Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels

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It used to be that B2B software companies would develop their marketing strategy around buying advertisements in specific trade magazines or publications, creating a small budget for Google AdWords, …

It used to be that B2B software companies would develop their marketing strategy around buying advertisements in specific trade magazines or publications, creating a small budget for Google AdWords, and building a sufficient, if not fancy, website. Beyond that, most additional marketing channels were viewed as experimental or an unnecessary use of resources.

The problem with that approach is that a single channel strategy is far too simplistic for B2B technology companies, which tend to sell sophisticated products to very complex segments.

That’s why today, B2B marketing is multi-channel marketing. Growing businesses have a huge array of marketing channels at their disposal. From websites, billboards, and blogs, to print ads, brochures, and even skywriting, the options are seemingly limitless. Of course, unless you choose the right marketing channels — the ones that influence your customers most — you risk never truly engaging your audience in the right places.

Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels provides a high-level overview of a marketing channel selection process for expansion-stage companies. It is intended for senior executives and project managers who, after reading the eBook, will be able to make sense of the wide and complex range of marketing channels that help bring their message to their customers and pinpoint the ones that are most effective at engaging those customers. Those insights will allow your company to strike the right mix of marketing channels and optimize your marketing dollars so that they have maximum impact.

Other benefits of identifying and prioritizing marketing channels, include:

- Helping to develop finely tuned annual marketing plans
- Improving tracking and benchmarking
- Gaining insights into competitors’ marketing strategies
- Knowing who to hire for future needs
- Setting more realistic goals

As the eBook explains, it’s ultimately not a question of whether your B2B company should be incorporating multiple marketing channels to reach your customers effectively. Rather, the questions that need to be addressed are which channels provide your business the best opportunity for customer engagement and acquisition, and how many should you be using.

