Friday, December 6, 2013

DC SEO 3.0 & Internet Marketing Top 10 2014 Tips for Local or Small Businesses

At KME (a DC SEO Company and Digital Technology Agency), we cover a lot of ground among client types, industry segments and technology services, with a heavy emphasis on area DC SEO business requirements for online, interactive marketing and advertising. As a local or regional small business near Washington DC, including Northern Virginia, Suburban and Southern Maryland, there's an almost bewildering array of online marketing services, tools, channels and opportunities to sift through - plenty to buy, try and use, but not nearly enough time and expertise to properly leverage. Plus, the online research or purchasing habits of your constantly changing customer segments (and their technologies) are really hard to keep up with - whether for marketing or simple communications purposes.

Our insight comes from many places, though primarily from the experiences of our long list of DC area clients - ranging from IT and B2B service companies, to retail, B2C and startup businesses. We're also very active in local economic development agencies, chambers of commerce and small business development/incubation centers, in addition to other area business development, industry organizations, media and professional associations. This gives us a very comprehensive, very unique perspective into the challenges and requirements faced by DC area businesses, digital marketing staff and DC SEO companies as they evolve their marketing strategies.

The most challenging theme we see is the gap between the SEO skills a small business understands or can afford to hire, and the SEO skills truly relevant and necessary in the evolving 2014 DC SEO and online marketing environment. A large and growing inventory of SEO facets (like onsite metatags and content styling) are now commodity services readily offered by legions of cheap, low-skilled or offshore providers (think of an auto mechanic with just a few months of experience; they can change the oil, clean the car and install new headlamps, but …) These SEO facets are also standard offerings in most online content management tools and social media platforms, and can be implemented by the your newest social media or administrative intern (see easy-enablement of SEO visibility of widget text even if the browser's JavaScript is turned off) .

Therefore, addressing these common DC SEO facets is no longer a differentiator among competitive businesses – it’s simply a required cost of operating, a required skill for those who maintain websites. Particularly in this very high-tech, mobile, Internet-focused Washington DC community. 

Businesses must learn more, work harder and likely pay more to maintain market-share and relevance in the online marketing domain – much more skill and experience is required for SEO performance in this more complex environment. However, since small business budgets for online marketing really aren’t growing to meet the need (though the DC metro and Northern Virginia economy is turning around) – the role of the successful and most helpful small business DC SEO company begins to transition from a tactical services provider to more of a strategic, multi-faceted business counselor and IT investment advisor. With fantastic, empathetic communication skills.

Be sure your small business Northern Virginia or DC SEO company meets this profile, and can provide current, experienced business management, digital strategy and marketing consulting advice that’s pragmatically aligned to the commodity DC SEO block-and-tackling required.

Here's a brief summary of what we see are 10 significant themes in the online marketing and search engine optimization space, that DC area businesses, nonprofits, agencies and startups need to address in 2014.  

1. Natural, Accurate Language - is quickly becoming more accessible and desired by search engines, as they process very large amounts of unstructured information and data that increasingly exists within a predominantly artificial ecosystem of structured tags, markers, metadata, other words, content that's readable, immediately useful and sharable to local, community culture and language dialect is incredibly important.

2. Simple Mobility - is the defacto device use case for our busy DC audiences and customers, notwithstanding "hands-free" legislation for commuters and the slow uptake of federal government mobile usage - but the desktop design sometimes is most effective for mobile tablet users, and the "responsive" cellphone design is sometimes not as effective as a standardized, small-screen design.  In other words, any web or content design you're considering needs first to consider the mobile needs of your primary audience segments, but needs not be overly complex.

3. Online Brand Consolidation - your primary branding signals or presence is manifested in a special image or video, an online persona, a message (text copy) or perhaps an interactive user interface (like a special app function), but it can quickly get lost, fragmented or devalued among the noise of competing SEO, website navigation,  device controls or user experience signals across the multi-channel path your customer takes to interact with other words, simply and consolidate your branding signals so that they're instantly, easily, helpfully recognizable anywhere your content is used.

4. Knowledge Management - what really does this mean, isn't it some huge information organization and expert tracking system that only the biggest companies use?  Nope - it's simply finding out what your employees know, and figuring out how best to package and share this knowledge in a way that supports your marketing and communications. Call it "employment engagement" or "content harvesting" - your people (particularly DC-based, local, social residents) have lots to contribute, but will need some process control to do it successfully. It's ALSO semantic translation and tagging of content using metadata (invisible data, but resulting in visible indicators such as Google "snippets" or Twitter Cards) - this is definitely a more difficult yet extremely important to address.

5. Online Reviews – are incredibly important now, in this time where social recognition and community input heavily influence consumer choices, and these social signals in turn drive SEO performance and online reputation – but this can be a complex communications process to monitor and manage, with careful attention to search influence and audience feedback. Yelp is particularly difficult to manage - there are many other review sites and services that should be considered.

