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December 06 2010

Writing is a Critical B2B Marketing Skill

I was reading an article written by Denny Hatch (a long-time copywriting expert) discussing why professional copywriting is critical for marketing where he shared this story he recalled:

"What do you do?" a guy at a cocktail party was asked.

"I'm a brain surgeon," was the reply. "What do you do?"

"I'm a writer."

"Ah," said the brain surgeon. "I've often thought that when I retire I'd like to try some writing."

"And when I retire," said the writer, "I plan try a little brain surgery."

The story resonated with me for a lot of reasons, but one of them is because I see a lot of B2B marketers without the passion or skill for developing content. I'm not talking about branding or corporate positioning as such. I'm talking about content creation and development that keeps pace with the demands of prospects and customers across their buying process or lifetime relationship with the company.

Writing is a skill. It's a skill that gets rusty if you don't practice it...a lot. The last few years, the role of marketing has changed from that of a conductor to the need to become an active participant. Instead of coordinating external sources for short-term campaign execution, marketers need to take real-time action. That means writing.

Things like blog posts, commenting in discussion groups, sharing on social media, creating articles for nurturing programs, email messaging and more. Sure, you can still outsource writing projects, but some of these arenas for participation require real-time content development with a personalized touch.

For example, if an immediate informational need arises and your agency says - sure, I can have that for you in two weeks - you've just missed an opportunity if you can't step up to the plate and write engaging content that can be published now.

[If you don't believe me, David Meerman Scott just published a book about Real-Time Marketing. Ann Handley's book Content Rules has also just been released making it a bit difficult to ignore the momentum heading in this direction.]

The other consideration is that there are certain mediums that require you to paricipate directly, without the help of a writer. LinkedIn is a case in point. Although not formal, the way you write is still a reflection on both you and your company.

All of this said, here are 4 things I think may be stopping marketers from improving their writing skills:

  • Thinking every content asset must be a masterpiece of formatting and graphic design.
  • Lack of understanding that short article formats work well if the content provides meaty, useful insights. An 800 word, tightly-focused article is more than ample for engagement and asks for less time than a bigger piece. Your prospects and customers are crazy-busy. You know that, right?
  • Not knowing buyers and customers well enough to write for them — being unsure how to flip focus from company and products to address their needs can be a huge obstacle marketers need to overcome.
  • Unsure of where to start. Think of this as blank-page syndrome that results from a lack of content strategy.
  • Being crazy-busy yourselves.

Yes, that last one will likely rise to the top. But here's the thing. Writing isn't optional. If marketers are going to succeed with content marketing and marketing on the Internet, we're going to have to close the writing gap and step up.

Marketing is driven by content. The Internet, publishing technology and social media will only demand more fuel (content) to feed the beast. Your best plan of action is to start tuning up your keyboards and flex those writing muscles. You're going to need them in top form to create competitive advantage for your company.

November 02 2010

Cold Calling with Content

In a webinar I did for Hoovers last week, I was asked if I thought cold calling had any value in today's business environment. That's not a question that I, as a content marketing strategist, get asked very often...if ever. But, given my background, a few things popped to mind immediately.

Cold calling will be as effective as the conversation is engaging.

And because I live, breath and think content, it didn't take long for my brain to take me down that track. Content presented to people who don't know you or those who haven't yet opted in to learn more from you is a cold call.

As more publishing opportunities become available to B2B marketers, our content will be doing more cold calling.

Examples of cold calling with content include:

  • Email. This is one that all B2B marketers will recognize. This is generally facilitated by buying/renting a list and sending out an email with a content offer to people who don't know you.

  • Twitter. Sure, your followers are warmer than a cold call, but what about when they retweet your content to their followers who don't know you? There's a recommendation behind their motivation to click, but those people are still coming to your content without knowing what to expect. 

  • Lead Generation via syndication. Howard Sewell just wrote a great post about 2 Mistakes that Cause Content Syndication to Fail. His thoughts tie in to my point about cold calling with content.

The point that I'm trying to make is that nearly everything we do in the execution of sales and marketing is content related. Content includes voicemails, conversations, emails, articles, Tweets, Answers on LinkedIn, status updates and wall posts on Facebook, blog posts, webinars, videos, podcasts, eBooks, white papers, customer success stories, etc.

The "cold" part is about the status of your relationship with the recipient.

I read a great post today by S. Anthony Iannarino over on Sales Blogger Union that discussed how we needed to turn influence upside down. A couple of things he said really reasonated with me in relation to how we can use content to turn cold relationships into warm ones.

