Tuesday, December 18, 2007

AMEX does video right, mostly

Another good example of using Web video can be found on the American Express Open for Business website. Short videos from a host of business leaders offer advice to small business owners.

I love that these are very short and well produced. The audio is excellent and the style is engaging. However, it may have been more powerful if the producers hadn't asked these business leaders to focus on such simple concepts.

For instance, does it take a full minute to tell you that the most successful businesspeople combine imagination with a good dose of reality? How about another minute to tell you that if your business involves a design aesthetic that it might be wise to hire a professional photographer to capture it?

I would rather hear them answer one of these questions:

What is the most important thing you did right in your business?
What was the most critical mistake you made and how did you overcome it?
If you could start over today, what would you do first?

Remember, content is king. Every word your listener hears must carry value. Great production values will not save an online video that doesn't provide real value to its viewers. On the other hand, if you have something to say, any DV video camera can do the job.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Freddie Mac: Using online video to fight fraud

Freddie Mac, a government sponsored enterprise that invests in mortgage loans, is using an online video to fight fraud that the company fears may be perpetrated against delinquent homeowners in the wake of rising foreclosure activity. The threat is real, though in today's market it is not as easy for these fraudsters to find other investors to work with. Even so, if Freddie's 2 minute video saves one home it would be worth it.

Here's what I like about this use of New Media:
  • It's very short. Just over 2 minutes long.
  • It's well written, describing the problem and solution in sufficient detail.
  • It's professionally produced, the video looks good and the audio is clear.
  • It's promoted on the company's home page, above the fold.
What could be better:

It's probably just me, but the chalkboard graphics give me the feeling that Freddie thinks I need some schoolin'. I know a lot of people don't know all that much about the mortgage process, but they still don't think they are uneducated. The refi-boom of 2001-2003 taught older homeowners a lot about the business. The younger, Web-savvy first-time borrowers are better able to learn from information around the Web. This means that lenders have to be more careful about talking down to consumers.

Secondly, creating this video in association with someone who is trusted for helping borrowers avoid fraud might have made it more powerful. Sure, Freddie is a well known and trusted brand, but when the headlines report that the company is reporting a $12 billion loss and raising the upfront fees it charges lenders for their business, asking borrowers to "call your lender" instead of trusting a local "hero" starts to sound more desperate than helpful.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

J.D. Power: Lenders must communicate to succeed

Perhaps it shouldn't take J.D. Powers to tell lenders that the key to doing business in the current environment is to do a better job of communicating with their borrowers during the loan origination process. In a report I recently read about in a free e-mail from Valuation Review, J.D. Power's latest customer satisfaction study showed that "the key for lenders to keep customers happy is clear communication, particularly regarding the timeframe of the application and approval processes."

I don't want to belittle the marketing research firm's conclusions, but this is kind of a no-brainer. The company did not give specific advice for meeting this borrower need, but did point out some very interesting facts. Among them:
  • Working directly with a mortgage lender instead of a mortgage broker or online service leads to a more positive customer experience when originating a home loan.
  • Customers who are provided with a time frame for application approval provide overall satisfaction scores that are 112 points higher on average than customers who do not receive a time frame.
  • Delays caused by requests for additional information lead to a 95-point decline in overall customer satisfaction.
This isn't particularly good news for brokers, although better technology can help there. I'll blog on that over on the tech blog. But saving the 95 points by responding quickly to borrower requests for information seems like an easy score.

New Media tools like Ning are making it easier to set up social networks on the fly. I haven't seen anyone apply this to the team of various people that come together to close a real estate transaction, but it seems like it would be easy to do.

Whether lenders use open source, Web-based tools to stay in touch with their prospects or just spring for that admin is up to them. Within the next 12 months, it will be very clear which companies found a solution to this problem and which ones went out of business.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Social Media releases defended

Just read a great post over at PR 2.0 in defense of the Social Media Release. Posted by Brian Solis, the piece explains in depth why the SMR is not a Meatball Sundae. He'll also tell you what that is (hint: Seth Godin).

I thoroughly enjoyed this as his passion for effective communication in a New Media world came through loud and clear. While he admits that continued experimentation and audience segmentation and targeting are essential, he totally slams those that are trying desperately to cling to the wreckage that is traditional PR. I recommend it for those who are just learning about the potential these tools have.

On only one point do my views differ. He writes:
I only propose that they stop talking and theorizing and get some real world experience in the realm of Social Media so we can discuss things as experienced, beaten, successful, and most-importantly, proven peers
We must not stop talking about these important issues and we must not ask others to shut up because they don't meet our standards for a "proven peer." Haven't we all had enough of rule by the intelligentsia? Isn't that what Social Media is really about, giving voice to the crowd, being the medium that levels the playing field? Besides, without their well-meaning but misguided efforts they might never have riled Mr. Solis up enough to give us this excellent post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who is leveraging the blog

Blogs are great tools. Risky, to be sure, but wonderful for SEO, brand building, message dissemination, training, building employee morale and more. It's clear I believe that because I write about it a lot, but who else is on this bandwagon?

Periodically, a journalist will include a few high-profile corporate CEOs in a story about blogging from the executive suite, but for a more comprehensive list, check out the CEO Blogs tab over at CorporateLeaderDaily.com. It might surprise you how many of today's top business leaders are using this powerful tool.

Monday, November 26, 2007

CIT: Getting B2B Online Video Right

Finally, a great use of online video for B2B marketing can be found on the CIT website. Here's what these guys are doing right, IMHO:
  • Keeping it short; none of these videos are longer than 3 minutes;
  • Focusing on the topic; each segment centers on one or two related questions;
  • Professional production; making it easy to see and smooth to stream;
  • Backing it up; plenty of related material elsewhere on the page;
  • Creating a series; the viewer is pulled from segment to segment;
  • Serving the viewer; nothing about CIT here, it's all about informing us;
  • Made it easy; it starts automatically...but not until you scroll down.
Very well done and a great example for your own B2B marketing efforts. Click the start button to start the video.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Gartner: Banks will embrace Web 2.0

According to a story on Bank Systems & Technology's site, Gartner is predicting that 75% of banks will be using Web 2.0 technologies within 5 years.