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  • 1. Table of ContentsForeword............................................................................................................................... 1Chapter 1: The What and Why of B2B Marketing Channels........................................................ 2What Qualifies as a Marketing Channel?..........................................................................................3The Business Benefits of Marketing Channel Discovery and Prioritization...........................................4A Quick Look at the Key Players in the Process................................................................................5Understanding the Prerequisites of Marketing Channel Research ......................................................7Chapter 2: Discovering a Universe of Marketing Channels ......................................................... 8Narrowing Your Marketing Channel Focus through Preliminary Research............................................9 Preliminary Research Techniques............................................................................................10Identifying and Grouping Keywords for Web-based Channel Research..............................................11 Generating Keyword Combinations for Online Research.............................................................13 Generating Hashtags and Short Forms for Your Most Common Keywords.....................................13 Grouping Keywords into Applicable Themes.............................................................................14Performing Online Research to Build a List of Prospective Marketing Channels.................................15 Building the Data Collection Plan...........................................................................................15 Executing a Web-based Research Process................................................................................16 Removing Junk Data and Channel Duplication.........................................................................18Qualifying Marketing Channels by Type, Thematic Relevance, Quality, and Feasibility........................18 Content Quality and Relevance...............................................................................................20 Channel Feasibility................................................................................................................21
  • 2. Chapter 3: Prioritizing Marketing Channels and Optimizing Your Marketing Plan........................ 22Identifying Marketing Channel Prioritization Factors and Relevant Metrics........................................22Prioritization Across Different Types of Marketing Channels............................................................23Defining and Managing the Prioritization Data Collection Process ...................................................24Establishing a Backup Plan to Address Unanticipated Gaps in Prioritization Data.............................24Applying the Prioritization Scheme to Qualified Marketing Channels................................................26Gathering and Incorporating Feedback..........................................................................................27End Note............................................................................................................................ 31Appendix............................................................................................................................ 32Marketing Channel Types.............................................................................................................32Typical Marketing Channel Prioritization Metrics............................................................................37Additional Resources..................................................................................................................41
  • 3. ForewordFor much of its 100-year history, outdoor recreation retailer L.L. Bean relied on a straightforward and simplemarketing strategy. The company would send out thick, glossy mail-order catalogs to its best customers and rely onword-of-mouth or customer referrals to drive new customer acquisition. Outside of that, the Maine-based business didlittle else to market itself. Because, well, it didn’t need to.Then, about 10 years ago, things changed. L.L. Bean CEO Chris McCormick realized that the company’s single-channelmarketing strategy was no longer sufficient. As McCormick told an industry publication at the time, L.L. Bean’s catalogwas beginning to cause customer fatigue and brand apathy. Meanwhile, the company’s primary competitors were activelyengaging the same customer segment through a variety of more recent online marketing channels.So, McCormick and L.L. Bean’s executive team did what the best companies always do: They reinvented the company’smarketing strategy. Today, as L.L. Bean attempts to target younger and more mobile consumers, the business is investingheavily in social media networks like Facebook and YouTube, and it has hired a team of 10 employees dedicated tothose social channels. The company is also leveraging traditional broadcast media by airing television commercials andpublishing magazine ads.Interesting story, right? But why does any of that matter to growth-stage B2B technology companies? It’s simple, really.Because it illustrates one company’s recognition that marketing has evolved. While a single channel marketing strategymight have been effective 20 years ago, it’s not enough anymore.Businesses today — especially expansion-stage B2B technology companies in competitive markets — must be ableto identify the channels that influence their customers the most. They must dedicate an appropriate amount of theirmarketing resources to reach them effectively. If they fail to do that, then scaling technology businesses stand verylittle chance of capturing their market’s attention.OpenView’s eBook, “Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels,” canhelp. In the following pages, you’ll find detailed marketing channel definitions, a well-summarized list of multi-channelmarketing business benefits, and a step-by-step process. It’ll bring your company up to speed. But more than that, it willhelp you to begin engaging the right customers in the right places.Ann HandleyChief Content Officer, MarketingProfsCo-author, Content Rules (Wiley) (now in paperback – spring 2012) Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 1
