- No B.S…”we’ll see right through it.”
- The fresher the better…”tell me something I didn’t know.”
- Cut to the chase…”what’s in it for me?”
Content may be the all important deliverable that can spell success or failure of any marketing initiative. You can have the right message, the right target audience, the right vehicles, but if the content does not deliver the message in a way that resonates with the audience, and in a format that fits the media you are using…odds are your efforts may be lost.
Content marketing is something that I have been touting where I work for the past year as a strategist, and now that I have moved into the management and execution of an actual initiative, it’s time to drink my own kool-aid. I am learning that when it comes to content, it’s easier said than done.
Content marketing is probably one of the most used buzz words in marketing circles today. Every single marketing consultant and/or agency is touting its importance and providing valuable insights as to the best content to create for whom and through what vehicles. Sometimes, it’s hard to keep up.
I recently read and enjoyed Gareth Case’s “Why Every Marketer Must Exploit 4 Dimensional Marketing” because it got me thinking more about not only the content I will create, the target audience, and the vehicles, but the realisation that you can never create enough content. I know, content costs money and time, but if you are able to create a good balance of content through the buying process, you should be able to manage your resources well.
My approach…I work for a technology company, so this may be skewed a bit…I like to “FRAME” my content planning this way…
- Foundation: Start with foundational content which in our case is typically whitepaper driven aimed at more technically minded professionals. I assume you have already established the target audience and the vehicles in preparation of creating the foundational content.
- Repurpose: Think of ways to repurpose that content into at minimum 10 other pieces of content aimed to address the needs of a specific vertical market or job function (to Gareth’s point), buying process stage (awareness, evaluation, decision, support), and format (blog, video, tweet, eBook, etc).
- Assemble: Take an inventory of the content you are creating by audience, buying stage, and format to determine your editorial calendar or content to do list.
- Map: Map the content created to the media or vehicles in your plan, and establish a timeline.
For me, since my initiative is new to the company, phase one is dedicated to awareness and education/evaluation building through blogs, contributed editorial, PR, etc. As we “connect” with partners and customers, we begin to build more evaluation and decision content (case studies, best practices, technical guides, training, etc). This is phase 2 content that begins to get weaved into the website, blogs, social media, etc. By this point, we should be building out our programs and structure to aid the purchase and support phases of the buying process (loyalty programs, incentives, customer service tools, etc.) At the end, some 9-12 months after the initial launch, we have a complete content structure that addresses needs throughout the buying process.
Oh, step 5 – Enhance: Always refine and refresh your content to give it longevity.
Where do you start?
In my last post, I wrote about search and the importance of priority, plan, and purpose to how we use the social platforms available to us. That thinking too me back to step one in this effort to better understand content marketing – the content itself.
I will be the first to admit that I am as guilty as the next in worrying more about blog post frequency and substance than the nuts and bolts of optimization, syndication, and communication.
Thanks to Brody of DivvyIQ for sharing this extremely helpful infographic that break down exactly what one should do beyond creating content.
- Don’t rush to publish – take the time to optimize for search.
- Tweak and “tweet” more often because one size does not fit all when it comes to status updates.
- Get outside and play – Break away from the walls of WordPress or Blogger and ask for feedback, comments, retweets, and always return the favor.
I recently posed a question to the B2B Technology Marketing Community group on LinkedIn:
“Looking for advice or services on creating tech case studies. Any best practices out there for identifying and recruiting customers to feature in a case study?”
Who knew that writing effective case studies was such a hot topic? The comments, ideas, and answers provided by fellow members of the group have been outstanding thus far. What brought me to pose this question to the group was the ongoing struggles I have had with recruiting customers to help create case studies.
That whole “decision” phase of the buying process that, historically, we have struggled with addressing. And rightfully so. When you think about it, getting potential customers past the decision phase and into the purchase phase should be the most difficult.
