward progress. Understanding the decision process helps you lead a visitor to resolution. Andrew Chak, author of Submit Now: Designing Persuasive Web Sites, breaks down the consumer decision-making cycle into five stages.

1. Satisfied browser In this state, your visitor is not aware of an immediate need. They have only mild interest. Your goal is to build interest and awareness.

2. Recognition At this stage your visitor acknowledges a need. Your goal is to build motivation.

3. Research Your visitor begins searching for information and establishing criteria for evaluating options. The search can take two forms:

  • Internal search, based on what they already know from personal experience
  • External search, to build confidence in taking knowledgeable action

Your goal is to give them relevant information.

4. Evaluation At this stage your visitor narrows the field of options to identify the best solution and who is the most trustworthy provider. The evaluation is based on two attributes:

  • Objective attributes such as cost and specifications
  • Subjective attributes such as brand perception, loyalty and confidence

5. Purchase decision

Each stage of the decision process requires a unique CTA that leads your visitor through the points of resolution along the way. Each click represents a series of conversions building persuasive momentum that leads to the ultimate decision to purchase. To skip these micro-level actions is a mistake that will diminish your opportunity and your conversion rates.

Following the metrics at each point gives you a solid basis for testing your CTA and conversions. On testing and optimizing your CTA, marketing software leader Hubspot offers the following advice:

CTAs based on previous behavior are built by taking the information you know about your prospects and making educated guesses about what they want to see next. In this way, you engage them further with your assets and keep them on your website.

inbound calls to actionThey suggest the following CTA best practices:

  • Make your offer clear. Your offer should be either low commitment (i.e. free white paper, ebook, video) or high commitment (demo or sales consultation) depending on the stage in the decision-making process. It needs to give a benefit – a reason for your visitor to take the next action.
  • Make it action-oriented. Invoke a sense of urgency leading with a verb. Tell your visitor what to do next.
  • Make it stand out visually. Always place it above the fold on the page and incorporate design and color choices that make it the most prominent element on the page.
  • Make it align with your content. The highest CTA click-through rates are attributed to ensuring you have logical context to the content your visitor sees or expects to see. For example, your About Us content will vary from your Product Info page. You also want to ensure your language and design elements are consistent from CTA to landing page.

Keeping your visitor’s decision-making process in mind will help you balance the optimum combination of persuasion and engagement to win their trust and confidence. And ultimately win their business.

SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. How are you doing with your CTA conversions?

Related Articles:

Call-to-action marketing: 10 best and worst phrases

Call-to-action buttons: examples and best practices

Call-to-action examples for your social media copy

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100 motivators to compel action by online visitors

Content marketers seek to engage online visitors and motivate response. They can benefit from what direct marketers learned by years of testing and measuring response rates.

Content marketers seek to engage online visitors and motivate response. They can benefit from what direct marketers learned by years of testing and measuring response rates.

Do you realize that if you are engaged in online marketing, you are a direct marketer?

Some may bristle at the notion of being associated with junk mail, buying prospect lists, telemarketing cold calls and other intrusive negatives linked to the direct marketing industry. But online marketing is the purest direct marketing medium ever created. It differs in its context, moving away from interruption/outbound communications to an inbound communication model.

But online marketing shares a definite kinship with direct marketing in its ability to communicate directly one-to-one with your audience. And it also requires motivating a response in order to be effective. That’s why successful online marketers have learned to incorporate classic direct marketing copywriting techniques into their content.

We are, after all, in the business of generating a response:

  • Clicking a link to more information
  • Clicking on a banner ad
  • Opening an email
  • Sharing and Liking content
  • Getting comments or survey answers
  • Placing, or adding to an order

Content that delivers value

The focus of online marketing has shifted to engaging with people who want to hear from you, rather than interrupting them. With that, it makes no sense to utilize direct marketing techniques to get a response if there is no payoff of value content for your audience. They will view it as a “click trick” and will abandon you with an unfavorable impression.

To succeed, content marketers have to arrive at the right balance of fascination and meaning. People are online to get answers or information that will enhance their life in some way. Your challenge is to find ways to draw them in from a mass of information options and then deliver on the promise of relevant value when they arrive.

RELATED: 7 secrets to sinfully persuasive selling

Content that motivates response

You’ve probably given a lot of thought to the value proposition of your product or service. The other piece of your content marketing is building your message into one that will motivate your audience to respond while supporting your brand promise.

Here is where we can benefit from the direct marketers who came before us.

I have spent many years of my career in the direct marketing world. During that time I studied the best practices learned by the pioneers of the industry. The impressive thing about them is they tested and measured every element of a campaign to maximize response rates and ROI.

One of the first generation direct marketing greats was copywriter Dick Hodgson. He shared tested and tried methods in several books, most of which are no longer in print. Over the course of his career he compiled a comprehensive list of the human motivators that drive response.

While the communication channels have shifted from print media to online, these motivators still resonate with the people we are trying to influence today. I have found this list to be extremely helpful for creating appeals that move the response needle. If you are looking for some idea-starters to inspire your content marketing, this list will help you too.

SOUND OFF: Tell me what you think. Are there some others you’ve used successfully that should be added to the list?

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