This makes sense as banks are working very hard to forge stronger links to their customers in the hope of achieving higher share-of-wallet. But BS&T's Michael Ellison makes a good point when he says:
"That's all well and good, but just because your site makes use of AJAX does not mean it's a Web 2.0 site. The key is adding the social interaction..."
The technologies are there to enable the companies to facilitate the conversation. It's the conversation that leads to the relationship and on to the next sale.

SEO versus good messaging

I have been watching the SEO crowd for some time now. At first I was fascinated at the interplay. A group of clever web professionals would study the major search engines, deduce their methods for ranking sites and then sell that knowledge to clients. Then the search engines would recalibrate their spiders and the process would repeat. Good business for SEO guys. Similar in some respects to the race for better police radar gun detectors, but with a difference.

There is no good alternative to a good radar detector, save compliance. Either you obey the speed limit or you invest in technology. That's not really true with SEO.

I've said for some time that a well written site will lead people to you as long as you have a niche and you have plenty of content. In a recent post on his Strategic Public Relations blog, Kevin Dugan writes:
"SEO’s effectiveness is proven and it’s an important tool. But a well-tailored message should make elements of SEO automatic."
Well said. I would only add that to be effective, this messaging must be updated frequently (blog, perhaps) and should be archived on the site.

Realtors get Web 2.0

According to Joel Burslem, one of the Inman News bloggers over at the Future of Real Estate Marketing blog, attendees at the recent National Association of Realtors show in Las Vegas seem to be getting social media's promise for marketers. He writes:
"I think most people get Web 2.0 - they understand the power of a blog or a social network, for example. They understand the value of syndicating their listings. They know they should be thinking about video tours for their listings. The what? and why? questions have, for the most part, been answered. It’s the how? that they’re wrestling with more and more now."
This is a good sign. Few industries could benefit as much as the real estate sales industry from New Media tools, for at least two reasons. First, we know that the vast majority of home buyers and mortgage loan prospects are hitting the Internet first before talking to a person about the transaction. Secondly, real estate agents make their living through a personal interaction with their customers. That adds up to a lot of opportunity.

Monday, October 29, 2007

5 Trends from the WOW Feed

George Dearing has a good post on his blog. He points to five key trends that together may spell death for the old ways of marketing. He points to other folks saying the same thing.

Of his trends to watch, I put most stock in the first one. It's always about conversations. Of course, in the old days it was just consumers having imaginary conversations with or about a company's brand. "This new beamer will make me a god!"

Today, the Web has made it possible for brands to talk back. These are the final days for those that do not.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The informational website as PR tool

There was a time, a few years ago when it was harder to find information on the Internet and companies were even less comfortable with sharing their knowledge over an open network, when launching a special website could convince some publics that your company really cared about someone you wanted them to think you really cared about. That's not quite as true today.

I cover the real estate finance industry, so I was there when the National Home Equity Lending Association (NHEMA), a trade group made up of subprime lenders who some consumer advocates accused of predatory lending, launched its Borrowsmart website, a tool to help homebuyers with less than perfect credit avoid spending too much on a subprime loan. Be careful about buying our products, they warned. Judging from the current subprime lending crisis, we can assume it didn't work so well.

Recently, the American Land Title Association (ALTA), the trade organization for title insurance agents, launched a site that, in part, is designed to help people avoid spending too much on title insurance. Hmmm. I wrote about that on another blog.

Both subprime lenders and title insurance agents were working to change negative consumer attitudes about their line of business. They were really just taking a page out of big tobacco's play book. Spend 1% on ads telling people not to use your products and they'll forgive you for spending 99% to promote something you know will kill them.

But this isn't intended to be an indictment of bad public relations efforts, or of informational websites, for that matter. I'm just telling you that if you hope to change a negative public opinion by putting information online be aware of how your efforts, no matter how well meant, will appear to others. Save the Internet real estate for stories about how you help other folks, not for information about how they can help themselves by avoiding what you're selling.

It's probably better to think of it like this: when you come upon your friend (someone you really care about) sinking in quicksand, prattling on about the many ways he might save himself is largely a waste of time. Your real options are to throw him a rope or a branch or something and save him, or not.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Law Firm Train Wreck Coming

All innovation must first pass through a period of massive misuse as people learn how to leverage the new tools to achieve their ends. This is often costly and embarrassing for early adopters. It is sometimes possible to leap frog this step if you are careful to observe how others, particularly those in other industries, are using new tools and techniques. This is certainly true with New Media marketing.

According to this story in the New York Times online, law firms are using online video as a recruiting tool. Hip to the power of YouTube to attract young people who might be suited to be summer associates, a number of legal firms have hired creative agencies to create multimedia in the hope that it will go viral on the Web.

The legal industry is late to the game. PR firms in New York and Philadelphia (among other places) made headlines last year when they created fictitious characters to star in their clients' online media. One high profile case involved the creation of a wandering RV family that traveled from Wal-Mart parking lot to parking lot across the country. A great idea from a top agency, but instead of sending out some kid with a digital camera to troll the lots for interesting folks, they decided to lie.

Lying, of course, is a time-honored technique in advertising, but New Media marketing is closer to PR, wherein we shine a very bright light on your company in the hope that your important audiences will see how good you are. Lying is not good. It has already come back to haunt a number of companies in other industries. I suspect it will soon haunt the legal industry too. The twist here is that those guys really like to file lawsuits. Duck and cover.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is the VNR in Danger

There's a lot of buzz around the Web right now about the Federal Communication Commission fining a television station for running a company's Video News Release (VNR) without letting its viewers know that it was paid by the company featured. It's being called the "FCC's Fake News Fine" around the blogosphere and it's got a lot of people worried that the lucrative business of creating short segments for television news producers is about to disappear.