If you are struggling with creating compelling case studies, I encourage you to check out the string on LinkedIn. There are some very insightful and enlightening comments from fellow B2B technology marketers.
Based on all of the comments, I’ve started taking some notes, and will use this post as a way to organize my thoughts…
Storytelling is key – create an editorial calendar of stories that not only align to company priorities, but also captivate the reader, and put the customer first.
Involve Sales – Sales has the relationship with the customer, so think of ways to involve them more, provide incentives, show how you are going to help tell their customers’ story, more than our own.
Utilize Customer Satisfaction Surveys – Leverage existing, or create a new survey that enables customers to provide feedback as to the business relationship with your company. This can be a great source for potential customer advocates willing to share their story.
Provide a template – It’s important to share with sales and the customer what you are looking for. Be up front as to what the content will include and what you will need from them to best tell the story.
Don’t just focus on products – Great stories may also be about the company-customer relationship. How did your company help customer XYZ operationally? Sometimes the most compelling stories go beyond the product. It’s whole product marketing!
Make them easy to find – There are benefits to deploying case studies in web format over pdf in terms of search optimization. Of course, for sales to hand out or email to prospective customers, a polished pdf version may also be needed. Don’t assume one size fits all in how you disposition the content.
It’s all in the name – Maybe the term “case study” is over used. Maybe it’s self-serving in nature. Think about using a customer centric naming convention like “technology brief”, “solutions brief”.
Encourage copycats – Plan your content around customers you want to replicate. In other words, focus the compelling stories you create on areas you can replicate from one customer to the next. The real value is in when potential customers read stories that resonate with their business problems, and can easily be solved.
Avoid Testimonials – Effective case studies, solutions briefs, technology briefs, etc. do not simply mean a customer touts your product or company as great. It should be the reverse. You should be touting how great your customer is, and how you played a role in their success.
I’m sure there will be more to add to this as we progress in our planning and execution. And, I am sure to have more questions to pose, but I do feel much better as to the direction I am heading.
Thanks fellow B2B Technology Marketers!
“Informative, non-promotional content in the form of webinars, white papers, videos, blogs and peer recommendations on social networks and forums can attract prospects,” said eMarketer’s Lauren Fisher, author of the new report, “B2B Lead Generation: Using Content to Acquire Customers.” Read the complete article.
I thought content marketing was all about promoting the company, the product, the brand?
Okay, I really don’t think that, but others might, or at least have in the past before “control” was passed to the customer…thanks to the internet and social media. How you approach content and the “marketing or promotion” of that content ultimately impacts its effectiveness in making a connection with the customer.
All of this reading and learning about content marketing has drastically altered my approach to the old editorial calendar and what content I fill it with. There will always be the tried and true pieces of collateral that are “givens” like spec sheets, for example. But beyond that, looking back at my content history, my approach has drastically changed. If I had to sum up my approach then and now, it would look something like:
- Then: Serious, Now: Lighthearted
- Then: One-dimensional, Now: Non-dimensional
- Then: Product, Now: Solution
- Then: Long, Now: Short
- Then: Complex, Now: Simple
- Never be overly serious. Write conversationally because, ultimately, that is what you want to start…a conversation.
- Create once, publish many. Look to re-purpose your content into at least 5 different pieces.
- Answer: why do I care? Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Connect the dots on what it (the product) means for them professionally, personally, emotionally, etc.
- Time to consume matters. The best content is the stuff that inspires in seconds, minutes, not hours.
- Avoid TMI (too much info). The simpler the layout the better. Use bullets, lists, simple charts and graphs to effectively tell the story.
“Customers are, on average, 57% of the way through the purchase process before they meaningfully engage with Sales.” – MLC Wide Angle
If this is true, that more than half of our customers are beyond awareness, well into evaluation, or at the start of the decision phase, do we need to cater our sales messaging and content to drive decision, purchase, and support, and stop thinking we need to rely on sales to drive awareness and evaluation?
