Killer Content Marketing From Top of Funnel to Conversion

Content marketing requires a bit of a balance these days. On the one hand, we are all inundated with content, not all of it terribly useful, so we have to be sure what we publish is of the highest quality.

And the competitive landscape is beyond crowded, so the temptation to publish content on a wide range of topics should be resisted. It’s more productive to find a niche and own it.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stretch our content marketing muscles in other ways. Most importantly, we should be creating content that appeals to our target audience at all stages of their buying process. Here are some ideas for media and formats that will help keep prospects engaged from the “getting to know you” stage straight through client on boarding.

Content That Says, “Hello”

As someone begins to search for a solution to a problem their business is experiencing, their view is from the proverbial 30,000 feet. Details are less important than broad strokes and simple presentation of what is possible.

Content most appealing to buyers at this stage will include infographics, which tend to pack a lot of high-level data and information into a very digestible format; general overview articles, which can help orient a prospect who is still learning about her options, and explainer videos that are similar to infographics and overview articles in their broad view and quick consumption.

Each of these should hint at the additional information that’s worth exploring, the submerged part of the iceberg, and should include or be presented with calls to action that help drive the prospect toward the next stage of the buying process and the additional content you have ready for them.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You

As they move through their buying process, prospects will want to know more about you, but first they’ll want to know more about the solutions they are exploring. Case studies, case stories, and similar accounts of the experience others have had lead the way here.

Webinars that include similar content are also quite effective, particularly as prospects move further through the middle of the funnel. (There has to be some level of interest already in place for a prospect to commit 30, 60, or 90 minutes to a webinar, even if they will be multitasking.)

Video can be a great tool here, as well. Interviews with clients who were facing a similar issue to the prospect not only cover much of the same ground as more traditional case studies but also provide a window into what it is like to work with you.

The Background Check

As prospects move closer to a decision, they want the quantitative data that backs up the qualitative decision they’re leaning toward. The specifics of your solution need to lead the way here, whether that’s technical data or statistics about the overall effectiveness of the solution you’re offering versus other options available in the market.

Prospects here are willing to invest more time — in fact, most will want to before they’re comfortable committing budget and time to a solution — so this is an exception to the rule that nobody reads online, they only skim.

That’s not to say that content here should take the form of dry analysis broken up only with charts and graphs. Layout and presentation still matter, and media like video can still be incredibly effective. Just be sure to offer the accompanying data — like those charts and graphs — in a more easily sharable format since this is the stage where your buyers may be presenting their recommendation to a broader team more interested in quick hits than a deep dive.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that will satisfy every prospect in your funnel, so metrics and analytics should be in place to measure content consumption and timelines. Be sure you’re also reviewing content consumption to see if you have any weak spots in your funnel. Shore up any areas where content seems not to be holding your audience’s attention.

Is Digital Marketing Something You Can DIY?

This past weekend, the ringing I heard wasn’t in my ears. It was the transmitter for our Invisible Fence beeping away in the basement, telling me that something was wrong with the fence.

Being handy — and cheap — I asked everybody’s favorite search engine what the beeping meant and got to work testing the possibilities. Half an hour later, I had my answer. There was a break in the wire running around the perimeter of our property.

And that’s where my handy-ness ended. I called the pros to come out with their specialized radio receiver equipment to find the break and make the fix. They made the fix far faster than I could have, but I was able to save money eliminating all of the other possibilities.

Why should you care about my dog fence? Because you should adopt the same approach to your marketing. Here’s why.

There are, of course, lots of different ways you can market your products and services. All will fall into one of three main buckets.

  1. DIY
  2. DFY (Done for You)
  3. Collaboration

DIY Marketing for B2B Businesses

The DIY approach is going to save you money in the short term but likely cost you in lost opportunities.

You miss out by not spending your time more wisely and you miss out because, unless you have expertise in a range of marketing disciplines, your marketing work isn’t going to be as good as a pro’s. (How often do you build a website? Or create a content marketing strategy? Do you really think you can do it better than a pro?)

Unless you have a depth of knowledge going into the process and the time to stay current on the latest techniques, a strictly DIY approach is going to cost you money.

