Category: Marketing

The Curse of Trying to Be Profound

Nothing is worse than staring at a blank screen

In working with my graduate and undergraduate students in the Northwestern Medill IMC program where I teach social marketing, as well as with clients through Marketing Synergy, one of the most challenging problems business leaders have is how to approach blogging.  And it is a daunting challenge.  When most executives think about writing a blog, they envision their readers waiting breathlessly for their next brilliant insights and profound thoughts.  And the pressure of being profound is too much to even get started.

The problem is profound rarely happens

While this problem may seem daunting, there is a simple, proven way around it.  Don’t attempt to be profound.  Now, by saying that, I don’t mean you can just write anything; but, if you start by thinking about your potential readership, you will see they are not seeking profound…they are seeking something an expert they can trust.  And, once you realize this, it makes writing frequent blogs actually FUN and a great way to grow your expertise and your business.


Writer's Block

Writer’s Block can drive you crazy!

Your readers want expertise and insight…not profound

Regardless of your industry or your area of expertise, technology and new innovations are changing the way we do business.  The problem for your readers is this – they don’t have time to identify the things they should be watching and determining what they should do tomorrow in their business.  However, there are experts out there everyday who are writing blogs and articles or producing videos about specific subjects. You, as an expert in your area, can read these blogs and determine if they are worthwhile for your target readers to read.  Or you can write your own blog.  And, therein, lies your strength and “mission” as a blogger.

Filter & Focus is your blogging “mission”

When I teach aspiring bloggers at Northwestern or Marketing Synergy, rather than starting with a blank screen and trying to be profound, we use an easier and – surprisingly – more effective way to create a blog.  I call it Filter and Focus and it is easy to do.  Here are the steps we use:

  • Find Expert Articles – Find two articles you think are relevant and reputable on the same subject.These can be found through a Google search or from reading trade journals.  I find most of mine on Twitter from the experts I follow in social and integrated marketing.  The more current and timely…the better.
  • Find Their Relevance – Read the article and define its relevance for me – your target reader.  Develop what you like about each author’s approach and findings.  You will summarize them for the reader.
  • Create Actions for Me to Take – Finally – and most importantly – give me 3 actions to take from your analysis of these three articles.  Not 5, not 2 but 3.  Why 3?  Because it is enough to make reading your blog assessment worthwhile but not overwhelming.

Pretty simple and very effective.  It shows the reader you are an expert in an area of interest and your analysis and action items gives ideas on how to better their careers and their company.  You are helping them filter through the bewildering volume of media to focus them on something that will benefit them today.

See Filter and Focus in Action

Not sure it will work?  One of the requirements for my social marketing class is students must write a series of Filter and Focus blogs and then advertise them using social media.  While we will discuss the marketing aspect in other blog articles, go to our student blog site and see for yourself.  Each of the blogs is written from a template built around the Filter and Focus concept.   They are fast, focused, and really establish your expertise….AND WITHOUT BEING PROFOUND!  

Does it work?

If you look at some of the blogs on our class website, remember these are being written by students with little or no social clout.  They are just starting out on their careers.  However, from one blog, they often get hundreds if not thousands of readers.  And this is from a class assignment!

One of my students last year wanted to focus on attracting package goods C-level managers to her blog.  She wrote a blog on a new technology with huge advantages for packaged goods companies.  She used the Filter and Focus methodology, created great recommendations, and then marketed the blog to her target community.  In our next class, she excitedly related that her blog was read by 2 senior managers at P&G and she was contacted by one through Twitter with additional questions.  All from one blog.

In summary, don’t attempt to be profound.  As a blog reader, I don’t want profound but I want a way improve myself and my company.  Filter and find me some great articles and then tell me what to do with them.  Filter & Focus is the way to get my attention, my respect, and establish yourself as an expert I want to follow and use to build my business.  So, get going, find those 2 articles and get your first blog published and out by the end of this week!

Please feel free to comment on my blogs.  I am interested in hearing your thoughts on social marketing and social engagement.  Also, feel free to contact me on Twitter or LinkedIn.  Thanks for reading!


Randy Thumbnail 1Randy Hlavac is CEO and founder of Marketing Synergy Inc – an integrated and social marketing company located in Naperville IL.  Founded in 1990, Marketing Synergy works with companies to build measurable, highly profitable marketing programs and the database and analytical systems to drive them.  Randy works with B2B and B2C organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 firms.  In addition to Marketing Synergy, Randy has been a Lecturer Professor of Integrated and Social Marketing at Northwestern’s Medill IMC program for the last 21 years.  His graduate and undergraduate courses focus on the development of high impact Social IMC marketing programs and many of the course “graduates” work in social marketing today.  Dialog with Randy on Twitter @randyhlavac or discuss social issues with this hash tag #NUSocialIMC.  Randy can also be reached through Marketing Synergy website.

