Month: April 2014


Part 2: Deeper Insights Through Better Persona Profiling

By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy—March 14, 2014

Marketers are ultimately trying to persuade people to make a decision. Whether marketers are tasked with creating brand awareness, which may lead to a consumer making a decision to patronize the brand, or are tasked with direct marketing for a specific call to action, the marketer’s goal is to persuade people to make a decision to buy their product or service.

Our work in Progressive Persona Profiling began with this simple premise of using the science of and research that currently exists around human behavior as it relates to decision-making. We believe that the current form of stagnant personas isn’t accurate for today’s buyer who is empowered to conduct product or service research on their own.

“Bounded Rationality is the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision.” Herbert A. Simon, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics “for his pioneering research into the decision-making process within economic organizations” (1978) coined the term bounded rationality “as an alternative basis for the mathematical modeling of decision-making, as used in economics and related disciplines; it complements rationality as optimization, which views decision-making as a fully rational process of finding an optimal choice given the information available.” Simon also coined another term in the science of decision-making: “Satisficing, which is a decision-making strategy or cognitive heuristic that entails searching through the available alternatives until an acceptability threshold is met.”

While the bounded rationality philosophy may have been relevant to the pre-Internet world, the instantaneous availability of information renders the concept obsolete as it was written. The basic principle of bounded rationality can still pertain to the information that is currently available to a user in their search; however, we consider this to be unbounded rationality.

Progressive Persona Profiling is foundationally based on the unbounded rationality idea of decision-making with the understanding that the unbounded piece of this philosophy now means whatever information is available to the world through the Internet, which is still vast, and through the living document nature of the Internet, which is truly unbounded for the future, while still being finite for a particular moment in time.

In marketing, unbounded rationality translates into an always-on marketing ecosystem that provides information to the prospective buyer on the buyer’s terms and time, and in their space. This is unlike interruptive or disruptive marketing that attempts to interrupt or disrupt the buyer in order to deliver a marketing message and hopes that the message will result in the buyer following the call to action.

The creation of Progressive Persona Profiling has been heavily influenced by other important individuals whose work centers on buyer behavior, such as:

Howard & Sheth (A Theory of Buyer Behavior)
Francesco Nicosia (1966 The Nicosia Model of Consumer Behavior)
James F. Engel
Roger D. Blackwell
David T. Kollat (1978 Consumer Behavior)
Alan Cooper and all who followed him in their collective persona work
Additional influence has been seen from the recent area of customer experience, which has now developed into a well-practiced discipline.

The five buyer stages consisting of awareness, consideration, inquiry, purchase and loyalty have become obsolete, unable to effectively accelerate complex purchase decisions due to their lack of granularity. The five buyer stages also fail to take into account the homeostasis that some audiences find themselves in. These are audiences who are satisfied with what they have and distracted by other issues and problems, and who only start to pay attention to a marketer’s message when they see or hear a compelling event that relates to their company and career, or experience an event that is life threatening.

Progressive Persona Profiling allows marketers to gain deep insight into the buyer’s need or want state, along with their thinking, feeling, experience and consideration during each stage of the modern buyer’s 10-stage journey. The first step of the process is to perform primary and secondary research to gain a deep and thorough understanding of the target audience, competitive landscape and overall market conditions that may influence the buyer along this 10-stage journey.

The various theories of buyer behavior all take into account buyer variables, such as consideration, thoughts, feelings and experiences. The theories tap into the logical (thoughts), emotive and evoked (feelings), experiential and attitudinal (experience), and analytical (consideration) powers of the brain. While Howard & Sheth’s work details several more variables, such as perceptual bias, sensitivity to information, personality variables, predisposition, inhibitors, comprehension and attention, to name a few, we believe that the basic four variables (thought, feelings, experience and consideration) encompass the other named attributes. Perceptual bias and inhibitors are covered in the variable of experience as is predisposition. Comprehension and attention are covered in the variable thinking, as is attitudinal attributes. Motive and intentions are covered in the need or want states at the top of the grid in the graphic below.

As with traditional stagnant personas, one target must be chosen as the subject of the persona. In a B2C instance, it is recommended to start with the segment that has shown the highest propensity to purchase. In a B2B environment, the marketer may choose several key decision makers who work together to make a group decision. If it is a group target, a single Progressive Persona Profile must be constructed for each member of the group, as each will have different points of view regarding the purchase. Traditional stagnant personas can be, and are, the starting point from which a successful Progressive Persona Profile can be built.

