How Much Content Should You Share?

free_downloadIn the world of content marketing, every marketer must make a decision on what information should be provided openly, and what should require registration to access. Traditionalists will argue that the concept is straightforward – information that is more valuable should be deemed “worthy” of registration to gain access. With registration, however, comes an expectation of future follow up, be it in the form of a call or email from the sponsoring party. This knowledge dissuades the reading of your material, working against your desired objective.

Today these lines are blurring, which is causing some angst for those of us involved in content marketing.

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When is the Right Time for a Business Plan?

Choosing a time to write a business plan is challengingOne of the questions I hear frequently is that of timing … when is the right time to devote the time and effort to prepare a more formal business plan? It is an important question, and one that must be considered carefully. If you write too soon, your idea may be completely different than what you ultimately go to market with. If you wait too late, much of the benefits will be foregone. How far along in lifecycle in your future business does it make most sense to more formally document your vision?

To start, there is no one “right” answer. Some will argue that there is no point in writing a plan at all, at least in the beginning, as so many factors are subject change. I am reading an interesting book right now by Clayton Christensen titled “How Will You Measure Your Life?” In it, the author talks about the need for two business strategies – a deliberate and an emergent one. I found this analogy quite good. In order to begin a new venture (or adventure), it is necessary to have an initial direction to follow. The author coins this initial decision as being a “deliberate” strategy. He gives the example of Honda entering the U.S. market with a large bike that will directly compete against Harley Davidson’s products. Soon, however, it became apparent that this strategy wasn’t working, as evidenced by a lack of sales. Meanwhile, a group of employees began using Honda’s smaller bikes off-road, and were having a great time doing so. This “unplanned” activity and market segment became an “emergent” strategy, which ultimately gave Honda a foothold into the lucrative US market for motorcycles.

Using this author’s methodology, a formerly written business plan can be a great tool to validate an initial or deliberate strategy. This effort can give you a way to rationally defend your initial decision to pursue a new product or market expansion. As part of this process, you will either gain a greater comfort level with what you are doing, or not. Regardless, valuable conclusions will result (do I “stay” or do I “go”?)

An emergent strategy, however, might be best viewed as opportunistic, and one that might need further validation prior to making the investment in preparing a full, formal business plan. This approach then lets you be open to new “emergent” opportunities while at the same time realizing that you did pick your deliberate strategy for a reason – you need to give it a fair review and effort to validate that it either works, or that it doesn’t. Writing a business plan on the initial deliberate strategy is a great approach to help validate if this initial idea is indeed worthy of the effort.

Christensen states that about 93% of all startups change their strategic direction at least once before getting it right. So, flexibility and preservation of initial capital are clearly critical for survival. But, an initial direction is still needed before you can begin engagement in your idea.

Two Reasons to Write a Business Plan

The role of writing a business plan is really two-fold. The first is to better clarify the strategic direction you want to purse with your business endeavor. If, for nothing else, the act of writing down your objectives, strategic direction and competitive differentiation forces you to really think about these critical thoughts. You can’t go to market unless you are really comfortable in telling your story. Writing it down in a business plan forces you to review all the points, including those you might be inclined to gloss over for lack of interest.

The second role of writing a business plan is to get funding. An outside bank, business partner or venture capitalist will want to have some sort of documentation explaining in detail what it is you plan to accomplish. After all, it is their money that you will be investing. At this point, a more formal business plan starts to make sense. Note that while an angel investor might prefer to hear your “elevator pitch” and in a few minutes, and then decide whether or not they will fund you, it still is very helpful if you have gone through the exercise of more formally reviewing your target market, competition, product positioning and pricing strategy to better understand how to turn a profit.

Alternatively, if by flushing through your new business idea in greater detail, you discover that there is an inherent flaw in your plan, it is better to have found out earlier versus investing considerable effort, resources and money into an idea that really couldn’t work.

The Right Time

Getting back to the question of timing, as you come up with an initial idea for a new business or product line extension, it probably doesn’t make sense to prepare a business plan. First, you need to do some “gut” checks to see what sort of viability your idea might have. That review process might include talking to industry experts, potential business partners, friends and family. If your business involves the manufacturing of a new product, then it might also make sense to get an idea of what costs are involved and what possible patents might be required in order to avoid potential infringement issues.

Once your initial review is accomplished and you feel comfortable your idea definitely has merit, now is probably a good time to consider writing a plan that captures the salient competitive and marketing requirements to get your idea off the ground. Through that process, you will soon realize whether or not your idea could work, at which time it is highly likely you will need to consider the use of outside funding. As your plan will be virtually complete by that time, having the plan already written will let you continue forward without delay.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

What is the Right Amount to Spend on Public Relations?

public_relations_return_on_investmentBy Gordon Benzie

 

Once you have made the investment to do public relations, the next step is to determine the right level of investment. While some consider a bus the best way to commute, others might be completely justified to insist on a Lamborghini. Your level of spending must match your business profile, budget and message objective. If you are publicizing a high end brand, a corresponding higher level of PR investment might be warranted. For all other campaigns, return on investment should be carefully evaluated to determine what is right for you.