I'm watching this closely, not because I compete in that space, but because I believe a lot more companies will be competing there soon. I'm not the only one. Production costs are dropping, the opportunities for placement are increasing and competitive forces will become more powerful.

I don't think this is going to take away a useful tool, but it will raise the stakes for those companies that hope to leverage it. Some will just lawyer up (and effectively sprinkle poison over their creatives) but others will learn to tell good stories instead of making up fake news. Producers are always looking for stories that will keep their viewers tuned in until the final credits roll.

What the FCC has done, IMO, is raise the standards a bit. That's almost never a bad thing.

New Ways to Share Information

New Media isn't just podcasts and Internet video, it's about using the power of the Internet to do a better job of getting critical information across to important audiences.

Here's an example. This timeline for real estate technology is interactive. You can grab it and move forward and backward in time. When you find something you're interested in, you can click on the thumb tack and more information is provided, with links to source material elsewhere on the Web.

This is a great example of communicators using the Web to bring information from disparate sources into a new form that is far more useful. Nice work. Thanks to blogger Joel Burslem at the Future of Real Estate Marketing blog for bringing this to my attention.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Right Way to Post a Podcast

Most blogging platforms now make it easy to insert audio or video into a blog post. This is good, but just plunking a big MP3 file down in the middle of your blog is not a very good thing to do to your readers.

Letting your listeners know what's on the file is always a good idea. Because I produce business podcasts, I like to let my listeners know exactly what questions I ask and how far into the file it happens. That allows busy listeners to get right to the answers they want to hear.

Here's a good example from an unexpected source. I haven't played D&D for a while, but it's good to see the guys are keeping up with the times, at least as far as it relates to good form when adding a podcast to your blog.

Blogging is Good for Your Business

More information pointing to the positive effect a few blog posts per week can have on your business. This time from bMighty.com, an online sister publication to InformationWeek.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Wells Fargo's Winning Webcast

I've done some belly aching in this space about the horrendous use many companies are making of webinars and webcasts. I'm getting multiple invitations per day to these online events, which usually turn out to be unsolicited sales presentations masquerading as must-see content for improving my business. Waste of time.

I have to admit that when I was invited to Wells Fargo's webcast and promised that I would learn about leveraging technology for my business, I figured it would be more of the same. My own bank had recently lured me in on the promise of a free check scanner to make depositing my handful of monthly retainer checks that much easier. It was only later that I learned that it would cost me a hefty monthly fee. Did I say my bank? I meant my ex-bank. I expected to spend an hour hearing about Wells Fargo's check scanner. But I didn't.

Instead, I was entertained and enlightened through the use of what appeared to be a professionally produced television program, streamed to me across either Real Player or Windows Media Player. In addition, I was given a second screen for slides and a text box to enter my questions. The presentation was very slick, which gave me the impression it was pre-produced. I did not pose a question so I cannot say whether the Q&a session was live or staged.

What I can say is that while the company did take the opportunity to explain and promote a number of its products, both through an expert on the panel and video vignettes of satisfied customers, the panel also provided actionable information that I can use in my business as promised in the original invitation. And I actually did learn something, making this the best use of my time on any Web-based presentation thus far.

Nothing's perfect, so:

Recommendations: Make it shorter. I appreciate the fact that your experts are covering a lot of ground and you have a well-rounded panel, but 60 minutes is a large investment, even if I can make it without leaving my desk. Secondly, it's good to have the slide show available, but there's no reason to make it industry-standard boring. There are plenty of resources out there to teach companies how to make better use of that white box. If you really feel that we need to see the bullet points, make them available to us afterward in a text document.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Ever Popular Webinar

I've passed the three Webinar invitations per day threshold and the trend doesn't seem to be slowing down. Everyone wants an hour of my time. They all promise to answer the toughest questions and provide valuable insight that will change my business. Too often, the change they have in mind involves cutting them a check every month and the information consists of their accounts receivable mailing address.

Enough. There must be some accountability here. People will not continue to stand by while vendors line them up for hour-long sales pitches. Here are some tips for managing expectations better with this Web 2.0 tool.

1) Set webinar goals in terms of the attendee, not the host. It's not about you getting 50 qualified leads (at least it's not only about that), it's about attendees walking away better informed about something than they were when they got there.

2) Don't turn the webinar into a product demo unless the attendees have signed up for a product demo. If you promise to talk about industry trends, you better lay them out.

3) Quit wasting an hour of our time. Who has an hour to spend on a webinar? If the attendee has that much time on his hands, he's not making any money. Cut them down to 30 minutes, max.

4) If you promise attendees will get a free white paper or other informational product, make it easy for them to get it. Luring them in and then making them complete the Mackay 66 before you give them the link is not cool.

5) Don't let untrained executives run the webinar. Hire someone who can get the program moving and keep it moving. It does not serve the host well to have attendees hang up the phone and sigh in relief. You want them to leave the meeting wishing they had more time.

Is this to say that the host can't have any goals for the webinar? Of course not, but they are secondary to the goals and needs of the attendees or you will get people in the doors once and only once. In my next post, I'll talk about how to make webinars pay dividends for the company that hosts them.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Apple preloads company content

Apple is making an appeal directly to corporate communications and marketing departments by making it's iPod line of portable music and video players available with pre-loaded company content. Smart.

We've been doing that for some time because giving away an iPod is a great attention-grabbing tactic. Preloading it with your company sales message is just the extension of a good idea.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Keeping the Team on the Same Page

One of the great uses of new media is keeping everyone inside the organization on the same page. I have seen so many companies with great product offerings and a willing market fall down because the whole team couldn't pull together.