Once the research has been completed and analyzed, a first draft of the Progressive Persona Profile is crafted, which is the hypothesis of the profile. Measuring the hypothesis against the actual research allows for honing the Progressive Persona Profile into a realistic depiction of a buyer’s thoughts, feelings, experiences and considerations as they move through the buyer’s journey. Our analysts, researchers and strategists work together to develop the final Progressive Persona Profile.

The main subject matter of Pillar 3 in KERN’s The 8 Pillars of Demand Generation for Revenue Acceleration is target-audience marketing through Progressive Persona Profiling.


While the above example of the Progressive Persona Profiling grid shows every stage of the buyer’s journey and the states of thought, emotion, experience and consideration, in order to discuss the process, we’re going to examine separately each need or want state. We will do this in our next blog.

We need to be very clear that the research process is the most important and vital step in creating a Progressive Persona Profile. Both primary and secondary research are needed to correctly inform the strategists creating the Progressive Persona Profile. Once the hypothesis version is completed, more research is used to validate or challenge the insights reported in it. Going forward, real-time analytics delivering relevant data to the strategist are utilized to update the Progressive Persona Profile. This enables the Progressive Persona Profile to be a living document.



A new process in the evolution of marketing persona development

By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy—February 12, 2014

What do you know about your buyer? Or, perhaps better questions that marketers should ask are: What don’t I know about my buyer? How can I learn as much as possible about them?

In Part One of this two-part series, I will introduce and explore The Modern Buyer’s 10-Stage Journey, which is the foundational structure that was used in the development of Progressive Persona Profiling, as Part Two will cover the Progressive Persona Profiling theory and practical applications.

Using marketing disciplines, such as segmentation and persona development, helps marketers better understand their buyer or prospect. Marketing strategists have been able to gain insights into their audience by segmentation. Segmentation is accomplished by defining criteria that segments or categorizes the audience by a single or set of variables: geographic, demographic, psychographic, generational, attitudinal, or simply traits that are specific to a product set or industry. Seeking trends within the segmented data provides information that leads to insights that marketers can leverage to better understand the buyer or prospect in order to position a product or service, craft a more relevant message, plan media buying or even plan an entire campaign.

Then came personas, which was a way to put a name and oftentimes a face on the voice of the customer. Alan Cooper, an American software designer and programmer, known best as the “Father of Visual Basic,” pioneered the use of personas as a practical interaction design tool in 1983.1 Cooper literally play acted the part of a project manager that he named “Kathy” while walking home on a golf course. He was pleased to discover that, even though some passersby were quizzical regarding his running two-person dialogue, this activity allowed him to effectively cut through complex design questions of functionality and interaction. By conversing with “Kathy,” he was able to pose questions that he believed his persona would ask, based on the profile contained within the persona he had developed.2

In 1993, the marketing firm Ogilvy & Mather presented “Customer Prints,” offering a different use for personas, other than software development, zeroing in on the marketing application of this philosophy of creating a fictional character based on data, logic and emotions that provided marketers with a clearer picture of who they are marketing to. By the year 2000, persona development and the use of personas to inform strategists had been largely adopted by most agencies and client-side marketers.

Today, personas are developed with a wealth of data unimaginable to those who first crafted these “voice of the customer” fictional characters decades ago. Yet, having had experience in conducting the research necessary to formulate personas, and actually writing dozens of them, KERN still felt that the concept of personas needed to evolve.

One of the biggest concerns that we had in using traditional personas was that they are stagnant, but buyers were not. There was no synergy between the stagnant persona and the ever-changing mindset that someone experiences as they travel through the buyer’s journey. The old tried-and-true buyer’s journey of awareness, consideration, inquiry, purchase and loyalty is also something that needed to evolve to truly capture the journey of today’s modern buyer.

In order to create a solution that addressed both the problem of a stagnant persona and an evolved modern buyer’s journey, we first set out to define a new modern buyer’s journey. Based on the rapidly changing human behavior patterns that occurred as a result of the convergence of faster connection speeds on both mobile and home devices, the accelerated adoption of online searching and sharing, and the proliferation of social networks and always-on communication abilities, KERN developed The Modern Buyer’s 10-Stage Journey.


The Modern Buyer’s 10-Stage Journey: Some may consider it presumptuous of us to define all buyer journeys for all products or services into these 10 stages. So let us begin by stating that this journey isn’t linear, and that many of these stages can be traversed in seconds or together in groups. Also, some stages, such as Stage 7: Social Research, can take place at every stage.

