Take a break from marketing (or not)

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When I decided to “take a break” from years in marketing to build my business acumen the wild world of product management, I came to question can one truly take a break from marketing?

My decision last year to embark on this new journey, to take on new challenges in a new world we called customer segment management was exactly that – a journey with new challenges that seems to have been all to familiar.

What I learned was that I truly never left “marketing.” I may not have been in the org, or had the title, but the practices and applications of the science (yes – it is a science) that I formed over the years are so engrained, I could not possibly avoid them. The practices and applications of everything from Content Marketing, Blogging and Social, to Brand MarketingMarketing Strategy and everything in between translated to customer segment management. The very marketing principles I leaned on not only still apply, but empower me when engaging 1:1 with customers:

  • Know your audience – not knowing is a waste of time
  • Always be listening – people don’t want to be heard, they want to be understood
  • Always be exploring – curiosity is where knowledge starts
  • Always be discovering – markets are mysteries waiting to be solved
  • Never stop creating – without a story, you’re just telling (no one likes to be told…)

Know your audience is the cardinal rule of Marketing 101, yet I cannot stress how little attention is paid to actually knowing the customer. Maybe knowing the customer is too vague and subject to interpretation. Perhaps we should try to “be” the customer.  When you put yourself in the world of the customer, you being to realize what their challenges really are – what they care and don’t care about. What makes them tick.

Always be listening comes off as obvious, but there is a big difference between hearing and listening. I found that there are things customers will tell you openly, and things that they might say with a bit of reservation.  Document everything, synthesize all of the disparate data points you’ve captured, and a picture will start to form in your head. The picture helps you begin to actually start knowing your audience.

Always be exploring is when those pesky questions and ideas start to form in your head. Don’t allow them to be passing thoughts. Write them down. Think about how you would go about answering them and start digging. What I found is that the more I dug, the more questions I had, the more exploring I did, and the clearer the path became to discovering opportunities. Which brings us to the next principle.

Always be discovering is about mystery solving.  I like to think of markets as mysteries. Some we realize all too well, and some are mysteries yet to surface. Our goal as marketers is not only to solve the mystery, but uncover new ones we can solve. The beauty is that if you are always listening and exploring, and you know your audience, this becomes a heck of a lot clearer – not easier – but clearer in terms of a path to discovery, to solving the mystery.  That path may take you all over the web scouring for data points. It may take you to more customers, new types of market research, or social media, forums, and customer hangouts. Like any good detective, don’t leave any stone unturned that may help solve the mystery.

Never stop creating is all about storytelling. Storytelling can captivate an audience. It can pull them in and entice them into a conversation or discussion, and that’s what we want whether it’s 1:1 with a customer, or in social media with many customers. Discussions support our knowing the audience and ability to listen which means we can explore, discover, and create more effectively.  Presenting, on the other hand is simply telling. What’s worse than sitting in a room listening to someone tell us about their products and services. We all have sat through those meetings, and they rarely lead to anything (getting back to know your audience).

Takeaway:

Marketing is just as much telling a story to create customers as it is listening to the stories your customers are telling you.

Image of my pup Lucy taking her own break.

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Creating quality content from lead gen to close

This is a very cool infographic linking technology to the sales process. Not only does it provide the who’s who of software companies that deliver apps for prospecting, qualifying, nurturing, and closing, underneath the covers it reveals what every marketing person have some level of focus on…content.

All to often, we think the role of content is at the top of the funnel: lead generation, and that is where we place a majority of the emphasis, and rightfully so, because without leads, the rest of the enablement process falls apart.  But, in addition to lead gen, content plays a critical role from nurturing & prospecting to qualifying and closing . At each stage, the difference between success and failure lies in creating quality content to one, meet the needs of the customer, and two, meet the needs of sales as they navigate through the sales process.

When I look at this process, I see opportunities to learn what makes quality content.  I ask myself the following questions:

  • What content is driving the most web traffic & creating the most leads?
  • How can that content be leveraged into a sales script for prospecting?
  • What questions are potential customers asking and how do we use content to best address those concerns ahead of time?
  • How do potential customers engage for more information?  Is it via webinars, online forms, social media?
  • What does the art of negotiation look like? Are there consistent “asks” that could point to something marketing could address through programs?
  • How happy is the customer? How has our solution benefited them?  Is there a case study opportunity here?

Of course, there are more questions that arise than simply the ones listed above, but these are the most common. By working with sales through the process, marketers can get a better grasp of the needs of the customer. The more intelligence collected, the greater the opportunity to create the right content.

And the right content just might speed this entire process along.

How to FRAME your content plans

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…

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Related Posts:

Don’t promote to promote – my 5 content “musts”

Why content is key from Interest to Advocacy or Awareness to Support

Content marketing – don’t blame the club

Content as the path through the buying process

When blogging, go beyond just clicking “Publish”

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 optimizationsyndication, and communication.

Thanks to Brody of DivvyIQ for sharing this extremely helpful infographic that break down exactly what one should do beyond creating content.

Key Takeaways:

  • 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.

Don’t promote to promote – my 5 content “musts”

“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.

non-promotional?

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
Based on this introspection, I would sum up my approach to content with these 5 “musts”:
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  1. Never be overly serious. Write conversationally because, ultimately, that is what you want to start…a conversation.
  2. Create once, publish many.  Look to re-purpose your content into at least 5 different pieces.
  3. 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.
  4. Time to consume matters. The best content is the stuff that inspires in seconds, minutes, not hours.
  5. Avoid TMI (too much info). The simpler the layout the better. Use bullets, lists, simple charts and graphs to effectively tell the story.
What rules do you always stick by when creating your content?
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Why sales enablement content is more “show me, don’t tell me”

“Customers are, on average, 57% of the way through the purchase process before they meaningfully engage with Sales.”MLC Wide Angle

This one makes me think a lot harder about the enablement content we create for the sales team and the web for that matter.  Consider the buying process I’ve talked about in the past here and here

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?”
Then again, 57% is just a little more than half of customers, so am I over thinking this a bit? Perhaps, but the thought process has been rewarding enough to consider the “show me” enablement content we do need to add to the mix.
What sales enablement content do you find most rewarding?
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More stuff related to this:

How content becomes a company’s digital memoirs

Remember when the About Us page was all there was to learn about a company?

Today, how do we learn everything we need to know about a company? We Search like a bunch of Sherlock Holmes trying to solve a mystery.

I have been writing  a lot about content marketing and the importance of content with respect to the buying process, influence, scalability, distribution, metrics, and more.   What I have not touched on, but is as equally important is search.

The one thing a company should never overlook is the fact that the web is in effect the company’s digital memoirs, but not only in the eyes of the company (autobiographical) but in the eyes of customers (biogrpahical). And the one thing that drives all of this is content. Whether it’s autobiographical like the company’s website, white paper, or case study, or biographical from customers such as tweets, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, or user reviews, content defines who a company is, what it does, how it operates, and who its customers are, and most importantly what customers think of the company. And it’s open for everyone to read.

Just like getting a good idea about who a person is/was by reading their memoirs, you can do the same for a company by searching the web. The one major difference: a company’s digital memoir is being written and re-written everyday making the case that content in all its forms ultimately defines a company’s brand.

Can you get any more important than that?