  • "[Y]ou have to care enough to understand what it is that they want."
    In other words, do the work to create buyer personas so deep that you really get to know your prospects and can apply that knowledge to the way you design your content.

  • "If you spend time with them, working to create value before claiming any, you develop the trust that influence is built upon."
    In other words, one-off content won't do much. It's the consistent effort made to provide valuable information over time that moves the relationship from cold to warm.

  • By sharing "the knowledge you have gained by helping others in a meaningful way, you will develop the credibility that influence is built on."
    In other words, the more meaningful prospects find your content, the higher the credibility ascribed to your content, and your company. Put your expertise front and center.

So here's the point. All content interactions start out at some degree of cold. It's up to your content marketing programs to increase the temperature through the consistent provision of content perceived as valuable by your prospects.

When this happens, the likelihood of your salesperson's call being accepted is much higher, hence warmer.

Cold calling with content is a skill B2B marketers must become proficient at given the ever evolving publishing tools available and your buyers' instinct to self-educate and push your salespeople to the side of the road until they're ready to talk.

Marketers can help ensure that salespeople hit the ground running with warm calls, not get frozen out by prospects who haven't got a clue who they are, what they want or if there's any value to be had that impacts their business objectives.

 

October 06 2010

B2B Content Marketing in the Age of TMI

Today has been one of those days with too much information (TMI) from the start. I've finally cleared my email inbox, replying to all the stuff that can't wait. I've followed my new Twitter followers. I've sifted through my Google Alerts and read the things that caught my attention (most of them disappointing). I've participated in several client conference calls, answered a few messages on my Facebook page and scanned my TweetDeck columns to make sure I haven't missed anything. And, I gained a new client I'm really excited to work with!

Just keeping up with all the information and communications kept me busy for half of my day. And, you know what? I deleted or ignored everything that wasn't critical - and that was a lot of stuff. Considering that this scenario is similar to what many people go through, rising above the noise is more challenging than ever when you're a B2B marketer creating, publishing, sharing and promoting your content—both online and off.

This picture pretty much sums up the challenge.

InfoOverload

Go on, admit it. You feel the same way as this guy. I know I do.

What this means for B2B marketers is that good enough just won't cut it. Too much information is the norm for most of us these days. I often wonder why we think our prospects are different from us? Why do we think they all have ample time to read and respond to whatever we publish?

Why should they? In fact, if you put yourself in your target audience's shoes and evaluated your content, calls to action, and takeaways, would you respond if you were them?

In the age of too much information (TMI) your content must:

Get the Why I Should Care right up front. Otherwise you're already done.

Make the What I Learn something that I can use - either to promote my thinking about an important issue I'm involved with or something I can put into practice to help me right now.

Tell me just How to do what you want me to - and it had better be easy and intuitive.

Show me Where the impact you promise will happen - in terms that I can easily understand—even when I'm multi-tasking.

Make When I choose to respond work on my terms, while igniting urgency on my part. Note that this will only happen if it's a natural outcome to your content, message or communication without feeling pushy.

Too much information is becoming a natural state for all of us—marketers and prospects included. Too many choices, too much nonsense, too many ridiculous assumptions and too much about the messenger will kill the last shreds of interest we might have had left to allocate to your stuff.

I think it's time for the Golden Rule to make a comeback. If we started "doing unto others as we would do unto ourselves" - honestly doing that - we'd likely see our content marketing programs gaining traction with the audiences we're intent on engaging.

Here are two examples that fell through on their promise:

1) A white paper that promised to discuss lead progression and told me twice that it was a $500 value being offerred for free. (That should have been a clue, I know). It was 4 pages of regurgitated analyst research without a single new idea and very little on lead progression.

Note to self: Never believe this company's content promise again. Perhaps even question the next time the person who recommended this recommends something else on Twitter.

2) An email from an unknown Internet marketer telling me they know I'm on Twitter and want me to follow them on Twitter. The subject line: [FIRST NAME] Let's connect on Twitter was the first clue that the delete button was my friend. But, the indication that they'd done the work to find me and chose not to follow me, but request I follow them meant they were someone with no idea what Internet marketing is all about.

Here are two examples of content that delivered for me:

1) An email from a person I "know" sharing their latest manifesto with me, not even asking for a review, but I found it so valuable that I blogged about it and my post was picked up by BtoB Magazine as their blog post of the week. The New B2B Marketing Manifesto has great ideas that made me stop and think about the field I make my living working in.

2) An email from Eccolo Media with their latest Tech Buyer Collateral Survey because most of my clients are IT companies and the information is always valuable to me. Plus, they know I reviewed the last one.

What works for you, may be different. But take a look at what does and figure out why. Then step into your prospects' shoes and figure out what works for them. Do that.