The more complex the service or solution, such as in large B2B marketing endeavors, the longer the buyer’s journey or buy-cycle will be. For demonstration purposes, let’s look at two distinctly different buyers with very different solutions. The first buyer is Harry, shopping at a supermarket with his wife. He falls victim to what used to be termed an “impulse buy” at the end cap of a supermarket aisle. The second buyer is Nicole, the CIO of a Fortune 500 technology company, who is responsible for the company’s IT infrastructure.

Stage 1: Distraction
Harry walks into a supermarket with his wife. She’s picking items off the shelf, and he notices a power screwdriver display on the end cap of an aisle. He stops to check it out.

Nicole is trying to find her group at an IT conference, but her cell phone battery just died. She borrows the phone of a colleague and notices that her colleague’s phone is several years old. She wonders to herself, “This phone must be five years old. Five years? That’s how old our servers are. I feel like this five-year-old phone is antiquated, so why don’t I feel the same about our server situation?”

Usually, the first brain function that allows a new thought into consideration is distraction. Perhaps it’s a story that you heard, an email that made you think, a product that a friend or coworker showed you. Or maybe you took a break to browse through the social channels and saw something that distracted you enough to make you recognize a need.

Stage 2: Recognize Need
Harry picks up the item and remembers that his power screwdriver wasn’t working well the last time he used it.

Nicole’s conference has ended, and after traveling, she’s back at her home office. She thinks again, “My servers are five years old. They’re not going to be very efficient working with our other newly planned technologies.”

Stage 3: Search for Solutions
Harry sees that the item is marked on sale for $19.95. He pulls out his cell phone and searches power screwdrivers on

Nicole searches on Google, looking for the type of servers she currently has. She reads reviews about other servers, downloads white papers, views a few dozen videos and reads comparison reviews.

Stage 4: Seek Vendor Solutions
Harry pulls up the five best sellers on the website, one of which is on display before him on the supermarket shelf. He reads the benefits of a different brand.

After a few weeks of research, Nicole meets with her executive team, asks their opinions on servers and receives several strong opinions. The team discusses their specific needs and forms a task force to investigate possible vendors that could provide the best solution.

Stage 5: Evaluate Solutions
Harry believes that the benefits of the other brand seem to be about the same as the screwdriver in the store.

Nicole’s task force reports back to the team with information regarding the vendors and their solutions for servers. The team narrows it down to two choices. Arrangements are made to have representatives of each of the two vendors come on-site to provide a demonstration, after which the team will meet again to determine their top choice.

Stage 6: Justify Solutions
Harry realizes that the screwdriver on the store’s shelf is being offered at a good price and that he won’t need to drive anywhere else or buy it online. Heck, he could be using it this afternoon!

Nicole and her executive team have met with their internal teams, their integration partners and several of their directors. They have prepared a document that justifies their selection to the C-suite.

The logical and emotional rationalizations of the purchase recommendation for a given vendor and solution arrive at Stage 6. Here is where a buyer must justify the purchase to the other decision-makers and influencers. Since, in business, people want to feel they are making logical, well-thought-out, non-emotional decisions, the facts about performance, speeds, successes, easy startup, support and satisfaction after purchase all start to be important in the decision process. However, at the same time, the human factor of personal preference, trust from interactions and trust from a company’s reputation and references. There is a saying: “We all buy emotionally, but justify logically.” It is why luxury brands can sell some cars (Mercedes) that do the same thing as another car (Hyundai) yet cost five times the price.

Stage 7: Social Research
Harry wonders what the reviews on this brand of screwdriver are, so he checks a few social review sites. Most people seem very happy with it.

Nicole and her team have checked social sites, industry sites and review sites, and have spoken with countless colleagues, both current and former, to research and inform the decision during each and every stage of their buyer’s journey.

Stage 7 is not really a destination. For the modern buyer, social research is an ongoing iterative process happening throughout the journey. We call it a stage because it makes it clear to marketers that they need to focus energy and effort on their social strategy. Specifically, how their social strategy is going to support all the other stages of the buyer’s journey to purchase and, at the same time, bring light to the fact that post-purchase social feedback is CRITICAL to the support of new-customer selling. Thus, Stage 7 sets up the focus on the content strategy to be used for social media, fueled by customer feedback and accessed by potential buyers within their social communities.

Stage 8: Cost Analysis
Harry looks up the price on (This process has become known as “showrooming.”) The supermarket is charging a dollar more than, but charges a shipping fee.

Nicole and her team have done their homework. They have provided a complete cost analysis and projections on return on investment in a detailed spreadsheet that they presented to the C-suite. After several weeks, they have received approval to move forward with the purchase.

Stage 9: Purchase
Harry places the screwdriver in the shopping cart, pays for it with his groceries and takes it home.