6. Online Asset Protection - how is your digital content monitored and protected from copyright infringement, duplication or misuse, brand dilution or highjacking, or other situations where competitors or gray-hat SEO firms are illegitimately benefiting from your hard work?  Inbound link and reputation monitoring is critical, as is the all-to-often-ignored process of updating, backing up and protecting both your content and web technology investments (including all the service widgets and plug-ins you've purchased).

7. Website Performance - while this has always been important, it's even more so in the age of mobility; content-heavy, responsive websites with data feeds and service integrations need to work fast on large or small screens - and Google will reward those that serve immediate, local demand the best. Website performance includes efficient security and privacy protections - protecting not only against malware and misuse, but also against content management errors that quickly become SEO faults. Don't forget to include an "Information Architect" on your web design team - a critical professional in our opinion for the next year. 

8. Authorship - the importance of canonical content attribution to recognized, popular or otherwise trustworthy, expert and credible sources is more important than ever right now - creating and publishing content will need to more often recognize individual personalities (or bodies of work) further legitimized via social media activity. No more hiding content behind the corporate voice, particularly for small businesses - engage your audience directly, personally, in both text and imagery.

9. Social Marketing over Social Media - there are thousands of people who are really good at using social media for socializing, and there will be millions more next year graduating from secondary schools around the world.  Few of these, however, can craft messages and conversations to align with marketing objectives and performance goals, in ways that are optimal for each social media platform, are professionally transparent, for each audience segment.  Don't confuse the two, and cloaking social marketing within online socializing will become more easy for search engines to spot (particularly with advances in big data tools).

10. Paid Placement - still works, and there are more tools and ad products than ever to leverage (from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Pinterest, LinkedIn, LivingSocial, Washingtonian; you name it) - so long as you know how to evaluate and use them, and your paid, placed content is appropriately identified. In fact, online paid advertising methods appear to be rapidly gaining usefulness even to the smaller budgets - and this carries over to the small screen as well, where inline content and product placement is much more acceptable than the traditional banner ads (which you can't see anyway).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Datacenter Colocation in Northern Virginia for Small, Medium Businesses - Business Requirements and Reasons for Local IT Outsourcing

Colocation of business IT assets (servers, storage, networking) at Washington DC regional and local Datacenters in the Northern Virginia area is big business – and entirely appropriate to consider for small to mid-sized businesses of all shapes and sizes.
What do you need to know, where to start?

(Reprinted from KME Internet Marketing - Northern Virginia and Loudoun Datacenter CoLocation Retail Providers – please send your updated contact information to us if we don’t already have it, for more information about leads and demand generation, and to participate in our local datacenter colocation marketing and outreach activities).

Your Business Depends on IT
You’re a small to medium-sized business in Northern Virginia, the Washington DC metro region – maybe even a larger, regional business, nonprofit or government entity. You operate and maintain, yourself, a growing, aging, critical inventory of information technology (IT) assets, that run the computer programs and online data services your employees and customers depend upon, and connect to the phones, computers and laptops they use. Both your capital and operating expenses on IT are consuming your budget, with little impact to show regarding support of business growth and market opportunities.

I Need Help – Converting Business Requirements to IT Requirements
This article and support is for you, the business owner or manager responsible for controlling money spent on IT, understanding and mitigating the risks to your company if the IT isn’t properly managed. You may also be a buyer of IT services, particularly colocation services – and you know about business requirements and value, but not about cabinets, circuits, carriers and certifications.  That’s our expertise, connecting the buyer to the provider, shaping and translating business needs to useful IT requirements and ultimately helpful IT services and trusted provider relationships. Are you a sysadmin, IT manager, or infrastructure engineer? Reading further might help you better understand how your business actually values IT infrastructure services, how they value your time and expertise.

IT Infrastructure Isn’t Your Business
It’s a heavy, costly burden – keeping internal or customer-facing IT systems performing well, updating them to keep up with growth and new requirements, taking advantage of new technologies all the competitors are using, and most importantly, protecting your company and customer data and information assets from damage, loss or misuse. You may also be paying a premium to retain and continually train your IT staff (of 1?), as they spend countless unproductive hours maintaining the systems, vs. improving them and finding ways to cut costs or increase output. Without sleeping.
IT devices and systems are also always changing, evolving, getting better or different.  Particularly the technologies used to main “high availability, highly-secure” systems, with redundancies and overlapping capabilities at every level. Who at you company stays apprised of recent advances and opportunities in engineered systems, memory-only databases, caching, low-latency internal networking?  Probably nobody.  But your local Datacenter colocation folks do, along with us – and they’ll likely have some very good insight and advice for you, as you contemplate moving the old stuff into a new space.