Three Social Marketing Strategies you Need to Understand

In the last blog article, I examined social media and the IMC [Integrated Marketing Communications] marketing model to make three important points.  1] Most companies are executing social strategies which do not provide any identifiable ROI to their company.  2] Successful marketers don’t focus on all markets but only on market segments which produce high returns for the company (high value markets).  3] Social media has three characteristics which makes it unique as a potential marketing channel.  These are:

  1. Social networks are different from social communities – Networks are for connecting with every one of your interests while communities are self-forming and focused on one particular passion or to address a key life trigger event.
  2. Social communities interact on many different types of social media – blogs, forums, video sites, aggregator sites, and many others.
  3. Private communities dwarf open communities – most communities require a log-in to become a members

These were emphasized in the first blog because they are critical to identifying the best social media strategy for your company.

Today, there are three strategies companies are developing and deploying using social media.  While I recommend you will use all three, it is important to understand the roles each of these strategies will play in growing your market share and in building stronger relationships with your current customers.  In this final article, we will examine each strategy and identify the roles, strengths and weaknesses associated with each one.

Strategy 1 – Social Networking Strategy

Most companies are using a social networking strategy.  As social media usage grew across all demographic groups, it just made sense to join in the conversation.  After all, it was easy to start.  Create a company Facebook page, same with Twitter and, perhaps, LinkedIn.  Customers and prospects will find you and, if you develop some content, you could engage them in a conversation.  Fast, simple and, if you did it right, you would soon have hundreds, if not thousands, of friends and re-tweeters. 

The strength of this strategy is that it is fast and easy to deploy.   Creating sites on the major social networks takes a couple of hours and you are in business.  Post occasional articles on your new products and services or key topics of interest to your customers and prospects and your friends will grow. 

But there are problems with this strategy.  The most critical is that the relationship between you and your visitors is, for the most part, anonymous.  While you will get to know some of the more active people from their names, companies cannot database them or measure key relationships.  Because we cannot link social networks to our marketing and sales systems, we can’t really tell if an individual is a prospect or a customer, the value of the relationship, or whether our social initiatives are creating new purchase activities.  In other words, we don’t have hard numbers to support whether our social networking investment is creating new revenues and profits for the company. 

Another problem with the social networking strategy is all of your best and worst markets are online at your site at the same time.  As a result, brand positioning and tailoring messages to each unique high value market is impossible.  Creating content or discussions with one segment might alienate another, more valuable, segment.  It is impossible to talk to everyone in a focused manner on Facebook or other social networks. 

As a result, social networking strategies are, for the most part, used by companies much like mass media was used in the past.  In a 2012 Social Habit survey conducted by Edison Research, the survey found most people follow brands on social networking site for sales, discounts, and coupons.  And this makes sense.   These types of offers and engagement devices are perfect for a marketing channel which cannot tailor to the needs of individuals or differentiated market segments.  With coupons, for example, you can place them on Facebook and the visitors can either use them if appropriate to them or ignore them if they are not.  Much like a mass marketed TV or magazine ad, either you are interested or you are not.  There is no targeting…that is left to the reader or the visitor.

One final note on developing a social networking strategy.  Keep in mind that the ease of building a social site you experienced also applies to everyone else.  This means while you have people visiting your official company site[s], they may also be visiting sites from your employees, disgruntled employees, external experts and others who will be talking about you, your products and your brands.   In fact, at 2012 study by the Altimeter group found most medium sized companies have 178 different social “facings” – some official and some not!  This makes it even more difficult to market using a social networking strategy.

Strategy 2 – Social IMC Strategy

The Social IMC marketing strategy is designed to achieve very different end goals.  It is designed to engage with communities of high value to your company, move them to a community site you develop to help them achieve their objectives, and acquire [database] them.  It is designed to link your social activities with your sales and marketing databases to track these high value individuals from first social interaction to final product purchase.  Companies deploying a Social IMC strategy are able to answer key questions like “What is the ROI of our social investment?”  “Are the individual attracted to our social programs customers or prospeccts?”  “What is the first product purchased and when does it occur?”  “What does each member like on our community site and how frequently do they visit it?” 