Nicole’s team works with the procurement division of their company to onboard the vendor, after which they can issue a purchase order. Then, they can make arrangements to introduce the new servers into their workflow, which is a carefully calculated process necessary to minimize downtime.

Stage 10: Evaluate Decision
Harry is very happy with the performance of the power screwdriver when he uses it later that afternoon. If Harry is so inclined, he may even write a review about it online.

Nicole’s company has installed and is operating the new servers, with which they are pleased. The deployment didn’t take as long as they anticipated, and now they are positioned to inform their colleagues at other companies about their experience.

Stage 10 is an often overlooked and neglected stage by the marketer. In this stage, the prospect has now turned into a customer or client. Marketing communications include all customer experience pieces, such as onboarding, customer service, upsell, cross-sell, fostering brand, product advocacy and, ultimately, building brand evangelists.

The modern buyer’s journey will be unique to each buyer for a product brand or service and the time needed to travel the journey can be years, months or minutes, as illustrated in the examples of Harry and Nicole. Harry’s complete journey took less than five or 10 minutes, while Nicole’s journey may take a year or two to fully complete.

After developing The Modern Buyer’s 10-Stage Journey, it became clear to us that traditional stagnant personas are no longer valid and we needed to provide an evolution of the persona philosophy to map the modern buyer’s journey. There is a different thought process for buyers as they move through the journey. Nicole wasn’t thinking about new servers when she was distracted; therefore, a persona describing Nicole in that specific stage isn’t valid for the entire buyer’s journey, nor is the snapshot of Nicole in any of the other nine stages.

Therefore, we have developed an evolution of persona development that we call Progressive Persona Profiling, which I will discuss in detail in Part Two. So please come back to read more in March!

1 Wikipedia: Alan Cooper:
2 The Origin of Personas: Alan Cooper:

– See more at:


How Native Advertising Impacts Marketing Strategy

By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy—August 27, 2013

Native advertising. It’s one of the hot new buzzwords being used to describe a new digital channel. However, it is actually tied to a tried-and-true method of engaging potential customers through educational and informational communications. Taking on the look of an “editorial” wrapper, native advertising is a marketing strategy that has been around since the first paid advertisements were written.

What is native advertising?
Advertorials, edu-tainment, infomercials, sponsored ads and paid-advertisement disclaimers are all forms of native advertising. There are many definitions, although this particular one from Lewis DVorkin, of Forbes, is on point: “A paid-for placement on a digital screen or within a content stream that promotes a brand’s content marketing, much the same way editorial content is promoted.”1 The roots of native advertising can be found in the earliest long-form print advertising executions, especially in the pre-advertising-regulation “Mad Men” era. Here’s an example from May 1962 issue of Mechanix Illustrated. It appears to be an article, but is really an advertorial: “Fastest Way To Grow Hair,” by Robert Brindley.2

The modern form of native advertising can be seen on websites such as BuzzFeed, where “sponsored” examples of native advertising can be seen every day within the queue of featured articles. Such articles include “10 People Who Are Too Ready For Summer,”3 sponsored by Corona, and “13 Travel Tips That Will Make You Feel Smart,”4 by Holiday Inn Express.

In the modern digital world, native advertising is gaining in use against banner advertising. In a recent study by IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough5 (a native advertising media placement provider), the following insights were published:

Consumers looked at native ads 53% more frequently than display ads.
25% more consumers were measured to look at in-feed native ad placements (the most common editorial native ad format) than display ad units.
Native ads registered 18% higher lift in purchase intent and 9% lift for brand affinity responses than banner ads.
32% of respondents said the native ad “is an ad I would share with a friend of family member” versus just 19% for display ads.
For marketers, these numbers are impressive and compelling enough to gain serious consideration by marketing strategists against or in addition to traditional banner ads. What seems to be at issue for strategic marketers is how and where to plan for native advertising within their content strategies.

What separates native advertising from pure content marketing? What strategies need to be considered when planning to use some form of native advertising? The key to understanding the subtle differences between content marketing and native advertising is a focus on the definitions of paid, earned and owned media.

Content marketing is the building of a library of content assets to engage prospective and current customers as they travel through the modern buyer’s journey. It is also classified as earned media when the content is mentioned or referenced outside of the company-owned digital properties and, therefore, is also considered owned media.

Native advertising differs in that it is paid media. Unlike content marketing, native advertising can be placed within media just like digital banner ads. This allows marketers to pinpoint their target audience in exactly the same process.