One team that does a great job of this is Oklahoma City-based a la mode. I was out at their annual users conference in Las Vegas recently and was really impressed with the way all of the folks I podcasted with seemed to be on the same page related to the a la mode Labs initiative and its overall mission. So I asked Communication's Director Matt Barr how it was done.

"There's no trick to it. It all comes down to Dave's leadership. Many owners and corporate officers are good at communicating; leadership is communicating what you believe and believing what you communicate," Matt said.

He's right about that. I listened to a la mode's founder and owner Dave Biggers talk to his customers for three days. His message never changed and he was passionate about what his team was doing the whole time.

Matt went on, "Adam [Calvery] and Chris [Low] hear what Dave says about the company and the Labs and then the Lab Fellows hear from Adam and Chris what they'd hear if Dave told them himself. This, incidentally, is where you would start if you ever explored the reasons behind a la mode's phenomenal success as a company over the last 22 years."

Nice plug, Matt. But he's got a point. Leaders have to use every tool available to get everyone in their organization on the same page and pulling in the same direction. I was proud to be chosen by the company to produce some podcasts to serve that end. But the best tools are probably passion and consistency. They are being employed here to good benefit.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Chivas life includes video blogging

These were the folks who first took advantage of pervasive e-mail by sending us those little comics. Now, they have fully embraced the video podcast. Some nice work here. Check it out.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Podcasting at a la mode's annual convention

I'm in Vegas this week for the a la mode Annual Users Conference. The company estimates that close to 1,000 attendees will visit the event for at least one of its three days. I'm on the blogging team for the event. You can find the convention blog here.

Later today, I'll be podcasting with the company's Lab Fellows. These forward-thinking residential real estate appraisers are part of an inititative the company hopes will put better technology in the hands of the nation's only independent auditors of the real estate transaction. The podcasts will end up on the Labs website.

a la mode is one of an increasing number of companies that is realizing that you must make these stories available in a variety of media. The blog, podcasts and the Lab-focused live sessions at the event are all aimed at disseminating a story that is critical to the success of the firm's marketing efforts.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Talking New Media at MBA Secondary

I made it into New York City for the Mortgage Bankers Association's Secondary Market show a couple of weeks back. I love conventions because it allows me to catch up with all of the folks I've been writing about for years.

I spent some time at the Avista Solutions booth visiting with Ken Ellis. He's been reading the blog and wondered what I thought of Webinars as opposed to podcasts.

I never liked being told when to appear online or on a conference call to receive the same news everyone else was getting by someone who either didn't know what my schedule was or didn't care. Most journalists, at least in the financial services trade media, are under very heavy deadline pressure just about all the time. That was surely the case when I worked for Source Media and October Research. It wasn't very nice to hear that if I didn't show up at the appointed time everyone but me would get the news.

But, as Ken pointed out, companies need to know who is looking at their content if they hope to capitalize on the sales leads that content is intended to deliver. That's true enough.

You can tell who is present on a Webinar, especially if you force people to pre-register. If you just put content out there for free, anyone can pick it up and it's very difficult to track. Making people cough up a bunch of information before you send them to the download page is a sure way to annoy them.

So what's the answer? You have to use a combination of free content--designed to unlock the three golden doors that lead to sales, 1) show them you understand their problem, 2) show them you are smart enough to solve their problem and 3) show them you care about helping them solve their problem--and more secure content designed to deliver the qualified sales lead.

Ken was kind enough to point out a good example:

I think SalesPOP! does an exceptional job of presenting this on their website. They offer podcasts requiring no information, but if you want to hear the longer Webinar there is a form that is required. Their website is www.salespop.biz\home.htm.

By way of disclosure, neither Ken nor I do any business with this company, nor are we affiliated with it, but Ken admits that he knows a SalesPOP founder, Craig Pyne, a previous coworker. Check out the site and think about how you can leverage this idea.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Blogging for Business

I'm getting more calls from business executives who are interested in finding out more about blogging. In the past, these queries were generally limited to go/no go information intended to help companies make the decision whether to move forward with their investigation of the medium or to abandon it until later.

More recently, I'm getting calls from business leaders who have already decided to move forward with a blog and are now interested in finding out how to do it. I'll be outlining some of the advice I generally give in this space, but I'm far from the only one you should be listening to.

I just downloaded an eBook from Yaro Starak, a self-style blog guru who helps others profit from their blogs. He seems to work primarily with individuals who already have a blog and want to turn it into a day job. The more I read his electronic newsletter, the more I like what he has to say. I'll read his book and review it later in this space. You can find out more about Yaro on his website.

Keep watching this blog and I'll tell you about other folks who have a good understanding of business blogging and might be able to help you with your own.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fred Thomson to use New Media in bid for White House

According to a story on Tennessean.com, former Congressman and actor Fred Thompson will enter the race for the Republican nomination for President. In the story, he admits he won't be able to drive his truck across the country as he drove across Tennessee in his successful 1994 run for office. This time, he says, he'll be using the Internet.

Thompson plans to use blogs, video blogs "to cut through the clutter and go directly to the people."

This could pose a serious threat to other Republican candidates who don't plan to use New Media, don't know how to leverage it properly or can't attract a Web-based audience interested in hearing what they say. As an established actor, most recently appearing on the highly successful NBC Law & Order program, Thompson has already proven he can attract an audience.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Spreading the good word...about stories

Communications technology is worthless if you don't have a good story to tell. I don't care how well you understand RSS or Web 2.0 or New Media, if you can't get your listener engaged, you may as well go back to a string and tin cans for all the good it will do you.

But don't take my word for it. If you want to learn from someone who lives or dies by getting people to listen to them, tune in to a preacher. I recently found this great post. Notice rule 5:

"Tell stories. People will tune out unless you engage their emotions."

Now if that's good advice for someone preaching from the pulpit, and I'm sure it is, how much moreso is it for us in the world of business communications?

