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.

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?

How to Use Content Marketing to Support Your Sales Team

Improving your sales team’s effectiveness is an ongoing process. Content marketing can help. In fact, content is no longer a nice-to-have. For most marketers, it’s a must-have. Here’s why.

Improving your sales team’s effectiveness is an ongoing process. Content marketing can help. In fact, content is no longer a nice-to-have. For most marketers, it’s a must-have. Here’s why.

Content IS Your Sales Team

For starters, today’s buyers are typically far into their decision-making journey before they invite a salesperson into the conversation. So for the first three-quarters of that journey, your content marketing is a proxy for your sales team. If it’s not demonstrating your expertise and its applicability to the problem they’re trying to solve, you will never be in the running for serious consideration by your prospects.

Being in the running isn’t really our goal, though. We want to make the short list and, ultimately, win the business. For that, content can again ride to the rescue, setting the stage for the late-funnel work that your actual sales team will do.

The question is, what kind of content will do that? Content that is optimized to attract your audience, is structured to create a story that engages your audience, and which asks the questions that will move your audience toward a decision.

Optimizing Your Content Marketing

For your content marketing to work well, you have to know who will be reading it and what their objectives are. Your content has to address the challenges they are facing and understand what their status quo looks like.

That last bit is key because your competition is not just the other firms with whom you trade account wins and losses; it’s inertia. If you can’t create a case that points to real business improvements gained by changing what they’re doing now, you won’t lose the sale to your competitors. There simply won’t be a sale.

Story Follows Research

Once you’ve done the research that helps ensure you’re speaking the using the right language and addressing the right issues, you must get their attention and get them engaged. This is not a time for same-old, same-old. It’s time for constructing a narrative that brings your value proposition to life.

Data can support your story, but the human and emotional aspect is what resonates with even the most analytical audience. Make them feel the decision they’re about to make and let the data support that feeling.

Ask and Answer

Finally, it’s question time. You should be ready to ask questions that will move your prospect toward the next step on their buying journey. And you should be prepared to answer the questions that you know (from your research) are top of mind for prospects at each stage.

Whether your content answers those questions or your sales team does will depend on the questions and on the nature of the prospect and the sale. Either way, strong content is an important part of giving your sales team the best chance for making the most of the opportunities your marketing creates.

Are You Taking a 360 Degree View of Content Marketing?

Creating content that relates to customers and builds engagement has consistently been the top challenge for marketing departments. Many marketers feel like they’re just shooting in the dark in terms of content marketing — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Creating content that relates to customers and builds engagement has consistently been the top challenge for marketing departments. Many marketers feel like they’re just shooting in the dark in terms of content marketing — sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. This is especially true for teams that are trying to increase sales by building brand authority in their industry.

So here are some critical questions that CMOs and content managers can ask themselves to determine if their strategy is on the right track, confirm whether they’re sticking to the fundamentals and make sure they aren’t making any obvious mistakes.

Is Your Messaging in Tune With Industry Buzz?

Keeping your company’s marketing content relevant and interesting doesn’t mean that you should pursue every trend that passes by. However, that doesn’t mean you can simply dismiss all of them either. Content must either be unique or refer to current events fresh in people’s minds in order to keep their attention, regardless of how informative it is. By keeping up with the latest news and updates specific to your industry or niche, you could be one of the first outlets to provide an opinion on them.

Great content marketing and SEO go hand-in-hand, so in order to make your content seen and heard, it must include the terms, slang and even jargon that might draw in relevant audiences. By keeping up with the latest conversations and expressions being thrown around, you can tweak your content to identify more closely with your target audience.

Google’s Trends tool can help you monitor the keywords and topics being searched for and discussed online. It also shows you the volume of these searches and how fast interest in a given topic is rising or waning.

Credit: Trends.Google.com

Don’t just latch on to any topic that is trending in your area of reference. Be sure that it is relevant to an audience in your niche and that you understand what it is all about, and are able to share insights or at least use it in an entertaining way

Once you find the kind of themes and issues that your pique your audience’s interests, you can nail down a direction and certain ideas around which to build your brand messaging.

Are You Letting Your Audience Guide Your Content Strategy?

