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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.

October 27 2010

B2B Lead Definitions vs. Personas - There is a Difference

Much of the conversation about marketing and sales alignment is based on the mandate that both sides must agree to what constitutes an ideal lead. I agree that this is a necessary step to enable marketing to develop high-quality leads that sales will accept and pursue, but it's only a starting point for marketers.

A B2B lead definition assigns key factors that must exist in order for it to qualify for transition to sales. But, a lead definition on its own is not enough of a foundation for marketing to build a marketing strategy around that's designed to produce that result.

For that, B2B marketers need to develop buyer personas.

Take a look at the difference between the two:

A B2B lead definition generally consists of specific demographics plus some—or all—of the BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline) attributes.

An example could be summarized like this:

  • Title: IT Director
  • Company Size: Revenues of more than $100M or more than 1,000 employees
  • Industry: High Tech, Manufacturing, Healthcare with more than one location
  • Budget: exists and approved
  • Authority: must be the decision maker
  • Need: Data Center Expansion, Data Center Relocation, Data Center Virtualization
  • Timeline: within one year

Given the information above, how would you design a marketing program to attract, engage and qualify leads? Well, the short answer is that you'd have to learn a lot more.

Enter buyer personas.

"A persona takes a segment of your company's aggregate customer profile and fleshes it out with detailed information that represents real prospects in specific circumstances." [eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale]

In addition to the lead definition, a persona may include:

  • Status Quo: What situation is your prospect facing right now that your offerings address? How did it originate and what obstacles is it putting in the way of business success?
  • Strategic Business and Career Goals: What role does your prospect play in the achievement of business objectives? What are they responsible for? What do they want to achieve from a professional (career) perspective? 
  • Preferences and Aversions: Do they favor taking advantage of an opportunity or mitigating a risk? What motivates and influences them?
  • Competitive Considerations: Will your solution put them abreast of their competitors or help them pull ahead? What are the upcoming industry trends that could impact objectives if they do/don't solve the issue?
  • Influencers and Stakeholders: Who will they listen to? Who do they have to convince? How will you be able to impact this dialogue with both internal and external influencers?

Personas can get much more involved, but hopefully you see the difference between a lead definition and a persona. A persona can help you define the story you need to tell this market segment over time. A lead definition is a check list for sales acceptance.

This is not an either/or situation. You need both. The beauty of it is that they both provide information marketers need to do their jobs better.

Once you have a persona to use to develop your content marketing storyline, take a look at the lead definition and try to determine the content you develop can help you complete the checklist for a qualified lead. For example, if you create 2 content assets, one detailing one situation and the other discussing an alternative situation, which one they read may determine their primary interest.  You might also want to consider that a persona can also help to guide inside sales calls that you use to verify the qualification status of leads. 

Both of these tools can help to make your marketing programs pay off. Why wouldn't you use them?


May 14 2010

The Easy Way To Get A Job In Marketing, Advertising And Social Media

Be creative and interesting...

Then, have the skills to deliver and back it up.

Don't forget: that initial creativity also has to carry you through in every waking moment once you get the job/work as well.

Last point: create and tell a great story.

(hat-tip Jeff via Matt).

Tags: advertising creative creativity hr human resources job marketing online video skill social media storytelling the google job experiment work youtube

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.

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