What is required to develop and deploy a Social IMC marketing strategy?  While it is complex to develop and requires a deep knowledge of social monitoring, social levels, and other social tools, it is easy to explain.  The Social IMC strategy requires companies develop the following components:

  1. Identify High Value communities – Identify the high value markets for your company and, using social monitoring tools, identify the communities they use to discuss their passions, needs, and wants.  In this phase, also identify the influencers and key “super connectors” at the center of each community
  2. Become Exceptional – Develop a plan to do something exceptional for community members.  Do this right and your concept will go viral
  3. Community support site – Create a private community support site requiring community members to register with you.  Use their registration event to learn about what they want from the community and also give them total control of your marketing process [opt-in].  Design ways to link their registration to your marketing database system.
  4. Create a viral marketing plan – Create a marketing plan to engage community members with the exceptional event to move them to the community support site
  5. Be there when they are ready to buy.

Want a quick example?  Look at the Members Project by American Express.  American Express wanted to sell cards and increase card usage in younger adults.  But selling through traditional channels is costly.  American Express looked at these individuals and found they were passionate about improving their local communities through environmental, educational, and social activism.  They used this knowledge to create the Members Project.

They created a site dedicated to helping the young activists achieve their goals…not selling cards.  It is a “think globally … act locally” site where you can recommend local causes and add them to the site.  You can then “vote” for your causes by donating dollars and time.  If you get an American Express card, you get additional votes.  Same if you use it.  The card is not the center of the strategy…just an enabler of community members to achieve their goal.  Does it work?  They got 1,7MM members in year one and it has been going since 2007. 

Strategy 3 – Big Data Strategy

Big Data is a very broad concept and is in its infancy in terms of its impact on marketing.  To a great extent, marketers today are awash in data.  We have data flowing in from our marketing database systems, our social activities, our website, our sales and CRM systems and even from social monitoring systems.  For the most part, these new marketing sources of data are real-time, non-integrated, and provide us with insights and opportunities we need to respond to NOW.  In many respects, marketing is moving from a look-back, lifetime value, predictive modeled look at market to a real-time interaction with people who are indicating they are ready to buy your product and service.  While we aren’t there yet, there are Big Data strategies being developed now that will impact marketing in the future.

Non-aggregated Marketing Systems

A major computer component manufacturer sells its products to businesses and consumers.  One of their major concerns is how to learn of manufacturing or service problems as soon as possible.  If they can address problems quickly, they can proactively address the situation before it becomes a major problem for their customers.

To accomplish this, they use the three non-integrated systems highlighted in the equation above.  They use social monitoring software to monitor social chatter for their specific products.  These social monitoring systems [which we develop at Marketing Synergy] use very focused social monitoring to identify changes in sentiment by product.  When they detect a shift from positive to negative sentiment, they quickly examine the social sources to determine the nature of the problem and if there is a specific geography affected.

When a sentiment shift is detected, they then begin scanning their customer service system to detect the problem.  They want to know when business or consumers begin calling in with the problem.  At the same time, they look at their manufacturing systems to see if the problem might be with the product – especially if there is a geographic skew – or if the problem is a customer support or application issue.

From these various sources, they quickly can pinpoint the problem and develop a response to it…before more than a few calls are received by customer service.  They proactively manage their markets using a combination of social, marketing, and other corporate systems.  Rather than react to problems, they can increase customer satisfaction by addressing problems before they become viral issues.

Now for the key question – Which strategy is for you?

The answer is simple – all of them.  Social networking is great for broad based discussions appropriate to all markets, addressing customer service issues, and distributing coupons and sales offers.  While it will – for the near future – be an investment and not a profit center for a company, it is necessary because of its wide use by your customers and prospects.  In addition, when you deploy a Social IMC strategy, social networking sites can “funnel” high value community members to your specially developed sites.

Social IMC is the way for marketers to do that they do best.  Build relationships with high value market segments, database and learn from them, and move them from prospect to customer.  The key is it must be done differently on social.  However, once you understand the process, it gives you the entire test and learn and analytics capabilities of all other marketing channels.  In fact, using Social IMC allows you to measure social like all of your other marketing channels.

Big Data is an area you need to monitor for the future.  Early applications have proven very successful for B2B and B2C marketing organizations.  As marketing managers and C-level executives, you need to begin moving from a marketplace where you control everything to a social world where you need to engage with your high value markets as they address their needs.

Thank you for reading this two part blog.  If you enjoyed it, send it to others and feel free to link to me to discuss any points of interest to you.


Randy Hlavac is CEO and founder of Marketing Synergy Inc – an integrated and social marketing company located in Naperville IL.  Founded in 1990, Marketing Synergy works with companies to build measurable, highly profitable marketing programs and the database and analytical systems to drive them.  Randy works with B2B and B2C organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 firms.  In addition to Marketing Synergy, Randy has been a Lecturer Professor of Integrated and Social Marketing at Northwestern’s Medill IMC program for the last 21 years.  His graduate and undergraduate courses focus on the development of high impact Social IMC marketing programs and many of the course “graduates” work in social marketing today.  Dialog with Randy on Twitter @randyhlavac or discuss social issues with this hash tag #NUSocialIMC.  Randy can also be reached through his company website.