Your Office Isn’t a Data Center
Additionally, your actual IT equipment and network, including connections to the Internet and other systems, may not be as stored and operated in a facility that can preserve and protect it – perhaps there’s not enough space, cooling and fire suppression systems probably aren’t effective (do you know?), telecommunications changes are really difficult and power utilization is completely unmanaged and expensive. What if your facility or IT equipment suffers significant damage, lack of access or long-term power outages – what’s your fallback?

Your Business Risk and Legal Exposure is Significant
This is a quickly growing risk to the profitability, reputation and ability of your company to grow and succeed in today’s information-driven economy.  It’s also a risk to those who depend on you to protect their data, privacy and investment in custom knowledge and services.  Who depends on your IT systems?   Customers, employees, investors, partners, members, the local community you support. Managing this risk is bigger than your business, and probably isn’t part of your core business skills or capabilities.

There’s Great Help Available, Nearby
“IT outsourcing” is a loaded phrase, with many definitions.  Fundamentally, for organizations who fit the profile above, it’s about getting rapid, competent, local help in taking care of the basic IT support – that’s beyond your organization’s skill, budget or, frankly, interest. It’s not a core capability of your organization – but it is a core capability of your local CoLocation data center providers, all of them.  This doesn’t mean everything should be outsourced – most local business models and requirements generate a mix of IT solutions, some that should be outsourced, some that should not.

Local CoLocation Data Center Services Are the Best IT Outsourcing Option for Northern Virginia Businesses
There are indeed many types of IT outsourcing strategies for your type of company – using “Cloud” infrastructure or software services, hiring offshore or remote developers and administrators, paying for completely-managed computer services – basically, letting other IT professional services take care of your IT equipment and needs, with or without the hardware, software and expertise you’ve built up over the years.  The answer sometimes is a mix of many of these solutions, or a “hypbrid” approach – particularly when considering remote Cloud solutions.
How do you choose the right approach, plus hire and manage the right kind of help? Adopting a colocation strategy is a perfect first step – read on to find out why.

What is CoLocaton?
A colocation strategy for your local business IT assets and services simply means hiring and trusting a local Data Center (an IT Services Provider and Facility) to own, operate and manage the commodity IT and computer server facilities.  The local Data Center has made a very large capital investment in industry-leading technologies to house, protect, and monitor your computer equipment, plus provide absolute protection and nearly unlimited access to power, cooling, parts, telecommunications access, network security and all kinds of other “care and feeding” options for the computer servers that run your systems and house your sensitive data.  This includes physical protection of the machines, behind very advanced 24×7 biometric-enabled physical security measures.

Your servers and software (the assets you’ve decided are most cost-effective to run your business) are managed under the same roof as many other companies (they’re colocated), but you alone control your business and customer applications and data.  A colocation provider is like a trusted auto repair shop – it’s your car, but the mechanic owns the responsibility for maintaining the expertise, equipment, facilities and vendor-relationships to cost-effectively take care of the parts you don’t see, don’t want to fix yourself.

Note that local and regional Data Centers provide many more very private and fully-managed services for IT consumers of many types and sizes – this article is focusing specifically on the business need described above, the most appropriate solution strategy therefore being colocation.

Why is CoLocation in Northern Virginia the Best IT Outsourcing Solution For You?
It actually might not be.  However, if the following benefits match your business objectives, it absolutely is the right solution – in part (i.e. a “hybrid” approach), or in whole. The key benefit is a new relationship with a trusted partner in your local, stakeholder network – a partner who completely understands the local market and cost pressures, the local IT community and workforce, plus the local climate with respect to business and IT risk, legislation and compliance, business success factors and competitive pressures.

Did you know that Northern Virginia is the 2nd largest colocation market in the U.S.?  For lots of very good reasons, and this high profile and success among the datacenter community tends to keep the area on the receiving end of the very most advanced supporting technological innovations and expertise, from all-fiber infrastructures to environmentally-sensitive cooling and power solutions and the resulting innovations therefore in actual datacenter design and operations.

Northern Virginia CoLocation Benefits for Local Businesses
In this area, the Washington DC metropolitan region – and in particular Northern Virginia, including the very attractive Loudoun County “Data Center Alley” region – the reasons to choose a Northern Virginia CoLocation provider are hyperlocal, peculiar to this specific area of the country and the community of businesses and IT providers who engage in commercial, nonprofit and government activities.  Some of the best providers are the retail operations of the data centers themselves, or perhaps “wholesale” colocation providers, who rent space from the data centers and resell the space and services to you.
We have operated within and among all these local stakeholders (small to large) for a very long time – over many generations of IT advances and service methods, and we can confidently boil down the key reasons to choose a Northern Virginia colocation datacenter to these factors:

- You are a “server hugger” – this simply means your business, your IT staff really don’t want to relinquish physical control and access of your servers, and the information on them, to 3rd-party, non-employees.  There are many good reasons for this, ranging from legal mandates to peace of mind. Simply put, if your business needs to routinely touch and update your servers, or access them quickly for any kind of recovery or reconfiguration need – local colocation is for you. This also applies to your datacenter facilities inspection – you likely want to first-hand, in-person evaluate the actual datacenter space, security, employees, building – before actually shipping or installing your valuable equipment to the datacenter. You want to be sure your server is protected from issues relating to surges & power overloads, network outages, ventilation, ambient temperature, theft, incompetence, uncaring or unprofessional attitudes.

