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There are a lot of executives in B2B companies who wouldn’t count themselves among early adopters of social media. Many have educated themselves on how to monitor or connect with their kids on Facebook, and they might post the occasional picture or micro-thought. Some have a Twitter account that goes largely ignored, and most have a LinkedIn account with a fair number of connections.

Are these executives deeply immersed in the realm of social media? No. But they aren’t newbies either. They have just enough personal experience to intuit that there is more they could be doing to promote their brand in the social media space, but business-to-business marketing seems to present a unique set of challenges. How and where to begin?

The most practical place to start going deeper is LinkedIn. If you are thinking to yourself, “I already have a profile,” then you are missing out on a whole world of opportunity. LinkedIn is more than just a place to post a bio and make some connections; it’s a place where you can demonstrate thought leadership to a very targeted audience of potential customers. The easiest way to get started is to join (or start) a LinkedIn group.

LinkedIn groups are forums where people of similar industries share information. If you are a newcomer to groups, your first inclination might be to join groups formed by those who do what you do. (I am a business-to-business marketer; therefore, I will join a business-to-business marketing group.)

A subtle shift in thinking is the key to opening the world of LinkedIn. I am a business-to-business marketer that does business with transportation clients; therefore, I will join transportation groups. I don’t want to blast them with sales information that will be ignored and diminish the value of the group. I want to provide keen insights on their industry with regular frequency so that they start to see me as a go-to resource for information. Providing content of value to selected groups and regular frequency is the best way to demonstrate thought leadership in these forums.

Beyond content and frequency, there is one additional factor that can mean the difference between a good LinkedIn group strategy and a great one: engagement. Imagine a LinkedIn group as a cocktail party. You wouldn’t walk in to a cocktail party and start shouting factoids at other guests. You would engage in conversation to find similar-minded connections. The same is true within groups. Sometimes, asking a thoughtful question says more about the depth of your industry knowledge than a bold statement ever could. The discussions (and connections) that arise from a carefully crafted question may surprise you.

If you suspect that making a foray into the realm of social media should be a part of your marketing strategy, then mastering the art of engagement within LinkedIn groups is a great place to start. Not only can it elevate your brand, but it can pave the road to success on other social media platforms.

As Seen On TV can’t get much better…or worse.

When I was at the gym the other day (just wait, the irony is coming), an infomercial came on a screen in front of me. A woman appeared in a fuzzy pink jumpsuit that was announced to be the “one-piece, lie-around, lounge-around, full-body lazy wear.” With an acrylic fingernailed hand, she demonstrated how soft the fabric was by making bizarre and entirely unnatural rubbing/sweeping motions on her leg. The ad was for the unfortunate stepchild of the Snuggie® — Forever Lazy® — and, yes, that is the product’s real name. In shock, and thinking this was a rerun of an SNL commercial sketch, I continued to watch (much to my horror).

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While the buzz over Google+ has certainly dropped dramatically in the months since Google launched the service, one of the more eagerly-anticipated features has been Google+ pages for business. Yesterday, Google formally launched Google+ Brand Pages.

Although the service suffered a few hiccups yesterday and wasn’t completely available for all users, by late afternoon it was up and running for everyone. We set up a VantagePoint page (please add us to your circles!), and captured the step-by-step process it took us to do so.

Here’s how to set up a Google+ brand page for your company:

1. Log in to your Google account, presumably one that you already have a Google+ account for. (It appears you cannot, at present, use an existing Google profile you may have created for your brand or company.) IMPORTANT: for the near term, you will be the “owner” of this profile, and it will be linked to your Google account. Others will not be able to edit this profile until Google opens up brand pages for multiple editing. Keep this in mind as you proceed.

2. Visit http://plus.google.com/pages/create.

3. You will now see the “Create a page” screen. Now it’s time to get started.

4. On the left side, choose the category that you wish your company to belong to. For now, we’re going to assume you will be a “company, institution or organization.”  Unless you have a major brand or a local walk-in store, this is probably the most appropriate category to choose. (If you roll over the category types, you’ll get a brief explanation to help you decide.)

5. When you choose your category, the right side of your screen will populate with several fields for you to fill in, including company name, website, business type, and page visibility. Fill in the appropriate blanks.

6. After a few seconds, you will see the beginning of your company’s Google+ page.

7. Enter your tagline. You can enter as many words as you want, but only the first 10 words will be displayed on your profile.

8. Add a profile photo — or a logo. Clicking on the “change profile photo” will bring you to a screen where you can import and crop an image.

9. When you’ve updated the tagline and the profile photo, click “continue.” You’ll next have the option to tell your circles about your new page from your personal Google+ account. Go ahead — or you can wait until later as well — and click “Finish” when you’re done.

10. You’ll now be taken to your official Google+ brand page. There are a number of options here to get you started in sharing, promoting, and linking to your new page. One of the nice things that Google has done is make it easy to switch between using the page as “you” or as “your company” by clicking on the little arrow next to your profile photo/logo.

11. You’ll also notice your stream changes appropriately — instead of friends, family, and following, you’ll see links for customers, VIPs, and team members.