Boost your profits with social monitoring

As a social marketing consultant and instructor of social marketing at Northwestern, I am surprised how many of my clients and students are unaware of social monitoring and how it can impact your bottom line profits.  When you think about it, every minute of every day social networks are talking about you, your competition, your products & services, your customer service and every other aspect of your company.  Sometime it is an honest and realistic conversation…other times it isn’t.  The risk is, if you don’t know, you can miss major marketing opportunities or -worst yet – not detect a potential crisis coming your way.

Social monitoring software monitors these social networks – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, bloggers, news aggregators [Huffington Post, etc.] and other sources- in real time to extract key topics related to your company and your competitors.  It uses sophisticated language analysis software to determine what is being discussed, where the discussion is positive or negative, and if it involves something you are monitoring.  If so, it presents it to you for analysis.  What is amazing is this all occurs in seconds so you can see and monitor conversations as they are happening.  And – better yet – some of this software is free.

 Because social monitoring software is new to many business owners and marketing managers, I developed a short, 5 minute video demonstrating the marketing capabilities of social monitoring software and give you several free tools you can use to improve your marketing knowledge of your company and your competition today.  

While the free software can give you some insights into the power of social monitoring, you can gain key competitive advantages with a more indepth analysis with a Social EKG from Marketing Synergy.  One of the advantages of using more powerful software is it can be custom tailored for your specific products, competitors, and markets.  In using the free software, you will note most of the discussions are neutral.  This is because these free systems are not tailored to you.   In addition, they cannot be used to look back in time to see shifts in the markets or identify trends in the marketplace.  This can only be done with more powerful software and data suppliers who have captured and stored the data relevant to you and your company.

With a more indepth social monitoring program like our Social EKG, your company can:

  • Determine the topics social networks are discussing about your and your products – and if that conversation is positive or negative
  • Evaluate what they are saying about your competition and how you compare
  • Identify the super connectors or influential bloggers who are critical sources of expertise for the community
  • Determine rising topic trends to best position your company as a solution to their new needs
  • Examine competitive position and topic trends over time to see the impact of both social and traditional marketing programs on the social chatter
  • Develop word clouds to determine the terms being used by your customers and prospects and identify where these discussions are taking place
  • And more

If you want to learn more about social monitoring solutions like our Social EKG or have questions about the video, please feel free to send me an email to  Social media is rapidly developing and you owe it to yourself to learn more about how monitoring the social conversation can help you stay ahead of the competition and better understand your high value customers and prospects.

If you like this blog, please re-tweet it to your friends.  Also, visit my blog at where you can sign up for my periodic blogs on social and integrated marketing.

Randy Hlavac is a 21 year instructor of integrated marketing in the Medill IMC [Integrated Marketing Communications] program at Northwestern University.  He is also CEO of Marketing Synergy and is a member of the Board of the CADM [Chicago Association of Direct Marketing].  Randy is an active speaker on social and integrated marketing and is currently working on a book on Social ROI – Social Marketing with Bottom-line Impact.

Social ROI – Google Analytics takes the first step

Social Marketing ROI Google Analytics Social media is struggling to develop a business model which provides business proof on the effectivess of this new form of marketing.  While Marketing Sherpa reports 20% of all companies do have social programs with bottom line ROI, most don’t.  Google Analytics – a software used by most companies to analyze website activities, has just announced the creation of new reports which take the first step towards reporting on the ROI of social marketing.

In their announcement, Group Manager Phil Mui said the following “Measuring the value of social media has been a challenge for marketers. And with good reason: it’s hard to understand exactly what is happening in an environment where activity occurs both on and off your website. Since social media is often an upper funnel player in a shopper’s journey, it’s not always easy to determine which social channels actually drive value for your business and which tactics are most effective.”

The Google Analytics reports are designed to take the first step in integrating social media with interactions on a company’s website.  While it is not a total answer and does require some integration, it is worth trying.  When you use this new capability, please provide some feedback on my blog.  I would like to hear from you what you like and dislike about the ROI feature.  It looks good and is a great first step towards Social ROI [my upcoming book will be another step].  Here are several blogs – the first from Google Analytics telling you more about their new feature.