DFY – Done For You Marketing for B2B Businesses

The DFY approach eliminates those problems, but introduces others.

The experts you engage will have deep knowledge of their domains and will know the latest developments across their marketing disciplines. What they’ll lack is the institutional knowledge of your business. So, there will be a learning period during which results may lag, but as they come to know your business your marketing results will be stronger than you’re likely to get via the DIY path.

This may be the route to go if you simply don’t have the bandwidth to participate more fully in your marketing, as might be the case during periods of rapid growth.

The Collaborative B2B Marketing Approach

Better than either of these options is the collaborative approach to digital marketing. It marries the best of both worlds: You provide your deep knowledge of your business, your customers, and your market; your marketing experts bring their experience and perspective.

This is true whether those experts are outside consultants or team members you add to your staff. In either case, the marketing team must be collaborating with all departments within your organization in order to succeed.

Marketing can’t happen in a vacuum. It must feed on — and have an impact on — the conversations occurring between your sales team and prospects, between your customer service teams and your clients, and within your product development teams.

Who Does What on the Marketing Team?

Be careful about hiring a strategist. You definitely need a solid strategy, but you also need a clear plan for implementing that strategy and the resources to follow through on that plan. At the very least, a strategist needs to visit your front line team down in the trenches on a regular basis.

There are exceptions to these rules of thumb and you have to tailor your approach to you firm’s needs. Just be sure you have someone leading the team who can guide you through all available options and possibilities, move you back and forth between initiatives as needs dictate, and who can help you integrate marketing into sales team activity and other initiatives.

The Power of Content Marketing Partnerships and Alliances

Though our culture reveres the power of genius and the magic that genius can conjure — as well we should — most of us work in realms where collaboration can be far more productive than forging our own path. Content marketing is one of those realms.

In content marketing, alliances and partnerships can prove the truth behind the idea that the whole can be more than the sum of its parts.

E-A-T

Despite looking like the name of a hipster, retro diner, E-A-T has nothing to do with food. It’s shorthand for Expertise, Authority, and Trust. These are three factors that Google considers in ranking websites.

On its own, E-A-T is important enough a factor to warrant an in-depth article. For today, we’ll use it as context for the value that partnerships can have in adding power to your content marketing.

You’re Experiencing the Power of Partnerships Right Now

Observant readers may have noticed that I am not an employee of Target Marketing. I run Andigo, a digital marketing agency. And I lend my expertise in digital marketing to the Target Marketing website.

I’m a nice guy and all, but I don’t write these columns merely out of the goodness of my heart. In exchange for my sweat and toil, Target Marketing stamps me with their seal of approval. That approval gives me a leg up in gaining your trust as an audience. (Because you’ve already come to trust Target Marketing’s judgement.)

That’s certainly a beneficial exchange for both of us, but there’s more. The reason the whole is greater than the sum of the parts in relationships like this is that both parties bring their own audiences with them. This expands my reach beyond what I could hope to achieve on my own, and does the same for Target Marketing.

Symmetrical Content Marketing Partnerships Work, Too

Of course, there’s an asymmetry to our relationship that adds to the power of working together. Each partner brings its own strength, with little to no overlap.

But more symmetrical relationships can work well, too. Co-creating a piece of content with a partner of similar “weight” still introduces you each to a broader audience than you’d achieve without a partner. But now, rather than the stamp of approval being one-directional, you are each endorsing the other as a trustworthy expert to your own audiences.

May I Introduce to You …

A warm introduction is an enormous leg up over being found via a cold web search. That introduction is what makes content marketing partnerships one of the best ways to establish expertise, authority, and trust — and to grow your audience in the process.

As you’d imagine, some thought is required to find appropriate partners. You should seek partners who work with the same target audience as you do and whose services are complementary to yours.

For example, a digital marketing firm might partner with a branding firm who works with the same B2B clients. They could also partner with a branding firm who works with B2C companies, but they would likely not see the same return on their time.

Similarly, that digital marketing firm could partner with a company providing break-room services to B2B companies, but there is less synergy there, even though both firms provide services to the same target market.

