Dipping A Toe Into Influencer Marketing

When I joined the real estate startup, REX, in social media and content marketing, they had the beginnings of a social presence and were producing content for a monthly newsletter. My role focused on developing the company’s social and content strategy, defining how we would treat each channel, how we would message, create reputation, invite interaction, listen to the market and engage with people.

As a startup we had limited funds and most of the budgets were being invested in the product, systems or being spent on direct response channels. But we had an appetite for testing and learning- and dipping our toe into influencer marketing was certainly on our growth list. One of my favorite projects was a collaboration with an agency in LA called Zig Marketing. After a few meetings, and learning about our business, they pitched ideas to expand our brand awareness with influencer marketing. Zig specializes in building relationships between brands and bloggers, developing an outreach strategy, designing unique campaigns and implementing. They brought some interesting ideas but I didn’t think I could sell them internally. I knew I couldn’t ask the agency for a guaranteed return on investment- but I knew that’s what my management would be asking me. Tinkering with Zig’s ideas, I was able to find a creative way to limit our financial exposure at worst, make the program net neutral (our expectation) or, at best, be ROI positive.

The campaign we designed would have the agency sending proposals to 25 prominent bloggers who write for our target audience (potential home sellers in Southern California). To qualify, the agency reached out to bloggers they new and researched/connected with new blogs that fit the profile we defined together. The proposal asked if the blogger would be interested in working with REX on an experiment where the blogger would find a home-seller in their reader base and follow the process of selling a home with REX. It seemed brave to open ourselves and our process up to a journalist. As a new company our operating processes were changing daily and being optimized based on customer feedback. But we wanted the content that the bloggers created to be real and show how REX sells homes just as well as a traditional agents, better actually, but charging 60% less in commission.

If this marketing program could deliver 1 customer to go through this blogger-documented selling process, it would pay for itself and be net neutral. That I could sell to my management. The program would generate hundreds of thousands of brand impressions, posts, shares, comments, likes, and discussions- all great at building reputation but not exactly measurable.

Yes, I have direct response in my DNA- after 10 years of cost-per-lead marketing, who wouldn’t. But that’s not why this was my favorite project. Having a writer detail the process of selling with REX from the client’s perspective would be such an interesting story. Selling a house is one of the biggest financial decisions a person will make and the process is infinitely complicated. REX is a David in a David and Goliath scenario. As a company disrupting the traditional real estate market, REX has a big story to tell and lots of antagonists who don’t want the industry to change. Was I concerned that the process might break down somewhere in selling this house? Sure. Every agent has stories to tell about impossible situations. But we decided the risk was worth it. We didn’t know what client might sign up for this process, if their home would be easy to sell or if they would be reasonable on selling price. But we knew that even a bumpy story would show our strengths and humanity.

Two bloggers received our proposal and instantly understood why we created REX and why the real estate industry and their readers needed to know about what we were doing. Working with Zig Marketing they picked the angle of the REX story that interested them and would interest their readers. We didn’t tell them what to write and we definitely didn’t require any specific content. That would be overstepping the process and be disrespectful to the blogger. We had gotten a great break when Bloomberg Pursuits covered us the month before, but when we were written about by Someday I’ll Learn and SoCal Field Trips, it felt different. It felt like we had lit the match in the communities where we’re creating relationships- where we have billboards, where we have homes for sale, and where we are targeting digital marketing.

These articles were posted just a couple weeks ago, so we don’t have results yet. We are anticipating some traction from this and so far this project has been a great way to dip our toes into influencer marketing.

Read the articles here:

Someday I’ll Learn
Bloggers Nate and Chelsea create a fantastic blog called Someday I’ll Learn which takes you along on their adventurous activities with four boys. Chelsea is a marketing consultant and writer and Nate is a photographer and do-it-yourselfer. They run their businesses from their farmhouse in Southern California.

Jilleen Butler is the founder, blogger and field trip coordinator behind SoCal Field Trips. SoCal Field Trips is a lifestyle blog dedicated to active families who enjoy adventuring out of the home and into the world of hands-on learning. Jilleen offers a unique perspective to thousands of families in Southern California.

