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The Biggest Stereotype About Marketing Automation

It’s guest post day here at Duct Tape Marketing and today’s guest post is from Alexandra Skey – Enjoy! 

It’s not our fault that most of us associate marketing automation with complex campaigns run by advanced marketers in bigger companies.

That’s how it took off in the last decade.

But that stereotype is threatening the future of small businesses…

How It All Began

We know content marketing works.

We also know that more information is being created every 48 hours than the entire amount we made before 2003.

So, every 2 days it becomes harder to create content to engage people, especially those who are interested in what you do and are likely to become your customers.

This is a serious problem.

Roughly 5-7 years ago, a group of companies saw what was happening and did something about it.

They were HubSpot, Pardot, and Marketo, among others.

These companies knew it would be almost impossible to succeed at content marketing without streamlining the process. So they started automating tasks their corporate clients needed, and combining them in one place.

That was the birth of marketing automation platforms.

Why They’re “Too Complex”

Since the key with any great campaign is delivering the right message to the right audience at the right time, one of the things the industry became focused on was automating emails. Specially, creating complex trigger scenarios so that you could deliver those messages on an individual basis, ideally converting more customers.

Now we send over 294 billion emails a day.

Unfortunately, that complexity plagues the stereotype of marketing automation. It’s what most people think of when you mention the concept.

Besides the price.

And while it’s certainly useful for businesses with significant traffic, the cost and time involved is prohibitive for many smaller companies.

The Irony

The irony of marketing automation is that it’s viewed as complex and time consuming – yet the goal is to simplify tasks and save you time reaching your most profitable customers.

It’s simply a way of automating mundane tasks, so you can be more effective and reserve those spurts of energy for creative projects.

Due to the rapid adoption of content marketing, and the associated challenges of creating successful inbound campaigns, it will become more crucial than ever for all businesses to start adapting these time saving techniques.

In fact, some may be doing it without even realizing it:

  • When you use an SEO tool like Yoast to optimize your blog, that’s marketing automation – because instead of learning the rules, Yoast shows you what to do.
  • When you use a plugin to automatically share posts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other social channels, that’s marketing automation.
  • When you schedule your tweets using a service like Hootsuite, Buffer or TweetDeck…
  • When you monitor mentions of your business on the social web using Meshfire or Google…
  • Even when you use canned email responses to answer common questions…

It’s not about saving 1 hour by doing something different.

It’s about streamlining the process, so you save 3 minutes here and 8 minutes there at every step along the way.

With marketing automation, everything counts.

What’s next?

The demand from businesses with smaller budgets and time requirements is growing.

While the first wave of automation platforms was built for enterprise teams and budgets, we’re now seeing companies like ScribeContent, Orbtr, Spokal, Nurture and others designing platforms specifically for smaller teams, making it easier for anyone to create successful content campaigns.

Raab Associates recently showed that over 75% of companies adopting automation platforms in the USA are now small and micro businesses. And B2B Online shows that over 50% have fully integrated automation into their marketing.

 

photo credit: B2B Online

photo credit: B2B Online

 

Here’s the catch.

As it becomes easier for small businesses to leverage tools to make their content better, it will become easier to create better content. This means the quality of content that businesses need to produce to attract potential customers (and nurture them over time) will increase.

This is fantastic news for customers.

And it’s good for small businesses too, because those who can implement time saving techniques into their marketing practices now will have an even better chance of getting ahead of their competition and succeed at doing what they love.

Henry Ford was right.

Automation leads to great things.

AlexandraSkeyAlexandra Skey is the co-founder of Spokal, an award winning marketing automation platform for small businesses, and author of Zero Friction, which explores the future of online retail and will be released in fall 2014.

She lives on the west coast of Canada and is obsessed with customer experiences, horses and kiteboarding. You can connect with her on Twitter.

 

Upgrading WordPress the Easy Way

WordPress 2.6One of the trade-offs involved with using blog software that resides on your server is that you may have to endure updates to add new features and fix potential security risks. Hosted services such as TypePad or Compendium Blogware simply push these live without any work on the part of the user. I for one think the benefit of hosting the software on my domain outstrips any hassle involved in updates.