Finally, remember the adage about lying down with dogs and waking up with fleas. You must be comfortable with the integrity and reputation of your partners. Your good name won’t rescue a bad partner nearly as readily as their bad name will tarnish yours.

How to Effectively Promote Your Content Marketing

Marketers all understand the importance of great content. But, when building a content marketing program for your organization, creating content is only the first step.

Marketers all understand the importance of great content. But, when building a content marketing program for your organization, creating content is only the first step.

The second step — as discussed in my previous post about reviewing your content marketing efforts in relation to the competitive landscape — requires marketers to ask themselves this question: What does your competition’s content marketing look like and how does yours compare?

Once you work through that audit, then you’re ready for the third step: distribution and promotion. Great content on its own isn’t enough. Great content designed to own a niche will get you closer. Leaping the final hurdle requires properly promoting that great, tightly targeted content. Here’s how.

Channels Is Spelled With an ’S’

In other words, it can’t be about one channel. Very rarely are there industries or niches in which only one channel is required.

That doesn’t mean finding every tiny audience you can and pummeling each with undifferentiated content. Instead, you must tailor content to each channel you have identified as a gathering place for your target audience.

Make sure the channel is appropriate for your message. For example, there’s a reason Fortune 500 B2B marketers advertise on golf tournaments. The audience is their desired demographic. But that doesn’t mean that they’d be smart to pump promotional material about their management consulting practice into an online golf forum. Same (or similar) audience, but much different atmosphere.

Also keep in mind that social media channels are all about your audience and their preferences. Not you and yours. Be sure of whose preferences you are catering to.

Email Marketing

Email’s importance and effectiveness as a marketing channel are hard to overrate. They’re easy to overuse, but hard to overrate. And easy to abuse. Spamming unknown users won’t work. Sending purely promotional content won’t work. Provide value, be relevant, and build a relationship. You’ll win business over time, even if the ramp up is slow.

Timesharing

Time share condos in the swamps of Florida have a bad reputation, and with good reason. Similarly, the idea of guest posting and cross-promoting have frequently been abused, but they can be incredibly effective in growing your audience quickly.

A guest post or jointly-produced piece of content is a warm introduction and a stamp of approval all rolled into one. You are being introduced and recommended to your counterpart’s audience and vice versa. These are great opportunities to seek out, assuming you and your partner can provide insights and information relevant to one another’s audiences.

Diversify Your Formats

Video is incredibly popular right now, but not everyone likes to watch videos as they’re researching their purchasing options. (It’s a lot easier to scan a written article to get to the info you’re looking for.)

That’s reason alone to adapt your content to different formats. Another benefit to that form of re-use is the efficiency it brings to the content development process. You can leverage the initial research and writing investment to create multiple related content elements.

The Importance of Relevance

I’ve mentioned relevance a few times above, but it’s worth repeating as we wrap up. None of the above works if the content you’re pushing is purely promotional or fails to provide value to your target audience. Without relevance and value, you’re simply not going to keep your audience’s attention.

3 Steps to Complete a Competitive Content Marketing Review

You’ve got to know what’s out there if you’re going to attract the audience you want. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your content marketing in relation to what’s already out there.

You’ve got to know what’s out there if you’re going to attract the audience you want. The best content in the world won’t gain any traction if someone else said the same thing 15 minutes ago. So it’s worthwhile to evaluate your content marketing in relation to what’s already out there. Here are three steps to completing a competitive content marketing review:

Step 1. It’s Not About Your Competitors’ Content (Yet)

You may be tempted to fire up your browser, do some searches for the terms you want to rank for, and see who and what pops up. That would be a mistake that can lead you down a rabbit hole and far, far away from your own goals.

Begin first by examining your own content and your analytics data to see what content you’ve created that has performed best. This will give you a baseline against which to evaluate the results you find on competitive sites.

Your goal during this content marketing review isn’t to beat everyone in everything – even if that was possible. Your goal is to beat all competitors in the niches you identify as most important to your target audience and in which you have significant expertise or perspective.