Mapping Content to the Customer Journey

As a part of every lead nurture program, brands use research, focus groups and customer service or sales logs and more to map their customer (or prospect) journey and the mindset of those people. Once this map is created, it’s easier to brainstorm what the person’s unmet need is at every stage that you can possibly answer with content or interaction.

I like to start by imagining the first question the user has where the answer might end up being my product. We can use data, interviews, and surveys to find the starting point where the consumer identifies their need. Using the iconic sales funnel and stage of the funnel, identify the steps your typical customer might take in researching the category, identifying the brands, differentiating the brands, determining their feature priorities, interpreting the brand personality, establishing trust, asking questions, viewing product materials, asking friends and finally, making a decision.

If the person is thinking about taking a vacation and my role is to sell Australia as a destination- the first question they ask could be, “Where should I go on vacation?” I can validate that by thinking- if someone has that question, do I want my product to appear in her list of answers? While I might not want to have a paid ad appear on that high funnel of a discussion, certainly an organic article or message would help. But maybe this is too high above our sales funnel. In any case, it’s important to know what the entire journey looks like and then decide what parts of the journey you can influence and should address.

Once you have the stages mapped you can start thinking about what the customers’ needs are at that point, what questions do they have and what content can you provide to move them forward in their decision-making.

While working as a senior manager of content marketing I developed our customer journey map to identify the right content at the right time. When creating the content topics ask yourself, ‘What information does the customer need to move forward to the next stage?’ Below is the result of one mapping project for a customer segment. I’ve had to generalize the topics to protect confidential information so imagine that the topics represent 1-3 pieces of content each and a variety of formats (articles, videos, graphics). In the example below we chose to focus our Phase 1 content on the four columns marked with letters. The letters represented their position in the funnel and familiarity with our products. It was our shorthand way to label the streams.

Lead Nurture Content Map

I like this very simple worksheet for a high level approach. I’ve created a few like this for clients but of course, you’ll want to customize for your own business.

You can imagine that much of these content assignments will be placed onto the map based on your own understanding and assumptions of the target audience. And that’s OK. Plan to create your communication program in phases and identify ways to test the content, the order of the content, the length of the content etc. You may be lucky and have starting points in your data and you may have to fill in with informed assumptions. There will be endless opportunities for testing and optimization based on the performance of the live creative. Don’t let the content planning task cause a roadblock, the real learning will come as the program goes into pilot.

Best of luck!

Building a Content Marketing Strategy: Assessing Tools

After a few years working on digital customer acquisition, our head of Digital Marketing was able to create a new team to address creating a Global Content Strategy. She asked myself and another colleague to join her in forming it from scratch. We started by creating our mission, taking stock of our assets and defining our future. We then presented our strategy to our business partners and got some great advice. We were the first division in the whole company to have such a team and were taking the lead exploring this discipline for, not only the global Diabetes unit, but for all other business units within Medtronic.

Our team was new, proving ourselves, and tasked on other large website-related projects at the same time. We met with stakeholders across the company to gain input on where the urgent needs were and where they saw the greatest opportunities. Adding to this, we were often communicating with our business partners in other regions across time zones. This didn’t give us much time to brainstorm as a team.

We were managing our action items and deliverables by hand- essentially with shared documents, meeting notes and powerpoint decks. We had several Excel files that we updated to keep track of our content ideas and progress. We would instant message and email updates. New ideas would come up and ideally we would talk about them in our weekly content team meetings and then they would be entered and followed on the tracker. I think many large companies still run content development this way though it is really inefficient, creates duplicate work, and information can get lost.

We knew we needed to nail down our process before we started involving authors from across the company. And we had a big need for instant access to answer questions from management around the status of different projects. Being able to easily see contributor notes, date stamps, content and revisions quickly would allow us to report up and show progress. The content we were creating wasn’t as technical as a clinical paper, but we were certainly aiming to create content intended to add value for physicians, scientists, engineers, investors and patients. The type of content we were creating were articles like a new partnership for manufacturing in China or the launch of new glucose sensors for type 2 diabetes. To get it right we could easily have up to 5 collaborators on a single article.