Thus, the conundrum of “where to park” native advertising occurs. Is it really part of content strategy or does it sit better with the advertising department? Does the content strategy team plan for the native ads or is it the function of the traditional creative department that creates advertising for all other channels? How do the traditional media planners create strategy for native advertisements? Do they use the same strategies and tactics used to place banner ads? Or, should social media marketing strategists give input on the content and placement of these native ads? These questions will be answered as the adoption of native advertising moves from the early-adopters stage6 to the early-majority stage, and as the availability to purchase native ads at scale increases from its current state of limited availability.

As the proliferation of native advertising evolves, marketing strategists must be prepared and informed to help their companies or clients navigate the early and latter stages of this interesting and upcoming digital channel. For keen strategists who make it a point to consider all screens, as well as multi screen and omni channel messaging, further study and testing of native advertising needs to be part of our current and near-future planning.


Forbes Magazine:
Blog: Modern Mechanix, Article: Mechanix Illustrated, May 1962: “Fastest Way To Grow Hair, by Robert Brindley”
“10 People Who Are Too Ready For Summer” sponsored by Corona (
“13 Travel Tips That Will Make You Feel Smart” by Holiday Inn Express
Native Advertising Effectiveness Study by IPG Media Lab and Sharethrough:
Wikipedia: The diffusion of innovations according to Rogers.


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy—December 9, 2011

New Tablet or New Content Delivery Vehicle?

Is it possible that marketing minds were behind the pricing model on the new Amazon Kindle Fire?

It’s a logical conclusion, since Amazon is actually selling the Kindle Fire at $199, which is below the cost of manufacturing the tablet according to numerous reports including this one in the Wall Street Journal.

“The Kindle Fire, at a retail price point of $199, is sold at a loss by Amazon, just as the basic Kindle is also sold at a loss at the current $79 retail price point,” said Andrew Rassweiler, senior director of teardown services for IHS. “Amazon makes its money not on Kindle hardware, but on the paid content and other products it plans to sell the consumer through the Kindle.”

The razor and blade business model has been around, well, since the razor and the blade. It’s the same basic principle as the printer and the cartridge, where a manufacturer makes a product that is dependent on the continuation sales principle. Once the blade has dulled, the razor is no longer functional; once the printer’s toner cartridge is empty, the printer is basically a paperweight until a new toner cartridge is installed.

The Kindle Fire is built for one main purpose, which is to consume paid content from Amazon. The other features, such as Wi-Fi, email capabilities, .pdf and .doc readers and the ability to play Flash, are gratuitous extras in Amazon’s marketing plan.

Preliminary results are showing that Amazon has hit the proverbial ball out of the park. There are even some reports that the Kindle Fire is taking a bite out of Apple’s iPad sales. Debates are taking place online, offline and in the media regarding the battle between Kindle Fire and iPad. No one is claiming that the Fire can match the iPad feature for feature, as it obviously cannot; however, this isn’t about a head-to-head feature comparison. This is all about VALUE.

The $199 selling price IS Amazon’s marketing strategy. That price point is also their sales strategy, their product strategy and their strategy for selling content going forward. What Amazon is really marketing is their Amazon Prime subscription service, which is being sold for $79 per year and includes:

• Unlimited instant streaming of thousands of movies and TV shows with Prime instant videos

• A Kindle book to borrow for FREE each month from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Amazon Prime members also receive free two-day shipping on millions of items sold on, and Amazon is currently offering a one-month free trial.

The actual piece of hardware is indeed a content delivery vehicle. And hardly anyone other than Amazon is considering the marketing repercussions that huge sales of Kindle Fires will have specifically on the demand for content from content providers. So magazine publishers, network and content providers of all shapes and sizes are currently vying for a piece of this newly created content consumption market.

Amazon’s aggressive online marketing campaign and transactional website are all part of the overarching marketing strategy that started with the razor-and-blade model in mind from the very beginning.

– See more at:


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy—July 28, 2011

Every database marketing program begins with a rhetorical question that the marketer already knows the answer to: How good is the data?

The answer is usually, “Not good,” because many companies overlook the essential first step of Knowledge Discovery in Databases (KDD):

Step 1 Data Cleansing

Also known as data hygiene—this process perpetually cleans and updates the data as part of the sales and billing process. Companies that overlook data cleansing, give it a low priority or sweep it under the rug soon find themselves with dirty data on their hands. But organizations that keep their data squeaky clean have the best chance of mining their data successfully because they can check off Step 1, and head right to:

Step 2 Data Integration

Sometimes, it’s desirable to combine more than one set of data—such as customers and prospects or leads that are in various stages of the demand waterfall. You may also want to aggregate prospects from more than one source, including both purchased and rented lists. Although there are several steps involved in data integration, the most important is de-duplicating the records. This can eliminate a tremendous amount of waste. But you must establish rules that define which source is preferred when duplicates are found.