September 27 2010

Using Content for Inbound Marketing: Mine or Yours?

I've been having an interesting conversation with Tony Karrer (@TonyKarrer) and Tom Pick (@TomPick) about how the way content is used and distributed is changing as B2B companies embrace the idea of becoming online publishers. The discussion is focused on several different options to meet the growing content needs for prospect engagement and includes ideas about content aggregation, curation, filtering and syndication.

Tony's recent post, Automated Filtering vs. Human-Powered Curation, explains the differences between the two, provides a wealth of resources for your review and makes an interesting case for consideration. 

Tom's post, Content Aggregation: The Future of (B2B and Consumer) Media?, discusses how enterprises, publishers and PR firms can benefit from aggregation and curation. 

I'd like to take a two-pronged look at syndication and curation from a B2B marketer's perspective to provide a bit of a different take. Web syndication as defined by Wikipedia is:

"Web syndication is a form of syndication in which website material is made available to multiple other sites."

First, let's look at syndication of our own content:

The Pro Side of Syndication:

  • Exposure and Awareness: When your blog content is picked up by other industry portals with relevant audiences for your material, your company can gain exposure you might otherwise not have. This can be a great way to attract prospects to your company and become a relied-upon resource for content they're interested in.

  • Reputation by Association: Becoming a "trusted advisor" can be expedited when the sites that syndicate your content also syndicate content from the leading bloggers in your industry. By virtue of inclusion it's inferred that you're part of the "group" of influential publishers in your industry.

  • Reach: An extension of exposure and awareness, but you may also find that your posts are syndicated by industry portals with markets you may not have thought to pursue, or new opportunities for market expansion.

  • Increased Inbound Traffic: Sites that only pull title and description with a link to your original post can provide a nice bump in inbound traffic, as well as the other 3 good things above. Examples include Junta 42 and The B2B Marketing Zone.

The Con Side of Syndication:

  • Lost Traffic: Sites that pull your entire post, even with a link back to your blog, take your traffic. I recently estimated that I receive more than 1,000 views per post on other sites that syndicate my entire posts. The exposure, reputation and reach are great, but the lost traffic is not so great. Then again, on the flip side, would I draw those readers to my blog on my own? Maybe so, maybe not.

  • No Updates: With full post syndication, once your entire blog post has been syndicated, no updates to your blog post will be reflected. It's kind of a "once and done" thing. So, unless those readers are inspired to click through, they will never know if you've added to or changed your blog post. However, partial post syndication doesn't present these issues as long as your updates are farther in than the first paragraph that's pulled for description.

  • Dispersed Conversations: With full-post syndication, comments often happen on the syndication site, not on your blog. This has two impacts - 1) you have to follow and respond to comments on multiple sites/locations and 2) the conversation and engagement is happening beyond your site—instead of on it.

  • Lost Links: When people who read and engage with your content on other sites choose to share or ReTweet it, the links pull the syndication site, not your own blog. This drives great traffic for the syndicators, but not for you.

  • Ranking in search engines: Sometimes, the syndication site will rank better in search returns than your original post due to their level of traffic.

Ultimately, you need to choose what's more important based on your marketing content goals. Assess your ability to grow the traffic and exposure you need to your own site and choose to take advantage of the type of syndication that serves you best. There are benefits to both.

Now, let's take a look at Content Curation.

Content curation is about finding and sharing content produced by others that your specific audience will find relevant and valuable. Take a look at these definitions to see a variety of viewpoints from leading marketers.

The trick to using other people's content to market to your prospects is in how you integrate that content with your own ideas to amplify them as you provide value to your audience.

The types of content curation vary, but here are two types to consider:

  • External content created about (or referencing your company or products). This is similar to the news section of websites that lists media exposure. Only the of a  curation mindset is that you don't silo that information on web page in a list where there's no context, but instead use it for a specific purpose.
  • External content created about issues your target audience cares about.

To get the most benefits out of content curation, marketers need to carefully set the context and weave it into the sharing of their own ideas and expertise. From a B2B marketing perspective, curated content, in my opinion, should be used to enhance your content, not as a replacement for creating your own content.

Curated content can add value for both marketers and audiences due to the constraints many companies face when confronted with how to fuel their marketing programs with enough content to meet prospect needs.

B2B marketers need to do some planning and coordination to get the most benefits possible when using curated content. A few tips include:

  • Use content from sources that are complementary to your company.
  • Make sure you set up the context for sharing that content based on your own ideas and expertise.
  • Give credit and links to the sources of the content you use. Do not lift it in full without the author's permission.
There's a case to be made for aggregating, curating, filtering and syndicating content. The pivotal point is in planning how you do so based on your consideration of the pros and cons as well as how your choices impact the goals you have for your marketing programs.