Spend a few minutes exploring Google+ brand pages. Your first instinct will be to start adding folks to your circles. However, it appears you currently can’t — that is, until they add you first. (All the more reason to add VantagePoint to your Google+ circle!) We’re not sure if this is temporary, or if it’s Google’s way of making sure brands don’t overwhelm the general public.

Time will tell whether Google+ will replace or merely supplement Facebook and Twitter (or disappear entirely, as several other Google properties have). But for now, we think it’s important to take advantage of a social media service directly connected to the world’s largest search engine.

According to a recent survey by BtoB Magazine and Rainmaker Systems, 58% of B2B marketers report an increase for their companies’ involvement in e-commerce. Perhaps you, too, are considering this online means to increase sales. But for those who aren’t, you can still take advantage of what B2C companies who are using e-commerce have learned to improve your sales and marketing efforts.

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Just a few of our 2011 BMA Carolinas ProAd awards

VantagePoint Marketing was honored last night in Charlotte by the Business Marketing Association of the Carolinas with its 3rd straight Agency of the Year award, as well as 38 other awards in total. These awards were given for outstanding creative, strategy and results for projects created over the last year for business-to-business marketing clients across the country.

In addition to the Agency of the Year award, we also received 5 Gold awards, 17 Silver awards, and 16 Bronze awards. Work for a total of 11 different clients was awarded, including Estes Express Lines, T&S Brass, Milliken, Nucor Building Systems, SEW Eurodrive, S&D Coffee, Polydeck, BMA Carolinas, Thrace-LINQ, and VantagePoint.

This is the 5th time in the last 6 years that we have won the Agency of the Year award for B2B marketing in both North and South Carolina. We were thrilled to be honored against tough competition, including very strong showings by Jackson Marketing Group and PhaseTwo.biz.

Thanks to an amazing team at VantagePoint that made this year’s success possible!

Dave, Joe, Angie and Ryan after the ceremony

It’s all over. I got sucked into the spinning, pinning vortex of the online community Pinterest. Though I just started last week, I can’t go to a website anymore without thinking of pinning possibilities. Yes, the word addiction comes to mind; though I’m sure I could quit at anytime — honest. Okay, it’s an addiction.

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When I attended my first communication theory classes in the 1970s, the name Marshall McLuhan loomed large. He’s the imaginative scholar who proclaimed “the medium is the message” and referred to media as “the extensions of man.” Was he talking nonsense, common sense or sixth sense? “I may be wrong,” he said, “but I’m never in doubt.”

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I grew up in a neighborhood where kickball ruled.  One day a bunch of us boys were playing when suddenly the ball bounced down a drainage ditch. Within seconds it got jammed halfway inside a long, skinny concrete pipe under Mr. Stewart’s driveway. We tried to pry the ball out with long sticks and rocks but finally gave up. A couple of guys mumbled about Plan B – bike riding, Monopoly or even checkers.

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I’m not a football player, and I don’t fully understand the rules. If a penalty flag flies on a play, I usually have to wait for the ref to explain it. I’m clueless about the finer points of blocking and tackling, and I certainly can’t predict which team is likely to win a tight match.

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Despite the internet and wide use of e-mail, direct mail is still one of the leading marketing tools used by businesses. In a recent survey by the CMO Council, eighty-four percent of respondents produce print collateral. Fifty-seven percent of those respondents specified that they use direct mail as a marketing tool.

From personal experience, I know that I still receive a ton of direct mail both at work and at home every week – if not daily. Because there are so many communication channels and ways to reach consumers and business professionals, it is critical that if you choose to use direct mail that the message stands out.

One of the newer technologies that we are seeing a lot of promise in is adding two-dimensional bar codes to direct mail. These are also known as QR or quick response codes. Not only are they appearing in a variety of print outlets, but they are also appearing on billboards in Times Square and in television commercials. These QR codes started out in very consumer-driven advertisements, but there is great potential in using these in B2B applications.

Here’s a generic example: Company X is going to its biggest trade show of the year and is introducing its new product for the first time. This event is the best place to not only meet with existing customers, but to connect with prospective customers, too. However, the show floor has limited hours and it is filled with hundreds of vendor booths for attendees to visit. How do you capture the attention of this audience to get them to stop by the booth? You contact them before the show.

This can happen in several ways, but let’s assume direct mail is one of the chosen elements. Direct mail response rates are traditionally low, as the address can be incorrect or the piece may get tossed before it is even really looked at. Furthermore, if you are using a postcard or other smaller piece, the space for conveying your message is limited. That is where the QR codes come in. Anyone who has a smartphone (I am willing to bet the majority of executive-level business professionals do) can easily scan a QR code, which will instantly take them to a website that has more details or even an engaging video message.

QR codes, as seen here, still have an eye-catching factor. This will help grab the audience’s attention before it is tossed in the trash. Additionally, they give you the ability to tell a deeper message than what can be said on a 5 x 7 postcard. QR codes are not the best tool for every audience, so it is important to know the demographics of those you are trying to reach. If you have questions about QR codes or a success story to share, let me know!

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About VantagePoint

VantagePoint's integrated approach to b-to-b marketing combines keen insight with bright ideas to strengthen your brand's market impact, no matter what the economy. Let us help you get a fresh perspective.

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