The process was working fine, but to scale this process would be difficult and there was regulatory risk of important revisions not being recorded. I defined our needs as:

  • Maintain a central repository of content ideas and drafts
  • Be able to hand projects off to collaborators, auto notify when their help was needed
  • Customize a workflow, track status of projects, assign delivery dates
  • Easily report project status/deadlines to management
  • Invite reviewers to make revisions, while allowing the content owner to see revisions, roll back or reply to revisions
  • Allow any team member to submit content ideas, create an outline and seek approval to proceed
  • Define stakeholders for each piece of content

I found some great solutions to our project management challenges. But one stood out after tinkering with it for a few weeks.


“From draft to approval: Streamline your web content production process.”

GatherContent offered a short free trial so we were easily able to see how this software would work for our team. Their product clearly would allow us to manage content in one place, create clear production timelines and responsibilities, tightly control markups, and automatically send due date reminder notifications. GC also had features we didn’t know we needed but loved. The tool allowed us to create a cover page for each piece of content summarizing what we wanted to accomplish with this piece. This would give all collaborators insight into what our core messages and goals were with the content. It would explain why we made the choices we made with each proof point so that others would not re-write or overwrite what needed to be there. For our work we wanted each piece of content to ladder up to our company’s tenants such as “meaningful innovation” so we created a field on the cover page for this. I thought the calendar functionality was exciting with drag and drop for deadline changes. It wasn’t something we necessarily needed because we couldn’t publish this out to non-users (like upper management). Our greatest unmet need was a way to report high level status of all projects to someone who wasn’t a user in the system.

GatherContent Article

The below graphic shows some snapshots of the product (L to R) what projects are active, who’s assigned, and the color box is the status. The second graphic shows the custom workflow and clearly where this piece sits. And last, this is an article detail page where you enter in your headline (and alternate headline options) and the rest of the content/copy and graphics.

GatherContent Overview

But I have some bad news. Not all teams are ready to adopt new processes and our environment was already fully-loaded with processes. We were asking colleagues to contribute content and assist with reviews on top of their existing roles. While the cost of the software wasn’t a big hurdle, we couldn’t get much support from colleagues to adopt the new process. We were really excited about GatherContent but in a large corporate environment, and with teams already slammed with process, we weren’t able to proceed with GatherContent. It was disappointing and we had to find other ways to streamline our work.

Creating a Content Development Strategy for a Global Brand

As a senior digital marketing expert at Medtronic Diabetes I was drafted to a new team within the organization focused on developing thought leadership content to attract the audiences we knew we wanted to address (physicians, scientists, engineers, investors, global experts, etc). Up until this point I was working with a team to attract potential customers (the users of insulin pumps) and win back previous customers. So this was a new venture with an entirely new mindset.

It has become pretty obvious that the role of digital advertising has been changing and decreasing in effectiveness as consumers develop banner blindness, ad blocking technologies become easier to install in your browser and more money is piling into online from offline. Content Marketing has become more critical as a way to introduce yourself to your customer months before they know they might be your customer. But it takes a well honed strategy, a detailed understanding of your brand voice and customer personas, a plan for lead nurturing, content development experts, and tools to provide analytics.

With the goal to establish an authentic environment that creates value for our global partners and customers we defined our content goals as:

  • Infuse our Diabetes Group vision into content
  • Convey our inspiration- why we do what we do
  • Look for opportunities to contribute and add value to our stakeholders
  • Take advantage of rare, timely, and critical events, highlighting our value
  • Create from a global perspective

We certainly had our challenges. We were concerned about gaining executive commitment for monthly content. We were only a team of 3 and wanted to recruit author/experts from across the company, but would that leave us vulnerable to employee poaching? And, of course, we have significant regulatory oversight and were not able to talk about product development, our competitive advantages or product-specific information without providing pages of disclaimer and safety copy. Our workflow consisted of an online marketing communications approval system that routed projects through no less than 4 reviewers, usually 8 were required, and took a minimum of 2 weeks.