In order to let your audience and customers drive your ideation and approach, you must make sure you know them through and through, so that you can create the most relevant and engaging content. This is best done by formulating audience personas to help get into the mind of your typical consumer. You will need to delve deep into the demographics and analytical data to create generalizations about the type of people that follow your brand.

  • What do they look like?
  • How do they speak?
  • What buzzwords are they familiar with?
  • Where and how do they consume content?
  • What industries do they work in?

Create multiple personas. These generalities can then be used to guide content by focusing on the subjects that would likely appeal to these different personas. For example, Customer A may be more interested in the nitty-gritty details of your industry, while Customer B might be more interested in learning practical ways to use your products or services. Customer A might place a premium on your brand experience while Customer B might just be looking for the cheapest product around.

Credit: Hop.online

Perhaps the most important ingredient to a fresh content strategy is simply knowing who you are communicating with and how to do so effectively.

Are You Analyzing Visitor Behavior on Your Website to Understand Intent?

The role of big data in content marketing cannot be underestimated. To stay competitive, businesses and marketers need to understand that they’re operating in a competitive environment that needs constant adjusting and optimization. Whenever a landing page is tied to a piece of content, blog post, email or even social media update, you need to know exactly how it performs in relation to your goals.

Before you even begin designing or optimizing your landing page, you must first ask yourself: why are customers coming to this specific page? What do they intend to get out of it and what are they looking for?

Marketers need not wait for coders or designers to develop or customize a landing page. Tools such as Landingi offer easy ways to add a quick page with forms, text boxes, drop downs, buttons and other elements to help you optimize your marketing funnel and automate the user workflow on your site.

Take a sign up page for example. You can easily create a form to gather information that tells you more about your audience. This can as simple as their location, most pressing concern, or how they discovered your brand. Using this data, you can refine your sales approach in a way that resonates with current or potential leads.

Remember that the intent of visitors is not always (read, almost never) to purchase. On the contrary, the majority of your first-time visitors will be looking for information on what your company or product does, how much it costs, and so on. You need to create exact content so that each landing page fulfills a specific purpose.

One great place to start is by answering common questions that visitors are asking. You can find these through intent-based keyword research for more general topics or you can address issues that customers frequently raise with your support or service team.

Kapost used this strategy to great effect by sharing information directly from their sales and customer service team’s conversations with their marketing department. Their content team then created specific pages for these questions so that future customers could instantly find this information and they could create more relevant landing pages.

Credit: Kapost.com

You can also experiment with different variations of your landing pages through split testing. Consistently testing components like style, copy, and CTA buttons will give you plenty of data-backed insights as to what makes your audience tick.

Are You Using Events and Experiences to Create Content?

Your business events can provide a plethora of valuable inspiration that can be used and reused to support a sustainable content marketing strategy. You can also use these insights in future promotions with value-based messaging.

Ecommerce platform Shopify teamed up with Kylie Jenner to promote her temporary pop-up shop as well as their retail POS system. While there was a lot of marketing buzz promoting Kylie Cosmetics during the event, Shopify pulled the online equivalent of a guerilla marketing stunt by telling the story to their customers through their blog.

They published a post talking about all that goes into the planning of offline experiences for online businesses and the power it has. They even shared some behind-the-scenes pictures and details about Kylie’s store. The story was by no means blatantly promotional, but instead it had some real-life applications and valuable insights for retail business owners – Shopify’s core audience.

Credit: Shopify.com

Don’t be fooled. The entire piece was marketing content for their own company. Shopify used the event as an opportunity to mention their new POS system that Kylie Cosmetic used in order to handle all of the transactions during the pop-up. They even snapped a photo of Kylie herself using the system.

By turning a business event into marketing content, you can not only provide your audience with great information and examples, you can also promote your product’s usefulness through effective storytelling.

While statistics and numbers are great for proving points and communicating research, studies have found that when content tells an actual story and provides a practical application, it resonates far more with audiences and produces better results, eventually boosting conversion rates in the process.

Over to You

Consumers are more than an accumulation of facts and figures; and so must be your marketing strategies. There is so much pressure in the marketing world to deliver sales, to come out with the most innovative, creative, and unique strategies that marketers have lost focus on what is truly important: the customer experience.

Through content marketing, organizations are now able to build real connections with their customers as well as a larger audience in a way that was never before possible. The best content marketing strategies don’t necessarily depend on budgets or technology; they’re tied to brand-customer relationships.