Social, local, professional reputation of datacenter and its personnel – the 3rd-party retail and wholesale datacenter community around Washington DC and Northern Virginia really isn’t that big, and word gets out fast (among IT professionals and local business customers) about superior service, expertise, collaborative helpfulness – or not.  Some local datacenters are fully invested in their local businesses and regional economic development, engaged and helpful to the entire business community – and are willing to actively establish and maintain custom, hyperlocal dialogue to completely satisfy the unique needs of Northern Virginia customers.  You may know the employees and managers from the local soccer field or ball game, see them at local civic events – working with local data center owners and staff who are fully invested in your business and social community is simply the right choice to make, a choice that helps both your business and the entire local business economy in the long run.  Shop local, buy local as they say.

Physical, area proximity to both your IT staff and your business leadership – yes, a primary advantage of local colocation sevices is that your own IT staff can get there fast, access the equipment quickly, at any time of day or night.  Particularly if the datacenter is close to a major airport (for expertise needed to be flown in), and outside of the major commuter arteries, traffic choke points and other bottlenecks of the region.  Loudoun County datacenters, in particular, are easy to access, easy to get to, easy to live near – for both customers and staff of the datacenters.  Another, more frequently required proximity advantage is the need for your business planners, managers or strategic business and IT architects (like Enterprise Architects, System Architects, etc.)  – to be able to work closely, in person, with the data center planning and IT strategists on project plans, business value planning and longer-term growth strategies.

Value-add services from your local datacenter make your IT activities more  efficient – gone are the 
days where your IT staff, project or business managers need to stuff all their equipment in the car, sit in the computer “cages” inside the datacenter, and end up traveling back and forth between you business location and the datacenter as the work progresses.  Many local datacenters are establishing onsite business service amenities to, in effect, bring your business closer to your equipment.  Office space and communications facilities, custom shipping and receiving services, access to local SMEs and business services assistance, office productivity facilities like videoconferencing and  document storage, and help with remote access software, processes and mobile devices are coming your way soon from your local data center provider.

Disaster recovery and business resilience -  recovery testing, preparation, configuration and actual implementation (when there is some kind of failure or outage across your systems or facilities) usually includes a lot of physical asset movement and data access, high-volume data loads and movement, transport of removable media like tapes and disk drives, rapid delivery and installation (or removal, disposal, recycling, wiping) of equipment due to damage or upgrade requirements, and physical coordination of people and operations procedures that are best facilitate by onsite, in-person collaboration. If your systems and IT equipment are physically threatened or sustain physical outage or damage – recovery is always easier if you’re close by, and have access to redundant modes of transportation, access routes, power, water and telecommunication services supply.  This convergence of high capacity, redundant services and facilities to support your IT infrastructure needs is exactly what makes Loudoun County colocation facilities so very attractive – to both users and providers.

Local IT support services, local parts and equipment supply or production, local removal, waste management or refurbishment agreements can be cheaper and easier to both negotiate and manage for your IT asset inventory – vs. remote shipping, out-of-state 3rd-party services or commodity, online service and parts suppliers.  Simply put, local datacenter services, product and facilities providers are extremely motivated to provide cost-effective, efficient solutions to local customers – earning healthy feedback, reviews and community goodwill in the process.

The local network backbone and power grid - simply put, this Northern Virginia region, and in particular the Ashburn VA area, is very attractive to datacenters because of the multiple, redundant and very cost-competitive services available from power suppliers and telecommunications carriers (over 50!) – that deliver exceptional value for low-latency, high-bandwidth requirements.  In non-technospeak, if part of your business needs access to really, really fast, “always-on” Internet or private network connections, for huge volumes of data, images, video…then a colocation provider right here in Ashburn, Northern Virginia is a superior alternative to nearly any other area of the country. Capabilities are also available to establish secure, high-bandwidth network connections among and between datacenters all over this region – which can be hugely important for large data or system migrations, upgrades, distributed content requirements, etc. This area is also not as exposed to natural hazards as others – aside from the occasional “Snowmageddon”! Because of these factors, major companies and government agencies from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security make this area their home for critical datacenter needs.

Northern Virginia CoLocation Services – Who Are They?
Suffice it to say, there’s a mind-boggling number of choices in DC and Northern Virginia colocation service providers – from direct, retail offerings of the major telecommunications carriers and independent datacenters, to the smallest independent owner/operators of leased colocation spaces within the larger datacenter wholesale spaces.  Following is a partial list – our suggestion in reviewing this list, is to FIRST put together your BUSINESS requirements and relationship expectations for a local colocation service provider, and THEN reach out to these providers – either yourself, or with some helpful guidance from us.