Step 3—Data Selection

The data selection team needs to determine thresholds, limitations and other selection criteria. For example, if firmographic attributes are the most important criteria, then only the data models that meet the minimum threshold for annual income or revenue would be selected. If psychographic data matter more, then records might be selected for specific interests such as camping, concerts or social causes.

Step 4 Data Transformation

Once the best data has been selected, it must be transformed into a uniform set and optimized for use in a marketing program or campaign. All the fields must be consolidated, merged and purged so that they will be easy to index and use for data mining. If you’re using personalization in your campaign—and you should—this step is essential to ensure accuracy.

Step 5 Data Mining

This process is exacting, but in a nutshell, it involves searching the various fields of the database for specific attributes. These are then used to identify trends that can be matched against the predictive models that represent the marketer’s ideal prospects. The process is complete when the mined data resembles the data models. The Predictive Model Mark-up Language (PMML) developed by the Data Mining Group enables uniform data mining processes and techniques across vendors.

Step 6 Pattern Evaluation

The patterns that emerge during the data mining process must be evaluated to determine which are relevant to the model and which aren’t. If one of the new patterns contradicts the original persona, revisiting the model is a good idea. If the two are consistent, the model is validated. Pattern evaluation can lead to the discovery of trends that might not have been apparent to the team that created the original model. And using the knowledge that is revealed can have a very positive effect on the entire program.

Step 7 Knowledge Presentation

The proof is in the pudding. Once the final data are selected, a report that explains why the chosen data are the best for the program is delivered. Everything that was learned during the data mining process—including trends, patterns, and anomalies—is included in the knowledge presentation to the user. The key is to present the findings in a clear, easy-to-digest format.

While this has been a brief and simplified description of data mining, the entire process—which involves a number of different algorithms—is actually quite complex. Classification algorithms that predict one or more discrete variables, regression algorithms that predict one or more continuous variables, segmentation, association, and sequence algorithms are all used. When practiced correctly, database marketing, data mining, and predictive modeling can all yield maximum ROI.


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy— Originally published on April 25, 2011

If the three most important words in real estate are location, location, and location, then the three most important words in Lead Generation are quality, quality, and quality. When it comes to generating leads, think of quality as the “X” factor.The other critical factor in lead generation is timing. Sales needs a steady supply of high-quality leads in order to meet their sales goals. But what are the necessary ingredients you need to turn this sales-and-marketing dream into a workable reality? In the 1970s, Paul Masson ran a very successful advertising campaign with Orson Welles as their spokesman. Their tag line, “We will sell no wine before its time,” can be applied to marketers who don’t want to turn their leads over to sales too early. Not wanting to waste sales’ time is a worthy goal. However, when sales is clamoring for more leads, so they can make their quota, marketing will likely give in and pass on leads prematurely. How then can smart marketers make that sure their leads are mature enough to be given to sales? Is there a system that can be put in place that can determine when leads are ready to buy? The old theory that leads should be pushed through a pipeline won’t work in today’s sophisticated and complicated markets. The strategic marketing process has changed dramatically from just a few years ago when the sales rep was seen as an adviser who guided the prospect through the decision-making process. Today’s prospect has a wealth of information at his fingertips, and it’s easy to do research, access reviews from peers, and make an informed decision without ever talking to a salesperson.

Today, buyers don’t want to talk to sales reps until they’re ready to buy. In fact, a recent Forrester Research report stated “Mature lead management processes pay off in better sales follow-up rates and higher close-rate percentages for marketing-generated leads.” But how do you know when your leads are mature? What’s the best metric to use? The answer is that leads need to go through a thorough process that’s been developed by bringing together the entire sales-and-marketing organization. Definitions of lead quality must be established and agreed upon by all constituents. And protocols for lead scoring, classification, routing, and nurturing all must be established. Each of these components will have thresholds and parameters that streamline, automate, maximize, and optimize the lead process. Once it’s honed to perfection, the result is quality leads, better-quality leads, and top-quality leads. Companies who partner with a direct marketing agency to create, automate, manage, and facilitate their entire lead generation process will end up far ahead of their competitors. Watch for Part 2 of this article: “8-Step Lead Nurturing Explained in Detail.”


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy— Original Post March 15, 2011

“Content” is a catch-all phrase for all that lives on a Web site or social media channel. This includes blog posts, videos, photographs, advertising copy, Twitter feeds, white papers, testimonials, Webcasts, banners, wall posts, comments—everything.
In an age when Web sites and social media channels are a dime a dozen, your content is what sets your World Wide Web outpost apart. Interesting, dynamic and relevant content gets you the most hits over time—hence the adage “Content is king.”
So how do you know your content is up to snuff?