September 20 2010

When Thought Leadership Isn't

Many B2B marketers cite a goal of their content marketing programs as establishing their company as thought leaders in their marketplace. This is an admirable goal, as prospects are looking for experts, not just products or solutions. However, becoming a thought leader takes a bit more effort than you may think.

Definition of Thought Leadership by Wikipedia:

A thought leader is a futurist or person who is recognized for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.

Let's take a look at some of the components of thought leadership.

  • Futurist - This means that you can't just pontificate about the current state of affairs, but must demonstrate that you have a vision for what's coming down the pike. In addition, you must show them how it will affect their business/success, as well as what they can do to prepare to get ahead of it without disrupting the strategic goals of their business.

  • Innovative Ideas - Innovative = New. There's much content running around online that is just a rehash of all the other stuff out there. Mimicking has become a major past time. This is not to say that all the ideas must be new, but your spin on them should be. For your content to be considered thought leadership, it has to, well, stir up some thinking. Innovative content needs to get people to think about things differently.

  • Actionable - (Although I dislike this word, the meaning is significant.) Any content worthy of the thought leadership designation must motivate people to DO something. Whether that's discussing your ideas with a colleague, or spurring them on to do more research about the ideas or try to apply them to the improvement of their current business processes, something must happen.

  • Distilled Insights - The way something happens is when you show people what to do with the ideas you share. Help them out and give them next steps. Be specific. The thing that kills the intention to create thought leadership content is generalities. Distilled insights mean being specific. You must narrow the focus to a specific audience in order to make these insights relevant and enticing enough because they're understood and applicable to your audience's specific situations.

Content that isn't thought leadership lacks:

  • Educational Value - often we assume the audience knows more than they do. We must put ourselves into their shoes and provide the level of education that connects with them at the right time, with the right information.

  • Our Expertise - if your thought leadership content is relying on the expertise of others, without including our own perspectives, we're only reporting - not leading the thinking on a subject.

  • Supporting Evidence - Thought leadership content cannot just be full of assertions that lack both foundation and proof that what you say is indeed possible, true, relevant, valuable, strategic, and achievable.

  • Ease of Access - What I mean by this is that you've limited the effort it takes for your audience to understand the ideas. This usually gets mucked up with jargon and technical terms and thinly veiled sales pitches. It can also be derailed by an overly stiff academic style that has your audience perceive your content as too difficult or time intensive to bother with.

  • Takeaways and Calls to Action - Quite often, the failure to develop thought leadership content for a tightly focused audience means it's too general to provide ideas your prospects can "take away" for discussion, consideration or application. Additionally, thought leadership content that takes the lofty view that the audience will know what to do next is missing the mark. Tell them.

Thought leadership content takes time and planning. It should be based on something your company is absolutely passionate about.

Here's why:Thought leadership is not created with one, two or three pieces of content. It's created with the consistent application of ideas and concepts that helps to define a strategic direction your prospects should pursue to get what they want over the long haul. Achieving this perception is not a flash-in-the-pan endeavor.

Are you creating thought leadership content or just writing interesting articles? There's nothing wrong with either approach, I'm just saying that you need to know the distinction.

September 06 2010

5 Things to Consider BEFORE Using Social Media

Many companies I work with today are enthusiastic about diving into social media. It's shiny object syndrome at its finest. The problem I find most prevalent is that companies have no realistic idea about what it takes to launch and support a social media program.

It takes a lot more than creating an account and setting up a profile with the best of intentions to participate.

Here are 5 things to consider before you choose to add social media to your marketing mix:

  1. Prospect Preferences. Do you know where your prospects hang out online? Do they engage in social media? If so, is their involvement based on personal or professional reasons. (e.g. many people use Facebook for family and friends, keeping it separate from business) 

  2. Content. How much of it do you have? Do you have plans to continuously develop a flow of content with the variety of contexts you need to meet expectations in different social media venues? Is your company stance to gate content or make it freely available? Is all this content focused on your prospects' perspectives? Is it helpful? Do your prospects engage well with the content you already share with them? In other words, will they be receptive to more of it? If not, fix that first.

  3. Resources. How many people do you have that can spend time working on social media efforts? What? Just you? How much free time do you have in your current schedule? Social media is not free. Take a look at #2 above and then consider how much time it actually takes to keep up with conversational threads, developing and sharing your content—-as well as that of others—contributing to conversations, answering questions, etc.