As a marketer, it your job to empower your brand to build these relationships and facilitate experiences that bring positive results. The best way to do this is to give customers information that they can actually use – and make sure they use it!

The Role of Brand Communicators in an Outbreak

A lot of the work we do in healthcare marketing and communications is predictable. Brand-building, patient acquisition, and organizational support. But when a new health threat emerges, brand communicators have to respond quickly to help people minimize their risk of infection and to keep fear from spreading.

A lot of the work we do in healthcare marketing and communications is predictable. Brand-building, patient acquisition, and organizational support are long-haul types of activities that you sustain throughout the year. But when a new health threat emerges, brand communicators have to respond quickly to help people minimize their risk of infection and to keep fear from spreading unnecessarily.

That continues to be the case with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), which emerged from the city of Wuhan and Hubei province in China. Authorities suppressed news of the initial cases, so when it finally hit the news cycle, it seemed to appear menacingly overnight. From that point on, the media coverage was almost breathless in its reporting on the quarantine of millions and disturbing visuals of jammed hospitals turning people away. Some of the images circulated online were haunting.

Fear Spreads Faster Than Facts

Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked quickly to understand how COVID-19 spreads and its mortality rate, people thousands of miles away from the epicenter began to fear for their safety.

At times like these, brand communicators must find facts from trusted sources, like the CDC, and disseminate it across multiple touchpoints. The information has to be pushed out assertively, because fear raises cognitive barriers that make it even harder to absorb information and assess risk within an appropriate context. For example, at the same time that COVID-19 was making headlines, millions in the U.S. had the flu, more than 100,000 hospitalizations would occur, and more than 12,000 would die from its complications. Yet we are so accustomed to the flu that we perceive its risk as less than the risk of something new.

Spread Facts

If you work in healthcare, you are part of a crisis response team with a responsibility to share evidence-based facts to combat fear and misinformation. The outbreak continues and our thoughts are with those who are impacted.

But with an ongoing dose of information, we can help reduce the spread of unnecessary fear and the spread of the virus. Learn more about COVID-19 from the CDC.

More Rules and Regulations for Content Marketers

So, content marketers, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard.

Privacy protection, accessibility, and copyright —  oh, my!

Last time around, we talked about data privacy regulations as they apply to non-transactional sites. As confusing a landscape as those regulations currently present, they’re not the only regulations with which you need to be aware and compliant.

So, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard than it has been, so you’ll want to be sure you have a plan in place to build your site by the book and to remain compliant. Otherwise, you risk spending more time talking to lawyers than to prospects.

Accessibility

If you built your website without accessibility in mind, chances are you’re not going to be happy when your website developers tell you what it’s going to cost to make it compliant. In many cases, it can make more sense to start from scratch, given the investment involved.

On the plus side, the cost to design and build a new website with compliance in mind is only incrementally greater than building that same site without WCAG Level AA compliance as your goal.

There is some extra work to be done, but for the most part, compliance requires a change in mindset for designers and some slightly different coding tactics for the dev team. Once that’s in place, it’s really only a matter of making sure new content additions are made in a compliant manner. (Image alt tags must be included, for example.)

You’ll want to include an accessibility statement on your site that includes a way for visitors who are having trouble consuming your content to contact you and seek remediation.

Privacy and Data Protection

As we’ve discussed, you need a privacy policy and you need to abide by it. If you haven’t told people that you’re planning on selling their email addresses to the highest bidder, you probably can’t. (Regulations differ by jurisdiction and industry; check with a lawyer.)

Once you have a collection of data, you need to take steps to keep that data safe, both in storage and in any transmittal or other use. Again, your industry may have specific compliance standards that you have to meet, and you may need to document the protections you’ve put in place.

Copyright

If you don’t own it, don’t publish it. This should be obvious, but often marketers make mistakes that can be costly.

Images are the most common area where errors occur. Doing a web search and then publishing any old image you find is a recipe for disaster. Going through a respected stock image library and paying for the images you use is the safest approach.

If you’d prefer not to go that route, you can use the Google Advanced Image Search tool. It is an excellent way to search for images to use in your digital marketing if you filter to include only those that are “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.”