Partial List of Washington DC, Suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia Co-Location Providers:
§  Terremark
§  RagingWire
§  Vazata
§  DigitalReality
§  Savvis
§  Latisys
§  Carpathia
§  Equinix
§  VerizonBusiness
§  Amazon
§  Qwest
§  HP
§  Comcast
§  Solutrix
§  InfoRelay
§  AT&T
§  EvoSwitch
§  SoftwLayer
§  ATI Solutions
§  Cogent Communications
§  365 Main DC
§  Net2EZ
§  LeaseWeb
§  Data Foundry
§  Sungard
§  Expert Colocation
§  FastServ
§  Richweb
§  InfoRelay
§  Connex Internet Services
§  Datapipe
§  Solutrix
§  Data Foundry
§  NTT
§  #1 Colocation Services
§  Advanced Web
§  Sabey
§  Lionlink
§  YellowFiber
§  Dupont Fabros
§  DBT-Data

Northern Virginia CoLocation Services – How Do I Get Them?
If you are a business that fits the profile described here, and you are a business owner or manager who feels colocation may meet your business requirements, there are two primary steps to take – that we can help with.

1 – Inventory and understand all the IT equipment and services you currently run and pay for, determine whether the return-on-investment (ROI) and total-cost-of-investment (TCO) you’re experiencing meets current and forecasted needs, and evaluate whether your current infrastructure and IT staff are prepared to meet the challenges of your industry, your location, your business plan.

That’s a lot of work, and you might not have the bandwidth or expertise to properly prepare to most effectively enter into colocation negotiations or an agreement – or even to properly decide how much colocation to actually use. But it needs to be done – if your IT staff hasn’t already done so.
Send us your general business requirements, IT challenge, or other information that’s driving you to consider IT outsourcing, and in particular, co-location.  We can help craft a custom “Request for Quotation” (RFQ), that Northern Virginia datacenter colocation providers can most effectively respond to – we can translate your needs into the language of the datacenter, and let you know of risks and opportunities regarding the colocation approach. We can also help “right-size” or strategize your entire IT investment, colocated or not, in the cloud or on the ground.

2 – We’ll establish contact with the very best, most appropriate candidates for your colocation business in Northern Virginia and the DC metro area – and get an apples-to-apples comparative set of quotes that meet your needs.  This includes filtering the local providers down using your business requirements, strategy and Northern Virginia business relationships context – not simply judging by commodity pricing options of power, telecommunications access and data movement statistics.  Remember that many deals and arrangements may only be available through personal, local contact – vs. nationwide, public advertisements.

You’ll receive the best advice, the best service, and the very best pricing available that makes complete sense to operating your business with IT assets in this region.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

LexisNexis Data Breached - But Your Unique Identity is Much More Than Data Stolen Over the Internet

In light of this week's LexisNexis Data Breach report, it's worthwhile to explore the true value and usefulness of this kind of data that might be stolen from you.

Sensitive, personal data (PII, or "Personally Identifiable Data") is usually protected, but no protection is guaranteed if outside your complete control in any way – most people should assume their most-used data reflecting their personal identity (like SSNs, tel #s, DOB) is already public, if not already being used illegimately.  Where you drive, what you buy, who you meet with, your outwardly-visible or audible physical characteristics – this information is already public in many ways, as well as captured through commercial or government systems to some degree. This is particularly true the older you are, or the more active you are using this information on the Internet (regardless of standard firewall, encryption, VPN, password or other security and privacy protections leveraged).

However, a person's "Unique Identity" is not simply this data, but also the context around this data, and its derivatives (or "information packages").

Your unique identity includes the data and patterns that reflect "Observations" of you – what you do, say, when, where, with what device, aligned with what other events, etc.  Observations can be hard to dispute, but also can easily be recorded or interpreted wrong.  Or they might be falsified (like hair color), or simply mis-typed. Some observations are typically indisputable, especially in combination (like iris color, retina pattern and voice pattern) – but this data still requires validation.

Your unique identity also includes "Assertions"; this includes most common PII data that's been provided by the user (you) or a verified 3rd-party, or auto-generated by computer systems (like IDs).  "Strong" assertions are nearly indisputable, like verified biometrics (i.e. validated fingerprints) or your personal work or bill-paying history – but it's usually expensive and difficult to collect and properly validate all of these. However, since these assertions are usually historical and are just another form of static data - this kind of data or knowledge may be easily obtained through fraudulent means. 

"Weak" assertions include information provided by the individual or others, as user-entered or system-generated data. These assertions are only as good as the controls and auditing devised to validate and verify the encounter (i.e. how the data was entered) and the data itself.  Data can be bad, very bad.  The LexisNexis data thieves certainly stole a lot of data (weak assertions) - but some of it might actually be quite useless.