    Are you a writer? If not, make sure you line up writing resources to contribute content you can use. If you think you can force people (engineers, product managers, customer service agents, executives, etc. to write blog posts, think again. It's harder to get busy people to make time to write than you'd ever imagine.) Solely interacting in social media by curating other people's content (not your own) may make you a relied-upon resource, but it won't make you a thought leader that people seek out for ideas.

  4. Long-term Commitment. Social media is not something you start and expect to see amazing results with in 3 months or less. It's definitely the turtle that beats the hare in this race. It can take 6 months to a year to develop the following, engagement and participation that leads to directly attributed sales gains.

    And, if you start, what impression will you make if you stop and your accounts become inactive? Social media requires commitment. You must be prepared to measure short-term wins and long-term goals accordingly. And those goals must be reasonable and achievable or you'll be setting yourself up for failure. Getting pushy and trying to make it happen faster can (will) backfire.

  5. Connection Points. How can you integrate your social media efforts with your existing marketing programs? Set up a plan to develop cross-over and help your prospects find the content they're searching for regardless of where they look. Make sure you've got calls to action designed to help them migrate from one platform to another to follow your ideas and engage with your content—and your company.

    How will you share what's going on in social media internally across your company so that when the subject comes up, your customer service agents, salespeople, installers, etc. know how to respond? For B2B companies, social media is not a singular effort but a plural one. If people are out of the loop and get blindsided, it can be problematic—both for your company's reputation and your own dealings with other departments within the company.

Social media can be a boon for marketers and companies. But it does require planning and commitment that's often out of reach for many marketing departments already spread thin.

The best advice I can share is to do your research and stockpile some content (or create an editorial calendar) before you begin. Incorporate it with your existing marketing programs from the start to give it legs. Choose one tool that matches your prospects' preferences and apply yourself to becoming the best at it. Measure as you go. Then add more platforms/tools as you and plan to be prepared before continuing to expand your efforts. 

Consider starting with a blog. A blog is the surest way to generate the content you need to fuel sharing on other social media platforms. Plus, with the proper planning, you can incorporate blog posts into newsletters and nurturing sends right away. This said, go back and really take a hard look at the list above before you commit.

July 08 2010

Define Progressive Triggers for Content Marketing Programs

One of the questions I get asked often is how to define and respond to triggers within content marketing programs for B2B complex sales. I wish there was a simple answer to this question because it feels like I'm copping out if I say, "Well, it depends..."

Unfortunately, it does. What works as a trigger for other companies' buyers may not work for your buyers. What works for one type of buyer may not work for another. Plus, there are a variety of different types of triggers, so which ones are you talking about?

Sales-ready indicators. Yes, I know. But back up for a minute. Triggers are about much more than that last click before the sales hand off.

Triggers are behavioral indications of a shift in prospect interest. They result from the ways in which prospects respond to and interact with your content marketing programs. The challenge for marketers is to define triggers that are consistently indicative of  specific shifts, not one-off behaviors that produce differing results.

Consider these 4 types of triggers:

Buying Stage Transition: This occurs when a prospect who's only viewing early stage educational content makes the shift to view best practices content, for example. This is an indication that the prospect has decided solving the problem is becoming more urgent. Otherwise they wouldn't take the time to move from "why should I solve it?" to "how do I solve it?" This is why it's important to map your content to the buying process to help you understand when a prospect's level of interest shifts enough to move them to the next stage in buying.

Attention Jump: If the average time a prospect spends with your content is 2 minutes and suddenly this becomes 4 minutes, this is a trigger that their interest has grown. Either that or your content suddenly became riveting. Either way, it's a good indication that you should take notice of their growth in attention as well as what may have caused it. It's also important to monitor to see if this trigger holds true or if it really was just related to that one content asset.

An additional attention jump would be if the prospect then chose to spend an hour with your company by registering for and attending a webinar.

Another scenario may be if they used to click on the link in your email, view that content, then leave - but now they stay to read other related content. [Hint: "related content" is the key phrase] And also why you need to build content pathways that enable them to easily choose to spend more time with your content. Every moment a prospect spends with your content means they're not engaging with a competitor's ideas.

Pro-active Visits: This is when a prospect who only visited your website in the past when you prompted them via email starts to visit on their own in search of more information on a particular topic.

Dialogue Initiation: This trigger is about the prospect making the effort to do something other than read. This can be leaving a comment on a blog post, asking a question on Twitter, replying to an email you sent to them, submitting an inquiry on your website or even picking up the phone. A dialogue initiation can also be the completion of an opt-in form giving you permission to stay in communication with them.

