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 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.