Step 2. Review Your Marketing Goals

Next, review your sales, marketing, and product goals to make sure the content you have out in the world is working toward the goals you have today. It’s not uncommon for older content, aimed at other goals, to continue to garner a strong audience. Of course, being off target, these content elements don’t help your bottom line. (Which is another great reason to perform a content marketing review at least annually and prune or edit content that isn’t aligned with your marketing message.)

Step 3. Review Competitors’ Content Marketing

With all of that information in hand, now it’s time to fire up your browser and see what content you are competing with in your chosen niche. Be sure your review includes long-tail keyword phrases as well as broader queries. This should help you get a solid picture of your content strengths and weaknesses from the top of your funnel to the bottom.

You’ll also want to check the products/services that are being marketed by the content you find. It may be that some keyword phrases are more commonly used in other industries or in other ways than you intend. Performing well against those keywords may drive traffic, but it’s unlikely to generate conversions.

To summarize all of the above, your content marketing review should focus on evaluating:

  • Targeting — are you speaking to the right audience?
  • Content — are you addressing your prospects’ primary concerns?
  • Distribution — are you getting content in front of your target audience?

Website Features You Don’t Really Need

That barrage of options and possibilities can be hard to resist, which is why so many websites begin to look more like Frankenstein’s monster than Prince Charming. All of those website features — the widgets and toolkits and plugins — begin to add up.

You may think you’re a marketer by day and a consumer by night, but considering the number of marketing tools, services, experts, and ideas we’re bombarded with every day, we’re consumers even while wearing our marketing hats.

That barrage of options and possibilities can be hard to resist, which is why so many websites begin to look more like Frankenstein’s monster than Prince Charming. All of those website features — the widgets and toolkits and plugins — begin to add up.

It’s true that some live up to their promise, but all that noise these features create can blunt the effectiveness of your site.

Put more bluntly, you think you want website features. What you really want is effectiveness. Here’s how to keep your website on track.

Evaluate Web Marketing Tools Individually

Begin by evaluating any new feature you are tempted to include against your goals. Which goal(s) will it help you reach and what effort and resources will reaching those goals require? In other words, establish an expected ROI for the tool that you can measure its contribution against.

Evaluate Web Marketing Tools as a Whole

Examine the effort and resources mentioned above should also lead you to reviewing the new tool in relation to existing tools already in place. Is the new tool a 1:1 replacement of an existing tool? If so, can you A/B test them against one another?

Will the new tool work in tandem with an existing tool? Will it have an impact on that tool’s effectiveness? Is there still a net gain overall?

Evaluate Web Marketing Tools from Your Audience’s Perspective

Part of the ROI calculations above have to include audience attitudes and expectations. It would be great to know each prospect’s budget right from the start, but a new tool that asks for that information is going to drive your traffic down. Way, way down.

Real-world examples aren’t going to be that cut-and-dried, which circles us back to the idea of testing new tools whenever possible before implementing them across your entire marketing plan.

The One Feature Your Website Really Needs

More than anything else, you want a nimble website. One that helps you present a relevant message to each audience segment. One that speaks to prospects at each step in their buying cycle. One that encourages engagement and provides you with the opportunity to connect with prospects as they near their decision point.

Add all the bells and whistles you think will be effective, but track their impact on your web marketing metrics and make sure they support your ultimate goal — conversions.

3 Tactics to Stay Connected With Your Target Audience

What can you do today to help you to survive the current state of your market and thrive as it evolves? Consider these three tactics to help you maintain a strong connection with your audience.

Digital marketing — and marketing more broadly — is always about making it clear to your target audience that you can help them address the issue they need to solve. Nothing about the conditions we’re facing today changes that, though the issues your audience is facing very likely have.

So, as much as we’re all tired of hearing about our “unprecedented” times and “the new normal,” we do have to adapt our organizations to the conditions we see in our markets, or risk our own extinction.

What can you do today to help you to survive the current state of your market and thrive as it evolves? Consider these three tactics to help you maintain a strong connection with your target audience.

Trim Costs Without Negatively Affecting Your Audience

Where can you cut costs in a way that does not impact your ability to connect with your target audience? Begin by looking at what you’re doing now. For example, digital ad costs have fallen. If you can craft a message that still resonates with your prospects, you may be able to increase your impact at a lower overall cost, and certainly at a lower CPM. (Be careful, though, if your targeting relies on IP address identification. With many corporate folks working from home, their IP address will not be that of their organization unless they’re accessing the internet through a corporate VPN.)