People don't file into our offices or store fronts once a week to sit down in front of us and try to pay attention for an hour (but wouldn't that be nice!). We have fleeting moments to get their attention, engage them and start forging a relationship.

There is only one way to be successful at that. You gotta tell stories.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

How simple is Real Simple Syndication?

Too simple, apparently, at least according to opponents of a new service called SplashCast. As outlined in this post on the Podcasting News Blog (which I highly recommend -- though I am not paid or otherwise rewarded for saying so), the service lets users set up their own podcast channels and share them via RSS (Real Simple Syndication).

The problem is that in doing so, the service reportedly mangles the original RSS feed somewhat, making it more difficult for podcast producers to track listeners for advertising purposes. There is also some question about how well the links back to the producer's site work after the feed is "Splashed" and recast.

Not sure how this will work out yet. I doubt it will result in everyone filing suit a la YouTube, as most podcast producers don't have that kind of money and extra lawyers milling about. But they do have audience and can make life hard on this newcomer.

Which, I guess, is another example of the circle of life. Podcasters had it tough in the early days, but they bulled their way through in typical high-tech entrepreneurial fashion. They overcame the obstacles and created an audience. Now, they're into the monetization phase. But wait, someone is stepping in with a new way to distribute their content and suddenly it's not about The Man getting hot because you're spinning your old 45 collection on your podcast anymore. Now, it's personal. Everyone move up one seat and the game begins again.

Fortunately, we don't have to worry about all that in the B2B space. It was never about social media with us. It was always about building a brand and capitalizing on it in the marketplace. Most B2B podcasts aren't currently being used to close sales. They are door openers. They are non-threatening ways to get prospects educated so that the sales process goes more smoothly. We like it when someone steals our content and takes it to a greater market, giving us the shivers that come with an attack of viral marketing. We like companies like SplashCast that make it easier for our target markets to hear our voices and want to seek us out.

Does that make us socially conscious dot-com good-niks? Naw, just good marketing folk.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Is Podcasting like DTP?

An interesting post I found today on Brad Grier's blog is worth checking out. He compares the podcasting wave to the phenomenon we witnessed after the introduction of affordable Desktop Publishing software back in the 80s.

I posted a reply you'll find on his site.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Podcasts are not Audio Brochures

Marketing folk are starting to get the idea that podcasts can be effecting tools for getting the story out about company products and services. They are marching down this path in exactly the same way the major auto manufacturers did over two years ago.

A top-three auto maker was among the first to try out the new podcast format. Instead of letting an executive (or better, a design engineer) wax poetically about the passion built into the new year's model, the company stripped the audio stream out of a webcast and published it as a podcast. Not only could you not see what the speaker was describing, it was exactly the kind of brochureware that doomed those webcasts to deliver lackluster results.

A podcast is not a chance to read your company's latest brochure to people who are presumably illiterate. For most of us, especially those of us working in the financial services industry, our customers are very literate, intelligent and discerning. That's why they've adopted new media as a source of information about the products and services they want to buy. They don't need help reading your sales material. They don't need to hear your brand name five times in the first 30 seconds.

What do they need? Good question!

There are three things a podcast listener needs from you before they can make a buy decision:

1) They need to know you are a real person, not some extremely highly paid executive hired to speak buzzwords in an appropriately animated tone. Not that there's anything wrong with being extremely highly paid. Just remember that people do business with people they know and like. If you can't be likable at your pay grade, get someone else to do the podcast.

2) They need to know you know their business. This is the heart of the podcast! This is your chance to connect with prospects by letting them know that you know their pain. They must believe that you really understand their situation if they are to trust you to provide a solution.

3) They need to know that you have a passion for serving them. I fancy myself a decent wordsmith and yet my best work cannot come close to describing the honest commitment a good company feels in regard to serving its customers. A little honesty here can be magnified into an extremely powerful sales tool. Likewise, a standard sales pitch will provide the expected results.

The podcast is your chance to start an honest conversation with your prospects. Conversations are the gateway to relationships, which is the only thing that leads to a sale.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Talking New Media at MBA Tech

Had a great time at the recent Mortgage Bankers Association's Technology in Mortgage Banking show in Tampa. While some argued that the show was rather light on lender attendance, those firms that did their homework ahead of the show seemed to be pretty busy.

For my part, I had a great time catching up with all the folks I've been reporting on over the years. I love these shows for that reason.

On the last day of the show, I got to participate in a panel session on New Media. Fidelity and eLynx spoke about their podcasting experience, Martopia gave a good overview of New Media and the firm's one-to-one video marketing product. I got to speak about leveraging New Media in the B2C space.

If you're interested in my slides, drop me an e-mail.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Talking Web 2.0 at TAVMA

I got the opportunity to speak on a panel on Web 2.0 at the Title/Appraisal Vendor Management Association's annual convention here in Orlando earlier today. I was joined by Raelin Sawka Musuraca, president of Sharp Creative. She's both.

It was a great session. We got to talk about the history of the Web for B2B players, the differences between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, and what it takes to start capitalizing on some of the new tools that available today, including blogs, podcasts, online video, wiki pages, groups, and RSS.

A few of the attendees admitted that their companies were beginning to dip their toes in the water with new blogs, but no one had gone beyond that. No one in the audience was aware of Second Life. But they were interested and eager to learn.

While many of the tools that consumers are enjoying right now probably won't be leveraged on the B2B side anytime soon, plenty of folks in the audience were smiling and nodding, which I take as a good sign that we'll see more New Media activity from these folks soon.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

New Media on tap at upcoming conferences

Those of you planning to attend the upcoming TAVMA convention in Orlando or the Mortgage Bankers Association's Technology in Mortgage Banking show in Tampa, will have the opportunity to hear more about these new media tools and how they are being used in our industry today.

