At the San Jose SES in '04 my key takeaway (it was more of a brain-bomb) was applying the buy cycle to search marketing - the theory being that you analyze your ideal prospects' typical decision making process and then create and optimize content for the types of searches they're likely to conduct as the process unfolds.

This process focuses on arming decision influencers - the ones who identify and act on business pain - with relevant content they will need when convincing the decision maker that your company is the one that will alleviate this pain.

In '04 this concept hit me hard - I'd been writing articles for an audience bent on increasing rankings and increasing traffic and hadn't realized how strategic search could be. The concept opened up the world of research to me: ideal prospect identification, client interviews and competitive search intelligence that reveal how decisions actually happen inside an organization.

Now THAT'S the kind of information marketers need to leverage to increase the success of their online marketing.

As I've become increasingly immersed in marketing for MSI I've learned more about our prospects' buy cycle process, and have gotten a bit more of a 3D vision of how decisions actually happen in our prospects’ organizations.

I've become increasingly of the opinion that it's the decision influencers in organizations that marketers should focus on.

Further it's the decision influencers more so than the decision makers who read blogs, comment on blogs, write blogs, download podcasts, participate in forums, pass on hilarious viral videos, and, ultimately, drive change within their companies.

This is not to say that banner ads, conference sponsorships, print ad buys, direct mailers and good ole' face-to-face visits won't be effective in reaching decision makers and ultimately winning sales. But at the end of the day it will be the influencers who will not only push the decision through (because the decision makers RELY on decision influencers for guidance) but see that the decision they invested their time and reputation on championing in will succeed.

Reaching the decision influencer requires understanding the decision influencer's personality. Here's my concept of the ideal decision influencer:

  • in the process of becoming a company superstar
  • often with the company 2 years or less
  • is - or strives to be - an active participant in company decision making
  • cares passionately about his or her company, has strong opinions about direction
  • is a participant - active or passive - in multiple online communities

It's this last characteristic - participation in online conversations - that gives you, the marketer, your strongest approach. If you're a marketer in a company without an official blog or online involvement strategy targeting decision influencers don't worry.

In all likelihood you're halfway there already.

Because the decision influencers in YOUR company are already blogging, posting in forums, reading forums, and otherwise gleaning what they can online in the interest of kicking a** in your company. That's just how decision influencers are.

Now, from a branding and search perspective there are some KEY things you can do to harness this activity. (If you want to get more granular with me hit me up: 919-433-3139.)

First and foremost make certain that each person in your company can define your brand in his or her own words. A brand - from the mouths of employees - becomes more authentic when it's in their own personal language.

This is the language your employees use when they blog and post in forums.

Bill Gates and Robert Scoble have different ways of describing MSN's brand. Ideally the brand itself will be the same as each speaks of it, though the language and actual functional relationship to the brand differ significantly.

Brand messaging - as it relates to individuals in your company - will change from context to context as well. I would write differently of MSI's brand on SEL than I would in MySpace. Different audiences.

Different language. Same brand.

Once you're sure that people can communicate your company brand as it relates to them in their daily work life you can coach them a little on linking and link text. Should the link directly to your company's home page? That doesn't make sense. Ideally your company's bloggers and forum participants link to the pages on your site that most closely relate to what they do.

Work the content they're creating into your site if possible. This could be in the form of blog posts that link to and highlight how they've helped others in forums, or intelligent comments they've left in related blogs. This content will - if you've done your job assuring that each person understands in what particular way he or she embodies brand - have the air of authenticity that other decision influencers respond to.

Don't necessarily highlight this employee-generated content on your front page. You don't want to scare off the decision makers. Keep employee-generated content highly relevant to the page it’s on. This content, once crawled, will begin to get you ranking on the terms that decision influencers search for. These will be long-tail terms, and possibly buzz terms, but when influencers find your site ranking for these terms, and associate your company with people who are using these terms correctly and authentically you will have begun to win an influencer ally.

The strongest and most authentic way you can connect with decision influencers in other companies is through the decision influencers in your own company.

Here's how the scenario ideally plays out, from an SEM marketing perspective:

You're on a sales call. Your prospect brings his webmaster.

Your prospect seemed attentive and excited. He's read your articles on search marketing theory and looks to you as an expert. The webmaster, however, arched his eyebrows as you explained linking and tapped his pen when you discussed content development strategies.

You finish your pitch and your prospect's smiling. The webmaster's frowning though, and about to blurt, "I can do all this for 1/3 the price." Then he remembers that the person who's been giving him advice on URL rewrites in the SEW forums is from your company too.

Now he says, "I can do all this for 1/3 the price," and grudgingly adds, "but SEM1337s0rus DOES know his sh**."

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

March 30, 2006

Garrett French is the co-founder of Ontolo, Inc., and co-creator of the Ontolo Link Building Toolset, which uses your target keywords to find and grade link prospects. The Link Building Toolset reduces link prospecting and qualification time, letting you focus on the most important part of link building: relationships.

Search Engine Guide > Garrett French > Harnessing Employee Generated Content To Target B2B Decision Influencers