One approach is to apply the concept of “zero-based” budgeting. Start with nothing, and then only justify incremental programs, starting from a zero baseline. If your ROI is positive, then spend more. As long as your returns continue to be positive, a reasonable case can be made to continue to expand. Note that some returns may be “soft” and yet completely justified. Borrowing from my economics background, at some point, your marginal returns will turn negative. At that point, stop spending more dollars and shift focus to continuous improvement at that spending level.

It is easy to quantify what you are spending on Public Relations. It is the benefits that are more intangible. As a way to help with this process, below is an example of a return on investment of public relations campaigns can be reasonably measured.

Measuring Better Public Awareness

Increased awareness is a benefit that makes sense on paper, but can be difficult to measure. To start, try doing a Google search on your company product name, company name or whatever term you are seeking to measure increased awareness on. In your search query, make it specific to your company market, target audience, geographical location (if applicable), etc. How often were you mentioned? How high up on Internet searches did your terms rank? This is a quick way to gauge a baseline exposure level.

Of course, search engine optimization impacts ranking levels. More news will too. More public relations activity generates additional listings to drive improved web traffic. If your listings doubled, web traffic will likely increase, resulting in greater value with increased levels of prospect engagement.

Another way to measure is with your sales team. As they go out on customer prospect meetings or calls, how often must they explain who you are? This measure will be rough at best, but, you might get answers such as “all the time” or “about half of the time,” which can then give you a baseline to measure against. Less time spent introducing the company means more time for sales people to sell.

In the end, the best measurement strategy depends on what type of business you are in, the competition and what level of existing awareness already exists. Investing in public relations can yield many benefits. Pick your target, implement a campaign and then measure it. Repeat. Over time, your understanding of the market will increase, which can then be used to justify expanding or contracting your existing spend rate.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

Measuring the Value of Outdoor Advertising

As a marketer, you must make many choices on not only what your primary message should be, but also on what medium is the best to communicate your vision. I just read an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about a nice win that the NASDAQ just pulled off – getting Kraft Foods to drop their big board listing on the NYSE to go instead with a listing on the NASDAQ (see article here). I can only image what the lead time and typical sales cycle is for such a decision, as it is clearly more than just a simple administrative change such as switching banks. Beyond the logistics of such a change, there is clearly a message at play – Kraft wants to be seen more as a company that is closer aligned with the technology companies that now dominate the listings on NASDAQ.

Stepping aside from that whole decision process and what was involved in closing the deal, the point that got my interest was when I read about what was publicly stated as the key reason that Kraft made the swap. According to the article, it was “the prospect of cost savings and the marketing visibility afforded by NASDAQ’s landmark advertising billboard in New York’s Times Square.” Cost savings in today’s economy is certainly justifiable and reasonable. What was interesting is the reference to the billboard that NASDAQ has in Times Square, which I am sure each of you has had the chance to either see either on TV or in person.

Wow. So, what Kraft is essentially saying is that this outdoor advertising venue was the tipping point that pushed them to close the deal. A couple of questions and comments come to mind here. First, what benefit is Kraft really envisioning? Increased brand awareness? I think that pretty much everyone in the world has now heard of Kraft Foods, so that clearly can’t be the case. How about awareness of what Kraft stock can be purchased for? In today’s digital world of price tickers, I have a hard time believing that it is this type of awareness that they are talking about.

I would propose that the awareness they seek is being viewed as part of the NASDAQ’s group of more tech-heavy, startup type of companies that are more typically on that exchange versus the NYSE. But, this message simply wasn’t part of the article. Maybe NASDAQ is trying to expand their positioning to be more than just a home for tech firms, and this was a way for them to point out other reasons for making the swap? If any of you have any background info that can help explain this decision, your comments and feedback would be most welcome!

So, there you have it. The decision to pay millions (?) of dollars a year by NASDAQ’s marketing team to keep that lease or own that real estate with its prime placement in Times Square actually led to a sale, which can now be tracked directly to that investment. The next question is: “Did the marketing team put this into their ROI calculation to help justify the expense?” There probably was some sort of awareness factor, which then translated into some sort of increased branding … but, to actually get a sale as almost a direct impact from the billboard / outdoor sign? I am guessing “no.”

In concluding, first, I hope that the marketing team at NASDAQ saw the article and is now pointing it out to their executive team. Second, I am not endorsing a marketing campaign composed entirely of outdoor advertising – an integrated approach covering multiple channels and awareness media is best. Third, to those thinking that there isn’t really any value to brand advertising and that any quantifiable new sales are not really possible from such expenditures, maybe that assumption isn’t quite always the case!

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.