Defining triggers is essentially about discerning patterns of behavior that—strung together—lead to achieving the preferred end result. In this case, sales readiness.

But, beyond defining them, the key to being able to string the triggers together to get to sales readiness involves determining the type of response each trigger requires to keep up the progression.

It helps if you think about triggers as your prospects' self-determined calls to action. They are the only ones who can decide to pull the lever. Of course it follows that the better you know your prospects, the more you can influence them by giving them what they need, when they need it.

Now, before you get all wrapped around the axle on this, defining progressive triggers is a trial and error process. It takes time to identify patterns. Focusing only on the last click before conversion is not the answer. That's because unless you can figure out what gets them to that last click, you have no way to consistently put what they need in front of them to speed their time to that last click.

May 01 2010

The Fallacy of Control for B2B Marketers

Even with all the ways in which B2B content marketing is evolving, I'm still hearing a lot about the desire to control prospect behavior. See if any of these sound familiar:

  • We don't want to send prospects to any page not on our website.
  • We want to have control over where our content is displayed.
  • We must gate our content to make prospects give us their information.

What I want marketers who are still having these considerations to ask themselves is - Why? Why exactly do you think this attitude will help improve your marketing performance?

Here are a few reality checks:

Allowing and enabling your content to spread beyond web properties you own has many advantages. One of them is credibility by association.

Depending on where and how your prospects become aware of your company may play a role in their willingness to engage with your content. If they see an article or blog post displayed on a community portal they rely upon to provide valuable information, their willingness to pay attention will increase.

Isn't this why many companies engage 3rd party experts to participate in their webinars or choose to sponsor their eBooks and white papers? 

Another advantage is findability.

Unless you've got page 1 search result ranking for the keyword phrases your prospects use in a search engine, how confident are you that they'll find you?

Are you willing to give up prospects to competitors because their information is more accessible than yours?

B2B Marketers should be actively pursuing ways to get their content displayed across the web to gain exposure, brand awareness and increased engagement. Isn't that why we issue press releases? We need to start thinking of ourselves as media participants. Not just for press releases, but for continuous content distribution.

The more places your content is seen, the higher your reputation and the less effort prospects have to expend to engage with your company.

Gating content diminishes response and sends a message you may not intend.

No matter how much research has been done about the percentage of prospects who will leave without completing a form to access content (as high as 75% seen recently), marketers still apply this method of lead generation with determined purpose. Even to the point of blocking access to content that could predispose a prospect in your favor - like case studies. Yes, it's true.

What you're really telling prospects when you gate all of your content is - "I don't trust you." You're saying, "I don't trust that you'll return to my website on your own if you find something valuable in my content." You're telling them that they need to turn themselves over to you to tell them what to do next because you don't trust them to ask on their own.

The reality could also be that you don't trust your content to provide a compelling reason for them to return. If so, that needs to be addressed immediately.

Here's the thing. Your prospects are in control of how they want to buy. Your efforts to control them cause friction that keeps them from engaging with your company.

The idea that by controlling their access to content that you have control over their buying process is a fallacy. In fact, your prospects can find all the information they'll need to make a buying decision for a product similar to yours without access to your content at all.

The amount of information made available everyday is massive. If you want to differentiate your company and improve prospect relationships, it's time to give up control and focus on freely serving the educational and expertise needs of your potential customers.

Now, before anyone says that they have a responsibility to generate leads, I'll agree with you. It's all in the way you gate. You've got to think about what it takes to build a foundation of value that won't diminish response when you choose to control access.

The question isn't form or no form. It's have we earned enough credibility to justify the request for our prospects to share their information with us?

The funny thing is that by giving up control, it actually comes back to you in new ways that are more effective. Give it a shot. You may just be surprised by the results.

April 24 2010

7 "Rs" for B2B Marketing Content Planning

Content is the fuel for eMarketing. With a majority of marketing efforts going digital, that means even more content is needed. The instant gratification mindset of B2B content consumers means they're demanding more content, faster. Not just any content, but ideas, information and expertise they find relevant and helpful for answering questions they have about problems they're trying to solve.

Designing content for 1X use is wasteful. Marketers need to create a process for content planning that helps them maximize the return from their investments in developing the content resources that fuel their online marketing programs.

To get the most from your content, embrace the 7 "R"s of B2B Marketing Content Planning:

  1. Re-use - ideas for content development must be expanded to create multiple assets. See my post Rule of 5 for B2B content development. Additionally, when marketers create a nurturing program across the buying process, each new lead should start at the beginning of the program with touch 1. By feeding new leads into the beginning of a program (instead of just adding them to the list for the next send) you'll get much more use out of your nurturing program content and tell your leads a consistent story at the same time.