Don’t even think about trying to use an image from a stock image library without licensing it. They can and will find you. They can and will demand payment, usually well beyond what the initial license would have cost. (Also worth noting is that technically, for most stock image libraries, any image you use should be licensed under your firm’s name rather than by your design agency. That approach is also just smart business, because you may not always be working with that design team.)

When copy is purloined, it’s even easier to track down. Even if you get away with it, the search engines may very well penalize you for publishing duplicate content. There are other ways to get on the search engines’ bad sides, so be careful if you’re republishing content from other sources, even if it’s content that you have the right to republish.

Finally, think twice before stealing code. It’s an open source world, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to take and use anything you find in your travels. At the very least, attribution may be required. Most code libraries, snippets, etc., may require license fees — regardless of how they’re used. Some require payment only if you want updates or support. This can be harder for marketers to police, so be sure to have a regularly scheduled review with your dev team.

Spend Time on This

These regulations — and whatever may be coming down the pike in the future — make investing in digital expertise ever more important. Your team needs the time and mandate to stay on top of what regulations apply to your business and best practices for remaining compliant.

The 10 Most Fascinating People in B2B Marketing in 2019

I’m back with my roundup of brilliant B2B marketers whom I’ve encountered this year. With a tip of the hat to those on my previous lists, it is my pleasure to introduce these fascinating colleagues to you. Our B2B marketing field has thrived in recent decades.

I’m back with my roundup of brilliant B2B marketers whom I’ve encountered this year. With a tip of the hat to those on my lists last year, and in 2017, 2016, and 2015, it is my pleasure to introduce these fascinating colleagues to you. Our B2B marketing field has thrived in recent decades, as new technologies and strategies emerged to help us reach target audiences and generate sales conversations.

But now, as we enter a new decade where challenges loom — data privacy, ad fraud, fake posts, ever-longer sales cycles — we need all of the talent we can get.

  1. Nancy Harhut is the Energizer Bunny of B2B copywriting. After a long career at Boston-area agencies, she has formed her own firm, and is creating bang-up campaigns for clients based on new insights from behavioral science. Catch her informative keynotes at B2B marketing conferences here and abroad.
  2. Valerie Bowling co-founded The Conference Forum to serve the pharmaceutical clinical-trials industry. With programs on such cutting-edge fields as immuno-oncology and “patients as partners,” she’s responsible not only for recruiting top-notch industry speakers, but also for driving attendance. As such, Bowling is an avid follower of B2B marketing methods, to fill the seats and keep attendees coming year after year.
  3. Sean Campbell is CEO of Cascade Insights, a Portland, Ore.-based tech market research firm. On the content side, Campbell hosts the “B2B Revealed” podcast, where I was a recent guest. It was the best interview I’ve ever had. He was prepared — actually read my book! He asked thoughtful, important questions, but also managed to steer the interview into a real conversation. Thanks, Sean, for a great experience.
  4. Elle Woulfe, VP of growth marketing at the product design platform InVision, is one of the most coherent thought leaders in the B2B realm. Find wisdom in her article about new ways to think about lead qualification and her three keys to sales and marketing alignment.
  5. I’ve known Chris Jeffers for years, but 2019 saw his major move. Jeffers founded NetFactor, the first service to automate B2B visitor IP address identification, in 2003. In 2017, he sold the company to Bombora, and decided to “retire.” All eyes are on his next step. I know he’ll come up with a winner.
  6. Vinay Mehendi is one of those rare data scientists who easily bridges to the business world. His company, amusingly named OceanFrogs, offers a wide range of B2B data services, like data enrichment and hygiene, persona development, technographic data, and lookalike modeling. But he has also developed some interesting B2B data innovations, like target account prioritization models, partner prospecting services, and a way to identify the “champion” in your target account buying group.
  7. I have to laugh when I run across a B2B sales executive with a stand-up comedy side gig. Check out Vincent Pietrafesa, Stirista’s intrepid VP of B2B products by day, who moonlights as Vincent James at comedy spots in the NY area. Who said B2B couldn’t be funny?
  8. I am a big fan of Jill Konrath, a sales expert who really gets B2B marketing. Having reconnected with her this year to get help crafting cold prospecting emails, I benefited from her superb Prospecting Tool Kit. She knows what she’s talking about, explains things clearly and tells the truth: “What percent of your prospects want to spend time with a salesperson? Zero.”
  9. When I worked at IBM in the 1990s, I noticed that our Canadian colleagues were way ahead in B2B marketing strategy and execution. So I am not surprised to see the same today in marketing services and technology. One example is Mike Couch, Toronto-based martech systems integrator whose agency helps firms like Bloomberg and ADP make their new purchases hum. When asked who should own the martech stack: marketing, sales or IT, Mike says the answer is “your customer.” Indeed.
  10. Bernice Grossman is one of the early lights in B2B data management, who saw long before most the essential value of complete, clean, and well-organized customer information to the success of B2B marketers everywhere. I was honored to partner with her on a series of research reports on B2B data-driven marketing over the years. After 37 years running DMRS Group, she holds the fascinating record.