Before you can answer, you have to decide where you stand in the never-ending question of quality vs. quantity. Both quality and quantity have their advantages. How, then, do you find the right balance?

Will loads of thrown-together blog posts bring a better response than a few carefully crafted articles? Can a dozen hastily shot videos gain more attention than a couple of highly entertaining movies? Should you offer 25 white papers you’ve dragged from the attic or four white papers that are pertinent?

Naturally, the answers to these questions are subjective, based on your company’s persona and taste. Define the standard you want to achieve, then aim for it using the resources at your disposal.

To make sure you hit the mark, you’ll want a content strategy. This is a modern application of the old British Army rule of the 5 Ps: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. In other words, a content strategy is a plan for creating an effective Web site or social channel.

One way to craft a content strategy is to think like a newspaper editor-in-chief. Ask yourself these questions: What flow should my content have? Is its purpose to educate, inform, present or debate? Do I want a universal tone across everything on my channel? Who will create, edit and approve the content?

Once you have your content strategy, test your content. Is it unique? Does it provide value to the user? Does your content serve its intended purpose? How do the different elements drive the message? Would a multimedia strategy deliver the message more effectively?

For extra credit, make an editorial calendar listing your proposed content by topic, type and scheduled date of publication. Following an editorial calendar is considered a best practice for producing a Web site or social channel that stays fresh and relevant for users.

Of course, one minute on the Internet will show you that people can produce Web sites and social channels without all of this forethought. But creating content simply for the sake of having it will likely damage the message, brand and image you are trying to communicate. Why not be in the elite minority? Develop, plan, review, correct and measure what you put online before you post it. Then, you’re sure to be content with your content—and your users will, too.


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy

A flight can have all the components of a successful trip. But if the landing is bad, everything else is quickly forgotten.

The same is true for a marketing campaign. When the landing page is flawed, all that strategic planning, careful copywriting, list selection and data mining won’t save it.

The most important, but often overlooked, component of an online marketing campaign is the landing page, where prospects arrive when they respond to your banners, emails or pay-per-click ads. In developing your campaign, you probably paid a lot of attention to segmentation, prospect personas and psychographics. But these details often get overlooked when the lead-capture page is designed.

Since your entire campaign hinges on conversion, it’s essential that the landing page convinces your prospects to take further action.

Pages that capture information about the prospect should always aim for simplicity and be easy to complete. Limit the number of questions you ask, and make them important and pertinent. And don’t ask for information that the prospect either won’t answer or won’t answer truthfully, such as annual gross revenue. You don’t want him or her to leave because the questions were too intrusive. Providing the information you requested is a vital step that converts your prospect into a lead.

Landing pages with Personal URLs (PURLs) can improve response. And pre-populating online name and address fields can also yield a much higher conversion rate.

Ideally, landing pages should be designed so that the reader doesn’t need to scroll up, down or side to side. Including links on the page makes it possible for the reader to leave before he provides the desired information. However, if you’re only looking for leads that are nearly ready to purchase, that may be a sound strategy. Just be sure to decide whether or not you want to include links before the page is designed. You can always send the links to those who respond in a subsequent email that also thanks them for responding.

Transactional landing pages—which are designed to sell—usually appear at the beginning of the check-out process in a shopping cart format. To maximize conversion, they feature strong sales copy and a compelling call to action.

If your prospects will have to remember the Web address without an email or link to refer to, you’ll need to come up with a memorable URL. This is especially true if you’re advertising in magazines, outdoors or in other media where the consumer won’t likely be at the computer.

Quick Response Bar Codes (QR Codes) are becoming more popular because they allow prospects to access your landing page simply by taking a photo with their smart phone.

The best landing pages are simple, clear, and easy to read and understand. Use videos, navigations bars and other visual distractions sparingly. And always include your privacy policy and a way for the reader to opt out.

Successful marketers test multiple versions of their landing pages. The most common—and the easiest to execute—is a simple A-B test. In larger campaigns, multivariate tests with different copy, layout and messaging can be used to produce one with the highest conversion rate.

Your landing page can either be an obstacle that prevents your prospects from taking the next step or the vehicle that delivers high-quality leads that you can turn into customers. Remember, it’s not a great flight without a great landing…page.