  2. Re-purpose - The same content can be modified for use with different personas and verticals to increase relevance and personalization rather than relying on general, one-size-fits-all content to meet the needs of a variety of audiences.

  3. Refresh - Content gets stale over time. Put it on a refresh schedule and spiff it up to keep it in tune with constantly shifting markets. For example, if you reference research conducted a year ago, is there a new source that will increase relevance?

  4. Recycle - Don't toss out content that's no longer pulling the audience it once did. Change the title, heads and subheads and reword the bullets or key points. The theme is probably still appropriate, but consider how you might also use it in different ways. For example, if you have 3 or 4 articles on a related topic, can you now combine them into an eBook with a fresh take?

  5. Re-route - Find new and interesting ways to use and distribute your content. If a nurturing program has run its course and the content wasn't publicly available, create a place for it on your website. If a video you used in a blog post relates, pull it through to the landing page for that content. Think about new "arrangements" of content as resource centers for prospects and/or customers.

  6. Response - When a content asset provokes a big response, figure out why and create more content with those characteristics. Another way to consider response is to plan for content as a follow-up to other content. Give your company a reason to reach out continuously to those who find a particular topic relevant. Hold some in reserve to use as an offer during an inside sales call to follow-up. This gives the rep a business reason for the call (to offer the content) which is much better than, "Are you ready to buy yet?"

  7. Retire - Even if you do 1 - 6 above, there are times when content should be retired. For example, if your company's positioning changes and your content doesn't match. If the market has shifted and it's no longer relevant. There could be a number of reasons. The point is that if content is no longer appropriate, leaving it hanging around sends a mixed signal to your audience. If it can't be re-purposed, refreshed or recycled, take it down.
To manage all of this you'll need a content inventory and a schedule for when each of the "Rs" should come into play.

This is only the beginning of the "Rs" we can use for B2B marketing content planning. The sooner marketers start thinking about content as strategic assets that must be managed accordingly, the more traction they'll start to gain from the ways in which they use it.

Who has more "Rs" to add to the list?

April 17 2010

The Difference Between B2B Leads and Personas

B2B marketers have relied on lead definitions to define their marketing programs for years. Some definitions are more complete than others. The biggest disconnect for companies is that a marketer's definition of a lead can often be quite different than how sales defines what they need to accept a lead as qualified for follow-up.

This said, a company's lead definition in this form has nothing to do with customers or prospects. It relies on mostly demographic information that we've culled to decide whether or not we want to pursue the lead as an opportunity for customer acquisition.

A lead definition generally includes things like:

  • Job title
  • Company size (revenues, employees)
  • Industry
  • Geographic location
  • Technology environment
  • Number of locations
  • BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline)

These are all things that are important to us. A lead definition is a bridge between marketing and sales. It's what we use to justify that we're in pursuit of the right targets.

A persona, is the flip side. A persona uses the lead definition as the foundation for the research and development of a composite "character" representative of a segment of our prospects in real-life circumstances. A persona is a bridge between your company and your prospects and customers. 

A persona can include things like:

  • Role
  • Responsibilities
  • Threats
  • Priorities
  • Influencers
  • Motivations

In case you're unsure of a few distinctions, here's an abbreviated example:

Title: Director of Change Management

Role: Developing processes for the roll-out of new solutions across the enterprise.

Responsibility: Achieving a minimum of 75% end user adoption rate within 3 months of implementation of new solutions.

Threats: Disruption of work flows can jeopardize project deadlines resulting in deferred revenues and lower employee morale. Our top competitor is undertaking a major initiative to improve productivity and we'll lose market share if we don't keep up. Our mobile workforce is growing and we've got to get them better access to information and colleagues so they can do their jobs as if they're in the office.

Priorities: Need to ensure the company has the tools and processes for sustainable growth. In order to meet the CEO's strategic agenda, productivity must increase by at least 35% without adding headcount.

Influencers: Line of business managers whose staff will be affected and end users resistant to change. Executives focused on specific productivity initiatives. The CTO who must implement the solution with resources already stretched thin.

Motivations: Desire to work for a company on the cutting edge. Others who have successfully accomplished an enterprise-wide roll out have been promoted. If our company stock increases by X points, my net worth increases exponentially, reducing my time to retirement. A similar company has achieved goals like ours. It can be done. But, I also need to make sure it can be accomplished in our specific environment and circumstances. No risk, no reward. But I need to make sure it's a controllable risk.

Can you see the difference? A lead definition can help you identify the prospects you'd like to pursue. A persona can help you connect with those prospects on a personally relevant basis.