What alternative to currently dormant channels have you shied away from testing in the past because of budget or bandwidth concerns? Virtual events rather than in-person events is the most obvious choice, but there may be other areas in your arsenal worth investigating.

Explore New Tactics for Your Sales Team to Employ

Speaking of alternatives, if your sales force has typically relied on face-to-face meetings to drive revenue, they’ll be itching for new ways to connect with potential buyers. They may be more open to new ideas than in the past; for example, creating a library of online resources.

The key here is doing the work to ensure that the resources you create align with the sales team’s needs. This makes creating a digital library a great way to get sales and marketing working together, even if they can’t be together physically. (I’m sure some of you are thinking about how that physical distance might make the process easier …)

Even better, a library like this works not only as a short-term play to get the sales team through a time of limited contact with prospects, but it also can pay benefits far down the road in the form of an expanded reach for the sales team as they become more comfortable using these tools in their sales process.

Improve Customer Experience

Don’t forget to check the possibilities already right under your nose. As difficult as it can be to connect with new prospects for many marketers at the moment, existing clients are likely far more receptive to your messaging, particularly if you focus on empathy, humanity, and being helpful.

Ask what help they need, share the struggles that your organization is going through, and make it clear that you will help them any way you can. Consider making a pre-emptive offer to clients that addresses problems you know they are facing. (See Point One above about asking what they need.) The short-term cost of any unpaid effort will pay long-term dividends in the kinds of trust and good will that lead to client retention and improved lifetime value.

How to Justify Your Marketing Budget to Management

Even in the best of times, getting approval for your marketing budget can be a difficult task, particularly if yours is a complex sale and tracking direct attribution is fuzzy.

Even in the best of times, getting approval for your marketing budget can be a difficult task, particularly if yours is a complex sale and tracking direct attribution is fuzzy.

You’ll likely find the path easier if you lay out your plans to include a set of key metrics and parameters that define success.

What Is the Opportunity?

Begin the conversation by outlining the opportunity you see available to your organization and identifying what happens when you win that opportunity. Do you increase market share? Improve profitability? Bump up customer satisfaction?

The opportunity better be based on a business metric improvement. You’re not likely to get far with a discussion of improved process metrics: more subscribers, likes, followers, etc. That said, it is worth tracking these things so that in the future you can point to them and draw a connection between improved engagement and increases in hard-dollar metrics.

You may also consider a defensive positioning — “if we don’t do this, our competitors will.” Or, “our competitors are already doing this, and we’re falling behind.” I’d be careful with this route, though, as it often leads to defensive thinking. And that leads to marketing resources spent to maintain the status quo. Sometimes that’s the smart path, but it’s not necessarily a popular one.

What Are the Opportunity Costs?

Corporate budgets are generally a zero-sum game. If you spend the money here, that money isn’t being spent somewhere else. You need to demonstrate an awareness of that and be prepared to discuss how and why the investment you are requesting will outproduce the one it is replacing.

How Long Will It Take?

Not all marketing activities are created equal. They have different payoff expectations. (Writing a blog post today won’t likely get you a new customer tomorrow. Launching a new PPC campaign just might.)

Be ready to discuss whether your marketing budget proposal is a short-, medium-, or long-term play and why anything that will take longer than this quarter to realize goals is worth the time risk involved. (Your organization’s culture will influence how important this question is, and perhaps even if recommending a long-term plan is an option.)

What Will It Cost?

This might be the first question out of a manager’s mouth regarding the marketing spend on a specific project, but I wouldn’t address it first if I could avoid it. Better to establish value and expected (positive) outcomes first. Then get into what the total cost will be, whether costs are front-end loaded or more evenly spread out, and whether some portion of your costs are accrued only when progress is being made. The more detail you can provide — particularly details that mitigate risk — the better.

How Can It Be Tweaked?

If it’s not working, what can you change? If it’s working, can it be improved upon? These are critical questions not only to be able to answer, but to get your management team to think about. Why? Because the condition on day one of your new initiative are not going to change, perhaps radically, by day 90.