Therefore, the fact that your common PII data has been stolen or hacked isn't necessarily cause for critical concern.  The concern lays more so with the systems and services you use, or that are used on your behalf, that rely on this data to perform.

If critical information and services valuable to you are protected by security systems that take into account your holistic "unique identity", as described above – you're still, probably, well-protected (but obviously that's not guaranteed).  These kind of systems offer multiple, overlapping capabilities such as:

  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Identity Proofing
  • Progressive Authentication
  • "Defense in Depth" multi-layer information and system assurance (accredited/certified)

If you are gaining access to, and supplying, very sensitive information about yourself (or others) – and the only information requested from you is this kind common PII data – then avoid doing this if possible; i.e., avoid sharing too much you're not comfortable with. Fraudulent access to your information by others is quite feasible.  Or - avoid supplying the very most sensitive information, including:
  • Information about your personal habits, travel, relationships
  • Photos or videos of you, your friends & family, where you live or work
  • Any medical or mental status
  • Your work status, role, access to system, people or information

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Anatomy of a Crowdsourced Startup Funding Fail - 8 Recommendations for Marketing Successful KickStarter Campaigns

This is some professional perspective and analysis regarding a recent campaign to raise donation capital through crowdsourced funding tools available on KickStarter.  At the end of the day, the campaign was not funded, and didn't reach its goals (From $100K to $1M).  Not that it didn't have a chance, and wasn't backed by some very savvy and knowledgeable product designers/developers - the failure was all about Marketing 101.

Note – this is actually a prediction, halfway through the initial campaign – as measured by the stats and trends so far, and the very predictable performance (albeit from the always-easier armchair quarterback seat). We’ll eat our shorts and donate if it actually turns around…

Update 9/24 - the campaign has been pulled from Kickstarter, citing availability of operating funds now no longer necessitating crowdsourced funding....a lukewarm "save" in the face of pending campaign failure. 

If you’d prefer not to read further, here’s the simple takeaway – include professional marketing experience and planning for your campaign, before the campaign (unless you already know it's totally kick-ass, from others...).

The product (let’s call it the “Elektrowatch”) is a consumer-focused electronic entertainment device.  Without revealing the specific brand, suffice it to say that it was a new product in a well-understood market, with a few unique (but technical) qualities that might set it apart from the pack. One of which was its use of open, non-proprietary technologies, therefore enabling future enhancements and derivative creation. On the other hand, its uniqueness wasn't a smack-down clear differentiator - it didn't create a market, it would be relatively easy to copy, and its slice of the consumer electronics pie would likely be interesting, but fleeting.

Elektrowatch was interesting, had the potential to actually be exciting (to the gadget community, at least), did have a very large, well-recognized world-wide market (though tilted towards the Japanese culture), and was in fact a US-owned startup.  The timing was right - a great fit for the upcoming holiday season (Christmas/New Year). It actually worked, was branded, and was shippable with (limited) customer support. Enough moxie and experienced backing among the founder and his stakeholders was available to expect reasonable donation-based funding via channels like KickStarter (or Indiegogo – but KS is a usually a better choice for new, creative products).

Call it "startup introversion", "head in the clouds", "technology blinders" or simple fear and reluctance to engage outside expertise for a capability likely not understood at all by the founders - the campaign failure boils down to apparent ignorance of these marketing-related elements:

1) The Plan 

For a marketing or outreach campaign to adequately gain interest and achieve results, especially with time, resource, budget and stakeholder expectation constraints, you need a plan. Particularly on kickstarter, where you must be ready to rally for funding over a short period of time, with constant campaign updates, stretch goals, buzz maintenance, etc.  A project plan (created BEFORE the campaign!) will address discrete schedules and dependencies, roles and assignments, risks and contingencies, costs and spending, tools and services, plus performance monitoring and feedback.  Then it needs to be executed, and managed. And updated or adjusted. A plan you’ve spent more than an hour on, and have vetted with all critical stakeholders (don't count on social media strangers to execute!). This means you need a Marketing Campaign Project Manager - and the technical, product and company leadership should be not doing this; they need to make sure the product, brand and company will operate as advertised.

2) "Made in the USA" means made-in-the-USA

If this idea is actually important to you and your target market, then actual, hands-on creation and manufacturing (or programming) needs to happen in the US, by US taxpayers.  Conceived/funded in the US, managed and programmed (SW) in India, and designed/manufactured (HW) in China does NOT equal Made-in-the-USA - it equals an obvious poser.  If in fact it's not made in the US, but is being marketed here (and to other Western countries) - it still needs to be marketed with appropriate cultural affinity, i.e. absolute proper, American English (if you write Java, hire someone else to write marketing copy!).  This applies in reverse, obviously, to other countries and cultures, and their languages.

3) Is it a brand or a product?