I'll be on a panel at both shows, talking about how these tools can be leveraged and why financial services industry players should be learning how to use them now.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Don't impersonate your customers

It's not legal for a consumer to pretend to represent a company if he doesn't. Does it make any sense for marketing executives to impersonate customers? In a way, that's what advertising has always done. Now that we're leveraging new tools to get company messages across, some of the rules are changing.

In his blog, Communities Dominate Brands, Alan Moore talks about a new law in Europe that will penalize companies that use New Media tools to pretend to be their customers.

In America, we've already seen some high profile blunders caused by companies and public relations firms that thought they could sneak a company spokesperson into a blog or podcast without telling their audience.

It's one thing to put a smiling face in an advertisement and hope that people jump to the conclusion that they'll be smiling too if they only buy the company's product. Don't try that with a blog or podcast. The results will not be satisfying.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Inman features the bubble bloggers

Inman is running an interesting series on real estate bloggers who have chosen to write about real estate bubbles.

I think these business bloggers have been successful because they are writing at the intersection of the real estate business and the general public's information focus. People have been trained by the mainstream media to accept a real estate bubble as an important issue even though very few are real estate speculators and most have yet to see any negative home price appreciation. If you were writing a blog about capital requirements for mortgage bankers, you wouldn't get this kind of readership.

While this is a good way to use New Media to make a name for yourself, bubble your site to the top of the search engine listings and engage an audience you hope to sell to, it's gotta be tough for a real estate agent to make a lot of money telling people that the market is going to implode.

I like hearing these stories because it helps get the message across to business that these tools can be useful. When we read stories about bloggers attracting huge audiences, it helps marketing executives take blogs more seriously, because they've been trained to look for big numbers when it comes to media impressions.

In truth, it doesn't matter how big your market is if your product has a high enough margin and you can engage that audience effectively. I know mortgage loan origination vendors that can earn millions on a single implementation. Do they need to attract a blog audience big enough to get on the cover of an industry trade publication? Nope. They can be blissfully ignored as they use their blogs to move their customers swiftly through the sales cycle to the close.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Social Media by the numbers

Social Media. Need a quick look at the numbers? Check out this blog post and see why it's important that you get a handle on this stuff.

MediaToob goes straight to the phones

And now we have another easy way to deliver podcast audio and video content directly to mobile phones. If you think iPods are great, the handheld phone/MP3 player/PDA/God-knows-what-else is going to be really great.

Get this podcasting stuff down. All of our content will come to us like this in the future.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Inman: Into the wiki space

I've got to hand it to Brad Inman and his Inman News company. These guys really get out and try new things.

They were the first trade publication to host a group blog and featured some of the top thinkers in the industry. It faded away as these folks got busy, lack of effective moderation failed to keep the thinkers on track and, presumably, the link between writing and reward stretched thin, but for a while it was a very good read.

Inman still hosts its blog, though these days it's mostly written by Inman reporters. Still, I often find it very interesting and have pointed to it in my own blogs more than once.

Now, Inman is trying something new. Well, new for us anyway. Wiki pages have been around for some time, with Wikipedia being the best known example. The basic idea is that you give a bunch of folks the ability to edit the Web page and a much better (or informative or interesting or even weird) page will result. Inman's new wiki page is online now and I can't wait to see how it develops.

New Media demands innovation from those who hope to benefit from the advantages it offers. Inman, as you probably know, offers its own industry innovation awards every year. This is another perfect example of the company taking its own medicine. Well done!

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Trailblazer: The Pinnacle Report

The Pinnacle Report is an excellent example of how a mortgage lender is leveraging New Media to make an impact in a local market.

Jim Casler, President of Pinnacle Financial, Traverse City, Mich., is using a blog to disseminate a truly useful weekly report. I subscribed to this feed as soon as I found it.

But Casler didn't stop there. He also produces a weekly podcast to tell his customers what this all means in his own words. This is a trailblazer.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Personal Nature of Business Blogs

This is a great post by Ben Yoskovitz. He says that even business blogs are personal because you're communicating with someone. Or, as he puts it "blogs are ultimately conversations."

At least that's what we hope they are. Until we can pull a prospect into a conversation (or a partner or employee or current customer, for that matter), we can't really do any business with them. We need that conversation to put another brick in the bridge between us that will ultimately be our relationship. When we have that, we'll be doing business.

The biggest mistake you can make with a business blog, in my opinion, is creating the content in strict accordance with your accepted and approved corporate communications guidelines. You may as well print it into a brochure. More people will read it.

If you have someone in your company that can speak freely and honsestly with your audience, launch a blog today. If you're not willing to have honest conversations with people, skip it.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Solving old problems with New Media tools

RSS stands for Real Simple Syndication, usually. Actually, it's a simple XML file that we use to allow news feed aggregators to pull down content. Web Logs (Blogs) represent one example of how RSS has been used to syndicate content, but there are many ways to leverage this technology.

Some companies are generating RSS feeds to record changes in their websites. Anyone who subscribes to the feed will know exactly what has changed as soon as the changes are made.

So what kind of information do we need to share in the financial services industry? One example are wholesale lender loan product rate sheets. If the rate sheets are coded as attachments into an XML RSS file and brokers subscribe to the feed, they'll get the new sheet as soon as it comes out.

One company is already offering this service. New York-based eStyle Software, makers of the PreQualEngine mortgage loan prequalification, product search and pricing engine, offer an RSS feed to brokers who want to track changes in the rates and guidelines of the lenders who license eStyle's software. Smart.

There are other ways to leverage this New Media tool. Think about it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trend: Companies seeing value of periodic shows

For the past year, Texell has been selling one-shot podcasts to companies in the financial services space. Forward thinking companies have been testing the podcasting waters, but few saw the value of a regular monthly or weekly program in 2006. Even when they came back for another podcast, the idea of a regular show did not appeal to them.