  • 4. Chapter 1: The What and Why of B2B MarketingChannelsThe average marketing strategy for a startup or growing B2B software company used to be fairly straightforward.It might involve buying advertisements in specific trade magazines or publications, creating a small budget forGoogle AdWords, and building a sufficient, if not fancy, website. Beyond that, most additional marketing chan-nels were viewed as experimental or an unnecessary use of precious resources.In many ways, that strategy closely resembled the tactics that muchlarger B2C businesses have long relied on: using one primary medium “It’s shocking just how much time(e.g., direct mail catalogs) and one or two sub-channels (e.g., pay-per- and money companies spendclick ads or e-mail newsletters) to reach very specific buyer personas. promoting their products and services without ever trulyThe problem with that approach is that a single channel strategy is far too understanding their customers orsimplistic for B2B technology companies, which tend to sell sophisticated prospects. If you don’t know whoproducts to very complex market segments. you’re trying to convince, what those people need toToday, B2B marketing is multi-channel marketing and growing businesses hear to be convinced, and what channels you need toshould be tapping into an ever expanding universe of online marketing use to reach them, your message is never going to getchannels, including social media, interactive assessments, and virtual across. This eBook advocates the same principles thatevents, to better target their customers. Of course, the range of options we use at Influencer50: understand your customer’scan be burdensome, especially for companies that lack the budget and approach to buying or adopting new providers andstaff to experiment with each of them. suppliers as well as what affects their choices, prioritize opportunities, and measure the effectivenessHowever, that doesn’t excuse smaller B2B companies from having to of your approach to market. It’s shocking, andresearch and identify the marketing channels that are most appropri- completely illogical, how few organizations plan theirate for their business goals. In fact, because of the complexity of their marketing outreach around these basic common senseproducts, the sophistication of their customers, and, in most cases, the building blocks.”competition in their markets, it’s more important than ever for thosecompanies to leverage multiple channels to engage their target customersegments. Nick Hayes President, Influencer50, Inc. Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 2
  • 5. So, how exactly do you identify which channels are right for yourbusiness? And how many channels should you be using at a time?“Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels” provides a high-level overview ofone channel selection process — there are certainly others — that OpenView has had great success using. It is intended forsenior executives and project managers who, after reading this, will be able to make sense of the wide and complex rangeof marketing mediums that help bring their message to their customers and pinpoint the marketing channels that are mosteffective at engaging those customers. Ultimately, those insights will allow your company to strike the right channel mix andoptimize your marketing dollars so that they have maximum impact.WHAT QUALIFIES AS A MARKETING CHANNEL?Marketing channels are specific conduits through which a company’s message can reach There are hundreds ofits target prospects. Channels can include people, events, and organizations, provided different types of marketingthose outlets offer a medium for connecting a business with its customers and prospects. channels, some of the mostThe beauty for growing B2B businesses is that effective marketing channels now stretch common used today being:well beyond the confining — and often expensive — boundaries of traditional advertising. } Word of Mouth } Partner MarketingSimply put, marketing can occur across a large array of mediums, though not all of them } User Groupsare appropriate for your business. To avoid confusion, it’s important for your business to } Social Mediacategorize its best marketing channels by media and content types, as well as market } Influencersfocus and coverage. Doing so will make the discovery and prioritization process much (See page 32 in Appendix forsimpler and ensure that the right messages are being delivered to the right audience. a representative list)For the purpose of this eBook, keep the following four specific categoriesof marketing channels in mind: Marketing channels that are relevant to your product’s direct market, which include mediums where Product-specific that product — or similar competing products — are normally advertised, reviewed, or discussed. Product-specific marketing channels are most suitable for targeted demand generation campaigns. Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 3
  • 6. Marketing channels where your competitors are not only present, but also active. Applicable chan- Competitor nels include those used directly or indirectly by competitors to advertise, sell, or promote their prod- ucts, along with channels that frequently mention or review competing solutions. There are various types of competitors (including direct pure play competitors, direct non-pure play competitors, and substitutes), all of which are germane to this category. Marketing channels that are relevant to a customer’s buying behavior (i.e., his or her pain points, Behavioral thoughts, intentions, trusted sources and advisors, and buying preferences both online and off). For example, you might include online communities frequented by your target prospects as well as the active experts in those communities whose recommendations influence buyer behaviors. Marketing channels that are used by the industry as a whole. In other words, the mediums that your Industry industry’s buyers, vendors, partners, analysts, and journalists use to exchange pertinent information. Typically, this group covers a broader range of topics and content than the previous categories and is particularly useful for general market presence and brand-building efforts.THE BUSINESS BENEFITS OF MARKETING CHANNEL DISCOVERYAND PRIORITIZATIONLike any marketing initiative, senior executives want to know how a B2B marketing channel process will impact the bottomline and what value it will bring in return. While it might be difficult to derive a quantitative return on investment overnight,the marketing channel discovery and prioritization process can help optimize your company’s marketing spend over both theshort and long term.As most marketers know, doing so will impact sales and marketing operations almost immediately, fueling better departmentalefficiency and performance — not to mention better market focus — for quarters if not years to come. Some of the otherbenefits of conducting a marketing channel discovery and prioritization exercise include:Helping develop finely tuned annual marketing plans: Most marketing managers suffer through a rigorous annualguessing game that requires them to predict which conferences they should attend, which analysts they need to engage, andhow much money they will need to do their jobs. By executing a marketing channel discovery and prioritization process, theycan more accurately project those plans and better support them with key data. Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 4