What exactly are you selling? Something to buy once and use, or something to invest your time, money and attention in, as part of a larger, long-term movement, community, experience?  This particular product was only a product, with some hints about a "developer community" and mass-appeal-and-adoption-based-on-what-it-does; but these facets weren't developed or marketed specifically, nor was there any identified value to be gained from participation other than immediate gratification and entertainment (even the titling and key messaging was unclear, mixing the product name with unclear messaging - i.e. no SEO value at all, particularly on the KickStarter site itself).  The donation would basically yield a disposable, short-lived diversion...quickly fulfilled by the next amusement.  This leads neither to scalable success nor brand growth. To shake this out – some very significant market research is usually appropriate – this is actual paid research and surveys by industry experts, not a bunch of Google or Facebook searches by random stakeholders.

4) Who cares?  

As all marketers know, the key to success is knowing your demographics, your buyers, your influencers.  And then speaking directly to them, in ways they prefer, about the benefits for them and their sphere of influence.  Particularly with donation-based funding (vs. investment, where the goal really is just about money), you need to discover and market to people who actually about the market segment, care about the particular startup ecosystem, care about the difference this product will make in people's lives.  Maybe also those who care about only themselves - but beyond just the "ownership" factor, into the "it's really going to help me" space. (Note to video producers - your videos really need to be authentic; fake enthusiasm from paid models and extras is truly vilified by today's media generation.)

One helpful segment of the caring actually are the Kickstarter investors - most of whom invest multiple times, and become quite interested, enthusiastic, sincerely active in their support not only of the product, but of the forum, concept and community.  Listen to them, respond to them, maybe even ask some of them for advice BEFORE the campaign - especially when they end up saying things like "this is an exciting project... but given the current trend ... projections don't give a rosy picture of this getting funded, unless the founders do extensive some marketing research."

One other note – the world context at this time is trending eCommerce for the holidays; this fun fact doesn’t yet seem to be addressed as another draw, another opportunity to attract not only donors, but real orders…

5) Social Networking isn't Interactive Marketing

Professional online marketers have figured it out, but it's taken a while for this hype-cycle to burn out, and the newbies, recent grads, interns, career-changers-turned-social-media-pr-experts-because-they-can-log-into-hootsuite need to pay attention to legitimate practitioners with revenue-producing track records. Promoting and marketing your product through social media is not a replacement for a comprehensive, integrated marketing's just a part of it. "Likes" aren't "Conversions" or "Material Pledges of Support". Interactive marketing requires expertise in interactive design, SEO, communications/PR, content production, optimization and management (including press releases and video), event support, user analytics and many other disciplines; things neither your product development team nor recently-graduated Intern actually do every day.

Furthermore, relying on your personal social network and social media interns will only get you so far - at some point you'll either need to generate some truly awesome, viral news, or start leveraging the networking experience and assets of the mature PR/marketing communities in your industry. Also, social media used wrong, in ways that counter the objectives of your marketing campaign - can quickly and irrevocably destroy your product and brand's reputation.  Double-whammy - no positive goals are achieved, and negativity must now be overcome.

In this case, there was some limited, focused social coverage and feedback about the product, both "earned" and via the brand's own channels (plus help from a “Socialite”) - but it started late (too late for SEO value) and tailed off quick, wasn't amplified or extended, and simply didn't deliver conversions (notwithstanding KickStarter's own online presence and social promotion). This appears to be backed up by SocialMention stats – i.e. decent “passion”, but “neutral” sentiment, plus no “strength” or “reach”.  TweetReach also shows little significant reach, and Topsy analytics show an amazing lack of Tweeting right around the launch date in particular, despite the “share with friends” sweepstakes offer on Facebook (!), plus auto-tweets from KickStarter themselves.

6) Advertising isn't Marketing 

"Buying" visibility and customers is very different than "earning" them.  For brand new products however, with a short-fused campaign goal - buying and managing advertisements (especially online) is essential, and should be planned in the budget.  Adwords, LinkedIn, Facebook, AOL Ad Networks for example - all have very reasonable and extremely well-analyzed advertising options (search, content and community-focused), and best of all, they can immediately reach targeted demographics without the typical, organic SEO or social media ramp-up.  Search advertising in particular is a great way to quickly and cost-effectively test marketing messages and demographic targets, as well. Buying and managing ads, however, is a professional competency all its own - though it must be aligned with other marketing and communications tactics. Your programmer, your CEO - they will not know how to do this effectively (it’s not their job) - yet it must be done.

7) Donations aren't Investments - Except They Are

With platforms such as KickStarter, donors aren't getting any financial investment value, i.e. material ownership stake in the company, contracts, shares, etc.  Donors generally get a discounted product, some online recognition or perks, an invite to the party, a T-shirt, a heartfelt "thanks from the team". They may parlay this online recognition into personal or professional gain - but it's generally an altruistic transaction, or one for the curious (i.e. to try something new, test something out, be the first on the block or "lead adopter").  A best practice goal for backer or donation solicitation, is to actually cause the donor to become invested - in a way that the donor ends up selling and marketing for you, providing or pledging invaluable feedback and assistance, continuing to engage, and otherwise becoming a full-in, committed and active member of your new brand's community.  This is called elongating and expanding the pipeline, future buying interest (plus some protection and mitigation against hard times).  For this particular product, there were some hints at donor investment value - but they really weren't spelled out, marketed and validated.

