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Taking time with ex-IBM search guru Mike Moran

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Mike Moran, a distinguished engineer at IBM Corp. and a 30-year veteran of the company, last month joined Converseon Inc., an online marketing company that specializes in search, social media and reputation management, where he will serve in the newly created role of chief strategist.

Considered a guru in the search marketing world, Moran co-wrote (with Bill Hunt) “Search Engine Marketing Inc.,” a primer that provides step-by-step information on how to run a successful search marketing campaign.

Moran recently spoke with BtoB about the search marketing and social media industries.

BtoB: What do search marketing and social media have in common?

Moran: They are two different things, but the thing that makes them the same is you are depending on your customer to initiate something in order for it to work.

With search, they are standing up and saying, “I’m interested in this right now.”

With social media, you are expecting people to pass the information along to others. In both cases the customer takes the initiative. There is a kind of thinking that goes around what causes customers to take the initiative. It’s different from traditional TV, or print ads or direct mail. It’s even different from e-mail. In those situations the marketer is the one starting the conversation.

BtoB: How can b-to-b marketers begin to look at search and social media together?

Moran: Think about what kinds of problems your customers have that they are trying to solve. In b-to-c, social media tends to be entertaining and funny. That’s not necessarily true with b-to-b. The best b-to-b social media solves problems. You want to become the expert in that problem.

One of the reasons that it’s hard in b-to-b to get new customers is that people are very busy. A lot of b-to-b products are complex and require a lot of information to understand. The least favorite way for b-to-b customers to learn how to solve a problem is to have a salesperson in their face pitching them. It’s time-intensive and it puts them in an uncomfortable social situation where they may have to say no. [It’s] better to engage them online through search and social media. You’ll get many more people to engage with that type of message than the salesperson can. People are always trying to protect themselves from salespeople. Rather than sell, sell, sell, you want to help, help, help. Enough of them will remember to buy from you if you really legitimately help them solve their problem.

BtoB: Why are marketers having such a hard time with this new channel?

Moran: There are companies that have the old game wired. They know how to do traditional marketing. It’s pretty similar every year.

It is disruptive when they see what is going on in search and social media. For search and social media marketing, the marketer is no longer the pursuer. They are the one who is pursued. How do they ensure people find them when they need them? They have to make themselves attractive. With search and social media marketing, you are thinking a lot more about content. You’re thinking more like a reporter than a salesperson or a marketer. You want to put information out there that is helpful, and useful and valuable. Search marketing and social media marketing are a lot closer to that. The information that will get the most attention is information that is informative, helpful and useful rather than promotional. No one is going to tag your product catalog in deli.ci.ous. No one is going to write about your sale in a blog.

BtoB: What are the biggest challenges these days to doing search marketing successfully?

Moran: There’s a few. One is that they were really successful with paid search in the beginning, and now marketers are being priced out on more and more keywords that were easy to win in the early days.

Instead of thinking about the popular terms that may have worked in the past, they have to accept the fact that most of the people searching for things are not looking for them. Think about the terms that absolutely describe your company.

Marketers really need to embrace direct marketing in ways b-to-b companies haven’t. They should understand how much it is worth for each new visitor to come to their site. How much do they spend and what is the lifetime value of that customer?

Many marketers are not used to doing marketing “by the numbers,” and that’s where a lot of companies are running into trouble.

If you think about a how a direct mailer works, they winnow down the list to the people who are most profitable. That’s a segmentation strategy. Choosing the right search terms isn’t any different from that. It’s just segmenting your market. It isn’t any different from the way you split your mailing list in terms of who is profitable and who is not profitable.

Direct marketers also constantly measure response rates with everything they do. We need to measure our Web sites the same way. Every time you make a change on your Web site, does the average conversion go up or down? E-commerce companies know how to do that, but b-to-b companies don’t. B-to-b companies have no idea whether the Web site was persuasive because the sale usually happens offline.

They need a clear indication of where people who come into offline channels came from. That’s what direct marketers really understand. That’s what b-to-b companies need to be doing but most aren’t.

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