  • 7. Improving tracking and benchmarking: Once marketing managers have well-defined and prioritized lists of marketing channels, they can review their performance against those channels and continuously optimize that list accordingly. Gaining insights into competitors’ marketing strategies: Through the channel discovery process, companies can gain critical competitive insights into which channels their greatest competitors — especially the ones with similar marketing budgets — use most. Knowing who to hire for future needs: If a marketing manager knows that her business’s top online channel is influenc- ers, she can plan ahead to hire people with the skill sets (public relations and social media, for example) that are best suited for utilizing that channel. Setting more realistic goals: With the data derived from the marketing channel discovery process, a marketing team can set realistic goals that align with a particular channel’s actual opportunities. In turn, marketers can avoid the pitfall of setting overly ambitious goals that cannot possibly be achieved with the channel they plan to use. If your business is struggling to gain traction in an increasingly competitive market, each of these five benefits could have a sig- nificant long-term impact on the development of your business’s marketing strategy. It is important to note that there are other ancillary benefits that we will not cover in this eBook. A QUICK LOOK AT THE KEY PLAYERS IN THE PROCESS Gathering and prioritizing marketing channel data is not a one-person job. It requires significant effort from several people in your marketing organization, with the key roles falling into three specific categories: ProjectSponsor Typically the VP of marketing or your company’s most senior marketer, the project sponsor is responsible for owning and over- seeing the entire marketing channel discovery and prioritization process. He or she is responsible for directing the scope and goals of the project, along with securing company-wide agreement on the research methodology and the ultimate utilization of the project’s outputs. Specifically, the project sponsor: Defines and Defines the marketing Reviews and vets the Incorporates the 1 plans the project 2 channel prioritization criteria 3 prioritization of the marketing channels 4 results into the marketing plan Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 5
  • 8. Market Generally a marketing manager with deep knowledge of the target market segment, the market research analyst’s responsibili-Research ties include executing the research and analysis steps necessary to guide the project, and ensuring the reliability and accuracy Analyst of the initiative’s data outputs. Specifically, the market research analyst: Executes preliminary research to establish Defines Groups keywords 1 Collects target market definition inputs 2 the focus of the research efforts (content topics, 3 relevant keywords 4 into applicable themes marketing channels) Defines and manages online research to collect Qualifies candidate Defines and manages 5 a comprehensive list of potential marketing marketing channels 7 research efforts to channels and associated qualification data 6 by marketing channel type, thematic relevance, and marketing channel collect prioritization data on marketing channels based on the quality prioritization criteria Defines alternative metrics or prioritization 8 strategies to address any unanticipated lack of prioritization data Applies the prioritization Organizes and presents the 9 scheme to prioritize qualified marketing channels 10 results and incorporates stakeholder feedback Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 6
  • 9. Data The project’s worker bees, the data collection team might include junior- UNDERSTANDING THE PREREQUISITESCollection level marketing associates or marketing interns. The team’s responsibility OF MARKETING CHANNEL RESEARCH Team is to carry out the bulk of the data collection and entry processes under At the highest level, marketing channel research the oversight of the market research analyst. Specifically, the data requires some basic — but key — pieces of informa- collection team: tion, including definitions of project objectives and outputs, both of which drive the discovery and prioriti- Carries out online Eliminates duplications zation process and, ultimately, define its success. research to compile and reviews the resulting 1 a comprehensive list of marketing channel candidate URLs 2 URLs to remove irrelevant websites and low-quality content sites Additionally, it is extremely important to execute some form of market segmentation research before engaging in this process. Doing so will arm your business with: } A strong sense of what your ideal buyers look like Collects additional } An understanding of the common pain points your Collects prioritization data information on 3 or proxy prioritization data for each qualified marketing channel 4 selected marketing channels to support the implementation process targets share } A comprehensive view of why a particular market segment might be interested in your product Ultimately, if your effort is not focused on a defined It bears repeating that a project of this magnitude should not be left to one or two marketing associates. To be truly impactful, it requires collaboration market segment or product, then the prioritization at both the senior executive and team levels to ensure focus, accuracy, and process will lead to a faulty apples-to-oranges analysis. efficiency. If your VP of marketing does not have the time to sponsor the And that, as most marketing managers know, often project or you lack the lower-level team members necessary to assemble a does more harm than good. data collection team, wait until you are better prepared before starting. Lastly, it is critical to set marketing channel goals that The reality is that like any strategic marketing initiative, marketing channel are comprehensive, without being overly sophisticated research requires businesses to set aside almost as much time for preparation and cumbersome. Expansion-stage businesses should as they do for execution. Before engaging in any of the actual channel discov- limit themselves to three channel categories and two ery and prioritization steps, it is critical to examine your market (see sidebar) or three subtypes within each category. Any more than and identify the universe of potential channels available to your company. that and they risk overwhelming their teams and dilut- ing their results. Assembling the right team is critical, too. By identifying the right individu- als for each of the three roles above, it will be far easier to delegate the specific channel discovery and prioritization tasks covered in the remainder of this eBook. Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 7