If you can show that you’re prepared to make the adjustments necessary to keep your efforts pointed toward a profitable outcome, you’ll find greater success in funding your marketing ideas.

 

 

Are Your Marketing Messages Worth Your Prospects’ Time?

With no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? But on the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

On the one hand, with no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? On the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

In other words, attention is even more valuable, so you’d better be sure that your messaging is worth the time you’re asking your prospects to invest. Here are a few ways you can help your prospects see why it’s worth it to engage with you.

Advise and Connect

Forget the hard sell. Gain trust and attention by offering help in your marketing messages. What advice can you offer your prospects that they will find value in? What questions do you know prospects are asking as they begin their buying journey? What questions are they asking later in the process?

Those are the questions you need to answer. The trick is in answering them not only in a way that helps prospects solve their business problems, but also in a way that positions you as an expert and helps engender trust.

All without giving away your secret sauce.

Probably not something you can whip up off the top of your head, but most definitely something that will pay great dividends. Create content that matters and resonates, and you will connect with your desired decision makers.

Another Kind of Connection

Beyond the connection you want to make with your prospects, you can also make connections for your prospects. Are there colleagues you work with you can stand behind that will make your prospects’ business lives better? Make the connection and you’ll a happy prospect and a happy colleague.

Obviously, this doesn’t scale and isn’t appropriate for early funnel prospects, but it can be a great way to remain in contact with prospects as you nurture them over time.

Demonstrate Through Your Marketing Messages

Finally, create opportunities to demonstrate that you have the experience and expertise to make a difference in their business. Case studies and testimonials are great, as are interviews and presentaiotnsr with clients who you have helped succeed.

So forget the “just checking in” phone calls and “we’re new and improved” emails. Provide value in your marketing messages and they will be greeted warmly more often, and your prospects’ doors will more frequently be open.

The Importance of Always Having a Solid Email Marketing Program

As we all adjust to what may be our new normal, digital marketing becomes ever more vital. Now is not the time to go dark, even if you can’t meet with prospects and partners face-to-face as you normally do. Email marketing should already be a part of your digital arsenal.

As we all adjust to what may be our new normal, digital marketing becomes ever more vital. Now is not the time to go dark, even if you can’t meet with prospects and partners face-to-face as you normally do. A solid email marketing program should always be a part of your digital arsenal, no matter what’s going on in the world.

Email Marketing Keeps You Top of Mind

We’ve all found those prospects who are a perfect fit in every way — except they’re not ready to buy. Sometimes it’s a priorities issue. In other cases, it’s a mismatch between need and budget cycle.

When you find those prospects, stay in touch via email until their need becomes pressing enough to push those other issues aside. Nothing beats email when it comes to drip marketing.

Email Messages Are Easy to Personalize

No, we’re not talking about “Dear [your name here],” though that certainly is one type of personalization. We’re talking about a more meaningful way to connect with your audience by tailoring email to their interests. These can be self-identified or based on past behavior. You can do this on your website, too, though doing it with your email marketing is usually a little easier to wrangle. Getting your email and your website to work together this way is even better. Which is an excellent segue to our next point.

Email Is the Great Connector

Email doesn’t just connect you to your target audience. It connects various pieces of your marketing tool kit. Email can introduce prospects to your social media presence and vice versa, allowing you to meet them where they already are. Well-executed email marketing efforts can drive traffic to your website, which is likely where the conversion from possibility to prospect occurs. In both cases email is improving not only your reach but your engagement.

You Own Email

Social media channels can fall out of favor in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest meaningfully in those platforms that work best with our audience. But those “borrowed” platforms should not be more than a part of our overall strategy. Owning email marketing means never having to worry about what social network will fizzle or when the next search engine algorithm update might upend years of SEO gains. (Well, we still have to worry about these things, but we don’t have to worry about them being catastrophic to our marketing.)

The key to all of this email magic is relevance. No surprise there. That’s the key to all marketing today, traditional or digital. If you want to reap the benefits of email marketing’s power, don’t show up in someone’s inbox just to show up. Have something relevant to say that they want to hear.