8) Win to win

One of the most effective marketing tactics to win visibility, customers, revenue - is to win contests, certifications, showcases, bake-offs or reviews.  Don't lose.  Don't enter unless you'll win, don't ask unless you'll get the answer you'll want. Smart, experienced marketers will only play for the guaranteed, or even manufactured "win", leaving little to chance.  (Make up your own "contest"!) Entering a personal electronic gadget in a contest for the best tech startup, in an area known as a hotbed for backing socially, environmentally, politically engaging products that can "change the world" - isn't a good idea. Nobody cares.  In this case, the product lost, and lost big. Furthermore, searching for reviews, product comparisons, official validation or other marks of distinction reveal nothing - only multiple requests from the hardcore for more technical detail.  Note - if the techies don't get it, the end-users sure won't.  Not only do competitive losses and non-placements make marketing and fundraising an uphill battle, but lost is any upper ground to shout about.

Now what?  

The nut is cracked, the product and its market edge exposed, the “social proof” wasn’t achieved, the unreasonably high goals weren’t met, and the exposed donor community and attending electro-gadget press corps have moved on to the next shiny ball.  Can a new campaign be initiated?  Probably, but only by observing the points above, as well as including a very new, fresh feature (therefore addressing new market segments) and branding update.  Otherwise, this particular kind of crowdsourced fundraising is probably now out of reach for this particular product. The best next step is simply to market the heck out of it, while the window is open, and earn true "operating funds" - or at least a better idea of its legs for profit.

And, learn the lesson - get a solid, experienced marketing team engaged WAY BEFORE the campaign. Try KME.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO) and the Enterprise Architecture Perspective

The Chief Marketing Technology Officer (CMTO) is recently an often-proposed role, that combines the interactive marketing savvy and experience of a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and the traditional information technology operations, management and investment knowledge of a CIO or CTO. More and more often, digital marketing requirements of an organization need a healthy integration of both marketing and IT skills.

A good deal of the CMTO/CMO's "enterprise" scope to address is actually outside of their organization, i.e. dealing with Internet-based services, tools or 3rd-party sourced data and information. Per this Oracle Enterprise Architecture for Government Blog entry, the typical Enterprise Architect is well-suited to be helpful and useful to the CMTO's domain, even outside the home organization. Below is an image of the CMTO Domain Reference Architecture.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Choosing an Internet, Digital Interactive Marketing Services Partner - Interviews and RFP/RFIs

How to evaluate your digital, interactive marketing partner, for local and regional businesses - particularly in the Washington DC and Northern Virginia marketing and advertising area.

KME Internet and Interactive Marketing in DC, Northern Virginia

We'll put it out there – as you evaluate prospective partners like KME Internet Marketing to help with web marketing initiatives, gaining exposure for your business and driving new sales from the Internet, this is exactly what you should seek.

Research and ask about ALL of these skills and expertise domains, either directly, or as part of your Solicitation or Request for Proposal/Information (RFP/RFI):

1.    Is the firm accessible, with local, hands-on, in-person availability of subject matter experts?  Professional, personal service and communications are critical.

2.    Who exactly will you be working with; are these professionals accessible?  The firm's website should include leadership profiles and pictures, and these individuals should be well-known in the industry and accessible via professional social media (i.e. LinkedIn). The firm's leadership should have demonstrated at least 10 years in the Internet Technology industry.

3.    Is the firm established, well-known and engaged in the community, with clear evidence of success over time?  Avoid the newbies, the out-of-towners, the affiliate marketing scams (there are MANY around), the off-shore-ers, the "website marketing mills", the inexperienced recent graduates, the recent career-changers, the part-timers and interns.  Seek those with community roots and involvement, knowledge of local geopolitics. Does the firm appear among the top results itself, in local search engine results? (Try this – search for "Loudoun Internet Marketing" in Google – and note KME is referenced in nearly every result on the first page!). Is the firm engaged in local business and social media forums?

4.    Does the firm require a long-term contract? This is a clear sign of a revenue-focused firm, vs. a customer services-focused firm.

5.    Is the firm "in it for the long haul"? Firms with established certifications and designations, for example "Disadvantage Business Enterprise" (DBE) designations by the State of VA and the SBA, provide evidence of invested commitment to industry and clients.  KME is a designated "SWaM" (VA DBE) and "WOSB" (SBA) enterprise (in process). KME also maintains Google Adwords certifications.

Read more at KME Interactive Marketing's Blog ....