That seems to be changing. In October, we inked a deal through our partner (Martopia) to provide a weekly podcast to the Mortgage Bankers Association, Washington, D.C. Since then, we've had a number of serious inquiries from companies that are starting to investigate the possibility of offering up monthly podcasts to their target markets.

There are a number of benefits companies see when they reach out on a regular basis. Perhaps most important is that the firm can begin to attract a regular audience. This opens up the company to the increased possibility of receiving inquiries from listeners, which can lead to conversations.

We urge all of our customers to include a strong call to action in each podcast. This is vitally important to achieving a return on the investment. When this call is included in a regularly appearing show, the number of responses increases out of proportion to the number of shows it appears in. It's a sum of its parts thing.

From the beginning, I've been saying that podcasting offers an opportunity for businesses to return to the Golden Days of radio when companies sponsored the shows that entertained, enlightened and sold to radio listeners. Owning the show gives companies complete control of the content. Those that do a good job of offering up a valuable program will reap big rewards.

Monday, January 22, 2007

New Media is Not Just About Tools

Marketing professionals sometimes break corporate communication down by the tools used. For instance, you may need a press release or a fact sheet or a white paper to get your point across, depending upon the audience and the message. New Media provides some new tools: podcasts, blogs, wiki pages and more.

But don't fall into the trap of thinking about New Media as a new toolset. It goes way beyond that. It's about how the audience gets the message and what they do with it.

Here's a good example. Indie911 is like a MySpace for indie filmmakers and musicians (I'm sure it's much more than that, but that's what it's like for me). On MySpace, a fan can load music into a player on the page and let visitors sample the work. Good. It's like handing a brochure out for someone you like, an old media tool updated and embedded in a New Media platform.

Indie911 took it a step further. You like a band, you want to promote the band, maybe even make a few cents by reselling their content. So, on Indie911 you create a Hoooka. I don't know what that stands for. I'm in my 40s and I'm married so I'm not interested in learning every bit of X/Y-gen lingo so I can fit in or hook up. All I know is that it's a very good little widget that allows you to load a band's music (or your own, or your own videos or photos) into it and serve it up on your Indie911 website. Or MySpace or your blog or anywhere.

Indie911 calls it an "Artist/Label Branded, Consumer Driven, Mobile Music Store." I call it a standalone little multimedia content marketing device that you can load up and make money with by clicking a few buttons. That's New Media! That's the audience taking control. That's taking the producer/consumer paradigm and turning it on its head.

Now, how could you benefit from a little widget like that? Can you create something so compelling that your audience would want to become your distributors? Can you find a way to compensate them for doing so?

Now you're thinking like a New Media marketer.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Wow and Blogger Tagging

If you're serious about leveraging New Media in the business world you need to know George Dearing of the WOW Agency. George runs a blog he calls the WOWFeed. He helps companies go beyond word of mouth to word of Web (WOW). I've been reading him for some time now and it looks like we'll probably partner up on some projects this year.

Like most of the folks who truly get it, George is a busy fellow right now, but he's not immune to the occasional game. Blogger tagging is something New Media proponents do to each other and George has done it to me. Thanks, George.

Here are his responses and a link to show how this whole thing started. Fear not, I won't bore you with this type of information often (read ever again).

And here are five things you probably don't know about me.

1) When I work alone in my office, I dress like a homeless person. At least that's what my wife says. The jeans are comfortable if ragged and no shoes fit me as well as my 4-year-old Reeboks. Add an old t-shirt and I can write for days.

2) Speaking of wives, I married a gal who used to produce syndicated radio shows in NYC. She dated and was pursued by some of the most famous people of the 80s but she married this farm boy from Missouri.

3) I try to work the word porcupine into as many sentences as possible because is annoys/amuses my four-year-old daughter.

4) My wife worries when I have to drive to Philly to catch a plane to a conference because I refuse to buy a new vehicle until my 1992 Ford F-150 flies apart. I have to drive it because if I leave town with it in the driveway she'll stick a For Sale sign on it when I'm gone. Almost lost it that way once.

5) I'm the eldest son of the eldest son for five generations back and my great-grandmother's bible traces my family line back to President Grant and beyond. He wasn't much of a businessman, I've learned, but he knew how to fight and he never gave up. He turned his completed memoirs over to Mark Twain for publication before the cancer got him so his wife wouldn't have to worry about money.

End of story.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

How We Release News

There's a battle going on in the New Media community right now about the best way for companies to release news. Brian Solis, principal at Futureworks PR, does a fine job of laying out the battlefield in a recent article.

Two things I'd like to point out about this. First, there's a New Media community. This is great! It means that there exists a group of forward-thinking professioanls who are out there actively working to make the business of public relations (or media relations or new media or social media or whatever) better. I've been quietly watching these folks for a while now and I'm very impressed.

I can say that here because none of them read this blog. I write here primarily for the benefit of the financial services industry and the folks working hard here to effectively communicate their corporate stories.

The second thing about the battle between new media release proponents and those that favor the traditional press releases is that it probably shouldn't matter much to you at this point. In the end, and Solis alludes to this in his article, it won't matter what tool you use to communicate with your audience if the content isn't meaningful to them. In the end, either you make a connection, start a conversation and then build a relationship or you won't achieve your goals.

Solis has a better way of putting this: "Engage or die."

Heh. I like that. For those of you working on the B2B side, traditional press releases are going to be more effective in the short term, if you're targeting journalists. And you have to target them. There are other good tools you'll be using to get to your prospects, but they probably won't include new media press releases at this point.

Now, those of you actually providing banking or mortgage products to consumers had better start looking into these new types of news releases. More folks are turning to press releases on the Web (which are served up free of charge by their favorite search engines) to get their news. If you're still writing the stilted, adjective-heavy press releases you send to journalists (who cut that stuff all out anyway), you'd better start looking at better ways to tell your stories in the news release format.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Interview on Mark Dangelo's site

Effective corporate communication is getting more complicated. It's no longer a matter of getting in the right trade publications or getting your messages into the traditional media. There are New Media tools that are at once confusing to corporate marketers and engaging to consumers.