  • 10. Chapter 2: Discovering a Universe of Marketing ChannelsThe Holy Grail of marketing is being able to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time. The marketingchannel discovery and prioritization process allows marketers to work toward that goal in many ways, pinpointing the mediumsto best connect with and influence their company’s most important customers and prospects.As such, understanding your audience is a critical component of market channel research. Before going any further, it is impor-tant to ensure that you can define the following market components for your company: Your target market segment: The specific, homogenous subgroup of prospects you are targeting with your sales and marketing strategies “There are hundreds of Your buyer personas: The personal and professional characteristics that define different and distinguish the buyers in your target market segment marketing Your product value propositions: Messages that explain why your particular channels that product or service benefits — or adds value to — a specific group of prospects you can use to deliver your message to customers The competitive landscape you are in: A picture of direct and indirect competi- and prospects. Knowing which tors in your target market segment channels to use to deliver that message, however, will make all Your product ecosystem: The players and products in your target market that of the difference in terms of if directly or indirectly relate to your target market segment and how it is received. Fail to useUnderstanding these five market components is very important for a couple of reasons. First, the right channel, and youif your target market is too narrowly defined, the discovery process will be equally limited. Con- dramatically reduce your chancesversely, if you define your target market too vaguely, you might fail to truly understand your buyer of being heard.”persona’s specific needs and the direct competitors that stand in your way. Ultimately, thatcould lead you to include marketing channels in the prioritization process that are too broad or Tien Anh Nguyeninappropriate for smaller, more targeted market segments. Senior Associate, OpenView Venture Partners Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 8
  • 11. Once you’ve gained clarity on each of these market components, you will be ready to execute the bulk of the marketing chan- nel discovery and prioritization process that is covered in this chapter. The next several pages cover the multi-step research and channel qualification process that will help your team build a list of highly qualified potential marketing channels and organize them by relevance, feasibility, and impact. In Chapter 3, we detail the channel prioritization process that allows you to narrow your prospective channel list so that it only contains the ones that make the most sense for your business. After reading the four-step process in this chapter, you will be prepared to conduct your own marketing channel discovery exercise. Armed with that knowledge, you can adjust your marketing efforts and begin to connect with your ideal customers in a much more meaningful way.Step Narrowing Your Marketing Channel Focus through Preliminary Research1 Before the marketing channel discovery process can begin in earnest, businesses need to conduct preliminary research to help them develop a set of intermediate outputs that will eventually be used in guiding the project’s full-scale research effort. The goal of the preliminary research process is to define the following: The most important marketing channel types for your company: Typically, this will include at least five types of channels as well as a document that details the evidence gathered to support their selection. The topical themes that are most relevant to the buyers in your product market: Every market has a unique set of topics that matter most to its buyers. Those topics can typically be grouped into three general content themes: product features and technical benefits, general industry topics, and behavioral and personal benefits. The marketing channel discovery process will help tighten the scope of topics that are most relevant to your target customers, ulti- mately allowing you to better inform the channel prioritization process. Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 9
  • 12. Preliminary Research TechniquesThere are numerous tactics your business can use to acquire these intermediate marketing channel discovery outputs. Below,we explore four relatively simple activities that, while not comprehensive or overly methodological, will help you better understandyour target market segment, its unique needs, and the channels that its prospects rely on most frequently to gather information.1. Internal interviews: Polling customer-facing team members is a fantastic way to obtain market information. This group might INTERVIEW QUESTIONS include marketing managers, sales representatives, customer ser- Here are some sample questions that you vice associates, and professional consultants. The interviews should might consider asking in interviews and be short, with questions that address distinct customer types, the online surveys. channels they are exposed to, and the topics they are interested in. Multiple-choice questions: How often do you read industry publications per week?2. External interviews: Conducting similar interviews with a small set of customers or market experts can both validate the informa- Never tion you gleaned from your team members and provide additional Fewer than 5 times insight into channel usage. Limit surveys or interviews to four or 5 to 10 times five questions, focusing on the ones that reveal where customers More than 10 times go for industry information (i.e., specific blogs, experts, or publica- Where do you go for information on the latest tions), how credible they think those sources are, and which medi- technology in your industry? Please select all ums tend to influence their purchasing decisions the most. that apply. Industry experts Industry conferences3. Online surveys: Executing a simple online survey can help Trusted vendors broaden the scope and diversity of research input. Use a simple tool like Instant.ly, Survey Builder, or SurveyMonkey to develop a Open-ended questions: short questionnaire and deliver it to prospects in a specific market Which vendors in your industry have the best segment. Include questions similar to the ones you ask in internal marketing and why? and external interviews, and use a mix of open-ended and multiple- _________________________________________ choice queries. _________________________________________ _________________________________________ Discovery Channel: A Guide to Identifying and Prioritizing Optimal Marketing Channels | 10