Here’s to another great year in B2B marketing. Happy new decade to all!

 

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Branded Content: Possibilities, Pitfalls, and Predictions

Branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

A seismic shift happened in the 2010s: Platforms took control of audiences away from publishers and brands. The result is the need to pay-to-play, which comes with a host of challenges. Brands need to find ways to efficiently expand their reach, while publishers need to create sustainable revenue streams that don’t fully rely on volatile organic traffic sources.

Enter branded content. Not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is increasingly becoming a key pillar of revenue for a lot of publishers.

On the surface, branded content is a win-win for all sides. Publishers use their core skillset (storytelling and content distribution) to give brands reach that they can’t achieve on their own. In return, brands pay publishers for their expertise and access to their audiences.

With that being said, branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

Impressions Alone? 

Publishers use a variety of models to package their branded content offerings. Those can be anything from selling based on pageviews on their site to video views on Facebook. The focus does, however, tend to revolve around soft engagement metrics (views and impressions) across the publisher’s channels. There are publishers who work on lead generation and other concrete goals, but those still tend to stay within the publisher’s ecosystem, rather than working with the brand’s own site.

This is advantageous for both sides: For publishers, it helps maintain their tone of voice and trust among their audience — they don’t need to incorporate a “hard sell” into the content, which can be a turn-off for readers. For brands, there aren’t necessarily any concrete goals, and general “brand awareness” metrics can often be enough. When brands want to measure activity and business goals on their own site, they are generally hesitant to share those metrics with external partners, including publishers.

That’s not to say that sales-heavy content pieces don’t exist. Affiliate content, for example, has been on the rise over the past few years. Publishers showcase a range of products in an article and link to an online retailer, which in turn pays the publisher commission for any sales that result from the referral traffic. Most commonly, these affiliate links lead to Amazon, where publishers get a small cut of the sale. Branded content models are evolving to include this approach as well. For example, Walmart partnered with Popular Mechanics to sponsor an article that featured 15 bike camping gifts for outdoorsmen alongside links to their respective product pages on walmart.com.

Synergy Is Key to Success

When it comes to branded content, synergy is much more than a buzzword. An alignment between the brand and the publisher is absolutely critical for success. Users engage more often when a publisher’s tone of voice meshes well with a brand’s core values and audience. Here are a couple of examples of this synergy in action:

National Geographic with Brita

https://www.facebook.com/23497828950/posts/10156676165733951

 

In this partnership with Brita, National Geographic created a beautiful content experience that educates users about the consequences of bottled water. The piece is fully aligned with National Geographic’s reverential coverage of nature. On the brand side, Brita positions its water-filter products as alternatives to bottled water. This combination creates a value powerhouse for everyone involved and engages Natgeo’s user base in an innovative way with content that is unique and engaging.

Win Schuler’s and Food Network

https://www.facebook.com/FoodNetwork/videos/1220718271463314/

 

In this branded video, Food Network does what it does best: shares a yummy recipe with its audience. Adding Win Shuler’s cheddar into the mix feels natural, and the result is fantastic engagement numbers for the post, bringing value to the publisher, the brand, and most importantly, the user.