Especially when you employ the WordPress Automatic Ugrade Plugin. I upgraded my entire blog to WordPress 2.6 in less than 5 minutes using this plug in. The tool also backs up all your files and database before it starts. That’s one of the nice things about open source software. If something doesn’t work just right somebody will write a fix.

By the way, lots of new features and little added toys in this upgrade – seems well worth doing.

The Hierarchy of Social Marketing

I think one of the things that small business marketers struggle with around the entire topic of social marketing is trying to jump into the new new thing without enough analysis of what they should focus on. I happen to think this is an important, evolving and essential area of marketing for small businesses, but there’s a hierarchy to it. In other words, there is a logical progression of utilization that comes about much like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Nature.

Social Marketing HierarchyAs Maslow theorized, the ultimate potential of your marketing or human self-actualization couldn’t be achieved until the most basic human psychological needs – breathing, eating, sleeping, sex were first met. (Yes, I’m about ready to compare blogging to sex.) In fact safety, love, and esteem all come before transcendence. Now, before I edge too close to the deep end here, I’m simply comparing what I think is a bit like progressing up the social marketing hierarchy.

Most small business owners should look at the following progression or hierarchy as they move deeper into social marketing tactics. So, jump in, but do it in this order and don’t move on until you have the basics of each stage down and working for you.

Blogging – the foundation of the pyramid – read blogs (Google Reader or Bloglines), comment on blogs and then blog. This is the doorway to all other social marketing – WordPress, TypePad, Blogger

RSS – aggregate and filter content around subjects and use RSS technology as a tool to help you repurpose, republish and create content – Some tools – Feedburner, Google News and mysyndicaat

Social Search – this is often ignored in this discussion but I think it’s become very important for small business owners. Directories that publish reviews from customers – good and bad. You can participate and should stimulate and manage your reputation here. Insider Pages, Google Maps, Yahoo Local, Local.com, Judy’s Book, Yelp

Social Bookmarking – tagging content to and participating in social bookmarking communities can be a great way to open up more channels to your business as well as generate extra search traffic, but it takes work – del.icio.us, Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Mixx, Small Business Brief

Social Networking – branching out to take advantage of the numbers of potential prospects that you might find in sites like Facebook or MySpace will frustrate at least as a business tool if you don’t have many of the above needs met. These networks take time to understand and thrive on ideas and content. You’ve got to have much to share if you wish to build a business case. The good news is that industry and idea specific sites for everything from book lovers to green living are springing up every day. Here’s an enormous list of social networking sites from Mashable

Micro – I’ve lumped some of the more experimental social tools into the edge trend of micro, social, real-time communication that will likely only confuse most small business owners. The confusion is not because they can’t figure out how to make them work, it’s just not obvious why they would spend the time. I think Maslow suggested the self-actualization was a place that most might never reach and in social marketing terms Twitter, Thwirl, Plurk and FriendFeed might be some sort of sick transcendence.

All the evidence that we have indicates that it is reasonable to assume in practically every human being, and certainly in almost every newborn baby, that there is an active will toward health, an impulse towards growth, or towards the actualization.

Abraham Maslow

Multi-author blogging as a referral tool

Creating a blog and then recruiting a group of authors who have strong strategic referral partner potential is a killer local marketing idea. Every time I mention this tip in small business workshops the light bulb goes on for one or two marketing thinking owners. Just going out and recruiting potential strategic referral partners with this approach will get you much farther than the typical “hey, send me some business pitch.”

Revolution ThemeBlog networks are all over, but few local businesses are taking advantage of this play. If the right referral partners got together and contributed the occasional post to a blog focused on a local target market, they would own the search terms for their town and generate lots of leads for each other. Think about the power of a plumber, electrician, lawn service and heating and air company creating a local blogsite aimed at providing tips for local homeowners. That group would dominate the local home repair searches that have become the norm for homeowners frustrated with trying to find good help. There really isn’t any reason an insurance, legal, accounting, marketing and management team couldn’t come together and blog about local business.

The power of this as a formal referral group is enormous. This group could eventually start putting together all day workshops and seminars based on the multi-author blog format, much like a magazine.

Here a some tools to look into getting this type of venture going.

  • WordPress – it’s a simple blog as entire website
  • Themes – RevolutioniThemesWPRemix – very multi-user blogsite type themes
  • Author Exposes Plug-in - Great way to allow different authors to create blog posts and have bio info with their post
  • Adding Author pages – tutorial on adding individual author pages to your WordPress blog to allow each author to promote their specific businesses.