Loving challenges as I do, and knowing we needed tools to help us, I began to research SAAS products in this area. I identified our need as:

  • Find a more efficient way to collaborate and report on ideas for content development
  • Allow several people to review outlines, copy, images, and video for proposed content ideas
  • Make the best use of our small team to guide and direct authors in producing content
  • Create 4-6 solid, new pieces of content each month
  • Create from a global perspective so that content created in the US could be extended to our marketing teams in the other regions.

There is a sea of content development applications that allow brands to create, source, syndicate, publish, and measure performance of content. As you can see in the graphic below, there’s a tool for practically everything. If you don’t identify what your specific needs and priorities are, you could easily go down a rabbit hole.

I reviewed tools to help create content assets, platforms where you can publish assignments and find authors, collaboration tools allowing you to team think and edit, and so much more. In my next posts I will review some of the the tools I found, which ones I found valuable and the outcome.

Thanks for reading!

SEO Isn’t Easy- Oh Wait…

SEO is a very valuable discipline in Internet Marketing, helping customers find your site, and only costs you the resources you put to work on it. Most marketers agree that SEO is a discipline that takes constant attention and staying current with technical issues that change daily.

Nope, SEO isn’t getting easier, but at least managing your personal brand online is becoming more accessible to the non-technical. If you’ve ever Googled yourself and seen a mix of your info, other people’s info and really random things, fixing this is now mapped out for you at BrandYourself.com. You don’t have to know much about SEO to improve the ranking of your name in search results- just a lot of clicking, cutting/pasting, and some writing.

Marketers know that SEO is worth it’s weight in gold- actually in sweat. The more effort you put into it, the more it will reward you with higher standings in the results and, following that, quality traffic to your pages. The team at BrandYourself.com has created a free, step-by-step process for associating your name with pages that have positive information about you. You help the tool link to the important sites, press releases, accounts you manage- and you tell it which ones are not you (even though you may share the same name).

How BrandYourself.com helps is by linking all of your social media accounts and 3 important content links to your BrandYourself.com profile page. Rich with keywords from your Bio, links to your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles, BY is serving up a delicious plate of quality information about you on a search-engine friendly page. Taking it a step further, they walk you through ways to ‘boost’ the ranking of your social media profiles with tips like adding a picture, adding a link, or using your whole name in your profile.

If you’re a social media lover and you have digg, delicious, tumblr, blogger, wordpress (etc) accounts, you will be able to connect those as well.

It takes anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks for the search engine spiders to come out and crawl your pages again and populate the data into the results pages but BrandYourself.com has a tracking system in place to prove that their tools work. I can’t wait to see what happens with mine!

Here’s my BrandYourself profile:

Suzanne Appel

(This review is my personal opinion. I don’t know the folks at BrandYourself.com, nor have they given me anything to induce my review. FYI)

Who Wins When Marketing Strategy Conflicts With Sales Goals?

One hint- rhymes with whales. But if we were to turn that answer to Marketing, it would be because those marketing mavens have found a way to turn short term sales into lifetime customers. We may not remember when we started thinking of our customers as acquisitions but it’s time we stopped. We have the tools now to hear consumers individually and broadly- partner with them, create a two way conversation, apply their feedback, understand their current needs, solve their future needs.

The initial abrasion of changing strategies is a challenge and might cause you to miss some KPIs. Now, if you’re a public company and you miss your short term goals (earnings), like Apple did this week, you’ll drop $22 points and have the worst few weeks of your life. If you’re not public, the turbulence is easier braved if you’ve recruited stakeholders to see and implement your vision. You’ll be everyone’s favorite leader again when revenues catch up and build quarter after quarter.

Overcoming the short term reactions and revising goals is all part of change and course correction. It starts with a well-formed focal point on the horizon, followed by specific and tangible goals. And if you don’t want to be the only one headed toward that goal, devising a multi-pronged internal communications plan is key.

Lifetime customers are a win for Marketing and Sales, of course. It’s also a win for the customer.