Google Analytics Social ROI annoucement

Daniel Waisberg article in Marketing Land

Please let other markets know about this new capability on Google Analytics

Triggers & Passions trump Demographics

Trigger EventIn a recent article, Hubspot’s Sarah Goliger published an article called How to Build Better Personas to Drive Killer Content.  While I love to read Hotspot’s blog as they always present tips on how to improve my blogging, this article – while technically correct – presented steps to developing a clearer perspective of your target market which varied from my experiences at Northwestern and at Marketing Synergy – my social consulting company.

In the article, Hubspot recommended you perform a three step process to build your persona.  They were 1] Segment your markets by demographics, 2]Identify each market’s needs, and 3] develop behavior based profiles.  While this is a time proven methodology used by traditional marketers to develop their target markets,  I have found it less than appealing when develop any type of social marketing plan. 

Demographics have always been useful in traditional marketing because it was some of the best data we had to define our markets.  While we knew demographics were always surrogates for actual motivators, we knew that analysis of age, income, household composition, wealth, life style and other data would produce segments with differentiated purchase behaviors.  While this works when we had little other information and were attempting to segment national markets, social networks and social communities have radically changed our ability to target social markets.

Think Communities, Triggers, and Passions

 Social networks are formed by consumers and businesses based on identified needs and desires.  They form regardless of our marketing and social activities and are created to fulfill some type of need.  While these communities have demographic dimensions, as a marketer I don’t care if a SciFi buff is 17 , 37, or 74.  If I am selling SciFi books and memorabilia, I want to target all SciFi buffs.

Rather than start with demographics, we teach our Northwestern students to think in terms of the “forces” which create social communities – triggers and passions.

Trigger Events are a Key

When you are considering social targets, the first question I recommend you answer is “what triggers a person [consumer or business] to action to begin considering your products and services.   It might be a specific life event – having a baby, getting married, graduating from schoolm etc – or a periodic event – tax time, new years, back to school, etc.  When these relevant trigger events occur, your prospects are likely to seek out community sites and begin search activities which predictable.  Identify where they will go and what they will search for and you can build a social marketing strategy to make them your customers. 

Passions are also important

While trigger events identify when a less interested person will trigger into action to consider your products and services, there are also people who are always in the market.  We call these the passion markets at Northwestern.  People who are passionate about a social topic – fashion, sports, politics, etc – are always looking for the new and trendy.  They are the ones who will tell others about your new products if it really excites them.  In creating our social marketing plans, we focus on the passion markets because these are often the people who are instrumental in taking your products viral.  They are heavily networked, aggressive in giving you their opinions, and active in blogging their point of view to your prospects.  These are the people who will likely read your blog aggressively and tell others about it if they like it.

Things you can do

Here are some recommended actions you can take to develop personas to drive your communications:

  1. Identify your trigger and passion markets – There are statistical ways we can do this but your market experience is often a great place to start.  From your experience, what are the events that trigger prospects to action.
  2. Learn what they do when triggered – Where do they go for expertise?  What search terms do they use?  Who are the influentials in their social space?  At Marketing Synergy, we created the Social EKG to quickly and effectively answer these questions.  If you know where they are going, you can intercept them and make them more likely to consider your solutions to their needs.
  3. Develop your social marketing strategy – Finally, develop a social marketing strategy to “be there” when they are actively seeking solutions.  This strategy should include a mix of social and traditional integrated marketing elements to reach out to influencers, social communities, and social news aggregator sites to show the social community your expertise and ability to address their triggered or passion needs.

By better understanding what moves your prospects to market – regardless of their demographics – you can better develop your communication, blog, and social marketing strategies.  To see more on how this is done, visit my social marketing page.  Also, please sign up for my blog to receive future article on social marketing with bottom line ROI, social monitoring, and social media.

Finally, let me know what you think of this blog article.  Always interested in your comments and views. 

Randy Thumbnail 1Randy Hlavac is CEO and founder of Marketing Synergy Inc – an integrated and social marketing company located in Naperville IL.  Founded in 1990, Marketing Synergy works with companies to build measurable, highly profitable marketing programs and the database and analytical systems to drive them.  Randy works with B2B and B2C organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100 firms.  In addition to Marketing Synergy, Randy has been a Lecturer Professor of Integrated and Social Marketing at Northwestern’s Medill IMC program for the last 21 years.  His graduate and undergraduate courses focus on the development of high impact Social IMC marketing programs and many of the course “graduates” work in social marketing today.  Dialog with Randy on Twitter @randyhlavac or discuss social issues with this hash tag #NUSocialIMC.  Randy can also be reached through Marketing Synergy website.



Randy Hlavac
Randy Hlavac is a marketing futurist who – since 1990 – has worked to integrate new technologies into the marketing strategies & tactics of B2B and B2C companies.

January 2019
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