You need both.

April 02 2010

The Difference Between Features and Value

There are numerous articles, blogs, Tweets and discussion groups that talk about content marketing. The consensus across the web is that content needs to be highly relevant and engaging to break through the clutter. So, why is it that so much B2B content misses the mark?

I call it feature focus.

I do a lot of work in the IT realm where features are a dime a dozen. Companies are proud of their solution's features. They worked hard to create and develop them. They listened to customers (hopefully) and designed their interfaces and the ways in which the solution functions to address outcomes their customers value.

The issue is that your prospects don't know all that. In fact, they likely don't care much unless they can get information that applies to their perspective on the problem they're trying to solve.

Unfortunately, because they know them so well, many companies create marketing content focused on the features.

A feature is something your product or solution does.

Value is something your customers get because of what your product enables.

Here's a partial list of "Key Benefits" found on a web page designated for a "business champion." (I had real hope when I saw the company had pages for buyer types.)

  • Single, universal index of all types of content, data and media
  • Advanced search features including dynamic facet generation, tag clouds and multi-lingual support
  • Sentiment analysis, concept clustering and classification
  • Search with SQL or keyword-based queries
  • Workflow and alerts to provide real-time updates to users and other applications

These are not benefits or value statements. They are product features. A business buyer will look at this list and click the back button in a flash. In fact, they might never even see this page as there's not a word included that a business user would be likely to use in a search query.

The company apparently expects the business buyer to know how to translate each of those statements into some kind of advantage. That's asking your prospect to expend way more effort than they're probably willing to do.

Whenever you get tempted to talk about your features, think about what they do and write about that instead. Just try it and see what happens. Tell your prospects a story that matters.

November 13 2009

Audit Your B2B Website for Engagement

B2B companies say that improving their websites is a priority for 2010. I'm not sure exactly what they're thinking, but I do know that — before they do anything — they need to evaluate the website they have now in order to create a renovation plan.

I suggest that an audit be conducted for each web page, or at least your main pages if your site is really intense. The benefit of doing this audit will help to position your web pages to generate more responsiveness from your prospects and customers.

Some of the things overlooked on B2B websites include:

  • Web pages are not stand-alone. They need to be integrated in a way that leads your website visitors to the information they find useful based on interest.

  • Just because your navigation creates siloed areas of content doesn't mean your web pages need to follow suit.

  • Your website is not a brochure all about YOU and your products. If it's not designed with your prospects and customers in mind, you lose. That means every single page.

  • Each page has about 3 - 5 seconds to catch attention. Don't bury your hook.

I've created a simple Web Page Audit Form to get you started.

Here are the steps for auditing your web pages:

  • Main Topic: Each web page should have a focus. You should be able to summarize the main topic in a sentence.

  • Question Answered: When prospects are searching for information, they are seeking answers to questions. Which question does your web page answer? As you audit your web pages, you should begin to see the possibilities for ways to connect your content into pathways that apply to buying stages - or you'll see gaps that need to be filled.

  • Call to Action: You need to show your prospects how to take next steps given the information they've just accessed.

  • Takeaway: If all they read is this one page, what impression are you leaving with them? A takeaway is different from a call to action.

  • Use of Company Focus: Print off your page and circle all the instances where you've used words such as; we, our, our company, company name, us, product names, features, etc.

  • Use of Prospect Focus: Use a different color pen and circle all the instances where you've used words such as; you, yours, your company, roles (VP, CIO, Entrepreneurs, etc.), benefits and outcomes, etc.

    [Which side weighs in heavier? How focused on your audience is your content?]

  • Keywords and Phrases: Now circle the keywords and phrases you're using on the page. Are they words your prospects use to search with? Or, are they only what you think are important. If you search for these terms in a search engine, does your page show up? Which words and phrases might work better at catching your prospects' attention?

  • Time Spent: Get into your analytics and determine how much time people are spending on the web page. Is it enough to read and comprehend the content? Or is it only enough for a brief scan? Do they exit or do they visit another web page? Is the content they view next related to the topic of this page?

  • Related Web Pages: What options do you provide to entice your prospects to spend more time with you? Which pages do you have that could be incorporated to enhance the experience you're providing to your website audience?

If you'd like a copy of the Web Page Audit form, download the PDF.

Once you've audited a number of pages, it's likely you'll see a pattern for revisions. You'll also discover new possibilities for creating an integrated experience for how your website visitors engage with your content. Finally, it should become really clear how to improve your online dialogue with your prospects and customers because your website will have the potential to become all about them. And that's a good thing.

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Don't be the product, buy the product!

Schweinderl