Common Distribution Pitfalls

As I mentioned earlier, paid distribution is usually a critical part of making branded content succeed. At Keywee, we’ve worked with hundreds of publishers over the years, helping them distribute their content on Facebook. As a result, we’ve pretty much seen it all, and the truth is that branded content done right isn’t as easy as it seems. Here are a few common pitfalls:

1) Going for the aggressive sell: Publishers don’t always create custom content. Sometimes they post a direct advertisement on their feed. This may fit within a brand’s reach demands, but it doesn’t do much for the publisher’s credibility. These posts diminish trust and are likely to grab more ire than likes or clicks.

Exchanging quality and value in return for a user’s attention is critical to keeping users around. If a publisher doesn’t want to go as far as creating custom content, a smaller-effort initiative like a sweepstakes in conjunction with the brand is a nice middle-ground solution that benefits the user.

2) Over-estimating organic reach: Most publishers commit to a set number of views when selling a content package. There’s usually no separation between paid and organic traffic. When publishers present the results to the brand at the end of an initiative, there’s only “traffic.” It’s not uncommon for a publisher to overestimate its organic reach and then, with a few weeks to go on the initiative, deploy massive paid campaigns to fill in the traffic gaps. The result is a hastily conceived campaign that can quickly become costly.

Fortunately, publishers can easily avoid this with a bit more planning. Whether running their own campaigns or buying through a vendor, it’s fairly simple to work more strategically. If they start executing a conservatively paced and well-planned paid campaign from day one of the initiative, the overall cost and performance will only benefit. The worst-case scenario is that the promised numbers are reached earlier than expected. Even in that situation, there’s a good chance that advertising dollars will be saved overall.

3) Limited reporting: The publisher-brand relationship is very similar to that between an agency and client; there is a customer who is paying for a service and requires proper attention. It’s incredibly common for a customer to want as much information as possible. If a campaign was sold based on impressions, that doesn’t mean that this is the only metric the customer will want to see.

When planning a campaign, remember that the customer will want to see deeper metrics. For example, a publisher could be promoting a video created for the brand. Even if the main metric is an impression, the publisher should keep an eye on the 3- or 10-second view numbers because the client will certainly have an eye on them. Another example is demographic breakdowns. If the publisher committed to a wide array of locations and audiences, and the content is being viewed only by a small subset, then pivoting the targeting strategy becomes critical for success and the brand’s satisfaction.

4) Publisher – brand misalignment: As I mentioned earlier, synergy between a brand and a publisher is critical for success. On the flip-side of this, misalignment can easily turn into a failure on all ends. When putting together branded content packages, the publisher should ask if the content would fit into their editorial vision if it wasn’t a part of the sold package. If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance the content won’t resonate with the user.

Looking Ahead

As long as digital content and advertising prevail, so will branded content. That being said, there are big changes afoot that will significantly impact the brand-publisher relationship.

1) 5G: There have been a lot of predictions about how 5G will affect everything from online shopping to people’s health. What branded content creators should probably keep in mind, at least in the short term, is that video streaming on smartphones will have far less friction than before. 5G is expected to be about 100 times faster than 4G, making streaming on mobile devices easier. Though earlier “pivot to video” pontifications were a bit overblown in hindsight, the strength of improved streaming options shouldn’t be overlooked. Publishers should expect brands to have more aggressive viewability demands as a result.

2) Performance content: Facebook has been encouraging brands to share select performance data with publishers and influencers. For Facebook the value is clear: Performance marketing usually leads to incremental revenue. For brands and publishers, these are choppy waters. Content plays a significant role in the buyers’ journey, but it’s still very difficult to fully attribute it to purchase decisions. A person reading an article about sneakers will not automatically go out and buy a pair. In other words, content consumption does not directly correlate to purchase intent. So far publishers have been hesitant to adopt this innovation, and brand adoption is yet to be seen. That being said, publishers will probably benefit from preparing themselves for a scenario in which brands will ask for more performance-driven metrics.

3) Shop the ‘gram: Instagram is slowly rolling out a new feature that creates a direct funnel to the brand checkout page on the platform. In other words, users will be able to click on a tagged product and immediately be directed to its checkout page. This allows for a seamless user experience and is expected to be a boon for ecommerce brands. Publishers should be on the lookout for requests of this type in the year ahead.

All in all, when it comes to branded content, the bottom line is simple: The combination of synergic content, expectation managing, and proper planning can create a value powerhouse for everyone involved. If publishers stick to these fundamentals, they can easily set themselves up for success.