Strategic Outreach

Managing Change Via Communications

RSS Bridges Push and Pull Marketing Tactics

I wrote the article below for PR Tactics (May 2007 issue), a publication of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America).

Pull to Push: the new E-marketing Continuum

By David Gordon Schmidt
Vice President, Public Relations Services, Smith-Winchester
May, 2007

Before the Internet, business buyers had limited options for learning about your company’s product and services. This made the business marketer’s job simpler. They built brands from the top down, starting with ‘mass’ communications such as trade advertising and press releases, and more targeted tactics like direct mail and sales collateral.

In each case, marketers were ‘pushing’ promotional information into the market. Prospects received information because marketers chose the right media to reach them. By repeatedly casting a big enough net, you were bound to catch some customers.

Today, prospective customers can ‘pull’ information about any conceivable product, service or subject from the Internet, when and how they wish. Their options range from Google keyword searches, to e-newsletter subscriptions, to blog surfing and more.

Blogs (web-logs) early popularity focused on opinion-oriented, personal-soapbox content, and this aspect of the medium has been over-hyped as a marketing tool. The real potential for marketers lays in the delivery mechanism…RSS feeds. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a technology that can bridge the gap between the information you passively offer on your website and the information you’d like to “push” directly to the marketplace via email.

Here’s a workable sequence of communication tools and tactics that can move prospects from merely being curious to asking for a proposal. The middle steps, involving RSS, are the “what’s new” in this sequence that moves from pure “pull” to pure “push.”

1: YOUR WEBSITE
In the beginning (of the E-world), there was the website, and it’s still the cornerstone…maintaining the vigil 24/7 with information about your offering. Recent surveys (MarketingSherpa, Enquiro) indicate that over 90% of business people use the internet to research major business decisions. At its best, your website captures a lead after capturing a prospect’s imagination and demonstrating that your company can meet their need.

Without search engine and directory listing visibility, however, the prospect will never find you unless they know you and your web address. A 2006 GlobalSpec survey shows that 3 out of 4 industrial equipment buyers will use search engines and directories as the first step to find new sources. Search engine optimization can put you in the game when an unknown prospect decides that:

“I may need an (X) within the next year or so. I want to keep up with the latest X technology, and I want to know who makes and sells X.

Meta tags, text that uses key words, relevant in-bound links, and updated content are all important when ensuring you’ll be found. And targeted pay-per-click programs can help stack the deck in your favor.

2: PUBLIC RELATIONS ON-LINE
Now the unknown prospect gets a little more serious:

“I need more information about the technology…I’m interested in news about X from any ‘credible’ news source.”

The more expensive or complex the purchase, the longer the time between the initial search for sources and the purchase. During this period, prospects may decide to sign up for Google News or similar keyword-driven news sources to get pertinent news and information as it becomes available.

Your PR releases and articles, when disseminated correctly, puts your content within the web pages of these searchable on-line news sources. A strong, on-going PR program feeding material to the media is the only way to fully capitalize on this channel.

3: RSS, BLOGS and the INDUSTRY DIALOGUE

“I need to understand the pros and cons of using X. I want to consider reading all input on X, blogs included.”

Prospects at this stage use blog search tools to find relevant blogs and other information sources. They can setup a “Watch List” that compiles all entries with certain keywords, allowing them to return to the site, skim the entries at their convenience, and decide what they want to read.

Set up properly, your blog (or RSS-delivered newsletter) will appear in the search results, with news and information that establish you as a credible resource. But the prospect still remains anonymous, unless he or she decides to make a comment in response to your blog. To do so, the prospect typically needs to create a user name and password, and the relationship begins.

Now your tactics are starting to look a little more like a Push.

4: THE NEW “DIRECT” MAIL

“I specifically want your input on X, and I don’t want to filter through dozens of blogs and related news to get it.”

Say your potential client wants your particular input on the subject and no longer wants to filter through dozens of other blogs and related news to get it. The next step? Direct access to your RSS-fed newsletter or blog. The mode of obtaining information has moved from keyword-driven to opt-in. Now you get to push. The prospect discovers it’s easy and free to sign-up to get your RSS feed via a personalized web page (free from aggregators like Bloglines) or right in their browser (IE7 for instance). Then they can easily check this page, as time permits, to see when you have posted new information. RSS allows your blog to “ping” the aggregators and search engines so that so your reader will know a new post is available when they check their personalized page.

Due to a higher level of interest, or an impending buying decision, the prospect may want new posts emailed to them so they can read new information immediately, rather than having the posts collected on a personal web page. Free on-line services such as FeedBlitz offer this option. Unless the receiver chooses to remain anonymous, you now know who they are.

This is a more committed opt-in.

5: ONE-TO-ONE DIALOGUE

“Contact me directly.”

This is what you’ve been working toward. Your company gets asked for specific information in response to an RSS-fed post. Now, you can send them targeted information via email, and hopefully, it won’t be long before your sales people are talking with the prospect on the phone.

This is not necessarily as long a process as it might seem, because the steps vary and the sequence is typically not linear. This list is not all-inclusive, either. Webinars and other tools can be a part of the path to a relationship. In summary, consider this continuum:

MARKETING TOOL ACTION BY THE PROSPECT
WEBSITE –Uses Search Engine
–Finds Your PR via Google News
RSS (blog or newsletter) –Uses Blog Search
–Signs up for blog via aggregator
–Gets blog by email via 3rd party
DIRECT –Responds to your blog; provides their email address
–Direct contact; asks for information or proposals

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