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy

Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Social Media CurtainSocial media “wizards” of most marketing companies operate in very mysterious ways. What is all that hocus pocus involving Tweets, wall posts, blogs, group discussions, friends and followers? What is all that Yelp-ing all about? It used to be that four squared was 16, but now it is a location-based social network. (Four Square) If you are an executive, do you need to pay attention to all of this, or do you need to hire your own social media wizard so that he or she can converse in this strange social media language with the other wizards?

Social media has snowballed into the hippest new medium with which to engage your audience. While the “pull marketing” of social media is very different from the “push marketing” of interruption-based marketing, the goal of the marketer is essentially the same. The message needs to be delivered to the target. How that message is constructed, packaged and transported is very different indeed within the realm of social media. Administrative executives and everyone else, for that matter, need to pay close attention to the phenomenon that has become social media.

“People can be divided into three groups: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened.” That famous quote from Nicholas Murray Butle is extremely apropos when it is applied to social media. The people that are watching social media happen are the “observers” or the “lurkers,” people who read Twitter streams, read some blog posts, and read some Facebook pages; the people that make things happen are considered the “influencers” of social media; the people that wonder what happen are everyone else. That third group of people is becoming smaller and smaller, as the importance of engaging people through social media becomes a more popular and necessary element of any successful marketing campaign.

Where can you reach your audience?” The answer has become apparent to savvy marketers. Social networks are where you will find your audience. Marketing to that audience within the social network are very different marketing than what most are familiar with. Knowing how to reach the audience effectively is still the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question.

How can you know which social media network is best for your purpose? How can you determine where your efforts will be rewarded with positive feedback and sentiment? What strategies regarding the content of your message will be implemented? These are all valid concerns, and while there is no easy one-size-fits-all answer, there is a coherent, correct, best practice to address these issues. Hire a professional agency proficient in social media marketing, or appoint or train someone within your company to handle these important social media duties, or do both.

Social media marketing has become a complex marketing discipline with a host of new specialists that can create a social media environment that engages your audience without alienating them. There are many instances where a social media marketing campaign has been specifically devised to be the “companion” marketing piece to a larger marketing initiative, as we have had many instances to create these types of programs for our clients as an “enhancement” of the larger marketing program we have constructed.

Pay close attention to your social media “wizards” and even closer attention to the conversations that your customers are having on social media networks. The social media wizard is a whiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was; the social media wiz is one because of the wonderful things he does.


By Scott Levine, VP, Strategy
Can you imagine the chatter that must be going on behind closed doors at the top corporate boardrooms across the land? “We have a blanket marketing campaign with heavy advertising support, direct, tele, broadcast, online all in a media blitz in an all-out attack on the target.“

“But wait!” the social media marketing director chimes in, “We need to make sure that we encourage good to excellent sentiment while we’re doing it.”

Good sentiment? Why are marketing teams everywhere wondering and worrying about creating good sentiment? A new discipline in social media marketing has become trendy amongst the top enterprise corporations, and that discipline is Social Media Audience Marketing, or Sentiment Marketing. Listening to your audience is what social media is all about. While the shock and awe tactics of push marketing bombard the targets with the best that interruption marketing has to offer, the pull marketing of social media is listening, evaluating, cajoling, nudging, suggesting and interacting with the targets to pull them into the sales funnel.

How then, one may ask, can a marketing department blast away on the push marketing front, yet be conscious of good sentiment on the pull marketing side? The balancing act is no easy accomplishment. Try a little too hard to engage your audience on the pull side and you’ll be accused of pushing. Push too little on the push side and your campaign will fall flat, missing your mark. Even the greatest and most actively involved social media marketers consider this the holy grail of balance.

Often times, separate and quite different campaigns are constructed to accomplish independent goals for the same goal under a larger umbrella campaign. The traditional marketing avenues push with the shock and awe tactics available to them, and the pull marketing folks gently suggest that their audience at least consider their product or service by trying to find common topics with which to engage them in conversation.

The leading social media listening services format their reports based mostly on the sentiment of the public regarding their product, or service or company profile. It would be catastrophic if your audience’s sentiment towards your company is bad. What is the sentiment of your audience regarding your new product? How do they feel about your new service? Have you been able to convey your message via social media without alienating people who prefer to be pulled rather than pushed?

What once was a militaristic assault on the target, has now become an assault with analyst’s mentality lurking in the back of the minds of the marketing departments. “How will the audience feel about this? Will this offend them? Will they be put off by our social media message in this campaign? Will it backfire or can we coordinate the same message the push marketing team is conveying while maintaining good sentiment?”

An important warning to all marketing professionals reading this: Learn to balance carefully, because your next campaign must have all of the shock & awe push marketing attributes, while maintaining the pull marketing mantra of good sentiment amongst your audience.

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