Mark Dangelo, consultant and author of Innovative Relevance, visited with me recently for an episode of his podcast.

Find out more about Mark at his website. If you don't know him and your working in technology for financial services, you probably should. He's one of the few people working there that truly gets this whole New Media thing. I've found him to be a very open and engaging fellow that will respond to you if you contact him through his website.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

CES: It's About More than Gadgets

National Public Radio has been covering the Consumer Electronics Show out in Vegas. This morning, in a business report, NPR's Laura Sydell talks about how it's not just about the gadgets as large entertainment firms cut deals with New Media companies in an effort to get their content out to digital age consumers.

Visit NPR's site to listen.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Interview in Current Broker Magazine

I was interviewed and included in this month's issue of Broker magazine. If you are active in the mortgage loan brokerage business, you might have seen it. If you're interested in what I told them about using podcasts to drive new business, let me know and I'll send you a reprint.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Viral Video Beyond the Grasp of Most

One of the reasons I'm sold on Podcasting for the B2B marketplace is that it's a non-threatening way to get people the information they are already seeking. Corporate buyers need to hear about the features and benefits of your offering and if they can hear that you're passionate about serving them at the same time, your company can benefit.

I anticipate that a number of companies will explore video in 2007, hoping to create a viral video phenomenon that will disseminate their messages far and wide. For most, it won't work. We expect more from video than audio, probably because it commands more of our attention. Video requires the message to be more entertaining. Otherwise, viewers will click away. Simply answering the questions on camera--or worse, reading the approved marketing collateral, will not be effective.

To be effective with video involves taking risks most companies won't take. Those that do are likely to be well rewarded. See the clip below for an example of something that will work.

Not ready for that? Fine, talk to us about an audio podcast.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

So What is New Media?

According to Wikipedia (the online encyclopedia that we write ourselves), "New Media loosely describes those forms of media enabled by digital technology." Which, if you take it literally, means all media. Newspapers, television and radio--the traditional media--are all enabled by digital technology today and so this definition doesn't get us any closer to understanding New Media. So much for democracy in reference book publishing.

New Media has nothing to do with technology...except that without it the media consumer would never have been put in a position to control both the medium and the message. Which, I guess means that New Media has everything to do with technology.

But what is it?

For the purposes of B2B Marketing, New Media is any vehicle that allows the company to engage an audience in a discussion designed to ultimately create a relationship that will lead to a sale. It has the following characteristics:

It will probably be enabled by a Web-based technology and take place over the Internet.
More of the content will be provided by outsiders than company employees or advisors.
Some of the content will not conform to the marketing department's approved materials.
Some of the content will strike horror into the hearts of marketing personnel and executives.
It will reveal target audiences' real feelings about the company and its products.
It will spawn real conversations that will lead to relationships and sales.

New Media will become much more prevalent in the B2B space in 2007 than it has been in the past. Expect to see more corporate blogs, more podcasts and more wiki-like sites where companies invite their target markets to share in the creation of company content. Expect to see some companies go through a lot of pain as they realize that they really can't control these conversations once they start, no matter how much they spend or how badly they want to.

At Texell, we're starting with podcasts, but we love blogs and think internet video has an almost unlimited potential to change the way companies market their products. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that New Media tools are easy to define. They haven't all been defined yet. More will be introduced this year.

Example: we now have cell phones that can text you when you pass a certain advertiser's hotspot to offer you a special deal. Imagine what will happen when we build wireless technology into t-shirts and the ad slogan on the back changes as the pretty girl walks down the street. You're going to see a lot of New Media coming. It will start this year. Buckle up.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Understanding New Media Metrics

I could start with my definition of new media communication tools, but if I can't prove that they can serve the marketing needs of the B2B community, who cares what they are. So let's start with metrics.

How many impressions? Pageviews? Clicks? Hits? These are questions that are now (or will soon be) irrelevant. At the end of the day, who cares how many people saw the full-page ad you ran in the trade publication that is now gathering dust on an end table in your reception area? Publishers of trade publications, maybe. Who cares if your podcast is heard by 2 million Chinese nationals who have no desire or ability to buy your product or service? Is that worth more than having the same podcast delivered to 100 top industry insiders who get paid to purchase products like the ones you offer?

Lest you think that I'm just trying to redefine the playing field to increase my chance of scoring, I should tell you that a lot of people are talking about this right now. Jeff Jarvis has a great blog post on this that points to a number of these discussions. I found it through a post on Dennis Haarsager's Technology 360 Blog.

I'm not suggesting that you stop trying to figure out how to determine whether you're getting a good deal on the promotional efforts you employ. Just make sure you're measuring the right metrics. With new media, it's not about throwing your message to the wind and hoping some of it lands in a prospect's ears. It's about telling your story to the people who want and need to hear it and engaging them in a conversation that will lead to a sale and an ongoing relationship.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Getting Your Point Across

One of the questions I hear most often after a company agrees to let Texell produce a podcast or start them a new blog is, "Who is going to see/hear this?" It's a really good question.

All of us are so busy and so inundated with material that getting our attention is a real job. If you spend your resources attracting the attention of the wrong people, you're marketing communication efforts are bound to fail.

In this new blog, I want to share some ideas with you for using today's New Media communication tools to get your message across effectively...to the right audience. We are living in exciting times. We have the technology to focus our communication efforts. But we still have to do the work of creating effective messages and identifying key audiences.

Watch this space for stories about companies that are doing a great job and for analysis of some of the mistakes we're seeing in the marketplace. Our goal is to help you be more effective at communicating your core value proposition. Our plan is to make this blog a good sample of our work.