WordPress does have a multi-user version called WordPressMU, but I’m not sure you really need it and there’s a lot more info and resources out there for the regular flavor.

Testing SezWho commenting plug-in

SezWhoIf you make comments on this blog you might have noticed a new WordPress plug-in that I’m trying out called SezWho. SezWho is a distributed context, rating and reputation service for blogs, forums, wikis and other social sites.

So, what that means is that when you post a comment or read comments from others, you can also track related comments that person has made on this blog and others. You can also sort all the comments based on reader ratings, rate comments yourself, and focus only on those comments that were rated highly useful.

It think it’s an interesting way to find new and related blogs and build a little tighter community around the folks that comment the most. Here are some examples of other sites using it as well.

Go ahead and make some comments and try it out. I would love to hear your feedback on the tool.

Is it a blog or a web site?

Blog software has a lot going for it in terms of dynamic content creation, ease of use, ease of update, content syndication and built in SEO tools. So why not use it as your entire web site? Great question – and one that more and more small business folks are coming around to.

I love WordPress and use it to power this blog. The WordPress software is very easy to use as an entire site management tool as well. The only real draw back is that most of the themes for WordPress are created specifically for blogs and have a very bloggy look.

I’ve recently run across a couple very talented WordPress designers that are taking the web site design approach to creating themes specifically for use as traditional web sites. With these themes the homepage looks like a home page and other static pages found on traditional web sites exist as well. But, you get a blog too – how cool is that?

iThems 

iThemes – several versions to choose from in multiple color combinations – complete web site look and feel.

Remix – very flexible, multi design theme that comes with functions that allow you to create a very customized look.

 

Using this approach allows you to easily create a very stylish web site that can function much more like a content management tool allowing anyone with permission to edit and create pages from any web browser. Now, add some plug-ins from the WordPress community and you have some very powerful functionality for very little money and time invested.

Posting relevant comments on blogs is networking

WordPressI happen to think that many small business folks would find networking on the web as valuable as networking at, say, the next Chamber event. There are many ways to do networking on the web but I happen to think one of the easiest is to participate in blogs you enjoy by frequently posting relevant content. Blog comment posting is very much like standing around chatting with a group of folks at a networking event (except you don’t have to balance the Swedish meatball plate on your wine glass.)

When you target blogs you enjoy reading and bloggers you would like to have a relationship with and participate appropriately in the conversation you will find that your writing improves, you gain access to thought leaders and you will likely receive the benefit of spillover traffic from some of the blogs where you leave comments. (Don’t post sales pitches and direct links to your site – the blogging software will point to your site much like a business card, let it do the work of linking)

Now, here’s a tip to make your commenting task go a bit easier. WordPress and TypePad, the two big blog softwares automatically throw off RSS feeds for comments as well as content. You can subscribe to the comment feed of any blog you follow and automatically get new comments in your RSS reader so that you can react to the ones that need your input.

Here’s the URL for mine and the format for any WorpPress blog – http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/comments/feed/

Creating custom feeds in WordPress

WordPress logoMost WordPress blogs throw off RSS feeds for posts and comments by default. But some of the fun with RSS comes from repackaging and republishing content from blogs that is custom or targeted in nature. Let’s say you follow this blog and want to subscribe only to posts on local search. Or, perhaps I want to republish only posts about PR on my Instant Press Release page.

If you or the blog you are following uses WordPress you can easily create a feed based on a category. Categories are used by most every blogger to help, well, categorize and tag the content for easier searching and search engine notification. To create a category specific feed with WordPress you simply click on any category link (scroll down the lower left sidebar for mine) and add /feed to the end of URL in your browser and “poof” instant category feed. – http://www.domain.com/blog/category/categoryname/feed

Some examples:
http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/category/web-marketing/feed/ – Web Marketing
http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/category/search-engines/feed/ – Search Engines
http://www.ducttapemarketing.com/blog/category/local-search/feed/ – Local Search

Now you can take this URL to Bloglines
or Google Reader and subscribe only to the individual categories of content you want or get really tricky and take this feed to FeedBurner and republish laser focused content on your web pages using their buzz boost feature.

I devoted an entire feature article in my newsletter recently to some other Simple RSS Tricks