Messaging and content may differ from one industry to the next, or from one type of customer to the next. An in-depth understanding of your target audience, accurate definition of their personas, and understanding of their specific buying process are key to any successful content marketing plan especially when it comes to enabling sales.
First and foremost, let’s consider “sales” being either an actual person, or even a website. Many companies have adopted models where sales people focus on larger customer segments, while deploying their website, or online reseller websites to act as digital self-service sales vehicles for smaller customers. In either case, content plays a pivotal role in driving customers through the buying process, in this case, beyond evaluation to decision, purchase and even support.
My key takeaways from MLC’s findings:
- More than half of customers don’t rely on sales (people or websites) to learn about new products or services. Focus less on using the sales team or company and/or reseller websites to “tell” customers about new products.
- Awareness and evaluation of new products and services largely occurs via other streams like social media, blogs, news articles, whitepaper syndication, or traditional online or offline advertising. Ensure we have a solid content and communication plan for “telling customers about new products” that lives outside of the company or reseller partner web properties.
- Leverage customer personas and buying process triggers to increase focus and investment in sales enablement content that addresses their unique decision triggers. This may include content like TCO calculators, ROI analysis, Case Studies, or Best Practices that make decisions much easier to stomach. “I’ve heard about your product (Awareness). It sounds compelling (Evaluation). Now [show me] what it mean for my business? (Decision)”
- When it comes to content that focuses on the purchase phase, it’s more about the process. Using content that enables sales to answer questions like: “Show me how easy is it to do business with your company? Do I have to jump through hoops to purchase this product? By answering questions like these, we move beyond the product or service, and into the customer relationship. The same can be said for Support, “Who is my point of contact if I need help? Show me how do I stay informed of product / service obstacles and improvements?”
“The online social landscape today sort of feels to me like search did in 1999. It’s a mess…Everything is decentralized… As a user, I spend far too much time weeding it all out to find the few gems of real content from people I care about. And I end up missing a lot of important content that I want to know about.” – Michael Arrington Tech Crunch
It’s true. It’s virtually impossible for individuals to take notice of everything, and equally as difficult for brands in social media to ensure their message is being heard, by the right people. One product that may help messages get through and help consumers find what they want is Storify (now in public beta). You have content curation services like Scoop.it, Curated.by, Trunk.ly, Redux, heck LinkedIn has one as well called LinkedIn Today. The way I look at it is Storify is a “conversation curation” tool that enables “storytelling” (as Storify puts it) in the eyes of the consumer with engagement by the brand. Storify defines themselves on their FAQs page as:
“Storify is a way to tell stories using social media such as Tweets, photos and videos. You search multiple social networks from one place, and then drag individual elements into your story. You can re-order the elements and also add text to give context to your readers.”
Content is everywhere on the web and in social media. We are bombarded with content one by one on Twitter, Facebook, RSS feeds, Blogs, etc. For me, I scan headlines and take a deeper dive into the pieces that grab my attention, or cater to what is already within my stream of consciousness. But sometimes, I want to know what people are saying about a product, service, or brand in general. I do what almost everyone out their does…Google Search. And what comes back? Typically more content organized one by one, and my entire process of reading headlines and diving in to the ones that catch my attention starts all over again.
I think Storify has an opportunity for brands to do the work for us, while maintaining the impartial, unfiltered opinions and ideas we crave in the social environment. Why? It’s simple:
- People love stories
- Stories evoke emotion
- Emotions drive behavior
And isn’t that what brands ultimately want from consumers – behavior? Think of the countless stories you could empower your customers to tell. In some cases they are being told without you having to do anything. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. The beauty is that brands have the ability to “curate” these conversations where the story is unfolding and pull in ideas and opinions from other storytellers, engage with the storytellers, and literally either rewrite the story, or make it that much better.
And a bonus – its SEO friendly, so it may just be that much easier to find.
What stories have you helped tell?