"We compete against folks like SAP and Oracle who have huge budgets. We're $300 million in revenues. But compared to them, our marketing budget is much smaller," explains Steve Andrews, IFS North America's Marketing Director.
"We had to find a way to be more agile and responsive to beat the big guys."
Only problem -- the target market, North American manufacturers ranging in size from $100 million to billions of dollars, is a fairly broad one. It's awfully hard to make a big impact in a big broad market with a smaller budget.
So, with help from the sales department and a great in-house CRM system, Andrews' team began to research which specific executives were the biggest purchase decision influencers. Their goal -- to narrow their target audience as much as possible to a more manageable size.
Results? A "huge percentage" of new sales was directly influenced by consultants and services firms the manufacturers hired to advise them. These ranged from CPA firms to management consultants and system selection consultants.
They might be in almost any industry you could name -- from aerospace to healthcare. The key was, their clients included manufacturers who wanted advice when shortlisting new software.
Again, with help from the sales team, Andrews' team began building a database of these influencers. The good news was that the list was much smaller than their past lists. The bad news was that consultants wouldn't respond to the old-style marketing campaigns.CAMPAIGN
"We find a large role of this trusted adviser is to educate their clients. If they are really worth their salt, they want information to help their clients look objectively at options."
So, you couldn't use marketing materials that were sales-related … because, after all, you were not selling *to* these influencers. You were building an educational relationship with them.
Well, fine. IFS had an entire library of educational materials perfect for this sort of thing -- including white papers, webinars, case studies, tech specs, thought leadership articles and reviews.
But when Andrews' quizzed the service rep IFS had assigned 100% to building relationships with these influencers, he discovered one big problem: content distribution.
"Telemarketing doesn't work and email doesn't work for that group because they are never there. They are always in their car or on a plane traveling someplace. And if you do catch them on the phone the one time in the month they are in the office, the last thing they want to do is talk to you."
"We started thinking about the life of these influencers. We realized we have to let them be able to time-shift our messaging so they can listen to us on their terms, not on our terms and timing."
That's when the big idea hit -- why not try podcasting? "It's a natural fit. They can listen to updates while they drive to the next client's site or to the airport."
During two months of research and development, Andrews learned that to start podcasting you need two things, neither of which is a big budget:
A. A dependable flow of content to tap into (fairly easy if you're already conducting interviews and research routinely for other content, such as white papers and articles).
B. A staffer who's a bit of a digital audio-geek and who doesn't mind putting in some time on the project.
(MarketingSherpa note: Some marketers use freelancers for this, some borrow a suitably inclined staffer from another department and others hire interns. As long as the marketing department has control of the value/branding of the content, is able to promote the podcast to an already existing prospect database and is ready to measure results in some way, you're all set.)
In July 2006, the team launched their podcasting project by following best practices:
-> Step #1. Content best practices
o Keep it short. A podcast is not a webinar or event speech. At an average of 16 minutes, IFS' podcast is one of the longer B-to-B podcasts out there.
o Make it regular. IFS' team decided to launch at a monthly schedule and stick to it. Launching just a single podcast as a 'test' probably would not give them enough traction to determine value. (Consider that a podcast is similar to an email newsletter -- the relationship is built over time, not in one single bound.)
o Multiple voices. One voice can be boring to listen to for more than a couple of minutes. So, the team added features, such as an interview Q&A, to get more voices on air.
They could also use these interviews as warm-fuzzies to feature chosen partners and great clients -- nearly everyone likes to become more famous.
Luckily, due to the wonders of audio-editing, the interview could be more of a conversation, even conducted over a regular phone line, and then 'cleaned up' later (including inserting a more professional-sounding interviewer's voice for the questions.)
o Multiple "stories." Few people will listen to a single long story, but you can keep interest high if you present a series of shorter items. The team cut each podcast into sections of content a la the evening news.
o No direct shovelware. Content written for another format, such as a white paper, won't work well if it's simply read into a microphone for the podcast. Instead, the team created podcast-friendly content that was on the same theme as a recent white paper. For example, they might interview the author in a Q&A format.
(If marketing was ghost-writing for an in-house expert, they recorded their interviews with the expert for the white paper itself and used them as sound clips for the podcast and background for the writer.)
-> Step #2. Technology choices
As noted above, loads of very low-cost software, audio editing and hosting packages are coming online for podcast creation and distribution. The team debated the build-vs-buy (as any tech company probably would) but decided buying was best practice. (See below for links to some of their vendors.)
-> Step #3. Promotion
The days are long gone when you could post an announcement about your podcast on a few general podcasting sites and expect much traffic. Plus, for IFS, their target audience was very niche … perhaps only a couple of thousand perfect prospects.
Given how busy their prospects were, IFS decided to use multiple media to get the word out, hoping that one would be noticed. These included:
o Hotlinks in the IFS newsletter (sample below)
o Mailing a CD-ROM of the first few podcasts (sample mailer below)
o Hotlinks from main site pages
o Personal notes on occasion from relevant sales and service reps
Critical -- The team debated whether hotlinks should go directly to the audio file of the podcast itself or if clicks should hit a landing page instead. In the end, the landing page won out. Why? No one likes it when audio comes unexpectedly blaring out of their speakers and you can't be sure that prospects understand that 'click for podcast' means that they'll suddenly hear audio.
The landing page itself (link below) looked much like a simple blog without any ISF ads or regular navigation. Design used four best practices:
- Extra-large friendly typeface
- Two-sentence content summary for each podcast
- Duration and date for each podcast
- Hotlinks to all past podcasts
Last but not least, the term "podcast" isn't universally understood yet. So, on all promotions the team used a variety of terminology to explain what the heck this thing was, including:
- Radio network
- Audio publication
They also used both the term "RSS" and "Subscribe" to folks who didn't know what one meant but would hopefully understand the other.
More than 100 prospects in IFS' target audience of influencers listen to each podcast online, plus an indeterminate number have heard the CD-ROM. That's roughly a 10% conversion rate, which Andrews is more than happy with.
Does the podcast lead to new business? "I'm less concerned with what is our close rate by marketing program with the four to five different programs we do with influencers," he explains. "I'm more concerned about getting the mix right, about reaching them in different circumstances. We have the email piece, the podcast piece, the direct mail piece. … We need to do all of them."
The team had two tech lessons -- the first was that when you send a CD-ROM with a podcast, some CD player displays will search a library of audio files looking for the right track name based on length and file size. As one recipient wrote in, "When listening to the audio CD from July 2006 with iTunes, the CD information displays as NAME: Bruce Lee, ARTIST: The Thaw, ALBUM: The Bruce Lee EP."
The only way around this is to get a commercially-assigned barcode for each podcast you put on a CD. This may not be worth the work for most marketers … so just laugh about the odd title that comes up and forget about it.
The second tech lesson was about creating XML files and hosting podcasts yourself … don't do it. Your tech team and server can get more overloaded than they expected very easily. Outsource whenever possible.Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from IFS' podcast campaign:
Acid Music Studio - the software IFS uses to mix and manage podcast audio content:
GoDaddy Quick Podcast - service that creates the XML file, hosts and measures IFS' podcast:
IFS' podcast landing page: